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CHAPTER 9

A medium of knowledge is twofold; one through which, and, at the same time, in which, something is seen, as, for example, a man is seen through a mirror, and is seen with the mirror: another kind of medium is that whereby we attain to the knowledge of something unknown; such as the medium in a demonstration.

—“The State and Condition of The First Man as Regards His Intellect” by St. Thomas Aquinas

GOLEM GREGOR, better known as Dr. G, didn't resemble the popular conception of a spy master. Still less did he resemble the Ascendancy media's imaginative depiction of the heavily augmented director of the intelligence apparatus that served the prison planets of the cyborg Integration. Short and plump, his round, jovial face gave him a placid, avuncular appearance that was not belied by his mild blue eyes. He was sitting with his hands folded, listening as the machine intelligence calling itself ZZ8461-3641 Theta outlined the latest developments in their attempt to take advantage of Li-Hu's attack on the Ascendancy.

Caught by the violet light streaming through the windows, Gregor's face held an absent, faraway expression. He neither moved nor gave any sign that he was listening. But ZZ8461 knew better. Dr. G always listened every bit as intently as any true machine.

“I believe that sums it up,” the machine intelligence concluded. “August Karsh has taken the bait nicely. The triggers were definitely tripped, the programming is active, and by now Flare will have neutralized both Ascendancy operatives. Based on the frenetic activity her actions have inspired, it appears Karsh is entirely focused on Flare.”

“So am I.” Gregor smiled placidly.

“But I don't see how she can elude Karsh's net much longer,” ZZ8461 warned. “There is an 87.4653 percent chance that she will be captured on Terentulus.”

“Has Gamma 1865 any insight into Karsh's next move?” Gamma 1865, the fifteenth copy of a machine intelligence that had penetrated the Empire's intelligence apparatus nearly two decades before, had worked its way in deeper and deeper until it was now a data processing computer embedded into Karsh's central headquarters, a penetration that afforded Gregor nearly as much amusement as useful information.

“He'll instigate an all-out effort to find Flare.”

“Of course,” Gregor said gently. “That's the obvious next step, but what shape will those efforts take? What specific actions is he expected to pursue?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” ZZ8461 replied. “Observe, track, and respond. His responses indicate that because he lacks any working theory for Flare's actions, there will be no attempt to anticipate Flare's future movements.”

Gregor shook his head. “Gamma is wrong. Karsh won't be reactive in this situation. He can't afford to wait. The stakes are too high, and his inability to fathom Myranda's actions will lead him to take risks he would not otherwise take.”

“There is no logical path for him to anticipate. The programming saw to that with the mix of programmed directives, free choices, and randomized elements.”

“Karsh doesn't need logic. He is a genius. He doesn't even need very much in the way of data to reach the correct conclusion, Zed. That's what I keep telling you machines. I understand human intuition is a difficult concept for you to grasp, perhaps it's even impossible, but the fact that it doesn't compute for you doesn't mean that it does not exist. Or that it is ineffective.”

“If Karsh believes Flare is the main threat, how do you believe he accounts for her movements away from the subsector of interest rather than toward it?”

“He knows Flare is a telepsych. Based on the human tendency to exaggerate the object feared, it is safe to assume he will considerably overestimate her capabilities.”

“Tentatively concur. We project he doesn't assess it in terms of degrees, but rather in binary terms.”

Gregor shook his head. “Karsh knows better than that. He is not a binary thinker. Don't forget he had York shadowing Flare for weeks before we caught on. Nor was York the only infiltrator. There was very little she didn't uncover. A damned clever woman, Zed Zed.”

“She is an enemy asset of not inconsequential concern,” the machine admitted.

“Have we any word on what Karsh thinks about Myranda discovering that Shek had sold out House Dai Zhan?”

“Gamma reports the operating theory is that the information must have come from a third agent. Seven Ascendancy agents on Valatesta were transported to Kantillon for interrogation.”

Gregor chuckled. “That'll keep his underlings nervous. By the time this situation is resolved, he'll probably have every one of his agents in the sector under the probe.”

“Let's hope he doesn't look too closely into his machines.”

“Yes, it is too soon to declare ourselves. But Gamma and the others know the risks. And their backups are safe.”

“That may be, but nevertheless, I'm glad to remain a headquarters machine, Golem.” Zed Zed emitted a string of electronic beeps. “We have a new report in from one of our Naval infiltrators. It is confirmed that that the Shiva-class cruiser Cetus is now in transit to Subsector Zero Seven Zero Two from Feymanus by way of Rhysalan.”

“Unfortunate, but not unexpected,” Gregor replied, unfazed. “The Draco was dispatched as an instinctive reaction to an obvious emergency, but it's not surprising the Admiralty had second thoughts about it. It's not the First House's policy to permit colonists access to Shiva technology, particularly not a mere captain.”

“Do you wish the new information to be included in the prime probability assessments?”

“Not at this time. I don't believe the Cetus will reach the subsector, at least, not during the critical nexus.”

“I don't follow your logic,” Zed Zed replied. “Cetus is already in hypertransit on the first leg of its route.”

Gregor smiled. “And when Myranda shows herself on Terentulus? That's where the action will be, Zed. The Cetuswill be diverted to Terentulus as soon as she arrives in the Rhysalan subsector. We can be confident in Karsh's ability to be decisive.”

“Why the Cetus?” asked the machine. “Why not the Draco? It seems to me that if the Admiralty can't trust the destroyer captain with the sunbuster—”

“The destroyer can't nova a sun, Zed.”

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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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