Clarion’s Call 1

 

Author’s Note: the Prologue for Clarion’s Call is a bonus chapter titled “Unleashed on Raton Five, Part One,” available in the Amazon version or Patreon.

 

“Come on, you two. You can do better. Wotta bunch of weenies.”

Granny put both fists on her hips and looked down on the mat where Skylar and Raquel lay panting. They were all barefoot and wearing gym shorts below their t-shirts.

“I don’t get it,” Skylar said between breaths. “How can someone so petite be so strong?”

“I don’t get how someone so old can be in such good shape,” Jillian said, equally winded.

“Okay that does it, missies. Get up so I can kick your butts again.”

Both younger women sprang up from the mat and rushed Granny at the same time. She sidestepped and tripped Skylar, then swung around and grabbed Jillian’s arm, turning her forward momentum into a flip.

Jillian fell end over end and landed on the mat again with a loud, Splat!

“Who looks old and petite now?” Granny said. She cackled and walked over to offer the women a hand up.

They were a week into the voyage to Pegasi Station aboard the Ultima Mule, and already the three had formed a bond while sharing quarters.

Skylar and Jillian, closer in age, had more to talk about with each other. In previous voyages, Skylar kept mostly to herself, interacting with her brother Samuel and rarely spending time with others. Now that he was gone, she turned to these two for companionship.

Granny served in a matronly role, freely offering advice. She also willingly served as the odd person out for the other two to gripe about.

Granny said, “Two women are friends. With three women, someone is going to become the target of the other two. So I’ll be you gals’ target. If you can hit me!”

Indeed, Skylar and Jillian found themselves griping about the older woman frequently. Part of it had to do with their inability to take her down during these sparring sessions.

“What do you call this again? What’s this style?” Jillian said.

Granny said, “The flips are from Aikido. It’s a type of fighting that uses your opponent’s weight against them. It’s particularly useful for women because the fellas are usually bigger than we are.

“Now, my other techniques are based on Krav Maga. That’s for close quarters combat. You girls need to learn some fundamentals, first. Like how to roll when you fall. If you were to have gone down on a hard floor like that, Princess, you might have busted your neck.”

Granny grinned at them and pulled out a cigar she had hidden on her person somewhere. She stuck it in her mouth, unlit, and kept smiling.

“I’m gonna hit the shower and have some lunch. See you gals at mess!”

She walked out of the gym, leaving the younger women alone.

Skylar said, “She must have some anti-aging nanobots in her system or something. I swear she can’t be 73 years old. Nobody that age can move like that.”

Jillian cracked her neck and rubbed the small of her back. Granny was right. Without the mat her fall would have hurt much worse. Plus she was beginning to wonder if her long hair was going to become a problem. It certainly did not seem conducive to fighting.

She said, “Chris says that’s her real age. I think she just stays very active. She’s certainly limber enough.”

Skylar gave her a lopsided grin. Nobody onboard the Ultima Mule called Captain Christopher Raleigh by his first name, except Jillian Thrall.

Skylar said, “Come on, let’s go eat. After lunch we can resume your shooting lessons.”

-+-

The elevator door to the flight deck corridor opened. Skylar and Jillian stepped out, now well fed, showered, and dressed again in grey slacks and brown boots below fresh white t-shirts.

The corridor looked ribbed, with metal protrusions sticking out from the wall every couple of meters, each stretching from ceiling to floor.

“I meant to ask, Skylar, what are these for?”

Jillian pointed at one of the extensions.

“These are barricades to hide behind if someone tries to board us. They would land on the flight deck and try to shoot their way through to the elevator. Our people would take cover behind the barricades and try to keep them holed up at the doorway. It’s a fairly common defensive measure. You should have seen the size of the entrance corridor on the Aquamarine. They had something like a hundred soldiers waiting for us. Of course, Samuel and I took care of things.”

Skylar put her palm on an armory panel near the elevator and it hissed open, showing rack after rack of rifles and pistols.

“Can anybody open the armory?” Jillian said. “Seems like it would be more secure.”

“The Captain, Quartermaster, and First Officer can open it without question. When a regular member like you or me tries, Lootie makes a decision. If she needs to, she’ll query the Captain directly. In this case, she knows we are about to practice shooting, so she’s not overly concerned. No doubt she’ll keep an extra eye on us while we have the guns out, though.”

She handed Jillian a rifle and took one for herself, then closed the panel door.

Jillian said, “At least we don’t need Granny for this.”

Skylar said, “Yeah, this is my preferred method of fighting. A gun levels the playing field, you know? It doesn’t matter how big they are, you can always take them down with one of these.”

She patted the rifle affectionately. Jillian shivered. She knew that Skylar and her brother had killed a lot of people.

They slung the guns over their backs and walked out onto the flight deck. They weaved between fighter drones, heading for the large hexagonal opening with a forcefield on the side of the ship serving as the flight deck entrance. The opening shimmered red and they watched the stars wink by as the ship teleported once every second.

Skylar said, “Give us two moving targets, please Lootie. And a score counter.”

Round holograms the size of dinner plates appeared in front of the forcefield, moving in random patterns. The number zero showed on the top left of the hexagonal opening, and another one on the right.

“You always beat me at this,” Jillian grumbled.

Skylar said, “I’ve just got more practice.”

“I know. Before I joined the company, I never even touched a gun before.”

“You’ve come a long way, girlfriend.”

Skylar raised her rifle and shot the first hologram circle. The number on the left turned into a one. Jillian shot at her circle and missed. She fired three more times before finally hitting it. Skylar shot two more during that time.

Half an hour later, they called it quits. Skylar shot 111 discs while Jillian managed to hit 82.

“You’re getting better,” Skylar said as they walked back toward the corridor.

Jillian rubbed her arm where it cramped from holding the big gun for so long. Despite her muscle pain, she was happy with her score. It was a new personal record.

They heard a Ding! from the distant elevator and a moment later Rodrigo Diego-Rodriguez, the ship’s pilot, stepped out of the corridor. He looked around, but failed to see the two walking through the fighter drones out on the tarmac. Instinctively Skylar pulled Jillian down behind one of the small crafts, and they remained hidden.

Satisfied of his privacy, Rodrigo pulled out his portable radiation absorber from a pocket and pressed the button on top. A cloud of silver pixels formed, quickly coalescing into the beautiful blonde and silver shape of Raquel Kirkland.

He handed her a plate of food from the mess hall then stuck his hands in his pockets while she wolfed it down in front of him.

When she finished, she stepped very close to him and looked up into his face.

“Thank you for taking care of me, Roddy. I’m sorry about what I did before. I don’t know what came over me. But I am so glad you are my bondholder now. You’re the best bondholder I’ve ever had. And I mean that with all my heart.”

The plate crashed to the floor as he took her into his arms and kissed her passionately.

Digital Assassin 43


Jillian had her first opportunity to vote as a crewmember that night, after Raleigh presented the plan in the large meeting center. The general consensus was that if all went well, and if the three ships were present, the venture might net 20 million on the high end. 

Ultima Mule would split that admittedly optimistic amount with the Slender Sylph Company, and bring in 100,000 a share. Even with this grand estimate, everybody hoped the figure would climb much higher. Jillian was curious what the low end might be, but nobody wanted to speculate about that.

Once the decision was made, preparation for departure began immediately. Raleigh accessed the company’s lines of credit from investors on Lute and began purchasing food and other necessities. Pak and Kim ordered replacement drones, new tandem drives, and spare parts. Medical supplies were restocked, fresh uniforms ordered, and cleaning and maintenance bots were ported up to the Mule to prep her for another run.

Jillian returned to her quarters late that evening, filled with anticipation. Even though it would be about 25 days in each direction, she did not mind since she hoped to spend as much of that time as possible with Chris.

He would likely not be kissing her on this trip. She reluctantly took note of the strictures against fraternization on voyages, especially between the officers and crew. She worried that these rules would keep him from seeing her altogether. Skylar had the room next door to her, so she asked the other woman about it before they both retired for the night.

“Fraternization means sex,” Skylar said. “There are no rules against him talking to you and spending time with you. But rules against sex are there to maintain discipline and morale on long voyages like this.”

“Hm. Well, that makes sense. Hypothetically, I’m not saying I want this, but hypothetically the Captain of a pirate ship could do anything he wanted, right?”

“You don’t understand. He made the rules. He’s not going to go against them. And honestly, most ships are like that. Fraternization has historically led to a lot of problems on long voyages before. Therefore most Captains—merchants, military, whatever—officially frown on such behavior.”

“What about just, you know, kissing? There’s no harm in that, right?”

Skylar gave her a long hard look. Finally she said, “Do yourself a favor and don’t talk to anyone else about this. People get bored on long voyages, even with all the entertainment options available. It’s bad enough everybody knows the Captain is crazy about you. You start talking like this and it’ll just make things worse.”

As Jillian lay in bed that night before going to sleep, she played the conversation back in her mind. Was Chris really crazy about her? She could hardly wait to talk things over again with Skylar tomorrow.

The following day preparations were completed. After lunch the Ultima Mule was ready to go, and Raleigh had LuteNet port crewmembers up in pairs. 

Jillian was ported with Skylar. They carried their duffel bags to the elevator capsule, and made their way to the quarters they shared. Sure enough, Granny had opted to bunk with them and was already there. 

Granny said, “I’m the only female officer, unlike on that other ship, the Slender Slip or whatever they call it. I bet those two share a room. No way Beanpole gets her own bunk. Anyhoo, I don’t mind sleeping with the plebes if y’all don’t.” 

“Are we plebes?” Jillian said. “What’s a plebe?”

Granny cackled. She said, “Okay, wrong word. How’s about ‘crew?’ Looky, I’m not so stuck up that I don’t want to bunk with non-officers, alright? I don’t mind being with you girls. Even if one of you is mooning for the Captain and the other one is cold-blooded killer.”

Skylar said, “We don’t mind if you want to take a room by yourself, Granny. Really.” 

The older woman guffawed at this statement. “Oh, so you don’t want old Granny sleeping in the same room with you, is that it? You think I snore or something? Well I was thinking about leaving but now I’m going to stay here just to spite you.” 

She pulled out a cigar and chomped down on it. With a final, “Hmph!” she turned and left for the bridge. 

Skylar smiled at Jillian and said, “She was going to room with us regardless, believe me. There’s not enough room for her to bunk alone, and she doesn’t want to share a cabin with the guys.” 

-+-

On the bridge Granny found the Captain and Roddy. 

“Oh look,” she said, “here’s the least useful crewmember. The pilot.” 

Roddy smiled wanly. She noted ever since the gunfight in the mess that he seemed down. He looked like a deep cloud of sadness hung over his head. 

“Cheer up, flyboy! Did you bring your girlfriend along?”

Roddy patted his pants pocket, showing the print of the miniature radiation absorber.

Granny cackled and said, “Well at least you won’t be lonely, am I right?”

He nodded in acknowledgment but did not smile at her ribbing. 

She said, “You’re killing my fun here, flyboy. I’m just messing with you.” 

LuteNet interrupted and said, “Captain, all crewmembers have boarded, and all supplies are in place. Captain Po is likewise prepared. We are ready for departure.” 

“Okay, Lootie. Port us away when you’re ready.” 

The Ultima Mule and the Slender Sylph disappeared from their orbit around Lute.

-+-

Roddy came into the mess late for supper, after most of the others had eaten and retired for the evening. 

Lootie had shown him the security footage of Raquel stealing food in a restaurant, so he knew she could not stay in the trap without eating. 

He took it out of his pocket and pointed it away from the table before pressing the button, releasing her. A stream of pixels coalesced into the attractive blonde woman. 

She smiled at him, demurely. He pointed at the plate next to his. 

“Eat.” 

“Yes, Mas— Yes, Roddy.” 

She sat down and began spooning food into her mouth. Roddy watched her and recalled he had been so busy at lunch preparing to go that he had forgotten to let her out. She must be really hungry, he thought.

She filled up, eating the serving of fried poshbird and mashed potatoes. When she was done, she wiped her lips on a napkin and smiled at him. 

She said, “We’re on your ship? Where are we going?” 

“Pegasi Station. It’s a long trip. Three and a half weeks.” 

“Oh. Do you think we’ll have any private time? Is there anything I can do to serve you, Roddy?”

“No.”

She looked deep in his eyes and sensed the sadness behind them. She had stabbed him and shot him. He would almost certainly never trust her. If there had ever been any hope of using her feminine wiles on him, it was likely gone forever. The man had been hurt too much, and the cuts to his heart were deeper than the physical wounds she had given him.

She said, “Well . . . since we’re to be confined on a ship . . . maybe you could let me stay out more? You can keep an eye on me.” 

Ultimately, she thought, Roddy was a big softy. 

He nodded, then looked down at his plate, lost in thought. 

Raquel watched him carefully. A slow, evil smile spread across her lips.

 

End of Book I

 

Author’s Note: To support and encourage this endeavor, please consider joining me on Patreon. For as little as $1/mo. you can read bonus chapters in all the books in the Pirates of the Milky Way series.

Digital Assassin 42


Ambassador Huntington pulled a curl of his mustache out and let it go. The curl snapped back into position.

Impeccably dressed as always, the Ambassador found himself worried once more about dust. He walked resolutely toward a small “mom and pop” communications business, a tired and worn storefront out on the street.

Herman Gore and his wife Heidi ran the place, in this rundown part of Port Ryan. The couple offered secure messaging services and “eavesdrop-free” zones where supposedly even LuteNet could not listen in on conversations. The Gores were League expatriates, and Huntington remained convinced of their loyalty to StarCen despite their choice to live on a planet allied with the Republic.

Based on the grimy exterior of the building, and the loose trash blowing down the street, Huntington rather doubted all the claims the couple mentioned on the floating holographic sign out front. He especially doubted their suggestion indicating the location was “the safest, most secure communications center on the planet.” He supposed there really was little truth in advertising, after all.

Once inside, though, he appreciated the nice and clean interior. Everything was well lit, neat, and in order. The Gores obviously prized their reputation for privacy, and reinvested a considerable portion of their earnings into the shop’s interior rather than its exterior.

Based on his research, the Ambassador knew the building was essentially a giant electronic Faraday’s cage. No transmissions, wireless or otherwise, would be going in or out without Herman or Heidi’s knowledge and consent.

At least, that was the idea. Spies loved places like this, and worked hard to infiltrate them as well as use them. Not to mention, LuteNet would not appreciate being kept out of the loop as to everything happening within these walls. That rogue AI system, Huntington thought, probably kept a subroutine going that focused exclusively on this part of the city.

But somehow the Gores managed to maintain a sterling reputation. And, they somehow managed to stay in business despite a dearth of customers. Perhaps that had something to do with the quiet payments they received from the League, by way of Petra Roe. Indirectly and untraceably, of course. 

Ambassador Huntington dropped a couple of tokens in a jar near the counter and nodded at Mrs. Gore. She smiled and nodded back. He knew the 5,000 credit tokens, one of the only anonymous means of exchanging money, would be gone from the jar before he left the shop.

Despite the interior’s cleanliness, the Ambassador worried compulsively about dust. If there was no dust inside (something Huntington doubted), he surely had collected some on his suit outside. The street was filthy, after all, and the 8,000-credit suit imported from Italia was practically a dust magnet.

He made his way to one of the shop’s private communication booths, entered and sat down.

The wall in front of him in the tiny booth brightened suddenly, and he watched as an electronically obscured figure came into the holoscreen and sat down. This person would actually be in another location, pre-arranged with the Gores.

“How are you, Ambassador?”

The voice was electronically altered. Huntington could not tell the person’s gender, race, age, or much of anything. It annoyed him that this person, though highly useful for his purposes to be sure, knew him yet he had no idea of their identity. 

He reached over to his hypodermic bracelet, the drug delivery system filled with “Fentastic Malaysia,” a formula designed specifically for him. Touching the transmit button, he received a full dose. Instantly his body began tingling and his synapses fired up, stirring the pleasure centers in his brain. 

He said, “I am doing very well. So, you will be onboard the Ultima Mule when she departs tomorrow?”

The electronically garbled voice said, “I have been selected for the crew, yes.” 

“Good. I have an assignment for you, and it is worth 100,000 credits.” 

Huntington thought he heard a sharp intake of breath, but he could not be sure with the electronic obfuscations. 

After a pause the voice said, “Go on.” 

“It’s a two-part assignment. Kill Jillian Thrall, and bring back our digital assassin alive. Do that, and the money is yours.” 

The electronically obscured face came closer in the holoscreen to the Ambassador. Huntington knew they could see him plainly on their side. He had no need to alter his appearance, after all. 

He stared back at the scrambled screen with a poker face, waiting. 

Finally, the person sat back in their chair. 

“Ambassador, you’ve got yourself a deal.”

Digital Assassin 41


Lee Po stood an even six feet, or 183 centimeters. Of Chinese descent, he had a Van Dyke beard and a ready smile. His First Officer was a young, petite redheaded woman who called herself Susan Cranberry. She seemed polite and very small at five foot two, or 158 centimeters. No one present had any doubt she was tough as nails, despite her size.

Finally, Po’s Quartermaster was another woman, this one in her early 40s. She went by the name of Olivia Allbright. She wore her hair in a braid, stood the same height as her Captain, and looked rather thin. Granny had called her “Beanpole” behind her back once, and the nickname stuck, at least in private among other crews.

Po and his officers stood in a conference room at Mule Tower, shaking hands with Raleigh, Granny, and Maxwell.

With the greetings concluded, Raleigh pointed toward plush leather chairs around a solid oak conference table and said, “Okay, Lee. Tell us what you’re trying to get us into.”

Po smiled while sitting down and said, “I’ll show you.”

He touched his temple and a hologram streamed out of his forehead. Three spaceships appeared, orbiting a way station.

He said, “One week ago, these were taken by a crewmember aboard the freighter Moonpebble, en route to Delta Diego. She stopped for an hour at Pegasi for a supply run.” 

Maxwell said, “Pegasi is still a neutral settlement, right?”

Po nodded and said, “They are like Fomalhaut, or at least how Fomalhaut was before it got wiped out.” He pronounced it Foe-mal-hot instead of the more common Foe-mah-low, making the Mule officers smile. Po’s First Officer and Quartermaster did not seem to notice. 

“The League has a tenuous claim on them, but the people of Pegasi Station don’t see it that way. They’ll take credits from any ship that stops there. They don’t see too many from our side these days, though.” 

Granny stared at the images. She said, “Looks like two damaged freighters and a warship there to guard them.” 

“That’s what we thought, too,” Cranberry said. “But Lootie pointed out some things we missed.” 

Po nodded, and gave a mental command to zoom in on the warship’s stern. 

He said, “Do you see it?”

“The panels . . .” Maxwell said. “They look different somehow. The color is slightly off.” 

Granny and Raleigh leaned in and looked. Sure enough, the light on the rear of the ship reflected back in a slightly different shade than the front.

“Lootie says those are hasty external repairs,” Po said. “This is the SLS Excelsior, fresh off the recent Battle of Nocturnus. We know it’s the Excelsior because that’s the only Eagle-class destroyer anywhere near here.”

Eyebrows went up around the table on the Ultima Mule side.

Po said, “We think, based on the after-battle reports from survivors on the Republic side, the Excelsior suffered major damage and heavy casualties after taking out several Republic ships. We have witnesses reporting a serious hull breach right about where those new repairs are. The merchants were collateral damage in the same battle. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, apparently. 

“Anyhow, the bigwigs on Delta Diego want to destroy that ship in the worst way. The Republic is offering a million credits to whoever takes out Excelsior. Naturally, we can keep the merchants. And, with nothing protecting Pegasi Station, I say we raid that place, too.”

He gave them all a toothy grin, making his beard rise up on his face. 

Granny said, “How do you propose we bring all the stuff on that station back home with us? I know Pegasi is not as big as Fomalhaut . . .” she deliberately pronounced the name correctly, placing special emphasis on the name. Raleigh shot her a warning look, which she ignored. “. . . But I bet it still has a lot of stuff.” 

“The merchant transports don’t have much in their holds, from what we understand. We’ll leave most of the people on the station. They’re not worth ransoming unless they’re VIPs. We’ll load up valuables from the station onto the transports and take everything home. Sell the stuff, sell the transports, and split a million credit bonus between our two companies. It’s an additional 5,000 credits per share, which makes for a nice sweetener.”

“An Eagle-class destroyer has a lot of fighter drones,” Maxwell said. 

“That’s right, 350 of them. And Lootie estimates they lost only a few at Nocturnus. This is the primary reason why we’d like to team up with you. The Slender Sylph is a Hawk-class, same as Ultima Mule. Our ship has 200 drones, just like yours. So, we’d be bringing a combined 400 fighters up against something like 300 or 325.”

“That just leaves their main cannons,” Raleigh pointed out. These giant military weapons were more formidable than the repelling units found on merchant ships. They used considerably more energy and had far more devastating power.

Po nodded. “We try and stay out of range, and port the drones in to do the dirty work. If the battleship is there, we close in and take her out for the bounty on her. If she’s gone, we take the station and split the spoils.” 

Raleigh shared a look with his officers. They both seemed receptive to the notion. He had one final consideration, though.

“Pegasi is a long way from here.” 

Po nodded. “Three and a half weeks using the fastest route.”   

“Even if we left now,” Raleigh said, “who’s to say they’d still be there? It will have been over a month for them, parked in one place.” 

“Two things,” Po said. “First, Excelsior is very damaged, and has to be fitted out with hard to come by components during a time of war. Lootie doesn’t think they’re going anywhere within a three month window, at least. The breach she suffered during the battle opened up their engine room. We think no one can get in to service things right away through all the structural damage. She was able to make the jump to Pegasi, but it’s likely unsafe in her present condition for her to port multiple times and get back home without serious repairs.

“Second, and I’ve saved the best for last, Pegasi Station is not hooked up to the banking subroutine right now. Lootie says StarCen has diverted banking processes from minor territories toward other things. And that means Pegasi is operating entirely on tokens. We think a recent supply ship from Epsilon brought hundreds of thousands more credits in. And those should still be there, even if our prize ship and the merchants are gone by the time we arrive.” 

“How many credits in tokens are we talking about?” Raleigh said.

“Including their most recent shipment, Lootie estimates about eight million.” 

“That’s 40,000 a share,” Maxwell said. “Plus 5,000 a share for taking out the Excelsior if she’s there. Now we’re up to 45,000 a share for both companies.” 

Po said, “If the freighters are there, and there is more lucre on Pegasi, we can easily double that amount. If not, Pegasi will be an easy run with no warships guarding it.”

Everybody around the table smiled now. Raleigh glanced at his officers again. They both nodded at him.

Raleigh said, “Let’s go to Pegasi.”

Digital Assassin 40


LuteNet’s feminine voice sounded in the air above them, and a holographic circle appeared horizontally near the elevator door, a meter in diameter.

“Terrestrial teleportation incoming. Please stand clear.”

“Lootie’s back!” Kim said.

Raleigh popped into the middle of the circle. He rushed over to the others, but his eyes remained on Jillian.

“Are you alright?”

She nodded. Her heart soared at his obvious concern.

Finally he noticed the others. He said, “Anybody hurt?”

Pak said, “Roddy’s indent shot him in the foot.”

“Alright. You need to get to the medical ward, Roddy. But before you do, Lootie’s going to try something. Explain to them what you told me, Lootie.”

“Will do, Captain. Raquel Kirkland’s records were modified about three years ago.” 

Jillian said, “That’s around the time I had my false identity created.” 

LuteNet said, “That is correct, Jillian Thrall. I have not yet been able to determine if the same parties are responsible. I have been able to ascertain after her records were altered, StarCen’s subroutine for indentured servants lost track of her.”

“Sometime in there,” Raleigh said, joining in, “it seems pretty obvious she was taken to Raton Five and used in the Gemini Project.” 

Skylar nodded. She had come to the same conclusion. 

Jillian said, “Then what happened?” 

LuteNet said, “I am unable to ascertain exactly what occurred after that, Jillian Thrall. Ms. Kirkland has evidently been evading StarCen somehow throughout the war. However, when she killed Captain Hernandez she said StarCen sent her regards. So, it remains a mystery. 

“Nonetheless, I have now placed her back under the proper subroutine for indentured servants. I have control of her biocollar and am providing appropriate hormonal and psychotropic measures.”

This impressed everybody, except Raleigh who knew about it already. 

Skylar said, “So, when she wakes up . . . what happens?”

“When she wakes up, she will be properly bonded to Mr. Diego-Rodriguez.” 

Raleigh smiled and said, “You finally get your girlfriend, Roddy.” 

Roddy’s ears grew red. He said, “But . . . the subroutine wasn’t working before? What happened to her all that time? Where has she been and what has she been doing?”

LuteNet said, “You will have to ask her, Mr. Diego-Rodriguez. She is waking up now.” 

Everybody looked down at the silver-clad woman on the floor. Skylar casually aimed her blaster at Raquel before remembering how hard it was to properly shoot her. Shrugging, she holstered the weapon. But she kept her hands ready for action as the indent stood up. Skylar, at least, could still land a punch on her.

Raquel ignored everyone else and looked straight at Roddy. 

“Hello, Master.” 

“Don’t call me that.” 

“Very well. What would you have me call you?”

“Roddy.”

“Hello, Roddy. How may I serve you?”

The redness in Roddy’s ears spread to his face. Pak and Kim both smirked. He deliberately ignored them along with everyone else.

He said, “Show me the time left on your collar.” 

Raquel touched her biocollar and holographic numbers appeared in front of her face. They read, “5 years, 3 months, 22 days, 18 hours, 9 minutes, 47 seconds.” 

They all watched the seconds tick down. 

“Put it away.” 

Raquel made a motion and the numbers disappeared. 

“Show it again.” 

She put her hand back on the collar and the numbers reappeared. They read, “5 years, 3 months, 22 days, 18 hours, 9 minutes, 47 seconds.”

Roddy said, “Why does it do that, Lootie? The numbers start over again every time she shows them.”

“I do not know for certain, Mr. Diego-Rodriguez.”

“Hazard a guess.” 

“I would speculate it had something to do with the experiment performed on her that imparted her capabilities. We might be looking at the exact moment her collar indicated she had left when the experiment in question was performed.” 

“Is that true, Raquel? Is this the amount of time you had left on your service when . . . whatever happened to you occurred and you gained your . . . powers?”

“I think so, Roddy. I’m not sure. My memories of those events are fuzzy.”

Roddy sighed in exasperation. He looked up at the ceiling and said, “LuteNet, does this thing still work on her?”

He held up the portable trap, about the size and shape of a deck of cards.

“Yes, Mr. Diego-Rodriguez. Her digital abilities remain unchanged. The trap designed by Mr. Pak and Mr. Kim is still functionally capable of absorbing and holding her.”

He turned back to Raquel. 

He said, “I want you to digitize yourself and go in here.” 

She nodded without hesitation and began pixilating. He pressed the button on top and the front edge of the rectangular unit glowed bright crimson. The pixels streamed inside, sucked in like a vacuum. He released the button, and the edge pulsed in soft red light. 

Kim said, “It’ll flash like that to indicate she’s inside.”

Roddy nodded, and put the unit in his pocket. He turned to walk to the elevator and almost fell when he put weight on his injured foot. He gasped in pain. 

Kim and Pak rushed to either side and lifted him up, throwing his arms around their shoulders. Together they headed for the elevator. 

Pak said, “How’s it feel to literally have a girlfriend in your pocket?”

Roddy said, “Shut up,” gritting his teeth in pain. “Just get me to sickbay. Level 88.” 

When the door to the elevator closed and they were gone, Jillian looked at Skylar. She said, “I’ve heard very few people survived the Gemini experiments.”

Skylar nodded.

“How did you escape?”

“My brother and I didn’t know why Gemini shut down all of a sudden. But things just sort of fell apart. Several ships left Raton Five all at once, in an evacuation of personnel. They were going to leave everybody else there. My brother and I boarded one of the ships. We weren’t authorized, but we managed to get onboard, you know, with our teleportation thing. Then nobody could catch us once we were there. After a couple days the crew gave up. The ship headed to Italia, and over time we eventually made it here.”

She paused for a moment, and wiped a tear away as she thought about Samuel. 

Then she shrugged and said, “I don’t know what happened to the others. As far as I know, there weren’t any on the ship we took. Some may have left on different ships, I’m not sure. I heard there was a catastrophic explosion at the research facility later. It wiped everything out.”

“Do you remember any indents being there? Or at least, people dressed like indents?”

Skylar’s eyebrows rose. They were white, just like her hair. 

She said, “I do remember a handful of people in silver outfits and collars. I didn’t pay much attention to them at the time. We were . . . distracted. The experiments were very painful.” 

Raleigh sighed and the women looked at him. 

He said, “Well, for the moment that is one problem solved. Now for some new ones. We’re meeting with Lee Po later today to decide about heading back out. Something came up and he asked to meet with us and discuss joining forces with the Slender Sylph Company to handle it.” 

Jillian looked confused. She said, “Wasn’t Li Po a great Chinese poet?”

“Yes. But in this case, it’s a play on names. He spells it L-E-E. I’m sure it’s not his real name, either. 

“I’ll be calling a meeting tonight after the officers and I meet with him. You should be there. If we decide to join him, this would be your first voyage as a bona fide pirate.”

Jillian’s heart soared. At last she would get some decent alone time with Chris!

She smiled at Skylar, grinning ear to ear.

Skylar said, “Don’t get too excited. We’ll probably have to bunk with Granny. And she snores. Loudly.”

Digital Assassin 39


Pak made a motion with his hand and his personal holoscreen popped up over the table showing a schematic of the building.

He said, “Kirkland has tripped our sensor. She’s in the basement. Now she’s on the ground floor. Level Two. Level Three. She’s checking out everything. Level Seven. Level Eight. Get ready, guys, she going to be here in a minute!”

Everyone stood up, their food forgotten. Pak and Kim pulled out their pocket radiation absorbers. So did Roddy.

Kim said, “Everybody got a trap? Dang it, I told you guys to keep these things handy!”

The others scattered, leaving the three with handheld traps around the table. Jillian watched them run to the kitchen. She decided to tough it out with the men who had weapons.

Everyone turned to the schematic floating above the table. A tiny light darted around each floor of the hologram model before going up.

Pak said, “Ninety-nine, one hundred . . . What’s she looking for?”

Kim said, “Probably wants to take out the Captain. Good thing he’s not here right now.”

“Oh really?” Jillian said. She could not help but ask, “Where is he?”

“Meeting with the Governor about all those indents. Or, fake indents, whatever.” 

Aha, that would make sense, she thought. She would have to meet this Governor Zhang at some point. Chris remained unsure whether he was willing to have her presence in his company be broadcast back over to the League. He told her they likely already knew about it anyway, since Port Ryan was riddled with spies from both sides. So far, he had been unwilling to present her publicly. That did not bother her so long as she could continue meeting with Chris in private every night . . .

Pak said, “One-nineteen, one-twenty . . . Everybody get ready!” 

A sprinkle of silver pixels came out of the elevator’s palm panel, turning quickly into a cloud that formed into the shape of a woman. 

Raquel appeared in her sliver unitard, carrying a dirty old satchel over her shoulder. 

She smiled at them and said, “Well, hello boys. And bitch. Did you all bring the proverbial knife to a gunfight?” 

She reached into the satchel and pulled out a blaster. 

Pak’s eyes grew wide. He said, “Oh . . . shoot . . .”

Raquel smiled and said, “Gladly!”

Thoop! Thoopah!

Everyone hit the floor and scrambled for cover. The bolts missed, although the shoulder of Pak’s t-shirt got scorched. He quickly slapped out the embers before the cotton caught on fire. 

The klaxon sounded again. An electronic voice said, “Shots fired, Level 121. Shots fired, Level 121.” 

Raquel shot up at the ceiling in irritation, but the lights continued flashing red. The door to the kitchen opened and the waiter bot stepped out. It stopped mid-step, uncertain, and stared at her. Its irises widened.

Thoop!

The bolt hit its middle and threw the bot crashing into the door of the kitchen. It fell over on its back, ruined.

Raquel scanned the mostly empty dining room, ignoring its wide bay windows and the excellent view of Port Ryan’s skyline and the distant ocean. 

She held the gun out and moved closer to the scattered chairs where everyone had been seated. 

“Come out, come out wherever you are!” 

She turned and saw a boot sticking out from behind one of the chairs. 

Thoop!

“Arg!” 

The boot, now scorched, pulled back. 

“Is that you, Rodrigo? It sounded like your scream. You know, I was distracted when I tried to take you out the first time. I won’t be making that mistake again. Wouldn’t want to do an unsatisfactory job for my owner, now would I?”

She moved closer to his chair. 

She said, “Come on. It’s hide and go seek. And I’m it!” 

A flicker of white to her right surprised her. Skylar appeared and pointed a blaster at her. 

She said, “You want to play, bitch? How about picking on somebody armed?”

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

Raquel turned and ducked, but two of the bolts went through her side and leg. Both areas pixilated as the blasts sailed through harmlessly. 

She laughed gently, and stood back up straight. 

“You surprised me! I forgot for a moment that blaster rays can’t hurt me. I bet they can hurt you, though.” 

She raised her gun and fired back at Skylar

Thoop!

Skylar flickered away just in time. 

Raquel turned, holding the gun out. 

She said, “What’s the matter? You scared, little girl?”

Skylar flickered into existence behind her and shoved her in the small of the back. Raquel fell down on her stomach. Skylar jumped on top of her and balled her fist. It flickered quickly as she swung it down at Raquel’s face.

Raquel struggled to get the gun out from under her, but Skylar’s weight on her back prevented that. Skylar struck her again and again and again.

Jillian ran over and grabbed a plate off the table. She handed it to Skylar. The plate flickered quickly, like her fist, and Skylar hit the side of Raquel’s head, breaking it. 

Raquel slumped, knocked out. Skylar stood, turned her over and retrieved the pistol. 

Kim and Pak came out of their hiding places. 

Skylar looked around and said, “Everybody okay?”

Roddy groaned and came to his feet, painfully. He limped forward, dragging the foot that had been shot.

He said, “Nothing a few more days in sickbay won’t take care of.”

Digital Assassin 38


Jillian stepped out of her shower and dried off. She wrapped the towel around herself and sat down in front of a mirror to apply some makeup and brush her hair.

Even with Lootie down, or mostly down, she was still able to order needful things like underwear and makeup, which were sent to the tower by delivery drones. Raleigh made sure she had plenty of uniforms. He said there were several hundred t-shirts and other related items in the building. Just about everything the pirates usually needed was stored here.

Out of the selection he gave her, she chose the smaller sizes. He seemed to like it when she wore form-revealing tops. If at all possible, she wanted to keep his attention focused on her. 

That had proven rather difficult over the past couple days, with all the many chores and tasks he had to handle now that the Mule was back home. Still, he had stopped by her room and shared supper with her two nights in a row. She thought that was promising. 

They still had not kissed, although Jillian had continued tossing off indicators that any pass he wished to make would be more than welcome. Unfortunately, he really was very busy and could only stay for an hour or so to eat before rushing off to handle other pressing matters. 

Today she hoped maybe things would settle down enough and they could finally spend some quality time together. And by quality time, she meant romantic moments. Thus she diligently applied makeup, including lipstick, in the hope that her efforts to steer them to this desired event might at last come to fruition. 

She hung up the towel and put on her clothes, gently pulling on the t-shirt so it didn’t mess up her face. 

She had slept in and missed breakfast. Now it was almost lunchtime. She palmed the door to her little room and it opened up. She stepped out in the hall and headed for the elevator. 

Jillian was on the 51st floor, a part of the skyscraper reserved for crew’s quarters. The Aquamarine’s crew and passengers were housed on lower floors. Chris, as she had come to call Captain Raleigh, had informed her over dinner that ordinarily he liked to keep passengers and crew onboard a captured ship until payment demands were met. However, since the Aquamarine’s main electrical system was shot, he allowed them to travel down to Port Ryan and move into Mule Tower. Teleportation was still on the fritz while LuteNet’s core was being restored, so everybody had been ferried down via transports.

The poor girls who had been forced into serving as indents were evacuated from Aquamarine the same way, she discovered. But they were put up in local Red Cross shelters. That suited Chris just fine. He donated their remaining food supplies on the ship to assist the charities taking care of the women.

The elevator dinged. She walked in and touched the floating hologram of number 121. The doors closed and it headed up to the “mess.” Anywhere else and it would be called a restaurant, she thought. All crewmembers were welcome to eat in the mess at any time. Meals were deducted from their accounts. 

Chris set her up with an account as a new crewmember. It did not have anything in it, yet. He said the balance would be adjusted after the payout from her first voyage. He was not sure when that would happen, though. Part of her very much looked forward to that next voyage, when hopefully he would have plenty of time to devote to her. 

She looked longingly at the number 120 floating beside 121. That entire floor, she knew, was his. Someday soon, she hoped, she would get the opportunity to visit it. Maybe even someday, it could be hers. Or, half of it anyway. How did laws on Lute govern property owned by husbands and wives? She resolved to look that up at the next opportunity. 

The rest of her day would be spent in weapons training, combat training, and other things pirates needed to know. But for right now, she needed to eat.

The door dinged open, and the floating number nearby read “121.” She walked out of the elevator and into the mess. Some people were already there. She recognized Kim, Pak, and Roddy. They were sitting at a large table with a handful of others. 

Everybody waved at her and she walked over. All the men remained very polite to her at mealtimes. Nobody put any moves on her, nor said a word out of line. She presumed this was because everybody knew of the mutual interest she shared with the Captain, and in that she was not far off. People had noticed the time he spent with her on the way back home, how he shepherded her through the onboarding process in joining the company, and the fact he spent suppertime with her every night. 

Nobody would ever say the pirates in the Ultima Mule Company were dumb. They would not be doing anything to get between their Captain and his woman. Even if said woman was not officially his, yet.

She headed for the table. A robot waiter arrived with a tray full of food. Apparently the men had already ordered.

Before she got there, the lights blinked red and a klaxon sounded. 

Wah-WAHHH! Wah-WAHHH! Wah-WAHHH!

A male voice in the air said, “Electronic intruder alert! Electronic intruder alert!”

Digital Assassin 36


An old light strip along a back alley in Port Ryan’s Mendicant District sputtered and fizzled. The alley looked dirty, with piles of trash stacked up along the walls. A gentle breeze blew through, sending scraps of paper flying.

A stream of silver pixels sprayed out of the light strip, like a digital water fountain. The pixels misted and coalesced into an attractive blonde indent, wearing the standard silver unitard and metal biocollar.

Raquel glanced up and down the alley, the first time in three days she had been able to fully coalesce. She chose this area to become visible because it looked deserted.

She glanced down at her right hand, at the pistol the other Intangible woman had dropped. She was surprised at the white-haired girl’s capabilities. Somehow, the jab to her jaw connected, despite Raquel’s pixilation. That might be a problem were they to meet again, Raquel thought. Apparently there were more survivors of the Gemini Project than she realized, and at least one was likely here on this planet somewhere.

She pulled out the top of her unitard and stuffed the pistol down her front. It made an imprint and looked very obvious. She pulled the gun back out again. If only she had a purse or a bag or something. She looked down on the pavement at the trash piled up and spied some old rags. Next to it was a cloth satchel of some sort, and it did not appear too dirty. 

She walked over and bent down to retrieve it. 

“Hey! What’re you doin’?”

A tramp’s face popped out from the garbage. She realized, pulling on the satchel, that it was wrapped around his shoulder. 

He looked unshaven and desperately needed a bath. She could not tell how much of the smell came from him, and how much came from the trash nearby. 

A large medi-bracelet around his wrist appeared when he dragged his hands up out of the garbage piled on him. Unlike the attractive (and expensive) bracelets the wealthy sometimes wore, this one looked purely functional. Probably stolen from a hospital, she reckoned.

Raquel straightened and frowned. She said, “Freaking addict.” 

Thoopah!

A smoldering chunk of neck was all that remained of the tramp’s face.

Raquel reached down and pulled the satchel off the now headless shoulders. Looking inside she found a couple packages of soy wafers. Thankfully, they were still sealed and she didn’t have to worry about food safety. She ripped them open and wolfed them down. 

She emptied the remainder of the satchel’s contents over the corpse, put the blaster inside, then put the strap over her own shoulder. She made her way to the closest end of the alley.

Walking down the street she looked for police monitors. Surprisingly, this city seemed to have very few of them. It was quite different than a typical StarCen planet, she thought, where the police monitored everything. Out here, it seemed, one could almost walk around without fear of surveillance, which seemed odd to someone growing up in the Star League.

She finally found a lone monitor, suspended above a light pole. She loitered in the area, making sure she would be seen. She was curious what would happen. After several minutes of standing around, looking in windows and walking up and down the sidewalk, she gave up. If the police were monitoring, they were evidently not in a hurry to try and apprehend her. It seemed the AI system on this planet might not be paying attention, either. 

She walked a few blocks and made her way into a nicer part of the city. At last she found a restaurant, a small place serving sandwiches and coffee. She went in and headed straight for the restroom. There she pixilated and floated up to the lights in the ceiling. She quickly made her way through the wiring to back of the place, and dropped down to the floor in the kitchen where a robot chef prepared food. 

Its electronic irises widened in surprise. When it spoke, the sound came through the speaker on its face, a horizontal slit below round red eyes. 

“You are not authorized for this area. Please leave immediately.”

She reached up to its head, her hand pixelating, and she shorted it out. The robot clattered to the floor. She walked over to its prep table and snatched up the sandwich it had been making for a customer. 

She had no money, and no means to acquire any in this digital economy. Hiding out with the other indents proved to be an easy way to make it, since they were fed on a regular basis. But out here on her own would necessitate additional thefts like this if she were to survive.

Raquel finished the sandwich and grabbed a second one the chef had prepared. Suddenly craving flesh and blood company (preferably the kind that did not smell like trash or urine), she walked out to the seating area where a handful of people were gathered. 

She sat down at an empty table and ignored the robot waitress, who had not yet noticed her. 

In a corner, a holovision showed the news, with an earnest (but probably artificial) anchorwoman who seemed to stare Raquel in the eyes while she talked. 

“. . . and the victims of what is now known as the ‘Fomalhaut Massacre’ are in good hands at Port Ryan’s Red Cross shelter.”

An image of Raleigh floated in the air over the woman’s shoulder. 

“In other news, Captain Christopher Raleigh of the Ultima Mule indicates that the other guests from their recent acquisition, the Aquamarine, a Mammoth-class luxury liner, are in good spirits at Mule Tower where they will remain confined until negotiations for their release are concluded . . .”

Raquel said to herself, “Mule Tower?”

She thought, those pirates own a building in this city? 

She took a last bite of the sandwich, picked up her satchel and walked back into the kitchen. The serving bot was back there now, bent over the robot chef. 

It looked up when Raquel entered and said, “You are not authorized— GZZZT!

Raquel reached over and shorted it out. The robot clattered down on top of the chef.  Out of sight from both electronic and human eyes, Raquel dissolved, her silver pixels rising up like vapor into the lights on the ceiling.