Julia sat up and found herself in the flat she shared with Biff under her Catrina Mulligan identity, the same one she shared with him while pretending to be Andi Jones.

She glanced at her internal clock and noted the time. She would have to leave now to make her next meeting, in the real world, on time.

She picked up a backpack by the door. It was lead-lined, and thus scanner-proof, although that alone would ordinarily alert anyone looking out for such things. Regardless, she did not want the blaster in it and the six egg grenades to cause undue alarm. It also had a visor to hide her face, a pair of gloves, two neural detonators, and some thin carbon string useful for tying up people or things.

Slipping the pack over her shoulders, she went out the door and down the stairs to the basement. The same monitor was there as when she made her escape after killing Tetrarch Lopez, and it was still broken.

She set out underground, walking a fair distance through the storm sewers. She passed four more monitors, all broken.

Julia heard the maintenance bots before she saw them, clanking down the concrete tunnel up ahead. She stopped and stood against the wall, activating her electronic camouflage unit. The wall appeared to continue where she was standing. She remained still while the two maintenance bots passed her. They never noticed her.

Once they were safely in the distance, she switched the unit off and “reappeared” next to the wall. She continued on her way.

At last she reached her destination. A small set of stairs led up to a sealed doorway. This, she knew, led to a network of maintenance shafts and tunnels for the large building overhead.

Inside, in the space of a closet with three passageways branching off on the other walls, stood one of the leaders of the Juventas Resistance, the one known as Elephant.

The old black man was still wiry for his age. He had the look of calm wisdom, never fazed by whatever events swirled around him.

She had no idea how far he had traveled to get here. No doubt it was some circuitous route to try and avoid detection. But face-to-face interaction was the safest for these types of communications.

“Hello, Angel.”


They did not know each other’s real names, and that suited them both just fine. The less they knew, they less they could reveal if captured.

Julia said, “I met with a contact in the Republic. He informed me the Diego Fleet is attacking tomorrow.”

Elephant raised an eyebrow. “Mind if I ask how you made contact? Or is that too sensitive to share?”

“I think it’s okay if you know. It’s difficult to crack if SSI finds out. In Off World there’s a game called New York 1985.”

He nodded. “I’ve heard of it.”

“You can’t interact with players in the Republic anymore, since the start of the war. But they have the same games, for the most part.”

“Right. They will play the same games but in different server instances. It prevents communication.”

“Before the war, some programmers hacked into the underlying substructure of the architecture in New York 1985. If you know where it is, you can access a comlink to someone in the same location on another instance. We meet there on a regular basis to exchange information.”

“And this is a secure method of communication?”

“Probably. My contact keeps things very vague just in case there’s a scanner listening for keywords. Anyway, from what he says the Republicans will attack the Sixth Fleet here at Juventas tomorrow.”

“It’s not surprising they would come for the rest of Admiral Cooper’s ships. He loaned Kwan half of them for the attack on Seychar. Cooper’s numbers have not been replenished. I’m not sure StarCen has enough ships anymore to bring him back up to strength.”

Julia said, “That’s not all. My contact also indicates there are plans for a ground assault. He specifically mentioned I should stay away from military sites and the Administration Building and the spaceport.”

“Would they use their secret weapon on civilian targets?”

“I don’t know. I would imagine military installation might get hit with it. Would they take out the Administration Building? If it meant getting rid of Cooper and disrupting the chain of command for the planet, maybe. But I think they’re more likely to take the spaceport and Administration Building by an invasion force. That makes much more sense. Boots on the ground.”

“Boots on the ground,” Elephant said, thoughtfully. “You’re probably right. It’s going to be tough, though, to convince StarCen to relinquish an entire planet, especially a capital. Imagine this . . . A host of space marines grab control of the Administration Building and take Cooper hostage. That’s presuming he doesn’t get to the underground bunker we know about, with its control room.”

Julia winced at the memories. She had personally taken out Tetrarch Lopez in that bunker.

Elephant continued. “Do you honestly think StarCen would give up the planet? She’s got cores here, and other assets. I don’t think she’d willingly surrender anything.

“Now imagine this scenario: PLAIR wipes out the Administration Building, taking out Cooper and everyone else in government there, in one fell blow. Now there’s no one to command, at least at the top. If they strike the military targets, disable her nodes . . . she might not have much choice in the matter as to whether she can include Juventas as one of her own or not.”

They both considered his statements, remaining silent for a moment, thinking.

Finally, he said, “No. If I were a betting man, I’d say your contact’s warning about the Administration Building indicates they are going to wipe it off the face of the planet. I’ll quietly spread word to our assets near there that they should stay home tomorrow.”

They spoke a while longer, sharing information. Finally, Julia turned to go.

Elephant said, “Be careful out there. Things are about to get interesting.”

She flashed a smile and said, “Things are always interesting on Juventas.”

“Yeah, but . . . now we’re coming under a new form of government, presuming your person is right and the Republic takes over tomorrow. I think maybe the roles will be switched. SSI will not submit to the Republic no matter what. If the Diego Fleet successfully takes this planet, SSI will become a thorn in their side. It might be up to us to act as . . . counter terrorists, of a sort.”

“One thing at a time, Elephant,” she said, patting him on the arm. “First, let’s see if the Republic can take out that fleet orbiting overhead as easily as they did at Seychar and Gotha Mu.”


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