Jeter pressed his palm to the elevator’s panel. It flashed red.

He smiled at the Marines standing behind him and said, “Emergency override. Crewmember Jeter, Avery.”

The elevator dinged and the panel turned green.

He said, “Gotta love those safety measures. Any crew can use the elevators in an emergency, no matter what the AI thinks.”

The boarding party entered the capsule and it shot away.

The doors opened on the quarters and mess hall crew deck. Jeter stuck his head out carefully and looked both ways down the corridor.

Somebody stepped out of a doorway and said, “Oh hey, Jeter. I thought—”


Jeter shot the man in the chest.

He turned to smile at the men in the elevator and said, “Coast is clear.”

They filed out, guns ready. Jeter led them down to the Captain’s quarters. He placed his palm on the reader and it flashed red.

“Yeah, I don’t think the override is going to let me get in here.”

The Sergeant looked at one of the men and made a motion with his head.

“Get on it, Williams.”

The man unslung a backpack and quickly retrieved small explosive modules with sticky edges. He placed six of them on the door, then pulled back out of the way. The others spread out to either side. Williams touched the implant under his ear with one hand and raised his other in the air, finger pointed up.

The Sergeant nodded at him, and he concentrated on the trigger over the neural net. He brought his hand down, finger pointing at the door.


The door blew open. Williams rushed in first, gun raised.

Thoop! Thoop!


He went down to the floor, his left shoulder charred and bloody. The other Marines pulled back on either side of the door. One of them grabbed Williams by the feet and pulled him clear, while energy bolts dotted the floor.

Thoop! Thoopah!

The Sergeant looked across the damaged doorway at Jeter, their backs to the wall.

He said, “She’s armed?”

Jeter said, “Oh, yeah. The pirates thought it would be cute to teach her how to shoot. Don’t worry, I got this.”

Jeter reached into a pocket and pulled out an egg grenade. This one was white with a red stripe around the middle.

He mouthed the words “Flash-bang,” at the Sergeant.

The Sergeant nodded that he understood, turned away and covered his ears. The other men followed his lead.

Jeter pressed the activation button and counted off three seconds. Then he lobbed the grenade into the room and quickly covered his own ears.

Thoop! Thoo—BLAM!

The marines stormed through the smoke and rushed inside. Lying on the floor near her pistol, unconscious, blood trickled from Jillian’s ears.

The Sergeant turned back to the hallway and said, “Williams, you mobile?”

Williams stood, holding his injured shoulder carefully. He said, “Yeah, Sarge. Nothing the doc can’t fix up.”

“Good. You two, grab her and let’s go.”

One of the men he pointed to was bigger than the other. The big one said, “I got her,” and put Jillian in a fireman’s carry over his shoulder.

The group left the room and headed back for the elevator. Jeter palmed the controls and made a system override again.

While they waited for the capsule, half their guns trained nervously on the elevator door, the other half back down the corridor toward the mess hall, the Sergeant motioned to Williams again.

He said, “Let’s deliver the package right here.”

Williams nodded and painfully took off his backpack again. This time he retrieved a considerably larger explosive device, about the size of a bowling ball, complete with a timer.

The Sergeant said, “Set it for five minutes.”

The elevator dinged as a pod arrived. The doors opened and everybody went inside except for Williams. He made some final adjustments, and holographic numbers appeared above the bomb. They read, “5:00 . . . 4:59 . . . 4:58 . . .”

The Sergeant nodded and said, “Let’s go.”

Williams scrambled inside. The doors shut and the elevator whisked them to the flight deck.

Jeter said, “What’s that about? Why don’t you just shoot them apart from the Polaris?”

“Captain’s orders. Even without any shields in the rear, it would take some doing. He doesn’t want to waste any more time on them than necessary. We’ve got to get the Tetrarch’s daughter back to Clarion, ASAP. We’ve already been waiting too long for you guys to show up. The bomb will do the job for us from the inside, easy-peasy.”

The door dinged and opened to the flight deck corridor. Everyone streamed out, stepping over the bodies on the floor, and rushed to the transport. They jumped onboard and the door closed. The transport rose two meters, then raced to the portal. It popped through the force field, turned and headed back to the Polaris.

The numbers above the bomb read, “4:01 . . . 4:00 . . . 3:59 . . .”


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