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Restoration

Chapter Thirty-Four


Quake

David's face appeared on the monitor at Nurvus's control center. The tech had begun his latest stint at Zelan with the stoic android Wren only a couple days before. Now they were set up for their first major round of testing, or at least Kain hoped they would be. Wren wouldn't exaggerate the amount of their preparation, but neither was he entirely thorough about what oversights might have been made. The android still was not very good at volunteering information.

"I've heard the news," said David. "You've been cleared as a suspect."

Kain rolled his eyes. "Of course. I didn't do it. But that still doesn't make everything better. You know how much of a problem that has been for PR? When people think of Nurvus, they think of me. When they think of me, they think of bombing."

"And I bet those sticks of dynamite in your apartment didn't help any."

The wrecker snarled. "I got rid of those before the police came knocking. Those were meant for blowing open Mother Brain's facilities, not the Agricultural Building. No, this clearance isn't doing much for me besides keeping me from being arrested. The damage isn't going to clear up overnight and it doesn't help that the police still don't have a suspect. Someone's either out to damage me big time or needed a high profile scapegoat."

David nodded. "Don't worry. They'll probably show up again. I can't see any point to bombing just the Agricultural Building. Sure it's important, but there are other facilities where they could have done a lot more damage."

Kain studied the monitor in mute decision. "Yeah. All right then, let's go ahead with the day's testing. All known systems are connected, right?"

"Affirmative," said Wren, towering over David's shoulder.

"But we'll probably leave the Dezo ones alone for now," said David. "We're not going to want to mess with those without at least letting Tyler and his people know."

Kain nodded. "Right. Okay, let's start from the top of the list. Bring the dams online."

"Bringing the dams online," echoed David, setting the commands in motion.

Kain opened an audio channel from his control center and called out, "Sharon, do you see anything?"

Her voice came back, colored with the roar of water. "Yes! The Green Dam has opened! The signals from Zelan are working! There's not a whole lot of water in the lake anymore, but there's still enough I think that we'll get some use out of the dams."

Kain smiled grimly and nodded. It was a bit of a start, another step in the right direction. "Okay, Sharon, thanks! Now ryuka over to Piata so we can do our next test."

She shouted an affirmative and then closed the connection. They moved on to the next system, and the next. Slowly working their way through the factories and systems Mother Brain had left behind on Motavia, all the way down to such a thing that they may never use; the Plate System.

* * * * *

Hugh felt the first jolt. It was as though a giant had caught his toe under the floor and tripped over the building. A second termor, even more powerful, followed with alarming celerity. Beakers of fluid crashed to the ground around him and paper notes flew from his desk. He nearly stumbled as he crouched under his desk, thanking the engineers who decided to bolt down the heavy furniture. His chair, however, was not secured, and it nearly struck him in the face when the entire floor heaved.

The overhead lighting flickered wildly, then faded out altogether. The red emergency lights came on and Hugh knew that the Biolab had lost external power. He felt a jolt, then a terrible lurch. The entire floor wobbled, balanced in some precarious position, and then he fell. The drop was the longest moment he had ever felt.

When he came to the building was dark. He lay on his side, rolled somewhere from under his desk. A book had landed heavily on his back and he ached all over. He brought himself to a sitting position and blinked, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the light. There was none. The power was completely and utterly gone. If that was true, then the Biolab's ventilation system was also down. He had to get out of his office.

Hugh tried prying open the automatic door, and succeeded in opening it a crack. He grabbed his chair and jammed the back of it in the opening, wedging it in like a lever and pushing as hard as he could. The door resisted, fighting back for every length of doorway, but Hugh twisted the chair and wedged it sideways in the opening. He hopped through the gap before the chair could give way and spring from the breach.

The hallway outside was dim, but the red emergency lights still worked out here. Small arrows pointed to the nearest exit. Down one path he could hear the sound of voices, mostly students, but he also recognized the calming speech of Dana, reassuring those with her that they would be all right. He made his way towards them, but felt the floor pitch beneath him. So did they. Someone screamed and another sobbed.

When the swaying stopped, Hugh made a quick dash for the group. He rounded a bend and found Dana with a small cluster of frightened adolescents. She encouraged them, helping a straggler keep walking forward when she noticed Hugh. She smiled with relief.

"Thank goodness. I didn't know if you made it or not. Kenneth and I have been trying to get all the students out here. I think this is the last of them, but it hasn't been easy with the floors tipping one way then the other."

He steadied a student as another shock rippled through the building. "What happened?"

"I don't know, but it seems like the entire Biolab has been swallowed underground!"

"How?"

Dana shook her head. "I don't know," she repeated. "But we'd better get out of here in case the Biolab sinks any further. I already sent most of the students up ahead with Ken towards the exit." She lowered her voice and leaned close so only Hugh could hear. "Ken thinks there may be a way out. I hope so, because it's already getting stuffy in here. I'm not looking forward to suffocating to death."

The image of being trapped beneath a mile of rubble did not appeal to Hugh either. He squeezed her arm. "We'll make it. Get these people out of here. What about rest of the staff? Did they get out of their labs?"

"We haven't taken a head count yet, but there were a few that went with Ken and the others. Lore went back into the laboratory areas to check for anyone who might have been trapped."

Hugh looked back the way he had come. "How long ago was this?"

"A while I suppose. I haven't kept track..." Dana broke off and changed her tone entirely. "Hey, where are you going?"

"After her!" he shouted as another lurch brought him around the corner and back towards the labs. He kept on running, looking for open doors or other signs of the path she may have taken. Dammit, Lore. Always have to play the martyr don't you. You can't save everybody. Do you have any idea what this does to me?

The building rocked and the entire Biolab slid to one side. Hugh flopped through an open doorway and shouted Lore's name, then through a second, and a third. The floor shuddered and pulled itself to an almost level position, but the sound of thunder echoed above him. Hugh had the sickening feeling that he was about to be buried alive.

"Lore!"

He hoped Kenneth, Dana, and the students made it out okay. He hoped the other scientists did too. Hell, he hoped Lore made it out as well even if it meant he was running around under threat of death for nothing, but he had to be sure.

"Over here!" she shouted.

Hugh scampered into a doorway and found her finishing a set of improvised bandages around an unconscious woman. The scientist had bled from a jagged wound on her head and Lore fastened a makeshift splint around her arm. An overturned file cabinet lay beside them. Hugh saw enough to guess what happened.

"We've got to get her out of here," said Lore. "She needs help and I can't give any more to her. I think she's had a concussion."

He wanted to say a multitude of things at once: to tell her how she worried him, how Kenneth and Dana were getting the students out, to ask her if she knew what happened to the lab. But he finally decided the injured took priority. He would talk to her later. Hugh moved over to help her when the Biolab pitched a final time and everything went black.

* * * * *

She found the body of the scientist first. Though she could not see, she felt for the neck and a heartbeat beneath her fingertips. She still lived. That was good. But now there weren't even lights in the hallway. She could not tell if she was still in the laboratory, but she felt fairly certain that she was. She just did not know where the doorway was or how they would ever find their way out in the dark. Hugh might know, if she could find him. He spent enough time here to have memorized.

Lore fumbled in the dark, crawling into papers, test tubes, and banging her head against a table leg. She found warm cloth and trailed her fingers across it until she located the shirt's collar. She touched flesh and lightly ran her hand over his face. Definitely Hugh. Even in the dark she could recognize him. She would have used her tsu technique to light up the room, but not without first knowing what this room contained. The stink of chemicals served as a constant reminder that using combustible techniques might not be a wise idea in close quarters.

"Hugh, can you hear me?" There was no need to whisper, but the ferocity of the darkness demanded it. She glanced around though she could see nothing. "I think the shaking's stopped, for good now, but we need to find a way out of here."

He didn't stir. She patted him down, checking for life threatening injuries she could only find by touch.

"Come on, Hugh! Wake up! It's hot and stuffy in here and you're probably the only one who knows the way out!"

She slumped beside him with an exasperated breath. There had to be a way out that did not involve blindly crawling through several dozen hallways. Seed? She crawled away, groping on countertops in search of a terminal. No good. Not with the power off. She wanted to cry. Perhaps some thoughtful person would have stored a flash somewhere in the room for power outages like this.

Hugh uttered a groan and she crept over to him. She could hear him stir, the sound of cloth rubbing against itself. Lore reached out to him and he flinched at her touch.

"Easy, Hugh. It's me."

He relaxed and she felt him clasp her wrist. "I know I've been asking this a lot lately, but what happened?"

"The building shook again and now we've lost all power."

"Great."

"Do you know where we are? Can you find a way out?"

"I think so. What about that woman? Is she all right?"

"I don't know. She's alive--strong pulse--but I can't examine her beyond that. I need light and I can't risk using any of my techniques. I might cause the whole room to explode."

"Good point."

He stood, pulling her up with him. "I think we're going to have to leave your patient. We shouldn't risk moving her, especially in the dark when we don't know where we're going ourselves. We can come back for her later once we have help." He groaned and Lore could imagine him clutching his head with his free hand. "Being knocked out twice in one day is doing nothing for my peace of mind."

Hugh lead the way out of the room. The hallway was dim and he did not release his grip on Lore's wrist. She crowded close, almost on top of him, for fear of losing him in the dark. He had a smile in his voice when he said, "You know, Lore, sometimes you worry me."

She snorted. "I might say the same for you."

"But seriously, when I thought you might get trapped down here..."

"You had to come to the rescue." She smiled in return. "Thanks, but that'll do no good if we're both stuck down here."

Hugh was silent for a while. He lead them around a corner and past two doorways. Lore could not tell which direction they took in the darkness. She knew her way well enough by sight, but until now she hadn't realized how hard it would be to visualize the path without the help of her eyes. No air circulated about them. The world was silent and dead, save for the sound of their footsteps.

Lore swallowed, but her tongue felt swollen and thick. "How far do you think we are from the exit?"

"I'm not sure," he said. "Maybe a little farther."

They crept on, passing some halls, turning down others. They crawled through an elevator shaft until Hugh told her for certain they were close. Then they found the door, blocked by a mountain of rubble. It must have been night outside, because little if any light came through the cracks. They did not want to think they were so far below that the light could not reach them. Stone and dirt already filled the whole of the doorway, with no end to be found.

Hugh sighed, dropping to the floor and leaning back against a nearby wall. Lore joined him, resting her back against his arm and shoulder. "I guess we're buried." he said. "But at least it seems the others made it out all right."

"Or they're trapped at another exit."

"This is the one they were heading for when I last saw them, though I suppose they might have turned around and tried another one."

"Yeah, I guess. I don't know, but if they're still here, it would be nice to be together. Maybe we could dig our way out then." Lore pushed out an irritable breath. "You shouldn't have come looking for me," she said.

"I don't regret it."

"Even if you die?"

"If I die I won't be able to regret it."

"You don't know that."

"I don't believe in a god and I don't believe there is anything for us after we die."

"Then what do we live for?"

He shifted his position, brought an arm around her and pulled her close. Lore laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. She could feel his breath close to her ear. It was cool by the doorway. Perhaps the dirt let some air through after all, and there may be a way out. But for now, she found Hugh both warm and comfortable.

"Biologically speaking, we live to procreate." He hesitated as her muscles tensed. "But in the philosophical sense I believe we choose what, or who, to live for. Each person lives the way they do for a reason."

"That's a lame answer," she muttered. She entertained an amusing image of herself hefting Hugh up in the air and tossing him down the hall.

He seemed unperturbed by her response though. "It was one, wasn't it? Just rest now. I'm sure everyone will come looking for us once it gets light out. We're too important for them to leave behind."

"I wouldn't want them to fetch me just because I'm a good speaker or because I run the school administration."

"That's not what I meant. People like Kenneth and Dana will want to find us, so we have to live for them, unless you want to disappoint."

"No."

"Then take a nap. I'll stay awake and watch for them."

Lore hated to admit it, but despite her inadvertent losses of consciousness throughout the crisis, she felt abominably tired. Must be the stress, she decided. Still, it would be nice to know someone she trusted would be watching over her in a place like this. She couldn't have slept without. Life could be worse than being trapped deep within the earth with one's best friend.

Lore dozed, sometimes reaching the point of wakefulness, then drifting back into deeper slumber. When the first rays of light peaked through the tiny holes in the wall of dirt, Hugh woke her with a gentle shake. She could barely see the outline of his body, but to see him at all after their time in darkness filled her with a joy she had never known. She opened her mouth to speak, but he smiled and waved her silent. He pointed at the mound of dirt and beckoned her listen.

Voices! People moved around the earth above, probably searching for them! Lore uttered a wordless cheer and knocked Hugh to the floor with the force of her hug. After a brief return of her embrace, he helped her up and the two came as close to the clogged entrance as they could and shouted for help. It was not long before the excavation team found them and they led them to the injured scientist on the floor below. Hugh did not tell Lore, but he thought about the two of them often in the days to come.

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