Thrall and Caroline popped into the living room of the Presidential Suite. He looked around while Caroline stared straight ahead. She was still dressed in underwear and a t-shirt, her collar and nothing else.
Before Thrall could think, or move, or do anything, the door to his bedroom opened, and Raquel walked out, still in her travel dress.
She said, “Surprise!”
Then her face dropped when she saw Caroline.
“What is this? Who is this, Julius? Are you cheating on me?”
Her shock was feigned, of course. She had this part all planned out. Thrall did not know that, though.
She thought the look on his face, as the saying goes, was priceless. He stared at her with his mouth slightly opened, aghast.
“Raquel! I . . . I was not expecting you. Did you fly all this way? I thought you were still on Clarion.”
“I couldn’t bear to have my sweetheart go away without me. I thought I’d show up and surprise you and keep you company.”
She walked up to him in a seductive manner, swaying her hips. She stopped and glared at Caroline.
Her voice turned to ice. She said, “But I guess you’re not so lonely after all.”
Thrall said, “Caroline is an experiment . . .”
Raquel’s fake smile dropped, and her voice lowered an octave.
She said, “I was too.”
She turned her attention to Caroline. The girl was younger, although not by much. She was more attractive, in Raquel’s split second judgment, although that was a subjective opinion. She looked at Caroline’s roots and noted how dark they were.
“A fake blonde,” she said.
“Raquel . . . do not harm her.”
Raquel’s eyes drifted down to the gunmetal gray gadget attached around Caroline’s neck.
“I won’t harm her. But I know a thing or two about biocollars. Let’s see how this experiment plays out without it, shall we?”
She reached her hand for Caroline’s neck and it pixilated as she touched the collar.
Thrall rushed to catch Caroline as she fell backwards, knocked out by the surge. He gently set her down on the ground, on her back.
“What did you do, Raquel?”
Caroline’s eyes flickered open. She sat up on her elbows and looked around.
She looked down and realized suddenly how underdressed she was. She crossed her legs and arms.
“Where am I? Where is this place? What’s going on?”
Panic spread through her questions, her voice rising with each question.
“Caroline . . .”
Thrall reached out a comforting hand. Caroline turned and stared at a man she did not recognize. She screamed.
Thrall yanked his hand back.
Caroline screamed again, scrambling her legs to push her back across the floor.
Raquel smiled, mischievously. She said, “The collar’s been deactivated, Julius dear. Have fun with your new . . . noncompliant toy.”
While Thrall focused on trying to calm down Caroline, Raquel pixelated, floated up to the ceiling and into a light fixture.
Raquel flitted through the wires of the city in no particular direction. Her heart ached, even in electronic form.
She had always felt closest to Julius. He had plucked her away from Raton Five and was the first person to ever treat her nice. And she loved him for it.
She knew his heart did not feel the same way toward her. She tried to cover that up with missions, going away and doing things he needed her to do with her powers. But the fact remained there was an emotional imbalance between them.
She knew he had been with others. She had, too. Or at least, one other. With Roddy she had found herself . . . conflicted. On the one hand, Roddy treated her nicely. In many ways, he treated her nicer than Julius ever did. He seemed to genuinely love her, and that was something the great Tetrarch Thrall had never given her. And so, she had given part of her heart to Roddy. And part of her had died with him.
She had returned to Juilus and she thought maybe this time things would be different. She would be the best partner he ever had. They would live in the secluded mansion by the sea, and she would make him happy.
Only . . . men like Julius Thrall were never happy for long, were they? The first opportunity to bed another indentured servant saw him leaving for Epsilon at the drop of a hat.
Raquel’s electronic essence flitted along wires under the streets of Epsilon, turning, twisting.
Her heart ached.
Time passed, and she thought some more. She thought Roddy would never do this. Or maybe he would. All men are pigs, after all. All men are selfish bastards. But Roddy . . . Roddy had been sweet. He would never have treated her this way. He would never act as if she was . . . disposable.
The heartache left abruptly, replaced by anger.
Julius Thrall and his precious Tetrarchy! How would he feel if all his power, his prestige, his privilege . . . how would he feel if it were stripped away from him? Would he come begging for her then?
A street lamp blew out, sending people on the sidewalk below screaming.
Raquel streamed out of the light in a cascade of pixels, forming quickly below into her physical form. She walked down the street deep in thought, ignoring the people staring at her.
A question formed in her mind. How can I find the Resistance?
She looked up and found a sensor mounted on the next light pole.
She said, “StarCen? Where is SSI Facility 16?”
“I am sorry, Raquel Kirkland. I cannot reveal that information to you.”
“Okay. Where is Edgar Munk?”
“I am sorry, Raquel Kirkland. I cannot reveal that information to you, either.”
“Hm. Can you tell me where SSI headquarters is?”
“Certainly. I will show you on your internal map of the city.”
The map in her mind’s eye sprang up, showing a flashing red light.
Raquel smiled. She said, “Thank you, StarCen.”