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The Other Side

Part 5 - Shinsou <Truth>


"When we came to Algol the Nativesí technology was poor and their science fragmentary. We could not introduce ourselves to them, for we, with our higher technology, would then take over their culture because only we would understand it. Neither could we teach them our knowledge. Technological advancement requires a technological culture to support it, and the process of building that would be slow and the students recalcitrant and resentful that we would be defining their culture for them and not comprehending why they should understand technology we could just give them.

"The Nativesí advancement must therefore be their own affair."

- The Restoration, by John William Lewandowski


(i)

The air hissed loudly with sharp grey static. Rain, slicing down from the edge of the cyclone they had landed beneath. The leaden cloudscape above them flashed and crawled with light, sullen testimony to Mother Brainís strange dementia.

The weather was out of control, but that wasnít what they came for. Torn and buckled steel before them spoke of worse.

"Oh, man," said Chris.

The doors to the Biosystems Lab had been crudely blasted open. Daniel felt along the edge. It was cold, and rough with carbon residue.

"What happened here?" he murmured.

"We need suits," said Jean-Paul.

*     *     *     *     *

The lab complex was dead and cold, and filled with deadÖ things.

"Alina here. Iím in, uh, the medical wing, I think. ItísÖ more of the same. Gaia, these creatures are everywhere. Everythingís destroyed."

Daniel pushed aside a dangling length flexible pipe and entered the next room, gun extended. His two Warren bodyguards obediently followed him in. They were kin to the Browrens, lighter and faster, but also weaker. Daniel found himself wishing for Browrens instead, with their heavier armour. Speed was not needed here.

"They look cut up. The Natives use swords, donít they? Some are burnt, too. Energy weapons or their black magic. Iím not sure, and Iím not getting closer. God."

The next room was damp and steaming. Danielís bulky biohazard suit was climate controlled, but a glance at its wrist display told Daniel that it was about thirty-three degrees in here. Something hot was leaking, but it wasnít radiation, thank god.

"Uh, Iím moving on. North, uh, towards the operating theatres. Alina, out."

Daniel transferred his pistol to his left hand and pressed his own communicator switch on his wrist unit. Jean-Paul had them checking in every ten minutes. Chris was back in the Manu, as they had only four Warrens with them, not enough to provide protection for them all. Jean-Paul had also thought they might need a quick escape.

"Daniel here," he said, his voice sounding hollow in the plastic hood of his Ďsuit.

He paused then, scanning the room, and then shook his head.

"More of the same. Iím in one of the computer labs. Seedís terminal here has been smashed along with everything else. More dead. Looks like a war zone, but I havenít seen anyÖ" Daniel swallowed. "Öhumans."

He took another look around the room, and then motioned for the Warrens to move out.

"Iím going to see if I can find Seedís System Terminal. That takes meÖ uh, south and down. Daniel out."

Daniel moved through the doorway after the androids, and entered a branching passageway. Torn panels and dead lighting cast dangerous shadows.

"Jean-Paul, reporting."

Jean-Paul was indeed ex-police, but also ex-military, and said he didnít need any droid escorts. He had his own weapon, a versatile gauss rifle, as well as all of his borg implants. His artificial eyes could see through shadows fine. Daniel wished that he could as he crept forward, the Warrens silent on either side of him.

"Iím in one of the hydroponic farms. It was barricaded off, but it has been broken down. Iím cannot be certain what breached it, but it appears to be the biologicals. There are no human bodies, but some of the biologicals have been partially eaten"

He didnít mention the connection there. Daniel was glad.

"The biologicals I have been seeing have been killed by bladed weaponry or what I suspect is Native magic. Someone came through here recently. I cannot determine whether they were hunting the biologicals or whether they just got in their way."

Daniel came to another two corpses, rotting in the passage. They were twisted, chthonic things, and they smelt sweetly of rotten fruit and mulch. Daniel could see transparent rods of cartilage amongst the flesh of one of them, ribs perhaps, and finely serrated fingernail shaped teeth of the same stuff, lining the creaturesí slack mouths.

God, but he didnít want to be here. The background terror was already getting to him. Any shadow might contain a living one of these. He wanted to run, and would have if it werenít for the Warrens. What had been unleashed here belonged in no stable ecology. These were monsters, childhood nightmares, but they were real.

And bed was not safety, light would not make them go away. It was one thing to enjoy the thrill and fright of a horror movie. To find it was real, and you were central to itÖ

Somewhere deep inside, Daniel wanted to cry, like a child in the dark. He could feel it all within him.

What had they done here?

"My initial impressions are that this place has been overrun by these mutants for at least a year," Jean-Paul continued, "The Natives entered later."

Daniel flicked his communicator on, not taking his eyes from the shadowy passage.

"Jean-Paul, are you sure about the timing?"

"Yes."

"Chrisonís been dead for a year?" Danielís tone expressed doubt, but he hadnít meant it like that.

"We donít know heís dead at all, but Biosystems has been like this for at least a year."

Daniel looked around him, the torn panels, dangling wires, the damp and oily floor.

A year.

"Mother Brain has been forging the status reports," he said, scarcely believing that she could, that she would.

"How is she justifying that one?" That was Chris.

"I donít know," Daniel said, scared now for different reasons. "Maybe she doesnít have to any more."

*     *     *     *     *

The Warren dangled by its arms, and then let go.

It fell down the two floor drop like a bag of leadshot, slamming into the floor below with a shattering impact. It knew enough to go with it and roll, however. Doing so, it moved out of Danielís vision.

"Alright down there?"

The Warren reappeared, and looked up, and then nodded.

"All clear?"

Nod.

"Right." Daniel unslung his rope and looped it around a protruding support beam. He wrapped it around his glove and pushed off, letting it play through his hand slowly until he reached the floor. The white plastic of the biohazard suit was up to taking a lot more than a bit of friction.

Daniel looked around as he slid down. The room was comparatively clear, and the door was sealed. Safety. And it was his domain, a technicianís job. He looked over the damage, cataloguing what might need doing, and what he would need.

Fear came with inaction, terror bred from it. With a task before him, Daniel started feeling better.

He touched down, and let go of the rope, leaving it dangling, before taking another look around.

Seedís System Terminal.

It was a central as you really got for an AI. There was the neural and memory cores as well, but they was sealed away. This was where you accessed them most directly.

The far wall contained a rack of shattered monitors. One or two were even displaying frozen data, but it was distorted, pixelised and rainbowed, unreadable. The consoles had beenÖ.

Daniel leant over one to get a closer look.

Öslashed, it looked. They were mostly intact, as the damage seemed mostly cosmetic - to the controls, not the circuitry. Not that they should need the consoles. They needed either the recorder or Seed himself. The recorder was a courtesy, the method by which theyÖ by which Mother Brain kept the Natives appraised about what was happening on their land. If they had been here, they would have taken it to find out what had happened.

It was certainly missing. The socket was empty.

Daniel looked around for a clue to the location of Seedís main link. The cables would be behind the wall, of course, but where would it feed into the consoles..?

Danielís eyes were dragged over to one wall panel, twisted from its placement. A bundle of wires had been pulled out, and dangled uselessly.

Examining them, he tapped his communicator button.

"Jean-Paul?"

"Here."

"Iíve found Seed. Someone blasted us a shortcut."

"What does he say?"

"I canít be sure Seed is functional. Heís been disconnected."

"Who by?"

Daniel paused, looking down at the wires.

"Someone who knew what they were doing," he said eventually, "and who had claws."

There was a pause at the other end, and then, "Can you fix it?"

"Youíre near stores, arenít you?"

"Yes. I was just moving out."

"Get me a working monitor. Any sort. Seed should be able to figure out what heís plugged in to. And some optic cable." Letís see. Jean-Paul wasnít a technician, soÖ

"The sort I need is about half a centimetre thick," he said. "Black insulation, and should have TOL-3518 written down one side. There should be the correct connectors right next to it. Grab some of each."

"Three-five-one-eight," Jean-Paul repeated. "Very well. Is the room safe?"

"I think the elevator is blocked off or something. It looks like you can only get in through the ceiling. Safe enough, I guess."

"This place appears empty, and I expect any surviving biologicals would have left some time after the Natives did. I certainly can see few reasons for them to remain here with the outside accessible. Either way, we are not in a position to sweep the entire building given its state and our numbers. I will have a look when I arrive, but I think we should set up camp there. How long to re-connect Seed?"

"Iím thinking short term, some very basic I/O, and if itís only the cable, maybe a couple of hours."

"I will be there with your equipment in perhaps a half hour."

"Okay. Alina?" Daniel realised he had taken control somewhat, and was ordering everyone around. Jean-Paul was supposed to be the leader.

"Yes?"

"I need my tool kit from the shuttle. Could you go back and get it?"

"Glad to." Anything to get out, her tone said.

"Shall I brew up some coffee, too?" That was Chris again, with a grin in his voice.

"Coffee," Daniel said, "sounds good."

*     *     *     *     *

It was difficult working in the biohazard suit. No oneís suit sensors had detected anything dangerous, but Jean-Paul didnít want to risk anything quite yet.

However, it was made easier because Daniel was working with an artificial intelligence. Daniel could pick any cable to plug into the monitor, and Seed, should he be active, would be able to work out what it was he was connected to and alter the signal appropriately. If it was a speaker, he would talk. A monitor, and he would write.

The Warrens were on guard, upstairs mainly, Jean-Paul was checking the area surrounding the hole, sealing sections off, cutting as much of the easy access as he could, and Chris was still in the shuttle.

So Daniel only had Alina to help him, which was easier on Daniel, because Alina was a computer systems operator and a programmer, and was already familiar with the workings of computers. Daniel didnít have to instruct her on every step.

Alina was very different to her slumbering self Daniel had seen back on the Noah. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail, which changed her look completely. Her face was round and looked like that of a serious child, but it was also expressive. Her emotions came easily, and tended to overflow to cover her entire face. Right now, her face had a strained and troubled look. It was a mirror for Danielís heart. This was all too big, and if it was all Mother Brainís work, if she would kill so many and then lie about it, then she was beyond help, as were they, for now.

The thing was that all communications went through her, some way or the other. Telling Simonson might make her desperate. They needed the truth first. They needed Seed.

They had unscrewed panels all the way along the wall, tracing the cables behind to their source. The major problem with optic cabling was the need to replace the entire length of cable should it be broken anywhere. Daniel needed to find the point where they were connected to something else.

He found it seven panels away from the damage, a flat metal plate hidden behind the wall with labelled sockets. Beyond that would be as much as fifty meters of uninterrupted cable in a buried composite plastic pipe leading straight to the twin cores. Any breakage there would be hell to fix. Daniel had a small diagnostic unit that should tell him of any problems.

Daniel unplugged the cables, and, breath held against the worst, plugged in his diagnostic into the first socket.

A couple of numbers flickered up on the diagnosticís screen. The cable was fine, and whatever the cable was supposed to be, it would do.

Plugging in the monitor took five minutes, mostly finding the right adaptor plugs from the pile Jean-Paul brought.

Seedís reaction was instantaneous, and Alina, who was at the monitor, gasped.

Daniel went to stand next to her, his eyes skipping over the text. He tapped his communicator, his heart feeling delicate and fragile.

"Jean-Paul?"

"Yes?"

"Get the hell down here, right now."

*     *     *     *     *

(ii)

Warning : Mother Brain is malfunctioning. She cannot be trusted.
 
Recommend : Immediate deactivation.
 
Evidence : -  Numan project specimen Nei First tampered with by Mother Brain;
-  Biosystems staff killed by Nei First;
-  Nei First redirected power to create genetic mutants to attack Natives;
-  Failure by Mother Brain to attempt destruction of mutants or Nei First;
-  Failure by Mother Brain to reactivate Climate Control after damage to control systems caused by Nei First;
-  Dam system shut down by Mother Brain in spite of threatening flood from drainage systems;
-  Attack on dams to prevent attempted manual override by Natives;
-  Martial law declared on Motavia;
-  Temporal mal-adjustment to subsidiary computer system timers, altering date to 2756 AD / AW 1286 for reasons unknown;
 
Supposition : -  Mother Brain altered the rules of the Restoration, with apparent authorisation from the Noah command staff;
-  Falsification or suppression of reports from Biosystems Lab and Nurvus to the Noah;
-  Activation and re-programming of factory at the Vahal Facility to create droid army;
-  Droid army placed at the disposal of System Government;
-  Attack by droid army on Dezoris in attempt to locate and destroy Esper psychics;
-  Gas leak on Dezoris a deliberate act to remove Palman peoples to more controllable environment;
-  Sabotage to Native spaceflight by Mother Brain;
-  Deliberate power blackout on Palma;
-  Plate system malfunction on Palma;
-  Climate control systems malfunction on Palma;
-  Martial law declared on Palma;

*     *     *     *     *

(iii)

Chris had his head in his hands, Alina was pale, ashamed and perhaps a little frightened, Jean-Paulís lined face was taut and strained, his grey eyes like stone, and DanielÖ

Daniel was trying very hard not to think about it. To freeze the emotions, and lock them away until later was a trick he had perfected long ago as a child so that the bullies would not see him cry in the schoolyard.

But his heart was cold and betrayed.

They had found a printer, and attached it to another cable. Seed had printed out his report over and over again, until they had unplugged it. Everyone now had a copy, now in front of them as they sat in the Manu, listening to the rain still drumming on the roof.

"We have a change of priorities," said Jean-Paul.

Chris sighed and looked up from his hands. His eyes werenít red, his expression was controlled, but the marks where his hands rested were white and pronounced.

"Mother Brain has been using the terraforming systems as weapons against the Motavian people," Jean-Paul continued in emotionless military tones, "but the Natives seem to have stopped her at every turn. Palma is her new target. Dezoris may be next."

Palma. The centre of the Restoration, and the cultural and technological hub of Algol. There, Mother Brain could bring ruination on them all.

"She has far fewer systems to play with on Dezoris," Chris said tiredly, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Thatís irrelevant. What is relevant is the quantity of damage she can do. All planets have climate control systems."

"Itíll be Gaiaís wrath all over again," said Alina, shaking her head.

The climate control systems, the same technology that had staved off Gaiaís final fury, and part of the Noahís terraforming equipment, had originally been installed on Palma as an introductory gift. Perfect farming weather for ten years had provided the Palmans with surplus food, and allowed them time to develop as a culture and in science. That was the beginning of the Restoration.

In fact, that was almost all of the Restoration. A kick start to their culture, efficient food production which allowed them to specialise, to become scientists and artists. It was how Earthís culture had worked: a few farmers, providing enough food to support the thinkers and makers.

They had given the Palman people the gift of time, freed them from the day-to-day work of survival.

And that was all.

The Palmans had only seen the immediate benefits, of course, and had not considered the changes their culture would go through as a result. But the changes would be their own, not forced, defined or directed by anyone else. Apart from the potential resentment that might come from such manipulations, it was also hoped that, this way, the Palmans might discover some science or technology mankind had missed.

The nomadic Motavians asked if the same could be done for them, and it had, only better. Seed had been installed to adapt the local animals to their new, Terran-like climate, and the Motavians had settled down in villages and become contented farmers. They farmed still. They seemed to enjoy it.

The Dezorans had also been asked if they wanted an improved climate, and they had pretty much shrugged and said, ĎIf you likeí. They seemed to like being hunter/gatherers, and were unimpressed by technology. Guns were useful, but apart from that they used the technology until it broke and then happily went without.

The Palman culture was now nearing technological equality with the humans. They were coming to the end of the Restoration, when mankind could live with them as equals. The first new generation of humans would be brought up along side them, and racism, any thoughts of racial superiority, would have little enough basis to be irrelevant. All that was required was a good example to be set by the present generation, who knew the risks and stakes.

It was the perfect plan, set up by the sociologists and psychologists of the colony, Mankindís one hope, their last chance.

And now this. Mankind had perhaps proven worthy, but their creations had not.

Mother Brain had changed the rules, interfered with the Nativeís development, in a grossly defiant manipulation of four races. And this was only what Seed, a genetics and medical computer, knew of. There would be more, Daniel was sure, stored in the Nurvus recorder.

"We have to shut her down," he said. "We have to."

"No," said Jean-Paul.

Alina looked shocked. "Sheís killing people, Jean-Paul."

"Then how?" asked Jean-Paul with blunt military practicality. "We have no allies on the Noah. Mother Brain has woken the other shift and could be telling them anything, and we know she is capable of lying. Getting back on board will be difficult with Mother Brain in control, as would convincing the shift Commander of what we know." He clenched and unclenched one long fingered hand unconsciously. "We have to assume she is capable of anything," he finished.

Chris was frowning. "How do you know sheís woken -" he began.

"The clocks," said Daniel. "Itís the only reason I can think of why she would set them forward."

Alina looked up with a suddenly worried expression.

"Oh, Gaia," she said quietly, then turning to Daniel. "So whatís happened to your shift?" she asked him, her voice cracking slightly.

Daniel shook his head slowly. He couldnít even begin to guess.

Chris frowned at the table.

"The clocks arenít set right for the next shift," he said, sounding puzzled. "Theyíre still eight years early for that." Then he looked up as he realised. "Oh, God."

Alina looked around seeking an explanation. Daniel raised his eyes to hers.

"A crisis," he said. "The shifts are woken up early if needed. Mother Brain obviously thinks thereís a crisis on."

"Like what?"

Daniel flicked his eyes away from hers. This was one of the things he knew, but really did not want to think about. He sighed.

"Maybe like that," he said, his voice continuing the sigh, and gesturing through the wall to the lab entrance outside. "If she believed she did this, she would shut herself down, and the only other option is the -"

Alinaís mouth opened in an almost silent gasp. "Gaiaís mercy, the Natives."

"War," said Jean-Paul bluntly.

"We donít know that," Daniel said with unconvincing reproach. "Sheís already been forging reports from here for years already, and might continue."

Then he sighed again. "Ultimately, we donít know what she wants. Sheís insane, and her psyche wasnít even human to begin with." He turned to Jean-Paul, his expression pleading. "But Alinaís right. She killing people. Natives. Theyíre innocent in this. We have to stop her."

"Noah would take too long," Chris interjected. "Sheís swinging back out of the system. Weíd be chasing her all the way."

"We need further options," said Jean-Paul.

There was a pause filled only with the rainís beat.

"The satellites," Daniel murmured.

Jean-Paul glanced over to him. "Daniel?"

"You can fly a shuttle, canít you?" Daniel felt some hope. It was so easy, and it would neuter Mother Brain completely, giving them as much time as they required.

Jean-Paul nodded. "Military ships, and not well, but yes, Iíll manage."

"Then you take Gaila. No, take Zelan. Itís further away, but Palma is her current target. Chris takes Gaila. He can get there faster."

Jean-Paul frowned. "And do what?"

"Theyíre relay satellites. One for each planet, relaying orders from Noah to the planetary systems. Realign the receiving dish, and no more orders."

Alina nodded slowly, considering the sense of it. Chris nodded assent.

"Itís not final," Daniel continued, "but it buys us time, and renders her powerless against the Natives."

But not against the Noah. Not against Shift B and the five thousand colonists still frozen.

But at least it will be our problem, not the Nativesí. They will be left out of our mistakes.

"Do the satellites have droids?" Jean-Paul asked.

"I have the shutdown codes. Iíve done work on them before."

"What about the terraforming systems?" Alina broke in. "Realign the dishes, and they wonít be doing anything any more. Thatís bad, right?"

Daniel shook his head.

"Palma wasnít terraformed - it didnít need it - and the Dezorans didnít want it. We just installed a climate control and a plate system to pre-empt any natural disasters and keep things nice. If we deactivate them, theyíll get some screwy weather like we have here for a while - Ďtil the weather patterns resettle - but nothing serious."

"And Kuran?" asked Jean-Paul.

Daniel felt some of his hope fall away. He had forgotten about Kuran. No, he just hadnít considered it, and, on some level, it had been deliberate.

"We canít," said Chris.

"For what reasons?" asked Jean-Paul, and Daniel thought that was a strange way to put it.

"Itíd be another Gaian Collapse," Chris said as if Jean-Paul should have known.

"Motavia has been terraformed," Daniel explained, realising suddenly that Jean-Paul had phrased his question to avoid that sort of uninformative answer. "Seriously terraformed. If we shut down Kuran, this place will revert to its previous climate." He looked away from Jean-Paul, avoiding his gaze, and then sighed as he recognised an instinctive avoidance of an unpleasant truth.

"A desert," he admitted, looking back. "And thatís not the least of it. The plate systems here were used to build the single continent. Turning them off would release the plates and the continent would fragment."

"How fast would this all happen?" asked Jean-Paul.

"Fast enough to be dangerous," said Chris.

"Weíll have to ask Seed," said Daniel, trying to be practical over Chrisí unhelpful answers. "Itís already happening anyway. Climate Control is either malfunctioning badly or off-line."

There was a long silence around the table as everyone thought it over.

"So what can we do about Kuran?" asked Jean-Paul into the silence.

Daniel tapped his knuckles on his knee for a moment, thinking.

"I donít know," he admitted with a sigh. "This is out of my league. I donít know the systems."

"Would Seed?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I think so."

There was more silence, more thinking, and then Jean-Paul looked at Chris, who shrugged assent.

"Weíll do it," Jean-Paul said then. "But we need a solution for Motavia, too. Thatís your problem." He indicated Daniel and Alina. "We need the systems back on line, and working, but outside Mother Brainís control."

Daniel knew enough to know that that wasnít possible, for Climate Control at least, but said nothing.

He would just have to find another solution.

*     *     *     *     *

Nurvus was a relief.

It was alive and humming, perfectly functional, undamaged, and well stocked. The shuttle bays had four shuttles.

"Whereís the fifth?" Chris asked over his radio.

Daniel was in Operations downloading files into the Nurvus recorder. Alina was there too, watching Jean-Paul and Chris on a security camera. The Manu was outside, but Chris wanted to check over the shuttles for Jean-Paul before leaving.

Daniel heard Alina swivel her chair, and begin tapping on a keyboard.

"Chris? Which bay are we talking about?"

"Iím not that concerned. Just curious."

"Which bay?"

"Three."

Alina started typing again.

"The Ogyian," she said then, reading from the screen, "Service dates. Refuelling. Ah. Here weÖ Gaila."

"What?"

"Piloted by a Wren, and sent to Gaila with an unspecified cargo."

Daniel swore and turned on his own communicator.

"Chris. Be careful. It might have been a shipment of replacement droids. I donít have the codes for the new ones from Vahal." He turned to Alina. "See if there were any shipments to Zelan." She nodded.

"Hell, yeah," said Chris. "And if it was?"

"I donít know. Clip the dish with a wing or something."

"No shipments to Zelan that I can find," said Alina into her microphone.

Daniel opened his mouth, but Jean-Paul beat him to it.

"Iíll be careful anyway."

*     *     *     *     *

An hour later, the shuttle Pyrrha lifted up on twin plumes of fire, accelerating at a steep angle up into the night.

And the Manu took off from just outside Nurvus where it had been parked, and streaked across the world to its far side, where it set down to let off two passengers and five Browrens, fresh from Nurvus.

Then it, too, took to the stars.

"Vaya con dios," said Alina, watching. God go with you.

Daniel glanced over at the strangely archaic saying, and noticed a tiny silver cross on a chain around her neck. He frowned to himself, but said nothing, and turned back to watch Chrisí shuttle become a star and then fade.

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