Unseen by Tetrarch Thrall, Raquel’s electronic essence flitted through the wiring of the house, leaving his office.
She streamed out of the lighting in her own room, a cascade of silver pixels quickly forming into her body.
She often lingered near Thrall in her electronic form, listening and watching. Part of it had to do with her affection for him, and the fact she liked to be near him. Part of it was a desire to fight boredom. But part of it also was a desire to learn things she was not supposed to know.
This was certainly one of those times. Thrall would not be taking her with him on his trip to Epsilon. Of that, she was certain.
She thought back to the last man she had a relationship with, Roddy Rodriguez. Would Roddy have . . . grown tired of her? Was she getting old?
She looked in the mirror. No. She did not think she looked old.
“Is he just getting bored with me?” she said out loud.
There was, of course, no one to talk it over with. She had no friends, no one in whom she could confide.
All she had was Julius. And if he left her, she would have no one else.
He knocked at her door, making her jump. She recovered quickly and opened it for him.
He smiled at her with that handsome face of his, the one with aged eyes that knew power and authority so well. The face she had fallen in love with when he rescued her from Raton Five.
He said, “I’m going to Epsilon. Something’s come up with Munk there and I’m taking a ship out tonight.”
“Oh. I haven’t seen Edgar in forever. I’ll pack!”
“No, stay here. I don’t want you traveling. It’s still dangerous. I won’t be gone long.”
The look of hurt and betrayal on her face stopped him. He put a hand on her cheek.
“Don’t take it so hard, darling. I’ll be back soon. Okay?”
She nodded, not meeting his eyes. He turned and walked down the hall to his room. She knew he would pack and teleport away soon.
When the door slid shut, she said, “Starcen, what ship is the Tetrarch taking to go to Epsilon?”
She thought she would have clearance for the answer. Sure enough, StarCen responded immediately.
“Tetrarch Thrall is taking the SLS Intrepid to Epsilon. It departs in about three hours.”
What she would not have clearance for, would be to teleport up there. Transit to Naval ships was heavily regulated. She thought about how long it took to get down to the surface undetected from the last Navy ship she was on. No, hitching a ride on the Intrepid would be difficult, especially with so little time left to sneak onboard.
Out loud she said, “What other ships are headed to Epsilon Prime soon?”
StarCen listed four leaving within a day, including one taking off later tonight, the Riptide. That ship was on a long circuitous route between League planets.
“Book me passage on the Riptide, please. First Class.”
It would be easiest if StarCen simply ported her up to the ship. Julius had given her access to an account. She would use it for this. There was the matter of her biocollar. Indents typically did not travel alone. Maybe she could wear a scarf. Or perhaps she would follow someone up to the ship and act like she belonged to them for a while.
“Very well, Ms. Kirkland. You are scheduled to depart in less than five hours.”
Julius Thrall would have company on Epsilon, she thought, looking into the mirror with a smile. He’ll just never know it.
The SLS Sagittarius popped into existence in orbit around Juventas. One of twelve Naval supply ships making regular runs between Epsilon and the four capital planets, the Sagittarius carried food, parts, energy packs, replacement uniforms, and sundry other items needed by the Navy and its massive support network.
Captain Joyce Thompson, a woman of medium height and American Indian ancestry, breathed a sigh of relief when she found the area void of Republican warships. StarCen had sent her here as fast as possible, taking extra long jumps the whole way. They made it before the fireworks started, she thought.
StarCen said, “Captain Briggs of the Extol is calling, Captain Thompson.”
“Put it through.”
She received a voice-only call over her neural connection.
Briggs said, “We are glad to see you, Captain!”
“Yes. I’ve got something you can use. Let StarCen know which ships you’d like the solar torpedoes in, and she’ll send them over.”
“Excellent. We have been waiting quite anxiously for these. I wish there were more than three.”
“It’ll have to be enough, for now.”
Briggs said, “We have increased system surveillance, too, thanks to a prior incident, and we noticed an additional ship appeared half an AU away at the same time you came into orbit. Do you know anything about that?”
She said, “A little. I know it’s the Tetrarch’s pet project, and it’s designed to help out when the bogeys get here. Just ignore it for now, I’m told it will remain farther out until things get hot.”
“I see. Well, if the Tetrarch thinks that’s best, then we’ll just ignore it.”
Thompson nodded, although Briggs couldn’t see her.
She said, “I’m going to unload everything and depart within the hour, Captain. I don’t want to be here for the light show.”
“Understood, Captain. Have a good trip and many thanks for this delivery.”
StarCen proceeded to unload the Sagittarius’s cargo and, true to her word, Thompson departed soon after.
Less than an hour later, the Diego Fleet arrived.