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Chapter Thirty-Eight


Blood. There was so much blood. People panicked before his body had even fallen to the ground. Lore was dimly aware of shouts for security and medics as she scrambled on the stage. She didn't remember climbing out of her seat. All she knew was that she had to get to Hugh and see if he was still alive. Too much blood. He wasn't moving. Was he breathing? She didn't know any healing techniques.

The medics arrived and someone was pulling her away. A young woman suggested that she sit down, let her friends take care of her. Friends? Lore looked up and saw that Kain held her arm. David and Sharon stood behind him.

Someone arrived with a stretcher and the medics departed with Hugh on it nearly as quickly as they had arrived. The biologist was pale when Lore saw him as they rushed by, but he seemed asleep, in no pain. He must still be alive, she told herself. The dead are not rushed off to the hospital. Someone must have used a healing technique, at least a minor one, to stop the flow of blood.

"Lore, your hands..." said Sharon.

She raised them and looked uncomprehendingly at the sticky red color on her palms. Had she come so close to him or had there been so much of it? She looked at the floor where Hugh had lain. The blood, there was too much of it.

"Is she all right?" asked someone, a guardian judging by the outfit.

Kain voiced a reply, but he sounded so far and distant. Sharon helped her to her feet and Lore found herself shaking.

"Lore," said Sharon, a little more strongly now, "you're in shock. Come with me. We'll get you cleaned up and maybe by then we'll know what's going on. Come on, the guardians want us to go."

Somehow she got one foot in front of the other, trembling with the motions of every step. Sharon kept talking to her, encouraging her. "That's it," she would say. "The hunters and guardians will get to the bottom of this. They always do. Maybe the government will deploy a couple agents to secure things on the intelligence side. So really, we will know what happened. It's just a matter of when."

"But Hugh..." Lore finally said.

Sharon gently pushed her into the women's restroom. "We'll know," she said. "We'll know when we know, and there's nothing you can do for him now. So let me get that blood off you. Calm down. Do you think when Hugh wakes up he'll want to see you looking like a nervous wreck?"

Lore took a deep breath and forced her feelings down to a single shudder. She counted out her heartbeats as Sharon washed off the blood. By the time the last speck had been cleaned she was composed.

"Do you think Hugh will be all right?" she asked.

Sharon's face was drawn, so unusual for her. "I really don't know. I didn't get a good look, but honestly, it looked pretty bad. Still, doctors have pulled off miraculous things, so there's hope. You know they'll do their best for him."

* * * * *

He had fallen into a coma, said the doctors, due to the loss of blood he had suffered and the resulting lack of oxygen to his brain. They estimated he would wake up after a few days. In the meantime his body mainly needed to recuperate. Medical staff would monitor him at all times of the day in case of emergency. There would be a couple more surgeries to remove the remaining bullets, but at this point leaving them in was not life-threatening and the surgery would go better once his body had recovered some if its strength.

Sharon had taken Lore down to the hospital cafeteria for a bite to eat. The historian looked so depressed that Sharon swore she should put something in her stomach, or at least a cup of sano. That left Kain sitting by himself in the small observation area adjacent to Hugh's room. He could look at his friend through the glass, but do nothing else that would disturb him. Kain would've have liked a cup of sano himself, but right now he felt it would give him an ulcer if he drank it.

Hugh lay on a motorized roller bed. In emergencies they would not have to transfer him to a gurney to move him. The bed itself would power up and move itself. When not in use, the bed was solid and heavy enough that it could not be accidentally shoved to one side by a careless person or two. Around the bed were a trio of machines. Kain knew enough to understand that one of them was an EKG. He could only imagine the functions of the others. And all around Hugh, inserted into his wrist, plugged into his nose, were tubes of all kinds. Someone had placed a stand by the bed, hanging some sort of drip bag from it. Maybe it was blood plasma, or maybe it was food and nutrients, but whatever it was, it trickled down through the tubing to Hugh's wrist where a thick needle pricked him in the arm.

This was the best the doctors could do. If Mother Brain was up and running all this would be mere first aid, but she was gone and they would have to live with the consequences. Of all things Mother Brain had provided them with, medicine had been the most useful. They still had the lessons, and some supplies, but one of the medics had privately told him that hospitals across the planet were facing a shortage of qualified personnel, and without a fully functional Biolab and many of the imported plants that used to grow on Motavia, medicine itself was in danger.

Cass came in the door, looking fairly haggard herself. "How is he?" she asked.

Kain snorted and glanced through the glass. "As well as to be expected. I think he's in what they call 'critical but stable' condition. If you ask me, the two words contradict each together."

She sighed. "That's a relief."

He looked at her quizzically.

"Not that his condition is a good thing," she said to clarify, "but I'm glad it's not any worse. Goodness knows we're having a rough enough time of it as it is." She shook her head and brought her hand to her temple. "Councillor Dawson is doing his best to reassure everyone and even this is good news for him."

"Dawson?" Kain scowled at the mention of Gillian's name. "What's he got to do with this?"

Cass stared at him, surprised. "You mean you didn't hear?" She paused. "I guess not. It's not common news yet, but I thought someone might have mentioned it to you. Basically, we found out that the gunman is a member of the Free Motavia Party."

"You're kidding me," said Kain, although the expression on her face plainly told him that she wasn't. "A member of the most idealistic political party on the planet decided to grab a gun and shoot up one of the men that's trying to save it?"

She shrugged and turned away. "That's what we know so far. The guardians caught him before he could get away and he's confessed as much. Councillor Dawson is telling everyone that this is just an isolated incident. It won't happen again. And who can blame him? We've never had a convention of this magnitude before."

Kain wasn't so sure about that. That bastard would probably sell out his own party if it would move him ahead. He clenched his hand into a fist and growled, "How can he be so damn political about this? My friend was nearly killed! They've got the gunman so leave it that. Try him, sentence him, hang him. But worrying about the reputation of his own stupid party? Dawson doesn't know anything. He doesn't even like you guys!"

"Shush, Kain!" Cass glared at him. "The councillor isn't the biomonster you make him out to be. He's as upset about this as we are."

"Upset about what it'll do to his career."

"You don't work with him as much as I do. You have no right to say such a thing."

"Come on! You know he isn't like the rest of you. He's not like the rest of your Free Motavia Party! Don't you ever wonder just why he's affiliated with you?"

Cass didn't reply, and for a moment Kain thought he might have gone too far. It was probably the stress. He shouldn't have started yelling, especially so close to Hugh. He hoped their voices couldn't have carried through the wall.

"I'm sorry," he said after a moment longer.

She nodded but didn't say anything.

"Changing the subject... Do you guys know yet why the man decided to take out Hugh?"

Cass let out a measured breath and shook her head. "It's all very jumbled, but we're getting the beginning of an image. He does follow the tenets of the Free Motavia Party, but in a twisted and extreme sort of way. He's very much down with any government bureaucracy controlling out lives and he wants a return to the independence we've had in centuries past, and I mean return as in everything to remind us about Mother Brain is gone. Even if the Free Motavia Party wanted that, we couldn't just pretend that everything that's happened under four centuries of her rule didn't occur. We want to get rid of the remaining attitudes and hindrances she's left us, but we're not for throwing everything away. We want a new beginning, free from the troubles we've had, but we still want to use computers as long as we're able to figure them out."

She sighed again and said, "I guess somehow he saw the Biolab joining Nurvus as a sort of sell-out, the last straw before Mother Brain is reborn."

"That exactly what Hugh feared Nurvus would be," said Kain, "but at least he was willing to try working with the system. He wasn't about to go shooting people to stop the merging."

Cass nodded. "We think this man has been mentally unbalanced for a long time. If that's true, he's probably been lacking his medication since the fall of Mother Brain. We've gotten the impression that he's been disgruntled for years, but it wasn't until he heard a particular speech that he decided to take action."

"What speech?"

"It was the one that Lore gave after the earthquake in New Zema. She talked about the fallacies in believing that machines are perfect and that we can't always trust in what they say. According to the man, she said something about how because of that it would be dangerous to give Nurvus any more power."

* * * * *

She did say that. But she hadn't meant it that way. She only meant that they needed to reevaluate Nurvus before relying on it as heavily as they planned. She wanted people to see the weaknesses in Nurvus so they could fix them. The problem wasn't the Biolab giving Nurvus more power, the problem was people giving Nurvus too much power by believing in something they didn't fully understand.

And now it had come to this.

Lore crumpled against the wall outside the observation room. Inside, Kain and Cass kept talking. Beside her, Sharon shook her arm. "Lore... Lore!" she said. "I don't know what you're thinking but snap out of it. It's not your fault."

Yes, it was. She had started speaking so that she could change the way people thought, transition them from the atmosphere and attitudes of Mother Brain. She wanted them to remember the past, but not to return to it. Words were weapons too, and with them someone could fight as ferociously as any sword. She had used that weapon blindly and struck someone without realizing how he would be affected by it. Irresponsible. She should have thought about what she said, how someone might have interpreted them in a way other than what she intended.

Sharon tried to stop her, but she broke away, running headlong down the hallway before her friend could see the tears falling from her face.

Damn it. It wasn't supposed to have happened like that. She was supposed to have helped people. Ever since she was a child all she wanted was to be like Alis. Alis Landale, savior of Algo. Alis, who defeated the tyrant king and drove back the darkness. Alis, who was an inspiration to everyone she touched. All Lore could do was twist things in the wrong direction. There had been no evil incarnate for Lore to fight, but she tried to do her best, to be that inspiration. How she tried! But did it have to be that everything she touched turned to ash?

Just like with Aeon... No, now wasn't the time to think about him. Goodness, not now... But Alis never had to make a choice like that. Alis never had to choose.

Lore's accusations of guilt pounded her between her echoing footfalls in the hospital's hallway. It was all this life in the capital; too rushed, too fast-paced, where people lied to give others the truth. Blinding. No time to think. Just like with Aeon. She needed to get away, clear her head. Anywhere else was fine but here.


She hadn't been there in a while. Not that it felt like one. No, the real home had been lost to one of the largest biomonster attacks before the fall of Mother Brain, but this new one had the family, most of the family, and that's what counted.

Her tears dried as she passed through the city, but the aching did not leave. The blur of people and traffic around her meant nothing. They didn't know or understand. She had a telepipe in her apartment. That was all she could think of, the only thing certain she could grasp. The frantic ringing of the visaphone greeted her ears when she opened the door, but she ignored it. She took the telepipe in her hands and bought it to her lips.

Home, she thought, as she played the melody for Kueri.

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