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Chapter Twenty-Seven


The small conference room thrummed with the energy of sixty voices all at once. Kain straightened and worried at his necktie from where he stood in the wings of the stage. He didn't dare poke his head outside to look at the important conglomerate of people. Just hearing their voices was more than enough to give him the shivers. He shouldn't be scared, really, but he hated public talks, especially when he had to impress people who were especially set against being impressed. Gillian had no problem however. The young Councillor effortless strode on stage from the other wing, silencing the discussion in the room. He greeted everyone, a few of them by name, and proceeded to recount the details of the Council's last meeting.

"Dammit, do you think they'll listen?" he asked, turning to look at the three with him.

David set his hands on his waist. "I don't see why not. If the Council was impressed, they should be too. Granted they'll be the ones telling the public about us, winning them over is a formality more than anything else."

Kain tugged at his tie some more, thinking. He recalled the expression on Gillian's face the day after the Last Week Celebration and his disposition soured. "I don't know if I'd call that impressed. Conceded is more like it."

Sharon shook her wavy pink hair. "That doesn't matter anymore." She grabbed Kain's tie from his hands and set about fixing it for him. "Let me get that. Now, what's important is that most of our design work is done. He can act completely autonomous from us. I say he's ready."

"Is he though?"

The tall mechanical figure beside them cocked his head to one side as Sharon had programmed him to do when he did not completely understand something. "Ready in what fashion, Mr. Kain?" he inquired. "My systems are fully operational according to my self-diagnostics."

Kain laughed nervously. He scratched at the back of his head. "Well, let's just hope there isn't a bug in your diagnostics." He meant to say more, but Sharon's pull to finish his tie momentarily cut off his breath.

"You may check again," said the figure. He paused. "You have not yet answered my question though. In what fashion do you wish me to be ready?"

"Bug-free," said Kain. "And hopefully ready to interact with several dozen people at once rather than just us few. They'll be a lot harsher on you than we are. They're expecting a lot out of you. The variations in Palmans are infinite. Think you can handle that?"

A shrug. "That is difficult to say without more information. My programming is flexible in regards to what is available, but to be certain further testing is required."

Kain relaxed and patted the metal man on the shoulder. He let out a breath. "You know, I think you're coming along fine. Now let's get out there and make a good impression."

"I will be on my best behavior."

Kain made a funny face and looked at David. The shorter man lifted his hands, palms turned upward.

"You wanted colloquialisms, I put them in." David frowned a bit. "But I suppose they need some contextual work. He should always be on his best behavior. Doesn't have bad days like us. I tried programming when are good times to use certain phrases and idioms, but I guess I can't think of everything."

"Did I say something wrong?" asked the metal man.

Kain dismissed his question with a wave. "Nah, don't worry about it. David will explain it to you later."

>From on stage Gillian finished addressing the crowd. He called out Kain^s name to announce him to the audience. The wrecker swallowed tightly and stepped on stage. Gillian moved aside and Kain took his place behind the podium.

"Good afternoon, District Representatives of Motavia. As Councillor Dawson as told you, we have been working on a classified project for the past seventeen months. Now, in what has been an incredibly short amount of time due to the assistance of Seed, we have produced Algo^s first android. Let me introduce you to the first sentient AI produced by Palman hands, Wren!" The reassuring sound of clapping filled the room as the large android stepped out from the wings. He was an impressive sight, and Kain was proud of him, but the talk backstage still unnerved him. Inwardly he hoped that Wren would avoid using awkward colloquialisms throughout the presentation.

* * * * *

Two hours later, Kain and Wren bid farewell to Sharon and David and returned to the lab, which had served as Wren's home for the past month. Kain sometimes wondered what the android thought during his long hours alone, but whenever he asked Wren had been enigmatic, as much as a machine could be. Though he knew how Wren's programming was put together, his thinking could evolve, and without a detailed internal check of his memory the android's mind was rapidly becoming the black box of a psyche.

"How do you think the presentation went?" asked Wren, as Kain gathered his personal belongings off his desk in preparation to go home for the day.

Kain appraised Wren with a scrutinizing look. "All right, I suppose. I don't think we've sold them--I mean sold the idea to them--but we've done all right. If we can just get a few more people to pay attention to us, I think we'll get the funding we need for your workstation." Kain paused. "You understand me?"

Wren tilted his head. "I believe I understand the concept you are trying to convey if not the entirety of your words."

"Heh. Well, get used to it. But for now, I have something I'd like you to look at." Kain picked up his portable computer and a pair of connectors from the counter. "Open up your serial port," he said.

Wren compiled, opening a hatch in his torso. Kain handed him the portable and its connecting cable and the android inserted the plug into his body.

"Download the data files in the hidden directory titled 'waiting'. Passphrase: 'Long, long time ago.'"

The computer whirred as the transfer began, but Wren's insulated body betrayed no sound of activity. Already the android was more than Kain could have imagined when he first started to put him together.

"This is a lot of data," said Wren. "What is it? It is not Palman text."

"No," said Kain gravely. He accepted the portable when Wren handed it back to him. "It's very important and I want you to mention nothing relating to this information without my permission."

Wren nodded. "Understood."

"Good," said Kain. "What you have now is everything I downloaded from Mother Brain. That fact I have it is not popular knowledge by any stretch of the imagination. It's not supposed to exist, but it does, and I think with your help we can use it."

"The mission reports state that nothing was found during the Noah expedition. Mother Brain was completely annihilated. How did you come by this?"

Could an android judge? Kain didn't know. David grasped the intelligence programming Seed gave them much better than he did. Technically Wren could feel nothing, have no biases, but at the same time Kain wondered if he would need them in order to be able to deal with those who did.

"I went to Noah before the official mission began," said Kain slowly.

"The time you destroyed Mother Brain," Wren stated, a verbal prompt required by his programming.

"No." Kain breathed in deeply, leaning back against the counter. "No. I went, again, a month before the actual Noah mission. I downloaded all the information I could from Mother Brain that day; right before I destroyed her remains so nothing else could be salvaged."

"The stolen shuttle," said Wren. "You took it." He tilted his head to one side in a contemplative gesture. "Lore and Hugh went with you," he concluded. "This is highly irregular..."

"I know."

"It should be reported."

"Maybe, in time, but not right now. Sometimes... Sometimes you can't let people know about something because they'll take it the wrong way. If I thought bringing this information to the Council right away was a good idea I would have done it, but I don't. I need to know what is in those files before I can do anything with them. What I need you to do is analyze this information. Break it down, discover the code that will allow us to read it."

"Such voluminous translation will take some time and there is no certainty of accuracy."

"Just try," said Kain, shooting the android a square look. "I think there must be something important in all that, otherwise it wouldn't have been in Mother Brain's databanks. Until now I just didn't have anything capable of translating it."

"What about Seed?"

Kain snorted, pacing alongside the counter. "Seed, as helpful as he's been, is a creation of Mother Brain. We can't trust him to be completely truthful, not like I can you. Between me, David, Sharon, and all the rest of the development team, we can figure out everything about you--not so with Seed."

"Understood," said Wren with a nod.

Kain stopped pacing. "How long do you think decoding all that will take?"

"At the most conservative estimate: two years. However I do not think it will take that long. Are you looking for particular information?"

"Yeah. First off you should look for some sort of dictionary converting Palman words to Earthmen ones or vice versa. But what I really want to know is if Mother Brain did in actuality have supporting computer systems in orbit around Algo. And if so, where are they."

* * * * *

Servos whirred and the steps of mighty machines thumped as the reconstruction of the Biosystems Lab continued. Hugh sat on his supervisor's desk, safely nestled within a temporary building made of hard plastic sheets; his provisional office. A portable computer sat on the table beside him, connected to Seed via a precarious satellite link David barely managed to accomplish. Without a shuttle with which to repair more satellites--and Hugh, Kain, and Lore were not about to reveal the existence of the Dipwad --he had to make due with what was available and known to be operational. At the moment, the portable's monitor was a neutral green, indicating Seed's silence.

"Sometimes I don't know whether I should hate this or not," said Hugh, watching a crane lift a sheet of ceramic alloy.

"I cannot hate," said Seed's voice--less impressive through the portable's speakers than in the lab, "but I believe hating would be counterproductive and a waste of energy. Excessive hatred in Palmans has been labeled as an undesirable trait."

"But by who?" he asked mildly, eyes still focused on the construction machines. "The Earthmen or fellow Palmans?"

"By both." Seed's voice sounded more off-handed than Hugh had ever heard it before.

The sheet of ceramic slipped out of the crane's grasp to crash on the ground below. Someone cursed about his clumsiness loud enough for Hugh to hear even through the walls of his office. Hugh didn't know whether to feel amused or not.

"Do you think it's possible we'll get Motavia back the way it was when Mother Brain existed? Except under our own control, of course."

"It is difficult to say," said Seed. "So much depends on the desires of the Palman people, which are not nearly so easy to quantify as they once were. Eventually Palmans as a whole may do so, but whether or not your generation in particular shall is highly debatable."

"But as long as it is possible, we have hope." Hugh laid back on his desk, crossing one leg comfortably over the other. He stared up at the ceiling. "At least we'll have your new facilities ready in a few months. The building's been going well. We'll be recruiting staff before the year is out."

"Do you have anyone in mind?" Seed's voice sounded funny, coming from so close to his ear. The portable's speaker was only a few centimeters away.

"Some. Most died when the Biosystems were wrecked."

"You do not sound bitter," said Seed with a note of surprise.

"No, I'm not," said Hugh. "Bitterness won't help them, won't help everything that happened that night. All I can do is be certain their lives were not wasted."

"What have you learned that would be of use?"

"Nothing yet. Nothing scientific, that is. But I will--someday." He closed his eyes. "I've learned a lot about Palmans though, about the soul. I've grown so much since I was that seventeen-year-old trying to create life. I'll tell you one thing though. Neifirst might not have been the daughter I imagined, but the Nei series isn't over. Maybe not now, but in the future, I'm going to try again."

Footsteps pounded up the thin metal steps leading to Hugh's temporary office. The knob of the door turned and Lore bounded inside. She smiled, face flushed, as she paused to catch her breath. Hugh appreciated her presence ever since she moved to New Zema last month after the elections. When she threw her weight into something she went all out, and the weeks up until the voting were no exception. Now though, she could relax a little bit. She continued to educate others with her knowledge of history as the families settled in the new town. Sometimes Hugh worried though. Since the archive fire she seemed doubly determined to let nothing fall to harm if she could prevent it. He had no idea how long she could keep up the hard strung lifestyle she had undertaken.

Hugh hopped off his desk and walked up to her. He waited patiently for her to speak.

"Great news," she said, still smiling. "Wren's found something; two things actually--very important."

"What?" he asked.

A challenging glint shone in Lore's eyes as she locked her gaze with his. "Two satellite stations in the same orbits as Motavia and Dezo."

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