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EPISODE 41

Galactic Stakes

And the stakes? Contemplating them, she felt a sense of historical awe at the possibilities that lay before Mankind. If August Karsh triumphed, the Terran empire would go on as before, sprawling, benevolent, a far-flung, placid galaxy in which all men were as equal as they could reasonably expect to be. Even without the name, the Ascendancy was Man's greatest empire, which God in His star-spanning benevolence had somehow miraculously seen fit to grant an authoritarian class which ruled more or less justly and without undue harshness. The Greater Terran Ascendancy would continue to grow slowly, corroding into decadence even as it expanded down the long galactic corridor toward the magnificent spiral nebula in the constellation Andromeda, an accidental empire propelled by the inertia of two thousand years rather than through grandiose dreams.

If Prince Li-Hu won, the Empire would be divided. The restless hordes of the Dai Zhani suns, fretting and impatient, would burst forth undeterred by the terror of Shiva, carving out new kingdoms and violently tearing worlds from the flesh of the Ascendancy's planetary corpus. Such a division would end Man's galactic empire; like all past empires faced by an energetic barbarian foe, it would retreat behind impregnable defenses before succumbing to decline and eventual oblivion. Or else it would be torn by vast wars of a scale too terrible to contemplate as House Dai Zhan sought to tear off the yoke of House Malhedron and assert their ascendancy. That was the deadly outcome which must be avoided above all else, at all costs.

And if Dr. G won? A new race, a new form of posthumanity would spread through the stars. Small in number, they would first infiltrate the seats of galactic power, infusing Man's vast empire with new energy and new visions, perhaps even inhuman ones. But the children of Man and Machine would do it slowly, over time, so that Man, per se, would never realize that he had been supplanted. He would never know that a new being was rising from the ashes of the old.

Those were the stakes. And the outcome, as had so often been the case in previous millennia, would depend on a small and insignificant action in a remote corner of the galaxy. The might of the Ascendancy and its Navy meant nothing. All its lethal star cruisers would count for nothing here in Subsector Zero Seven Zero Two, because the ultimate path would be decided by a handful of men and women whose names would never appear in the history books: herself, the Dai Zhani, and, somehow, Myranda Flare. They were on a collision course to determine the fate of a two-thousand year old empire. She wondered if Hull had the ability to appreciate that. Benbow, on the other hand, surely would.

She wondered which man she would prefer as a lover. Corden Hull was the more attractive of the two, there was no doubt of that. He was rugged, hard, and commanding. He was mentally inflexible, but far from dull. But she found Benbow's lively mind more intriguing, and much preferred his company. Ah well. It didn't matter anyhow. There was no chance of any sort of relationship with either man, not even if she stayed on Draco.

Still sipping at her half-full coffee, she was just passing a corridor crossing when she felt her scalp prickle, and her instincts screamed a warning in her mind. Reacting without thought, she hurled herself forward  and simultaneously felt a wave of unnatural heat sear just over her head. Her coffee went flying as she landed on her stomach, but as she scrambled frantically forward to get out of the shooter's line of sight, another heat wave seared her left calf. Once clear, she rolled over and drew her Ruger Mini-LCB, thumbing off the safety to blast her assailant if he came up the corridor and around the corner.

No one appeared. Cautiously, still holding the Ruger in the direction of the crossing, she pushed herself to her feet. Her leg felt as if she'd dropped a curling rod on it; it was a minor burn indicating a relatively low-power laser. Dammit, she'd been careless, wandering around the ship without Osborn or one of the other regular guards that had been assigned to her.

Shouts came down the corridor as she crouched low and stepped out into the crossing, pointing the Ruger in the direction the shots had come. A faint stink of ozone was in the air, confirming what she already knew. Laser. Despite the footsteps pounding towards her, she didn't wait for reinforcements to arrive, but instead ran in the direction she surmised the would-be assassin had gone.

Her ion blaster drawn and her nerves on edge, she raced down the corridor. But it came to a dead end, with no sign that anyone was there. She cursed and whirled around, wondering what she had missed.

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A Mind Programmed series cover
Galactic Stakes episode cover
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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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