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Restoration

Chapter Forty-Two


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 us.

"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 months now."

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 him."

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 assistance..."

"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 request.

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 sweat.

"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 help?"

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 come out."

* * * * *

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 problems..."

"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 the fruit.

He sighed. "Somehow things like this never happened when Mother Brain was around."

* * * * *

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 these days."

"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 pretty?"

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 you?"

"Just a few."

"Who?"

"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 Nurvus."

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?"

"Yes."

"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 face."

"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.

"What?"

"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 pretty."

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