The Next Step in Evolution
Captain Hull leaned back, deep in thought. “There is one more thing.”
Hull continued slowly. “You told me you didn't think the cyborgs were involved.”
“That was my initial conclusion, yes.”
“The High Admiral said that an Integration agent is known to have made contact with House Dai Zhan.”
“Did they now?” She narrowed her eyes, suspicious. “Did he happen to mention any names?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, he did. He was very specific. The agent was a woman named Myranda Flare.”
“Flare,” York nodded slowly. “Yes, I suppose it would be.”
“I take it that you know about this Flare?”
“Quite a bit, actually. I spent a fair amount of time observing her when I was on Kurzweil.”
“Why that particular woman?” Hull asked, curious.
York smiled to herself. The captain didn't miss a bet. “Flare is special,” she answered. “She's a telepsych.”
“A what?” Hull squinted. “Never heard of that.”
“No reason you would have. It's a word we had to coin for the woman. Did the admiral happen to mention if it is believed Flare's appearance has any relation to the disappearance of the Rigel?” asked York, knowing full well he must, or else he would never have mentioned the woman to Hull.
“He indicated as much,” Hull admitted.
“But he didn't say how?”
“No, just the warning.”
“Well, Flare would certainly add a little excitement to the situation,” York commented cheerfully. “Just in case you felt there was insufficient drama.”
“I could do with a lot less,” Hull said bitterly.
“Did the admiral say where this contact was made?”
“Valatesta. Subsector Zero Two Zero Two,” he replied with a puzzled expression on his face.
“Valatesta?” York closed her eyes and pictured the map of the Kantillon sector. “That's almost in the opposite direction from Subsector Zero Seven Zero Two.”
“That seems counterintuitive,” Hull said. “So, what makes her so special, this telepsych?”
“She can transfer her mind into any mind, or sufficiently large storage device on the planet, provided she has a sufficiently fast and reliable connection to her target.”
“Good Lord,” the captain said, amazed. “Any mind on the planet?”
“Any mind to which she has digital access.” York nodded. “Of course, some minds are considerably more useful than others. She can't do much in a cripple or a dream junkie, for instance. Fortunately, she can't transfer minds between planets, let alone star systems. But she can reasonably jump anywhere on a planet, or to be more precise, anywhere within a planetary orbit if the necessary communications infrastructure is in place.”
“That's incredible. You're sure of that?”
“I've seen video of her doing it.”
“Is it instantaneous?”
“It's fast, but it's not instant. It's a matter of mathematics and the size of the human mind in data terms. It takes an amount of time to transfer 2.5 petabytes.”
“So it doesn't take all that long.”
“No, but keep in mind that it's not the sort of thing where anything less than a rock-solid connection will do. Lose even a packet or two and the results could be catastrophic.”
Hull rubbed his chin as he attempted to get his head around what she'd told him. “She's extremely dangerous, then,” he finally ventured.
“She is the most dangerous woman in the universe, Captain. She's far more dangerous than any soldier, and not just because of her unique ability. Due to her unique perspective on the relationship between mind and body, she has no more qualms about killing than you or I might have about deleting a file from a computer. As near as we can tell, life, even the soul, is nothing more than data to her. Something easily overwritten and readily replaced.”
“You know quite a bit about her.”
York nodded grimly. “We've had her under observation for a long time, Captain, once we heard about her abilities. We believe we have a pretty good handle on what she can and cannot do.”
“She's not under observation now, I'm guessing.” Hull said shrewdly.
She laughed. “It's very, very difficult to keep an eye on a woman who can switch bodies at will. It's mostly a matter of finding the poor, mindless bodies she leaves behind when she transfers. We can usually track where she's been, it's knowing where she is at the moment that is the challenge.”
“She kills the bodies she possesses?” Hull shivered involuntarily. “That's creepy.”
“It would be much kinder if she did.” York shook her head. “No, what's left behind is typically a drooling, mindless shell.”
“She's a monster.”
“You say monster. I suppose the cyborgs might argue she represents the next step in post-human evolution.” York shrugged. “I'm inclined to say you're right. As I said, she possesses nothing that ordinary homo sapiens sapiens would recognize as a conscience. She's been much discussed within the Directorate. My position is that it's a mistake to even try to understand her. I don't think she can even be reasonably considered sane by our standards.”
“And now she may be involved in all this.”
“It's hard to see how, given her location, but if she's been in contact with the Dai Zhani, then she's definitely on the board. Tracking her will be a priority. I can tell you one thing: if I weren't here, I'd be boarding a ship for Valatesta right now!”
Hull smiled ruefully. It was an unexpectedly charming expression on the gruff, older man. “I can't believe I'm going to say this, Miss York, but I'm damned glad you're on board with us. I can't imagine trying to make head or tail of this if you weren't here to walk me through it.”
She smiled back at him. “I'm damned glad to be here too, Captain Hull.”