Shadows of Unrest
Hugh returned to his regular work schedule after a month of recovery,
though he found himself perpetually behind by a few weeks in the coming
months as his staff made certain he did not overwork himself. Lore came
back to Paseo sooner, addressing the problem of misinterpreted words and
the benefits of technology almost immediate in her next public speech.
Yes, Mother Brain was evil, she said, but look at what she's given
"People talk about going back to the past, back to the simpler days
before Mother Brain, and there's nothing wrong in wanting that, as long
as we realize that the world will continue to change around us. History
is just like technology. You cannot have neither one without the other,
because it is history that has given us the means to come this far, and
it is technology that will take us into our future."
Gillian vocally offered his support of Hugh, Lore, and Kain's work, even
breaking away from the political tradition of always addressing global
issues from Paseo and giving talks around the planet so that locals
could see him in person with minimal hassle. Much of this gained
approval for Nurvus and additional funding, but when Gillian came into
Kain's office to confide in him, Kain felt anything but confident.
"How goes Wren's progress with handling his independence?" asked
Gillian, taking a seat across from Kain's desk. "It's been about five
Five months too long, and Donald had yet to show his face again. Kain
shrugged. "It's been rough," --such as the time they sent the android
on an errand across town to buy the office "some" paper and he came back
with enough to last the lab for the next two years-- "but he's really
learning. Immersion is really the best way. People are getting used to
The worst part had been when Wren first disagreed with them and refused
to budge until more appropriate orders were given. That wouldn't have
been so bad if he hadn't been standing in the middle of the Motavian
Command Center cafeteria just then. Finally Sharon convinced him that
the cafeteria was not the place to air a vocal disagreement. Creating a
stir went against his social protocol.
"Maybe you shouldn't have moved up his schedule so far," said Gillian.
"You weren't weren't planning on going this fast if I recall. Your
co-head David argued against this, and he was the one primarily behind
the assembly of Wren's AI."
Kain tried not to let his irritation show. Indeed, David hadn't given
in to his request without a fight, but Kain believed in Wren and that
the android was more robust than David would allow. "He can handle it,"
he said. "The sooner he's independent the better he'll be able to
handle Nurvus when it opens."
Gillian nodded thoughtfully. "I suppose. You'd better be right
though. Not everyone is so certain, and we've got only one shot at
this. It may be too late to pull together the resources to revive
Daughter. Perhaps later, if we get Nurvus running but it still needs
"People still need convincing? I thought that was your job. Well,
yours and Lore's."
The councillor gave him a sharp look. "One thing I learned moving about
the planet is that opinions get isolated by geography, especially since
planetwide communications is nowhere near the level it was when Mother
Brain was around. We get so comfortable in Paseo it's easy to forget
that other cities are not like us.
"For instance, we're used to being overcrowded here in Paseo. We've had
two major waves of immigration; the people from our own planet who came
to the capital during the first few months after the destruction of
Mother Brain, and then the refugees from Palm. But in Oputa the
situation is reversed. The plague has decimated the population and
there is plenty of open space where people used to live.
"Oputa is extremely interested in having a major branch of Nurvus set up
there. While their population count has stabilized over the past few
years, they have a variety of socioeconomic problems to address. Their
population is skewed towards young and early middle aged adults,
primarily the ones strong enough to survive the plague. There are very
few children right now, and most of them are under five years of age,
born after the plague. Oputa is worried that their population is going
to have problems years down the line because of that gap in life and
work experience between the existing generations and the information
lost with the previous ones.
"The city's industry is down. At the current level of population, it's
difficult to economize the resources available. Mass production of
goods is no longer feasible, driving up prices. Business don't have
money so neither do their employees. If they don't have money they
can't spend it on goods and services, so the businesses have even less.
It's a vicious cycle.
"A branch of Nurvus would draw immigrants to Oputa, a much needed influx
of the different age groups the city is missing, and likely jumpstart
the economy. The immigrants would have money to spend and would have to
buy one of the many available homes abandoned since the plague. In
great enough numbers, mass production becomes feasible again and Oputa
can get back on its feet."
"Or at least that's the idea," said Kain.
Gillian nodded. "Right. We miss that here in Paseo. The best talent
on the planet gathers here and we need to spread it out a bit more."
Kain considered the information then said, "That should be doable.
There are enough departments that don't have permanent housing because
of all the reorganization we've done. I've heard more than one of them
yammering for space. Someone will jump at the chance to move."
"Most likely. Check around and get me a list of who's interested. I'll
run it by the Council to see who we'll let move. Obviously, we need to
keep some departments close by so we can easily consult them."
"Fine," he huffed. "Anything else you need?" He found it difficult to
keep the edge off his voice. Gillian wasn't officially his superior,
the Council as a whole was, and Kain disliked being given a direct
Gillian, oblivious or willfully ignoring him, said, "Yes." The
councillor locked gazes with him. "You can tell me the whole story.
I'm going to find out sooner or later--why you promoted David Campbell
and Sharon Monolly so quickly and announced your decision to turn Wren
loose almost immediately after. I admit, I expected to see the cause of
that much sooner, but I don't think it's gone away. You've become more
agitated these past few months, even though you've managed to delegate
much of your operation to your associates."
"Am I that obvious?" said Kain. Donald probably enjoyed seeing him
"Possibly. I haven't discussed it with anyone because I haven't seen
the need. If it gets to the point where it interferes any more heavily
on your job though..." The councillor shrugged. "People have noticed
the change. They mostly attribute it to Nurvus, but the other
councillors are not stupid. Those who were left with Mother Brain.
Eventually whatever you're hiding is going to come out in the open and
you're going to have to face it. Question is: Are you willing to live
with the fallout set squarely upon your own head, or do you want
Kain stood. "I appreciate the offer, Councillor Dawson, but this is a
private matter of mine. I would rather you not relay it to the rest of
the Council or the public. I will handle it on my own." He gestured to
the door. "If you would?"
Gillian gave him the strangest look, somewhere between amusement and
irritation. "As you wish. But you might want to know that because of
security concerns and our growing problems with planetwide unity, we are
in the process of reinstating the military. With that comes
surveillance and intelligence operations, both external to this
government and internal as well. Whatever you're hiding will
* * * * *
Project Vitamin Blend. That's what the fledging scientist who started
the experiment named it. Hugh hadn't paid it any more mind than all the
others meant to stimulate and preserve what they had left of Motavia's
agriculture. Most of the projects boasted hopeful names associated with
what the Palman people had lost, such as the Green Earth Project, or
more fanciful thoughts; the Wild Headrot Project. None of their names
had quite the panache as Hugh's own Nei Project, the only experiment he
ever really considered his, but while his had been a flight of fancy,
these served more pressing needs.
"I think we can say we're finally on the verge of success," said
Kenneth, referring to Project Vitamin Blend.
The two scientists walked through the halls of the Biosystems Lab, en
route to the greenhouse facilities on the top floor. Since the sinking
of the Biolab in the earthquake they had been unable to bring the
building back to the surface. Rather than waste the energy moving to a
new location, not to mention the waste of all the renovations they had
put into the lab after reviving Seed, they opted to burrow into the
ground and create a series of elevators to take everyone into and out of
the building. A greenhouse had been placed at the top for the use of
the scientists who needed to grow their test subjects.
Kenneth offered Hugh a prickly fruit. He had caught Hugh just coming
out of a meeting and wasted no time in getting the head of the
Biosystems Lab to come out with him. "Thrushweeds grow all over the
place now. They're hardy, need little water. Most people considered
them pests during the days of Mother Brain, but now with the limited
options we have available to us..."
"Edible?" asked Hugh, taking a sniff. The fruit didn't seem to have any
particular kind of odor. Made sense for a desert plant though. It
couldn't waste much on moisture draining odors.
Kenneth nodded. "Packed with all essential nutrients for a healthy
life. There's still a couple problems though, so I wouldn't advise you
taking a bite just yet."
"It feels like a healthy fruit."
"True, but thrushweed wasn't originally edible... for Palmans at least.
We know from the historical records Lore found for us that the Mota
people historically cultivated a variety of the plant, a variety that
became extinct with the terraforming of Motavia. They ate the stalks
however, the cellular walls of which Palmans are unable to digest. We
can manage the fruit, but unfortunately we've found that it tastes
terrible. One of our students described it as possessing a flavor like
dirty socks soaked in dishwater. I admit it does have its
"You've tried this yourself?" Hugh looked surprised.
The other biologist shrugged. "Funding is tight and volunteers are
few. At least when you test something on yourself you're as careful
with it as you possible can. But there's another problem."
They arrived at the elevator.
Hugh sighed and handed the fruit back to Kenneth. He pushed the button
for the top floor. "What else? If it's just the taste..."
"Well, some people have had allergic reactions to the fruit. Probably
some natural byproduct of the plant we haven't isolated yet. Maybe a
predatory deterrent. Thrushweed thrives in clumps, so we think it might
have been a mechanism to prevent animals from spreading the seedlings
too far from the parent plant." He paused a moment, as if recalling
something. "I'd have to say, the idea of breaking out in hives all
around the mouth is not particularly pleasant."
Hugh grimaced as they reached the top floor. "And now you're going to
tell me that there's a third thing wrong, aren't you."
"Since you asked," said Kenneth, looking rather thoughtful,
"thrushweed's fruit is normally the size of a large nut, but as you can
see, the size is now as large as your hand. Since the plant is a weed
and doesn't have much support..."
They arrived at the greenhouse and Hugh shook his head. All the plants
were bent over in rainbow arcs, stalks unable to support the weight of
He sighed. "Somehow things like this never happened when Mother Brain
* * * * *
The appearance of the bouquet surprised Lore. Hardly anything bloomed
these days. These had to have been picked wild. Their scent spoke of
dusty earth and treasured water, and slowly waft around the office
Gillian arranged for Lore to have in Paseo. How much trouble it must
have been to gather them, and the thought of him awkwardly picking them
was both absurd and amusing. It brought a smile to her lips.
"Flowers, Wren? What for?"
He looked so ridiculous with a clump of blossoms neatly arranged between
his metal hands. "I wish to understand the significance of them. They
have not been included in my social programming," said the android.
"Removing them from the rest of the plant seems destructive, but Palmans
appear to consider this an acceptable activity. Why? They do not
appear to be edible."
Lore laughed. "They're not. At least, most of them aren't."
"Then why do Palmans cultivate them?"
"Many people find them pretty. They'll go to great lengths to find them
"Pretty?" Wren tilted his head. "Palmans often find one another
attractive because of the natural symmetry of the body. A person with
unbalanced looks is often considered less pretty. I don't understand.
Many of these flowers are not symmetrical. These flowers here have five
petals each. Have I picked the wrong sort of flowers? Are these not
Wren would have continued with his line of reasoning if Lore hadn't
shook her head. "No," she said, taking a sip from the glass of water at
her desk. "'Pretty' isn't the same as 'symmetrical'. Symmetry can be
part of being pretty, but it's not the whole thing."
"I am only partially symmetrical because of the hair style I have been
given. Am I pretty?"
Lore snorted out her drink. Gasping for air, she laughed, red-faced,
and smiled at Wren. Her eyes twinkled, even as she heaved for breath.
"It may be hard to say," she said after a coughing fit, "but yes, you
are pretty. Not in the conventional way, because you're like a flower,
or a scientific way, because you have symmetry, but it's something
else. You may be a machine, Wren, but you're innocent, and there's
something beautiful about that."
She stood and beckoned for him to follow. "Come with me. There's
something I want to show you."
The android exited the office only a step behind her. He matched her
paces perfectly, walking behind and to the side so she could see him,
but still allowing her to lead the way. Wren reminded her of a child,
but at the same time, he wasn't like a child at all. They tried
instilling a sense of human emotion in him, especially during these past
few months, but his mind was still alien. Perhaps they had based too
much or too little of him on Seed. At least he was manageable, even if
he wasn't always understood.
"Where are we going?" asked Wren.
"The library," she replied. Lore shook her head. "I wish I could say
an art museum, but we lost those centuries ago. You'll have to make do
with scanned images and audio recordings, assuming the computer network
is up. I hear they've been having problems lately."
"They have," said Wren. "Motavia is running out of power."
She stopped and turned around to look into the android's impassive
eyes. Wren didn't joke. He couldn't. Apparently discretion still
wasn't a part of his forte either. She looked about the empty hallway.
As far as she could tell, no one had overheard him. She ducked into a
vacant conference room, counting on Wren's knowledge of body language to
make him follow. He did, and she locked the door behind them.
"What do you mean we're running out of power?"
"Kain has begun to ration the energy produced under the auspice of the
Nurvus system. Energy reserves accumulated during the era of Mother
Brain are almost gone and Motavia is unable to produce energy levels to
meet current demands."
"But why now? Why didn't this happen earlier? It's been years now!"
Wren's expression appeared almost disinterested, as though the answer
was obvious. "More systems are being brought online. When Mother Brain
was shut down, it was months before you, Dr. Thompson, and Mr. Kain
restored power to the planetary system. Even then, systems such as the
factories, the Biosystems Lab, Climatrol, Plate Systems, etc. were left
inactive. The energy reserve has lasted this long because you tapped so
little of it.
"Solar arrays are currently Motavia's sole source of energy. With
Climatrol down the central lake is currently evaporating at the rate of
five meters a year and climbing. Without the flow of lake water through
the irrigation systems the dams are useless as a source of energy."
Lore had noticed the lake drop, everyone had, especially the
Agricultural Department that rallied around a proposal for an alternate
form of irrigation, but she hadn't considered any additional impact on
society. Maybe there would be less of a view from the city and the
temperature would go up, but costing them energy too? Nurvus was
supposed to get Climatrol back up and running again, eventually. Not if
it didn't have enough power. Motavia couldn't afford to be thrown back
to where it was in the days immediately after Mother Brain's
destruction. People uncaring and consumed by despair. They had hope
now. They had Nurvus.
"You haven't told this to any people outside of the Nurvus staff, have
"Just a few."
"You, Councillors Dawson and Turgen, and one other man to whom I was not
introduced. He declined to state his name, but he possessed a temporary
clearance badge of the appropriate level to inquire about the status of
A temporary badge. Those could literally be pinned on to anyone because
personal names were not placed on them. That man could have been
innocent enough, but Lore recalled the paranoia Kain had shown when he
told her and Hugh about his cousin. She still remembered the visage of
the oily man who had visited her.
"Did he have blue hair?" she asked. "Like Kain's?"
"Yes," said Wren.
"Tall and lanky body frame?"
"It was probably someone called Donald Kain."
The android was silent for a moment, then said, "I may have committed a
gross breach of security. By having possessing the badge he had a right
to the information. However, Joshua Kain has indicated that Donald Kain
may pose a security risk."
She sighed. "Donald aside, you really shouldn't be talking about this
to anyone, especially not where you might be overheard. If anyone asks
you about Nurvus who isn't Kain, Sharon, or David, direct him or her to
one of those three. They should be the ones dispensing all the
information. You're the machine behind Nurvus, they're the public
"But," said Wren, his face becoming confused, "am I not expected to
interact with the Palman people? I was created to discover the needs of
the Palmans so that I could guide Nurvus to help them."
"Eventually, yes." Lore patted the android on the shoulder. A gesture
she was sure the android pondered even as she did it. "But your mind is
not ready to handle that yet. People don't always tell the truth, even
if they believe it's the truth, and you have to be able to sort through
all that before you'll be ready to take control of Nurvus all on your
own. That's why Kain's letting you move around on your own now, so you
can learn things like that."
"You do not function like the other Palmans," he said at length.
"Other people treat me as a device with which to interact. You behave
as though I am another Palman. I am not."
She smiled sadly. "No, you're not, but you should realize what it is to
be one. If you did, you would have already known why flowers are