“Security constructs report that the suspect is not present.” Alex said.
“She wasn’t there for some time.” Roger said, “The cult’s leaders and top members are not stupid, and they too are often as perceptive as we are. She likely noticed that the neighbors’ behavior changed, and then saw signs of our presence affecting them, and slipped away before the constructs got in place.”
“You say that-“
“Yes, I have, on the receiving end. Slipped out of the Imperial Capital like that.”
“The constructs will follow procedure. Have their report forward to me immediately.”
“Is this why you sent Alan 1 to the yard? You know that we’re going to have to chase her down?”
“Not quite.” Roger said, “I know where she’s going, and I know that she’s not going to be alone if we don’t seize the initiative now.”
“Engineer,” Alan 1 said, “we are cleared to proceed.”
“Acknowledged.” Roger said, and both he and Alex beamed aboard a waiting airship directly to the bridge, where Alan 1 awaited them.
“Welcome aboard, Engineer.” Alan 1 said, “Course?”
Roger entered some figures into a wrist-mounted device. “Set course for this location, on that bearing, and under cloak as soon as we’re about to go beyond the Outer City.”
“Acknowledged, Engineer.” Alan 1 said.
“I don’t recognize this ship.” Alex said, “It’s not in the database.”
“Not at your level of clearance.” Roger said, “This is my own design, and it’s under Engineer Seal.”
“Aside from the Engineer, only the Council and myself know of it.” Alan 1 said, “Its visual similarity to Republic standard designs, combined with camouflage protocols, ensures secrecy while its deployed and not cloaked.”
“The Seal does the job while in its berth.” Roger said, quickly following.
“Does this ship have a name?” Alex said.
Roger smiled. “I am Gale Wolf,” the ship said, displaying a feminine persona, “and I am pleased to meet you, Alex.”
Roger and Alan 1 looked over at Alex. “Sorry.”
The Gale Wolf slowly weaved through the air traffic of the Outer City, heading east-southeast as it passed through the outer screens marking the City-State’s outer limits, and under cloak it quickly sped up to a cruising speed that made their personal lightjets feel slow.
“I get it now.” Alex said, her eyes wide with delight, “How else does she vary?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” Roger said.
“Engineer,” Gale Wolf said, “incoming transmission from the Outer City.”
“To me.” Roger said, and he read it on his personal device.
“Well?” Alex said.
Roger frowned. “They weren’t fast enough. We’re going to have company.”
Alex looked to Alan 1, seeking a clue, but Alan 1 smiled at her.
“General Quarters.” Roger said, and Gale Wolf’s pleasant environment instantly shifted to one of a harsher, combat-ready warship. Unnecessary displays vanished, leaving utilitarian bare walls. The bridge condensed into the minimum space necessary for the three of them—two stations and Roger in a command chair—which they assumed.