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Chapter Forty-Three

Raging Winds

Climatrol. Finally Climatrol. Of all the systems available to them, this was the one most desired and least understood, and possibly the most dangerous. Climatrol worked like magic, making weather warm and mild, raining only when rain was scheduled, and manipulating the winds and clouds to provide just the right breeze. With Climatrol online the work of the Biolab and agricultural departments would be eased and the people themselves would feel more energetic, without the heat of the desert sun to sap their strength. Even the buildings with air conditioning weren't always as cool as their inhabitants would have liked.

Right now, Kain was sweating bullets, even though he was deep underground in the heart of the new Nurvus Headquarters. Being so far underground meant that the facility's temperature remained fairly constant, but once it got hot, it seemed to take forever to cool back down again. The temperature wouldn't have been so bad in and of itself if Kain wasn't so anxious to start the procedure. That more than anything contributed to his discomfort.

After many months of work, the Nurvus Headquarters was completed, built around the small chamber he, Hugh, and Lore found a few years earlier. The control room was unrecognizable from what it had been before. Stations for a dozen active staff members spread around the room, in addition to an interface console for Wren. Monitors covered an entire wall, much in the fashion of Seed in the Biosystems Lab. Already the technicians selected for the job of assisting in the administration of Nurvus took their places, practicing with the equipment, running simulations. They took down data to be compared later with outside sources for accuracy. Everyone knew that there might eventually come a time where there would be no outside sources, and Nurvus could only rely on itself. Getting everything connected had been a fumbling ordeal, salvaged only by Wren's assimilation of Mother Brain's technology and help from Seed. Clearly, the knowledge had already been lost among the Palman people, or perhaps they never knew to begin with.

A tech came into the room disturbing Kain's discussion with the team prepared to activate Climatrol. "Dr. Hugh Thompson and Ms. Lore Drakon are here," said the tech. "Shall I let them in? I know they're friends of yours..."

He knew he shouldn't, because they weren't part of the control room staff, but Kain didn't care about regulations. He hadn't seen much of either of them since they had returned from Kueri. If some councillor complained, well, he'd just tell him where he could better redirect that some of that energy.

"Sure, let them in. I'll be with them in a moment."

He finished briefing the Climatrol crew. By the time he caught his breath and turned around, Lore and Hugh had come inside. The pair politely lingered by the entrance, avoiding getting in the way of any of the staff. Kain smiled to them both as he walked up to them.

"Hey, I wasn't expecting you guys."

"I actually wasn't expecting myself either," said Lore. "This was Hugh's idea."

Kain looked at the biologist, surprised.

"This is the first major event involving Nurvus that you've had in a while," said Hugh. "When I agreed to merge the Biolab with Nurvus I told you that I would start paying more attention to what the system is doing. I can't come and visit all the time, but I was able to make time for something like this."

Lore grinned. "Or so he says. Kenneth mentioned something to me about projects going all wonky at the Biolab. Hugh invited me to come along, and once Gillian found out I was going he asked me to bring him an update."

Kain had so many questions he wanted to ask them, things about what had happened to them over the past several months, how things were going at the Biolab and with Lore's speaking engagements, but all he could manage was: "Um, well, then let me find a couple of seats for you guys."

With a little assistance from one of the techs, he rounded up a couple of chairs he placed towards the back of the room for Hugh and Lore.

The historian looked thoughtfully at Wren and tapped Kain on the shoulder before he could leave. "Is Wren going to be involved in this or is he just observing?"

"He will be plugged into the system to monitor it," said Kain, "but that will be the extent of his involvement at this point. Ultimately we want to place Wren on Zelan, so he can look after Dezo as well. We'll find a way to contact Tyler's people somehow before messing around over there, of course, but basically he's not meant to permanently interface with the system at this location. We might train him eventually, but at least for the initial stages Nurvus is going to be a Palman-administrated operation."

Lore nodded and let him get back to his work. Kain took up his position of command and smiled proudly at the rows of techs seated around him. It was time to get to work.

"Okay, everybody," he said. "Let's bring the power up slowly and introduce a little wind to the atmosphere. The farms of Piata are on the verge of drying out, so if we can add some moisture to the air and eventually give them a bit of rain in the middle eastern part of the continent there are going to be a lot of happy people out there."

A chorus of affirmatives reached Kain's ears and then the dozen technicians began their work.

* * * * *

Something was wrong. Kain knew enough to anticipate that not all would go as planned, but this was nothing along the lines of what he had anticipated.

The winds refused to mingle, the warm air dipping below the cold front and then rising again Everyone in Nurvus Headquarters saw the indications of that struggle, but no one know what to make of it. At first they thought it might have been a part of getting the wild currents to obey again. No one expected them to simply fall into line, but once the funnel formed they knew something was amiss. The high winds gathered the clouds, gaining visibility as they twisted their way down to the ground. The people in the room had no single word to describe the phenomenon. Nothing like this had ever happened under Mother Brain's control.

For a long while, no one said a word, frozen in shock as they watched the cone of storm and wind jitter and dance on the monitor. It didn't stay where it had landed. Though the picture on the monitor was grainy and at times even intermittent, the funnel was definitely moving.

"Someone find out where that thing is going!" said Kain.

The wind funnel spun and skittered as though it could not decide for itself which way to go, but each time it touched the ground it sent chunks of earth into the sky.

Kain turned to one of the techs close to him and asked, "Can we try forcing the winds apart?"

The tech shook her head. "I don't think so," she replied. "The phenomenon is not responding to Climatrol's cues. It may have become too powerful for the system to handle."

Or at least what we know of the system. Kain muttered a curse.

"Sir," said another of the techs, "the funnel is approaching the outskirts of Piata. It's already torn through several of the outlying agricultural fields. It doesn't seem to be moving in a straight line so I can't pinpoint how long we have until the funnel reaches the city, but if it does head towards town we may have only a few minutes to warn Piata."

"They probably already see in coming," said Kain. "I don't see how anyone within a few kilometers of that thing on the ground could miss it. We've got to take care of that thing now! Power down Climatrol's weather system."

He tried to ignore the incredulous looks they gave him. He needed to sound like he understood what he was doing, even if he didn't know any better than they did.

"It may still be drawing its energy from us, even if we don't see it. If it's not responding to cues there's no way for us to fight it without digging ourselves a hole even deeper than the one we're in now."

"Yes, sir. Powering down."

They continued to watch the wind's destructive path on the monitor. One of the techs sent out an alert to Piata's governor for a potential evacuation, though they all knew that moving the entire population of a city out of the path of the funnel would take hours even in the best of situations. Fortunately, the funnel slowed, just a bit, just enough, that the winds no longer touched the earth by the time it reached the city.

* * * * *

They had a meeting later, just Kain, Sharon, David, Wren, and the techs. He had to ask Hugh and Lore to leave, much as he disliked it. Right now he needed to remain the leader, the discipline. However, neither of those were among his strengths, and what calm he had remaining from the moments of the disaster rapidly disappeared.

"Okay," he said, having sequestered everyone in a locked conference room, "what the hell was that thing and how do we avoid creating it again?"

At first no one spoke, then David turned to Wren and asked, "Do you know?"

The android nodded an affirmative. "The records the Earthmen left behind called it a 'tornado.' Under the proper conditions, it is caused by an aggressive meeting of warm and cold air masses. We may have been too forceful in moving the climate today. What is slow for Palmans may still be too fast for the entire air mass of the planet. Moving that much atmosphere takes a lot of energy, and once set into motion it is very difficult to stop. I would recommend half the power for future attempts. The planet has already established its own weather pattern since the destruction of Mother Brain. It will be resistant to change."

"Thank you, Wren," said David.

Kain nodded. "Yes, it does explain a bit, but that does bring up something else." He glared at the android. "If you knew of the potential danger you should have said something. It's in both our interests and yours if you do."

"I am sorry," said Wren. "I did not draw that conclusion until late in the activation process. My deciphered records did not specify the exact parameters under which a tornado would be formed nor the level of damage it would inflict. Once the danger became apparent it was no longer my prerogative to act. You were in command, Mr. Kain, and you voiced the only suggestion I could have offered."

Kain sighed. "Well, I suppose that will have to do." He looked at the assembled techs. "All of you, I want you to examine the logs and find out exactly when we lost control and specifically what we added that caused it. Check your own memories as well. When did you first notice the problem for yourself and what were you doing. Document all of it and send it to my office the instant you finish. Also, I want the initial state of the weather noted and remembered for when we try this again. It's possible the natural weather conditions themselves accounted for the majority of our problem.

"I know we're all a bunch of young technogeeks here and some of you have had secondary training in the geological sciences, but do any you know a Mother Brain-trained meteorologist? Heck, I don't know if such a person exists on the planet since Climatrol took care of everything, but all the data we have now is only telling us what we're seeing, not why we're seeing it. We need to know why. It may have taken the Earthmen decades to fully take command of Motavia's climate, and if that's going to be the case for us we have to know that."

We might not have decades, he thought dourly as Sharon gently praised the techs for doing the best they could under such adverse circumstances. The techs didn't know about the dwindling energy supply, but Kain did. That first test run of Climatrol wasn't just to provide Piata with a little bit of rainfall. He wanted to eventually brew up a storm to start filling up the central lake again. The trickle of water coming out of the dams these days was useless even for powering a lightbulb, and next year there would be no trickle at all. Not without rain.

Today's foray with Climatrol had sucked up a great deal of power as well. He wasn't sure he could give Climatrol another go for at least two or three weeks, after he had a chance to recalibrate the energy allocation tables. He had set aside enough units for two more tries for Climatrol to get it right, but if they had to prologue their testing to figure out what went wrong today, they would need even more energy. Kain didn't like to cut the power to anyone, but if it came down to it, he might have to arrange energy blackout periods in the major cities.

"Kain?" said Sharon, waving her hand to catch his attention.

The techs had left, including Wren and David.

"It's time to go," she said, giving him a weary smile.

He didn't think he had seen her look so tired before, even during their longer nights building Wren. "Thanks," he said, getting up out of his chair. "I think I need to crash."

She shook her head. "Not just yet. You realize that we're going to have to talk to Piata about this. The sooner we do so, the better. They're not going to take having this 'tornado' nearly plow down their city with any degree of sympathy."

Kain sagged. "Have I told you yet that I hate this job?"

Some of her pertness returned as she threw him a wink over her shoulder. "Nope, and you're never gonna, because every time something goes wrong you try your damnedest to fix it!"

"I hate it when you're right."

Kain managed a chuckle and followed her out the door.

* * * * *

Hugh and Lore stood on the surface above Nurvus, a small urbanized area otherwise out in the middle of nowhere. Oputa was perhaps the closest city, but it would be a few days' journey on foot. Frequent travel here was unfeasible except via telepipes and the ryuka technique. Kain hoped to have a teleport station installed someday, but fulfilling that wish seemed more and more unlikely with each passing day. Perhaps if they knew how to restore vehicular transport they could find a better way for people to travel en masse. The price of telepipes had shot up exponentially with people traveling all over the planet trying to attend to both Nurvus and personal duties. The common person couldn't afford to one on a whim, and most people had never learned the ryuka technique.

All that was secondary to Climatrol though. Climatrol was as necessary to their continued survival on Motavia as the Biolab was.

"Well, what do you think?" said Lore.

He shrugged. "It shows that we still have a long way to go. We may never recover. Maybe we're not meant to. This wasn't originally our planet you know."

Lore looked up suddenly. "You're right. In all this discussion I forgot about the Mota people! This is their world too and we've been messing around with it! I don't think anyone's bothered to go out and get their opinion about this."

"From a bunch of scavenging garbage eaters? I'm not surprised. I don't know what their culture was like before Palmans arrived, but it was probably richer than it is now. There really wasn't a place for them in Mother Brain's society. It may be a miracle that they weren't driven to extinction."

"We changed their planet and yet they still survived," murmured Lore. "I don't remember seeing any of them the last time we were in Kueri, but right up until the fall of Mother Brain I still saw them scavenging whenever they could. Now the planet's changing again, perhaps back to something closer to their liking. Maybe we could ask them what they did to adapt back when the terraforming began. We might be able to apply it in reverse to us."

"Assuming their available history goes back that far..."

"It has to, Hugh. It has to, otherwise not only has their society been ruined, but ours might be as well."

"The Mota people have been near invisible since the death of Mother Brain. I don't think finding them is going to be easy. It must have been tough of them, having to compete with Palman scavengers as well as their own kind."

Lore paused, thinking. "Or they might have returned to the wilderness. Do you think that might have happened? It's not green anymore. Are the native plants making a comeback? I know thrushweed is, but what about the rest of them?"

"Thrushweed by itself is probably not the healthiest diet for them, but considering what they had been eating before..." Scraps, trash, refuse. Hugh still remembered visiting Roron with Rolf during their quest to stop the biomonster outbreak. A Mota person there had offered them a piece of cake. He and the others had sense enough to politely decline, as any cake found in a waste dump would be long past its expiration date, but the Motavian who offered it ate it readily enough.

"Well," he finally said, "so what are you proposing? You want to try tracking down some Mota people to get their opinions? You know people aren't going to take them seriously. Not when the most common statement from them used to be 'I like garbage!'"

"People won't have to as long as they take us seriously. It couldn't hurt to ask. They might have something useful, and if they do we'll just pass it on in a more palatable form to everyone else."

"Taking lessons from Gillian?"

"What?" Lore frowned.

"Never mind." He shook his head. "So where do you plan to find some Mota people?"

She pulled out a telepipe from her backpack. "Remember when we got Wren? We got him from a factory that the Mota people of Piata had moved into. Maybe, just maybe they'll still be there."

"After that giant wind funnel nearly took out the surrounding countryside?"

Lore jerked her head; yes. "The factory would have been the safest place they knew. I doubt being out in the open desert would have been a pleasant thing with winds like that bearing down on them. Mother Brain might not have liked them, but I'm sure they realize how sturdy her structures are."

Hugh sighed, scratching the side of his head. "And you're going right this instant? Fine, I'm coming along too. I guess I've been away from my office this long, a little longer shouldn't hurt. You handle the humanitarian end of things, I'll keep an eye out for what they might have been eating, in case they really have stopped eating garbage. It might be worth knowing what other plants they find edible."

She smiled. "Thanks. Let's go."

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