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Chapter Forty-Five

Martial Law

Over the coming year improved crops spread across the farms of Motavia, in part due to the lore of the native Motavian people, through the Palman majority hadn't a clue as to the hand their diminutive neighbors had played. Going hungry due to the changing environment becoming unsuitable for Palman-bred crops was no longer a problem, though producing enough of the appropriate vitamins within the food itself continued to be an issue. The Mota people could derive all their necessary nutrition from the native flora, but the Palmans were still in need of supplements originally brought from Palm.

The first half of the year AW1290 also saw the rise of Donald Kain as an advocate for independence and personal choice. Joshua Kain only kept his position as Chief Engineer of Nurvus through the championing of the Council and Gillian's continuing popularity. Though the councillor did not press Kain for details of his family quarrel, Gillian had been right in saying that whatever Kain had been hiding would come out in the open. Gillian might have been the only person Kain knew who had the political wits to match Donald's, but he could not bring himself to share his thoughts with the councillor, so Gillian defended the Council's faith in him on the premise of his work and not his personal life.

Fortunately for Kain, some of the rumors that spread about him were so outlandish they lent credence to the possibility that none of them were true. In the meantime he came to grips with the knowledge that they may never operate Climatrol at full capacity again. While they had succeeded in minor humidity and temperature control, Motavia wouldn't return to its verdant past. They could get the system to function within the limits Hugh told him they would need in order to make the most of their hardiest crops, now a sturdy hybridization of Palman and Motavian stock, and that would have to be enough. Motavia might no longer have fields of green, but at least they would have fields of gold. Experimentation with Climatrol could continue over time at Wren's discretion.

Nurvus had reached the point where he could finally let go. And that was good because he was fraying at the edges and he didn't know how much longer he could keep gluing his life back together. If Sharon hadn't constantly been with him ever since Donald decided to go politician...

He heard her open the door to his apartment. She'd had a copy of his key for the past two years.

"Kain?" she called.

"In the kitchen!" he replied.

So she found him at the kitchen table with a half-eaten breakfast and a newspaper spread out in front of him. Donald was in the headlines once again. Somehow the photographer happened to catch his cousin right when his mouth had opened the most, giving him a slack-jawed appearance. He would have to clip out this picture and hang it in his office.

"Not him again," Sharon sighed, sliding into the seat across from him. "What's he saying this time?"

"That I'm taking bribes to give certain cities priority over others for Nurvus's attention."

"That's too bad."

"No, what's bad is that since this story broke I've actually gotten calls on the visiphone from 'interested parties' who would like to exchange offers of good will."

"Do you know who these people are?"

"Not precisely, but I have a strong hunch."

"No one on the Council, is it?"

Kain didn't immediately reply. Then he said, "I'm not sure. Possibly, but if so, not directly. I'll let Dawson know my suspicions."

"He's not one of them then."

"Much as I hate to admit it, I doubt it. I don't think it's possible to buy Gillian Dawson. It's not in his interests to make himself beholden to someone else. I'm sure he prefers it the other way around." He could not say the last words without bitterness.

"Did he go out on a limb to protect you again?"

Kain slumped in his chair, head tilted back. "This is why I don't use my name. There are lots of Kains in this world and they aren't necessarily part of my family. I could be any one of them. But of all of them, there is only one Joshua and I happen to be him."

He didn't know how long he had stared at the ceiling before Sharon finally said, "I see. You never told me before."

"I've never told anyone before."

"Not even Hugh and Lore?"

"It's a good way to distinguish between my friends and people who are only being friendly. My real friends call me Kain. Everyone who doesn't know better calls me Joshua or Josh. But now I'm not sure I even want to be Kain."


He flopped forward, picking up his fork to finish his breakfast.

"I don't know what it's like living with your family," said Sharon, "but sometimes I find that you've just gotta smile. If you don't, then there's no reason to keep on going. They've won."

"I have no intention of letting them, but I'm almost at my wit's end. I keep telling myself I've just got to hold on a while longer."

"Nurvus's opening ceremony is only a week away."

"You do realize that after Nurvus gets off the ground I'm never going to be able to hold a job of this caliber again. My reputation's shot."

"I know," she said, her voice sad, "but it doesn't matter to me. What matters is that I know you for who you are. If you have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of public opinion to get Nurvus to work then you're doing it for the right reasons. I just hope the day will come when Donald chokes on every bad thing he's ever said about you."

Kain smiled. "He may well do that on the day of the ceremony. Once the transition is official I won't be able to do a damn thing to help him even if I wanted to."

* * * * *

Security squeezed tight around the convention hall the day of the ceremony. The mounting unrest between far flung territories and the global government required it. Donald had sown his work well. He had the whole of Piata behind him, to the point that the city had even withdrawn its councillor in protest.

Another reason for security's chokehold on guests and attendees was that the memory of the attempted assassination of Dr. Hugh Thompson had not yet faded. Only the hunters and guardians who'd passed extensive screenings were allowed to possess weapons and each person entering the hall had to agree to wear plasma rings around their wrists that would restrict their technique usage. People made light of the situation with jokes about being on a prison satellite, but the tension was palpable.

Today could make or break Nurvus. There would be fanfare, there would be a party--the Council had declared today a planetary holiday--but would people really feel it? Would they feel that today was really a new beginning?

Kain sat in the greenroom backstage. Sharon chattered amicably with Wren, who would be giving his first public speech. She and David would introduce him to the general populace while Kain remained in the back, unseen and unheard. He supposed it was a pity, but he shouldn't waste time feeling sorry for himself. He wouldn't be Chief Engineer much longer. He just needed to make sure that Sharon, David, and Wren would be okay.

"And remember not to try making any jokes," said David. "People won't expect that from a machine."

Donald had dropped Kain an unsigned note only hours before the ceremony, stating that he could still make everything better, calm the storm surrounding Piata and other cities, if Kain would only reconsider. His cousin had kept the desperation out of his message, but Kain knew he had to be desperate. In moments, whatever power Kain had left wouldn't matter.

For a moment he took heart in that he foiled Donald. His cousin could destroy everything that he thought mattered to Kain, but in truth he had missed his target entirely.

"Well, aren't you going to wish us luck?" Sharon asked, beaming at him.

"Huh?" Kain shook himself awake.

David chuckled. "We're on any second now."

"Oh, good luck then!"

"Don't daydream too long," said Sharon with a wink. "I expect a full report on our presentation by the time we get back."

An attendant popped into the green room. "Okay! Ms. Monolly, Mr. Campbell, Wren, it's time!"

Kain silently wished them luck a second time as the trio followed the attendant out of the room. Wren should be able to handle himself now. His interactions with humans had improved and he needed to consult with his creators less and less. Wren had mastered the basics of mimicking human behavior, to the point he possessed a halfway decent sense of tact. Now all that remained was the fine tuning. Wren should be fine on the stage. He really should, even if this was his first public speech all on his own. He had even crafted his speech himself, a testament to how knowledgeable about Palman culture he had become.

Yet Kain kept reassuring himself when he felt he really should be reassuring himself about something else.

* * * * *

This was bad. This was beyond bad. The Council had anticipated the protests, the marches outside the convention center as Nurvus was opened, but nothing worse than those. Unlike Kain, Lore had never pinned the entire fault for the public opinion against Nurvus on his cousin Donald. No one man could manipulate so many so well. Donald had merely tapped into a current of resentment and desire that was already there. People had grown tired of waiting during the six years since the destruction of Mother Brain. They wanted their lives back and they wanted them every bit as good as before. Donald was willing to tell them that was possible, when the government told them that it was not.

Lore could not entirely blame the people who now rioted in the streets of Piata, but that did not mean she condoned their behavior. The destruction of government buildings, the looting of shops and homes perceived as being friendly to the Council--those were unforgivable. She'd tried to stop the tide of public opinion before it got to this point, but ultimately her words had fallen on deaf ears. People no longer wanted to listen to her, or at least not enough of them. This time, she did not blame herself for not doing enough, but that did not stop her from wishing she could have done more.

So when Gillian dismissed the messenger from the secure box from which they had been watching the opening ceremony, she only turned to him and asked, "So what now?"

"First, we get out of the convention hall and back to the Command Center. Then the Council is going to have to convene and decide the appropriate actions to take. We can't afford to lose control of Piata. That's the center of everything. If Piata destabilizes the rest of the planet will follow and then it won't matter that Nurvus is up and running. People are going to make a bid for it and I don't think Wren is equipped to handle a situation with multiple factions vying for his attention."

"He'll go with whatever Kain, Sharon, and David recommend," said Lore, standing up as Gillian shrugged on his coat and prepared to leave.

"And that's a problem right now," he replied. "Kain's unpopularity notwithstanding, Wren isn't unbiased despite being a machine. He may do what he believes is best, but he is predisposed towards following the same line of thinking as his creators. Somewhere along the line, his desire to serve the wishes of the populace and his mandate to do what's best for the planet are going to conflict and when that happens I don't know which will prove superior or if Wren will just suffer a meltdown.

"Let's go." He held the door open for her and the two of them hurried out into an uncrowded hallway.

Security organizers had taken extra precautions for this occasion. Not only did important officials have viewing boxes from which they could safely watch the events transpiring in the auditorium without sitting out in the open, but security provided an unobstructed route from the viewing boxes to the outside of the convention hall in the event there was an emergency. Though not the emergency organizers had in mind when they created the route, it served just as well. They bumped into other councillors and their staff along the way, also coming out of their boxes. Cass cropped up as well, hurrying along another councillor from the Free Motavia Party.

"Did you hear how bad it is?" asked Cass, puffing to keep up with Gillian's long strides.

"Enough to know that it's a riot and that it's bad," said Lore.

"The police can't handle it," said Gillian, "and there are unconfirmed reports that some members of the Piata police force are either participating in the riot themselves or standing aside and ignoring it."

Cass squeaked. "Because of Nurvus?"

"Partially." Lore said no more than that because the woman Cass was escorting had fallen behind and Gillian did not wait. "The meeting's not going to start without her," she told him.

"I know," he replied, pushing open the weighted door as they left the building, "but you don't want to be late for these meetings unless you're Yurik." The Commander of Mota had developed an arthritis in one of his legs and now walked with a cane. People speculated that he might soon retire because of it, though his office was the only one that offered a life term in the post-Mother Brain government, and that was in no small part due to the power and charisma of the man who currently occupied it. "If you show up late," said Gillian, "then everyone else has already been talking and forming opinions before the real discussion has even begun."

"I don't suppose I'll be allowed to participate, will I?"

"No, but you understand why, right?"

She did. The Council was going to decide its course of action now, in this meeting, before news of the riots could fully spread throughout the general public. If the Council found time to consult with anyone other than themselves then it could be brought into question why they did not find time to consult with anyone else. Never mind that Lore's agreeing to join Gillian in his viewing box had been a matter of happenstance and her coming to the meeting took no additional time at all.

"We must appear strong. This riot is happening because they think we aren't in control, that we don't know what we're doing. When we act, it must seem that we alone are in command and without weakness," said Gillian.

"Yeah, I know."

He did not miss the disappointment in her voice. "If you tell me how you think we should handle the situation in Piata I will voice it. No guarantees I'll fight for it, but I'll at least make your point of view heard."

At that she offered him a wan smile. "Thanks."

She did not have a full plan in mind for what the Council should do, but she did have a few points she wanted them to consider, so when they reached the Motavian Command Center she passed them on to Gillian and waited outside the deliberation room with Cass, who eventually caught up with her councillor in tow, and the other staff. The discussion inside took a while, and the muffled words of a heated argument could barely be heard by those sitting outside, but still the debate did not rage nearly as long as Lore would have expected. The ceremony had been scheduled for noon, and the sun was still in mid-afternoon by the time the shouting died. Perhaps in the interests of time and appearance, the councillors had been more willing to give ground and unite, but behind who's voice?

"News has gotten out," said Cass, morosely gazing out the window at the crowd assembled outside the building. A ring of guardians kept them away.

Lore hadn't wanted to look, but when Cass continued to stare outside, she hauled herself out of her chair to the window.

"Uh oh," said Cass. "It looks like Kain wants to find out what's going on."

"Where?" asked Lore.

Her friend pointed, not to the blue-haired wrecker, if he was anywhere in sight, but at the tall metal figure of Wren flanked by Sharon and David. "Damn," muttered Lore. "Now's not a good time to be bringing him out."

"He's in charge of Nurvus now, remember? He has a right to know what's going on."

"But Wren's still a machine! He doesn't understand human politics. It's like a expecting a little kid to be able to hold up in a debate against a councillor!"

"Then he's going to have to grow up fast," Cass remarked grimly, "because look at those people heading towards him."

"Do the guardians downstairs know to let him in? Is he allowed to be let in? We can't leave him out there."

Cass's mouth pulled into a grim line. "I'm not sure, but if not, I'll take care of it. Wait here." She jogged around the corner and down the stairs.

Just after her footsteps disappeared down the steps, the door to the deliberation room opened. Lore turned to see the stream of tight-lipped councillors emerge. Gillian emerged towards the end, holding the door open for Commander Yurik. The commander looked as though he had aged five years in that meeting. She had never seen him so hunched before. Even though he used a cane, he had always carried that proud bearing of his wherever he went.

She waited until the other councillors had departed then looked Gillian straight in the eye. "Well?" she asked.

He sighed and shook his head. "We can't afford to lose this one. While in that room we called up the military. They're already en route to Piata. We're imposing martial law until the city is tamed."

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