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Escalated contests occur when the smaller of the two contestants mistakenly estimates that it is the larger. Despite this difficulty, it turns out that the Assessor strategy, 'escalate if estimate opponent is smaller, display if estimate opponent is larger', is stable for a wide range of strategies.

—from “Evolution and the Theory of Games” by John Maynard Smith

DR. BENBOW was coming from the inside room, balancing his reader on top of a cup, as York entered the medical suite. “Just in time,” he greeted her. “Sit down, and I'll bring you something. Coffee?”

“Strong and black,” she said. “I could use it.”

When he had retrieved one for her from the machine, the doctor sat down and asked, “What's going on? Not another attempted murder, I hope.”

“No, just a difficult session with your captain.” York sighed and ran her hands through her hair. “There appear to be complications.”

“Oh?” Benbow raised his eyebrows.

“I may be leaving the ship soon.”

“I can't imagine you've irritated the skipper so badly that he intends to leave you marooned on a lifeless planet in an uninhabited system.” He winked. “You have a few fans among the crew yet.”

She laughed. “Aside from the gentleman who tried to gas me.”

“Why do you think you'll be leaving the ship? And, perhaps more pertinently, how is that possible?”

“There may be another ship in the vicinity soon.”

“And this concerns you?”

“It does if I'm not on it. There are advantages. There might not be Dai Zhani agents trying to kill me. Or cyborgs, for that matter.”

“Might not?” the doctor asked.

“You never can tell. It could even be a third party. House Mokole, House Antoninus. It's not likely, though, as Li-Hu stirs up more trouble than all the other Great Houses combined.”

“What about an alien player? Surely they resent the Ascendancy more than any human party.”

York laughed, trying to envision a 2-meter tall Basattrian thumping its way down a ship's corridor. “No, doctor. No chance of that. The only way an alien will ever set foot, or whatever passes for its foot, on a Navy ship is in a sealed and quarantined cargo hold.”

“That's probably true.” Benbow sipped his coffee. “Who concerns you more?”

“The cyborgs. The Dai Zhani are active, but I understand what they're doing. Also, they're amateurs. The Singularitans, on the other hand, are harder to predict and understand. That makes me nervous.”

“Why?” He clarified. “I mean, what makes them harder to predict?”

“They have some very unique operatives, one in particular, who is running true to form.”

“Which is what?”

“This particular operative is advertising herself with every move,” York explained. “She's leaving a path that a blind man could follow, strewn with corpses, and killing people by some very public and showy means.”

“I don't know much about your profession, or how that could possibly be connected to your presence here, but that seems highly counterproductive to me.”

“It is. That's why I say she's running true to form. The behavior is so strange, so seemingly unproductive, that it renders her unpredictable. There is no logic, or rather, the observable logics contradict.”

“It sounds very confusing. They want you to jump in all directions. Is that it?”

She smiled grimly. “It is. But fortunately, Director Karsh is very, very good at cutting through the confusion. He has excellent instincts.”

“Karsh must have a great deal of confidence in you,” the doctor commented.

“I can honestly say that I've never let him down.”

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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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