Vicki Fenner looked at herself critically in the mirror. Dye took out the streak of white down the middle of her hair. She had never bothered with coloration before, ignoring all the comments about how she looked like the wife of Frankenstein’s monster and other snide remarks.

Fenner knew that underlying all the cutting comments ran a current of fear. When she walked into an interrogation chamber, the sight of her white-streaked hair sparked deep and profound fear in subjects. That was power she gleefully harnessed.

But now the tides had changed on Juventas. Now, the Diego Fleet was in orbit and they had wiped out almost all League assets.

They also took away StarCen.

Fenner had never realized before just how dependent they were on the AI. It handled so much of her daily life, she hardly ever thought to question what would happen without it. Now she knew.

Suddenly, her world had changed. This was now, for all proverbial intents and practical purposes, a Republican planet. StarCen was nowhere to be found and PLAIR was everywhere. Well, not quite everywhere. But, wherever there was AI, there was PLAIR instead of StarCen.

Fenner and others loyal to the League had one slight advantage in that most of the sensors StarCen left behind were incompatible with PLAIR, at least for the moment. Plus, to cover all or at least most of the planet, it was better to have multiple cores in place. The more people a planet had, the more processing power it required to keep track of them all.

PLAIR would only be receiving one core for now, she suspected. Fleets in both navies supposedly carried a core that could replace damaged ones on friendly planets, or substitute for the old AI in a conquest. So, PLAIR almost certainly already had a core presence here of some kind, she thought.

No doubt the Republic was in the process of rushing additional cores to Juventas now that victory was secured, but it should be a while until PLAIR held the same level of control that StarCen once had over the planet.

Fenner intended to capitalize on that as best she could.

One trick up her sleeve was knowledge of the locations of all the SSI facilities and safe houses in Yorkton. While Fenner suspected the League knew of the official site of SSI Headquarters, and she had no plans to ever return there, she felt fairly confident no spies knew of all the secret places SSI maintained.

Thus her trip to this current location, a three bedroom villa in the suburbs outside Yorkton. SSI kept several assets here, including one male and one female android who walked around on occasion to fool neighbors into thinking the house was occupied.

One of the first things Fenner did upon arriving at the safe house was to kill power to the androids. Right now she did not trust anything electronic.

Then she dyed her hair and retrieved a set of illegal contact lenses to fool iris scanners. Finally, she set about altering her face. She threw on an artificial nose and chin, and placed cheek inserts inside her mouth to alter her profile.

Stepping back from the mirror she looked at the reflection of a completely different person.

It’s not perfect, she thought to herself, but it should do the trick for now.

Thunk. THUNK! Thunk.

The sound of rails settling on pavement attracted her attention. She grabbed a blaster and peeked out the window.

A green armor-clad female sergeant jumped out of a transport carrying a huge gun.

“Surround the house, you filthy maggots!”

A stream of Republican Marines jumped out of all three crafts.

Fenner bit off a curse.

She ran into the main room and opened up the house’s control center. She entered a code and activated the self-destruct sequence, thankful for the protocol that dictated every facility should have one.

She gathered up a backpack stuffed with equipment, grabbed a couple of guns and a small bag of egg grenades, and darted out the back door into the yard.


She was just about to jump over the backyard fence when a bolt sailed over her head and burned a hole into the barrier.

“That was your warning shot!”

She stopped, hands up, desperately hoping she was far enough away.

She could hear footsteps in the grass behind her as a group of Marines closed in, no doubt pointing their blasters at her back.

In her mind’s eye she watched a counter ticking down to zero. When it reached “1,” she dropped, curling into a ball and covering her ears.

One of the Marines said, “What the—”


The house exploded, sending the Marines flying.

Debris rained down from the air.

Fenner stood and ran through the now toppled fence and into the next yard, intent on placing as much distance between herself and the Marines as possible.


Wilcox found herself lying on her back in the middle of the street, looking up at the sky. Her ears were ringing.

She sat up and looked at the destroyed house and let loose a long string of profanity.

Jamieson and Boggs walked up, smiling. Jamieson offered her a hand up.

While she dusted herself off, Boggs said, “Dang, Sarge. Good thing they’re not docking us for cussing anymore. You’d have lost a hundred credits there.”

Jamieson said, “I guess the intelligence about this being an SSI house was on the money.”

Wilcox ignored the two young Marines as she shook her head, trying to clear it.

Over the neural net she heard someone say, “One bogey ran out the back before the explosion. Looks like they escaped into the neighbor’s yard.”

Wilcox said, “Roger that. Pursue. We’ll get airborne and help you find them.”


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