How could it go so wrong?

That thought kept storming through Julia’s mind as she made her way to the spaceport.

First, she took the stairs from her apartment down to the basement. There were no monitors inside the building, unlike some more expensive properties. However, there were plenty out on the street. One in particular recorded who entered and exited her building through the main door.

Fortunately for Julia, the basement had a doorway leading into the storm sewer. It had been placed there for maintenance crews. There was a monitor there, too, but she knew it was disabled. Yorkton’s Capital City Police Force had 11,652 monitors scattered throughout the city. Of those, 4,671 were malfunctioning or otherwise disabled. That one, she knew, had been broken for months. She also knew there was little incentive to replace monitors in low crime or low traffic areas.

Such was the knowledge she gained by being married to a cop. She laughed when he told her about the committees he had to serve on. Whoever heard of cops serving on committees? But such was the power sharing arrangement in the police force. Few decisions were made without committees comprised of officers on the force as well as upper management.

Biff was on the Monitors Committee, and he took his work home. And everything the Monitors Committee knew about the monitors in Yorkton, Julia knew.

So, she walked past the disabled monitor and through the storm drain tunnel for three blocks.

One more monitor at a manhole cover exiting into an alley between two buildings had been destroyed by a masked thug months ago. It was not on the list of priority replacements, either.

The manhole cover cracked open an inch and Julia scanned the alley carefully. Finding it empty, she gently moved it aside and extracted herself from the hole before replacing the cover.

Dusting off her blouse, she walked out to the street and down to the nearest skybus stop.

Unlike Lute, which was small enough that Customs and the Port of Entry could be handled through the Administration Building, Juventas required its own spaceport. Julia used tokens to travel there, privately grateful for the anonymity.

Tokens were tolerated by the city because everyone was subject to facial and discreet iris scans upon boarding the bus. But Julia’s new face, tied to a separate identity in StarCen’s records, did not set off any alarms.

Halfway to the spaceport, she noticed the public holovision in the bus showing her old face. Her head rotated in a high-definition image with words underneath saying, “Alert! If you see this woman, contact CCPF immediately!”

That face, she thought, had been a construct, just as her current one. The technology was so advanced, few knew it even existed. A touch of the amulet gave her a new identity. The hacking into StarCen’s database to line up records with the faces meant she had at least a dozen identities she could use. One touch of the amulet and her face would change, down to the molecular structure. Even her fingerprints and irises changed.

Her DNA did not change, and that was the whole setup’s kryptonite. If someone obtained her saliva, or a hair sample, they could trace it back to Julia Thrall no matter what face she presented to the world at the time.

Fortunately, she knew that StarCen had some safeguards in place falling under the special considerations for Tetrarch family members. For instance, right now if someone examined her DNA on Juventas, it would show in the records as belonging to Andi Jones.

Still, it would not do to have her DNA found at a crime scene, if it could be avoided. StarCen was smart enough to tie whatever was found to the Andi Jones identity. But if someone were to ever get suspicious and start pulling records from different sites at different times and somehow get past StarCen’s safeguards . . . well, that could be very bad indeed.

The risk did offer a certain thrill, and each time she changed identities she had to admit to herself that the adrenaline rush was . . . pleasant.

Was she addicted to danger? An adrenaline junkie?

If she were honest with herself, the answer would be yes. However, navel-gazing bored her, so she sidestepped the question.

The skybus landed and she exited with the other passengers at the spaceport. She walked through the security line, subjecting her bag and person to the scanners.

Inside, she gazed at the hologram sign showing departures and chose a spaceship. The Coral Reef was scheduled to depart within a few hours, and had plenty of room. By the number of empty berths available, Julia guessed she was a Mammoth-class ship.

Julia got in line at a booth without many people. She tugged at her earlobe, nervously. Within minutes she faced the booth’s android, a very human-looking female, completely realistic from the waist up. Without glancing down, Julia guessed the bot had no legs, and was a permanent fixture at this booth. She would sit here and smile, answering questions and selling tickets non-stop, all day and night.

Julia said, “I’d like to book passage on the Coral Reef to Epsilon Prime, please.”

The bot smiled at her and a scanning ray quickly checked her biomarkers.

“Very well, Ms. Mulligan. Would you prefer a first class or second class cabin? I’m afraid third class has several indentured servants, and is unavailable at this time. But, there’s lots of room in the other two available.”

“First class, please.” Julia reached into her duffel bag and pulled out the appropriate amount in credit tokens.

The bot smiled and took her money. She said, “The next port up to the Coral Reef is in twelve minutes, from Disembarkation Zone 15. If you’d like to make your way over there, you will find it down the corridor to your right.”

The bot helpfully pointed in the right direction before saying, “My I help the next person in line, please?”

Julia nodded and walked down to Disembarkation Zone 15.

Half an hour later, she was settled in a cabin in orbit above Juventas.

Later that evening, fully loaded with all passengers aboard, the Coral Reef popped out of existence and began its journey toward Epsilon Prime. Julia pulled out a wrinkle-free evening gown and a pair of black high heels. She changed and left her room, searching for something to eat.


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