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At the Beginning of the Restoration

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Alis sighed and rubbed her forehead. "What does the governor want now?"

"Don't sound like that when you talk to him," Noah said with only the faintest ironic twist to his mouth. "He's your biggest backer, and there are a lot of people that would like Alis I's reign to be a quiet and ineffectual footnote to the grand adventure."

"I know, I know." It wasn't even that she didn't like the governor, or was ungrateful for all the support he'd offered. He'd been invaluable to getting the robot cops off the streets without ruffling too many feathers. Apparently it was frowned on for the queen to grab her sword and dismantle an entire police force single-handedly, no matter how much Alis has been looking forward to it.

She still got protests from "concerned citizens" about the removal of robot cops from the transport centres. Apparently having faceless robotic monsters at every gate was the only thing keeping the monsters - or particularly scruffy citizens - away from their lovely domes and perfectly arranged lawns. When she was in a good mood she had a very polite, practiced reply advising the citizens to support the Hunter's Guild.

When she was in a bad mood she let Myau or a secretary handle it. The monarch lighting petitions on fire sent a bad message, and Alis was trying to listen to the people more than Lassic. Even if what they wanted was awful.

Being Queen was turning out to be a bigger job than Alis had expected. She'd thought it would let her continue helping Algo. Reduce crime and poverty. Protect cities from monsters. Make sure no other children had to watch their families die in front of them. And it did, but...

"He asked me to convince you to let him move forward with the restoration project, mostly. And to guarantee more support for a Hunter's Guild on Motavia." Noah was honest as usual. Alis would miss that when he went back to Motavia, like she always did.

Alis looked to Odin, who winced. "The Hunter's Guild is just getting off the ground and honestly, we're nearly overwhelmed on Palma," he said. "Sorry Alis, but that thing behind Lassic - whatever it was - really stirred up the monsters. We could double the size of the guild and it might not be enough."

"And doubling the size of the guild means more meseta, which we're already juggling across a dozen different projects," Alis finished. "I know, Odin. It's not your fault."

"We're taking in income. I don't understand all the numbers, but they said the Hunter's Guild might be self-sufficient in five years if we keep getting all these jobs. And there's plenty of jobs!"

"That's great news!" At least one of her projects was going well and doing what it was supposed to: helping Algo.

Honestly, Alis sometimes wished she was the one running the Hunter's Guild and someone else - the governor, her prime minister, Suelo - was running Algo. On the other hand, the only person in that list she trusted completely was Suelo and she couldn't do that to her dearest friend.

She pulled her leg up under her and toyed with the datapad in front of her, deep in thought. "I do want a Hunter's Guild on Motavia," she said, slowly. "They're even more in danger from monsters than here on Palma." Palman presence on Motavia was still fragile, ready to be wiped out in a single terrible sandstorm, and the native Motavians had to be suffering from the ramaging creatures as well. Alis still remembered the miserable hike over the desert to the cave with the cake shop, where nearly every step had summoned new horrors from the sand. "If the governor can wrangle up the budget, I'm happy to give him my complete support. If he can't, I'll see what strings I can pull, but it will take longer."

Odin sat back and stretched, looking at the ceiling in thought. "I might be able to spare a few people... I'll ask around, see if anyone's willing to go even without much official support. I know a couple that was thinking of moving to Motavia anyway, and they're plenty skilled. And if it's anything like Palma, they'll start raking in the jobs as soon as the shuttle lands."

"Thanks, Odin, that would be a huge help. See if that couple's willing to go!" It hurt a bit to cut the Hunter's Guild's strength even by a little, but Alis knew Motavia needed the protection just as much, if not more. It just twisted her stomach every time new reports came in about freight routes attacked and supply shipments lost. Every time she read the numbers she remembered the time Lassic had confiscated a shipment of cheap food to Camineet in an attempt to starve out any resistance. Nero and Suelo had combined everything they had - they'd skipped meals and she'd pretended not to notice - and they'd all still been hungry for weeks.

No one was starving on Palma yet, but Alis worried anyway.

Noah leaned forward, eyes focused now Alis and Odin were finished discussing hunting monsters. "If that's taken care of, we should discuss the restoration project. That's what the governor really wants you to sign off on, after all."

"That's...the one with the dams, right? Bringing water to Motavia? I liked that one!" Odin said.

"It's ambitious, I'll say that much," Alis said. The plan was to turn Motavia into a second Palma within ten generations.

Privately, Alis thought that was wildly optimistic. She'd been to Motavia. The Palmans had already taken over all the decent land and the rest was miserably hot, dry desert that only natives could live in. When she and Myau had returned from their first excursion into the desert there had been enough dust in Myau's fur to make a separate Musk Cat, and it had only gotten worse from there. The idea of turning it into a wet, green paradise on the level of Palma was laughable in how ludicrous it was.

"The basic plan is sound, I believe. I'm sure you both have your doubts," Alis and Odin both stiffened at Noah's words and tried to pass it off with nervous laughter, "but Motavia does have quite a bit of water hidden beneath the surface. Combined with the bioengineered plant life to bind the sands and create fertile soil, I think they have a good chance of pulling it off. The governor certainly believes so. He was telling me about it for the entire shuttle ride."

Alis pulled the small datapad closer and began to flip through it, elbowing Odin away when he tried to read over her shoulder. Motavia Terrain Restoration Plan was right near the top, with lists of parts and numbers that made her head spin. "Most of the technology is pretty new," she said, squinting at the dates. "And a lot of people are leery of bioengineering right now." Including her. Sure, a lot of the creatures they had faced had been natural, but after Dr. Mad she wasn't taking any chances.

"I've spoken with some of the inventors at the Paseo Research Academy and they seemed to know what they were talking about. They were all very enthusiastic, though very young. For most of them this is their first big project."

"That's a lot to bet on some kids." Kept from reading about it, Odin kicked back and attempted to look like that had been his plan all along.

Noah shrugged. "They have supervision. The lead researcher worked with Master Tarzimal in the past. I trust her to keep the project running smoothly."

"Yeah? What about the natives?"

"Well-"

"They're difficult to negotiate with," Alis said, still looking at the data. "We're trying to get them to agree to a pact or a treaty, but they're so individualistic it's impossible to get a consensus. Even the Dezorians are easier to work with, and they really hate Palmans." Myau kept trying to open channels of communication whenever she went to Dezoris on whatever mission she had there - something about a free Musk Cat colony - and was having only slightly more luck than Alis had.

"The governor doesn't seem like the kind of man to let that stop him."

"Doesn't matter, I am. He's not getting my permission until he has a way to let the Motavians share the benefits too." Being the Queen of all Algo meant looking after everyone in the solar system. Alis believed that firmly.

Sure, only Palmans actually recognized her, since Dezorians would die laughing before they bowed to a Palman queen and Motavians didn't even have the concept, but that didn't matter. Ever since she'd found out the extent of the corruption the thing behind Lassic had wrought, she'd had a duty.

"He was bragging about that on the way here," Noah said. "Apparently the researchers on the project have had a recent breakthrough in AI technology, and he thinks that will satisfy you. 'An uncorruptible system that will maintain Motavia for generations to come', or words to that effect."

Alis blinked. "An AI? Like...a robot?" She pictured Hapsby running the restoration project and winced. If that was the plan it was getting canceled right now, no ifs ands or buts.

"Right, like Hapsby." Noah did not even seem to see the problem here. "Except much bigger and more intelligent, and likely without a true body. Imagine if Hapsby was the spaceship itself, or something like that. It might be able to toss you around, but it couldn't drop your ceramic sword." Or maybe he did see the problem after all. "It's more research out of the bright young folk at the Academy. They can set it up to be fair for Palmans and Motavians, and it will handle everything having to do with their climate control plans." Noah settled back. "You'll want to have someone from Palma go over it carefully, of course, but the governor was very enthusiastic."

The governor being enthusiastic could mean anything. Either he'd honestly found something that would help, or it was something he figured he could slip by the brand new queen. But an AI did sound good...if she could validate it was set up correctly. Robot cops killed, but Hapsby hadn't really led them wrong...even if there had been a few stumbles along the way. And while Alis would never, ever trust robot cops...this new AI might not be bad. She could make sure it was okay.

"I'll have Dr Luveno look at it," she decided. "But you can tell the governor I like the idea, it just needs validation. Especially about being fair to everyone on Motavia, all right? And after that...if we can afford it, it's a good plan. I'd love to see Motavia bloom."