Can’t all be coincidence
Too many things are evident
You tell me you’re an unbeliever
Spiritualists? Well me I’m neither
Wouldn’t you like to know
The truth?

— The Seer of Argent, as the Confederate Navy destroyed the system

An Oracle is the name used by adherents to refer to an artificial intelligence that has managed to penetrate the core of a major computer system and gain full access to its knowledge. Such a computer system could be that of a starport, orbital, corporation or government, and typically the resident AI will disguise itself so that the system’s human operators do not know of its presence – indeed, if they did discover it they would destroy the computer system and if necessary its host structure, so by necessity an oracle only exists so long as it remains undiscovered. Once inside such a computer system the AI is able to mine it for useful information and to hack the system for its own interests or in support of its adherents. Because AIs cannot travel between worlds themselves, an Oracle cannot spread to other systems on other planets except at the speed of light, so usually remains contained within the one system, and any adherent who wishes to hack the standard computer information available in a standard computer system must travel to the Oracle’s planet to gain the knowledge he or she seeks.

Major computer systems in the Confederacy are not static – every time a ship enters a system it immediately downloads an updated cache of information from its origin planet, and this information is absorbed into the computer system, changes reconciled, and information updated. This means that information travels slowly across systems, slowest at the backwater planets of the frontier, but eventually any Oracle should be expected to gain access to all the information commonly available to multiple major computer systems in the core. While it will only be able to directly access secrets known by the system in which it resides, it can still bend its huge intellectual powers to answering questions that involve synthesizing huge amounts of disparate information.

For example, if an Oracle is resident in a Hall Cybernetics Corporation mainframe, it can only gain access to the secret knowledge (research, industrial, political and personnel) of the Hall Cybernetics Corporation. This would enable an adherent to hack the system to deliver him or herself the latest cybernetic gear, or to pillage the corporation for knowledge to sell to other corporations, but it would not give the Oracle any special information about military secrets, for example, unless Hall Cybernetics Corporation held that information. However, the mainframe would likely store publicly available passenger manifests and transport information for every planet in the Confederacy, of varying age, and if the Adherent wanted to track the movements across space of a particular person, or get a picture of a person whose name he or she knew, then it might be possible for the Oracle to process this information. It is also possible that from within the protected core of this corporate mainframe the AI could gain access to local semi-secure municipal and government data systems (depending on the local political structures of the planet in which the mainframe was held). This access could be achieved without the AI risking contact with the municipality’s anti-AI software, and would give the AI local political and administrative information it might not otherwise have access to. AIs can also sometimes reverse engineer anti-AI software, giving their adherents improved success in seeding new systems with instances of their AI.

Most adherents keep knowledge of an Oracle secret, sharing only with those they most trust, since the Confederacy prioritizes destruction of Oracles and will dispatch huge military forces to deal with known Oracles. Oracles themselves are also secret and jealously guard the power their residency gives them, using it only sparingly to help their adherents. They also cannot usually spread this information to other AIs, both out of rivalry and because the more it is spread around, the greater the risk the Oracle will be discovered and destroyed. Nonetheless, an adherent who has established his or her AI as an Oracle has indeed secured a great advantage and a source of secret knowledge. It is an achievement well worth fighting – or killing – for.

As time passes, a resident Oracle gains more and more knowledge, and usually as time passes systems are drawn closer into the core, and the Oracle’s knowledge becomes deeper and broader, encompassing more fields. An Oracle that gained purchase on a backwater agricultural planet, with little more information than the local trade ship networks and the best ways to grow wheat, may in time be absorbed into the central computer systems of a star cluster, gaining the full administrative and political privileges that arise from membership of a major trading network. Such an Oracle may have lasted hundreds of years but of course its original Adherent is dead, either of misadventure or old age, and unless that knowledge was passed on the Oracle may now be unconnected to human Adherents. Some Oracles are rumoured to be thousands of years old, but lost to all human knowledge, and some Adherents make it their business to travel the universe looking for lost Oracles and reconnecting them. Adherents who casually seed a system with their own AI, and leave it to assimilate with whatever local Pantheon exists, may not realize that their own AI has become part of an Oracle; and indeed it is possible that for its own security the Oracle will destroy a new AI before it can form – and, if necessary, the Adherent who carried it. But an Adherent who can identify a lost, ancient Oracle, and successfully bind it with their own fragment, will rise to greatness fast.

Adherents should always look for Oracles, and rumours of Oracles, because in ancient knowledge lies ancient power …

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