At long last they were moving again. Jillian knew because she noticed the icon on the star map resumed its forward progress. For some reason they had stopped for a while. But nobody came in and told her anything.

She tried not to worry about it and returned attention to her romance novel, the words floating in the air in front of her face.

The door opened and Raleigh walked in unannounced. His expression looked severe. She made the book disappear with a wave and stood to greet him.

She said, “Hi! I see we’re moving again. What was the delay?”

“Who are you?”

The way he snarled it scared her. He suddenly seemed very big, and she became fully aware of just how much more muscle mass he carried. She was tiny in comparison.

He moved closer and she could feel his anger. It radiated like heat from his face. She took a step backwards and held up her hands.

“Captain . . . we established who I am. Your own AI confirms who I am: Jillian Thrall, Tetrarch Thrall’s daughter.”

She hated to invoke her father’s name, the name of one of the most powerful men in the galaxy, and perhaps the most evil one. But with the look on Raleigh’s face she did not hesitate to use whatever leverage that name could lend her at the moment.

It seemed to work. He stopped moving toward her. Now he simply stared at her, anger burning in his eyes.

She said, “What happened? What’s going on? Captain, I’ve been locked up in here forever and nobody has told me anything.”

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to control his blood pressure and slow down his racing heart. The adrenaline slowly leeched out of him.

“I’m sorry. It’s just . . . I lost a good man just now and my pilot is still in sickbay. Not to mention my counterpart on your ship, Captain Hernandez, is also dead.”

Jillian’s eyes grew wide with the news. No wonder they had not moved in hours, she thought.

“How? What happened?”

“My pilot became enraptured with an indentured servant down in the hold. He bought her bond. In a private moment he showed her his knife for some foolish reason. She grabbed it and stabbed him.”

Jillian realized her mouth was open. She shut it. Raleigh turned and began pacing the length of the cabin, burning off restless energy as he spoke.

He said, “It turns out she was part of the Gemini Project experiments. Are you familiar with those?”

She shook her head.

“It’s a long story. Suffice it to say, the few who survived came out of it with some extraordinary capabilities. In this case, the indent could digitize herself and traverse the ship’s electric grid. That’s how she got into the Captain’s cabin and killed him. We set up a trap for her down in the engine room. She killed one of my crew, who happened to be another Gemini survivor. We captured her after taking out the Aquamarine’s electrical system.”

He stopped pacing and faced her, anger simmering in his eyes.

He said, “That’s two people dead and one seriously injured because of falsified data from StarCen. You’re here under falsified data, too. You’ll to have to excuse me if I don’t exactly trust you right now, Ms. Thrall.”

She gasped, realizing now what he had been thinking.

Jillian said, “But, Captain . . . StarCen didn’t falsify my data, I did. Or rather, the hacker I paid did. I created a false persona in StarCen’s registry that I could use to try and escape from my father. I’m not somebody pretending to be someone I’m not . . . I mean, I was. But I’m not now.

“Oh, this is bad. How can I get you to see that I’m genuinely who I am saying I am? I know I was traveling with a fake identity, but you’ve got to believe me when I tell you whyI was traveling under false pretenses.”

He deflated suddenly, all the anger and adrenaline gone. He sat down in a chair and slumped, with a look of utter defeat. Her heart fluttered in sympathy at his helplessness.

He ran his fingers through his hair and said, “I don’t know what to believe anymore, or who. I used to think the indentured servant subroutine was sacrosanct among the AIs. Now I’m not so sure. StarCen took it upon herself to lie . . . to lie about an indent’s record! That’s absolutely unheard of. This lady either doesn’t have a real biocollar on, or it’s been overridden somehow. But evidently StarCen violated all the rules, rules that are followed even in warfare. She allowed this woman’s bond to be sold, when she’s not really a servant.”

He took a deep breath again and let it out slowly. He said, “The AIs established rules for themselves. And we’re all expected to follow them, too. But what happens when the AIs start playing loose with their own rules?”

Jillian sat down too and covered her mouth with one hand, thinking.

Then she lifted a finger and said, “It had to be a fake. The biocollar subroutine automatically dampens aggression and makes subjects more compliant, more subservient and open to suggestions, especially for those originating from their designated bondholders. And a murder has never occurred in the entire history of the program.”

She smiled, self-deprecatingly and said, “I know these things because as a family member in the ruling class you pick up a thing or two. But you’re right. There is no way an indent could have stabbed his or her bondholder like that, or attack others.”

Raleigh let out another heavy sigh and said, “Well, now we’ve got to go through all 800 indents and make sure they are not killers in disguise, too. I doubt any of them are Intangibles like this Raquel Kirkland is, but we’re going to have to double check records and see if LuteNet can test the collars somehow, to see if they’re working properly.”

He looked at her and his eyes narrowed, carrying strong implications. She swallowed hard, but found herself drawn to those eyes, even at this moment when he was not looking at her with positive emotions.

He said, “There’s no way we can release a bunch of killers disguised as indents throughout the Republic. I have no idea if this is some vast scheme by StarCen, or what. But we’ve got to look at each and every one of those girls. We’ll do it at our next stop, tomorrow.”

A thought struck Jillian, and with it her face dropped and her eyes went to the floor.

Raleigh said, “What is it?”

She said, “Where did the girls come from? I mean, I know they were traveling from my planet. But where did they originate?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t looked that closely at the manifest. Why?”

She made a motion next to her forehead and the holovideo of her father appeared again.

Tetrarch Thrall’s green eyes glinted into the camera. He said, “Save only the youngest and most attractive women and put biocollars on them. Kill everyone else . . .”


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