Back on the bridge of Ultima Mule, Raleigh addressed Kim, Pak, Granny, Maxwell, Samuel and Skylar.

He said, “We have a situation. This . . . indent . . . is obviously not who she said she was. Somehow StarCen faked the records well enough that it fooled Lootie. She almost killed Roddy and now she has digitized herself, or something. Lootie can’t sense her anymore.

“We’re not leaving until this threat is neutralized. I’m open to ideas. Anybody ever heard of somebody with this kind of ability, and more important, how do we stop her?”

Samuel said, “She sounds like one of us.”

Skylar nodded and said, “Some of the survivors of the Gemini Project had differing abilities. It’s possible this could be such a case.”

Raleigh said, “Okay. Any ideas on how to stop her?”

Everyone looked around, glancing at one another.

Pak said, “If she’s truly in a digital form, we should be able to fashion a trap. One that sucks her in when she’s in a transformative state and keeps her there. Kim and I have studied the footage LuteNet took of her disappearance, and we think we can cobble something together with the equipment onboard. It would involve modifying one of the anti-teleportation modules used in the grid.”

Raleigh said, “Okay, get on it. I want that trap delivered ASAP.”

Kim and Pak nodded. They both turned and headed for the elevator.

Maxwell said, “How are we going to entice her to show up, Captain? Right now she’s sitting in the catbird seat. She’s tucked away electronically and we can’t find her. All she has to do is wait us out. She knows we can’t transfer all those people in the hold over here, and she knows we won’t leave without them. We’re stuck.”

Raleigh said, “I’m open to ideas, Max. What would draw her out?”

“If it were me,” Granny said, “I’d be mighty concerned if someone decided to blow the ship up. I doubt her electronic state can survive in space.”

“She knows we’re not going to do that. I’m not letting hundreds of innocents perish just to catch one digital assassin. Not even in war.”

Maxwell said, “Wait. Who says we have to blow up the whole ship?”

“Go on.”

“We just threaten to short out the electrical system. Instead of a bomb, we bring over an EMP. No electricity, no digital assassin. Worst-case scenario is, we zap the ship’s grid. The tandem drives won’t be affected, they’re linked with ours. So we can still tow the Aquamarine. The passengers and crew will suffer a few days until we get into port, but we’ll arrive with no pesky human virus onboard.”

Raleigh said, “Gravity and life support? What happens when those go away too?”

“They’re on separate grids. I’ve been hanging out with the engineering boys long enough to know that. And by all accounts it looks like our assassin is in the elevator and lighting system. I’m pretty sure our boys could knock out the main electrical grid and leave gravity and life support alone. It would get dark, but everybody could still breath and their feet will stay on the floor.”

“That’s a great idea, Max. Go down and tell Pak and Kim to get on it. Then figure out the best place to set it all up. When everything’s ready, assemble a team to go over with the EMP and the trap. Make sure the trap will stay working after the EMP goes off, if we have to use it.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

As Maxwell turned to go, Raleigh addressed the twins.

He said, “I want you two to go over there and look for her. If she appears, or rematerializes or whatever, take her out. Don’t mess around. Understood? Keep a close eye on the tandem drives while you’re there and make sure they don’t get sabotaged.”

They both nodded. Samuel and Skylar flickered several times, then winked out of sight.

That left Granny and Raleigh standing alone on the bridge.

Granny said, “If this doesn’t work, Chris, maybe we should just leave that ship right here and come back with something that can handle all those passengers. It should be safe out here in the middle of nowhere.”

He shook his head.

“That’d be ten days they’d be stranded, minimum. There’s not enough food onboard. No, this is going to work.”

“It’s going to be heck for them traveling with no power. They’re going to be in the dark with no running water, all the way home.”

“They’ll survive. Hopefully just the threat of setting off an EMP will be enough to draw her out.”

“That ship’s not going to be worth much if we bring her in with no power, Chris.”

“If nothing else, the scrap yards will buy her. We’ll get something out of it.”

Granny sighed, unable to change his mind.

“Okay. You’re the Captain.”

“That’s right. I am the Captain, Quartermaster. We’ve got to figure out how StarCen was able to deceive LuteNet. A lot of things aren’t adding up. And, I’m not bringing an enemy of that capability to Lute if I can help it. Even if it costs us, which it already has. Our pilot is out for two days as it is.”

He left the bridge, taking an elevator capsule, leaving Granny alone.

She pulled out an unlit cigar and chomped down on it.

She said, “The pilot don’t really do much, anyway.”


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