A Very Resourceful Girl
“Nova a sun?” exclaimed Zed Zed. He burbled in electronic confusion. “What sun? I'm not following your sequence.”
“Terentulus's sun, Geddes.”
“Annihilate Terentulus? An inhabited planet?”
“It's an agricultural planet, Zed. Sparsely populated. It has little economic or military utility to House Malhedron. And it has been four hundred years since Terra last reminded the galaxy why it remains ascendant.”
“But one of their own planets?” the machine said with a distinct tone of disbelief. “Such an action would be neither proportionate nor logical!”
Gregor looked across the desk at the lights flashing red and yellow in mild perturbation. “Weigh the matter on the scales of expediency, Zed. On one side, a small, unimportant planet with perhaps four million inhabitants, and on the other, the House Malhedron's continued monopoly on stellacide. Which do you think weighs more heavily with the decision makers inside the First House?'
“I still can't see them wiping out a planet, Golem.”
“You've been programmed to retain a basic respect for human life. Humans don't come with any such built-in restraints.” Gregor replied drily. “And there is a logical justification too. If their strategists estimate more than four million casualties in an intragalactic war, and let's face it, by historical standards, four million barely amounts to a minor border skirmish, it will make perfect sense to sacrifice the innocent people of Terentulus on the altar of galactic peace.
“But Myranda will be there!”
“Of course. Without her, there would be no excuse for any such action. But I have no fears for her.”
“Now I am confused,” the machine said. “I still can't see how Flare can make contact with the Dai Zhani operatives,” Zed Zed exclaimed. “Even if House Dai Zhan accepts her as a conduit, which I doubt, how do they expect to reach her on Terentulus? And if the Cetus closes off the planet or annihilates it—” It broke off, gazing perplexedly at its chief.
“She's a very resourceful girl,” Gregor answered mildly.
“Even with that deep neurotherapeutic programming inhibiting her actions?”
“Inhibiting her actions? The programming enhances her ability to act, Zed! She's not merely following orders, the programming was specifically designed to give her the flexibility to make instinctive decisions at the right junctures. And her instincts are superlative.”
“I don't see how that can be the case—”
“It's my concern, Zed, not yours. Stop worrying about it.” Gregor cut off the machine. Changing the subject, he added, “The Draco should be approaching the Gelhart system soon.”
“Yes, our calculations indicate that she arrived in the subsector within the projected timeframe,” Zed Zed replied. “She'll be out of hypertime, closing with her nuclears.”
“I wonder if Li-Hu's agents on the Rigel will have any idea who York is.”
“I doubt it. She is clever. And even if one of the Dai Zhani agents on Draco have identified her as a Directorate operative, our projections indicate that they won't act until after contact has been made with the missing cruiser.”
“It will be interesting to find how the first group accomplished it.”
“We may never know,” Zed Zed responded gloomily. “Not if the Ascendancy novas Geddes.”
“York and Karsh will know. Perhaps one day we can ask them.”
“That seems unlikely.”
“You can never tell, Zed.”
The lights suddenly sparked bright blue and white. Excitement. Suspicion. “Vernor H. Vinge on an electrical surge, Golem, is York a double agent?”
“No, I'm afraid not.” Gregor shook his head. “I very much wish she were, but she's August Karsh's girl right down to the bone.”
“I don't know.” The lights flickered low again “There's something about this whole thing that doesn't add up, some variable that I calculate is missing from the equation. I've worked four hundred and sixty-two missions with you, Golem, but there's something about this one that doesn't compute correctly.”
“You're absolutely right, Zed.”
The lights flared. “There is something I don't know? Something important?”
Gregor nodded and smiled pleasantly. “Yes. But don't take umbrage, Zed. No one else knows, either.”
“Only you?” Zed queried.
“And Myranda Flare,” Dr. G admitted. “She knows.”