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Chapter Twenty-Three

Friendship and Labor

Green light. Kain could have cheered. Hugh had his reservations, but Lore's expression of excitement and hope made up for his dour mood. After a time though, he again caught the fervor at the prospect of influencing the fate of an entire world.

They could not stop Daughter yet, but if Kain could build the android he proposed then the Daughter Project might be cancelled. It would depend on the android's performance and how swiftly it was completed. But best of all, the Council agreed to finance Kain's work and provide him with assistants. He would even have his own laboratory in the new Command Center Annex.

With a support staff and Seed's help--for Seed's reactivation had also been approved, albeit extremely reluctantly because of the construction costs--Kain felt he had been given the chance of a lifetime; to be able to leave his mark on future generations of Palmans. He knew where to begin too. Before proposing the android to the Council he had done his research. It would be difficult, taking the next step up in intelligence from Lassic's robotcops or any of Mother Brain's robots to a full blown sentient AI, but that was what Seed's help was for.

The reconstruction of the Biosystems could not begin immediately, Kain hoped Seed would understand, but the lab space for constructing the android was readily available. AI programmers and robotics designers were a limited commodity--Mother Brain had trained so few of them--and most of them were already involved with the Daughter Project, but the Council had promised him at least two. They would have to be enough.

"I wish we could be of better help to you," said Hugh, interrupting Kain's thoughts.

The three friends had gathered in the Grove Cafe again, sharing lunch for the simple reason of enjoying each other's company rather than a more formal purpose.

"Eh?" said Kain, dropping the straw of his drink deeper into his cup as he opened his mouth.

Lore ate some of her salad. "I think Hugh means to say that now that you're gonna have your own specially trained staff we're not going to be as much use to you anymore. After all, we aren't as technically trained as your assistants will be."

Kain shook his head. "Aw, c'mon, guys. You can't back out on me."

"We aren't," said Hugh. "If you need us we'll be there. But if you're having problems making an android decision tree then I'm afraid you're on your own. Even after all these years we still don't know how the Palman mind arrives to some of the decisions that it does. We, the Dezorians, and the Motavians are probably the only species in all of Algo that are capable of acting in an irrational manner contrary to the best method of self-reproduction."

"Thank you, Dr. Thompson," said Kain, sticking a bit of his tongue out. "Now can I speak to Hugh again?"

Hugh flushed and absently ran a hand through his hair. "Sorry. Anyway, the Council apparently has other plans for me. I've been placed in charge of the Biosystems reconstruction. Nearly all of the high ranking scientists who used to have access to the Lab are either officially dead, cannot be found, or want nothing to do with it, which pretty much leaves me."

Lore nodded deeply. "And while the Council is still reluctant to give me access to better resources for my chronicles, they are placing a higher importance on education than before. It's not exactly my line of work, but they're allowing me to serve on the Education Board of Directors. It appears that having a younger face among the old makes the public trust us that much more. And at the very least, it gets me out of the classrooms."

"Lore is pretty popular with the parents," said Hugh. "Hopefully when those kids grow up they'll have a much better life ahead of them than we do."

She sighed. "Yes, but the coming months are going to be busy. It's almost scary. We'll have to do our best to keep in touch."

"Keep in touch? Where're you going?" asked Kain.

"Well, I'm going to New Zema," said Hugh. "There's going to be a small town set up for the design committee and the construction workers just outside the Biosystems Lab. With Oputa destroyed, most of our labor force is coming from Zema. It's because of them and the fact their own town is deteriorating so badly that the name was chosen. The old Zema's not much of a tourist spot anymore."

"And I'll be helping one of the superintendents out in Arima until the families start moving into New Zema," added Lore. "Then I'll join Hugh with a group of other teachers to set up an education system there."

Kain sighed. "Great. It'll be just me in Paseo."

"You can keep tabs on the Council for us." Lore winked. "Besides, Hugh's keeping his apartment here. I'll be getting rid of mine, but I still have a copy of Hugh's key card so the both of us will be dropping by and using it every now and then."

"You serious?"

"I can afford it," said Hugh. "Initially I'll have to use it anyway, just because I'll have to wait until my new quarters are built, but I'd like to have a place to come back to when I return to Paseo for meetings and such. Hopefully someone will figure out how to get the teleport stations working again. Even if we don't know the technology, we might be able to take Oputa's old station and move it to New Zema so we can use it there. That'll cut down on the telepipe costs for commuting." Hugh smiled just before drinking from his hot mug of sano. "Besides, New Zema's not going to be much a while, and they aren't going to have a place like the Grove anytime soon."

Lore smirked. "Ah, the addictions of caffeine, eh?"

"Better than alcohol I must admit."

"Keep this up and you'll be wired from sunrise to sundown." Kain smiled. "But anyway, when's all this happening? You know--the moving and stuff."

Hugh shrugged. "Couple months I guess. The workers will be going first to build the housing, and they'll be organized in three to four weeks. Meanwhile I'll be working with some other people on the new lab layout. Once we get the blueprints ready we'll show them to Seed. Hopefully he'll like them."

"Well, you're going to have to knock down all the walls anyway, I don't see a problem with it."

"True, but if Seed wants to expand the lab... we may just have to rebuild everything from the ground up. I'd hate to have to waste the building material Mother Brain left behind. We don't have much of it left, and no one has been able to reproduce it yet."

"So? Explain that to him. He'll either find out when you give him the blueprints or he'll find out when you actually start building. Better sooner than later."

Hugh coughed. "Anyway, do you have any idea how you're going to start on this android of yours?"

Kain smirked. "Actually, I do. To save myself the trouble of building one from scratch I plan on going to one of the disabled robot factories and grabbing me a frame. With that as the basic shell for the body we can focus our efforts on the programming for the brain. I'm betting the result will be a hybrid of Earthman technology and whatever else I can dig up on pre-Mother Brain AIs."

Hugh thought about that for a moment. "What sort of frame are you getting? I thought the point of an android was that it looked like a Palman. I have trouble imagining a twigtall or an attamech as our droid. While bipedal, neither of them are quite Palman in appearance."

"Pole-series robots," said Kain after taking a sip from his straw. "I don't think you ever saw any of them being that you and Amy didn't go through all the dams with the rest of us when Climatrol flooded, but they're quite Palman in shape, though a good deal taller than the average person. We'll probably do a little cosmetic surgery on the one we finally choose just to make it distinctive. Maybe we'll even give it a Palman face with a mask of rubber foam."

Hugh nodded. "Whatever works. It seems you have a plan."

"Yeah. But I'd like it if you two would at least come with me to pick out the robot."

"Sure," said Lore. "We'll make the time."

* * * * *

Plans set into motion. Less than a week later Hugh, Kain, and Lore found themselves in one of the old factories just west of the city of Piata. An old fragment of data in the government computer banks confirmed that this was the location that the pole-series robots were constructed in. The three had spoken briefly with one of the townspeople to find out if there was the slim chance of any active AIs around, but found only vague suggestions of activity, and none of them were likely consequences of having a renegade robot on the loose.

"When they said this factory had started to smell they weren't kidding!" said Kain, standing at the open entrance to the factory. He pointedly held his nostrils shut between his fingers and waved his other hand as though to ward off the stench. "You'd think something had died in here!"

"Maybe something did," said Lore seriously, taking up a point position in front of the other two. She drew her sword and looked warily around at the darkness.

Kain tried to figure out if she was joking or not and gave up. He turned on his flash and swept its bright glow around the entryway. The tiled floor was slick with oil spilled from broken metal coils that dangled from the high-vaulted walls and ceiling. A shredded skin of some sort of tubing sprawled across the floor, and all around them there were bits of soft multi-colored matter.

"Looks like a wrecking crew came through here," said Kain. "I know Rudo and the hunters were clearing things out, but this mess doesn't entirely look like something they'd do."

"Biomonsters?" asked Lore, bending down to look at a small brownish lump in the dim light. "The smell seems to be coming from some of this soft stuff."

Hugh turned on his flash and walked over to another of the soft bits. He peered at it intently beneath the light. He sniffed lightly and coughed as an involuntary reaction. Hugh shook his head to clear himself of the fumes and then looked back at the small sticky substance that covered a small lever like slime.

Kain looked at him. "Well?"

"Well, it's nothing as fascinating as you'd like," said Hugh, turning around to face them. "It's organic... and its decomposing."


"It's trash. I think that was the remains of a sandwich I was looking at."

"Ugh! Gross! You mean all this stuff is garbage?" Kain waved around his flash emphatically.

"'Fraid so," said Hugh.

"And that means we probably know what's living here," added Lore, lowering her sword.

Their words came with a note of resignation. "Mota people," said Hugh and Kain.

It was then that a sharp cry rose up and the first of the projectiles flew.

Hugh ducked a flying wrench and a thermos bounced off Lore's shoulder. Kain snarled and yelled, "Hey, quit throwing junk at us you little twerps!"

A cake missed his face by two centimeters.

"Um, do you guys have any suggestions as to what to do in this situation!" Lore dove behind a metal crate as a large spoon shot out of the darkness. A sharp chittering sound increased in volume.

"I think they think we invaded their home," shouted Hugh. He pointed his flash where a picture frame had launched and caught a short yellow-robed figure in his sight. Its thick blue fur nearly stood on end and its already large round red eyes widened even further. The thick fleshy plates of its muzzle parted with a squeal and its darted out of sight.

"I'll show them who's invading!" growled Kain. He ran heedlessly ahead of his friend, waving his flash around in one hand and his lasershot like a club in the other. "Damn little rodents! Get out of our way! We need something here and with our luck you just messed it all up!"

Hugh glanced at Lore, but she was already up and chasing after Kain. He followed wordlessly.

Abruptly the chatter ceased, as did the throwing. The darkness appeared to have shrunken into itself and the three Palmans felt quite alone, perhaps even more than they had when they first entered the factory.

Lore looked around her. "I guess you scared them off, Kain."

He huffed. "Yeah, well, fat lot of good that did." He waved his flash over several consoles and bits of machinery. "The little runts ruined nearly everything in the factory--bits and pieces of machines missing here, computers utterly damaged over there. We'll be lucky if we even find intact parts to make a robot, let alone an intact robot itself."

Lore nodded. "Looks like they've done a lot of redecorating."

"Redecorating nothing! If they hadn't changed everything we might have had a chance at finding a pole robot. Now we might have to try using something else... or even build our android from scratch."

"Perhaps we can talk to them," said Hugh, looking inquisitively in the direction they had last heard the Motavians.

"Maybe," Kain spat.

"I'm afraid my Motavian isn't that good," said Lore.

"From what I've heard their Palman isn't that good either," said Hugh.

Lore made a wry face and stepped slightly away from her friend. Raising a hand to the side of her mouth she called out, "K'raema! Tahbawk b'myz! "

"What'd you say?" asked Kain softly.

She stuck a bit of her tongue out. "Basically 'Hello. I want to talk.' But I said it a lot more crudely than that."

"Palm people!" chirped a distinctly inhuman voice. Its broad accent showed as it stumbled over the foreign sound combinations and the more punctual speaking pattern of the Palman language. Motavians spoke in slow, rolling tones, as though savoring the taste of every syllable.

Hugh, Kain, and Lore turned towards the sound of the voice and spotted a brown-robed Motavian standing on a catwalk roughly four meters above their heads. The Mota person held the rail tightly within its furry short-fingered hands and leaned cautiously over to peer down at them.

"Tahbawk Bidora ?" asked Lore.

"Speak bad," said the Motavian, and Lore flushed with uncertainty.

"Palm people always speak bad," the Motavian added emphatically as it reached out for a nearby dangling cable and climbed over the railing. It easily grasped the cable between its hands and slid its way down. The cable ended a meter and a half above the floor, a head or so above the Mota person's own height, but with a sputtering remark it let go of the cable and dropped the remaining distance.

The Motavian landed with a soft grunt and then heaved itself to its feet. "Why here are you?"

Kain held his nose shut again. "Well, much as we'd like to be the pest control, we're actually here to see if we can get a robot. There is at least one intact, right?"

"Robot." The Motavian cocked its head in thought. "That is scrap metal?"

"No, not scrap metal!"

"Like this," said Hugh, holding his hand at a height slightly above his head. "This big. Looks like Palman. Two arms, two legs."

"No here look like Palman," said the Motavian.

"Shape look like Palman," said Lore, trying to outline the approximate dimensions of a pole-series robot with her hands.

Kain shook his head. "This isn't getting us anywhere. How do you describe a robot to someone who doesn't even know what it is?"

"Metal person," said Hugh suddenly. "Do you know where a metal person is?"

"Metal man? What you want with metal man?" asked the Motavian, putting two furry fists on either side of its waist as though to make itself look bigger than before.

"We need the metal man," said Lore. "We need him very much."

"Noisy Palm people break in home!" The Motavian pointed an accusing digit at Kain in particular.

"We're sorry, but this man is important to us. If there is more than one we just need only one." Lore brushed her long onyx hair behind her shoulder as she took a cautious step towards the Mota person. Out of the corners of her eyes she could sense movement, and she knew the rest of this Motavian's tribe watched them. "My name is Lore, and this is Hugh and Kain. Our people built this." She indicated the factory around them. "But we left. We do not want this place back, but we want the metal man we made here."

"Bahnim," said the Motavian, placing a hand on its chest. "Metal man yours?"

"Yes. If you don't need him, can we please have him?"

"No need," said Bahnim, waving its hand. "Come. Follow ."

Despite Kain's misgivings, the trio did. The diminutive Motavian lead them to what had once been a control room up above more of the production machinery. The tiny chamber offered a view of more of the factory and the network of catwalks running out from it in all directions made for unimpeded movement to all sections of the factory. The open entrance to the factory shown like a beacon from the control room, and the three Palmans were not surprised the Motavians had set upon them as swiftly as they did.

Inside the room was a large cabinet, and in there they found a humanoid robot stuffed inside like a giant rag doll. Kain glossed over it--it appeared intact and complete, but nonetheless he took out a screwdriver and proceeded to open its chest to evaluate its interior. To allay Bahnim's nervousness, Hugh and Lore spoke to the smaller Motavian and later answered its questions about why this Mother Brain creature suddenly vanished.

Eventually satisfied, Kain shut the robot up and announced to his friends that they appeared to have a functional poleziax. He had no idea if it had been programmed yet, but he doubted it since it was inactive. He would check to be certain once they transported it to his new lab Paseo.

With the help of the Mota people--who probably wanted to see them off and away more than to extend any sort of altruism--the three brought in the cart they had left outside the factory and loaded the heavy man of metal on to it. Bahnim and two of its brethren escorted them out, and Lore thanked the Mota person as profusely in Motavian as she found possible. She hoped her awkward words might better convey her feelings rather than irritate the Mota person. If Bahnim was annoyed, it gave no sign. The Motavian abruptly said farewell and disappeared back inside the factory.

The three then returned to Paseo.

* * * * *

Kain spent hours in the lab afterwards, again opening up the robot and spreading its innards about a broad table like some sort of mad doctor. A myriad of wires surrounded him, connecting multiple computers to the robot as surely as nutrient tubes from a food sac to an invalid hospital patient. Though the sun had only gone down two or three hours ago, Kain felt as though he had stayed up an entire night. He felt a nervous, almost tangible energy in his gut, and it spread eagerly as he worked.

He muttered to himself, ran a hand through his hair, as he peered at a schematic on one of his monitors. Key words flashed at him and crucial elements were outlined with a green highlight. He brought a mug of sano to his lips and drank deeply as he pondered the diagram's meaning. When a knock sounded on the thick metal door behind him he barely noticed.

"Yeah?" he asked a couple seconds late.

"Mr. Kain, may we come in?" asked a young male voice.

Kain raised an eyebrow, not recognizing the speaker. He took another gulp from his sano. "Yeah, sure."

Two people, who could scarcely be older than himself, entered the lab. Both were dressed casually, but wore tags signifying their clearance to be in this part of the laboratory building. The male of the two was short with a soft face and rounded features. The female appeared alert and bright. She glanced eagerly about her and her short pink hair bounced with her every movement.

"We were told you were working late so we thought we'd drop by before we formally start working together," said the man.

"Then you're the ones the Council found?" asked Kain.

The man nodded. "My name is David Campbell and this is Sharon Monolly."

Sharon bobbed her head in greeting. "A pleasure to finally meet you in person, Kain."

Kain chuckled good-naturedly. "I guess you've been hearing a lot about me then."

"Oh yes!"

"Sharon has kept tabs on you like you would not believe," said David with a smirk.

But Kain was no longer paying attention. He wondered why Sharon's voice had suddenly sounded familiar to him. He glanced at her face, but it could not place it. Kain never prided himself on his memory of people and their faces, but he felt positive he had never seen her before.

"Excuse me... Miss Monolly was it? I know this must sound strange, but have we worked together before? I've never been good with people, but you sound familiar."

David sniggered, but Kain ignored him.

Sharon merely smiled. "You can bet that poleziax we have. I was in Climatrol while you were in the Biosystems Lab!"

Kain groaned, having his suspicions confirmed. Working on this android would be a long job indeed. A very long job.

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