Julia scanned the building on Yorkton’s periphery and grimaced. She watched as the Republican Marine platoon landed via transports in a circle around the isolated structure, and silently breathed a sigh of relief.

She had no access to an AI, just like most of the rest of the population on Juventas. StarCen’s presence was gone, thanks to surgical strikes by the Diego Fleet and follow up efforts by their Marines.

Supposedly, cores for PLAIR had been installed on the planet but she either remained offline or unavailable for civilian use at this time. Maybe both.

Julia had been able to meet with Elephant one more time. He informed her of reports concerning rogue SSI agents, ones the Marines had not captured yet. The most troubling part of his report: the Wicked Witch lived. She was still out there somewhere.

The trick was trying to find someone without an AI to tell you where she was or where she might be. Fortunately, Elephant knew something about where the Marines might be headed. They were systematically performing mop up operations, and that meant every SSI facility would be targeted. The ELO Tribunal happened to know where a number of those sites were.

Together, Elephant and Angel looked at what they knew had been taken out by the Marines so far. What remained were secondary minor targets. At least, they were minor as far as anyone knew. And what they knew, Elephant assured her, the Marines would know. So, that left five or six remaining locations in and around Yorkton.

“Now, let’s think like an SSI agent on the run,” Elephant had said. “What would you do, if you knew the Marines were checking out all your facilities?”

“I’d pick a good one to set up an ambush and take out as many Marines as I could.”

The old man nodded and smiled at her. He said, “See? We don’t need an AI. We can go through the same processes as she could.”

“Yeah,” Julia said. “But it takes longer.”

After looking over the targets remaining that they knew of, they decided this building would be ideal to set up an ambush. It was known officially as SSI Juventas Facility 26, and was supposedly abandoned. At one point it had reportedly hosted a variety of medical experiments on humans, led by a company called Gemini Exponentials. Somehow word had leaked out about that, and SSI ended up taking a lot of heat for it.

Evidently, some of the news outlets on Epsilon were more independent-minded than the government cared for, and a big exposé ran in one of the papers.

Julia knew that SSI had not stopped their human experiments. They simply moved them to isolated outposts, like Raton Five. Conditions on that planet were barely tolerable for human life, and work there could remain undisturbed from outside inquiries. That led to the Gemini Project, shrouded in mystery and leaving only a handful of survivors. Meanwhile facilities like this one, under scrutiny by the local populations, were abandoned.

Julia stood in an open field about 100 meters from the entrance to the building, her camouflage unit activated. The Marines did not notice her.

She watched as a young officer directed an assault unit led by a large female sergeant with very short hair.

The sergeant nodded and began barking out orders to the dozen people with her. They approached the building’s doorway, guns ready. A Marine with an XO hologram on her chest ran for the door and placed sticky bombs on it.

Now is the time, Julia thought.

She began running for the door, where all the Marines focused their attention.

When the sticky bombs exploded, she ran past the outer ring of personnel. They did not hear her footsteps as she zipped around them.

By the time debris settled from the blown door, she entered it ahead of the team going in.


Wilcox moved toward the blown door with Jamieson, Boggs, and three others. She knew the basic layout of the building, having studied the floor plans beforehand. In her mind’s eye, she could see the navigational map showing their location and an image of the ground floor.

Intelligence indicated this building was supposed to be empty. Since it was an SSI property they had to check it out, though. Their orders were to either take anything of value or render inoperable equipment too big to move. The enemy’s resources were to be neutralized.

Wilcox felt fairly comfortable with the assignment. These were secondary and tertiary targets, after all. Other than the one bogey who got away from the SSI safe house, they had not had a lot of excitement lately.

She was happy to have something to do. She knew many Marines around the globe were simply guarding locations, staring down civilians upset about the change in government or rebuilding facilities destroyed by the Navy in the initial attack.

This was the point where Marines became “boots on the ground” so vital to holding new territory. Wilcox normally enjoyed this part almost as little as she enjoyed sitting on a troop transport for weeks on end. At least checking out these final targets of interest gave her platoon something to do besides guard duty, so she enthusiastically directed her group toward the building.

They fanned out in front of the door, facing a giant open area, dimly lit.

“Boggs, toss the puppy in.”

“Sure thing, Sarge.”

Boggs unstrapped a drone the size of a shoebox from his back and threw it into the doorway. It landed on the floor inside, and sprouted four spider legs. It instantly lit up in a ball of light and began scanning the area.

Boggs and Wilcox followed a camera feed transmitted back to their minds via the neural net.

Boggs said, “No life forms. Wait. What was that?”

“I saw it, too,” Wilcox said. “It’s gone now.”

“Was it a glitch?”

“I’m not sure. Just keep an eye out. Send the puppy in deeper.”

The little drone scurried forward, its feet making metallic clicks on the floor.

“I’m fairly certain there’s no human life, Sarge. I’m not seeing any bio readings, except for that one flash in the pan back there.”

“What about explosives? After that house in the suburbs went up, I’m a little gun shy.”

Boggs did not respond right away, distracted by the readings sent back from the drone.

Finally he said, “I’m getting some weird feedback from the far end of the room, Sarge. It doesn’t look explosive, but there’s energy of some kind being held in containers. It’s just odd.”

“Let me look at it.”

Wilcox shifted her mind’s eye to the drone’s readout.

She said, “What is this? Some kind of storage facility? It looks like giant batteries of some kind, storing power.”

“Hold up, Sarge. I’m seeing movement.”

She watched with Boggs as something shifted near the far corner of the wall.

Boggs said, “Security bot. Newer model, hard to kill.”

“Okay,” Wilcox said. “That’s what we’ve got to deal with, people. Get the drone out, Boggs, and let’s go inside to engage.”

Before Boggs could send the command to make the drone retreat, the bot raised its firearm and fired.


The feed went blank.


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