Jillian pulled the spacesuit up and around herself. It was made from some kind of intelligent fabric that quickly conformed to her body.

Raleigh handed her a helmet, and they ran into their first problem. He shoved as much of her hair into the back of the helmet as he could, but it would not all fit.

So much hair! He pushed and shoved, and still it would not all fit. Finally he resorted to shoving it down the back of the suit, which adjusted and made room for it. Then he pulled the helmet over her head, and the suit quickly wrapped itself around the helmet’s base.

They were ready to go.

He stuck his head out the bedroom door into the hallway, cautiously. All the bodies were still there, all the dust and debris from blaster fire and grenade explosions remained undisturbed. He walked out into the hall and motioned for her to follow.

They made it to the stairs without incident, then to the gym, passing the last body along the way. Outside, they stepped over busted robot parts. Raleigh led them to the beach. He walked into the surf and looked back at her. She stood there, staring at him from behind the opaque visor.

His voice clicked out over the suit’s speaker again.

“Come on, we’ve got to get out of range of the teleportation dampers.”

She nodded, or tried to under the helmet. She followed him out into the water.

Soon they were in over their heads and they both dog-paddled to gain more distance from shore.

At last Raleigh stopped and treaded water. She stopped too and looked at him again. Only their helmets were above the surface. She swung her arms back and forth to make herself turn around and she looked back at the mansion one last time.

Then they disappeared, along with all the water around them. The sea closed in on the void immediately.

In the courtyard on the other side of the house, the holographic circle appeared in the air and four armed Marines popped into existence, guns drawn. They quickly exited the circle and split up, making a perimeter sweep around the house.

Behind them, four more Marines popped into the circle. As soon as they left the perimeter, another four popped in.

By this time the perimeter sweep was finished and the initial four prepared to enter the house.

The first one breached the blown door and swept the room. He focused on the body lying near the inner door.

“Bioscan indicates subject is dead.”

“Copy that.”

The other three followed, sweeping the room with their guns. Carefully, the first two made their way through the inner door and toward the stairs.

Back at the circle outside, Tetrarch Thrall and Lieutenant Commander Elven popped into place.

One of the Marines stood waiting for them in full body armor.

“It’s not safe yet, sir. We’re sweeping the house as we speak.”

A corner of Thrall’s mouth came down, but he nodded in acceptance. He stood outside the circle with his arms crossed, waiting. Elven stood beside him.

The team inside made it up the grand stairway and found the bodies in the second floor hallway.

“Good grief!” one of them said, gazing down at the blaster marks and blown apart walls.

“Did . . . did she do all do this?”

“They had a firefight with the guard bots here.”

“Okay. Yeah, that makes sense.”

At the far end of the hall, one of the assailants groaned as he returned to consciousness.

The Marines froze and aimed their guns at him.

“Hands where I can see them! Hands up!”

Behind the visor covering his face, Jeter became fully conscious. In his field of vision he could see three members of his team lying in the hallway. Mentally, he pulled up the vitals screen for everybody. Underneath his own graph, he saw four flat lines.


“Don’t move! Don’t move!”

The Marines approached with their guns, stepping over debris.

SSI will never survive the fallout from this, Jeter thought.

He smirked behind his visor. Good thing no one will ever never know for sure it was an SSI black op, he thought.

Mentally, he flipped a switch.

The special nanobots inside his bloodstream ignited. An SSI scientist had read about a strange phenomenon called “spontaneous combustion,” where an unexplained flash fire would quickly consume someone, leaving behind only a pile of ashes. Intrigued, he rigged up some nanobots that could replicate the phenomenon.

Jeter and the other four agents burst into bright white flames.

The Marines yelled in surprise and jumped back. The one in the rear almost fell down the staircase before catching himself in time.

Outside, the hovercraft started up, floating on a cushion of air and energy. It made an autonomous U-turn and headed back out over the water. With all the attention on the indoors, nobody watched it speed out to the lagoon’s entrance and head toward the open sea.

Several kilometers away, above deep water, it self-destructed and the pieces sank to the bottom. They were not unrecoverable, but doing so would be costly and time-consuming as well as pointless. Nothing on the craft was directly traceable to SSI.


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