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Authors: Sean Williams,Shane Dix

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Space Opera

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BOOK: The Dark Imbalance
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She took a moment to organize her thoughts, then began to talk—describing succinctly how she and Cane had met on the
Midnight,
how they had escaped and crash-landed on the surface of Sciacca’s World, and their pursuit and eventual escape from the penal colony.

“He helped you escape?” The question was from another council member whose thick accent was unfamiliar to Roche; she had to concentrate to understand what he was saying. “From prison wardens corrupted by a rival government? Do you know
why
he did this?”

“No,” she said, with a shake of her head. “And I have to admit that it’s puzzled me.”

“Can you explain why his behavior is so different from the others?”

She shrugged lightly. “The best explanation I can come up with is that he’s a freak,” she said. “A mistake.”

“You mentioned genetic data, earlier,” said one of the previous speakers, the man with the fair complexion. “Will you give us access to this data?”

“Gladly,” she said. “If I may contact my ship...”

“Your lines of communication are not being interfered with in any way,” said Murnane.

she said, checking to see if this was true.

Kajic replied. <1 have all the info the Box compiled before it was destroyed. Do you want me to send it?>


he said.

She was about to turn back to Murnane when she remembered Maii’s suit standing immobile beside her. she asked via epsense.

came the reply.


<1 wouldn’t let them do that, Morgan,> the girl reassured her.

Murnane cleared his throat. “Thank you,” he said. “We have received the data and will examine it later.” He folded his arms and took a couple of thoughtful paces around the font. “But I am curious. At the time Cane was examined on the
Midnight,
news had not yet reached your corner of the galaxy that there even was a problem he might be part of, otherwise his capsule would have been instantly identified. And on Sciacca’s World, your rebel friends had access to even more limited information about the outside world. Yet our sources in the Commonwealth of Empires reveal that in a very short space of time you determined precisely what was going on—bearing in mind the Sol Apotheosis Movement fallacy—and confronted your superiors with that knowledge. When was it that you managed to piece it all together?”

Roche opened her mouth to speak—then shut it again. If they had sources in the COE, chances were they already knew the answers to every question they had asked so far. So why go through the motions?

Then she reminded herself: trust no one. They could no more believe their sources than they could believe her—even if one corroborated the other.

She didn’t envy them their position.

“It wasn’t me so much who put it all together.” She half expected a nagging voice in her ear telling her to be careful what she said. “It was the Box.”

“What is this ‘Box’?” It was asked in the same thick, unfamiliar accent as before, except that this time the questioner was female. “I take it you are referring to some sort of intelligence- gathering device?”

“An AI, yes.” Roche nodded. “I was carrying it to Intelligence HQ when I was intercepted by the Dato Bloc. That’s how I ended up on Sciacca’s World in the first place.”

“This device reasoned that Adoni Cane was one of the enemy?”

“Yes,” she said. “And everything afterward seemed to confirm it.”

“How was this device able to do something you yourself were unable to do?”

“The Box was no ordinary device,” Roche said, remembering to use the past tense. “It was a truly remarkable piece of engineering. It suspected from the very start who Cane was. It even faked the distress call that led to the capsule’s discovery.”

“So it had access to information which you did not?”

“Yes, like the command language. But it wasn’t just that. It actually thought better than I did.”

“Impossible. No AI has yet surpassed a Human intelligence.”

Roche shrugged. “I told you it was remarkable.”

“And who built this amazing device?”

“It was manufactured on Trinity,” said Roche. “They specialize in AIs there.”

There was a muted whisper. Then Murnane spoke. “We have no record of such a place.”

“No?” She looked around and out of the corner of her eye caught the gold robes of the Heresiarch. She had forgotten he was there. “Go ask your sources,” she said. “They’ll confirm it exists.”

Murnane stirred. “What say you, Trezise?”

Startled first by the familiar name, Roche almost jumped as a familiar voice followed: “We know the place. It’s administered by a High Human we have had some dealings with—an entity calling himself the Crescend.” The man’s voice was flat, emotionless, almost dead. “The AI Roche refers to did indeed come from this place, but as to its other abilities...”

Salton Trezise, Roche remembered—senior aide to Auberon Chase, head of COE Intelligence. She should’ve guessed someone like him would be here.

“You are not aware of any facility capable of making Human- superior AIs in COE jurisdiction?” Murnane pressed.

Trezise’s tone didn’t change as he said: “I’d sooner believe in aliens.”

Murnane turned back to Roche. “You will understand if we hesitate to accept this aspect of your story without any hard evidence to back it up,” he said. “Unless you could produce this AI for us to examine, perhaps?”

She didn’t need the tiny prod the Box gave her. “I’m afraid it was destroyed along with Palasian System.”

“I see.” A sigh carried his words. “Well, the exact manner of your discovery of the enemy is not the issue here. What is important is the fact that you learned of their existence and went seeking more data. What can you tell us about Adoni Cane that we have not already covered?”

“The Box thought we should check the introns of Cane’s genetic code,” she said. “But I don’t know what for.”

Murnane nodded as though the suggestion was trivial. “And your young charge here.” He pointed to Maii. “Does she have nothing to contribute to this discussion?”


the girl shot back.

Murnane raised a hand before Roche could pass the message on. “Simply speak to me,” he said, “as you would to Roche, and a relay will announce the message for all to hear.”


“—words?”

Roche heard the girl’s voice directly through her own senses and a split second later through the relay, aloud. The relay stood on the far side of Roche; it was disconcerting to hear the girl’s voice coming from two directions almost simultaneously.

“And appropriate images, where necessary.” Murnane inclined his head in welcome. “Please feel free to share with us any impressions you received regarding the mind of Adoni Cane and any other member of the enemy’s number you have encountered.”

Maii did so, conveying as best she could a number of conflicting visions. Cane possessed a mental shield that was difficult to penetrate, but did allow him to communicate with her by epsense and occasionally offered strange glimpses of what lay beyond. Sometimes, Cane’s mind seemed to spin like a top; at other times it was as still and clear as a lake, or a mirror. The
irikeii
had imagined him as a glowing light-source with a speck of black at its heart, and also as a snake coiling and uncoiling around itself.

“What sense do you make of these impressions?” she was asked.

“None of them are necessarily true representations of his mind,” she said. “They’re like the different reflections you get off the facets of a diamond, or the different meanings one collection of sounds has in different languages. I’m not seeing the underlying reality, just the secondary effects.”

She shrugged, and the heavy shoulders of the suit magnified the gesture. She sent an image, via the relay, of a crystal turned inside out: smooth and spherical outside, facets crossing and tangling inside.

“It’s hard to find words for this,” she said.

“Evidently,” said Murnane. “But if you had to choose just one word to describe him... ?”

“I’m not sure. ‘Complex’ isn’t enough. ‘Incipient,’ perhaps? ‘Numinous’ has too many spiritual overtones, and I don’t believe ‘unknowable’ applies to anything. There’s a great potential within him. I don’t know what for, but it’s there.”

Murnane waited a moment, to see if she would add anything else—or perhaps to confer mentally with the reaves surrounding them. After a moment he said: “And what of the
irikeii
? What did he think of you?”

Maii was silent so long, Roche thought she wouldn’t answer. Finally, she said: “He disapproved of me.”

“We thought as much,” said Murnane, nodding. “The Olmahoi Caste petitioned strongly for your capture prior to your arrival—as did your own government. Somehow the word of your existence has spread, although exactly
how
has yet to be determined. We decided not to become involved, for very good reasons; there are enough inter-Caste tensions as it is without the council seeming to take sides—and what happens in non-Pristine Castes is, ultimately, none of our concern.” Murnane stopped and took a deep breath. “Still, it is clear that the events that occurred within Palasian System have had far-reaching repercussions—many, perhaps, still to be felt. Morgan Roche, would you care to explain to us what happened there?”

Roche did so, outlining the exploration of the system after it had been ransacked by the clone warrior, her disastrous attempts to cooperate with Linegar Rufo, and her clash with the Kesh. Later, she hoped, she would be able to discuss things in more detail, but for the time being she contented herself with an overview.

“You say that the name of the enemy in this case was Jelena Heidik?” someone asked when she reached the aftermath of the destruction of Palasian System.

“Yes. It’s one of a list of names we... found in an old archive. The others included Vani Wehr, Sadoc Lleshi, Ralf Dreher—”

“Do you know who they refer to?” Murnane interrupted. “Was there any other information in that archive, apart from the names?”



“No,” she said. She would give them the rest of the names later.

“And where is this Jelena Heidik now?”

“I don’t know,” Roche admitted. “We came here looking for her, but she’s managed to get away.”

“But you do think she’s still somewhere in Sol System?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you believe that?”

“Well, this seems to be where it’s all coming to a head. She would hardly leave so soon.”

Murnane leaned forward, his hands on each side of the font supporting him. “But
why
Sol System? Are we here following the enemy, or has the enemy followed us? We see patterns of movement across the galaxy, leading here, but we still cannot be one hundred percent certain that we are not fulfilling our own prophecy.” He shrugged. “That is always a risk, I suppose, in any war of espionage; words and hints and suppositions carry little weight compared to maps and soldiers and bullets. So little is certain.”

“We heard that Sol System was the location of an ancient battle,” said Roche.

“It is the location of many things, if you believe the records; few stand up to strict examination. Which battle do you refer to?”

“I’m not sure,” she said. “We’ve begun to suspect that the clone warriors—Cane and Heidik and the others—are seeking revenge for a war lost a long time ago. A war won by the Pristines.”

“Do you know when?”

She shrugged. “As far back as we can remember. Half a million years or more. Back when there were only Pristines; the other Castes didn’t exist yet.”

“Do you have records to support this?”

“Nothing concrete—but surely that indirectly supports this theory? If there
were
records, someone would have found them by now. The fact that we haven’t implies that they no longer exist—that the events we’re looking for lie back in the earliest times.”

“Perhaps.” Murnane’s expression remained impassive. “Remember, though, that many millions of civilizations have risen and fallen since then. That is an awful lot of data to sift through; if the records indeed are lost, not hidden, then we might never know. And without knowing when this battle you refer to took place—and who it was that lost—we have little to go on.”

Roche conceded the point. “That’s partly why we came here,” she said. “We were following Heidik, yes, but we were also interested in seeing what happened.
If
the clone warriors attacked, then who they attacked first—and last—could reveal who their allies are, or who is related to their creators.”

“Tell me, Roche,” Murnane said. “Did you have any idea how complex the situation here would be before you came?”

“The Box had mentioned a gathering of sorts, and the COE commander I spoke to confirmed it, but that’s all. I expected nothing like this.”

“Did this Box of yours also happen to say anything about the composition of this system?” asked another voice. “There are several anomalies we have not yet fathomed, and I fear they may become hazards to navigation. More of these we do not need.”

It took Roche a second to realize that it was the Heresiarch himself speaking. When she replied, she made certain she followed Vischilglin’s advice and looked him directly in the eye— or at least in the direction of where he stood.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about that.”

“The behavior of the solar wind is quite peculiar, and its effect on the gaseous volatiles of the planetary ring even more anomalous. If your AI had
anything
to say about that, I would’ve been grateful.”

“Like I said,” Roche replied evenly, keeping her attention fixed firmly on the Heresiarch. “It never mentioned a thing. I’m sorry.”

BOOK: The Dark Imbalance
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