“What happened?”

Julia had prepared herself for a siege. They expected an all out attack on the AWD. The SSI had given every indication that was their next step. And, since the ten man unit failed, she expected SSI to throw much, more at them. Maybe several hundred police with bots backing them up or something.

But instead . . . nothing. The drones had flown away, and nobody attacked. Nothing happened.

“I’m getting some news feeds, now,” Gina said, her eyes closed as she filtered through data only she could see. “Also some back channel coms I’m able to pick up by piggybacking on a relay a quarter klick from here. It looks like the Republicans attacked.”

Julia’s eyes widened with hope, only to see it shot down immediately.

The Sergeant said, “They were repulsed. If I’m reading between the lines, that weapon we saw the old people walk into . . . it must have been a terrestrial prototype. They put something like it up in orbit, evidently. Only much larger. Ships went in . . .”

“And never came out,” Julia said, finishing the statement with bitter disappointment in her voice.

Wilcox nodded with a glum expression of her own.

“I couldn’t warn them,” Julia said, as guilt hit her like the proverbial ton of bricks.

“Not your fault,” Wilcox said, “Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

But those were empty words. She noticed Julia’s dark mood remained in place.

Wilcox said, “Hey, there’s something SSI calls an ‘1151.’ It’s evidently an order to eliminate all political prisoners and round up undesirables. I think the AWD has a reprieve for now, but once they get done killing everybody in custody, I bet they’ll turn their attention back to us.”

“Can they handle rounding up all the homeless in the AWD? There’s a lot of people here.”

The Sergeant shrugged. She said, “I think that’s why we’re on the backburner at the moment. They’ve got more pressing issues.”

“Maybe we can use this to our benefit.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe we can walk over to SSI’s headquarters and pay them a little visit.”

Wilcox shook her head. “That place is going to be locked down tighter than—”

She stopped herself from saying something dirty.

Instead she said, “They’re going to be on the lookout. And SSI HQs are always well-protected.”

“Well . . . we’ve got to do something.”

Wilcox held a hand up, acknowledging Julia’s point.

She said, “Let’s go on an electronic fishing expedition again near the city center. I’m beginning to think Agent Smithers is right. We’re useless without good intelligence.”


Two hours later, Sergeant Gina Wilcox, Republican Marines, sat alone on a park bench near the concrete moat/fountain surrounding the Sporades Administration Building.

Julia Jones stood next to her, invisible and bored. She looked down at Gina and opened her mouth to say something. The Sergeant shook her head. Talking, or holding a conversation at least, in this heavily monitored public area would be noticed.

So Julia went exploring on foot while Gina sat back on the bench, closed her eyes, and scouted in the digital realm.

Julia looked up at the edifice of the tall Administration Building and turned away. She decided to go find the local SSI headquarters, instead.

That building was one block away. Unmarked, and not as tall, it had the look and feel of an SSI location, Julia thought. For one thing, locals avoided its entrance. They walked around to the other side of the street, as if some kind of aura emanated from the door, keeping them away.

Julia looked for cars, and cautiously crossed the street, intending to go inside and look around.


She heard Wilcox’s voice in her ear. The Sergeant’s attention must have switched back to her visual feed.

She stopped in her tracks. Wilcox must have sensed something that would detect Julia, even with her camo unit on.

She walked to the right, intending to circle the building.


She stopped and went to the left.

“Negative. There is no good way around there.”

Julia stopped and felt a burst of frustration in her chest. She wanted to argue with Gina, maybe discuss the best way to go about approaching the building. But of course, she could not respond. There were sensors all over the place, and someone would surely notice a disembodied voice, perhaps even linking it to the large woman sitting on a park bench a block away.

She turned in resignation and headed back toward the large open park area surrounding the Administration Building.

Wilcox sat on the bench, her eyes closed. She stayed there well into the afternoon. Julia wandered around the park, avoiding pedestrians, bicycles, hoverboards, and other hazards.

At long last, in the early evening, Wilcox stood and stretched, then started the long walk back to the AWD.

Julia filed in beside her, breathing a silent sigh of relief.

Finally, as they reached the first line of warehouses, Wilcox said, “We’re out of range of sensors.”

Julia deactivated her camo unit, gratefully.

She said, “I take it the detection fields were pretty heavy around the building.”

Wilcox nodded. “You would have tripped all kinds of alarms at SSI if you came any closer. That place looks impregnable.”

Julia said, “Typical,” with a hint of annoyance edging her voice.

“In the plus column . . .” Wilcox continued, lowering her voice even though she was certain no sensors were picking up their conversation. “I was able to tap into a treasure trove of government data. In particular, I learned a whole lot about their global defense network. Did you know they have something called MARS which lets them send missiles to any island on the planet in a matter of minutes?”

Julia shook her head. She said, “What about those trap things we saw them use on the old people?”

“Those are part of what they call Operation Starfold. They work on a brand new subroutine. Essentially, they’re tethered to Sporades and can’t go very far out. I’ve been looking at ways to control them.”

Julia glanced at her sharply.

“Control them? Like how? Turn them off?”

Wilcox shook her head. She said, “The power grid is very well protected. I think I could figure out how to get in and shut it down, if I had enough time to sit around all day and work my way through it. But the subroutine for Starfold is similar in nature to ship drones. You know how those work?”


“In the old days, a few months ago before all these new techniques came into play, when two opposing destroyers met they’d send out their drones to duke it out before engaging with the ships themselves. The drones were controlled by the AIs on a subroutine, which essentially allowed for pre-existing decision matrices. It freed up processing power for the AIs. In other words, they don’t have to think as much about drone action in the heat of battle.”

“So, you’re saying those Starfold things operate similar to drones in that they’re on some kind of subroutine?”

“Right. And the joy of that is . . .”

Wilcox stopped and grinned down at Julia who still had a bewildered look on her face.

“The joy of it is, they’re going to be easier for me to take control!”


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