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Episode 15

Homo Posthomo

“Well, he'll use it against us too, August.”

“Li-Hu? No,” Karsh denied. “He would hold Shiva as a deterrent, to prevent us from using it on Kang or one of his other suns, but he wouldn't attack us. He wouldn't have to, Clender. We could easily defeat him in a conventional war, but we would be running the risk of him choosing mutual destruction. I don't believe it will come to that. Faced with the choice between war throughout the Kantillon Sector or peace, House Malhedron would grant Li-Hu the autonomy he seeks for his House.”

“If that's all he wants, why would he wipe out the cyborgs? Surely there would be other ways of proving he has the sunbuster.”

“Because, for all his bombast about his House, he fears it is the cyborgs who are the real force of the future,” Karsh replied slowly. He stared off into the distance, and sorrow tinged his voice. “And rightly so. The future is not Terra, it's not the Great Houses, but the final integration of Man and Machine. We will deny them for a time, Clender, but there has long been an evolutionary tide rising from that violet star.”

“Not in our time,” Clender whispered hoarsely. “We've kept them chained up for centuries.”

“We have. Right or wrong, so we have.” Karsh looked back at his assistant. “But empires are transient things, Clender. Even ours, the greatest of them all. If history teaches one lesson, it is that empires always fall in time. We passed our peak, long ago. We're in decline, we're decadent, and now homo posthomo is ready to succeed us. Does that frighten you?”

“Posthuman man?” Clender shook his head. “They're not men at all, August.”

“Ah, but they are. Our descendants, our own flesh and blood and science, and for more than one thousand years a part of the race until we expelled them from Eden,” Karsh said sadly. “Perhaps they're monsters, Clender, but they're not aliens.”

“They're dangerous,” Clender objected.

“So is Man. The galaxy has never known a more dangerous creature than Man, until now,” Karsh mused. “If they succeed us, at least we will have the consolation of knowing them to be worthy successors. Perhaps homo neanderthalensis felt something similar as they saw our ancestors descending upon them, with fire and club. After all, they lived on through us, genetically speaking.”

“Not on our watch, they won't,” Clender shook his head emphatically. “And Flare won't find Shiva on Valatesta.”

“She's not there now, Clender. Wherever she is, she's not there now.”

“I still don't understand how the cyborgs could be seeking this prospective alliance,” Clender said. “What could Li-Hu gain by that?”

“It might secure the technology for him.”

“How?”

“Consider the current impasse,” Karsh suggested. “Li-Hu wouldn't have arranged to sabotage the Rigel unless he had a plan to retrieve the technology. Retrieve implies returning it to Zhuhai or one of the other Dai Zhani worlds. Yet how can he do that? Even if he had a ship waiting in subsector Zero Two Zero Two, he'd find it difficult to get it past the blockade we've set up around his planets. Our admirals guarantee that the probability would be low, probably too low for him to chance the risk. But he might be able to retrieve it through Myranda Flare if an accommodation can be reached. We can't forget that the woman is a telepsych, Clender. It's even possible that Li-Hu initiated the meeting between Flare and Shek, only she discovered that he was our man.”

“But why would Dr. G go along with that?” Clender asked. “You said yourself that he doesn't want to see technology in House Dai Zhan's hands.”

“It's basic game theory, somewhat akin to the Prisoner's Dilemma. In this case, it is only in their mutual interest to cooperate up to a certain point. The winner is the party who betrays the other first, but only after the technology has been secured.”

“How do they know the betrayal point has been reached?”

“That is why this particular variant is so fascinating. Neither of them can know, thus rendering the matter a question of intuition rather than logic.” Karsh stared off into space again before continuing. “Now, Flare has her limits. She can't transfer her mind between planets or between a planet and a ship outside of orbital space. She needs a reliable and consistent connection, and preferably one that is as fast as possible. At the maximum data transfer speed, she'd need about point six kilosecs to jump to a new body.”

“So, she could transfer from orbit? That would reduce the risk of trying to run the blockade around the Dai Zhani worlds.”

“Somewhat. As to whether that is enough to justify an alliance, only Li-Hu can say.”

“Is Li-Hu aware of Flare's limits?”

“York says no. She saw no signs of Dai Zhani activity on either of the two cyborg worlds she infiltrated.”

“If York says no, we can count on it,” declared Clender. “She's the best agent in the galaxy.”

“The second best,” Karsh corrected. “Myranda Flare is the best, by virtue of her special capabilities if nothing else. Though I will grant that the comparison is a bit unfair to Agent York. She is, after all, merely human.”

“I wouldn't bet against her, August.” Clender shook his head. “It would be fascinating to see them go up against each other and settle the issue once and for all.”

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A Mind Programmed

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Vox Day
The Greater Terran Ascendancy finds itself facing a historic crisis when the Shiva-class cruiser ATSV Rigel goes missing during a routine patrol through the Kantillon sector. Fortunately, the Ascendancy Intelligence Directorate's top operative, Daniela York, is on the scene.
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