Jose Oliver Hernandez, former Captain of the starship Aquamarine, looked up from his neural holovision at the strange twinkling lights coming from the door to his cabin.
Something, or someone, seemed to be flowing out of the palm reader.
Hernandez had remained in his quarters since ceding the ship. He had plenty of food and water, and he had not been overly concerned about the fact LuteNet kept his door locked so long as the AI system honored his entertainment requests. Movies and books appeared in perfect clarity in front of his eyes, letting him while away the time in leisure.
But now, somebody was entering his room somehow. He watched as pixels coalesced like digital smoke, slowly solidifying. An attractive woman wearing a silver indent’s unitard materialized.
He stood up, confused and alarmed.
“Who are you? Why aren’t you in the hold with the others? How did you get in here?”
The beautiful blonde approached him with one hand behind her back.
She said, “Captain Hernandez, this ship was not supposed to be lost to the enemy. And you know too much to fall into their hands.”
His brows furrowed in confusion at her directness. He said, “It’s not my fault the ship was captured by pirates. StarCen plotted the course that led to our engines getting zapped. Then she was unable to prevent their drones from taking out our standard drives. And why am I talking about this to an indentured servant, anyway?”
Raquel smiled, with a fierce glint in her eyes. She said, “Because this servant remains loyal to the League. StarCen sends her regards.”
The stab came lightning quick. Her hand shot out from behind her back and into the Captain’s chest, just below the sternum. He gasped and sank to his knees when she pulled it out.
“You’ll be happy to know,” she said as he struggled to keep the blood from flowing out of the wound, “that I have more time to attend to you than the last person.”
She stabbed him in the eye and he collapsed to the floor.
The Mule’s droid doc looked up from Hernandez’s corpse and said, “I am so sorry. There is no hope for this one. The cranial incisions are deep. There’s been too much damage and too much blood has been lost.”
The android looked up at Samuel and Skylar with warmth and compassion. Droid docs were programmed to be especially sensitive when discussing death.
“I regret to inform you, he has passed.”
Samuel and Skylar looked down at the body and nodded, ignoring the droid’s programmed empathy.
Samuel made a connection to Raleigh via the neural network.
“She got Captain Hernandez. LuteNet’s recording shows her coming and going through the door panel. Told him StarCen sends her regards.”
Raleigh’s voice came back to his inner ear.
“Was it quick? Any idea where she went?”
“It was messy. She took her time this time, and made sure he stayed down. She slipped away through the door’s electronics again.”
“Keep an eye on things over there, Samuel. Pay particular attention to the tandem drives and don’t let her sabotage them. Kim and Pak are almost done and we’ll port them over when they’re ready.”
Samuel nodded and ended the connection. He looked at Skylar and said, “We’re to wait down in engineering. Make sure and prevent any damage.”
She nodded, and they both flickered away.
Maxwell said, “Alright, LuteNet. Port us over with the equipment, please.”
Kim and Pak both popped out of existence, then Maxwell and Granny. The equipment the engineers had been working on popped away, too.
They all appeared in Aquamarine’s engine room. Kim and Pak reached down and grabbed opposite handles on a rectangular unit half a meter high and about 200 centimeters wide. They carried it over to the elevator, set it down with a metallic Thump, and positioned it facing the palm reader.
Pak walked back to the room’s control panels while Kim stayed with the unit. Kim reached over and pressed a combination of buttons on the back. The unit started up with a hum.
Ever curious about gadgets and devices, Maxwell studied the box carefully.
He said, “What is that, and what does it do?”
Kim said, “It’s an electromagnetic radiation absorber. It works using advanced anisotropic crystals. It’ll suck her in and trap her when she’s in a digitized state while coming out of the palm reader.”
“I see. And will it work?”
“We’re about to find out, Mr. Maxwell.”
“I guess we are. Well, let’s hope this EMP bomb y’all rigged up doesn’t zot that thing out and let her get away.”
Pak answered from the control grid where he finished attaching a small box inside one of the panels. He said, “We took steps to prevent that from happening. The trap is shielded from EMPs. This unit here I’ve rigged to affect only the main electric grid. Gravity and life support should not be affected. The trap should not be affected, also. I’ve got it hooked up to my neural net, so when I give the signal the lights will go out.”
Samuel and Skylar flickered into existence.
“Where have you two been?” Granny asked, mildly spooked by their sudden appearance.
“We’ve been here all along,” Samuel said with a smile.
Skylar walked over and examined the radiation absorber curiously.
Maxwell said, “Okay. Everybody look alive. I’m going to try and lure our digital gremlin in here.”
Granny nodded and drew her blaster. Maxwell took his out, too. So did Kim and Pak.
Maxwell touched below his ear and activated the neural coms.
He said, “Lootie, patch me into this ship’s PA system.”
“Done, First Officer Maxwell.”
“Uh, hello there Raquel Kirkland. I presume you can hear me. We have onboard an electro-magnetic bomb that will wipe out the ship’s electrical system. Yeah, if I were you I would not want to be in one of the circuits when that happened. No telling what fun stuff could occur. Why, you could just cease to exist, or maybe materialize in the middle of some wiring somewhere. Ouch.
“Anyhoo, let’s talk. I am in the Engine Room. Why don’t you come by for a visit and we can discuss this like reasonable people? Okay, Lootie. Patch me out.”
Everyone pointed their guns at the elevator’s palm reader. Samuel and Skylar spread out and kept their attention on the elevator area, too.
Maxwell said, “The moment she starts materializing, everyone knows what to do. Do not play around with this woman.”
He stood beside the others and carefully aimed his blaster at the palm reader, and took a deep breath.