An hour before reaching orbit around Clarion, Jeter let Raquel out the last time. The stream of pixels poured out like water from a hose, and she fully materialized.

He said, “Okay. Jillian Thrall will be the first to port down to the surface, I would imagine. Find her room and take her out.”

Raquel simply nodded and began pixelating. She rose like a silver cloud into the ceiling lights and disappeared.

For his part, Jeter had little to do. He had no luggage, and the handheld trap was the only thing he brought aboard the Polaris besides a gun and grenades, which had been confiscated. So, he headed toward the disembarkation deck himself. As a civilian passenger, he would be afforded the opportunity to leave before the crew.

He took an elevator there and found the corridor. Large double doors marked with floating letters spelled out “Debarkation Zone,” letting him know he was in the right area. Now he just needed to kill time.

Half an hour later, a Marine showed up and took up position beside the double doors. This man would be serving as a traffic cop, Jeter figured. He dismissed the movie he had been watching in his mind’s eye, and nodded politely at the man. The Marine nodded back and stood at ease beside the door.

Shrugging, Jeter turned inward again and resumed watching his movie.

At long last StarCen made a public announcement. She said, “We are now orbiting Clarion.”

Jeter dismissed his movie once more. Curious no alarm had sounded, he turned casually at the elevator door opening.

His eyes widened when he saw Steele walking down the hall alongside Jillian Thrall.

So, he thought, that explained why there was no alarm. Raquel Kirkland had not struck yet. Idly, he wondered if she’d attack now, in the corridor.

The women approached, expressionless. Jillian looked at him once, then her eyes flicked away. Steele regarded him a moment longer before her attention turned to the Marine.

She said, “Lieutenant Steele, Jillian Thrall. We are to be ported down first, Captain’s orders.”

The Marine snapped a salute and stood aside. The double doors swished open and the women walked inside.

The elevator opened again and more people stepped out. Casually, Jeter moved forward to claim his position in line. He waited for an alarm to sound, signaling Raquel’s strike.

Instead, the door opened again. He walked forward as it slid shut behind him and the inner door opened. The disembarkation chamber was empty.

He snarled and gripped the trap inside his front pants pocket. He turned around and the doors opened for him. He shouldered past the line of surprised sailors waiting to leave and made his way back to the elevator, taking the pod that had just arrived and emptied a group of Marines into the corridor.

Alone in the capsule he said, “StarCen, where is Raquel Kirkland?”

“I am sorry, Agent Jeter. I do not sense her presence aboard the Polaris.”

Above Jeter’s head, in the elevator pod’s wiring, Raquel listened silently as Jeter roared profanities.

She remained in the wiring when he returned to his quarters. She monitored the corridor and the door to the junior officers’ cabin while he paced the floor inside.

Jeter made several additional queries to StarCen about her. StarCen continued indicating she could no longer sense Raquel’s presence. This was true. So long as Raquel remained in one place, StarCen’s sensors would not detect her.

About three hours later, Jeter finally gave up. He stalked back to the elevator in a foul mood and took it to the disembarkation deck again. From there he stormed past the Marine at the double doors and let StarCen port him down to the surface.

Back on Polaris, Raquel flitted through the circuits down to the landing deck. She waited patiently for another 47 minutes, at which point a service drone entered through the hexagonal portal. It floated over the ship’s fighters and landed near the wall on a yellow square marked out for it.

A variety of service bots exited and headed for the corridor. A blue technician bot rolled to a panel in the corridor. At long last, some 18 minutes later, it plugged into the ship’s circuits via a direct interface. Raquel slipped over the connection and into the bot.

Several hours later, the bot returned to the drone. Another hour after that, the remainder of the bots had reassembled inside and the drone took off. It flew out of the ship and up to a service center in higher orbit.

From there the drone transmitted its data wirelessly, which was much more difficult for Raquel to piggyback on, so she bided her time.

Finally, the ship plugged in for a battery recharge, and she entered the station proper.

She found one android attendant, and watched him for a while. As near as she could tell, the android was a caretaker and served as a permanent fixture. It was a fully articulated humanoid, and could attend to any matters in the station that otherwise might require a person. No doubt this robot cost the service company a pretty penny, but it made up for the expense by never requiring food, vacation, or pay.

One of the drones in the station’s landing bay was marked for evacuation. She studied the station’s schematics and realized that in the event of a catastrophic emergency, the company owning the station had programmed standing orders for their attendant droid to evacuate to the surface. Obviously, this was a money saving effort. If the station was lost, they would at least have an opportunity to reuse their most expensive robot.

Raquel tripped the evacuation alarm.

The bot immediately plugged its finger into the data dump socket, where Raquel entered inside him along with the electronic records. Then he made his way to the evacuation drone, which promptly took off and headed for Clarion’s surface.

Several minutes later the drone landed at the company’s headquarters in Stockton, much to the surprise of the technicians on duty who could not understand why their attendant droid would evacuate the station while the station was currently intact and operating properly.

They immediately plugged him in for a complete system analysis, and Raquel flowed through the wiring.

Home at last, she thought, as she raced through the city’s electric grid.


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