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Freedom's Price

Epilogue


"Is...is it really true, Captain?" Kara Mitchell asked, her lower lip trembling, her eyes glistening with tears.

Alana Nile sighed heavily. Looking at the pretty young datatech, she didn't feel like the DLE's "Steel Hawk." Maintaining a calm, even cold exterior was all but impossible in the face of the other woman's sorrow.

"It is. Lieutenant Derrek has apparently gone rogue, joined with Tyler Jorran and his group of hunters, terrorists, or whatever they call themselves. They've seized control of a military spaceship."

"I can't believe it!" Kara cried out. "Conn loved the DLE."

"I know he did. He was one of my best agents." She sighed again, trying to find a way to explain the inexplicable, to tell a woman that the man she loved wasn't what she had thought he was. "Sometimes...sometimes it happens. To catch a man like Tyler, Derrek had to try to see how he'd think, understand his mind to predict what he'd do next. A cop can start to sympathize with his adversary that way. This was a very important case, with a lot of stress and political pressure."

"Conn hated that," Kara agreed tearfully. "He never liked it when people threw their weight around, especially the big corps. 'Buying justice,' he called it."

Nile spread her hands helplessly.

"You can see, then, how it might start. Having to work for politicians and Luveno Industrial Mechanisms wouldn't be easy. Plus, he definitely was developing a feud with the LIM liaison, Gage Worthmann. No doubt you've seen the holovid broadcasts about what he was up to. There's no hard evidence, of course, but from the way the corp reacted you can bet they--and the media--believe every word of it."

"Do...do you mean that Conn...?"

Nile sighed for the third time. Dealing with this type of situation wasn't her forte.

"It's quite possible that Lieutenant Derrek caught a whiff, or perhaps more, of what LIM was up to. Under pressure from the brass, he might have snapped and decided that justice was on the side of the outlaws. That's what happens when you start thinking that corruption goes deeper than a bunch of greedy, venal leeches trying to line their own pockets at everyone's expense. Once you stop believing in the system, you're not a cop."

The datatech blotted her tears with a handkerchief.

"He...he isn't a bad person, Captain."

Nile shook her head.

"No, I wouldn't call him that, Kara. Just a man who let his ideals become stronger than his good judgment."

"Ththank you, Captain."

Still sniffling, Kara left the office. Nile was glad; there was little else she could say, and she didn't like feeling helpless. The captain tapped the intercom button on her visiphone.

"Davis, I'm going to be in conference. Hold my calls."

Nile closed her door, then locked it. Davis would keep visitors out, but every so often someone decided to barge right past the receptionist, whether it was a headstrong cop or an aggrieved big-shot. For these, the locked door served as a reminder that she made her own appointments.

Returning to her desk, she keyed in a number on the visiphone. The screen remained in its default display, showing the logo of Nakagaki Telecommunications.

"New Eden," she stated in a monotone voice. The voiceprint and password were compared to those stored on computer, and the screen displayed the single word, "Verified," in red letters, before its image changed. The unearthly beauty of a woman's face sculpted in light looked back at Nile. She was a goddess, cold, aloof, and distant, another order of being altogether.

"This channel is secure; I have distracted all internal systems and used the security scanners to verify that no transmitters or recording devices are in operation," the woman said. Nile accepted her assertion as fact; she was quite capable of slaving the DLE computer system to her needs and doing so in a matter of seconds. This was, after all, Mother Brain.

"Good," Nile replied, not in the least cowed. "What's happening?"

"Hard data is sketchy. Not only did Lianora's destruction deny me any connection to its systems, but some time prior to that it suffered a catastrophic computer failure, further interfering with my capacity to learn. However, records from the system and security logs, combined with all available military, media, and corporate information suggests that Tyler Jorran and his companions, including your DLE agent, successfully defeated Nuada and arranged for the destruction of the satellite."

"He wasn't caught in the blast, I suppose?"

"I analyzed the search team's results myself. No wreckage from the captured corvette, Freewind, was present at the site. The logical conclusion is that they escaped in the ship. Also, what could be gleaned from the damage to the station's exterior is consistent with attacks from the type of laser cannons the Freewind mounts." Mother Brain paused for a moment, then added, "Lowell Hurlston is dead. The subsystems on board Noah recorded a cessation of life signal from his implant shortly before Lianora's destruction."

"I see..." Nile said, absorbing the information. She had never liked Hurlston; the man had never treated his work with the seriousness it deserved. Yet she felt sorrow at his death, not for Hurlston himself, but for what he represented. Another one dead. Dead before his time. How many could they lose? Each generation was smaller than the one before, as if there was some pernicious influence, a subtle, insidious curse the doctors could not detect on board the star-voyaging ship Noah.

Alana Nile grieved, not for a man she disliked, but for all of her comrades, the last children of a dead world many light-years away called Earth.

"We must assume that Jorran possesses complete knowledge that Project Nuada was initiated by me," Mother Brain stated, her cold voice knifing through the pain in Nile's heart. Even when speaking to her masters, the arch-computer had an edge of nastiness in her voice. She had been created to take control of Algo, to build a new home for the Earthmen in their last home's image and to remove the native population from that home by whatever means necessary. Perhaps they had done their work too well, or perhaps the creation of a thinking, feeling mind whose ultimate purpose was conquest could only produce an evil will regardless of intentions. "It is unlikely that he possesses the further knowledge of my service to the Earthmen, or that Hurlston was an Earthman aiding my work, but this, also, is not impossible."

"You know what to do. Make them outlaws, hunt them down. If they do know some or all of the truth, they'll reveal it by their actions."

"I agree. My aggregate psychological profile suggests that the group will not be able to merely hide from me. They will set themselves in opposition to my plans. It is improbable that they will be able to interfere notably--"

"But you'd have thought that about their chances of stopping Project Nuada, too," Nile interrupted.

"Correct," Mother Brain was forced to admit.

"Lianora's gone, Hurlston's dead, Nuada is destroyed along with Hurlston's data--"

"Incorrect. I possess copies."

"No, you don't." Nile probably shouldn't have enjoyed saying that as much as she did, but she took a savage pleasure in pointing out the flaws in the computer's self-assurance. "Hurlston would never have given you or anyone his notes. You may have certain data, but not a complete version of his work."

She paused, then added, "By the way, we've completely lost LIM."

"I do not follow," Mother Brain replied.

"You're aware of the databomb that went off not long after Lianora's destruction?"

"Yes. A timed file, set to release information to LIM, the DLE, and to several media outlets if a signal was not sent within a specified time period. Undoubtedly, it was activated because the android Anje could not send such a signal from space."

"Resulting in most of Palm learning that Luveno Industrial Mechanisms was kidnapping people and performing secret experiments on them. There's no proof, but the clinic and Dr. Margolis were named, and the fact that the clinic was destroyed under suspicious circumstances is enough to convince everyone that the stories are true. LIM's stock price fell through the floor, individual shareholders came out of the woodwork screaming for reform, and corporate rivals whetted their knives."

"As you are aware, I continuously monitor all Palman media broadcasts. I am fully apprised of these facts. For example, within twenty-four hours of the story reaching the public, Redfield Arms had obtained a controlling interest in Luveno's subsidiary, Emerald Legion Security."

"Then you're also aware of the board meeting taking place in one hour? There'll be a pretense of fairness, but the results are already set. Macklin's finished. She made a bad mistake trying to put all the blame on Gage Worthmann and Nash Garrett just because they were the two mentioned in the datafiles. Garrett was already angry, it seems, over the death of his security people in the clinic, and when the blame was handed down he was not willing to sacrifice himself on behalf of a corrupt Executive Director."

"The psychology of organic lifeforms does produce intriguing and unexpected events on occasion." That was, of course, Mother Brain's weak point. She might have been the most powerful computer ever created, but her ability to model psychological profiles--especially those of the native cultures alien to her creators--was still somewhat limited, especially when dealing with people as individuals rather than in the aggregate. It was, perhaps, Mother Brain's one weak point.

"Care to hazard a guess who will get Macklin's job?"

"Presumably Aron Destain, the current Executive Sub-Director."

Nile smiled ruthlessly, enjoying the moment.

"Wrong. Destain's a nobody, a paper-pusher. LIM's in crisis, and although his hands are clean he hasn't got the leadership ability to pull the company out of its tailspin. The new Executive Director is going to be the Industrial Division Sub-Chief, Orakio Sa Riik."

"It seems unlikely that they will select someone that far down in rank."

"Not this time. Sa Riik has got the skill package and education to do the job."

It took Mother Brain only a fraction of a second to consult the citizenry database and absorb the entirety of Orakio Sa Riik's public life history.

"I see. Parolit University, graduated AW 1267 with a double major in business management and military science. AW 1270, received his MBM from the Luveno-owned Magerry Institute."

Nile agreed. Mother Brain's data was always precise as well as accurate.

"What makes him dangerous, and the reason he'll be put it charge, is that he's basically incorruptible and everyone knows it. Moreover, under the circumstances, he'll feel he has a shareholder mandate to rip out any additional 'bad seeds' the current purge misses. Presuming that it survives the upcoming corporate war, LIM won't touch any under-the-table schemes for years, and the other corporations will be touchy for a while, too."

Among the Earthmen, Alana Nile was their best expert on Palman business, from general economic theory to the internal logic of financial markets to corporate psychology. When she drew a conclusion about how a corporation would act, even Mother Brain was wise to listen.

"Your analysis confirms my initial assessment, then," Mother Brain stated. "It appears that further design and development work should take place on Mota. Your conclusion that we will experience difficulty in gaining the help of Palman business only reinforces that course of action."

"So, you're going to try to restart Nuada? Will your pets on Mota be able to recreate Hurlston's work?"

"They will not have to."

"Oh?" Nile asked.

"I have decided to pursue a different course in creating my emissary. The need for an organic mind is undeniable; only an AI on my own level would have the necessary combination of logic and creativity to fulfill its role. However, it seems that Nuada, for all its success, was unable to create an entity of sufficient power and versatility to carry out my wishes. Therefore, I intend to turn to bioengineering."

"You're going to design your own agents, genetically sculpting them to develop however you want?"

Mother Brain smiled arrogantly.

"Precisely. The Palman scientists at the Biosystems Lab on Mota will be overjoyed to help develop a better, stronger, faster, smarter version of themselves, and given the extent of my control over Motanet and the Motavian systems, I'll easily be able to intervene at the proper time to make the necessary...adjustments."

The Earthwoman leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms over her breasts.

"That's an ambitious plan. Do you believe the biotechnology to successfully modify Palman DNA, especially regarding the mind, will be available?"

"The basic tools exist already--active-memory cloning, genetic modification of animal species, neural-net data memory. I would estimate a four-to-six-year period for this project to reach the implementation phase."

"At which point?"

"My agent will proceed with the steady removal of the Palmans and Motavians from Mota. The people of Earth will have their new homeworld."

Four to six years. Was it possible? Was that all the longer it would take, after five centuries of striving towards this one single goal? Would Nile see the new Earth with her own eyes?

"I will call this project Nei. It is an ancient word of power in a native tongue, and that is what it will give us. The power to crush these puny natives at last!

The power to achieve a dream.

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