The universe is a strange place, full of strange coincidences.
In AW 845, one of those coincidences happened. An alignment of the planets of the Algo Solar System caused a peculiar pattern of gravitational and other energies to reshape the system. The first planet, Motavia, and the second planet, Palma, exchanged orbits, while the magnetic field and axis of the third planet were shifted by ninety degrees.
For Palma the results were earthquakes, storms, and tidal waves. There were minor climactic changes, there were thousands of deaths, and there was destruction. The social and economic consequences were brutal. For the ecology, though, the changes were slight. The Palman people, with their industry and technology, had made much greater alterations, not all of them intentional.
For Motavia, though, the environmental differences were serious and absolute. The planet changed from a desert world with few, small oases of green to what soon would be an absolute wasteland. This would cause little trouble to the native Motavians, but for the Palman colonists, who depended on certain plants not native to Motavia to provide vital nutrients, it was a death sentence.
Biotechnical research might have created substitutes that would have replaced the needed plants. Spacecraft could have shipped nutritional supplements from Palma to Motavia, or evacuate the colonists. These solutions depended upon help from Palma, though, and there wasn't time, not with the motherworld coping with the damage to its own infrastructure, its own people. Twenty million colonists would be dead within a year. It was a disaster.
Yet from every catastrophe, there is born opportunity.
* * * * *
The company was called IMVE Microtech. Its name came from its founders, Irving, Madiske, Veralyan, and Eiri. They built computer systems, good ones, but they were new, a small player in a very big pond.
They were perfect.
"Do you think they will accept our offer?" Jess Dryden wondered.
"I think so," replied her companion, Kurt Bayless. "If not, there are others, but you are right; this is our best chance."
They were dressed in typical Palman style, Kurt in vest and trousers and Jess in a knee-length dress that overlapped across the chest. Kurt carried a sleek leather case. Ordinary businesspeople, anyone would have thought, engaged in making money from the reconstruction of Palma.
That didn't describe the half of it.
* * * * *
Inside the building, Eiri Gennaro, executive director of IMVE, and Madiske Corbin, head of research and development, waited for Dryden and Bayless to arrive. There was a tension in the air, an underlayer of excitement in the atmosphere. Corbin paced back and forth restlessly through the sparsely-decorated conference room. These were two of IMVE's founders, the other two having retired from the corporate rat race, and they were about to enter a new phase in their company's history.
Or so they hoped.
"Sit down, Madman; you're giving me a headache," Eiri said with the ease of long friendship. She had been selected as XD because she had the best head for business of the four, but had never truly been in a superior position in any of the founders' eyes, including her own.
"Sorry, Eiri." He glanced at his chron, looking for all the world like a young man whose first date was late rather than a fifty-two-year-old scientist. "It's just...well, I've shown you those test results. This is spectacular!" He almost jumped out of his chair again, but got control of himself and sat back down.
Eiri wondered if it had been a mistake to have Madiske at the meeting. He was the better computer specialist and always had been, and she had wanted his expertise to rely upon. His negotiating skills, however, were negligible; his excitement and enthusiasm could get in the way of striking a favorable bargain.
Too late now, she thought as the intercom buzzed.
"Ms. Dryden and Mr. Bayless are here, ma'am."
"Thank you, Miki. Please show them in."
The two of them were smooth and polished, showing no trace of nervousness or excitement as they greeted the XD and were introduced to Madiske. It wasn't surprising; Dryden and Bayless were essentially salespeople and had the well-honed manners of people who knew the value of appearances. They represented inventors, engineers, and designers, peddling their work to venture capitalists and corporations who could give their clients the best value for their creations.
"So," Dryden said, her voice laced with confidence, "how did the samples we provided stand up under testing?"
Eiri glanced at Madiske, then shrugged. He would gush sooner or later; better to appear to sanction it.
"It was incredible!" he enthused at her nod. "The speed of the chips, the capacity of the software--they're all a quantum leap beyond current technology." He grinned boyishly, then added, "If they hadn't been self-degrading, I'd be installing them in my own system even now."
"Which was why they were self-degrading," Bayless said dryly.
"Obviously, your client has a successful product," Eiri cut in. "The one remaining detail is, can we come to a financially satisfactory arrangement? There are production costs to consider, advertising expenses, and of course, the question of profit-sharing."
"Actually, there is a much bigger question at hand," Dryden said.
Eiri looked at her curiously.
"Quite. You see, the samples we provided to you are not what our client is actually selling. Rather, they were intended to whet your appetite."
Eiri's gaze hardened.
"Are you telling me that Mr. Corbin and his research staff have wasted their time in analyzing the sample material, and that I and my finance people have equally done so in considering its profit potential?"
"No, quite the opposite. The hardware and software samples we gave you are part of what our client is offering, but only a part. The tip of the iceberg, as it were."
"Then what is he actually offering?" Eiri asked warily. She felt like she was being played.
"How would you like," Bayless said with a broad smile, "to be known as the corporation that saved Motavia?"
The sudden silence was deafening.
"I think," the XD said slowly, after taking the time to reflect, "that you had best explain yourself clearly and completely."
"I intend to."
She paused, as if considering where to begin, then continued.
"The root cause of Motavia's problems is the climactic changes. If the planet's climate was restored to what it had been, planting and growing sufficient namestral-containing crops would be easy. Seed supplies are already in place. Palmans already have the technology to control the weather, inducing rain, using temperature to adjust wind movements and so on--but they haven't done so. So why isn't this a viable solution?"
It was Madiske who answered.
"Processing power. A planet's weather is a frighteningly complex system of interrelated factors, especially when you add in geological matters to complete the picture of the environment. No computer system available could constantly track a stream of worldwide data, analyze it, and decide on proper action on a minute-to-minute basis. Even the limited level of control needed to restore Motavia would be impossible to establish."
"Exactly right. What, then, if such a computer existed?"
The two IMVE officials stared at her, dumbstruck.
"As you know," Bayless said, "our client is wealthy and brilliant, but extraordinarily reclusive. His dream has always been to develop a viable system for controlling the climate of a planet. The stuff of science fiction, perhaps, but he had pursued it steadily for over twenty-five years. The development of computer technology as we've already shown you was, in essence, a side effect of his primary research."
"Now," Dryden concluded for her partner, "that research has come to its fruition. He has developed and financed the creation of an artificial intelligence quite capable of processing the data needed to successfully manipulate the weather."
Neither Eiri nor Madiske responded. Eiri could recognize a sales presentation when she saw one and didn't feel like interrupting, while the research man just looked stunned by the magnitude of the claims.
Bayless set his case on the table and opened it.
"These datachips contain all the necessary software to uplink with the AI, which is called Mother Brain."
"This computer exists now?"
"That is correct. It was built on board the artificial satellite Noah, privately financed and launched shortly before the current crisis.
Eiri smiled thinly.
"A remarkable man, your client. Distinctive, even."
"I understand your meaning, Ms. Gennaro. Despite his reclusiveness, anyone with the resources and activities of our client will leave a data trail a sufficiently diligent search could follow to his identity. He's willing to gamble that you will respect his desire for privacy in order to see his dream achieved."
"His identity will have to be disclosed if we sign a contract with him."
"Your contract will be with us, as agents for a client designated only by a file number."
"Which will bind you but give us no recourse against the actual man."
"This is the way it has to be," Dryden told her flatly. "Our client simply isn't willing to go any further towards exposing his identity."
"That's going to affect our negotiations, then," Eiri observed.
The other woman inclined her head in acknowledgment.
"I understand, and we had anticipated that."
Bayless passed several chip-cases across to Madiske.
"We'll leave this data with you. Mother Brain herself is expecting your uplink, and she'll explain the situation more fully, as well as how she can function to control Motavia's weather within the necessary timeframe."
"She'll explain?" Madiske asked.
"She is, as we said, an AI, not just a computer. Her inventor believes that the creative thinking possible only with sentience is necessary to her purpose. I'm not talking about just an artificial personality, but a fully developed consciousness, no different than yours or mine." He smiled broadly. "I think you'll find your first meeting with her quite remarkable. I know I did."
The two of them rose. Dryden laid a card on the table.
"Our visiphone number is on the card. See for yourself; have Mr. Corbin and his staff talk with Mother Brain and examine what she has to tell you. Then give us a call."
"We'll do that."
"Good day, Ms. Gennaro, Mr. Corbin."
The receptionist showed them out.
"My word," Madiske exclaimed. "Can you believe that, Eiri?"
"No," she said. It left her old friend completely dumbfounded.
"Wait a second. We have proof here, or at least the chance to prove it."
Eiri held up her hand, cutting off his defense.
"Hold on, hold on, that's not what I meant. I don't know if there is a Mother Brain somewhere, or a private satellite called Noah, of if it will do what they claim it can. Honestly, I'm like you on that subject. I believe it's probably true, because, like you said, we can check right away if the claims are for real."
She stopped and pursed her lips thoughtfully.
"No, what I don't believe is that there's some eccentric inventor out there who doesn't want to be bothered with business details, who is so reclusive he'll sell us Mother Brain but not give up his name."
"Why?" Madiske asked.
"Too easy, too pat. In business, when an answer neatly wraps up a large number of complex issues, it's almost certain that somebody made it up. Truth almost never involves easy answers."
Madiske sighed heavily. This wasn't what he was good at, reading people, negotiating. He was good with computers, the best of the four, but machines didn't lie, cheat, or have hidden agendas.
"So what does this mean? Will we have to turn them down?"
"I can't be certain, but I don't think so. There's something else I picked up."
"Bayless. He was trying to control it, but it slipped out when he was talking about Mother Brain there at the end."
Madiske gave his old friend a look that said he had no idea what she meant.
"Creative pride, Madman. Just like how you or Vera would look when you'd invented something new and had to tell the rest of us. He doesn't want us to know, but it's a lock that he's Mother Brain's creator or one of them. Dryden's either made of pure ice or she's just a negotiator--the same as with you and me, really--but Bayless definitely had a personal hand in it."
She drummed her fingers on the table restlessly.
"If I'm right about that, then I can have the contract set up in such a way that it will legally bind him personally even without an acknowledgment that he's the inventor. That gives us at least one of the designers in our pocket, which could be valuable. It's still a risk, though. We may be a bona fide purchaser of this technology, but if Dryden and Bayless don't have a legal right to sell it, we could be looking at serious liability."
Madiske's face fell. Eiri knew what he was thinking; the researcher was still a kid at heart. He wanted to play with all the nifty new toys.
"Don't worry, Madman; we have to do it. If this Mother Brain can really be used to alter Motavia's climate in time to save the colonists, we'll be heroes worldwide. That gives us the kind of free advertising that will put our new products--all a generation ahead of anything the competition has, once you put the new technology to work--on everyone's lips."
She smiled wryly.
"By this time next year, my friend, IMVE could wind up number one computer company for two planets. There's no way we can pass up that opportunity."
* * * * *
Outside IMVE's headquarters, Dryden's smile almost exactly matched her counterpart's.
"Jess, you haven't said a word since we left." Unlike his partner, who tended to be nervous going into negotiations, he worried over the results. Bayless might have been native to a planet hundreds of light years away in a completely different galaxy than Algo's, but the Earthman reminded her so much of Madiske Corbin to make his fellow offworlder chuckle inwardly.
"They'll go for it," she said. "We're handing them industry dominance on a silver platter. All they have to do," she added, "is put their world in our hands."
Opportunities were everywhere, she thought. All one had to do was exploit them.