The internal alarm went off for Biff and he stirred, pulling back the sheets.

Julia grabbed his arm and murmured sleepily, “You’re staying home today, babe.”

“Can’t. Got to get to work.”

“No, seriously. You’re staying home. Call in sick or do whatever you have to do, but you’re not leaving the apartment today.”

He climbed out of bed and looked down at her, now fully awake. She sat up too and stared back.

“Does this have anything to do with your father?”

Privately, Julia felt grateful he phrased the question carefully. It had taken a considerable amount of cajoling to convince him to speak in vague terms rather than discuss things openly. Biff felt most comfortable speaking his mind in the privacy of his own home and Julia had to break him of the habit, especially on topics concerning her.

She said, “Yes.”

“So . . . something is going to happen today . . . and I can’t go to work?”


He sighed, running his fingers through his hair.

He said, “This is not something I’m going to talk you out of, is it?”


She smiled coyly at him and said, “But if you come back to bed, I’ll make it worth your while.”


At 9:08 am local time, Admiral Cooper popped into his office from the mountain chalet he used as living quarters. He was late, having started the day late. Ordinarily, he showed up for work at 08:00, but he had been in a conference call with his Captains late last night and had slept in, which was highly unusual for him. Not one of the servants had deigned to wake him. They were far too intimidated to do so.

So he slept in, ignoring his internal alarm. Then he faced a series of issues at the chalet after breakfast.

The detail guarding his mountaintop retreat consisted of Navy personnel now, after the SSI proved incompetent against terrorists. However, terrorists were either afraid of the Naval presence or biding their time. There had not been so much as a peep from Resistance fighters ever since the mortar attack.

Military grade sensors blanketed the area now, and everyone could see all the wildlife moving through, down to the size of bees. But, no people ever showed up to threaten the Admiral.

Consequently, the guard detail grew increasingly bored. He spent some time with a Lieutenant who was nominally in charge, although the chain of command extended much higher.

The Lieutenant assured him the guard detail was up to the job. Cooper was not so sure. Surprising them one day last week, he discovered the five men on duty immersed in online games rather than paying attention to the holoscreens connected to the monitors.

He spent some time thinking about replacing the humans with security bots. Supposedly, that was how Tetrarch Thrall handled security at his private compound. And security bots never grew bored, and never played games, online or otherwise.

Then, before he was ready to leave, Captain Briggs informed him the solar torpedoes finally arrived. He spent time discussing their placement with StarCen and other captains. At long last, with everything squared away, he dressed for work and had StarCen port him to his office at the Administration Building.

One thing about being at the top meant that you were never late, he thought. Things start when I get there.

He sat down at his desk when an alarm sounded and StarCen’s high-pitched voice came from the ceiling.

“Enemy ships sighted. Battle is imminent.”

“Show me something on the holo, StarCen!”

Over the next several seconds, he watched the conflict unfold from different viewpoints flashing by.

When it was over he said, “What happened? StarCen, where are my ships?”

“Admiral, I have evacuated what few ships we have left. An additional Naval presence is futile. I am going to deploy the Tetrarch’s initiative at this time.”

Cooper watched, open-mouthed, as the Tilson popped in beside one of the orbiting squadrons and blew up, chunks of solar energy popping in all around her and the other ships. He covered his face from the flash.

Cooper blew out his breath in amazement. An entire squadron gone in the blink of an eye!

He said, “Did we get them . . . did we get them all?”

“It appears their Condor and one Eagle escaped. The others in that squadron are destroyed.”

“That’s great! Let’s blow up the rest of their fleet. What are you waiting for?”

“We had only the one surprise, Admiral. And we have no more solar torpedoes. I am afraid that is all the damage I can do, for now.”

“So . . . so what’s that mean? You don’t have anything in the sky that can take them out?”

“That is correct, Admiral. The nearest additional Naval assets are two weeks out, and even with them I am uncertain I can take on the remaining Condors.”

“What about solar torpedoes? Can’t we get any more?”

“At this time, more are being produced but we do not have any in the area to use. I am sorry, Admiral Cooper. I have no assets to send you. I must preserve what ships are left.”

The blood drained from Cooper’s face.

StarCen said, “I have an incoming message to you from Admiral Frederick Severs of the Planetary Republic, Fleet Diego. He suggests you surrender Juventas immediately or suffer annihilation.”

Cooper jumped up, sending his chair crashing down behind him.

“You tell him NO! We will fight to the last tooth and nail—”

A chunk of Juventas’s sun materialized in the middle of the Administration Building.

For surface targets, Republican weapons experts decided much smaller chunks of the sun were needed. Tests had shown that just a relatively small piece of the solar core was sufficient to take out a large building.

The reasoning was, if anything was left standing another piece could quickly be ported down. If an entire town needed leveling, it might take longer than a second, the experts concluded. But for one building, in a surgical strike, one small chunk of sun should do the trick.

Or so they thought. There had not been a lot of time to experiment.

The solar energy from the star’s core expanded rapidly, becoming, in effect, a gigantic bomb. The entire Administration Building was obliterated instantly, and other buildings within a four block radius were flattened from the blast.

Several blocks away, Biffender Jones stood over the stove in their tiny flat, dressed in underwear and cooking pancakes. The windows blew out and the entire apartment shook in the blast wave.

He stood up, crawling off the floor and stared at the mess in the living room. Glass and furniture lay jumbled everywhere.

Julia walked out of the bedroom and they locked eyes.

He said, “Is this what I was supposed to stay home for?”

“I think so.”


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