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