Deformed By An Evil Star
Hull gestured and the screen changed. The view of the subsector was replaced by a familiar list of names. “This is all very interesting, I'm sure, but let's be practical, Miss York. I've reviewed the most recent ship's roster for the Rigel. Based on the names and planetary residences, there were only a few Dai Zhani aboard Rigel. Do you really believe that such a small group could take over a cruiser?”
“I do. As the doctor suggested, it would be easy once the crew was rendered unconscious. You know these ships better than I do, is there a considerable level of redundancy to the oxygen cycling systems?”
Hull made a face and growled low in his throat. “I don't know about 'considerable',” he answered. “We have a backup system, of course. Although I suppose if the primary system was sabotaged, it would be possible to wreck the backup as well.”
York spread her hands and shrugged. They couldn't possibly know what had happened to Rigel, but at least she knew how she would go about taking control of such a ship. It was so obvious, once the doctor had pointed it out. A ship was a contained environment. The various containment systems were designed against breaches, against incidental contaminants and other accidents. But they were vulnerable to purposeful attacks, particularly from attacks by crew members privy to the workings of the failsafes.
“What would they do with it?” Hull burst out. “What would they do with the sunbuster even if they secured it? No ship, from House Dai Zhan or anywhere else, is going to get within fifty light-seconds of the zone in question, York. The Navy will see to that. Even if they could neutralize the crew and take over the ship, they couldn't hope to man it without a pilot or navigator. And even if they had plans to meet another ship that is already there, they couldn't expect to remove the missile and slip it past the blockade that is already taking shape.”
“It's not a matter of could, but how,” corrected York. “We don't know what it is yet, but it's my responsibility to discover that how and prevent it.”
Hull drummed his fingers on the desk. “You appear to be convinced that House Dai Zhan is involved.”
“Entirely certain, Captain.”
“But all we know is that the ship sent a distress signal and then disappeared. Have you ever considered that it might have suffered an explosion or is disabled? I can't see how you can simply rule it out.”
“I haven't ruled it out. If it is merely disabled, the crew is well, and there have been no attempts to access the technology, I shall be delighted. But I don't worry about the possibility that things might go well.”
“Benbow would say that your relentless cynicism is unhealthy.”
“I'm afraid we AID agents have irreparably soiled minds,” replied York cheerfully. “We cannot afford the lofty ideals they dispense in the military academies.”
“That's too bad.” Hull shook his head and waved his hand. The roster of crewmen vanished from the wall screen. “You appear to be determined to see treachery in House Dai Zhan.”
“Prince Li-Hu, to be specific. And the hypothetical saboteurs, of course.”
“You have hard evidence?”
“It's mostly hearsay and corpses,” admitted York. She smiled disarmingly. “And rumors. But they are rumors that date back more than twelve years, and in such matters, I've found that corpses speak volumes.”
“If you're correct about it being sabotage rather than an accident, I could name at least one likely alternative.”
“I'd be interested in hearing your opinion.”
“The cyborg worlds?” York shook her head slowly. “It's highly unlikely, Captain.”
“Why would you say that? You know what we're doing here. You know why Draco was stationed at Xigaze as well as I do.”
“Of course. To seal off the cyborgs and prevent them from infecting the rest of humanity with their techno-religious madness.”
“And you would still deny they're good candidates?” Hull's voice rose. “They're freaks, abominations, men deformed by their evil star and their twisted faith in their false gods. They are far more dangerous to Man than a dozen rebel Great Houses!”
“They have the potential to be that dangerous, I agree.”
“They would like nothing better than to get the sunbuster, York. It would, as you say, negate Terra's ability to use the weapon, or at least put them in an improved position to bargain with the rest of humanity. But no matter what, they'll never be accepted by the Malhedrons or anyone else who values human dignity, never! And that is why they seek to impose their abhorrent, inhuman vision on the rest of us.”
“Never is a long time, Captain.” York replied calmly, understanding very well why Hull's hatred for the Integration was so virulent. Kurzweil's sun, Diable, was an outcast star. Flaring with a violet light that periodically turned scarlet, it was an anomaly among the billion stars of the known universe. Its planets were colonized during the fifth migration less than seventy generations before, but it had been cut off from all trade and travel once it was discovered that Diable's violet radiation mutated human genetics at an unusually fast rate. Freaks walked its four planets, freaks, and geniuses, and monsters.
To make matters worse, the rapid rate of human evolution there had coincided with the widespread adoption of an ancient, obscure religion followed by a few of Kurzweil's first colonists, a religion that promised salvation through Singularity, which it defined as the inevitable union of Man with his Machine. Somehow, science and faith had come together to produce the ultimate abomination: posthumanity.
Since then warships of Terra's galactic navy had sealed off the worlds of the Integration from the rest of mankind almost as effectively as if they existed in another universe.