There was general agreement that minds can exist on nonbiological substrates and that algorithms are of central importance to the existence of minds.
—from “Technological Singularity” by St. Verner Vinge
SHE WAS being followed!
The sensation came to her for no particular reason as she strolled down a retail thoroughfare of Faracity, capital of the planet Faraday, third of the orange-yellow sun Anhaus. This was the seventh evening in a row she'd meandered down the street, but the first time she'd picked up a tail.
I'm being followed, she thought. By whom? She never changed her pace nor gave any sign that she knew, but she was certain of it! The intuition that had alerted her had served her too well in the past for her to mistrust the familiar sensation.
She felt the fear mount, her pulse rise, as adrenaline surged through her body. She couldn't be captured. Not now! She was too close and her mission was far too important to accept failure now. Who was following her? An agent of House Dai Zhan? Unlikely. She rejected the idea. The Dai Zhani were clever, but they lacked the interstellar resources and they had no interest in Kasahara Starways, which was owned by House Nishiyama.
Ascendancy Intelligence, on the other hand, didn't need any such interests. August Karsh's net was deep, broad, and three-dimensional, extending throughout the entire galaxy. There was no planet, to core or to spin, that was beyond Karsh's reach. And after the murder of his primary line into House Dai Zhan, the AID director would be throwing everything he had into finding her.
Then, without warning, it was as if a small gate in her mind opened, and the programmed information locked away by it flooded her consciousness. She exhaled and relaxed. She still didn't know who her tail was, but now she knew it was her contact on Faraday. And, more importantly, she knew what she had to do.
She passed a window that was set at an angle to the street and glanced into it. Almost immediately, she spotted her tracker, a short, portly, inconsequential figure who was walking slowly behind her. He had a limp, she noticed, and she knew why. She didn't know if his artificial leg was the result of military service or an unfortunate accident; the important thing was that for all his mundane appearance, the man was a cyborg.
She reached the entrance to a small park on her left and turned into it. Fortunately, there were few walkers about, other than a few young couples who were focused on each other and all but lost to the world around them. Slowing her pace, she turned up a side path and immediately stepped behind a screen of shrubbery. It wasn't as concealed as she would have liked, but it would do, especially since the wooded path was unlit except for the light of Anhaus reflected from the three moons overhead. Best of all, there were no cams, and the leafy canopy precluded the possibility that any civilian police drones were watching them.
She heard the footsteps as the limping man approached, an imbalanced rhythm that confirmed it was him. When the portly figure drew abreast of where she was standing, she stepped out upon the path and held up an open hand in greeting.
“Ah, hello,” he said in an uncertain voice. He was not an attractive man, and she could see that he was sweating despite the cool air of the evening. “I think, I think I am supposed to give you something.”
She nodded and replied with the coded phrase. “Red six four Alpha six one Lambda.”
No sooner did she say it than his body convulsed, his arms hurled up and his head jerking back as if he'd been shot from behind. He stood there for a moment, jerking, as his eyes rolled back in his head and his mouth fell open. Then he fell backwards without attempting to break his fall, and his body landed heavily on the path with a meaty thud. He spasmed once or twice more as he lay there, his arms splayed out on either side.