Condor Rising 18

“We want to try and rouse as little suspicion as possible,” Anthony Kim said to the people standing before him in the Mule’s disembarkation room. “So that means we want to send you two down to the surface in one jump, without spacesuits. That also means we want to drop you off in an appropriate room in the spaceport. Preferably one that’s deserted.”

Biff and Julia nodded, taking in his words. They stood in a small group with Raleigh, Jillian, Granny, and Skylar.

“You’ll probably want the D wing, then,” Biff said. “That’s actually on the second floor. It was reserved for Republican ships before the war. It’s not used much these days.”

Granny said, “But to get them there in one jump, Kimbo, we’ll have to get in closer.”

“That’s right,” Kim said, ignoring her nickname for him. “We can’t do a double jump on people without them wearing spacesuits. And showing up in a spaceport wearing spacesuits will look very suspicious. So, we send them in and we pull them out in one jump.”

“We’re both staying,” Biff said, looking at Julia. She nodded in agreement.

“How long are we thinking it will take for you to find and retrieve that device?” Skylar said. “The longer we have to linger in that solar system, the greater risk of detection, right Tony?”

Kim nodded. “It’s certainly possible there’s more sensor coverage on planetary bodies like asteroids and moons in this system. Plus if they disperse the fleet, or what’s left of the fleet, after we show up, they’ll increase what StarCen can see. They’ll provide her with more eyes in the sky, so to speak.”

“Not my idea of our best plan ever, Kimbo,” Granny said.

Raleigh smiled at her.

“So you’ve said, repeatedly, Granny.” Raleigh turned back to Kim and said, “How close do we think we’ll be arriving after the Thespar vessel?”

“Lootie is a little hazy since she doesn’t know much about the Osprey, but she’s been stretching out our jumps as much as possible. We might get close. If we’re lucky, within half an hour or so.”

Raleigh grimaced. He said, “I wish it were sooner.”

“We’ll find her,” Biff said. “StarCen will help, actually. Worse case, I can put out an APB.”

Raleigh said, “Well, I hope you don’t get in trouble with your department showing back up unexpectedly like this.”

“They’re not paying any attention,” Biff said. “I don’t expect any trouble, in that regard.”

“Alright,” Raleigh said. “Let’s meet back here within half an hour of arrival and we’ll go over the final plans.”

As the group dispersed, Jillian stayed with Julia. Biff seemed to want Julia for himself, if his body language was an accurate indicator, but Jillian ignored his signals. After a while he gave up and left them alone. The two sisters walked down the corridor alone.

Jillian said, “I just really hate the idea of you going back to Juventas, Julia. When am I going to see you again?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Julia said. “I’ve got some programming tricks up my sleeve with StarCen. You’re the one to worry about if anyone is going to worry. I’m not sure ‘pirate’ is what you’d call a safe occupation.”

Jillian smiled. She said, “With Chris and the Mule and all the crew, I feel like I’m finally doing something with my life, you know? I know you arranged for me to take the holo to a contact, and that spy stuff was thrilling. But I’m not sure I’m made out to be a spy. Not like you are, anyway.”

“Well, to be effective as a spy, there’s a lot of prep work and months and months of boring stuff before anything exciting happens.”

“Like getting married?”

They both laughed. Julia said, “Biff has his uses. Since he’s a cop, I had access to everything he knew. That proved very useful when push came to shove. He’s useful in other ways, too. You know, I enjoyed married life for those brief months we shared a flat in Yorkton.”

“Do you love him?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“But you left him.”

“This war . . . stopping it . . . stopping Dad . . . that’s bigger and more important than anything else, Jillian. It’s more important than a marriage to somebody Biff thought was somebody else. It’s bigger than my love for him.”

She stopped walking and stared into Jillian’s eyes.

Julia said “Does that make sense?”

“Yes. But you still love him, right?”

“Yes.”

“And does he love you, even though he now knows that you are not Andi Jones but in fact the Tetrarch’s daughter and part of one of the most powerful families in the galaxy?”

“Yes. I think so. I mean, he certainly acts like it. We’ve done a lot of talking the last few weeks, and he seems like he’s come to grips with it. I mean . . . there are times he wants me to wear my old face, you know? But I think he understands that no matter what I look like on the outside, I’m still the same person on the inside. The face he fell in love with belongs in our past. But he seems to be in love with me now . . . the same person, only with a different face.”

“Hm. I can see how that’d be hard on him. Guys are so focused on looks, you know?”

“I know. But underneath all those muscles, Biff has a heart of gold. And I do believe he loves me. The real me, not the face of Andi Jones.”

“Nice pseudonym, by the way, invoking Mom that way.”

“I know, right? I miss her. I thought I was honoring her by taking her name.”

“Let’s just hope nobody puts two and two together.”

Julia shook her head. “They won’t. Not as long as the alterations made to StarCen’s core hold up.”

“You’re confident in what those programmers did?”

Julia smiled, grimly. She said, “Yes, I’m very confident. I’m staking my life on it.”

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