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Chapter Forty-Six

Forced Hand

Kain didn't like watching the news unfold at the same rate general public received it. "You know the Council's hearing it faster than we are," he'd say, but of course the Council received it first, since much of it was their collective decision as well.

Gillian had implied that the Council wasn't hiding anything, but he wouldn't give Kain, Sharon, David, or even Wren, a straight answer. Certainly implementing martial law itself had become a well known fact, and that had not been without mishap. Piata had not believed the Council could actually be that serious, and had fought back until word of several deaths had spread. Now the city seethed in subdued anger. The message had been spread.

The Council was still the real power on Motavia and disobedience would not be tolerated. Protests were muted and criticism moved underground. If control got any more stringent it would be just like being under Mother Brain again. And wouldn't people like that, Kain thought sourly.

Someone knocked on the door and Kain reluctantly set down the newspaper and got up from the kitchen table to answer. Hugh was on the other side. Kain opened his mouth to ask what he was doing here when the biologist pointed to a folded note stuck to his door.

"Lore sent me to bring you out of isolation," said Hugh. "She says that ever since the Nurvus opening ceremony..."

Kain didn't hear the rest of what Hugh said. He recognized the green sticker of a bee used to hold the note to the door. "Donald," he muttered, tearing down the note. His cousin hadn't contacted him since his last effort two weeks ago on the day of the ceremony. He thought he'd finally gotten the message.

"Donald?" echoed Hugh. He had only met Kain's cousin the one time he had visited him after Nurvus had buried the Biolab underground and Donald had left an unfavorable impression on him. "I thought you said that he was after you because he wanted to control Nurvus. Now that the ceremony is over Wren is the ultimate authority, not you."

"He doesn't believe me," said Kain, skimming over the note. "He doesn't believe a 'metal doll' that I put together could possibly be the real mastermind behind the system. So to make sure I pay attention this time he's-"

Kain crushed the note in his hand and stormed back in his apartment. Hugh mutely followed him in as Kain swiped his visaphone from its rest on the wall.

"David," Kain barked, "is Sharon there with you in the lab?"

The voice on the other end was confused, its words barely registering. Of course Sharon had to be there. If she wasn't at the lab she was with him. Well, she could be at her apartment. She went there on occasion, but she spent more time in the lab. Maybe she went to Nurvus with Wren to perform some maintenance. Wren was considered the head of the network, but for now, at least, he still needed a team of Palman technicians to help him.

Hugh waited as Kain called her apartment, called Nurvus, called her family. He hadn't known that Kain had even met her family. But when Kain started to call yet another number, he said, "I think that's enough. If Sharon's really missing you don't want to alert the whole world you're looking for her and if she's not you won't want to cause a panic."

"I can't just sit here!" he snapped. "Donald says he's holding her hostage. If he's telling the truth..."

Hugh pulled the phone away from him and set it back on the wall. "If he has her--if--he's not going to harm her, not right away. He needs to give you time to respond and unless he's stupid he knows that."

"Donald is stupid."

"You know what I mean and if your cousin is half as cunning as you've led me to believe he knows how valuable she is to Nurvus."

"You idiot." Kain seethed, grabbing his jacket as he headed for the door. "That's not the reason he kidnapped her. Nurvus will move on with or without her. He's trying to get to me." Kain stood in the doorway and looked back at Hugh. "I'm going over to the Command Center. David says she was there only a little while ago. I'm going to see if there are any clues as to where Donald might have taken her. You coming?"

"Are you going to talk to the Council and the police about this?"

Kain looked at him and didn't reply. He walked away, leaving Hugh to shut the door.

"No, of course not," muttered Hugh. Kain had never trusted anyone to deal with Donald.

* * * * *

Lore found Hugh, Kain, and David in the lab that had given birth to Wren. She knew she had asked Hugh to bring Kain out of the funk he had settled himself into in his apartment, but bringing him to work was not what she had expected. Aside from the fact the sun had long since set, here he would only grouse about Gillian and complain about things being out of his control. He needed to cheer up and let go of his worries, not come running towards them.

She turned to leave when David noticed her. "Lore? Were you looking for something?"

"It's okay," she replied. "I wanted to talk to Wren, but he's not here. I'd heard he was coming by today."

"He was, but he's already gone back to Nurvus."

"Lore," said Kain, "I have something to tell you. You'd better come inside and shut the door."

Puzzled, she did as he requested and joined the group. "What's going on?"

"We've searched everywhere and Sharon is missing. One of her assistants had been the last person to see her when she went out for dinner. She hasn't been back since. We called the take-out place Sharon always goes to and they say she placed an order with them, but never arrived to pick it up. She's not at home, she's not at Nurvus, and she's not at her parents' house.

"Donald left a note saying that he has her." Kain's eyes were fierce and his voice shook. "He still thinks I can influence Nurvus. Wren won't listen to me if I tell him to start listening to Donald in exchange for Sharon's life."

"But he will." Noting Kain's surprise, Lore added, "He's more Palman than you give him credit for sometimes. If Donald's plan doesn't hurt anybody directly, I think he would listen in exchange for Sharon. You guys made him to care for people."

"Maybe," Kain allowed, "but we can't consider that an option."


"Lore," said David, "Kain thinks he knows where Donald is holding Sharon."

Kain nodded. "Donald has a lot of friends now, but I don't think any of them will risk being associated with kidnapping, especially of a high profile subject, nor would he want to potentially alienate his allies by holding her on their premises without their permission. He's slick, but not enough to hide a hostage for what it is. If I know Sharon, she's not going to make things any easier on him than she has to. So that really only leaves an old warehouse back in Maula that my family owned. He knows the territory and it's the one place where he'd have complete privacy.

"We're going to rescue Sharon. Hugh and David are coming with me. Will you?"

Lore hesitated, remembering her own brief experience meeting Donald. She supposed he was capable of kidnapping, but this was a crime of one Palman against another. How could he demand the fulfillment of his greed in exchange for the safety of a human being?

"Isn't this a job for the police or the hunters?" she asked. "This isn't like the lawlessness that immediately followed the destruction of Mother Brain. We have system for handling things like that and the people trained to do it. We have a solid government now."

"No." Hugh was the one who contradicted her. "The system is in place, but not everyone follows it. The Council is strong, but the rebellion in Piata is proof that it's not solid. Not everyone believes in it. I agree that it would be best to go through the established channels, but there is some merit in what Kain wants to do. Remember Kain has largely kept his side of his dispute with Donald out of the public light. Involving the proper authorities is going to open up a lot of buried graves."

"There is more," said Kain, crossing his arms over his chest. "Donald has wormed his way into the hearts of a good many people. He's very popular right now. Bringing him to justice will be difficult with so many people believing in him. We want to rescue Sharon, not to martyr him."

"It won't stop him from trying something else on you," said Lore.

"I know. But right now Sharon's safety matters more than anything the future might bring. Once she's safe, then I'll think about how to put Donald permanently out of the picture."

"Are we going to bring Wren? He was adapted from a poleziax base model. Even if he doesn't have the programming, his structure is built for combat."

"No. We're going vigilante, remember? Wren is trained to respect the law. As sorry as it is, I don't want Wren learning from our bad examples. Besides, he's needed at Nurvus now and we're not."

Lore still could not shake the feeling that barging in after Sharon was wrong. "But how do you know that Donald doesn't have guards watching over her?"

"We don't. We're going to have to go in armed."

But she thought about Sharon, how she must feel.

"We're going tonight," said Kain. "Donald's expecting a response from me tomorrow. If we wait any longer we'll lose the element of surprise. If there's one thing that Donald constantly does it's underestimate me. I don't think he'll anticipate me taking the battle to him."

Raising a sword against another human being was entirely different from raising a sword against a biomonster or against Mother Brain. Even regarding the worst of human conflicts she wanted to believe that it could be solved by words rather than blades. But, long ago, a girl named Alis had slain the tyrant Lassic to save the star system, and he had been human. She had spilled his blood and yet was regarded as a savior. Donald was not on the scale of Lassic, but might this illicit battle still be justified?

She didn't like trying to convince herself to go along, and yet she wanted Sharon freed as soon as possible. Ten years ago she knew her answer would have been to charge into battle. Combating a villain to rescue a friend was a noble endeavor and even at age fifteen she had been competent with a sword. Maybe she was getting old, or all the time spent fighting with her voice had dampened her fire.

"All right. I'll come."

* * * * *

The four of them left the Motavian Command Center, intending to go back to Kain's apartment since he said he had enough telepipes there for everyone to go home, get equipment and meet at the Maula ryuka node, but they met Gillian just outside the building. He leaned back against the side of the wall, relaxed, waiting for them.

"Late night, councillor?" said Kain.

"The group of you are going to find Sharon Monolly," stated Gillian, without a trace of doubt. The councillor smiled. "Don't look so surprised. Seeing your staff turning the Command Center upside-down in a search for one of your Chief Engineers is difficult to miss. It only took a single inquiry to discover that she's missing. And, seeing the group of you marching out together instead of one at a time or in pairs is something that has not happened in a great while.

"You aren't like most other people and this will hardly be the first time you've flown in the face of what some people would consider their better judgment in order to accomplish something. The three of you went to Noah and took the Council's spaceship to do it. Even David Campbell there tackled the criminal that set the Paseo Archives on fire without a single weapon to aid him. So you'll have to pardon me if I think something's up when I see the group of you leaving together so late in the evening."

"It's not midnight yet," said Kain.

"And I'm not sleepy," Gillian replied.

"Look, I don't want to explain myself to you. You don't know what it's like, being backed into a corner where you have to fight. You don't know what it's like to shoulder a burden and know that the fate of everyone in the star system is resting on you and at that very moment they might not even know or care. Instead all you worry about is giving speeches and being popular with the voters. If you really had any guts in you, you would have fought Mother Brain along with the rest of us!"

"This isn't the time," said Hugh, giving Kain a nudge to keep moving, but the wrecker remained steadfast, daring the councillor to answer.

"You're right, I don't know what it's like," said Gillian, pushing himself away from the wall to stand with his hands in his pockets as he regarded Kain. "But that does not mean I don't try to accomplish things in my own way. I'm as popular as I need to be to win votes, because I believe that I can best serve Motavia from my current position. You fought Mother Brain to do what you could to save Algo. I'm not a warrior, so this is my way. But, you're going to need to be more than a warrior to handle Donald."

Kain froze, but Gillian must have seen something, because the councillor nodded in affirmation. "I'm right, aren't I. Your cousin is involved. Handling the politics of your cousin is my arena, and it's in my own interests as well to see that Sharon Monolly is safe from harm. I'm offering you my aid, Joshua Kain. It's not something I give lightly. Though I may be no good with a sword I believe that I will not slow you down. Should that prove the case, then you may leave me behind.

"Think about it. You may need someone on the Council to cover for you if anything goes wrong."

Kain snorted and glanced at his companions. "Well, what do you guys say?"

"I feel like we're making a deal with a demon," muttered David beneath his breath, "but I can't deny that having someone on the Council looking out for us is a good idea. The only thing is: we'd owe him then, wouldn't we?"

"At this rate, I think we already do," said Kain.

"He's already seen us and figured out what we're up to," said Hugh. "I really don't think we have much choice in the matter. Even if he doesn't say anything now about what we're about to do, he may bring it up again later. At least if he's involved he'd put himself at risk by speaking about it."

Lore stepped away from the group and closer to the councillor. "Gillian, why? You're part of the Council. You're not supposed to be doing stuff like this. If word ever got out..."

He shrugged. "I trust the group of you. And if I'm caught, then let the fallout be my concern and not yours."

"Don't you believe in the law you're supposed to uphold?"

Her question stilled the conversation behind her and all eyes turned towards Gillian.

"I believe," said Gillian, "in the greater good. The law cannot cover all possible situations. It is only a record of how we think people should behave and should be punished when they don't. There are always exceptions that the intent of a doctrine never meant to exclude. If I believe circumventing the law will result in the greater good then I will not object to it."

His silver eyes locked on her. "Don't hold me up as a paragon of virtue, Lore. You won't be doing yourself any favors. I'm human like everyone else. Now, have the rest of you decided?"

Kain nodded. "We'll take you. Do you have a weapon?"

The councillor nodded, pulling back his coat just enough to reveal a sonic gun holstered at his side. "I'm afraid I lack the training to wear any sort of armor and there isn't the time for that, but you won't have to consider me unarmed."

"Just don't accidentally shoot any of us with it."

Gillian joined the group heading for Kain's apartment. In the back of his mind, Kain was bothered by Gillian coming inside, certain that the councillor's own home was kept in immaculate condition and didn't contain a mountain of newspapers piled on the kitchen table or unwashed dishes in the sink. But he could spend precious little time being irritated, and quickly brought out his emergency stash of telepipes. He gave two to Lore and Hugh so they could gather their equipment from their homes in New Zema and then teleport on to Maula. To David he gave an old shotgun and picked up his lasershot for himself.

"The three of us will meet you there," he told Lore and Hugh. "The Maula ryuka node is on the outskirts of town. There's a park about a block east from the node and unless the landscape's changed that much since I left there should be a pretty thick grove of trees there. We'll wait for you inside." He caught Hugh stifling a yawn and added, "And stay alert. Remember, we're trying to rescue Sharon and as soon as Donald's aware of us there's no telling what he'll do. She's the only bargaining chip he's got so he may try to leverage her against us."

"Try to hurry," said David. "Waiting's the hard part."

"We know where our equipment is," said Lore. "We won't be long."

She stood close to Hugh as he played the melody for New Zema and the two of them vanished.

"Now it's our turn," said Kain. "Everyone ready?"

Gillain and David nodded. Kain thought hard about Maula, his childhood home, the miserable place he had thought he would never see again, and raised the telepipe to his lip and played. The music lingered in his ears like a sordid lullaby.

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