Julia Thrall walked into a conference room in Mule Tower and everyone at the table turned to look. Captain Christopher Raleigh stood when she came in.
Her sister Jillian sat at the table, along with Raleigh and Quartermaster Granny Wilcox.
Skylar Hawkens asked to be present, too, to sit in on the discussion. Julia gathered she and Jillian were close friends. Well, the cat is out of the bag, Julia thought to herself. Why not? Everybody knows who I am, here.
That thought left her feeling a little uncomfortable. She was, after all, Tetrarch Thrall’s oldest daughter. He had a well-deserved reputation as the most vicious Tetrarch in the League. He was fully committed to fighting the Republic, and all she stood for, to the very end.
But so far everyone in the pirate company had been very nice to her. The quarters they furnished her were down the hall from Jillian’s, and they remained unlocked. She had not tried to leave the building alone, but she suspected nobody would stop her if she walked out the door.
She had free meals up on the top floor cafeteria, and spent many hours catching up with Jillian over coffee and sandwiches. All told, things were quite delightful.
But now, it was time to move on.
Julia took her place at the table and said, “Thank you all for showing up, and thank you, Captain for all your hospitality. I greatly appreciate it.”
Raleigh nodded and smiled. He said, “Think nothing of it.”
“So, at this point I wanted to discuss my next moves. I appreciate your efforts in the war against the tyranny of my father and the other Tetrarchs, but I feel I can do more back behind the lines.”
Raleigh said, “Certainly, taking out one of the other Tetrarchs was a fine accomplishment.”
Julia wrinkled her nose and tugged at an earlobe.
She said, “Yeah, about that. Lopez was preparing to nuke her capital city, to eliminate the Marines coming down to depose her. So . . . the only way to stop her was to ‘take her out,’ as you put it.”
Granny’s mouth dropped open. She had not yet heard of the events transpiring on Juventas.
Raleigh said, “I take it you were grooming Lopez for a revolt against your father someday?”
“That was the plan, yes. But it turns out she was . . . unstable. That’s a good word for it. Our father never really trusted her, and he directed the Sixth Fleet to park in orbit around Juventas months ago. He must have sensed something was up. When she broached the idea of negotiating peace with the Republic, he portrayed that as treason and made his move.”
Raleigh rubbed his chin in thought. He said, “It does beg the question, if your father was not in place, might the League be more inclined to consider a truce?”
Julia shrugged. “Anything’s possible. At this point, given my history, I seriously doubt that StarCen would allow me to get near him. Besides, I don’t think I could kill my own father.”
Everyone shifted uneasily in their seats. Jillian locked eyes with her across the table.
Jillian said, “Yeah, Dad can be a rotten bastard at times. But . . . I’d hate to see him assassinated or anything.”
“If you do go back into League territory,” Raleigh said, “Won’t StarCen know who you are? Will she sound the alarm?”
“She’s had some programming changes. At the moment I have 18 different identities I can choose from. The framer device allows me to change my looks accordingly. StarCen recognizes all 18 and she’s programmed not to reveal my true identity to anyone.”
Granny’s eyebrows shot up. She pulled out an unlit cigar and chomped down on it.
She said, “How did you pull off that trick, missy?”
Julia smiled and said, “Well, there is an element of resistance in the League. Let’s just say some of them are high in the upper echelons of Star League’s Information Technology division.”
Jillian said, “Oh! I think I met one. He’s the one you set me up for my other identity.”
Julia said, “Actually that was just a freelance hacker. He could set things up to fool StarCen, but the people I’m talking about have global system administration privileges.”
“And those people are opposed to the Tetrarchy?” Raleigh said. “They could end the war right now.”
“It’s not that easy, Captain. Not everybody in IT at that level is part of the Resistance. The ones who are can only do so much without risk of exposure. And exposure means death. So, they seldom make serious modifications to our AI, and when they do they’re very careful about it.”
Raleigh said, “Yeah, okay. I imagine your identities are programmed into a much higher level than Jillian’s. Hers wasn’t that great of a job. Our AI, LuteNet, discovered discrepancies immediately when we captured the ship she was on. I guess it was good enough for StarCen, but when she traveled over to our side, it stuck out like a sore thumb.”
Julia nodded. She said, “We also have an advantage as daughters of a Tetrarch. People that high up in our social hierarchy are given a pass on a lot of security measures. Call of it a ruling family privilege, if you will. StarCen is programmed to ignore discrepancies and other things about us that might throw up a red flag for anyone else.”
“That’s convenient,” Skylar said, speaking up for the first time.
“I know, right?” Julia said. “It’s proven very convenient for me. And that’s another reason I’d like to get back to the League and do what I can to prevent our father from being successful.”
Raleigh said, “Lootie, what do you think? Is Ms. Thrall here on the up and up? Can she support efforts against the League better back over there?”
LuteNet’s rich contralto voice filled the room. She said, “I sense no deception, Captain. Everything about Julia Thrall’s story has checked out. Based on her past actions, I would say she indeed shows more inclination against the League than for it.”
Raleigh said, “Hm. That’s an interesting way of putting it.”
“I can do more for the Republic going back to the League, Captain.”
Julia smiled at him, confidently.
Raleigh nodded. “Okay. No one seems to be able to think of a reason not to let you go. Lootie, when is the next ship headed back into League territory?”
“The Salamander is on its way here. Captain Estes has been more than willing to deliver personnel and materiel wherever is needed.”
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that fella,” Granny said. “They say he can smuggle anyone anywhere. That’s a good ride for you to hitch, missy.”
Raleigh said, “When’s the Salamander due in port, Lootie?”
“Three days from now, Captain. I will inform you and Ms. Thrall when it is in orbit.”