Tetrarch Maria Lopez stormed out of the conference room in Yorkton, capital city for the planet Juventas. She was followed closely by her personal assistant. Both women wore stylish business outfits, with skirts to their shins in the current fashion on Juventas. Her aide sported an abundance of thick dark hair that would surely have stretched down below the waist had the woman not worn it up in an elaborate headdress. This too was currently stylish.

As they marched out of the door into an elegant wide hallway, the guards who had been maintaining their position at the conference room door stepped in line behind them. They were joined by one more person. Terry Arthur, a high-ranking politician stepped into place beside Lopez.

A man of medium height at five foot nine or 175 centimeters, with thick brown hair and crow’s feet around his eyes, Arthur was a seasoned political creature. Lopez ignored him and began snapping orders.

She turned to her aide and said, “Andi, I need status updates on everything, ASAP. Do not trust StarCen on this. If she’s aligned with Thrall, we’re in serious trouble.”

Arthur said, “Maria, what’s going on? Aligned with Thrall? What do you mean?”

Lopez glanced irritably at Arthur, but she relented. No one knew what had just transpired in her meeting besides her aide.

Andi glanced at a screen in her mind’s eye. She said, “Ma’am, we’re seeing multiple transports leaving the Navy ships in orbit. It appears most are heading here to Yorkton.”

Lopez bit off a swear word. She said, “He doesn’t waste any time, does he?”

“Maria, what’s going on?” Arthur said.

Lopez stopped suddenly, bringing the entire procession to a halt.

“That bastard Julian Thrall has decided I committed treason just because I suggested we sue for peace with the Republic! So he’s sending down the Marines aboard the ships in orbit above us to take over. Now get out of my way, Terry. I’m going down into the command bunker.”

She resumed marching down the hall until reaching the elevators. Arthur followed, consternation creasing his face. But, he remained silent.

When the party reached the elevators, the doors for one on the end swished open. Lopez and Andi entered. Lopez extended a hand and pushed back on Arthur’s chest.

“Stay up here, Terry.”

“What? Now see here. I am the Leader of the District Chamber. I realize you are the Tetrarch, but I represent the entire district! I need to be in that bunker with you.”

“This is not a matter of representation, Terry. This is a matter of maintaining command and control of this planet, and all the planets in our district. There are not enough supplies down there for more people than necessary. Stay up here and do what you can for our people.”

Arthur’s eyes narrowed, but he stopped trying to force his way in. Warily, he noted the two guards were in a position to physically pull him from the elevator. He relented.

“Why does she get to go, then?”

He nodded toward Andi, glaring daggers at the young woman.

“Because I need my assistant, Terry.”

The door swished shut, blocking out his glaring face. The elevator dropped quickly, heading far below the building’s basement.

Lopez glanced over at Andi. The young woman seemed calm at the turn of events, and was not freaking out like others might. Andi had proven herself quite capable. She was truly indispensable, Lopez thought.

Lopez said, “Men.”

Andi cracked a smile. She tugged at an earlobe, nervously, her only sign of agitation.

The pod slowed precipitously and the door opened. Lopez walked out into a room with Andi following. In the air, holographic letters spelled out, “Emergency Command Bunker.”

Two men glanced up from a large holomonitor and control console at one end of the room. The women watched as the first Naval transports landed on the building above. Wide doors opened and Marines marched out, accompanied by dozens of bots. Officers teleported in from the ships above, quickly directing the troops into formation.

One of the men spoke up as the women approached.

He said, “We can’t stop them, ma’am. They’ve got troops on the ground at all strategic locations on the planet. Most of them are in this city. StarCen is fully cooperating with the Navy on this. All of our requests to her are being ignored.”

“How about the nukes?” Lopez said. “Do we still have control over our weapons?”

“Our terrestrial silos are controlled from here. You alone have the ‘keys’ for those.”

“Good. Program them to take out this city.”

Andi gasped. She said, “You can’t be serious, ma’am.”

“I am absolutely serious. I will not stand by and let this incursion on my authority go unchallenged.”

“But . . . but . . . you’re going to nuke your own people!”

“Our people, Andi. Our people. And I am well aware of that. But we have a lot more people than they have Marines. We will rebuild from this. I can always blame it on Thrall anyway. I’ll tell them he set off the nukes.”

She turned to address the two men.

“Is this compound still cut off from StarCen?”

“Yes, ma’am. She has no control here. We are on a separate subsystem.”

“Very good. Re-aim the missiles and prepare for launch.”

The two men nodded and got to work at the console. Andi watched as they furiously programmed coordinates by hand.

“If I had known this was going to happen,” Lopez said, “I’d have set up a simple nuclear bomb in every major city connected to the neural net. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about having to retreat to a bunker like this. That’s something to think about for the future, in case he tries something like this again.”

Andi’s jaw dropped as her head whipped around to face the older woman.

One of the men turned to them. He said, “It’s ready, ma’am.”

“Good. Begin the—”

Her words were cut off. The men looked over and jumped up out of their seats in surprise.

Andi had retrieved a long metal pin from her hair. Her elaborate headdress hung down, half disassembled and falling down her back. The pin stuck through Tetrarch Lopez’s neck, at an angle. It looked long enough to pierce up into her skull.

Andi pulled it out and Lopez collapsed. She locked eyes with the first man.

Absently he reached down for his waist and a blaster. For a second he forgot that firearms were not allowed in the bunker. When his hand came up empty, he charged Andi, bending down low and aiming for her middle.

She stepped aside at the last minute and expertly thrust the pin through his eye. He went down screaming, but she pulled the pin out and jumped, bringing a heel down on his throat. A sickening Crack! sounded as his neck broke.

The other man watched in horror. They locked eyes. He gulped.

But he had a job to do, and protecting this compound was part of the job. He moved forward warily in a fighting crouch, his arms raised.

“Come on, Andi. We don’t have to do this.”

Andi approached him rapidly, then dodged his blows as he swung at her. She pivoted on her hips, bringing up a leg in a powerful hit to his stomach that knocked him backwards.

His hands flew down to his middle and he lost his breath. In a flash she was on him with the pin, stabbing at his eyes and throat. He went down in a bloody heap.

She paused then and wiped off her pin on his shirt. Absently, she reached up to her hair and stuck it back in. Fixing things would take time and a mirror, she thought.

She looked down at the last man she had killed and said, “My mother’s name was Andi.”

Heading back to the elevator she walked inside and waved her hand through the hologram button for the ground floor.

As the elevator ascended back into StarCen-controlled portions of the building she said, “My name is Julia Thrall.”

A note from jaxonreed

In case you're wondering . . . yes, this is Jillian's sister.

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