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Chapter Forty-One

Remember the Last Time

Hugh arrived in Kueri, marveling at the changes as Lore had over a week before. He managed to talk his way out of the hospital in just a day after seeing Kenneth and Dana. Ostensibly it was so he could recover at home, he lied about there being someone there to take care of him, but of course he had no intention of doing that, at least not right away. He feigned wellness to the point that at least for the moment it looked like he could manage, if only barely. He really shouldn't have been discharged, and he knew it, but still, it was not so very long a walk from the telepipe emergence point to the Drakon residence.

Not a very long walk, but still long enough that he paused often to rest. He almost passed out at one point and the dull discomfort of his recovering injury made itself known with every step. It faded though as he saw Lore's home come in sight. Such a nice place. He remembered the last time he had come, actually the only time, though he felt he should have been here many times before. The memory brought a smile to his lips. He was so idealistic then, telling a good friend that he was off to save the world and make a difference. Saying and doing were such different things.

Hugh rubbed his head, trying to stimulate the circulation to his brain, and knocked on the door. He didn't want to faint on the doorstep.

An older man in his late forties opened the door. He had thick black hair streaked with bits of grey.

"Dr. Orpheus Drakon," said Hugh. "Hello."

"Hugh?" The elder Drakon nodded in greeting. "It's been a long time. Are you all right? You look pale. I heard that you had been injured..."

"That's putting it mildly." The voice came from further in the house. Hugh peered around the historian and spotted Lore's sister, Myth, in her wheelchair.

"She was really beating herself up over what happened to you," said the girl. "I see that though you're weak in body, you certainly aren't in spirit. Still, you'd better come in and rest a bit before you see Lore. You won't be lifting her spirits any if you collapse in a heap in front of her."

"Where is she?" he asked as the elder Drakon let him inside.

"Where else does she go when she's upset?" Myth motioned for him to take a seat on the sofa.

"The cemetery," Orpheus offered, when Hugh could think of no reply. "She's at her mother's. And if you're going to walk there you'll need your strength."

"I think I remember the way."

"I'd offer to show you, but I'm not exactly in the best of shape," said Myth, making an expansive gesture to encompass her wheelchair. "I can make you a map though. I have plenty of paints and paper in my room."

Without another word, she pivoted her chair and wheeled away.

Hugh sank gratefully into the sofa and accepted a glass of water from Orpheus. It was lukewarm, but refreshing. Truthfully, he wasn't certain he could have taken anything colder.

Minutes later, Myth returned, a piece of paper in her hands. "It's crude," she said, offering it to him, "but it'll do. You want to rest here a little longer?"

He glanced at the map. "No. The cemetery doesn't look too far away. It's not if I remember right too. I'd better go."

"You could always wait for her here," said Orpheus. "She should be back by nightfall. I'm reluctant to let you go while you can barely stand on your feet."

Hugh finished off his glass of water and shook his head. "I'll be okay. I've gotten this far. I can go a little more. Besides, I want to surprise her. I think that will work better in the cemetery." Then the two of them could talk frankly without Lore's father and sister's presence influencing the conversation.

"Are you sure? If nothing else I could at least escort you there."

"I'll be fine." Hugh stood and stepped towards the door. Orpheus unlocked it and let him out.

"All right then," said the elder Drakon, "but if you feel like you can't make it there, feel free to come back. We don't want to hear that someone found you passed out in the gutter."

Hugh nodded and waved his farewell. "Thank you. I'll remember that."

* * * * *

He trudged along the way, knowing he had walked here once before, though with considerably more energy. That had been four years ago, when he first decided to help Rolf fight against Mother Brain. He knew Lore was hurting from the death of Aeon and he also knew that she wasn't a staunch follower of the massive computer.

Back then he had come to her with the suggestion that she might want to join Rolf's expedition to discover the cause of the biomonsters. After all, the biomonsters had been the ones to attack Nesha and cause the fire that ultimately killed Aeon. Such a mission might give her solace, especially if she could participate in exterminating the source of their ills.

Lore had appreciated the information, but declined. Without Aeon to help care for Myth, the needs of her sister took up more of her time. She couldn't afford to go, even if it meant a chance to avenge him. At least, that was what she said.

She'd had a defeated look in her eye, her head bowed, and for a long while she refused to look at him. There was more to it than that, and he remembered well enough their adventures as students of Kueri University. Lore didn't like to back down from danger, and the fact that she had, worried him. The pain from her failure to save Aeon must have dug deep where it would not let go. So he told her:

"I'll do it. I'll go and join up with the agent. I was planning on going myself anyway, but I'll be your hero too."

They were silly words that spilled out of his mouth before he had thought them through. He really had no idea how he was going to accomplish them, but the more consideration he gave it, the more the idea of being someone's champion appealed to him. And if it would cheer up Lore...

She had smiled then, and thanked him. So he told her not to worry and get better. Once things calmed down again everything would be okay. Only that didn't happen. Calmer things were, but he wasn't certain about okay. His aching body was proof of that.

Hugh entered the cemetery, his tentative footsteps echoing the memory of the last time. At this point his mind ceased to guide him and everything came from the heart. He remembered the trees that were no longer there, the breeze that had passed away with the clouds. Lore wasn't at the grave she knelt beside four years ago, Aeon's, but he found her a short distance away, a sorrowed figure seated before a tomb.

He stopped a dozen yards from her to catch his breath. The dry grass crunched beneath his feet, but she gave no indication of hearing him. He gathered his strength in one deep breath and came up to one side of her. Lore had closed her eyes and rested her hands on the sheathed sword across her lap. Not so sad as the last time, perhaps this time with a touch of acceptance.

"Hey," he said.

Her eyelids twitched and slowly they opened. She turned her head in a curious fashion, the movement of every muscle deliberate, cautious, and afraid, as if the world around her would vanish in a moment. "Hugh?"

For a moment they just looked at each other, then Hugh's exhaustion got the better of him. He collapsed into a sitting position beside her and smiled wearily. "In the flesh, though I suppose there's not much of that right now." He wouldn't be surprised if he had to gain back some weight after being fed nothing but IV fluid and sparse hospital meals. His chest decided to start hurting now too. Probably some remnant from the surgery.

Lore reached out and touched his shoulder. "I guess you are. I can't believe you're really here. You're all right. You won't fall apart if I give you a hug, will you?"

"Actually... I'm afraid I might."

She looked at him curiously, perhaps noting for the first time the pale skin and his apparent exhaustion. Lore placed a hand on his forehead and said, "Your skin feels clammy. Are you dizzy? I can't believe they let you out. You don't look well at all. What did you do to yourself to get all the way out here? The teleport station's a good walk away..."

"One question at a time," he managed to say. The faintness started to overwhelm him, jumbling his thoughts. He lay back on the grass and squinted his eyes against the bright sun. "You're right though. I really shouldn't be out. But I wanted to find you as soon as I could."

He pulled in a deep breath and said, "Do you remember the last time I came here?"

"I'd never forget." Lore hugged her knees to her chest. "You came to cheer me up. And you did. You seem to be good at that."

"I guess so! It seems to have worked this time as well." He closed his eyes. "Sometimes I think I'm lucky to have become friends with you. You're always so kind, worrying about other people, as if you alone could save the fate of the world, but you have to look out for yourself too."

"I know. Myth tells me that. When I saw you though, and I realized that it was my fault..."

He stopped her, propping himself up on one elbow and grabbing her arm. The effort spun the world around him, but he forced himself to lock gazes with her so she couldn't turn away.

"No, it wasn't," he said. "You did what you had to. I heard that speech just as clearly as that guy did, and not once did I think of shooting myself. There were dozens, hundreds of people listening to you. Did all of them come with bullets aimed at my heart?

"Listen to me. I created Neifirst. My idea, hell, even my own DNA. She in turned created the biomonsters. The biomonsters started the fire that eventually trapped and killed Aeon. If you trace that back, it all comes down to me. The lives of every person who died to the biomonsters is on my head. But can you say it? Can you say I killed Aeon?"

Lore flinched. "You said there was an energy surge in the lab while you were away. Neifirst might not have turned out that way. It wasn't your fault."

"But if I had never created her in the first place..."

"Mother Brain would've just used something else."

"So you don't blame me for Aeon's death."


"It's the same with you and the man who tried to kill me. Your words are like Neifirst. Someone corrupted them into something they were never meant to be. It's not your fault. He might have found another reason to shoot me or someone else."

She sighed and lowered her head. "But it hurts so much."

"I know," he said, releasing her arm and falling back against the grass. "When I discovered what had happened, when everything about Rolf's quest came crashing down around me... I wanted to hide. And I did. But it's okay now. I'm alive, so you don't need to worry. I'll get better. I may have to ask you for a couple favors though."

"Oh?" Lore looked at him curiously.

He closed his eyes. "I'm exhausted. I think I'm going to need help walking out of here. Secondly, can I rest up a bit at your family's place until I can move about on my own? You see, I was discharged with the expectation that there would be someone around to help take care of me. As you can see, I still very much need that."

She smiled and ruffled his hair. "I'll see what I can do."

* * * * *

Kain paced back and forth across his lab like a caged beast. Sharon and David stood nervously out of the way with Wren beside them. They watched him for a long while before he decided to speak to them. Sharon had arrived first and Kain had merely waved her into a corner and told her to wait. David and Wren were late. By the time they arrived Kain's agitation had grown and he slipped into a simmering state of fuming.

After a final check to see that the door was locked he turned to face them. "I've checked this room to the best of my ability and to my knowledge there are currently no recording and communication devices in this room, barring those installed into Wren. And Wren, keep this information classified. What I say here is not to be repeated elsewhere, even if you think you're where no one else will hear. Hugh and Lore know part of the story already since they've been unwittingly involved in it, but I'll tell them the rest in due time. At this point, they understand about as little as you do."

"Obviously," said David wryly, "since you've yet to tell us what's so secret. What's going on?"

"My family," said Kain. "More specifically, my cousin Donald, but he may bring my siblings in as well. The whole fucking Kain clan, jacked up in all their glory." He trembled. "They're always screwing everything up! I don't know where to begin...

"No," he corrected himself a moment later. "I do."

Kain had grown up a part of a large family. His father managed garbage collection for Mother Brain, but he was a compulsive packrat and horded half the material he collected. His mother was a simple woman, who had her hands full trying to raise her five children and the sixth the family was asked, no, ordered, to take in by Mother Brain. Kain and his sisters made up the five. Donald was the sixth. Orphaned by an accident, he had only Kain's family as immediate living relatives. Despite the many ordinances Mother Brain expected to be followed, she never promoted responsibility, only leisure and freedom from want.

Donald learned those lessons well. What he wanted, he took, usually from Kain. Kain could do nothing to stop him. If he fought his father would yell at him or his mother would beg for a bit of peace in an already raucous household. Mother Brain could always replace the money, the toys, the clothes. But that didn't change the fact that Donald stole from him.

His cousin frittered away everything, usually by gambling. Why bother to save when it wasn't his money to begin with? All his chores were dumped on Kain. As the eldest child, not counting Donald, he was expected to take care of everything; crying young siblings, cleaning the house, calling maintenance about broken droids and appliances. And his dad drank and his mom moaned.

Finally, Kain had it. The teenage boy called Joshua Kain packed up and ran away to Paseo to start a new life. He hadn't seen any of this family since, and he had hoped to keep it that way.

"But now they're after me again," he said. "Or at least Donald is."

"If Donald's doing well for the family, then why?" asked Sharon.

Kain's frown deepened. "He wants more, and he knows that as the chief engineer behind Nurvus I'm in a position to provide it. I could conceivably tailor Nurvus to suit his needs. I'm the only one with both the knowledge and the power. He'll threaten, blackmail, and swindle to get me to do what he wants and I don't know how well I can stand up to him. He didn't say so directly, but he was the one behind the bombing of the Agricultural Building. Next time could be much worse.

"The only way I know to stop him, at least slow him, is to make sure I'm unable to do what he wants. I thought about resigning my position, but then Donald would win, he would have forced me out of what I most want to do, and whoever replaces me could possibly face a similar problem. Besides, I'm needed for this project. So, I have a proposal for you, Sharon and David. If you are willing, I'm promoting you both to chief engineer. The three of us will share the responsibilities and decision making equally. You will not report to me nor can I overrule you if you both vote against me. This must be an equal partnership and if you suspect I'm not acting of my own volition you must be willing to function without me. I can't guarantee Donald won't come after you too, but this will at least buy us time and I'll try to hold him off as long as I can."

The room was silent for a moment, then Sharon nodded and said, "I'll do it."

"Me too," said David. "But Kain, buy us time for what?"

"There is one thing I want to do, something to place Nurvus completely out of reach. Up until now Wren has had to obey us without question. It's been a part of his learning phase, to teach him right from wrong and the consequences of our actions. Now, I want to activate his free will."

"But..." Waves of pink hair shook about Sharon's face.

"As people," said Kain, "we can be moved by sentiment and emotion. Even if Donald holds us all hostage, Wren will not deviate from what he must do. Wren is key to Nurvus, to everything we don't want to lose. If we're wiped out, Wren will prevail."

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