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Restoration

Chapter Forty-Four


Damage Control

There were no fatalities and for that Kain could breathe a sigh of relief. Though the tornado had torn a savage swath through the surrounding farms somehow no one managed to get killed. Roughly twenty to thirty people had been hospitalized, and some were expected to have lasting disabilities, but at least all were expected to survive. It was bad, but it could have been much worse.

After the incident with the Biolab, Kain had hoped that nothing similar would happen again. He hadn't enjoyed briefing first the Council and then the governor of Piata as to what had happened. How many things could go wrong before they finally got Nurvus on track? He couldn't keep telling people that these accidents were simply unforeseen and possibly even necessary as part of the learning process.

The tornado had ruined most of Piata's food supply, both that in storage and in the field that provided the future. Paseo would have to ship them emergency aid, and the already overcrowded capital wouldn't be happy about that.

"You got lucky," said Gillian, the two of them having arrived in Piata to personally survey the damage. "It could have been much worse."

"You don't have to tell me twice." Kain looked at the debris piled up at the entrance to the Piata Administration Building. It was about block away from them, and he tried to walk there as slowly as possible. "We should have brought Wren though. Witnessing how we deal with the local officials would be important to him." He did not voice the additional thought that Wren's imposing height might have offered them an extra sense of security.

"I'll grant that it would be, but Wren is a representation of Nurvus. I think we'd be risking too much to bring him here, not while the wounds are fresh. They'll want to know why we used Piata instead of Paseo as our test bed."

"I already told the governor over the visiphone that we knew they needed some rainfall over there so we tried to give it to them. I didn't think we'd create a tornado by moving a little moisture to the area. We just had no idea how it'd turn out."

"The governor knows that, but everyone else will want to hear it directly from you. They'll want to know why they were told that Nurvus was going to be activating Climatrol, why you didn't tell them that you were going to try to make it rain."

"Mother Brain never had to-"

Gillian abruptly stopped walking and fixed him with a critical gaze. Not that Kain really complained. Any further delay was welcome to him.

"But Mother Brain got it right," said the councillor. "Do you see what we're dealing with? It's been five years now and we're still not up to the efficiency we've had under her rule. If the people don't start seeing results, good results, we're going to lose everything we've worked for. Even if you don't like it, the Council in Paseo is the only thing keeping this planet from splintering into a mass of tiny city-states each fending for themselves and we can't afford to lose our grip."

Kain reflected on Gillian's comment from a month ago that the Council was reinstating the military. They had better not use it. Even if it was to protect global stability, if the Council used it their opposition would decry the action as a selfish attempt to enforce their own power. Five years was a long time. Kain had forgotten that the five year anniversary of Mother Brain's destruction was only two months away. He couldn't imagine celebrating it. Not now.

"I suppose it's a good thing I didn't tell them we were going to make it rain," he said. "People might have gone out into the fields to look and then we would have had some fatalities."

For a moment, Gillian did not reply. Then he started walking again. Kain followed. "It might be a useful argument," said Gillian. "If you have a chance to say it without offending them by the suggestion that they would be stupid enough to do such a thing, I think you should bring it out."

"I'm not the politician," said Kain. "You are."

"That may be true, but you can't avoid the political spotlight, not being who you are and a man in your particular position. Just because your job description doesn't say politician in it, doesn't mean that you don't have to be one."

They reached the steps. Gillian picked up a bit of plumbing that had landed there. Whatever it had been connected to had been wrenched away and the ground beneath it had cracked where the pipe had landed.

"The tornado must have carried it over here before dissipating," said Kain. "Wren said they could carry objects for kilometers."

"You said it no longer touched the ground by the time it reached the city limits."

"It didn't, but the tornado didn't vanish immediately. What it picked up, it still carried for a while longer."

Gillian tossed the plumbing back on the ground. "If this had landed on someone's head it would have killed them, and this is the middle of the city." He looked around, but the streets were empty, Piata's population hiding indoors. "We were lucky."

Kain said nothing.

The councillor sighed and took a tentative step towards the building's entrance. "We can't make any more mistakes. If we're going to bring Nurvus fully online we have to do it as smoothly as possible. The next time you run a test I want you to try it in the middle of nowhere where nobody lives and nobody can see if we screw up."

That was a given. It didn't need to be said. But Kain knew that with this latest foul up he had lost the freedom to take chances. Gillian would not take any either, not willing to assume that Kain knew better because now the stakes were too high. For once, Kain could forgive the councillor for being an ass.

So all he said in reply was, "Sure."

* * * * *

By the time Kain and Gillian had arrived at the Piata Administration Building, Hugh and Lore had already been in the city for almost a full day and had found themselves pressed into emergency rescue. In the hours immediately following the tornado there had been a tremendous panic and the two of them had telepiped right into it. Even though Piata's ryuka node was at the edge of town, they hadn't counted on a swarm of other people teleporting in as well. Even with limited global communications, word traveled fast and many of those telepipes people had stored for emergencies were now being used to check in on friends and family. Adding to the confusion were the people of Piata themselves, who had no idea whether they should run or stay.

The number of people who suffered direct damage from the tornado was rather low, Lore thought, but the amount who endured trauma and injury on account of the panic was much higher. Hugh had used his healing techniques to alleviate the cuts and abrasions of those with minor wounds and left the critical patients to the real doctors. Lore learned to be handy with a roll of gauze. Neither of them mentioned who they were and those they helped asked no questions. After they helped the medical staff as much as they could, it was too late to go looking for the Mota people, so they gratefully accepted a pair of bunks intended for overnight staff at the hospital.

They emerged the next day to find the streets surprisingly vacant, and when they arrived at the periphery of where the tornado had been, they had an uninterrupted view of the clutter and damage for the first time.

"Piata's a wreck," said Lore. Out here it was difficult not to stand on some bit of trash or litter and she had to scuff away a clear spot beneath her shoes.

Hugh nodded grimly. "I'm amazed there's anything still standing."

Lore caught his gaze, directed at a point near the city border. A few metal slabs of buildings stood proudly amidst the remains of the others. The workmanship on them was excellent, unparalleled.

"But those were built by Mother Brain," she said.

Hugh said nothing in return, but he understood. Instead he asked, "Isn't one of those buildings the factory we pulled Wren out of?"

"I think so," she replied, walking towards the one she remembered.

It towered above them as they came close, still very much a monument to what Mother Brain had done. The factory was so large that it was one of the few buildings that the tornado had not left so much as a mark on. Some refuse piled around its base, brought on by the prevailing winds, but the structure stood above it all, as though it was a fortress that could not be bothered by ants.

The doors were open, and probably had been even during the tornado since the factory appeared to have aired out a bit. The stink of the garbage only struck them after they stepped inside.

"I guess we know they still live here," said Hugh.

"Hello!" shouted Lore. "Is the Motavian named Bahnim here?"

"Not speaking in Motavian this time?" he asked.

"No," she murmured, "I think they got insulted the last time I tried. Or at least Bahnim said I spoke bad."

"I'm surprised you still remember his name."

"Assuming Bahnim is even a 'he,' but yes, I do."

They waited in silence for a while by the entrance to the darkened factory. The last time they had walked inside the Motavians had confronted them with an assault of garbage, possibly because they had drawn undue attention to themselves by the unbridled waving about of their flashes. This time Hugh kept his flash turned off, hoping that the Motavians would respond in a less hostile fashion if allowed to approach undisturbed.

"Maybe you should call out to them again," he said.

She shook her head. "Not yet. Give them a while longer."

And in time the Motavians did come. Cautiously, like wild but curious animals, they crept out of the heaps of trash and tangled metal scraps. They were difficult to see in the darkness, but their red eyes reflected what little light shown on them and sometimes their eyes were the only sign they were even there. Eventually one of them hopped out into the open, wearing the tattered robes indicative of their kind. For the first time Lore realized that the cloth was whole, made for Motavian proportions, and not an amalgam of scraps cobbled together from Palman refuse. Despite the centuries of Palman occupation they had not forgotten everything.

"Bahnim," said the Motavian, placing a hand on its chest.

"Lore," she replied, repeating the gesture. "Do you remember us?"

"Remember? All Palm people look same."

"We came here a few years ago. We took a metal man from here."

"Metal man? That while ago, but, remember. What now you want? Big wind outside. That Palm people doing?"

It might have been, but Hugh didn't think that would be a good thing to tell them. He tossed a warning glance at Lore. She caught it and subtly nodded back.

"The wind came from the big building in the middle of the lake," she said.

Bahnim made a clicking sound with its jaw. Lore took it as acceptance of her explanation. "What now you want?" the Motavian repeated.

"We want to learn from you."

Motavian laughter came across sounding like a gurgle punctuated by a whistle. Bahnim was not the only culprit. A chorus of the deep undertones and high-pitched resolutions echoed around them.

"What can Mota people teach Palm people?" said Bahnim at last.

"How to survive," said Lore.

The others were quiet this time, perhaps trying to gauge their sincerity. Bahnim looked to the red-eyed darkness on either side and wrinkled its nose. "Long time Palm people have been without Mother Brain," said Bahnim. "Hard. We know. Palm people dig through garbage like us. Never do that before. Sometimes dig only little, sometimes a lot, but never dig before. Now Palm people want help?"

Though not all tones translated across species, Lore could not mistake the hint of anger or contempt in Bahnim's question, but there was no help for it. She could not undo centuries of marginalization in a few words. So she only replied, "Yes."

"Not free," said Bahnim, "but Mota people are good people. Ask questions and we will try and answer. In return, you give us food, cloth. We no more need garbage. Good?"

Lore looked around at all the pairs of red eyes. Even if they consisted of all of Bahnim's tribe, which she doubted, the Council wouldn't readily offer to subsidize them even if they possessed some secret that would make it easier for Palmans to survive. "We are only two people. We can't provide you with that much."

"Bring little then. When you bring more, we give more."

And that was acceptable. In the coming months Hugh and Lore would periodically return to the Mota people, sometimes by themselves, sometimes with a hand-picked crew from the Biolab, and always with some of the crops from the latest harvest. In exchange the Motavians imparted what they knew of the native plants and some of the legends of older plants that they remembered the properties of but could no longer find in the wild. These Hugh cross-referenced with Seed to pull out of the Biolab's DNA archives in if fact they were extinct. Lore told the Mota people about Nurvus, even though sometimes she could only get them to understand the point as far as it being a nicer version of Mother Brain. They didn't care as long as it meant they didn't have to compete with Palmans for food and supplies.

Word of what they were doing might have spread beyond the team from the Biolab, but if it did, no one paid much, if any, attention. The Council and the rest of the world's governing body had greater concerns to attend.

* * * * *

"He provoking me," said Kain, looking from Sharon's Paseo office out into the city square where in front of the Motavian Command Center a demonstration was taking place.

Sharon shook her head, mutely watching the throng of a hundred or so mill about a few dozen feet from the entrance. They carried signs, chanted slogans. In the center of them, standing on a makeshift platform, was Kain's cousin Donald. A slight woman, with hair the Kain family shade of blue, joined him on the stage.

"That's my sister, Mimi," said Kain, in answer to the unvoiced question.

"Is that her kid with her?" asked David. A ragged child had followed Mimi on to the platform.

"Maybe. Donald told me she's a mother now. I don't know whether she has a son or daughter. I have no idea what the kid looks like and it's probably better that way. Mimi wasn't one of my favorite sisters. For all I know the others grew up to be brats too, but Mimi didn't help any."

"At least now he's facing you in public instead of making threats in your office in the dead of night."

"That doesn't make it better," said Sharon. "You should know better than that, David! If Donald's dragging his personal life in front of everybody-"

"He is," said Kain.

"Kain's going to have to confront him in return. He's going to have to defend himself against everything that Donald charges him with."

"No, I won't." Kain turned away from the window. "He's trying to discredit my position by bringing up my past. I'm not going to give him the satisfaction of seeing me in the spotlight with him. What bothers me isn't what he's saying about me. It's that this is supposed to be a rally for Piata. They're supposed to be protesting what the tornado did to Piata, but he's trying to subvert it into a shot at Nurvus as a whole, rather than this one particular incident."

"But he's only aiming at Nurvus because of you," said Sharon. "That's the whole point, isn't it? He wants the kind of power you can provide. He can't damage Nurvus entirely otherwise you won't have anything left to offer him."

"I know. That's why he brought Mimi. Cold-hearted uncle doesn't want to be involved in family affairs to help a single mother and her child--I'm such a jerk, ain't I? But the people who listen to him won't know the whole story and unless they've lived and worked with me for as long as the both of you have they never will. There's a difference between being generous and being taken advantage of, and I'm not letting Donald or anyone else from my family ever take advantage of me again. He thinks if he damages my reputation that I'll give up out of fear of losing control of Nurvus entirely. That won't work."

"I have a question," said Wren.

The three Palmans turned, startled. They had forgotten he was even in the room.

"What is it?" asked Kain.

"What is your plan of action if your cousin does not realize you will not give in and continues to discredit you to the point that you are removed from command of Nurvus? That would be detrimental to the plan."

"I'd hope Donald isn't that stupid, but the three of you should be able to carry on without me. That was the idea when we set you loose as early as we did."

"Yes, but your expertise would be missed. It would appear that fighting Donald would be a better course of action, especially if he begins to spread lies as you suspect he might."

"Donald wants me to fight. It'll pull me out and on the same ground as him. He's a manipulator and I'm not. If we go head-to-head in the eyes of the public I know I can't compete. He knows it too, which is why he's trying to goad me into facing him. His reputation doesn't mean jack to anyone except maybe a few businessmen back in Maula, but mine means a whole lot more to more people. If he has to reveal his dark and dirty secrets he'll recover. I won't, not if I have to start confirming which bits are true and which aren't."

Kain walked away from the window. "All I'm asking for at this point is another year. If we stick to the schedule and not exceed the leeway we've given ourselves, Nurvus should be completely operational by then and Wren won't need us anymore. We'll work out the problems we have with Climatrol. We have to."

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