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Chapter Thirty-Three

The Weather Up There

"Hey, Wren? How are you doing?" said Sharon, perhaps more loudly than she needed to. The fragile audio link between Zelan and the fledgling Nurvus headquarters crackled with static. "Oh," she groaned, "don't tell me we lost the signal!"

She reached for the knob to adjust the satellite dish, but Kain shook his head. "Wait," he said. His thoughts were confirmed when the android's reply came through a moment later.

"I am doing fine," said Wren through the audio link. Silence.

Sharon drummed her fingers on the control panel with a look of mild irritation on her face. "Well? Is that all you have to say? This isn't entirely a social call."

"I am sorry. Was I supposed to say more?"

"Yes! Elaborate on things!"

Kain smirked and leaned over Sharon's shoulder close to the microphone. "What she means to say is, 'How's the weather up there?'"

She shot Kain a glance that told him that wasn't what she had in mind, but it would do anyway. She turned her head back to speakers, waiting for the reply.

"The weather?" said Wren. Though covered with static, his voice held a fair degree of uncertainty, especially for an android. "Zelan's atmosphere is entirely electronically controlled. It is currently sixteen degrees Celsius, air filters are functioning properly-"

"Wren, Wren," chided Kain, "that's a figure of speech. We want to know what's happening up there where you are. How about outside. I think you told me during our last talk that Zelan's exterior sensors are now functional. Can you see anything with them?"

"Yes. Sensors are online. I can see lots of rocks--asteroids--in orbit around Algo. There are thousands moving freely between the planets."

Kain nodded. "That's to be expected. Star systems are pretty cluttered sorts of things if I remember my school texts right."

"Hey guys!" The voice on the other end was David.

Kain smiled. "I assume you're doing okay?"

"Yes sir, boss. I'm still feeling good despite all these weeks on artificial gravity. I'm afraid I haven't been able to keep up with Wren--he goes through everything so fast!--but I'm doing my best to keep both of us in shape. If anything, it gets a bit too quiet up here sometimes. There's only me and Wren, and we all know that Wren is not too much of a conversationalist, though I'm trying to get him to improve."

Kain chuckled. "You were the one who asked to go up there for this long, remember? But don't worry. You only have a couple more weeks left before we retrieve you and Wren. You both will be due a thorough examination, and Wren might be able to help us down here with a few of the problems we've been having with the control center."

"No problem." He could hear the grin in David's voice. "I'm still holding up pretty well. You won't see me stark raving mad anytime soon, though I think for my next trip I'd better bring a better form of entertainment than a couple computer games. I think I'll need something with a bit more human flavor to it next time."

"Program Wren to dance!" said Sharon.

"Ha, ha. Very funny. It's a miracle he balances as well as he does. I'd hate for him to fall and break something."

Kain pondered. "That's something to think about though--the breaking, not the dancing. Maybe we should look into a way for Wren to repair himself in the event he's disabled without us around."

"You'll have to ask Sharon for that one, boss. She's the robotics specialist."


Sharon gave a toss of her wavy pink hair. "Well, I guess I'll start on it the first free moment I get." A frown followed almost as quickly. "Which I suppose won't be for a while given all the bellyaching around headquarters. I think the circuits are about as ready to heave as the people."

"Heh. I suppose I should be glad I'm missing it," said David. "All right. We'd better sign off for now. I think Zelan's about to move out of range--darn antennae."

"You know we'd have stronger receivers if we were given the chance," said Kain.

"Yeah, I know. Over and out."

"See ya."

Sharon put the receivers on low power, ready to be wakened should David have an emergency, and shut down the broadcasting grid. She sighed. "I suppose he's doing well enough. Time for us to get back to work too."

Kain nodded. "I'll be in my office if you need me."

He left, knowing that she would take care of the room's lockup. No one knew who might try to break in and use the radio, but it was better safe than sorry. Life was still hard for a good many people, and by now some of them might have become desperate. He entered his office and shut the door behind him. Kain took a disgusted look at the pile of papers on his desk and threw himself into his chair. He had enough design specs to last him from here to the end of the millennium.

He leaned forward, planting both elbows on the edge of his desk. Someone had placed a pile of letters on top of his pile of design specs. He briefly wondered if there was a pile of anything else placed in his office that he might or might not be aware of. Kain plucked the top envelope off of the pile. It was a a bit on the small side, but otherwise nondescript. Whoever had addressed the envelope to him had also penned the word "Important!" on it in a handwriting he did not recognize.

Kain tore open the envelope, not really caring about neatness at this point. It would all be recycled anyway. It was not as though Motavia was known for how many trees it had, or at least it wouldn't be anymore. He tugged out the smartly folded piece of paper inside and unfolded it. Probably from some government agency. The text inside was typed and printed via computer on agricultural department stationary. He scanned the contents. This afternoon and in front of the Motavian Agricultural Building? That was short notice, but he could do it. He disliked using telepipes for quick trips, but he supposed the situation warranted it. Anything to get more support systems connected to Nurvus.

* * * * *

Kain waited, and waited, and waited. He surveyed everyone around him, even took a brief walk around the building to make sure everything was all right. Still, something fluttered in his gut, and he hated that. He looked at the small bundle in his hand and scratched his head. Nothing seemed to be going right these days. There were just too many people around. He supposed he should go inside.

The doors to the agricultural building opened easily, someone had kept the hinges well oiled, but the interior was warm, uncomfortably so. He finally concluded that the air condition had failed, or perhaps it hadn't been working to begin with. Not many people knew how to fix it. He walking up to the receptionist and queried about where the mailboxes were. She pointed him down a long hallway and he thanked her.

Kain figured he may as well get going. He had enough to do and taking the time for this delivery was the best he could do. Everyone at the cafe across the street must have thought he was crazy from the amount of time he spent puttering around the building.

He shoved the package into the numbered mail cubby and walked back out the front door. He figured he was a good distance away when he heard the explosion.

* * * * *

Lore threw down a copy of the morning newspaper on to Hugh's desk, or rather Hugh's head since the biologist had chosen a stack of papers as his pillow before falling asleep the night before. He peered out through sleep blurred eyes and pulled the paper off his head.

"What?" he asked.

"Look at the front page," she said.

"Motavian Agricultural Building has been bombed?"

She nodded, placing a hand on her hip. "The police say they have a few leads, but no one's been named yet. Some people think it may have been a scare tactic to get the department to join with Nurvus. It and the Biolab have been its main opponents."

"I don't see how the bombing would affect the department's status."

"Two words, Hugh: No money. Where are they going to get the money to replace the building, let alone all the info and equipment that was stored in it? They made data backups--thank goodness that archive incident was good for something--but the computers? How many have been manufactured since Mother Brain's demise? A hundred? Two hundred? Or am I shooting too high?" Lore brushed away her aggravation with a shake and continued in a calmer tone. "Replacement computers aren't going to be cheap, and pretty much the only way to streamline costs now is to join Nurvus. The government isn't giving funding to anything else--they barely have any money anyway--and I doubt a private individual is going to foot the bill. It's just too much with things becoming as scarce as they are."

Hugh leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms above his head. "I suppose you're right." He rolled his head, trying to stretch out the cricks in his neck. "So why are you telling me about this? Granted we haven't had a violent outbreak in a while, you hardly came over and dropped the newspaper on my head when the Piata riots were going on."

She looked crossly at him. "Because this time someone we know has been involved. Kain's been detained for questioning. And though no suspects have been named, you'd have to be an idiot to not be able to read through the lines and tell that at least somebody thinks he might be guilty."

"So? Either he's guilty or he's not. An opinion this early in the investigation doesn't count. I can hardly imagine he's the only one they detained."

"No. No, he's not. But he's the only high profile person connected with the explosion. No one's going to come out and say he did it, but the mere fact he was there on site within minutes of it happening has attracted a lot of attention, and most of it isn't good. It would've been the same if it was someone like Councillor Dawson instead, but it happened to be Kain."

"What are you getting at?"

Lore shook her head irritably. "I talked to Sharon before coming here. Kain managed to get a hold of her and tell her what happened. Apparently Kain was asked to meet the department head of agriculture in front of the building with the Nurvus design specs. She wanted to see them. In the event she could not meet him he was to leave the packet of specs in her mailbox inside the building. Turns out she never asked to see the specs at all. Kain waited around for a long time, decided she wasn't going to show, and dropped the package off in the building. A little after that the explosion went off."

"Any people hurt?"

"Hugh, the whole building came down. Lots of people were. The search for bodies is still going on. Some of the people at the cafe across the street were injured too. That was quite a blast. And... Kain does know how to handle dynamite."

"But of course you don't think he did it." Hugh's voice was almost a challenge.

"Of course not! But the longer I think about it, the more I see how he could be pinned down as a suspect rather than simply being a 'detainee'."

"Then stop thinking about it."

"I can't. And you shouldn't either. He's our friend."

Hugh looked away, unable or unwilling to agree. "I suppose."

"Oh, get over that argument you had with him," she snapped. "The longer you guys keep avoiding each other the crabbier I get. All of this affects a whole lot more than the both of you and as one of the closest people to either of you I'm bound to feel some of those shockwaves." She let out a rough breath. "Anyway, I let you know what I wanted to say. Now I have my own work to get back to. And get some sleep! You don't do anyone any favors by falling asleep at your desk like that."

Hugh watched her go and ran a hand through his mussed hair. One of the documents under him had a speck of drool on it. Yeah, he should stop sleeping here. Hugh pushed the stack off of the side and picked up the newspaper Lore had left behind. He touched a hand to the article on the front paper, a color print of the wreckage left behind by the blast. Layers upon layers of concrete and steel had collapsed over the building's address. Emergency workers stood around the site, clearing the debris.

What a waste of life--all that we fought for undone by an enemy that is ourself rather than of Mother Brain.

He read the article and the rest of the newspaper from cover to cover.

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