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Chapter Nine

Empty Promises

The temperature of Motavia dropped from the blazing heat of the desert summer to the milder heat of autumn as the AW calender shifted to December. As could be expected for having a standar d calender for all three planets, the seasons would not occur on a yearly basis. But the inhabitants of the different worlds had long gotten used to that. Mother Brain had given them the calender long ago, and no one sought to question it. Now they kep t it out of a matter of habit and convenience.

Motavia seemed to pull completely free of Climatrol's influence just at the peak of summer. The understocked and understaffed hospitals filled with heat stroke patients, and the farms around Paseo lost a lmost half of their crops--all this and more in the two months since the first contact with the fleet of spaceships from Palm.

The governor of the Palman fleet made a magnanimous gesture of offering to set everything "right" again. Hugh, Kain, and Lo re remained doubtful, even wary of the offer. The three remembered how they had searched for blueprints of the different planet support systems those months ago. Did the spaceborne Palmans have them? For a group of refugees, those Palmans promised too much.

And there was a more disturbing thought that had begun to gnaw at Hugh's mind. He kept silent about it, though he knew Lore suspected his feelings. It was too early to start agonizing, demanding. But he might in time.

Now a throng of peop le gathered around the old spaceport east of Paseo, awaiting the arrival of the first fleet of shuttles from those spaceships. The formalities had concluded less than two weeks ago, and now the actual civilians of Palm could be permitted to land. Famili es on Motavia were allowed to attend the shuttle landings on a restricted basis so long as they were there to pick up relatives. Lore, Hugh, and Kain arrived as volunteers to help sort out the relations and direct those immigrants without relatives to te mporary housing.

"Are you feeling all right, Hugh?" Lore looked worriedly to her friend as the two of them took their places before the roped boundaries that held back the crush of people awaiting the landing of the Palman fleet. Kain stood some dis tance away with an emergency crew. Apparently the Palmans did not entirely trust their ships to make a safe landing.

Trust seemed to be lacking in more ways than that as well. Or at least friendship, Lore thought wryly. She, Hugh, and Kain had been invited to the official reception party, but would merely be onlookers. The New Council would be the ones to speak of Motavia's accomplishments since the fall of Mother Brain. Hugh remarked that it was about as bad as not going, but Lore knew he wouldn 't pass up the chance.

Still, the New Council had all but ignored them for the two months it took to arrange this day. Hugh had become more and more disturbed as the Council increasingly asked greater tasks from them with even less courtesies in retu rn. The three were always accorded the minimum formalities, paraded as necessary, then relegated to the closet. Though no one ever doubted their involvement in the restoration, few outside of the government understood to what extent.

"I did this," s aid Hugh, staring at the runway without seeing it.

Lore nodded grimly. "Having second thoughts." She spoke quietly, with conviction.

Hugh did not deny her statement. "I should have thought about this more before opening my mouth."

Lore shifted her weight uneasily. "This might not be a bad thing."

"I know. But I've had a sickening feeling ever since I left that meeting." Hugh shook his head. "I guess I'm all right though."

Lore patted his shoulder, catching his eyes with her own. "I have friends, family, that were left on Palm," she said softly, as if sharing a secret. "Though this costs us, the rewards are priceless. Even if my own family didn't survive, the thought that others will be reunited eases the pain."

The flash of sunlight off a metallic hull captured her attention as the first of the Palman ships came into view. One of them, significantly larger than the rest, dwarfed the decrepit runway beneath it.

"I hope they can fit that thing on the runway," said Hugh in a lackluster voice.

Lore sighed. "Hugh, even if their leaders think too highly of themselves, we can't hold it against the people themselves. We have to remember that. The shock of losing a home is bad enough."

Hugh understood the second im age of pain that glossed over Lore's face. This wound was more fresh than the desire to see relatives gone for more than a decade. He said nothing though, hoping she would come to grips with it on her own. Instead he took another line of thought. "The re are going to be a lot more people in Paseo now. I don't think we can expand fast enough to hold them all."

She nodded as the first of the shuttles began to bank in preparation for landing. Something told her the ship was too high up for doing tha t; the whine of the engines hadn't reached the point of deafening her yet. Apparently the pilot of the shuttle agreed with her a second later, because he abruptly leveled out and flew a good distance from the spaceport before turning around again to land .

"We already have too many shantytowns," she said to Hugh. "It's looking like a Motavian trade gathering out there. The Palmans really should drop off some of their people at the other towns."

"No long distance communication," he replied.

L ore became silent. They both knew anything major came out of Paseo these days, and news wanted to travel fast. People needed to know, even if the news was bad.

The first of the shuttles landed, unloading the majority of the Palman dignitaries and th eir families. Lore and Hugh could not help noticing the large amounts of luggage they brought with them, and wondered even more fervently where they all would go. Assistants pushed large luggage carts out from the shuttle, each carrying no less than thr ee trunks per each dignitary present.

"For a moment I thought they'd crash for sure," said Kain, coming up to his friends. He jerked a thumb at the luggage. "Where do they think they're going to put it all?"

"Wherever it will be," said Hugh, "it will be at our expense."

* * * * *

The reception in the convention hall of the Motavian Command Center was packed to the brim with fully eighty percent of the guests coming from the landed ships. Lore shuffled impatiently thr ough the crowd in search of an empty bench to sit on, all the while griping beneath her breath about the fit of her gown. She hadn't seen Hugh and Kain since the other shuttles arrived. When she finally got back to Hugh's apartment he wasn't there. She waited for him, but when the gala's starting time drew close, she found she could no longer wait and expect to make it there in a reasonable amount of shape.

Lore dourly reminded herself that she would rather have taken off her high heels and ran on stocking feet all the way over with him if it wasn't for the fact she'd look like a wreck once she arrived. Much as she hated it, she knew the politicians would judge her more by appearance than capability. Hopefully Hugh made it here on his own; he jus t detoured someplace.

She flounced into a spare seat with an exaggerated sigh just as the Palman governor stepped up to the podium to pontificate. Lore made herself comfortable on the cushioned bench. She could already tell it would be a long night.

"My dear Palmans," he declared, "it is good to know that we are once again united despite these extenuating circumstances. A great tragedy has occurred, but by careful planning the extent of the damage has been reduced. We of Palm are grateful for this chance to live as we had before. If not for our foresight we would not be here today."

Lore drummed her fingers on the arm of the bench, hoping no one would take the seat beside her. The last thing she wanted was some stranger to hit on her. T he alcohol would run freely tonight. She debated putting her purse down on the vacant seat to reserve it; for Hugh or Kain, maybe even Rolf.

Full of self-importance, the governor's speech barreled its way to the forefront of her attention again. "Ci tizens of Palm, citizens of Mota," --"Motavia," Lore muttered-- "we have always been one people, and now that we are whole we have much to share."

Another voice griped to the side of Lore. "Which translates into: we give you our possessions, you beco me our saviors. You'd charge us all our money too, except the meseta isn't worth anything anymore."

"Together with the rich natural resources of this world..." The governor droned on as Lore turned her head towards the voice. It had come from a you ng woman with short green hair. She had just paused at the end of a stride to peer at the governor, a glass of wine punch half-raised in her hand. Lore was surprised the woman would speak such thoughts aloud.

Comforted by the fact she wasn't the onl y one present with a negative attitude towards the affair, Lore felt obligated to speak in return. "Well, they say they'll get the monetary system up again. Of course, new coins will have to be issued, and everyone will have to turn in their old money."

The woman nodded to Lore, though her frown told of how much she disproved of the measure. "They need their money to be worth something here, which it's not. How much do you want to bet the Motavian meseta won't be worth half as much as the Palman one?"

Lore shrugged. "We've been separated for ten years. Currency does change." She gestured towards the governor. "But of course this is politics." The historian patted the vacant seat beside her. "Have a seat. It'd be good to talk to someone while waiting through all this. Some of this stuff's important, but most of it's a load of worm dung."

The woman smiled, offering Lore a hand to shake as she sat. "I'm Shir Gold."

"Lore Drakon."

Shir cocked her head to one side. "In teresting surname."

"Long story," said Lore, eyes twinkling. "Basically my family refused to change their name when Mother Brain began the Revitalizing Era. A few families got away with it; mine was one of them. Our name is our history, and my ance stors weren't about to give it up.

"But I digress. You said your name was Shir? You were one of those who destroyed Mother Brain."

Shir nodded and her smile diminished. "Yeah, I did. Good fight too. I didn't think things would get so big, but they did, and I fought back." Her grin gained a hint of mischievousness. "Nobody tells me what to do."

Lore chuckled. "I see. I didn't expect to meet you here."

"My dad's helping sponsor the gala, so I had to at least take a look. That and I 'd like to keep an eye on these would-be saviors."

"Tell me about it," Lore sighed. "They're the ones who needed the help the most, but they've come offering us salvation in exchange for their rule."

"Interesting to hear that, com ing from you."

"Why is that?"

Shir swirled her punch with a dainty straw. "You always support the New Council, so say the newsletters."

Lore snorted. "I have to. I don't like it, but we just can't live without a government. There are peopl e infinitely more qualified than them, but we need those people for other things. Like Rolf can't be everywhere, though we'd like him to be. Hugh, Kain, or I could try, but we have our hands full with things they wouldn't lift a finger to do." Lore sho ok her head. "I'm sorry. I'm not normally like this, but a lot of thoughts have been coming into my head and confusing me lately. I've had so much to think about."

"Everyone does." Shir smiled encouragingly. "That's why I try not to worry about i t as much." She took a deep swig of her glass, finishing the punch. "There's enough to do without being hemmed in on all sides."

Lore returned the grin. "I wish I had found the means to travel with Rolf those months ago. You would have been a riot to be with."

"Always." Shir winked.

The governor spoke now of the planetary systems to be repaired, but Lore only paid him minimal heed.

"Do you really think they can do that?" asked Shir.

Lore shook her head. "Maybe, if they have the b lueprints, but I doubt it's going to be as easy as he makes it out to be. We've looked at all the planetside systems already."

"Planetside..." Shir echoed.

"Kain suspects part of the reason we can't get everything to work is that most of the cruc ial components were located in the Earthmen's ship."

"A pity. But at the very least, we are free."

Lore nodded. "Till Palm eclipses us."

A patch of blue came through the crowd and Rolf emerged from the throng with a loud gasp for air. He gr inned as he saw the two women and wearily made his way over to them. Rolf let out a breath and leaned against the crimson pillar behind their bench. "Good evening, ladies. Busy night, isn't it?"

"Really," said Lore. She gestured at the governor. "I notice you're not paying attention to him anymore either."

Rolf shrugged. "I don't think I have been paying attention to him. All of his cohorts and virtually everyone on the New Council have been haranguing me over why Motavia's in such lousy shape."

"You didn't tell them about what happened up there, did you? The Palmans I mean, since the New Council already knows."

Rolf shook his head. "I don't think we should disclose it yet. Not to them. You know it's supposed to be class ified information. The Council would have to clear it first. Besides, they have their own theories about what lead to Palm's destruction, and I think we should hear those first before we taint their story with anything of our own."

Lore nodded. "Go od idea."

Rolf's eyes drifted past her to the seat beside her. "Shir's gone again."

Lore swiveled her gaze back and confirmed that yes, the bench next to her was indeed empty. "I didn't even feel the cushion move when she got up..."

"She doe s that sometimes." Rolf smiled wanly. "Can I sit?"

"Feel free."

"Where are Hugh and Kain tonight? I thought they were invited. They're normally with you."

Lore scowled, unable to conceal her disappointment. "I don't know. I waited for Hu gh when I went back to his apartment but he never showed up. He wasn't already dressed for the occasion so I figured he needed to come back and change, but he didn't show. I know he'd come, so I guess he came back after I left or something." She shrugg ed, feigning indifference.

Rolf nodded. He leaned against the bench's backing, stretching cramped muscles. "Don't worry. He's probably somewhere around here." Rolf looked closer at her, trying to catch her distant gaze. "Hugh told me you were anx ious about the ships. Is that bothering you?"

She sighed. "Not nearly the way it's bothering him. Hugh's afraid of what will happen to our society with them here. He thinks whatever happens will be his fault. I... I had family members on Palm. I was born in Camineet, Camineet of all places; Alis's hometown. My parents and I moved to Motavia when I was five, but I still remember the violet sunsets over the city's silver spires. All my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents; virtually ever blood relation of mine beyond my immediate family was left on Palm." Lore shook her head. "They were not on the shuttles that landed. I don't know where they are."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

Lore sucked in a deep breath. "Don't be. If they live, the y go the path that is best for what they want. I can't imagine what they are thinking, but if they are not here then they must have a reason not to be." Her voice tightened slightly with remembrance. "But... I wish I could have seen my cousins again. One of them was a very good friend of mine while I was little, and I would have liked to know how he is now."

Rolf lent her his silent sympathy as she quieted to gaze reflectively at the vaulted ceiling above her.

Far on the other side of the hal l, Kain shook his head in a combination of exasperation and disgust. Hugh had sometimes been difficult to work with since the incident on the Earthmen's ship, but this was getting ridiculous. "What the hell did you think you were doing?" he hissed as he half-dragged the biologist near the exit.

Hugh reeled back from Kain's words with bleary eyes. He raised a hand to his head, uncertain of himself or perhaps of what he was hearing.

Kain sighed. "Never mind. You're probably too drunk to tell me ."

"Am not," Hugh slurred.

Kain's frown deepened as he fumed. "Look, you might not be so plastered you can't show up here, but if you say something stupid the Council really will have a reason to get rid of us! Besides, Lore's here! I can't bel ieve you've hidden this from her as long as you have, but this time, this is beyond stupid."

The blue-haired man shook his companion's shoulder to keep his attention. "You're staying at my place tonight until you sleep this off."

Hugh began a pro test, but stifled it under a measure of barely coherent reasoning. He hadn't mean to drink. But the sight of the arriving dignitaries bothered him so much that he didn't feel well enough to come on time. He had sulked in Paseo's park for the better par t of an hour before dredging up enough self-control to return to his apartment. By the time he arrived Lore had already gone, leaving a note for him on the kitchen counter. He came nonetheless, having to talk his way through the red tape to even be allo wed inside once the festivities had started. And then to hear the Palman governor speak after all that... He needed to forget, relax, and he tried too hard to do so.

"All right," he murmured to Kain, and followed him out the door.

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