Raquel leaned back in a seat in the control room, munching on a bag of popcorn and arching her back. The men in the other two chairs peeked a glance at her while she stretched.
This was a blatant violation of the rules, eating in the control room, but neither Panch nor Basil made any efforts to stop her. There was literally nothing they could do about it, anyway.
Raquel had the entire run of the place, as she had so ably demonstrated multiple times to everybody. When she first appeared, El tried to have her locked up for questioning. Raquel was having none of that, and efforts by guards to grab her were completely futile. She simply pixilated away every time someone tried to grab her.
Madam Outfitter actually shot at her once, with a blaster. That did not work, either. They discovered energy bolts and other objects simply sailed right through her body.
Finally, everyone at the station came to accept the fact she was here and there was no way to evict her by force, or capture her, or make her do anything she did not want to do.
Their concerns over her knowledge of the facility were eased, though, over time. Raquel had made no effort to leave, and had not alerted SSI or anyone else.
An uneasy trust had subsequently grown between the Resistance and Raquel, one based on the fact they could do nothing about her presence, or her knowledge about them, and she had not threatened their existence.
That did not mean they discussed ways of getting rid of her in private. One such meeting held in a secure conference room was interrupted when she floated down out of the lights and took a seat at the table before the stunned participants.
She smiled at everybody and said, “Talking about me?”
Afterward, discussions about Raquel were moved offsite. Even then, participants remained gun shy, always anticipating her to appear in their midst at the drop of a hat.
But the fact remained she had not revealed anything about the Resistance to anyone, and steadily offered to help them. After several days, they accepted her. She knew everything anyway, and they could not capture her, nor had she threatened them. She was gradually accepted into the fabric of their daily lives.
She also ignored rules like the prohibition on food in the control room. Who could stop her?
Raquel swallowed a mouthful of popcorn and said, “That’s a brilliant plan.”
She looked over the readouts on the holo, showing what the two programmers had recently altered in the AI’s core.
“A little sabotage here, a little there. I like it.”
Basil said, “It’s, uh, kinda like what those in forced labor camps did against the Nazis in World War II.”
“Really? That is so smart, Basil. I just love historical references like that.”
She batted her eyelashes at him.
Panch cleared his throat and cast an irritated glance at both of them.
He said, “I was the one who mentioned that, originally.”
Raquel ignored him. She said, “What other things do you know, Basil? You are so intelligent.”
Basil flushed, partly in embarrassment, partly in pride. Panch rolled his eyes.
The door swished open and El walked in. She frowned at the bag of popcorn and the kernels on the floor, but said nothing. Overlooking such minor transgressions seemed prudent, she thought.
The subject, as El and Madam Outfitter had started calling Raquel, seemed unduly attracted to Basil Garcia for some reason. The two women could not figure out why. Neither found Basil all that much to look at. He seemed pleasant enough in conversation, but he was too young and slender for either woman’s taste.
Obviously, his age was no deterrent to Raquel, who seemed to almost stalk him throughout the facility. El would have to have a discussion with the young man at some point, although the question remained how they could have a private conversation. The Intangible had shown an irritating capacity for eavesdropping on most everything.
But El had a plan. If it worked, Raquel would be absent for a while.
“Good. I’m glad you’re here, Ms. Kirkland. We would like to request your assistance in a certain matter involving SSI. If you would follow me, please.”
This tweaked the blonde’s attention. She stood, brushing off popcorn from her blouse. She handed the bag to Basil.
“I’m all ears. Let’s go.”
Together the two women walked out of the room.
Panch looked down at the bag of popcorn Basil held.
He said, “Don’t eat that in here.”
“I can tell you where SSI Facility 16 is. But, I’m afraid I don’t have a whole lot of info on SSI. Not info that’s of much use, anyway.”
Raquel sat in a conference room with Madame Outfitter and El. She was always on her guard around these two, especially after getting shot at, but neither had tried anything in several days. Still, she maintained a partially pixilated state so that bullets or rays or anything else would slide through her rather than cause her harm.
“That’s just it, dear,” Madame Outfitter said. “We’d like you to obtain actionable intel for us. And, while you’re at it, anything else stored offline that is of interest.”
“Right. Their good intel is in cold storage, where nobody can get it.”
“You’ve asked us to trust you,” El said. “And we don’t really have a choice about that, do we? You could reveal everything you know about us to Edgar Munk and Tetrarch Thrall, and there is no way we could stop you.
“But if you really are on our side, help us find out their deepest, darkest secrets. You know everything about us, things that could destroy us easily. All we’re asking is for the same sort of knowledge about them.”
Madame Outfitter nodded. “If you’re really on our side, dear, give us some good information. Tell us how to take them out, or at least how to harm them. Find out where all their black sites are. Let us know what they’re doing with their prisoners. Do they have any plans for the populace that we should know about? Who are their secret agents? Things like that.”
Raquel crossed her arms and leaned back in the chair, thinking.
At last she looked up and said, “Alright. I guess I haven’t really given you any real indication of my trustworthiness. I’ve just asked you take my word that I’m on your side. And I understand why you might be hesitant to do that.
“So, I’ll do this. I’ll go back to the city and I’ll find out everything I can for you. But you two have to do something for me in return.”
Both ladies leaned forward over the table, eyebrows raised.
El said, “What?”
Raquel said, “You’ve got to make sure nothing happens to Basil while I’m gone.”