Raquel Kirkland pixelated down from the lights in the women’s restroom inside a sandwich shop.
She looked over her reflection in the mirror critically, then splashed some water on her face.
Actually, she thought, I don’t look too bad for having been so long in the wires.
Raquel had spent days searching throughout Epsilon’s urban area, looking for the Resistance. To their credit, she could find no sign of the movement or its people.
She knew they existed. They must exist. But they were nowhere to be found.
She thought if anyone knew anything about the Resistance, it would be SSI. But there too she discovered a paucity of knowledge. SSI had no greater grasp of where the Resistance was or who its members were on Epsilon than she did.
Their biggest success had come when university students tried to start up an informal chapter, or something. Raquel was unclear on the details. But not a single student rounded up had any direct knowledge of the Resistance. All they knew about was the organizational meeting they were attending when SSI showed up.
She also confirmed their fate. SSI used them as guinea pigs for their new hacked version of the biocollars. The girl named Caroline was in this group. She found this information very intriguing, and she discovered the location of Facility 16 where most of the students were still being held. Some had died under torture.
Raquel walked out of the restroom and sat at a table in the shop. Time for supper, she thought.
“Hi there! What can I get you today?”
The server was a late model female android, programmed to cheerfully interact with customers. It was an expensive addition to the small shop, and looked very human.
Raquel ordered a hot roast beef sandwich and a soft drink from the server droid, paying in credit tokens to avoid leaving a digital trail. The droid returned shortly with her food.
“How are we doing today? Is everything alright? You look like tired. Can I get you anything else?”
Raquel ignored the droid and started eating. Eventually it went away to tend to other customers.
At least I can’t hurt its feelings, she thought.
If she were to be honest with herself, she thought, her own feelings were changing about a lot of things.
Whereas before, she had no compunctions about serving Thrall, and by extension the League, now she felt more and more certain that they were on the wrong side of this war.
For one thing, in all her time with the pirates she never saw such outrageous cruelties as hacked biocollars being used by Raleigh and his people.
In fact, the opposite occurred. When the Ulitma Mule Company realized all the indents they captured were pressed into service involuntarily, they repatriated the women. They gave up millions of credits on the auction block to do this, so it was not a minor sacrifice. But it was the right thing to do. It was what any decent, kindhearted person would do.
As a former indent herself, that meant a lot.
Finally, her thoughts kept coming back to Roddy. She had abused his trust, treated him poorly, shot him, even. Yet still he continued to treat her well. Even though she did not deserve it, he acted with kindness and compassion toward her all the way to the end.
If she were honest, the way Roddy had treated her affected her entire perception of the Republic as much as Raleigh’s treatment of the false indents. Roddy’s memory held up especially well when compared to how men in the League treated her. Men like Jeter. And Thrall.
Thrall’s dumping her for another woman still brought an ache to her heart.
Well, dumping is the wrong word, she thought. He was going to leave for a while and enjoy someone new. Because he’s a man, and men are pigs unwilling to commit.
That’s harsh, she thought. Not all men are pigs. But Julius certainly is.
So now . . . what to do? She had played both sides, acting as a sort of double agent. She had done all the things Thrall and Munk had asked of her.
Now she felt like changing sides, once and for all. If I have to pick a side, she thought, I want to be on the side that treats indents well.
But to do that . . . to do that effectively and change sides here on Epsilon, she had to join up with the Resistance. And the Resistance was not easy to find. Extraordinarily so.
Raquel had searched every databank she could find. No one in government knew anything about the Resistance. Even SSI was stumped.
The door swished open and a woman walked into the sandwich shop. She headed to the take out counter rather than finding a table.
The serving droid hurried over to her.
“Hi there! What can I get you?”
“Two Ruebens. Hold the mayo on one, extra tomatoes and black olives on the other. Two liter bottles of Chianti tea. One large bag of seaweed chips.”
“Coming right up! This is to go? On the run and out and about, are we?”
The woman nodded. She said, “Got a long drive ahead.”
“Oh really? Where you going?”
Dear Lord, Raquel thought. Why do they have to make these things so annoying?
“I work for Thespar. We’re headed to our facilities several klicks out.”
Raquel’s ears perked up, although she gave no outward indication of her increased interest. Thespar was one of the largest military companies in the League. And they had a facility out of town. Of course, they would have facilities everywhere. They were huge.
But . . . she had found absolutely nothing of any worth about the Resistance in all her snooping around the city. Maybe she was looking in the wrong place? Surely not.
On the other hand . . . Raquel had a highly developed sense of curiosity. Snooping around one of Thespar’s top secret facilities might be fun. Maybe she could learn something that might actually help the Resistance if she ever found them. And right now she had little else to do, anyway.
The serving droid returned with the lady’s order, cheerfully wishing her a safe journey. As she walked out the door, Raquel followed.
The woman hopped into a white ground van parked at the curb. Without even thinking about it, Raquel instantly pixilated and entered the van’s taillight.
She was used to remaining in her electronic state for hours, so she settled into the vehicle’s wiring and remained there for the duration of the trip.
After the van went down into the subterranean parking garage and its occupants left, she pixeled out of a headlight then up to a light in the ceiling. She went exploring.
Basil Garcia stifled a yawn as he walked into the core control room. Panch was already there this morning, the older man munching on a mouthful from the cafeteria.
Food and drink were not allowed in the control room. Pancho skirted this rule by stuffing his mouth full of food before entering, then spending several minutes chewing on it. Basil thought the efforts violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the regulations. The old programmer shrugged when he had asked about it, early on.
“It’s not against the rules to have your mouth full,” Panch had said.
At least, that’s what Basil thought he said. It sounded like, “Ih nohgen ru’s t’hah y’mou fuh.”
By now, Basil was used to it, and he settled into his seat listening to Rivera chew on his overstuffed mouthful of breakfast.
He looked up at the holoscreen and noted the cluster of numbers. Their modifications held up, and as usual they paid close attention to any monitoring of the altered data. If someone went looking for code, they wanted to know about it.
He flicked a wrist at the screen and examined the code they had modified for Lexi. Basil breathed a little easier, as he always did these days when finding her modifications remained undetected.
A movement caught his eye. He and Rivera turned in their seats and watched as a stream of pixels flowed down from the ceiling lights, coalescing to form a beautiful blonde woman wearing a gunmetal gray biocollar.
She smiled at the two men.
Panch swallowed the last of his food in a noisy gulp.
He said, “Who are you?”
Raquel said, “I’m the ghost in the machine. And, I’d like to join the Resistance!”