Raquel quickly made her way back to the city on her own, choosing to travel most of the route via long distance power transmission beams.

She knew the locations of many SSI black sites, but the offline information the Resistance wanted was almost certainly stored somewhere in their headquarters.

She paused, her essence floating in underground wires beneath the city as she thought about the best way to obtain the data. She left the Thespar facility with no clear plan to achieve her objective. And, if thinking back on it, she realized she had no clear objective, either. “Get offline data” seemed rather nebulous.

Was it all simply a ruse to get her to leave, if only for a while?

She set aside that thought. Her requirements on the Resistance to trust her were very lopsided. They had far less reason to trust her than she had to trust them. And she had shown them her sincerity by handing over valuable information when she first arrived.

No, this was a legitimate task, she decided. It was just ill-defined.

While she paused, her thoughts drifted inevitably to Thrall. Should she drop in at the Epsilonian and spy on him for a while?

No. She firmly pushed that idea out of her mind. At some point in the future she might confront the man again, but not right now. He was too big a distraction.

Speaking of distractions . . . she thought about her current romantic interest, Basil Garcia.

She used to think her “type” was a strong and commanding sort of man. This stemmed mostly from her relationship with Thrall after he plucked her off Raton Five.

But strong leaders, at least in her experience, did not necessarily make for compatible personalities. And also, when you were the most powerful man for light years around, you could have your pick of partners. If you grew tired of one, millions of others waited in the wings. No, all told, her experiences with the Tetrarch were not ideal.

Roddy, on the other hand, had shown her that not all men could be that way. Roddy had been kind, considerate, and sweet. Maybe that had to do with the fact he had been an indent once upon a time. Roddy helped her see that a man’s personality was much more important to long-term happiness in a relationship than his power and commanding presence. Power and presence were attractive, to be sure, but they did not necessarily lead to commitment. And commitment was something she craved right now.

And now she had met Basil . . . Basil reminded her of Roddy in many ways. He had that same sweetness. He was much more of a nerd than Roddy was. But, he was so sweet. She had spent hours watching him, and found him the most interesting man in that entire facility. His looks kind of reminded her of Roddy, too.

She had spent considerable time with him, talking with him and getting to know him. She decided Basil was her man, even if he did not fully realize it yet.

With that heartwarming thought, she continued flitting through the city, heading for SSI Headquarters.

Where might offline data be stored? she thought. Offline, obviously. But where? She decided to hang out and observe. One could learn a lot by spying.

She made her way toward the building housing SSI. As the central headquarters for all the branches throughout the League, the Epsilon location was larger than others. It had several built-in detention centers and multiple facilities for training and operations.

Raquel ignored them all, flitting up to the top floor and Edgar Munk’s office.

Start at the top, she thought, and all things will come together.

She stopped in the light fixtures and looked down. Munk sat at his desk, flicking through holosheets.

He paused, apparently looking at data in his mind’s eye. Then he looked at the ceiling and said, “I know you’re up there, Raquel. Why don’t you come out and talk for a bit?”

Surprise registered in her conscience. How could he know she was here? Did he have a psychic bond with her or something?

Intrigued, she began pixilating and flowed down from the light.

Munk turned in his chair and watched her coming down. He smiled and pulled out a portable radiation absorption unit and switched it on. The red rays acted as an electronic vacuum cleaner, and sucked her in before she could solidify.

He looked down at the unit, about the size of a deck of cards. The edge glowed red, indicating she was trapped inside.

Munk’s smile grew bigger. He said, “You know, the Petra Roe Ambassador to Lute, Al Huntington . . . he’s something of a wannabe. Always pestering us for more information about SSI and how we’re run. It’s pitiful. Like a kid trying to get into his older brother’s clubhouse.

“But, I’ll say this about him. He generally keeps a pretty good eye on things going on in Port Ryan. And when I read his report about the Ultima Mule Company developing containment units and wire alarms in their building . . . well, let’s just say it caught my interest.

“And then you show up along with the Tetrarch, throw a big fit and disappear for a while. I decided to implement the same procedures those pirates did. And here we are.”

He leaned back in his chair with a profound sense of satisfaction.

“Don’t worry. I won’t leave you in there forever. I also had a special detention cell designed, just for you. That way I don’t have to worry about letting you out to eat every day then capturing you again.”

He stood, and placed the containment unit inside a pocket.

“Let’s keep this our little secret, shall we?” he said, walking toward the door. “If Julius finds out he might not let me do all the things I have in mind for you.”

The door swished shut behind him.


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