Betrayer of Worlds
could not fathom.
    “A Gw’otesht, sir,” Voice intoned. “Specifically a Gw’otesht-16. As this ensemble is configured, it is optimized for four-dimensional simulation.”
    Voice was the shipboard artificial intelligence. Amid technological marvels from stepping discs to the programmable nanofabric of Louis’s jumpsuit, Voice was an anomaly. Nessus had acquired a human crash couch; he could as easily have purchased a far more capable AIde on any human world. He hadn’t. Why not?
    Because cowards do not build their possible successors. Interesting that Nessus would use even an out-of-date AI. . . .
    A puzzle for another time, Louis decided. He said, “And other ensembles, entailing different connectivities, suit other problems. So an octuplewherein each Gw’o uses three tubacles to connect to three other Gw’oth would tackle 3-D problems. Static modeling of molecular bonds, for example.”
    “A Gw’otesht-8. Indeed, sir.”
    Louis smiled at a crazy notion: an English butler had taught Voice its mannerisms. “Call me Louis, please. And these biological computers drive the Gw’oth’s rapid advancement?”
    “Yes, Louis.”
    “And yet they disclosed this information.” Louis stopped, frowning. “Or did they?”
    A long pause ensued. Voice consulting with Nessus about what information could be disclosed? “A previous scouting mission penetrated the Gw’oth computer networks. This imagery came from a Gw’oth data archive.”
    Puppeteer spies: not a surprise. But scouting seemed like a dangerous undertaking. How many Puppeteers would run the risk?
    Louis asked, “Was Nessus there?”
    “Indeed, Louis.”
    “Voice, show me those mission reports.”
    Another pause. More consultation?
    “Keeping busy, I see.” Nessus stood just outside the bridge, half in, half out of the hatch, one head held high and the other low. Ready to flee in any direction?
    “Yah.” And you don’t like the direction my studies are taking me. Why?
    “Are you ready to take a break? I thought it was time that I share some more of your family’s history,” Nessus said.
    Louis gestured at the Puppeteer-friendly crash couch. “I’m all ears.”
    Nessus’ manic-depressive cycle had him holed up in his cabin. Again. He responded, sometimes, to questions.
    With the bridge to himself, telling himself he was bearing the long flight better than Nessus, Louis set out to relax. He sprawled across the copilot’s couch, sipping from a drink bulb. His latest coffee experiment involved a Tanzanian blend. His notepad lay on the console ledge, the visible page half filled with pen-and-ink sketches. The threat of war did not impress the laws of physics. Like it or not, the long flight to Hearth left more than enough time to savor
and
study.
    Not just anyone could relax on the bridge of a starship. Few objected to the speed of hyperdrive: a light-year every three days. Hyperspace was another matter entirely. Less-than-nothingness lurked just beyond the ship’s hull. Instruments revealed nothing about the space behind space. Theoreticians disagreed on what hyperspace was.
    On commercial starships, passengers turned to liquor, pills, and sex—to anything that helped them forget or deny or ignore where they were. Or weren’t. Semantics dealt poorly with the situation. The bridge displays, had they looked outward, would have shown less than nothing. The Blind Spot, pilots called the phenomenon. For many people, the wall surrounding a window or active view port seemed to come together. It was as though the port—and whatever it purported to show—did not exist. For other observers, the mind blanked out entirely. People had gone mad staring into the Blind Spot, forgetting where—and even that—they were.
    He tried to forget having thought of pills.
    The ancient race of Outsiders, from whom humans and every other known starfaring race had purchased hyperdrive shunts and instantaneous hyperwave radio, priced underlying theory separate from the

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