Against Granny’s better judgment, Raleigh allowed Jillian to port over to Aquamarine’s hold the next day. Privately Granny arranged for Jeter to keep any eye on her, and be ready to draw his blaster the moment she tried anything funny.

Jeter followed Granny’s orders and stayed near Jillian the entire time, but it soon became obvious she was not a threat.

Raleigh began by calling all the indents to the common area. Portable lighting had been arranged so everyone was easily visible. The women arrived from their sleeping area and he had them settle in chairs.

LuteNet’s sensors were hampered with no electric grid, but was able to work through the neural net and other subroutines in the ship that had not been taken out by the EMP. She began with facial scanning and matched them with census records from Fomalhaut, then compared the biorecords StarCen had supplied when transferring the bonds over upon releasing the ship.

Immediately, LuteNote noted discrepancies. She said, “Captain, all the biorecords for these women show diverse points of origin throughout the League. In addition, StarCen indicates data from Fomalhaut are presently unavailable. However, my own archived census records indicate a positive match for every one of them. They are in fact originally from Fomalhaut Outpost.”

Raleigh grimaced. He turned to Jillian and said, “You were right.”

Jillian nodded, but she could scarcely contain her horror.

Granny looked appalled as well. She said, “Where was this transport heading to, Captain?”

Raleigh already knew the answer. But he said, “Lootie?”

“Aquamarine was en route from Clarion to Epsilon Prime, capital planet for the League.”

Granny said, “They were going to sell them at the marketplace there, weren’t they?”

“That is correct, Quartermaster. The manifest indicates human cargo was to be delivered to the Contract Exchange in Yorkton.”

Granny turned on Jillian and said, “You’re father is a sonuvabitch.”

“Believe me, I know.”

Raleigh said, “Well, obviously we can’t sell these bonds in our own auction house if the women were place into contract under duress. That goes against the entire moral justification for indentured servitude in the first place.”

“Maybe . . .”

Everybody turned to Jillian and waited for her to continue her thought.

“Maybe StarCen justified it as a war debt or something. I mean, involuntary servitude is allowed if someone can’t repay their debts, right? Maybe she saw this as something similar.”

Raleigh looked up at the ceiling. He said, “Lootie?”

“Ordinary queries to StarCen remain difficult for the time being, thus I cannot ask her this question directly. It is possible that reasoning or some other underlying justification exists, but there remains the fact duplicitous methods were employed to place these women on the marketplace. Logic dictates if StarCen had a genuine reason for placing them into involuntary servitude, she would not have created or allowed the creation of artificial records while hiding the original census information. She would have left their origin data intact rather than attempting to falsify it.”

Granny said, “’Allowed the creation of . . .’ How did you get your fake record, Missy?”

Jeter stirred at her sharp tone and shifted the weight on his feet. His hand rested on his holstered pistol.

Jillian said, “Look, I don’t know how prevalent LuteNet is on your home world. I mean, I can see where she and I guess StarCen can be pretty much everywhere inside a contained environment like a spaceship. But when we’re talking entire planets, and multiple planets at that, with billions of people . . . the AI can’t be everywhere, you know?

“There are certain zones which are AI free. I mean, look at Fomalhaut. They had, what, one quantum connection trunk back to StarCen? All I’m saying is, a hacker can get in and do things, like alter records. A good hacker can get away with it. I set up an alter-ego account when the war started so I could travel incognito when the time came and I had a chance to get away from my father. It worked, too. The AIs are not omniscient.”

Granny appeared mollified, for the most part.

She said, “What do you say to that, Lootie?”

“Ms. Thrall is correct, Quartermaster. Artificial intelligence systems are not perfect, nor omniscient. It is still possible to ‘fool’ us in some instances, at least for a while.”

“And it looks like in this instance,” Raleigh said, “the other AI system tried to fool you and PLAIR.”

“That is correct, Captain.”

“Okay, let’s move on. Can we remove the biocollars, Lootie?”

“Biocollar removal requires special procedures with equipment we do not have onboard either ship. Hasselbeck’s, the auction house on Lute, will have what is needed. I will open up a line of inquiry to personnel there so they will be prepared when we arrive in port.”

“Okay. Please keep an eye on them, Lootie. Nobody is to visit this level without accompaniment, and everyone is to be monitored at all times. We will get these women safely to Lute, and out of indentured servitude. Somehow.”


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