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Restoration

Chapter Twenty-Nine


Nurvus

Gillian stood at the head of the Council and made an expansive gesture to include all those present in his audience. The face of the young Councillor appeared stern and composed, but his hand gripped the edge of the meeting table hard enough for the flesh to turn white. Finally, things would start, and Kain, sitting beside Gillian, did not know if he was ready.

"My respected peers," said Gillian, addressing the Council, and possibly Kain as well, though he was the only non-councillor present, "there has been a lot of debate lately over Motavia's fate, especially in regards to the worthiness of projects such as Daughter and Wren. One is nearly complete, one perhaps not so. But important information has come to my attention and I believe we now can make a choice between these two systems; an intelligent choice and one the people will respect."

Kain felt his stomach tighten into knots and he wished that his friends were here. The newly elected Council was easier to deal with than the old; friendlier at least, but beneath the ministrations of the more experienced, hardened members, the younger ones began to feel the strains of their idealism. If Lore could have spouted a few encouraging words, he knew the tension would slacken like a limp rope, but she had vanished not long after they returned from Zelan. Even Hugh didn't wait for her, citing his need to return to the Biosystems to help oversee its refurbishment. The biologist expected that some of the more senior staff members would be chosen soon and that he should remain available for consultation.

The guy's only twenty-two and he thinks the lab will collapse without him , grumbled Kain. Still, he knew he had grabbed Hugh away from his duties with barely any notice at all, and the biologist even stayed with him in Paseo for a couple days after the trip.

Kain gradually turned his attention back to the meeting and sourly wondered why Gillian's words sounded so much like a bee buzzing him off. But he supposed he should be grateful. It was infinitely better to have the young councillor on his side than against him. After Lore had explained the situation to him Gillian accepted their actions without reproach, which probably was a good thing.

"Mr. Kain has already passed around the preliminary outline of his proposal for the new Motavian control system, drawing on his recent findings," said Gillian. "I would like you to read over them after the meeting and consider the weight of their information against that we have of Daughter. I believe the time to make a choice, the time to exercise the freedom we've been given, is truly upon us now. We'll be deciding not only our future, but that of countless generations to come." Gillian grinned and gestured to Kain beside him. "And now Mr. Kain will talk about his findings. Please refrain from asking questions until after he is done. I believe you may have a lot of them."

Kain tried to shake the sinister look he thought he saw on Gillian's face as the young councillor sat down, but he could not chalk it up to imagination alone. The jerk must be taking some sick pleasure in this , he thought as he stood up.

He nodded as pleasantly as he could to the rest of the Council and took in a deep breath. "I've spend the past few days considering the information we have about the Mother Brain system and have begun a proposal for her replacement. This isn't just the matter of Wren--by himself he's pretty useless for running the star system--but a more detailed one that will outline exactly how the different environmental systems will come together under a chain of command and how they will respond to us. You know that Wren's usefulness to us relies on the availability of a supercomputer for him to interface with. The lack of a computer powerful enough to maintain all of Motavia's systems, let alone Dezo's, has been a primary concern of the Daughter Project as well. But now, I have reason to believe there is a good possibility that we have the computer we need."

Kain let his words sink in and noted with relief that the Council appeared willing to listen. Gillian smiled with what Kain supposed was encouragement. The wrecker tried not to focus too hard on the image of a spitkill he got instead.

"I led a covert mission to a satellite sharing the same orbit as Motavia. This satellite, Zelan, was cloaked to prevent discovery--by us. Zelan was a part of Mother Brain; the head of an extensive backup system."

Murmurs broke out, but Kain kept his tone even and continued his speech in a voice he barely recognized as his own; so serious it had become. The councillors quieted again to listen.

"Zelan is currently inactive, but likely holds the key to powering all that we need. Wren has determined that Zelan is functional, and given time should be able to decipher the satellite's method of operation so we can use its power for ourselves. It's not hard to imagine how this could be a major step towards recovering what we've lost or are in the process of losing.

"Now, you may want to know why we should go along with Wren instead of Daughter, especially because of this discovery. Well I can think of several reasons, the most obvious one being the difficulty in connecting Zelan directly with Daughter. We don't yet know how Zelan accepted remote commands, or if our current technology will let us. There was a satellite, Baron, lost during the death of Palm, that we know must have been able to communicate with Zelan, but learning how it did so will take time, time we might not have. And as for importing Daughter's AI directly into Zelan, that's a gambit I'd prefer not to take--not in the least because of our lack of understanding of the Earthmen's technology.

"This is where Wren becomes key. There is a user terminal in Zelan, one made for human hands. The Earthmen possibly used it themselves to run Algo while Mother Brain shut down for repairs or upgrades. Daughter can't be moved up there, but Wren can, and be able to use the terminal as well. Since he's mobile, he can also travel back to the surface to witness firsthand the effects he creates on the different planets."

"Planets?" said Councillor Turgen.

"Yes," said Kain. "This wasn't revealed before, but there was another mission to the spaceship Noah. I won't go into the details--suffice to say we made a stop on Dezo. There are Palmans living there, refugees from Palm, just like some of you who came here. I think... it would be good to look out for them too. When we went to Zelan Wren discovered that there already is a climate control system installed on Dezo, so there should not be much trouble in reviving that as well as Motavia's."

Kain shook himself. "And now regarding my proposal... It is only a preliminary, just enough to show you my ideas of how everything will come together in the new Motavian system I've dubbed Nurvus. Once I have any new information decrypted by Wren and pending approval by the Council and the respective heads of the departments involved, I will be able to update and expand on the material I've presented there. I also would like to return the android to Zelan as soon as possible to give us the time we need to decode information. The intricacies of Zelan are potentially tremendous, but I believe worth the effort. We can't afford to delay the restoration. Motavia may only have a few more years to live."

* * * * *

She stepped out of the shadows and into the red light of sunset. The crimson rays reflected off the smooth metal of the Motavian Command Center, dazzling the eyes of those who would look at it head on. Lore did not. She tread the Command Center's balcony with care and came beside the tall metal figure at the rail.

Wren turned his head at her approach. "I thought you had left, Ms. Drakon."

She shook her head. "I thought I'd stay." After a moment she asked, "Are you admiring the sunset, Wren?"

"I do not admire, Ms. Drakon," he replied.

"Then what are you doing?"

He shifted his stance to what approximated a thoughtful pose. "I am learning, as always. It is my duty. I am gathering atmospheric readings for aid in determining the average temperature for a late Motavian afternoon in spring. It will be useful now that Motavia is no longer under Climatrol's control."

She paused, looking at him for a moment. "And with what equipment?"

"There are sensors embedded in the outer layer of my body to read variables such as air pressure, temperature, and moisture, much as Palmans have in the nerves in their skin." His tone was matter-of-fact, though polite. It never changed.

Lore let out an aggravated breath. "I suppose that should have been obvious to me."

Wren made no comment. Instead he asked, "Why have you come here, Ms. Drakon?"

She smiled, a ghost of a movement. "I saw you."

The historian was satisfied with the look of perplexity that crossed the android's face. David had programmed his reactions well, but could he act himself?

"I do not understand," said Wren finally.

Lore looked down at the courtyard below. A few passersby milled below. Most were young, those who stood the most to lose and the most to gain by the fall of Mother Brain. She knew with little doubt that at least half of them were affiliated with the Free Motavia Party. The group's numbers had swelled by the time the elections finished, and even now, two months later, they still expanded.

"I'm here because I have concerns--things I need to know so I know where I stand. So much is riding on you and I," she said.

"It is not just us," stated Wren. "Dr. Thompson, Mr. Kain, Councillor Dawson-"

"Wren..."

The android stopped.

"That's not what I mean," said Lore. "Yes, so much is riding on us as a group, but in your world of circuits and calculations, can you conceive the weight that rides on the individual?" She paused. "It is a tremendous pressure. People are counting on me to nurture their future, record their past. People are counting on you for safety, intelligence, and wisdom, because the fate of our entire star system may be placed in your very hands. Do you think you are ready for that, Wren?"

"I do not feel emotional pressure as do Palmans," he replied, "but there is a fair amount of certainty that I am adequate for the task."

"Are you? I don't know." She turned to face him and held up two fingers. "Suppose there are two people who are about to die and you could only save one of them." She pointed at two of the moving people below. "Suppose they're those two. How would you choose who to save?"

Wren paused, looking down at the pair. "I do not recognize either of them, therefore I have no data with which to make judgment."

"But you must protect Palman life when possible, right?"

He nodded deeply. "Correct. I would randomly choose one or the other."

"How about if the two people were a store owner and the Commander of Motavia?"

"I would save the Commander."

"Why?"

"He has the greatest impact on society and benefits the group much more than the store owner."

"Do you know that?"

"I cannot be entirely certain since this is a hypothetical person while the commander is not. I am assuming the store owner you have in mind does not deviate from my average assessment of one."

Lore nodded. "Then let's up the stakes. Suppose the two people are those you knew well, who you worked with."

"I will then decide their worth to socie-"

She spread her hand wide, stopping him. "Suppose they are me and Hugh. We both are critical to what we do. Can you choose between science and culture? What is one without the other?"

Wren fell silent before responding, "I cannot answer that."

"Etiquette program?"

He nodded. "Yes. Because you are one of those named and you know the other, etiquette demands I do not answer such a harmful question."

"But can you choose? Do you have an answer for yourself if not for me?"

"It would take some time, but I could."

"And if you didn't have the time?"

Wren shrugged. "I cannot make an uninformed decision in a major situation. That would jeopardize the mission I was created for."

Lore sighed and turned to go. "Sometimes you have to choose Wren. Sometimes there isn't any time. You have to trust in something that may not be true. If you're going to watch over Algo you're going to have to be able to think like a Palman as well as a machine. You need to--you have to--be able to deal with situations you do not expect and where there might never be a right answer." Something caught in her throat and she swallowed. "Never a right answer," she repeated. "I don't know to what degree it's possible, but you'll have to grow, Wren, just like a child. I want to believe in you, but it isn't easy, even for me."

She walked to the door. It slid open, releasing the warmer air from inside. She glanced over her shoulder at Wren, but the android had not moved since she left him. Lore looked away and continued through the building. Deeper inside, she knew the meeting between the Council and Kain would continue, perhaps deciding the fate of one who would not, or could not, care. She shook her head sadly.

"I named you, but you're not human. Are you alive? Faith comes in all colors and textures, and I believe silicon as well, but if you don't find those answers for yourself you'll be nothing more than a mechanical doll."

* * * * *

"You've returned," said Seed as Hugh stepped into the large chamber that made up the majority of the highly restricted second basement level. "You did not need to travel here to speak with me. The terminal in your office is still online."

"I know," said the biologist, dismissing the computer's statement with a wave. "But I don't have nearly the amount of privacy there as I do here. No one's going to climb down that shaft at this time of night."

"No one except someone who wishes to speak with me in secrecy."

"Exactly."

"So what is it that you wish to discuss?"

"I'd like your opinion actually--on something important."

"Such as?"

"Well, the first thing is selecting candidates to head the lab. None of the universities have fully recovered from Mother Brain's collapse, so finding talent both young and able to work has been a trying task. I'd like you to compile a list of prospective department heads and assess their interest and suitability in working for the new Biolab. Candidates should be relatively young--not much older than thirty at the higher end--to ensure they'll be able to carry on our projects for a very long time. At this point in time I think the greatest need is to preserve the knowledge we already have, and part of that will be by establishing a way to pass that knowledge on to students who will be ready to work within the next ten, even five, years. For that reason we need people who would also be excellent teachers. We're probably going to have to train the majority of our staff."

Seed whirred for the better part of a minute before asking, "Where shall I search for these candidates?"

Hugh motioned at Seed's central monitor. "You should already have the Paseo and Kueri University faculty and doctoral student records in your database--possibly more from the other Motavian universities as well. Start there first. If you can't find more than a dozen people, then search the records of the Biosystems employees, but I'd prefer to leave them out if at all possible." He glowered. "It was their recklessness that got this place nearly destroyed."

"Will do," said Seed. The computer paused. "And what else do you wish to speak to me about?"

"Hm?"

"The need to compile a list of candidates is public knowledge. Asking me to help would come as no surprise either. Neither qualify for the level of secrecy you have sought. Furthermore, you said you wanted my opinion on something important. You have yet to ask for that. Instead you replied to my question with: 'Well the first thing is...' indicating there was something else to discuss. The manner in which you said that also suggested that it was not a primary concern but a secondary one."

Hugh huffed, but he smiled. "I don't suppose you were programmed for psychology, were you?"

"Only as it pertains to biological processes. Why?"

He shrugged. "It may come in handy sometime. But anyway, you're right. That's not what I came here for. There's something of more immediate import that's about to take place soon, probably before the new Biolab is ready to be opened."

Seed fell silent. "Then the trip to Zelan was a success."

Hugh nodded. "You could say that."

"What do you want to ask?"

"There will be a meeting--quite likely in the next few months if not weeks--to decide whether or not we will accept plans for Zelan and Wren to form a new system-wide network. Kain just handed me a rough draft of his preliminary proposal before I left Paseo. The Councilís probably mulling over it right now. I find it hard to believe, but he's really pulling it together. It's quite likely the Daughter Project will be abandoned."

"Which is what you wanted."

"Yes, but..." Hugh sighed and turned, pacing around the small room. "You see, this is it. We'll be choosing our own fate. But will it be the right one?" He glanced at Seed as he said this. "It's a daunting task."

"But a brilliant step forward all the same," said the computer.

"Is it?" Hugh folded his arms across his chest and shook his head. "I don't want a second Mother Brain--that's why I fought Daughter. I don't want anymore split loyalties either. You and the other machines were designed to protect us, but all of that could be overruled on whim by Mother Brain. I don't want to see a new system that's that powerful." He tilted his head back, looking up at Seed. "Lore said that in feudal times a warrior served only one lord. It needs to be the same with the machines. They can't respond to two masters--both the immediate and the distant. Exceptions can be disastrous. I think you and I know that as well as anyone."

Seed's silence passed for a nod.

"Wren responds to us," said Hugh. "Zelan will presumably respond to Wren, and everything else will respond to Zelan. Again there's a chain of command."

"But the key is that you, Palmans, control Wren," said Seed.

"Do we? What if one person wants Wren to disable the Biolab and another doesn't? Will Wren go with the majority or will he decide based on other factors what is best for humanity? And if we do control him is it our right to decide our fate like this? The Earthmen destroyed their world by playing god and I don't want us to do the same."

Again Seed fell quiet. "So what do you want me to do?"

"I want to know: Do you think Nurvus is the right thing to do?"

Seed's monitors dimmed and he whirred softly. "That is not for me to decide. It is a part of being human to know indecision, and a part of being free to have the responsibility to choose."

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