Vicki Fenner looked down at the man bound on the gurney. His fingernails were removed, and his body was a bloody mess.

She waited patiently while the agent in charge of interrogations injected him with nanobots. He had been brought to the point of death, but the first aid would keep him alive so they could torture him some more, and hopefully wring more information out of him. And misery. The purpose of SSI interrogations was to inflict maximum misery, as well as extract information.

She waited patiently for the nanobots to go to work. Of course, he would need time for a full recovery but she had no intentions of allowing that. Fenner just wanted him to remain alive a while longer. She got a certain thrill out of hearing grown men beg for mercy.

Fenner looked attractive, although the white streak through her dark hair inevitably led to comparisons with Halloween characters. She knew her nickname was “The Wicked Witch,” or one of a dozen variants.

And that was fine. Her predecessor and mentor, Sidney Fleming, taught her that fear was a useful emotion to stoke in others. It helped control them. And lately, control seemed to be slipping from her grasp.

She could not quite understand what had happened recently, but if she pieced the information she had together, she would say that the Resistance agent known as Angel had reappeared after murdering Tetrarch Lopez. For a while there, she was gone, no doubt lying low somewhere. But lately, time and again SSI agents ended up dead or missing. Important military facilities were sabotaged, too. All intelligence pointed back to the one they called Angel.

Fenner had almost decided Angel did not exist as a single entity, but was instead an amalgamation of Resistance fighters all using the same name. It would be a brilliant ploy to throw SSI off track.

But she stayed the course, following textbook procedures at disrupting organized resistance. Those procedures called for the thorough . . . questioning . . . of all captured suspects.

Unfortunately, whoever set up the Resistance on Juventas did an excellent job. Cells were typically no larger than three people, and no one seemed to know much beyond their cells, making mass roundups difficult.

Today, however, they had someone much higher in the upper echelon in captivity. This was the agent known as Dolphin. And this man, Fenner knew, had likely seen Angel herself. And maybe those in the ELO Tribunal, the Resistance’s leadership council.

Dolphin had an irritating capacity for pain, though, and had so far revealed very little under torture.

They did not have to torture him, though. It was standard procedure, and the agents enjoyed it, so Fenner would never dissuade that. But, with the latest cranial scanning technology, they could go over his memories and glean whatever information he might retain. It just took time to go through the results.

Fenner opened the door to the holding room and walked across the hall. She went inside another room where images sped across a holoscreen taking up one wall. Esther Gavel, her second in command, glanced at her. She was a short, chubby woman wearing her hair in a bun. She stood by a technician in a white lab coat. They watched the images zipping by.

“Any luck?” Fenner said.

Gavel smiled. She said, “Yes, I think we might have our Angel.”

She turned and walked to another holoscreen and it flickered through a few images, then stopped with a woman’s face frozen in view.

“He calls this one ‘Angel,’ and it’s relatively fresh in his memory. They were very vague in their conversation in an abandoned subway line a couple weeks ago. But they discussed certain assignments that seemed to involve targeting SSI.”

Fenner stared at the attractive face and smiled.

She said, “Excellent. StarCen, please identify this person.”


“StarCen? StarCen, please respond.”

“Uh, Director, you might want to see this.”

The technician waved his hand and the image of the attractive young woman disappeared. It was replaced by an overhead shot of the Administration Building. Or rather, what used to be the Administration Building. Smoke drifted up from the rubble.

The scene shifted again to other buildings and military installations around the planet, all blown away.

Fenner said, “What’s going on?”

Gavel said, “I think we’re under attack.”

The holo shifted to a camera inside the Yorkton spaceport. Passengers ran screaming while guard bots fought with . . .

“Are those space marines?” Fenner said. “Republic troops wear green, right?”

“I believe so, ma’am. Yes, look at that sergeant. She is definitely Republican.”

They watched as a short-haired female sergeant with a cigar in her mouth threw grenades at guard bots and yelled at marines behind her to follow.

“That explains why StarCen is not responding. She’s busy right now.”

Gavel said, “They probably took out her cores, too. It may be a while before we hear from StarCen again.”

Fenner froze in realization. Gavel was almost certainly right about that.

Fenner said, “That means we can’t teleport out of here. Or anywhere else, for that matter.”

She looked at Gavel and the technician. Both stared back at her, wide-eyed.

“Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. First, kill every prisoner in this facility and dispose of the bodies in the incinerator. Then blow up all our equipment here. Can I trust you to oversee that, Gavel?”

Gavel nodded and said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“Second, everyone present needs to disperse and lie low. I will contact you all in the future once things settle down. Cooper’s fleet might be able to handle this mess, I don’t know.”

“No, ma’am. I don’t think so,” Gavel said. “They wouldn’t be landing marines unless they were confident they had control of the sky.”

“Okay. Okay, you’re probably right about that.”

Fenner bit off a few curse words. She had to hold it together. Her world seemed to be falling apart.

“Right. So, stay low. Whatever happens, do not get caught. Do not get . . . rounded up. I’m sure they’ll come after SSI once they solidify their control over the surface.”

The holo switched back to the image before, the one from Dolphin’s memory showing the attractive young lady. Fenner stared at it, committing the face to memory.

She frowned and said, “Just when we were closing in on her, too.”

Fenner left the room, carrying a pocket computer with Dolphin’s memories while she searched for the exit. She had never walked out of the facility before, and did not know where the door was.

Behind her she heard a group of agents going from room to room, shooting prisoners in the head.


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