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Chapter Forty

No Kiss to Wake the Sleeper

The door behind Kain shut as Sharon came into the living room of his apartment. He did not always find himself so reflective, but today as he stared at his computer monitor, he knew that it was not really the lines of code that he saw. His eyes were ready to bleed, and not because his knowledge of programming eluded him. He pushed himself back from his desk and buried his face in his hands.

"Any luck?" he asked.

"I have no idea where she is," Sharon replied, pulling up a chair to sit beside him. "I called Dana and Kenneth down at the Biolab and she's not there, or at either her or Hugh's place in New Zema. She's not here in Paseo as far as I can tell. Cass hasn't heard from her, or anyone she's been known to associate with in the Free Motavia Party. I've heard Councillor Dawson is quite concerned."

Kain snorted. "He just wants Lore to lure more saps into his party."

She shrugged, not meeting his eyes. "I suppose, but sometimes I wonder though."

"Hm?" He turned his head to her as she leaned against his shoulder. "What do you mean?"

"Cass really believes in him, and while Lore doesn't trust most of the Council, she does seem to trust Dawson, or at least she's willing to work with him. He's been a real jerk to us to be sure, but I wonder if there's something we're not seeing."

"Maybe," Kain said reluctantly. "The man can just be so infuriating. He doesn't seem to hold to any particular ideal, so I never have any idea exactly what it is he's shooting for. As long as we get Nurvus up and running, I suppose I can put up with him, but I won't be unhappy if he disappears off the Council next election. I think another two years and we'll be ready to put the entire system online. That's not so long, is it?"

"Given what we've had to work with, that's not long at all. But the follow-on work to that... All the fine tuning..."

"Wren will help us."

"Wren will have the time. We won't."

Sharon stood up with a sigh and tucked a wayward lock of her hair beneath an ear. "We don't really know what we're getting into. This is all so much different from what we were raised to expect. This technology isn't even ours. No wonder we barely know how to use it. We'll be grappling with it for the rest of our lives. That scares me. The people who are children now, will they know even half of what we do?"

"That's what Lore is working on though. At least when she's not speaking on behalf of the Free Motavia Party. You know she more than any of us is dreading that everything we know and do will be forgotten."

"I know."

She shook her head, as though to clear away the rest of her mood. "I'd better go. I promised Cass I'd help her out a bit. She's really distraught over Lore's disappearance. I just wanted to drop by and let you know." Sharon opened the door and paused. She glanced over her shoulder at Kain, who looked back at her, perhaps a bit puzzled. "Take care of yourself," she said. "That could have been you up there instead of Hugh, and then I don't know where that'd leave us."

"I have no intention of going anywhere," he said.

"I'm sure, but I don't think Hugh had either."

* * * * *

Me instead of Hugh, eh? Damn! How am I supposed to take that? Wren pleasantly reminded Kain to remain focused while examining a breach in his metal casing. Kain would have to find a way for Wren to be able to repair himself in the event people forgot how to help him. But it was hard to concentrate with Sharon plugging up his thoughts wherever he turned. Hell, she was cute, and she didn't grate on his nerves nearly as much as she used to, but it just wasn't her to be so down. He could count on her more than anyone else on his Nurvus team, except possibly David.

"You didn't solder that straight," said Wren.

"Will you shut the hell up?" replied Kain.

The android looked at him curiously, more of David's programming at work. But Kain knew Wren wasn't human, and no matter that he desired knowledge of what he did wrong, he would not press for it while said offended person was still upset. And Kain was indeed upset. Sharon. Hugh. Lore. Everyone was either acting weird or stuck in a coma. He was really too busy to be thinking about things like this. They all were. A waste of time to play and replay the scenes that could have happened. A person should be able to just think of something once, and then file it away for easy retrieval whenever needed, rather than for the uncomfortable thought to keep surfacing and resurfacing. Wren had it easy, following an incredibly complex, yet ultimately simple, decision tree. He only followed his programming. Humans didn't have that luxury, or if they did, they did not know themselves well enough to use it.

"Try moving your arm now," said Kain. "Does everything seem to be in order?"

Wren pumped his arm methodically. "That would appear to be true. I cannot sense any irregularities."

"Good. I'll get Sharon and her robotics team to step up work on installing a self-repair mechanism in you. Then you can look after yourself instead of coming to us."

"That would be good."

"I think if David's up for it, the two of you should be heading back to Zelan soon. You've still got a lot of work to do up there, and it's going to take a long time to finish it."

"Correct. Completion of next programming/decryption milestone is at least seven weeks away, and the next-"

"I know the timetable, Wren." Kain shrugged. "Or at least, I have a copy of it in my office that I can reference when needed. Your candor is appreciated, but you don't have to explain yourself every time you make a comment, unless someone asks of course. Most of us are bright enough to know there's a reason behind what you say. You need to do some more people watching and see how they interact, though I guess that's hard with just you and David on Zelan. David might as well be part robot anyway."

"He is capable of thinking quite logically, yes."

"Okay. Anyway, I'm gonna head off now. It's getting late and I still need to stop by my office before I head home for the night."


"Excuse me?"

"It is now a new day, hence it is morning."

Kain yawned and stretched. "Well, as long as it's still dark out there, it's night to me. Good night."

He walked to his office, a cluttered little room off the main path. It wasn't a fitting location he supposed, but he liked the privacy, and the harried looks officials had when they came to find him. He paused when he came to the door though. The light was on inside and he could hear someone shuffling around. Sharon shouldn't be here tonight. She said she was going to be with Cass, unless she decided to stop by after all that. Maybe David let himself in.

Kain pushed open the door, it was unlocked, and frowned. "What are you doing here?" he said flatly as he stepped inside. "Donald."

The man inside was a few years older than Kain, tall and lanky, with the same pale blue hair that fell loosely around his face. "Looking for you of course," said Donald with a mocking grin. "You know, you're a really hard person to track down. The haircut, never using your first name. I go around asking people for Joshua Kain, and nobody seems to know who that is. I ask about the Kain heading the Nurvus Project, and people are like 'Oh yeah! I guess his first name could be Joshua.' It took me a long time to confirm it was indeed you. I tried giving you a message through one of your friends, but I guess she didn't pass it along. And the other one turned out to be useless."

Kain scowled. "My friend told me you visited him."

"The biologist? I guess he must have some brains after all. I thought his spine must have bent when he decided to join you and Nurvus after all."

"Get out of here." Kain moved away from the door and glared at the other man. "You have no business being here."

Donald chuckled. "I do. That's why I'm here. You see, those of us back home were never really happy that you ran out on us. You want to know what happened after you left?"


"You never kept in contact. You don't know that Dad drank himself to death. That when Mother Brain died our family had no skills, no means to support ourselves..."

"That's your own damn fault. Anyone could have learned a trade if they wanted to."

"You left us destitute. Mimi has a child she can barely feed because the deadbeat father left her. Clarissa and Bethany work as field hands in these new farms your people keep setting up. Lily should be in school, but there doesn't seem to be one in Maula anymore. Oh we're alive, but barely. If I hadn't pulled together a business your sisters would be even worse off. I know you always thought of me as a sack of waste cousin your parents were forced to take in, but I've been a hell of a lot better brother to them than you have."

"What about Mom?"

"Dead. Even before your dad. Who do you think had to take on all the work after you left? It wasn't me. I had my own things to do."

"Like drinking and blowing what little money we had."

Donald shook his head. "No. I got better than that. Besides, you had left, so where was I going to get my spending money? My business is growing and I'm very well connected these days. So I've come here to give you a bit of a warning."

Kain glared, wishing he had a weapon on him. "What kind of warning?"

"Remember the bombing of the Motavian Agricultural Center?" Donald smiled maliciously. "That made a nasty little stain on your reputation didn't it? Sure, they cleared you as a suspect, but you're not really innocent either, are you. Not until a real suspect is caught anyway."

"You did that."

Donald shrugged. "It's really not fair that you get to live the good life while the rest of us have to struggle so hard to survive. What would Mom think? We just want a piece of the success. Some member of the Kain family is finally going to amount to something. Surely you could pull some strings, get Lily in school, find apartments for the rest of us here in Paseo. Heck, you might even know a decent young bachelor who might be interested in marrying Mimi."

"No." Kain clenched his hand into a fist. "I'm not looking after you guys again." Years of being the man of the house because his father didn't care and he was the oldest with four sisters. Donald joined the family later, but he never did anything. "I'm never going back to that."

"I'm a patient man. You don't have to give me an answer right away. Think about it," said Donald, touching his own forehead in a brief farewell salute. "You may want to. They cleared you of the Agricultural Center bombing, but maybe next time you won't be so lucky and you'll want a family to support you. It seems even your closest friends don't know you very well, but I do."

Donald walked out the door. Kain could have tried stopping him, but he didn't. Even if he called security, he knew he wouldn't be able to hold him. Donald had been rude and belligerent, but those alone weren't crimes. The blackmail was only implication, and the bombing accusation unanswered. Donald had gotten good, and if he had arranged the bombing, then the connections he mentioned were equally real. An ordinary businessman would not be able to obtain all the information and materials needed to pull off the deception of luring Kain there and the bombing itself without attracting attention to himself. Donald was much more than an annoying cousin now. He was dangerous.

Two more years. Yes, two more years and then Kain could fade from the spotlight. Nurvus would be up and running and then once again he could fade away.

* * * * *

He thought he should have been in pain, but no, he felt very little of anything at all. Just a bit of a human comfort that someone was waiting for him. His limbs were there, vaguely, terribly heavy too. Must be the drugs. Was he blind? No, no, that couldn't be it. If he could... Yes... Open his eyes...

Hugh peered at the stark white ceiling above him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a window, perhaps the vague outline of a door too, but he couldn't turn his head to be sure. A hospital, this had to be one. Somehow he felt this almost comical. He had fought against biomonsters, government robots, ancient creatures that time forgot, and aliens from another star system. Yet here he lay on his back, barely able to move, due to... due to... Bullets, yes. The situation was almost ridiculous.

He remembered now. He had spoken on stage, doing a pretty good job of it too, and then he heard Kain shout. He couldn't make out the words, but there was something so urgent in Kain's voice that it could not be ignored. He turned to see what the matter was... and then there was noise, pain, falling, and silence.

Someone had shot him. He closed his eyes again. What was this world coming to? Maybe later. Tired. Sleep.

Hugh woke up again sometime later, though he had no idea how much later, and found a nurse hovering around him. He tired to speak, but his voice became a dry click in his throat. She heard it though and turned to smile at him.

"Awake again, I see. The monitor says you've been coming in and out for the past twenty-four hours."

He had? He only remembered once. He tried speaking again, and this time his voice obeyed him. "What happened?" he asked. It was a simple enough question, essentially encompassing everything that he wanted to know. Unfortunately the nurse declined to elaborate.

"You have been in a coma for just over six days," she said with a quick glance at the chart at the foot of his bed. "You're still feeling the aftereffects of about three different surgeries so don't be surprised if you're still groggy. Anything more than that you'll have to ask the doctor."

Hugh supposed he'd recognize the doctor for what he or she was when the person walked in, assuming he was awake at the time. Hopefully the doctor would visit soon now that he was awake and curious. He honestly wasn't certain how much longer he could keep his eyes open. The lids seemed so heavy, but he wasn't really sleepy. Just a bit muddled.

"If your stomach starts to feel a bit empty, press that red button on the rail of your bed," said the nurse. "Can you move enough to reach it? Good. We've been feeding you intravenously ever since you got here. You shouldn't be feeling anything yet, but after a couple more days you should be strong enough for solid stuff. Once that happens you'll probably find yourself terribly hungry."

Tired. The next time he woke he found himself in a different room, less like one for observation and more like one for recovery. The window here offered a bit of sun rather than a view of another room of the hospital. He wondered how much time had passed. The daylight said late afternoon, but that told him nothing. Was it still the same day as when he last woke? He thought about trying to get out of bed, but after a look at the tubes and needles around him, decided that walking around the room wouldn't be a good idea right now.

The door opened and two people came inside. Kenneth and Dana.

"Hey now, are you actually awake?" said Dana, coming beside him. "The nurse outside said that you were finally well enough that you might be able to take visitors face to face. Of course, if we're tiring you out, just let us know and..."

Hugh managed to shake his head, just a little. "No, I'm glad to see you. Why..."

"Are we here?" Kenneth finished for him. "The two of us have been tied up managing the Biolab in your absence and haven't been able to pay a visit. We had a bit of free time today so we decided to come by. When we got here we found out from the medical staff that you had just been moved out of observation. Better yet, you might actually be strong enough to see people. We wanted to at least visit you so we'd know you're all right."

"I feel like an aerotank just used me as a runway."

"At least you've got your sense of humor," said Dana. She found a wheeled stool and rolled it up beside the bed where she perched on it. "You're getting better."

"What happened to me anyway? Somehow I keep asking but my question never gets answered."

Kenneth took a deep breath and said, "Someone tried assassinating you. We were told that he probably would have succeeded if Kain hadn't spotted him. When Kain shouted to you, you started to turn around, and because of that the bullets missed your heart. You lost a lot of blood though, so for a while there you had us all worried. But it looks like you'll make it now. You're far away from the danger zone."

Hugh nodded. "Are they done cutting me open now?"

"I think so. You're just in recovery now. Get your strength back and such. I don't think they'll let you go back to work right away though, even after they discharge you."

"But that's okay," added Dana. "Take as much time as you need. We've got the Biolab in hand, and Seed's handling everything well. He was rather worried about you too, at least about as worried as he gets."

Hugh groaned, and closed his eyes for a moment. "When Seed starts worrying over me, I know something bad happened."

Kenneth chuckled. "Well, it's not all as bad as that."

"How's everyone else been?"

"Kain's fuming and Sharon's comforting. David's pissed and Cass is a bit of a wreck. But other than that I think they're getting better," said Dana. "I think the news that you're awake is going to help a lot."


Of all the people he wanted to see upon waking...

Kenneth and Dana exchanged glances, then Dana said, "We don't know where she is, Hugh. She was very upset after you were injured and ran away. She hasn't contacted any of us and we haven't been able to locate her."

Lore, gone?

"She's been missing about a week. We think she's probably okay, but if she's gone much longer than this I think Councillor Dawson is going to have her declared a missing person. He's reluctant to do so though since she's become such a high profile person."

"Where did you look for her?" he asked.

"At both your places in New Zema of course," said Kenneth, "and Sharon says they've covered just about everywhere in Paseo."

"Anyone try Kueri?"

"Kueri? No. I know she used to live around there, but wasn't her place destroyed in the big biomonster attack?"

"Yes, but her family got a new home near the edge of the city. She's rarely there, but..."

"She's probably there now." Kenneth nodded. "Yeah, that seems like the place to look. Do you remember the number for her family's new place? Maybe we could give them a call and check if she's there."

Hugh shook his head. "No. Not so much because I don't remember, I have the number at my apartment, but if Lore ran home, she probably doesn't want to be found. She's probably not ready to hear from you guys. I think..." He managed to sit up, though the change in the elevation of his head made him woozy. "I think I'd better go get her myself. I've been to her family's place a couple times before. I know how to get there."

"I don't think you're really in much shape to go anywhere right now," said Kenneth.

"I'll go." Hugh reached up to feel his clammy forehead. Not good. He needed to be in better shape than this. "As soon as they're willing to let me out of here, I'll go."

Could a person dream while in a coma? He tried to remember what he had studied as a student as Kueri University, but he couldn't. But even if someone had told him that it was scientifically impossible, he would deny it. Somehow, he had felt Lore with him when he woke.

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