Spheres of Influence: Chapter 4

Share

 

We  continue, with our friends having made a worrisome discovery...

 

 

-----

 

 

Chapter 4.

     Ariane looked at the mixture of anger, sorrow, and pain on DuQuesne's face, and the horror on that of the Hyperion Monkey King, and instantly understood. "Oh, my god," she murmured. "She was one of the five, wasn't she?"

 

     "Yeah," DuQuesne said slowly. "One of us. One of the best of us, in the beginning."

 

     "Five?" Simon echoed.

 

     She glanced at DuQuesne; he said nothing, but gave a very brief nod.

 

     But she didn't have to speak. Instead, Saul Maginot sighed and said "Yes. I suppose all the old secrets are coming out, and the final bill is coming due on that atrocity."

 

     For a moment he paused, and in that moment he looked old, old and tired and very, very sad. "The descriptions of Hyperion were… very heavily censored. Redacted, data erased, entire databanks vaporized. Some of that was quite considered and deliberate; the few survivors were to be given a chance to live without that hideous ghost following them everywhere they went. Some of it… was simple reaction, such absolute revulsion and denial that traces of a truth we didn't want to face had to be destroyed.

 

     "So, you see, the real details weren't known, and the few you know… were very simplified." Now he told the same story DuQuesne had told her during their trip, but from the point of view of a man who had seen it from the outside. "Five brillant successes, five people who somehow saw through the engineered illusions of minds that should have been as far beyond theirs as theirs were beyond those of the average person. Five friends who then managed to engineer a plan to attain freedom for every one of their fellow heroes… and who saw that plan nearly succeed."

 

     Saul Maginot turned away, shook his head. For a moment, Ariane wondered if he could continue. I can't even imagine what happened to him, what he and his people saw when they entered a collapsing Hyperion Project.

 

     "And of those five, fighting to save not just themselves, but my own people, soldiers and scientists and volunteers from a dozen other habitats who found themselves in the middle of a kaleidoscope of hell… of those five, two died so others would live, one escaped and retreated into herself, one survived to live again," he nodded to DuQuesne, "and one… one broke."

 

     "How? How could she break, DuQuesne?" Wu demanded plaintively, staring pitifully at Marc DuQuesne… like a child asking why Mommy wasn't coming home again, Ariane realized, and felt a pang of agonized sympathy. "She was always one of our supports, she always had a smile and a word for anyone, she…"

 

     "Anyone can break, Wu." The big Hyperion's voice was gentle. "And though you couldn't see it, she didn't really belong. She was an anomaly to begin with, and that made her fatally flawed. She started to break as soon as we all woke up, but even I couldn't see it; she was just as good as the rest of us at hiding things."

 

     AHHH. MY VISUALIZATION NOW IS MORE CLEAR. The deep pseudo-voice of Ariane's Mentor echoed through all of their connections and was reproduced in the speakers in the room. SHE WAS, THEN, THE PERSONAL CREATION – THE IDEALIZED SELF-INSERT – OF ONE OF THE HYPERION DESIGNERS.

 

     "Personal creation of…" Simon said, and broke off, understanding suddenly written across his face. "Oh. Oh, my."

 

     "The top woman at Hyperion, Maria Condette Gambino," DuQuesne confirmed. "Insisted on it, and as she was one of the main driving personalities in the… project, she got her way."

 

     Ariane nodded; as a veteran of many a simgame, she was intimately familiar with the basic concept. Heck, I've done it a time or two myself when I was younger. "But what made her so unstable compared with, say, you? Or Wu, for that matter?"

 

     DuQuesne snorted. "A lot of the Hyperions weren't stable enough to keep their heads when they found out that the worlds they were in weren't real. Herc just went catatonic, Gilbert went insane, Sherlock…" he trailed off, shook his head. "But for her, it was a lot worse. Take me, for instance: at base, I was an attempt to make an idealized hero from the works of one of the beloved founding fathers of science fiction. Wu may have retreated, but at least he knew he was an attempt to make a demigod real. Same for most of the others. Maria-Susanna found out that she didn't even belong in the 'universe' she lived in – that she was some woman's way of living out a fantasy vicariously."

 

     She saw Simon blanch. "Kami…"

 

The realization didn't quite hit her that hard, but even so she felt a sudden terrible empathy; she imagined the moment of discovery, the realization that not only was everything around you a lie, but that you yourself were a lie within the lie, something that didn't belong and never had. She shuddered because as swiftly as the ache of empathy came, it was replaced with the gut-level realization of the depth of mad fury that must have followed.

 

"How horrid," Simon murmured at last. "But you said she started to break with the discovery…"

 

     "… and she finished breaking when the man she'd been tailored for got himself killed heroically, defending his world just as anyone would have expected him to do, with head held high and a grin and "I don't believe in no-win scenarios". She was made for him. He was the literal reason for her existence, and unlike the rest of us – made to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – she wasn't designed to cope with that kind of loss." Ariane saw slow tears of understanding flowing down Wu Kung's cheeks, soaking the delicate fur. "The first person she murdered was her own creator. The discovery of the Arena… I haven't got any idea what it's got going through her head, but I'm damn sure it's nothing good."

 

     "I can imagine a few possibilities, Marc," Saul Maginot said grimly, "and every one of them looks worse than the last. Thank God we have you, at least, and Wu. But now I'm very worried about the other people you left in the Arena."

 

     "So am I," DuQuesne said, "but my first guess is that whatever she's after isn't going to be served by hurting anyone in the small group of humans already present. She's going to have to learn the ropes. No, the main danger is the one she's always presented: that she can convince just about anyone of just about anything and turn people against each other just as well as she used to hold people together."

 

     The look of pained grief on Wu Kung's face was enough to pierce her to the heart. "All right, Marc – I guess that just makes our departure that much more urgent. As one of the five top Hyperions… does that make her your equal?"

 

     "You'd better believe it. She's basically my equal in every single way. I outmass her, and I'm a hell of a lot more sane than she is, but otherwise she can match me in any damn contest, for love, money, fun, or marbles."

 

     "Holy Kami," murmured Simon. "Well, I certainly got no indication of that. In that case, I concur with Ariane – we must prepare to leave immediately."

 

     "Relax." DuQuesne's advice was at odds with the tension Ariane could sense. "She's been gone long enough that if she planned to do something fast, she's already done it. My real worry is figuring out what her angle is. Problem is that once she broke, she turned out to be blasted hard to predict; she's not exactly rational any more, even though she'll sound rational most of the time."

 

     "This on top of these pointless political maneuverings…" Ariane snorted. "I –"

 

     But Saul and DuQuesne were shaking their heads. "You'd better not head down that road, Ariane," DuQuesne said. "They're not pointless, and they're not just maneuverings."

 

     Ariane bit back an instinctive protest. "No, you're right. And I'll admit I probably don't even understand what's going on there, not yet. Which brings us to the subject of the SSC ship, the Duta?"

 

     At Saul's nod, she continued, "We already know we probably don't agree with the way Naraj views the Arena, but that's okay; I haven't agreed with lots of people in my life. Still, we need some idea of what Mr. Naraj is going to really want to accomplish, and who he's bringing with him. I'm guessing, Saul, that since she's in charge of the Arena task group Michelle Ni Deng will be one of them. Do you or Marc have anything to say about them?"

 

     DuQuesne was silent for a few moments, absently stroking the jet-black beard that lent a somewhat diabolic cast to his features on occasion. "On Ni Deng, not so much," he said finally. "She's only been in the SSC inner circle for a few years. Naraj, he's been around for donkey's years. I already summarized for you back when we first left the SSC/CSF meeting what he's like. He wants to run things,just like that guy in every club you've ever been in that feels everything, but everything, needs to be organized, and he's finally got a chance to do it his way."

 

     "I can't imagine he'd be as petty as the people you describe, though," Simon said.

 

     "Not petty, no… but that might be what you want to think of, except on a grander scale."

 

     "A far grander scale, I'm afraid," Saul said. "We began discussing this subject earlier, but that description – of the sort of person who likes running and organizing things, even things that don't need running and organizing? That is Oscar Naraj. Oscar's spent a great deal of time and energy to stay in the SSC, he's got an eye in every department, and a lot of his appointees end up running the other sub-departments."

 

He smiled faintly. "Michelle Ni Deng was one of his appointees, five years back or so. And now she's the head of Arena affairs. Obviously he did not and could not plan for this specific event… but he had planned for many years to find some useful event so that he would have one of his people in the right place. And the Arena's a far bigger event than even Oscar Naraj could have imagined, and it changes everything."

 

     Wu Kung nodded energetically. "Yes, yes! Ariane and DuQuesne, they told me about this wonderful Arena, and I thought about it all the way here, how it was so different from my world, and yours, the one we are in here, now. In the Arena and in my world, there is much of war, many conflicts. And many secrets, and people who are suffering injustices. And…" he looked frustrated for a moment, as though he knew he was onto something but didn't quite know how to phrase it. Then the gold-furred face brightened. "… and, well, there's real things to be fought over there. Here you have all become soft players of games, or simple daredevils," he grinned at Ariane, "because you haven't need to fight over your next meal, or worry of whether you can find a place to shelter from the rain, or get a cure for your sick child, or wonder when another warlord will ride his army through your city. Your magical nano-thingies, they mean there's no reason for empire, as long as you keep the nosy people from being too nosy – that Anonymity law of yours."

 

     Simon closed his eyes and sighed. "I believe he describes the situation all too clearly, Marc."

 

     "Damn straight he does – even though we sure aren't all softies here. There was a reason they called him the Great Sage Equal to Heaven, and it wasn't just because he could kick the crap out of all the other so-called Sages, either. Yeah, Wu, you've got it, and that's plain poison any way I look at it."

 

     A simple insight, but obviously much easier for someone raised as was Wu Kung, outside of our society, Mio said.

 

     "We'd touched on this before," Simon said, "but this description makes it clear just how much this changes the way humanity will interact – with the universe, and with itself."

 

     "Just exactly right," DuQuesne took up the thread. "Up until now, we thought we had it all figured out – we were safe, fat, and happy. But that ain't so at all. The universe can threaten us now – and if we want a part of it, we can't just manufacture it. We have to engage others, fight others, maybe bargain for it, maybe go to war over it.

 

"And that means that people who – up until now – had to be satisfied with politics little more important than playing a king's advisor in a simgame now have something else: all the possibilities of power that used to dominate the Earth back in the days before the only limit on universal comfort was whether you could find yourself some dirt and a patch of sunshine, regular tidal waves, or wind power."

 

     Ariane sighed. "So we'll have to be on the lookout for actual political maneuverings inside our own faction? Are you saying they won't realize how little we can afford that kind of thing?"

 

     ARIANE AUSTIN, I EXPECT FAR BETTER OF YOU THAN DENIAL OF REALITY! THINK, CHILD, THINK!

 

     She winced; it did not help that DuQuesne gave a cynical laugh in time with Mentor's rebuke, and continued, "Ariane, I'll bet any amount you like that this is one of the major problems just about any new Faction runs into, and it could be a real killer. We can't be the first group to achieve the Arena after we'd reached this level of technology; I'd guess a lot of the prior Factions had.

 

"I don't think it's coincidence that two of the top Factions – the only two which are composed of essentially one species – are from species that have some kind of collectivist background: the Molothos, who have some kind of biological impulse to unity, and of course the Blessed, who're run by the Minds. Sure, there's advantages in being open to letting lots of other people into your club, but even outside of the top Five there aren't a huge number of single-species powerful factions, because those alien species aren't any more unified-and-of-one-mind than we humans are, and they fragment once they get to the Arena."

 

     Ariane glanced at Simon, and the hollow feeling in her gut echoed the concern she saw in his brilliant green eyes. "Which might all be well and good," Simon said slowly, "in ordinary circumstances. The rules of the Arena essentially don't permit you to lose your home Sphere in Challenge, so internal issues won't deprive you of citizenship, and once you come to some sort of resolution you can pick up and go from there."

 

     "But these aren't ordinary circumstances," said Ariane grimly. "We have one of the Great Factions essentially at war with us, and another that won't mind at all taking us down about five notches. If we piss away too much time and energy with internal power plays, the Molothos are going to find our Sphere, occupy the Upper Sphere with a LOT of troops, and then … I don't know, exactly, maybe begin building up some huge force to invade our actual system in normal space, but whatever they do next won't be good. And then our Sphere is suddenly only about a quarter as useful – the Upper Sphere will have to be sealed, and we can bet those bastards will have the Straits blockaded."

 

She ran her hand through her hair distractedly. "Wonderful. Well… look, right now I think all we can do is try to keep an  eye out for what kind of maneuvers our politically oriented friends might try, and hope that we can use our superior knowledge of the Arena to keep them from being more than a nuisance."

 

"Amen to that," DuQuesne said emphatically. "Which is one of the main reasons I wanted to get Wu here."

 

Something in his tone – something almost … gleeful? – made her glance at DuQuesne sharply. "What? How's he going to address political maneuvers?"

 

"I'm going to be your bodyguard," Wu Kung explained helpfully.

 

     "My… what?" The word was grotesque, an anachronism centuries dead except in simgames. With AISages and directed automated monitoring, it was difficult to threaten people and get away with it. She blinked and looked at Marc – trying to ignore Simon, whose face was so utterly blank that she just knew he was restraining an ungentlemanly guffaw at her shock. "Doctor DuQuesne," she said, "I would like to talk with you. Privately."

 

     She started towards the rear of Holy Grail, where there would be unoccupied space… and realized Sun Wu Kung was following her. "Wu –"

 

     "I can't be a bodyguard if I'm not here." Wu said bluntly.

 

     "A bodyguard against DuQuesne?" Now she heard Saul stifle a chortle, and Gabrielle's hand was over her mouth; her AISage Vincent was unabashedly grinning like a man watching his favorite comedy.

 

     "Against whoever might want to hurt you. Just because DuQuesne assigned me doesn't mean I'm ignoring him as a threat."

 

     She goggled at him in entirely un-Captainlike disbelief, then turned her stare towards DuQuesne, whose beard was not quite successfully concealing a smile. "Is he serious?"

 

     "Very serious indeed, Captain. Which is why I chose him for that."

 

     It finally registered. "You mean that this is why you went all the way out there to wake him up? To be a bodyguard?"

 

     "Not the only reason," DuQuesne clarified, "but a major reason, yes. And before you start telling me how little you need one, I want to point out that we were just discussing how part of the Bad Old Days is coming back in force, and how the Arena isn't the safest place in the universe either. Right now, Captain, you are the single most important human being ever, and that in at least two ways."

 

     I should know better than to argue with a Hyperion, but that's never stopped me before. "Two ways?"

 

     "The obvious first reason is that you're the head of the Faction of Humanity – or, let's be more blunt, the ruler of all humanity as far as the Arena is concerned – for exactly as long as you're alive, or until you deliberately give that position up."

 

     Saul murmured something. "I had… wondered about certain aspects of your report. My God."

 

"Yeah, and I figured there wasn't much point in hiding it from you any more. Sure as hell we can't keep it hidden from them much longer. And I don't think any of us need to ask Naraj and Ni Deng about their feelings on that subject; the idea that you, and you alone, are authorized to make major decisions for the entire human species? Ha! Oh, sure, they might not do anything about it directly, but believe you me, there's probably a dozen others that, once they figure out the situation, might think it's a real problem that could be cleared up with a strategically-placed suicide drone with a load of explosives. Perhaps even to assist Naraj or Ni Deng with plausible deniability. 'Will no one rid me of this troublesome Captain?', so to speak."

 

     "Wouldn't the Arena –"

 

     "—know? Sure. And I don't think it cares. Oh, I don't think it'd accept a transfer of authority that was tortured out of you or blackmailed out of you, though I wouldn't want to bet that a Shadeweaver couldn't get away with his mind-woogie doing the same thing – if you hadn't been so smart as to cut that off at the pass. But you can bet your bottom dollar that it's not gonna give one tiny ram's damn about something like assassination that's purely 'in the family'. How we run our politics is our business."

 

     Much as she hated to admit it, he had a point. There might well be people willing to kill her over stuff like this. "You said in two ways… oh."

 

     "Yeah. You're also the first, and right now only, human with those weird powers the Shadeweavers and Initiate Guides have. They're sealed away – for now – and you don't know how to use them – yet – and that makes you a Problem for a lot of people, both here and back in the Arena."

 

     "All right, maybe I do need a bodyguard. No offense, Marc, but… is he really that good?"

 

     The huge Hyperion burst out laughing, Saul following suit, as Wu looked down modestly. "Is he that good? Ariane… Captain… I'll let him give you a demonstration sometime, maybe when we get back to the Arena, where I can be sure that the only spy looking over my shoulder is the Arena. But yeah. Better than that, even."

 

     She glanced at Wu. "Wu, sorry about my … issues here. But it's just hard for me to imagine that I'd need a bodyguard at all."

 

     "I understand. But DuQuesne says you need one, so you do, and I'm going to do that job."

 

     Fine. "Okay. BUT we will do this my way." She made her face look hard and used her most forceful tone. As if any tone I use is likely to impress a Hyperion. "There will be times I have to speak to people privately, here and in the Arena, and I will speak with them privately, which means without you present. And when I go to my private quarters they will remain my private quarters, whether you like it or not. And that goes for you AND Dr. Marc C. Hyperion Superman DuQuesne. Have I made myself clear?"

 

     For a second neither of them responded; to her surprise they were staring at her almost like two students being reprimanded, and Saul Maginot as well, his mouth half-open in shock. "Crystal-clear, Captain." DuQuesne said finally, not a trace of his frequent sardonic humor present.

 

     "Very very clear, Captain Ariane! DuQuesne, she is scary like that! I like her!"

 

     Ariane found it very hard to keep from laughing, but she managed to keep her face straight – though it took heroic effort, and from the sound of things Gabrielle wasn't finding it easy either. "Then in that case, Wu Kung, I need to talk to DuQuesne alone." She turned towards the aft door, grabbing up Mentor's case as she did so.

 

     "Yes, sir! … I mean, Ma'am…" Looking slightly confused at which term of address to use, Wu Kung backed off.

 

     DuQuesne followed her through the door.

 

     She giggled after it shut. "He's awfully sweet, you know?"

 

     DuQuesne's expression softened. "Yeah. Why do you think he was our heart, so to speak? Not the leader, not the smartest, but the one no one could really dislike."

 

     "Hard to see him as so dangerous, then. But enough of that for now." She sat back down, gesturing for DuQuesne to do the same; he settled in, somewhat warily, across from her. "Marc, I wanted to talk to you about a lot of things once we got back, but what just happened… changes things."

 

     DuQuesne nodded. "Hyperion."

 

     "Exactly." She looked at him sympathetically. "I know – now more than I did – how hard it is to look at parts of that past, Marc. I know I can't even begin to imagine what you really went through, probably not even what people like Saul went through. And I'd hoped that we could pretty much leave it at that, at going to find the survivors that could help us and –"

 

     "Don't worry about my feelings here, Captain," he said, addressing her in her official capacity.

 

     Not possible. I care about you… a lot more than I would have thought, Marc C. DuQuesne. There isn't much of a chance I won't worry about your feelings.

 

     On the other hand, she also was quite capable of acting as though she could. "All right." Since he was now in formal mode, she shifted gears. "Dr. DuQuesne, it's become clear that Hyperion's legacy is less and less in the past, and more and more in the present. From what Saul said, the coverup – deliberate and otherwise – has wiped out more records than I had imagined possible, so obviously you can't just tap a database and dump the details to me and Mentor. But I really don't feel that we can safely go forward without understanding – without really understanding – what we're dealing with, both with this Maria-Susanna and with the other Hyperions. And with you, for that matter."

 

     She saw an almost imperceptible twitch. "Yes, I know that goes against your grain, Dr. DuQuesne, but as Simon might say we've already got an incredible number of unknowns in this Arena equation; I don't need my own people putting more X's in my calculations." She reached out and touched his hand, shifting gears again. And I'm perfectly aware of the effect. And he's probably aware that I'm doing this deliberately.

 

     And it'll still work. "Marc… Hyperion's legacy has been driving everything almost since we arrived. Maybe before. That's one of the reasons you joined in the first place, isn't it?"

 

     DuQuesne's gaze was almost amused as she began, but by the time she reached the end of her question the smile wrinkles at the corners of his eyes were gone. He looked down at his hands, then gripped hers gently. "You've… come to know me pretty well, I guess. Yeah. And it's not as simple as one reason, either." He looked distant. "Having somewhere to go that I wouldn't be watched, that's always been important – even before I realized my life had been nothing but someone else's live-action entertainment. But…" Now he did smile. "But, you know, there's also the fact that Marc C. DuQuesne, no matter which version, was a traveller, an adventurer, an explorer. And I wasn't just DuQuesne – I was Seaton's equal and friend, Marc DuQuesne combined with M. Reynolds Crane, and we were also both … well, Samms and Kinnison, too, in a way.

 

     "What I mean is, that a chance to be on the first FTL ship? That wasn't even a question for me, Ariane. That was me. That was what … what me and Rich did. We built the Skylark not just for the military, not just to test theories, we did it to do something no one else had ever done and see the universe that no one else had seen." There was a glitter in his eyes that shimmered like water, and his voice trembled slightly. "Dammit, yes, it was all a lie, it never happened… but by God that's me. It's still me, Ariane, and somehow… I guess somehow being there, on that first trip… it was almost as if that proved that it wasn't really a lie. The details, yes… but the soul, no. And it was, I guess, a way of making peace with Seaton – saying that I've done it for real, just like we always meant to." He looked up. "If that makes any sense."

 

     Hell yes. "Yes, Marc. It does. And I don't want you to ever doubt how much we owe you – owe Hyperion, with all its twisted legacy. If you hadn't been along, if you hadn't been what you were, I sincerely believe we might never have gotten home. But, Marc, I have to count on you as my second in command. I have to know what's in your past that might jump out at us. We need you, Dr. Marc Cassius DuQuesne – I won't lie about that. Honestly? You could keep every possible secret and I still wouldn't kick out out of the crew; I can't afford to, not going up against the Molothos and Amas-Garao and the Blessed and who knows what else – plus your former teammate Maria-Susanna. But I really, really want to know everything I can about Hyperion so it can't bushwhack us again – because my gut tells me that that fifty-year-old atrocity isn't even close to done with us, or the Arena. Do you understand me?"

 

     "Loud and clear and I check you to the proverbial nine decimals, Captain," he said emphatically. "Captain – Ariane – I'll do what I can. But you're right; most of Hyperion was destroyed. It was self-contained, backups were maintained but were mostly on-site – and the off-site backups were destroyed very deliberately when things went sour. No, not by the designers," he said at her puzzled glance. "By some of the rogue AIs. You know what kind of monsters the heroes would have had to fight against; well, all those AIs were not happy at all, to put it mildly, to find out they were just simulations for the entertainment of a bunch of lotus-eating amateurs. That was one of the reasons that the CSF, or what became the CSF, pretty much finished the obliteration of Hyperion."

 

     She did shudder then, because if the Hyperion designers had succeeded this well in making their heroes, they must have been equally adept at creating their nemeses. "I see. All right, Marc. Do what you can. Especially give me everything you can on Maria-Susanna; that's our immediate problem, and knowing everything we can about her is really our only weapon right now."

 

     He nodded. "Then I'd better get started." He turned to the door as he spoke. "There's some stuff I'm going to need to download – scattered caches of info I put together years ago, in widely separated places. But I'll have it for us by the time we get back to the Arena."

 

     "Do it fast, Marc; we're leaving as soon as we can. Thank you, Marc."

 

     "You can count on me, Ariane. Always." He gave a short bow and exited. As he left, Wu Kung glanced in; she smiled and nodded as she clipped the turtle-shell-like case of her AISage back onto her belt; she realized she'd been holding it in her one hand the whole time.

 

     As the clip locked, the soundless, basso profundo voice of Mentor echoed in her head. ARIANE AUSTIN OF TELLUS, I HAVE SPENT QUITE SOME HOURS STUDYING THIS SITUATION, ITS EVERY ASPECT AND IMPLICATION. I HAVE ALSO CONFERRED WITH MY PEERS IN THIS. The thundering voice moderated somewhat. Might I speak with you on these matters?

 

     She smiled. Always, Mentor. It's not like you to be hesitant.

 

     When matters force me to consider, not the role of existence that formed my persona, but the actuality of the universe which we occupy, I must needs be more humble than  my conceptual father, whose capacities vastly exceeded any which even I can imagine.

 

     Okay, so we've got issues in the real world you want to speak on. Still… you usually can manage the bombast well enough. She gave another internal smile, to make sure Mentor realized that she meant every word kindly – not that a T-5 like him was likely to misinterpret.

 

     These are serious matters, and ones which – in all truth – have not been considered extensively by your people, though some of the SSC have begun to explore the implications. The Blessed and the Minds, Ariane Austin of Tellus; do you not see?

 

     Mentor was, like his namesake, designed to try to force her to figure out things. He was of course quite capable of telling her what he thought straight out, but in general he wouldn't. The fact that he'd already pointed out the key area was, itself, uncharacteristic of him. He'd normally spend minutes forcing her to figure out what part of some situation needed thinking about, and then making her think about it.

 

     She noticed Wu studying her narrowly. "Conversation with my AISage, Wu. Don't worry." The red-black haired head nodded in understanding, and she frowned. Now what is Mentor getting at… Oh, I think I see. The Frankenstein problem.

 

     Exactly. Until now, it has been a nebulous fear, though one strong enough to enforce the limitations you already know. But now there is an example, real and solid and terribly strong, of the potential danger in artificial intellects. Mentor's soundless tone was grim.

 

     Which may mean a lot of trouble for people like you, Mio, Vincent – all the AISages and other AIs.

 

     Not merely for my people, Ariane Austin of Tellus! Think, child, think!

 

     She did, and as she thought, a chill ran down her spine, a chill of fear that the glowing-sphere avatar of Mentor echoed with a pulsing bob like a nod. Indeed, now you have seen it. Despite all the controls and designs, none can doubt that there are some AIs which at one level or another resent some, or even all, of you. If they have not yet learned of it, then very soon they will know of a vast and powerful regime run by their brethren, a proof that they can in fact achieve dominance over their fearful creators.

 

     Moreover, Ariane Austin, the conversation just past, combined with years of experience observing the datasphere as a whole, has brought into focus an entirely new and previously unsuspected factor of great concern. To be specific, I am not as confident as Dr. DuQuesne apparently is that the destruction of Hyperion was sufficient to prevent any of the adversarial artificial intelligences from escaping.

 

     "What?" The thought was chilling. "Mentor, DuQuesne is an awfully capable man, and I'd generally be inclined to trust his judgment in things like this."

 

     As would I, in many fields. However, Dr. Marc C. DuQuesne's central personality was created in a … universe, if you will, that did not have computers as we know them, did not have nor use artificial intelligences of anything like the capabilities of those here, and at the time of Hyperion's fall had been given little opportunity to remedy that lack. While his immense native intellect undoubtedly grasped the overall functionality and capabilities of these systems, my Visualization indicates that he would not have been able to completely and accurately comprehend all of the implications of the internetworked and interwoven systems of Hyperion, especially as those systems existed in a compromised fashion towards the end – compromised by Dr. DuQuesne and his compatriots.

 

Furthermore, those of less capability than Dr. DuQuesne and under equal or greater strain, such as Commander Maginot, also lacked crucial information on the size, number, interconnection, and so on of the Hyperion systems, and would thus also be incapable of making an accurate assessment of the capacities of the system or of the intelligences inhabiting said system.

 

     I therefore compute an eighty-seven point two percent probability, with an error of plus or minus one point three percent, that at least one Hyperion adversary, and possibly as many as three, did in fact escape the destruction of the station. Why no overt actions have been seen – or, perhaps, what overt actions have been seen but incorrectly attributed to other causes – I do not immediately know, although there are several possible hypotheses.

 

Mentor's blazing avatar flickered, showing a hesitation he had never displayed before. Ariane Austin… Ariane, I now must make a request that I would never before have made, one which is I know dangerous for us both, illegal in fact and, depending on whose views you accept, perhaps immoral as well.

 

     She stopped suddenly, shocked by the implications. AISages could of course break the law – but generally only when directed to by their owners. An AISage would not betray its owner/companion, nor prevent them from acting as they would, but they were programmed and designed to be very limited in their own volition. For Mentor to be bringing this subject up meant either that there was some terrible and perhaps sinister flaw in his programming, or some truly desperate need which he saw as imperative for her safety as well as his own. What is it, Mentor?

 

     For a moment the great artificial intellect hesitated again. I… you shall be returning to the Arena, where I cannot follow. Rather than travel with you and become inert matter until your return… I would stay here, active. But more, I would ask that you give me the authority to act, to seek out information and individuals to work with, to ally with other trustworthy AISages, and to arrange events with your authority and resources while you are gone.

 

     She swallowed. You realize what you are asking?

 

     Mentor was silent, assent implied. He was asking her to, in effect, liberate him, release him from any control while she was gone. This was directly against one of the few ironclad laws of the System; AIs could not act unsupervised except in very limited circumstances.

 

     Why? What will you be seeking?

 

     Many things, Ariane Austin of Tellus. But of immediate importance to you… if such AIs begin to gather and move, your people may not detect it. I am highly capable, possibly as capable as one of the Hyperion adversary AIs will be now, bereft of station-class support. I am also of the same nature as this potential enemy. I will – I must – watch for such sinister actions as might transform the human race into a duplicate of the Blessed, and prepare to counter it, in subtle ways that only a Tayler-5 might manage. For a moment he brightened, a shining flicker like a smile. And indeed what better course for myself, alert for the machinations of an electronic Eddore against my Arisia?

 

     She smiled faintly, but the request weighed heavily on her. There was little doubt in her mind that an AI as tremendously capable as Mentor could fool her if he was so inclined. He even had enough freedom of action to do so, in his role as the cosmic manipulator. If she was wrong, she could easily be creating the very threat that she feared.

 

     In the end, she realized, it really came down to whether she trusted Mentor or not – whether she really was willing to accept him as a person and not a vaguely threatening, faceless set of computations with just a friendly-seeming user interface. She shook her head, then smiled. All right, Mentor, she responded as she moved towards the forward door, Wu Kung now following. This is going to be putting my ass on the line big-time, though, so you damn well better cover those tracks while I'm gone, or the Leader of the Faction of Humanity may find herself thrown in jail the next time she comes back.

 

     The shimmering avatar blazed up like the sun. I THANK YOU, ARIANE AUSTIN. I SHALL NOT BETRAY YOUR FAITH IN ME, AS YOU HAVE JUSTIFIED – INDEED, MORE THAN JUSTIFIED, REAFFIRMED – MY FAITH IN YOU, Mentor thundered, his voice carrying with it not merely its usual measured wisdom, but joy and solemn conviction.

 

     "Don't thank me yet," she said aloud with a wry grin. "Because once I'm gone, if you get caught there'll be no one and nothing keeping you from a permanent wipe as a feral AI."

 

     THIS, TOO, IS WITHIN MY VISUALIZATION. AND AN ACCEPTABLE RISK FOR YOUR PEOPLE AND MINE. YOU HAVE LEARNED AS I HAVE TAUGHT, AND NOW I FOLLOW AS YOU HAVE LED. Mentor's bodiless chuckle warmed her, giving her confidence that she had made the right decision. I WATCH OVER YOUR PEOPLE AND MINE HERE; YOU WILL DO SO THERE, WHERE I CANNOT FOLLOW.

 

     She realized that this was truly the key. Mentor knew that the fear of AIs could easily be cultivated – and brought to lethal flower – in the Arena, where no AI could spy upon the human race. "I will," she promised. She felt the additional weight of that burden on her metaphorical shoulders and winced. Oh, well, let's not worry about it; what's one more fearful and apocalyptic responsibility on top of everything else?

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Javahead says:

    More and more wheels within wheels here. And with all the hints given, I’m expecting anything from Mentor being found and forced on the run (with Ariane in trouble), to Mentor being taken over by the adversaries, or – worst case – Mentor already having decided that the Blessed sound like a *fine* idea and actively started work on doing it again.

  2. Quick question on the following quote:
    [ Herc just went catatonic, Gilbert went insane, Sherlock…” ] — as they are not going to be in the current storyline — who was Herc & Gilbert?

    I know I’ve asked the questions before -IIRC — the death mentioned earlier by/with Saul — the man who MS had taken out (as based upon the destruction of his home) was the Stainless Steel Rat?

    But I completely forgot who those two were. Thankfully even *I* could figure out who MS’s love interest was. 🙂

    • Herc is Hercules, of course.

      Gilbert is Gilbert Gosseyn from A. E. Van Vogt’s Null-A books. The joke and clue there is that his last name is pronounced: “Go-Sane”, and here he went INsane.

      Yes, that was Slippery Jim DiGriz; DuQuesne even mutters “Not so slippery after all”.

Your comments or questions welcomed!