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Katmer Al Shei has done well with the starship Pasadena, cutting corners where necessary to keep her crew paid and her journeys profitable. But there are two things she will never skimp on: her crew—and her fool. For a long space journey, a certified Fool’s Guild clown is essential, to amuse, excite, and otherwise distract the crew from the drudgeries of interstellar flight. Her newest fool, Evelyn Dobbs, is a talented jester. But does she have enough wit to save mankind?
In the computers of the Pasadena, something is emerging. The highly sophisticated software that makes interstellar travel practical is playing host to a new form of artificial intelligence, one with its own mind, its own needs, and its own desperate fears. Combatting this terrifying new threat becomes the fool’s secret fight. Evelyn Dobbs’s personal war might just cost Katmer Al Shei everything, and everyone, she holds dear. But if they fail, humanity itself is lost for good.
was afraid, or in too deep, she went back to the Guild. That was the way it was. The Guild was what pulled her out of the war she had started with her birth. It gave her coherence and purpose and guidance. Where did she go now that the Guild wasn’t safe anymore? Dobbs straightened up. She couldn’t let anybody see her like this. It’s not the whole Guild, she told herself as she descended the stairs. It’s a few of the Masters, at most. We’re just proving we can be as stupid and paranoid as Human
CRAFT EVELYN DOBBS, REPORT TO GUILD MASTER MATTHEW HAVELOCK IN CONFERENCE TWELVE. Dobbs took a deep breath and forced her feet to move in the right direction. It was only a matter of time before she’d have to see him again anyway. It might as well be now. Once Guild Master Havelock was done with her, she could get back into the network and she and Cohen could figure out what to do next. No escort this time, at least. She mused as she crossed the park. Dinner time was approaching and except for
her. Schyler leaned close to her and Yerusha felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. There was a cold sheen in his eyes that she had not seen there before. He kept his voice soft and relaxed. “I already have one massive problem on this run,” he said. “If I find out your presence is going to add another, I will boot you out of here without slowing the ship down. Understand?” “Absolutely.” Yerusha matched his conversational tone and folded her hands behind her back. “But if you’ve got
question it, work with it, find out where it came from and what it was meant to do.” For a long time, Al Shei did nothing but stare. Dobbs did not let her eyes drop. She barely let herself blink. She let Al Shei drink her fill of her face and her expressions. Finally, the Engineer let out a long, shuddering sigh and looked away. She tugged at her tunic sleeve and still didn’t say anything. Dobbs ignored the sag that crept into her shoulders and let herself hope. It was Schyler who said it.
Al Shei as fast as she could. The drug induced disassociation had almost worn off, but the exhaustion had not. She longed to fall into her bed. Her midriff muscles ached from controlling her bladder. Al Shei was waiting for her at the stair hatchway. She didn’t say a word when Dobbs caught up with her, she just started down the stairs, leaving Dobbs to follow in silence. Her contract was already broken, Dobbs realized as she watched Al Shei’s stiff back. There was no way she could go back to