The explosions were over in seconds. Raleigh thought he heard at least ten, but he did not count them.

“What’s going on, Lootie?”

“It would appear all exterior guard bots have been disabled. Stealth drones disguised as local birds managed to evade StarCen’s sensors and came close enough to explode near the bots.”

“Huh. Did you do that?”

“No, Captain.”

“Then who did?”

“It might have to do with the men approaching in the hovercraft behind you.”

Raleigh made some motions with his hands so he could turn in the water and look in the other direction.

The lagoon near Thrall Manor, he knew, had an underwater net to keep out sharks and other native sea creatures dangerous to frolicking humans. It also served as a protection against boats.

No one could port into Thrall Manor without StarCen. The anti-teleportation measures inside the house were an added safety measure. Driving in via a ground vehicle would be difficult. No doubt this was a no-fly zone, too. And boats could not enter the lagoon.

Evidently, a hovercraft was one mode of transportation nobody thought of when designing the manor’s defenses. Raleigh watched it skim over the top of the net guarding the lagoon’s entrance and head straight toward the house.

He tried to will himself lower in the water, but no one onboard noticed him. They were focused on the robot parts scattered around the beach, and passed Raleigh by several meters.

“Who are they, Lootie?”

“I am unable to take bio readings, Captain. Their visors are preventing facial and iris scans. I do not have sufficient resources for additional readings.”

The men exited the hovercraft and ran to an exterior door. One of them shot the door with a blaster then kicked it open. The men streamed inside.

“Doesn’t matter. They’re probably after the same thing we are.”

“Indeed, Captain. They are engaged with interior guard bots now. I am sensing Jillian Thrall has moved into a safe room on the second floor.”

“Got it, thanks.”

Raleigh dog-paddled for shore, straining within the suit to quickly move forward in the water.


On the bridge of the Ultima Mule, currently in orbit around a small chunk of rock known as CSNP908, Granny, Maxwell, and Skylar watched the feed from Raleigh’s visor while standing on the ship’s bridge.

Skylar clenched her fists. She said, “He should have let me go.”

Maxwell shook his head. He said, “The minute you blinked away somewhere, StarCen would know you are alive. And by extension, the rest of us. Cap’n wants to keep that fact a secret for a while longer.”

“Besides,” Granny said with a smile, “knights like to rescue princesses on their own.”


Rally ran to the blown door and he entered what appeared to be a gym with workout equipment and free weights. He held out the blaster and scanned the room but saw no signs of life.

He heard the sounds of combat from a hallway connecting the room to the rest of the house.

Thoopah! Thoop! Thoop!

One of the five men staggered back into the gym. He was dressed in black with blaster-proof armor covering his chest like the others. One arm hung loosely by his side, charred and smoking. Blood dripped to the floor.

He stumbled into the gym and seemed to be heading outside. Probably going back to the hovercraft, Raleigh thought.

He stopped suddenly, staring at Raleigh. Before he could move Raleigh aimed for his head and fired.


The blast knocked him backward. Electronics in the man’s helmet sizzled and sparked.

Raleigh kept the gun aimed at him and approached carefully. He pushed the man’s pistol away with his foot and looked down at the cracked visor. Blood seeped out.

LuteNet said, “He is dead, Captain. Your close range shot took him out.”

Raleigh nodded to himself and approached the doorway cautiously. The fighting had moved upstairs, from what he could hear. Walking down the hall he came across the remains of two more guard bots. He recognized the Star League Marines logo on their chest plates, a stylized ‘E’ for Epsilon.

He hurried past the signs of battle and approached a grand staircase leading to the second floor. Blaster fire continued and he could see red streaks littering the air above.


The explosion snuffed out the gunfire.

“What’s going on up there, Lootie?”

“The assailants have taken out the last of the guard bots with hand grenades, Captain. They are now facing the safe room door.”

Raleigh cautiously hurried up the stairs. At the top of the landing, he poked his helmeted head around the corner.

Four men ran out of a bedroom into the hall and took cover, hunching down and putting arms over their ears.


“They have breached the safe room door, Captain.”

Raleigh nodded and retrieved an egg grenade. He pushed the plunger down on top, waited a couple seconds, then lobbed it down the hall just as the men were about to enter the room.


The force of the explosion knocked all four down. Raleigh heard Jillian scream.

He advanced down the hall, quickly but carefully. His gun waved over the down men, but nobody moved.

He came to the bedroom door. He poked his helmet past the door jam.

Thoop! Thoop!

He pulled back quickly.

“Jillian! Don’t shoot!”

She screamed something incoherent.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

LutetNet said, “The electronics in the suit are distorting your voice, Captain. Nor can she see your face behind the visor. She does not recognize you.”

“Well, that’s a bit of a problem.”

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

Raleigh looked at the charred hole in the wall opposite the door.

“They’re gonna need one of those repair companies.”

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

“Can you tell how many shots she has left on that charge, Lootie?”

“Ten to twelve, Captain.”


He waved an arm around the door jamb.

Thoop! Thoop!

He snatched his arm back quickly.

“Dang, that was close. Who taught her how to shoot?”

“Skylar Hawkens.”

“That figures.”

“Captain, she is readjusting her aim. I suggest you move.”

Raleigh ducked down and backed up just as Jillian started shooting through the wall into the hallway.

When she stopped, Raleigh was almost back to the stairs. Several new holes were in the wall.

“How many has she got left, Lootie?”


One of the black-clad men on the floor nearby groaned. Raleigh walked over and picked up his arm with two hands. He dragged the man back toward the doorway, tossing the body the last meter so that it landed in a clump in the doorway.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah!

Click! Click!

“She is out, Captain.”

Raleigh nodded to himself and quickly pulled the sack off his back. He turned the corner and walked into Jillian’s room. Smoke wafted through the air. Furniture had blown back from the explosion at the armored door, and the carpet near there still smoldered. Inside the safe room, facing the door to the hall, Jillian held the empty blaster straight out with a look of anger mixed with horror on her face.

Raleigh tossed the sack toward her and it landed on the floor near her feet.

“Jillian, put the spacesuit on. That’s an order.”


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