The convention hall was packed. Gillian, Lore, and Anna barely could
walk shoulder to shoulder through the sea of humanity near its entrance
and they had to shout to make themselves heard. The blond-haired
guardian elbowed people out of her way as she repeated her answer to
Gillian and Lore.
"All the guardians are at their stations! But with all these people
we'll be hard pressed to keep order."
"S'okay!" said Lore, though she hardly heard the sound of her own
voice. "We know they'll do their best."
Gillian shouted that he missed what she said and Lore turned around and
repeated it to him. He nodded, leaned across to Anna, and added,
"Thanks. We really appreciate this."
"In a way, it's a good sign," said Lore.
Anna shrugged. "I suppose, but I'm not sure we have enough people to
handle the crowd. Rudo and the rest of the hunters are taking care of
security outside of the building, but quite frankly, I'd almost want to
swap with him. Inside is gonna be far worse. I almost wish we still
had those robots running around. We never had these problems
with Mother Brain around."
She parted company from them, still mumbling about weapon checks,
security points, and traffic routes. Lore and Gillian managed to pry
open a door marked for authorized personnel only and ducked into the
small hallway. The historian smiled with exaggerated relief as she
leaned back against a paste-colored wall.
"This is gonna be big," she breathed.
Gillian nodded. "I'm starting to wonder if it's time for us to have
"Guards?" She pushed herself away from the wall. "You know what Mother
Brain used them for. We want people to come to us and help, not to
scare them away."
"Not for intimidation," he said, "for protection. Think. If any one of
us is taken out the restoration process will-"
She shook her head and started to move further down the hallway. "No.
I have to believe in the human spirit. Our society, our culture, is
still rebuilding itself. What we say and do has every influence on
these people, especially those who were used to a life of nothing under
Mother Brain. We have to show them trust so they can be sure they can
trust us in return."
Gillian followed her. She could hear him close behind her even if she
couldn't see him. "I can't trust that easily," he said softly. "I'll
try if that's what you think is best, but I prefer my idealism be
tempered by realism."
Lore fumed, but did not challenge him. Perhaps she was being a bit
unrealistic, but she had to give people the benefit of a doubt. She had
to. People such as Alis Landale existed. Surely their species was not
so base that it deserved to have been ruled over by alien refugees from
another world. Extinction due to fear or apathy should not be their
She stopped suddenly, allowing Gillian to come beside her. The
historian fixed him with a hard look. "Then we must make our ideal the
* * * * *
The convention was Gillian's idea as a way to bring the general populace
closer to the heart of the Nurvus project. He said that the current
bulletins distributed throughout the various cities of the planet were
well and good, but people were used to instant news under Mother Brain.
The Council could no longer give them instant news, but they could
provide a level of intimacy that Mother Brain never could. If people
really wanted to see that things were different, then they could see for
themselves exactly what the Council and the various heads of staff
wanted to say about their plans. Announcements were released in all the
major cities that anyone who wished was welcome to attend the convention
in Paseo. Everyone would be allowed inside until the building was
Kain had to admit to himself that it was a nice idea, although he would
never admit the same to anyone else. Instead he masked his grudging
approval behind various complaints about the crowd. The fact Sharon was
clinging to his arm like some kind of rabid dust bunny didn't help much
either. David jostled behind him in an effort not to get lost, giving
the trio the appearance of being some sort of ungainly beast charging
through the mob of people. What Kain wouldn't have given to have Wren
standing in front of him like some great plow that could push people
aside at will. Granted the android was physically capable of doing just
that, he doubted that would leave a favorable impression on people.
Besides, the android had already gone ahead, having been left in the
building the night before precisely for the reason of avoiding getting
caught in a situation he might not be ready to handle. No doubt it
would be boring for a Palman staying in a waiting room all night, but
Wren should be able to handle it with his usual aplomb.
What really bothered Kain was not Wren, not the crowds, not even
Gillian; it was the fact that Nurvus was actually coming together. That
should be cause of celebration, but now the pressure to succeed would be
even greater. Today Commander Yurik would open the first round of
speeches, Councillor Turgen, may his face desiccate to the complexion of
a mesoman, would deliver a session on the remaining flaws in Nurvus to
be worked on, and Hugh would formally announce the Biolab's integration
with Nurvus. Kain had been offered a chance to speak as well, but the
only way he'd go up there would be if they dragged him kicking and
screaming. No, his seat from the second row in the main auditorium
would be fine. He could listen to other people make asses of themselves
while he avoided being one himself.
"Finally!" Kain barged past a pair of guardians and spilled into the
waiting room. Behind him, David apologized to the two and offered them
their identification. Sharon let go of his arm and collapsed into the
nearest chair. Out of sight of the door, Wren stood watching them.
David shut the door behind him and looked around. Kain sank into a seat
and heaved a sigh of relief. "Glad that's over with. We can go
directly to the auditorium from here, right?"
"Correct," said Wren, coming to life. He walked over to join them.
"The door on the north side of the room will open to a corridor leading
directly to the restricted area of the main auditorium."
"Great, then we can wait out the storm here."
"I wish the rest of our staff was so lucky," said Sharon. "They
shouldn't have to compete with the rest of the crowd."
David shook his head. "You know how limited the seating is though.
Even for the restricted area seating is tough. Of course they have room
for Kain and Wren, but the two of us barely made it."
"I still find it funny that they gave an android a seat," said Kain.
"It's good though," said Sharon. "That shows they're starting to treat
him like a person." She smiled at Wren and asked him, "Don't you like
"That is good," the android replied. It was about as honest a reply as
she would get out of him, which she found an improvement. David managed
to stop Wren from excusing his own inability to feel Palman emotions
after every inquiry that asked him how he felt.
"Now, Wren, you're going to get a good look at Palman politics in
action," said Kain. "I want you to absorb all that and later tonight
ask me, Sharon, or David any questions you have about today. Once we
get Nurvus up and running, you're still going to have to deal with
people, and this should be a good example of how people are going to act
when major political events are happening."
"It is unfortunate that such deliberation must take place before a
Kain nodded. "Yes, it is. But it's necessary. We Palmans aren't
logical beings, and we aren't all networked together like a bunch of
computers. You'll get used to it. Besides, being human has a certain
charm to it as well."
"That is something I can not experience."
"No, but we'll bring you as close as we can."
* * * * *
"Hugh! Hugh! Come this way! The ceremony's about to start!"
Cass frantically waved at Hugh from further down the hall. The
congestion was worse than the biologist had counted on. This hall
wasn't nearly so bad as it was outside, but the closer the time came to
the keynote speech the more crowded even the restricted halls became.
He was supposed to have a personal escort to the backstage area where he
would wait until it came time for his announcement, but his escort must
have gotten waylaid en route to him, because he was already late by the
time he left his waiting room. Now Cass must have rushed out here in a
hurry to find him.
He jogged up to her, hoping he still looked presentable. He wore a
formalized version of his usual lab coat in a hope that looking more
like a scientist than a politician would lend credence to his words. If
the crowd seemed more relaxed he might not have as strong a case of dry
mouth as he did right now.
"Esa couldn't find you," said Cass, "so I came looking. We'll miss the
beginning of Yurik's speech, no doubt about it, but we can get you there
in time so someone won't look like an idiot calling you out on stage
when you're not even there!"
"Sorry about that."
"It's not your fault," she said, grabbing a hold of his sleeve, "but
we're just in such a mess right now. Gillian's got guardians all over
the inside and hunters all over the outside, but there are still too
many people for them to watch! I managed to skip by them while they
were busy so I could get here faster."
Hugh allowed her to pull him along, figuring that she knew the way
better than he did. They got up to the backstage security and flashed
their badges to the guardians at the door. Once inside Hugh could hear
the muffled speech of the Commander. Cass guided him to the greenroom,
where the other speakers were waiting.
Once they closed the door behind them, Hugh could no longer hear the
muffled speech, rather, he heard more clearly. Someone had placed a
video display in the room so that the people waiting to go on could see
the events on stage.
"I'll come and get you when it comes time for you to get on," said
Cass. "That shouldn't be long, but you never know. Sometimes people
improvise and ramble on longer than they're supposed to."
Hugh nodded and she left. He glanced around the room to look at whose
company he had the pleasure of sharing. It appeared to be two members
of the Council and the head of Shure Engineering. He wasn't familiar
with any of them except by name and reputation. The Council
representatives were from Zema and Piata and seemed to be okay sorts,
but still came from the generation ahead of him. The head of Shure was
about his own age though. So Hugh chose to strike up a conversation
with the engineer. It was no sort of professional bias against their
age or positions, simply that if Hugh was going to start a social
interaction, he preferred to do it with someone his own age.
The engineer turned out to be quite talkative, speaking about his plans
to redesign the architecture of the cities to make them more adaptable
for Motavia's increasingly arid environment. Hugh mentioned the sinking
of the Biolab to him and how the building itself was largely intact, but
the town around it was still in the midst of being rebuilt. The
engineer offered to take a look at it and see if he could help. He
might also be able to see about better proofing the buildings against
earthquakes should another one happen.
Satisfied that at least something good had been done while he waited,
Hugh found himself eager and ready when Cass called him to come on
* * * * *
The master of ceremonies announced Hugh's name with a flourish, and Kain
couldn't help wondering what a useless job what was--someone to just
stand there, smile, and announce names. The wrecker wanted to lean back
in his seat and put his feet up on the chair in front of him, but he
knew that would irritate some self-righteous politician. That was a
pleasant thought, but he still couldn't afford it. He'd still have to
play their game, for as long as it took for Nurvus to get into action.
Once he was sure it was up and running, once it was free from the
dangers of being pulled apart before it could prove itself, then he
could let them know exactly what he thought.
Hugh stepped up to the podium, still a distant figure from Kain's
perspective. He, David, Sharon, and Wren had been shoved off to the
side near the aisle. Second row be damned, they could have been placed
in the fifth row and still have gotten a better seat if only they were
closer to the middle of the auditorium. At least Lore seemed to have
fared better. She and Gillian sat together in the front row and close
to the podium.
"Greetings," said Hugh. "If you haven't heard the news already from the
bulletins, I have decided that the Biosystems Lab will join with
Nurvus. Some of you are no doubt wondering why I reversed my earlier
Kain grunted, shifting in his seat, and to one side of him David
whispered for him to stop fidgeting. Wren, on his other side, remained
entranced by the whole proceeding, no doubt recording the entire thing
for further review. Kain couldn't get comfortable, not with this view
of the stage and not in this stupid seat, and he wasn't getting sympathy
from either side of him. Even Sharon, on the other side of David, was
looking at him strangely. Fine, he'll quit disturbing them. He'd
probably get a better view from the aisle anyway. No heads in the way
and at least he could stand up and stretch his legs.
"In ancient times and even today, there are people trained in the ways
of combat, more specifically, with the sword," said Hugh. "It's a
weapon that can be used to destroy, but also to protect. The warriors
who use these weapons know that not all battles are fought with the
sword. Can a sword slay sickness or heal a family? No. But these
warriors learn about these weapons because for some fights they
can be used. They are another part of an arsenal that includes
things such as hope, trust, and compassion that can make our world a
Kain ducked under Wren's vision and scrambled across the other people
between him and the aisle. He annoyed a couple of them, but they'd
live. It's not like Hugh was giving a command performance or anything,
though he had to admit the biologist didn't look as stiff as he expected
him to be.
"So you can see why I want the Biosystems to be a part of Nurvus,"
continued Hugh. "Nurvus has the potential to do so much, and with the
Biolab it will be able to do one thing more. Science used in the wrong
hands can kill. We have seen the result of that. Science used in the
right hands can cure. Science is a double-edged sword and like all
weapons must be wielded carefully. I would rather that power, the power
of the Biolab, be available and connected to everyone than for it to
disappear after my passing. Yes, it is early to be saying such a thing,
but realize that Nurvus is designed to protect us and our descendants
for centuries to come."
Kain paced up and down the aisle. No one paid him any mind. He
originally thought to keep his eyes trained Hugh, but figured listening
worked just as well. The floor would be interesting to look it if only
it wasn't so dark.
"All that we want to add to Nurvus we must do now while we are still
able, while we still possess the knowledge and technology, before we
lose any more of it. We can't isolate ourselves and simply hope that
things will get better. Then perhaps someday in the future we will be
able to take that knowledge and once again move forward."
A thin red glint in the far catwalk caught Kain's eye. It was suspended
over the rear of crowd where no one was looking. He wouldn't have
noticed it except that it seemed distinctly out of place. The flash was
off metal, but not the dulled metal of an old stage lamp or the catwalk
itself. More than that, the light came from behind it, where there
should be none. A lasersight?
It could take only seconds to aim.
Kain whipped around, ceremony and security be damned, and shouted,
"Hugh! Get down! Assassin!"
Then the bullets pierced the stage.