Albert Ignatius Huntington twirled his mustache on the right side of his face. He had a reputation as something of a dandy. His impeccable suits were imported from Italia, a League planet where the best tailors in either system provided exceptional clothing at a steep price. Huntington always looked good, no matter what the occasion. On his left wrist he wore a stylish bracelet. It was featureless and appeared to be fashioned from stainless steel.

The war had so far proven quite profitable for Petra Roe. An otherwise insignificant planet with a middling population of less than a billion people, the running joke among its citizens was to refer to their home as “PR,” which traditionally stood for “public relations.”

Petra Roe remained officially neutral, allied with neither AI. Thus, its banking and markets were ideally situated to take advantage of the war, now that the two major systems stopped communicating with one another except over basic necessities. Many assets still needed to trade hands between the systems, and PR proved to be an ideal middleman for these transactions. It also served as a conduit for other nominally neutral planets to shuttle money and materials. This list of planets included Lute.

Nonetheless, despite Petra Roe’s official stance, its leaders read the tealeaves and their consensus indicated that eventual victory by the Star League appeared inevitable. The League had superior resources, was closest to Old Earth, and (at least in the minds of many in the upper echelons of PR’s leadership), maintained the superior form of government.

A common sentiment among many on PR was that people should not be too free. The freedom to choose their own leaders was a dangerous liberty. The founders of PR modeled their government after the Star League, where leaders were assigned rather than elected. Consequently they felt considerably superior to the Republic, where governmental representatives were decided through elections.

Perhaps, some argued, this preference led PR leadership to misread their predictions about the war? Perhaps they secretly hoped Star League would emerge victorious and therefore aligned their actions accordingly?

But these arguments were usually made in private, outside the leadership’s earshot. Fortunately for those making the arguments, Petra Roe had no AI system of its own, and government eavesdropping was therefore less common than it might otherwise would have been.

The Ambassador had felt entirely gobsmacked when the Tetrarch’s daughter rebuffed him and left the Port of Entry room with the Captain of a pirate ship. This was unheard of, he thought. Could it be a case of Stockholm Syndrome, where the captive empathized with the captor?

Mentally he shrugged while pulling on one of the curls of his mustache. When he let go, it snapped back into position. His instructions regarding the return of Jillian Thrall were unambiguous. If she did not return, or could not, she was to be eliminated.

He rubbed the neural network implant under his ear twice, sending the signal for his forces to execute the plan of action he had outlined in the event something went wrong.

All artificial intelligence systems had safeguards against cyber attacks. Over the years, competing systems tried different variants on one another in order to gain a competitive edge. In time, a digital stalemate ensued, and systems operated under a tacit agreement where they would not attempt to harm one another.

While these rules were bent somewhat during times of war, such as now, most cyber attacks remained futile. But the spymasters of Petra Roe had determined LuteNet might be vulnerable to a direct, physical attack.

In the basement of the Administration Building, two men stepped out of a stairwell and began walking down a corridor. The way ended at a set of locked double doors where two guard bots stood. Their black metal faces were bland and featureless, with round red eyes above horizontal slits for mouths.

The one on the right raised its hand and said, “Halt. This is a restricted area. You are not allowed on this level.”

The men looked at one another. One of them nodded. The other reached into a pocket and pulled out a grenade, the size and shape of an egg. He clicked the plunger on top and lobbed it underhand toward the guard bots. Both men turned, hunched down and covered their heads.


A klaxon sounded while sprinkler systems in the ceiling sprayed fire retardant. The men turned and rushed into the now open doorway, stepping over smoking robot parts.

Inside, they stopped at a balcony above a giant well stretching almost the entire width of the building. A large cylinder the size of a house stood in the middle, lights pulsating across its synthetic biological skin in a rainbow of colors.

“It’s the AI’s core,” one of them said. “Blow it up.”

The grenade lobber nodded and pulled out another egg-shaped bomb. He activated it and tossed it at the giant cylinder. They turned and ran out the door as it exploded.


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