Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 41 

“Give me examples,” said Steph.

Ruth was back at sea again. Examples? How do you give examples of basic —

“‘A moon is made out of green cheese,'” said Anton. “That’d get a PD rating of 0.01 — or maybe 0.02 or 0.03. Nothing is ever ranked an absolute 0 — or an absolute 1. On the opposite end, let’s take the statement ‘a moon orbits a planet’. That’d get a PD rating of .9 something.”

He looked at the screen. “What that number tells us is that the perspective of the Star Empire’s population as a whole — Ruth didn’t point to that figure but it’s on the upper left of the screen — you see it? 0.99? that means the analysis applies to the entire population within one-hundredth of a point of certainty — “

“To anybody except statisticians playing cover-your-ass that means absolute certainty,” said Victor.

Anton continued. “– is two-thirds of the way toward being rock solid that the events and statements of fact shown in the recent The Star Empire Today are correct.”

“That doesn’t make any sense at all!” protested Andrew. “Not the two-thirds part, that’s probably okay. But what’s this nonsense about 0.99 certainty of the opinion of the entire population.” Her threw up his hands. “You said the number of people who’ve seen the show so far isn’t more than half a billion, right? That’s short — way, way short — of even the Manticore System’s total population. That’s what? three billion?”

“Just about,” Anton replied. “A bit over, as I recall.”

“That’s not even twenty percent, then.”

Ruth was about to explode. How can anybody be so grossly ignorant of the simplest and most —

But this time, Berry came to her rescue. “That’s a sample of half a billion, Andrew. That’s gigantic. Most opinion samples are quite satisfied their results are accurate if they sample just one or two percent.”

“Less than that,” said Victor. “The number doesn’t mean that 99% of the Star Empire’s opinion was taken. It just means that there’s at least a 99% chance — it’s actually a 100% chance, for all practical purposes — that the opinion sample represents that of the entire population.”

He scratched his jaw. “That number’s not the surprise. It’s the density number. I’d expected something in the 0.3 range. 0.4 if we were lucky.”

“The AV number’s even more surprising,” said Cathy Montaigne. She was perched on the armrest of the couch occupied by Anton.

AV means ‘adjustment velocity’, right?” said Steph. “The number means squat to me anyway, but why is it surprising?”

“It refers to the speed with which people’s perspective is changing,” Cathy explained, “and it’s always closely associated with perspective density. The basic rule-of-thumb — although there are exceptions — is that the more densely someone holds an opinion, the more slowly it’s likely to change. And vice versa, of course.”

Andrew grunted. “Okay, I get it. To use an example, my opinion that Victor and Anton railroaded me into getting a horde of sub-atomic golems set loose inside my body to torture and torment me for no better motive than spite is so densely held that it will only change — if it does at all — at the speed with which a proton decays. What would that number be, by the way?”

Cathy laughed. “That number would approach infinity — or eternity, I should say. Sociometricians would give it a ‘less than 0.01%.’ That’s as low as they ever go on account of” — she pointed at Victor — “what he says. Cover their ass.”

“Why do they express it as a ‘less than’ instead of just giving it a straight number?” asked Berry.

“Because they’re a bunch of cone-heads,” said Victor. He nodded toward the screen. “What that number up there means — the AV figure of >36% — is that opinions are shifting toward greater density at a rate that is thirty-six percent above the norm for perspective shifts at that density.”

“Huh?” said Andrew.

Ruth tried to come back in at that point. “What they’re trying to measure is how fast a perspective is shifting compared to how fast you’d normally expect that solidly-held an opinion to shift. If the shift is in the direction of favoring the new opinion, it’ll be expressed in the positive using the symbol for ‘more than.’ If it’s shifting against, it’ll be expressed as a negative.”

“Huh?” Andrew repeated.

“The gist of what it means in the here and now,” said Victor, “is that the impact of Yael Underwood’s broadcast about — about — “

“About you, dear,” said Thandi smiling broadly. “Just suck it up.”

“About me,” Victor said sourly, “is that the public opinion of the Star Empire is shifting in favor of our perspective on the real nature of interstellar politics a lot faster than such solidly held opinions — remember, that number was 0.67 — usually shift. When they shift at all, which usually they don’t — or shift in a negative direction.”

There was a moment’s silence. Then Steph said, “Wow. I’m right, aren’t I? It’s a ‘wow’?”

Finally, Ruth felt back on sure ground. “It’s a great big huge ‘wow.’ The only explanation I can think of is that the emotional impact of seeing a young StateSec officer risk his own life in order to save the life of an RMN officer’s daughter just blew away a lot of established pre-conceptions. And then their continuing close friendship — which it obviously is even if both of them will probably try to make light of it — added layers of density to the new perspective.”

“I think she’s right,” said Cathy. “The personal history between Anton and Victor makes their intelligence concerning Mesa plausible to people. Which it wouldn’t be at all if someone said: ‘Hey, guess what? A couple of spies — one from Manticore, one from Haven — decided to work together and look what they discovered. Imagine that!'”

“So what does that last number mean?” asked Berry. “The one labeled ‘reversal prospect’?”

“That’s sociometrician gobbledygook for ‘how likely is it that this perspective development will be reversed?’,” said Victor. “And it’s a bunch of twaddle, since all it does is say the other way around what the PD and AV numbers already established.”

Anton smiled. “Leaving aside Victor’s commentary, it is true that the RP number closely correlates to the other numbers.”

“Closely correlates,” sniffed Victor. “As in the chance for losing a game is ninety percent ‘closely correlates’ with the chance of winning being ten percent.”

While they’d been bantering, Cathy had been monitoring her watch. “It’s about time. Ruth, change to the live feed, will you?”

“Sure.” The Manticoran princess tapped her tablet a few times and the image on the big virtual screen shifted to an outside view of Mount Royal Palace. A shuttle was coming in for a landing.

A minute or so went by, while the shuttle settled in and an armed security detachment took positions near the hatch through which the passengers would be disembarking.

The hatch opened and the first passenger came down the ramp. The reporter, who’d been prattling vacuities while she waited for something to happen, immediately said: “As expected, that’s President Eloise Pritchart, arriving for her scheduled meeting with the empress and the prime minister. Following her is Haven’s Secretary of War Thomas Theisman. And now, if our private sources are accurate, we should be seeing…”

A short, very wide-shouldered man started down the ramp. “Yes, that’s him. The now-famous Captain Zilwicki, formerly an intelligence officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy and now operating on his own. Or, often, in tandem with his unlikely partner…”

Another man came down the ramp. He was dressed all in black, in garments which were very closely patterned on the former uniform of Haven’s now-defunct State Security.

“And that’s Victor Cachat, who has become just as famous as Zilwicki.” The reporter chuckled. “The more sensational news outlets have started referring to him as ‘Black Victor,’ we’re told.”

“Yes!” exclaimed Anton, pumping his fist. “Join the Notoriety Club, buddy.”

Victor was back to looking disgruntled; sour; even sullen.

“When are we leaving?” he demanded. “At least on Mesa I’ll be able to get some privacy.”

Ruth pursed her lips. “That may be the single most deranged statement I’ve ever heard in my life.” Then, with a grin: “But what else could you expect from…” Her voice lowered an octave and took on a pronounced tremor. “…Black Victor?”