Operation Starfold 13

Tetrarch Thrall watched the holo of the Battle of Sporades from the League’s point of view. For once, his nostrils did not flare. The new weapon dreamed up by Thespar worked remarkably well. He felt intense satisfaction watching enemy vessels get destroyed again and again, the ships and their crews sent to a fiery hell.

He observed a skeletal cube pounce over a ship, completely surrounding it. Sunlight flared and the ship disappeared as it passed through the portal into the heart of Sporades’s sun.

How did they manage to make the trip one way? He wondered about that as he watched the contraption take out another warship. Besides some residual radiation, the star itself did not come back through. It must truly be a marvel of engineering, he thought.

They also seem to have sped up the port. It looks much faster than one second, he thought.

Best of all, Starfold took care of his big mistake. He had been the one who approved the redistribution of the League fleet. If Thespar had not had this secret weapon in place, the outcome of the battle would no doubt have been much less desirable.

That thought led him to consider the simulation StarCen showed him, the one with League ships losing at Euripides unless he reinforced their numbers. The visuals were quite convincing.

And yet . . . the Republicans attacked Sporades instead.

What were the odds StarCen gave him? If he remembered correctly, she said there was a 75 percent chance the Diego Fleet would attack Euripides.

The simulation with its graphic display of destroyed League ships had convinced him to trust in the AI’s judgment.

And, the AI got it wrong.

That disturbed him.


“Yes, Tetrarch Thrall?”

“Why were you mistaken about the odds of where the Republicans would attack? You gave me a three out of four chance they would hit Euripides. That’s pretty good odds. Why were you wrong?”

The AI spent precisely two seconds considering this inquiry.

“The data were inaccurate, Tetrarch Thrall.”

Thrall considered that answer, keeping his thoughts to himself for the moment.

Garbage in, garbage out. It was one of the oldest maxims in computer programming.

Somehow, evidently, garbage got into StarCen and her calculations were thrown off.

Several new questions sprouted in his mind, taking a dozen different directions at once. He settled on one.

“I suppose there really was a 25 percent chance the Diego Fleet would show up at Sporades, and there is a possibility they gave us an honest surprise. But . . . if there really were a strong possibility the Republicans would do this, your odds would have been better. I would have expected 50/50 odds if it really could have gone either way.

“When was the last time you were off by this much, StarCen?”

The AI system spent one second analyzing data going back years, even in her earlier versions.

In response, she displayed a new holo on the table in front of Thrall, with a string of percentages in green and in red, next to dates. The numbers scrolled up quickly, showing him a history of her take on the odds for various events.

“Predictions are not perfect, Tetrarch Thrall, but I have a long track record of making correct calls.”

Thrall nodded, looking at the visual display of data. His elation over the surprise success of the battle was quickly replaced with apprehension. And suspicion.

“Yes, but . . . this one was a critical decision point. How did you get it wrong?”

“Variables based on data inputs regarding known quantifiable elements concerning Republican fleet movements were faulty. This led to a grossly inaccurate prediction.”

“How were the inputs faulty?”

“Fleet movements and sensor sighting were inaccurate. Considerations based on Naval officer reports were misleading. Estimates based on—”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I meant, how did the wrong information get put into your analysis? Who fed you false and misleading data?”

Another two seconds lapsed as StarCen considered the questions.

“Data input came from a wide variety of sources, all of which were wrong. It is inexplicable why all the sources were wrong simultaneously, Tetrarch Thrall.”

He set back in his chair and steepled his fingers.

“No, it’s not inexplicable. There is always an explanation. It’s just a matter of finding it.”

A suspicion within him grew, like a fresh flower opening its petals to the sun for the first time.

A theory appeared in his mind, fully formed. He examined the theory from all sides. He tried to disprove it in a multitude of ways, but the theory held firm. The flower grew stronger in the sunlight, brighter and more defined.

Before he could entertain the idea further, Kendra Lewis popped into the room.


Before he could say anything she practically smothered him in soft flesh and bare midriff, climbing into his lap and nuzzling his neck.

All thoughts in Thrall’s mind immediately ceased as he experienced a variety of sensual pleasures.

Typically, after this much time with one woman, Thrall grew bored. Even his favorite (at least, his previous favorite) Raquel had taken breaks, leaving him for long periods of time.

As the saying goes, he thought, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

But Kendra was different. When she sensed he was getting bored, she changed things up. She was not averse to wearing wigs and donning completely different outfits. Even better, she seemed to enjoy games and roleplaying.

To his surprise, Thrall found himself continuing to enjoy the young woman’s presence. Even now she took the initiative, encouraging him to take the rest of the day off and focus solely on her.

Yet, even as they kissed and while Kendra worked very hard at providing him a venereal distraction, the idea . . . the theory . . . was firmly planted in Thrall’s thoughts.

In his mind, the flower basked in full sunlight and all its petals soaked up the rays. No amount of kisses could affect it.

Someone was tampering with StarCen.

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