The air was filled with information windows and tension. The people in the lounge-turned-command-centre worked as a team with the invisible pyramid of assistants, employees, software agents, consultants and huge simulations that supported them. Outside the windows rain drifted over the meadows of Galt’s Gulch, but nobody saw it – their minds were far, far away.

Lady Calavera created a timeline over the table. "This is where we think it all started, six weeks ago in Hao Chen. Two weeks later, the PCA leaders fled here, arriving here 13 days ago. We immediately sent the Bottom Line, it arrived here and left 20 hours later. We are now here. That means the Li has had about a week to act after their departure."

"Could they have consolidated their position enough to send out the ships?" van Halden asked.

"Our simulations think so", Professor Stevens remarked, opening several graphs of sociopolitical analysis. "Since they are so hierarchical, it is enough if the leadership is infected. But our analysts have pointed out that the organisation in space seems weaker, they might be delayed and lack key personnel"

"I wish we had Essen here" Inga sighed.

"Where would they go?" Nancy asked, checking the market graphs. They were going fractal all over the place. A big starmap expanded over the timeline.

"We have assembled a list. If the Bottom Line had not visited Penglai when it did, they would almost certainly have gone for Atlantis. The closest colony, no customs and no government. It would have been ideal from their point of view…"

"We have the squids, and not their hierarchical stupidity." Nancy retorted.

"Yes, but try to think like a static. Anyway, they know we know about them, and hence they won’t go here. Instead New America and Nova are the most likely places – NA for the Columbus Project, which would give them the chance to spread everywhere, and Nova due to the short distance and also the infiltration potential."

Calavera drew two conditionals in the timeline. "If they started immediately after the Bottom Line left, they might have got to Nova about now. NA takes a few weeks more."

"Can we get ahead?" van Halden asked without looking away from a presentation his memetics team were doing.

"Hard, they are more central than us. If we start now it would take around two weeks to get to Nova and a month to NA. However, there are more possibilities. If they did not start out quickly, they know we are going to contact the other planets and can likely guess what we are guessing now. So it is a game with information."


"Yes. It is very far away, they would have to manage with one ship away for a long time during the critical initial phase, but Dionysian psychodesign is likely the best weapon against the Li there is."

"But how could they use it there? It would be dealt with easily" Lee contradicted.

"What if they infected the leadership of the Orphic Society and Psych Police? Then they could spread it to the rest and make sure there were no changing back. Besides, they are just 700,000 people. Even a few nuclear weapons could fix the problem for the Li". Lee didn’t look happy but nodded.

"Then we have Arcadia, with a social structure that might help the Li, and Ridgewell where it could likely spread quite easily…"

"That’s not true!" Professor Paul Stevens exclaimed. "We believe in the Family foremost, everything is done…"

"Sorry, but we disagree. The Li gives you a new fundamental value, loyalty to the Li. You would be working for the Li first, then the family." one of the analysts said. The professor snorted and continued arguing, but the others tuned him out.

"And we just have two ships." Nancy sighed.

"So do Penglai. And Opportunity will arrive in four days" a logistics agent pointed out.

"We have to decide where to send them and do it quickly."

"May I suggest going to Penglai with the first two?" Calavera suggested.

"Why? We have already data from there."

"But we need to know if they sent their ships. If they have, then they likely went to New America and Nova, and we need to protect the secondary targets. If they haven’t, we can get ahead to the primary targets." She drew further conditionals on the timeline.

"Great thinking, Calavera!" Nancy exclaimed. The others nodded assent.

"Wait a minute, some of us have to be on the ships if we are going to have a media impact. Isn’t that a bit dangerous?" van Halden remarked. His presentation icons hung in the air around him like a small cloud of good publicity.

"We can enter in the outer parts of the system, outside the orbit of Carp. That gives us several hours to set up telescopes and check if the starships are there". Lee sketched it in the air.

Nancy was impatient: "We have to go now – we must get to the PCA embassy and Mother Island and the shuttle." The team went to the elevators, their graphics floating with them and the discussion continuing unabated.

"But if we can see them, they can see us."

"Yes, but at the time they have detected our entrance, we will have had several hours to leave. Light is after all rather slow, there is a several hour delay and even if they scramble immediately we can safely leave if the higgsrams are charged enough."

"So, if the ships are there, we go to Nova and NA, otherwise Dionysos and Arcadia. What about Opportunity?"

"What about a maildrop at this star?" Nancy pointed at an unassuming dwarf nearby Penglai. "Leave a beacon for the Opportunity and Bottom Line telling what we did. Depending on this information they either can go directly for some destination or pass by Penglai if there were ships there when we passed."

"The if-then trees are getting rather complex."

"Doesn’t matter – we cannot avoid the information horizons here."

"By the way, we better get some of the heroes from the Bottom Line with us to show. Our market analysts think the impact rating at NA would be even better if we could get the PCA to give them some medals."

"The Promonss analysis is ready."

"What about Turnbull?"

"The DrexTech people, should we bring them along if there have already been Li outbreaks?"

The elevator doors closed. The building quietly relocated processing power and bandwidth to follow the meeting, not caring or understanding what it was about.