PLAIR stopped porting the Diego Fleet at random points as the deadly dance came to an end. There was little else for her to destroy after the last ship in the decimated Fourth Fleet succumbed to a starburst from one of the Condors. All that remained on the League side in orbit around Sporades was one of the smaller cubes.
The AI had stopped trying to destroy the cube when it became obvious that a glitch or a saboteur was actively using it to take out League ships. The contraption had eliminated six ships all by itself, or one quarter of the remaining fleet. PLAIR’s risk assessment of the sole remaining Starfold construct adjusted accordingly.
Not randomly teleporting her ships anymore was a risk, but the cube had not moved the last two seconds even when one of the Republican ships came close enough to be in danger of a strike. PLAIR judged the chances of an attack to be low, at least for the moment.
At last, everything stopped. The Republicans had lost three more ships, but with the elimination of the cubes they were victorious, and had quickly taken out the remainder of the Fourth Fleet.
With the apparent defector, more ships were eliminated even before StarCen could consider evacuating them. Ultimately, four League ships did get away. StarCen pulled them out when it became obvious she was going to lose.
The eyes of all the officers in the Diego Fleet, along with anyone else who had access to a holo at the moment, focused on the bare metal structure, floating in orbit.
Starlight glinted off its dark beams, and it was difficult to make out unless one looked at it with the planet in the background. But it hung there, in orbit, a giant bare box of death.
Then it popped away.
“Where’d it go?” Severs said, watching from the Thomas Paine.
“Admiral . . .” the Captain said, “it’s in the atmosphere!”
Somehow, they got to the second floor, Julia thought. How’d they get up here? Are they climbing on boxes or something?
More black-clad SSI agents popped their heads up level with the floor. She saw their black visors staring at them out of the hole that used to be the stairwell.
Like whack-a-mole, she thought.
They raised their blasters.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!
She jumped above the low-flying bolts and tumbled back through the open door and into their room.
Quickly, she peeked out the door again. Four agents had climbed all the way up. They spread out as best they could in the narrow hall and advanced. They aimed, jerking their guns up, and fired at her head.
She pulled back and retrieved another egg grenade. Without looking, she tossed it out the door.
Julia waited a beat . . . two beats.
Then she stopped herself from peeking out again. This time, she ducked down and risked a look at floor level.
Somebody shot from the broken stairwell, but clearly they had been expecting to see her head at normal height. The shot flew wide and high.
She saw what she wanted to see, though. Four bodies were down in the hallway. She heard the one in the back, closest to the stairs, groaning.
She could also smell smoke, and hear the unmistakable sound of fire crackling on wood downstairs.
We can’t stay here much longer, she thought.
Out loud she said, “Unless we get rid of those bastards, we’re trapped, Gina.”
Julia looked over at the big former Sergeant sitting up on the bed.
Wilcox’s eyes were still closed as her mind floated in the neural network.
Silently, she controlled the last Starfold box. She made it port again.
“Almost . . . there . . .”
The giant cubes were hard to port very far due to their enormous size, Gina decided. It must take a lot of power to move them. The programming called for relatively short ports, no more than a few klicks at a time. Perhaps that saved power? Gina did not know.
This one was one of the smaller versions, at 100 cubic meters. It was still big: a tenth of a kilometer, tall enough to cover a 30 story building.
Right now, the cube tumbled down through the air about five kilometers above the planet. No longer in orbit, the cube was in free fall, buffeted by strong winds, but dropping toward the ground.
Wilcox concentrated and the cube popped away again, this time appearing over the city of Rostin.
The long beams of metal looked bare at a distance, but Wilcox had discovered they had integrated cameras and sensors so StarCen could “see” spaceships and other things in orbit.
Gina looked down from the cube’s point of view and picked out the city center . . .
The cube teleported a final time.
Armando Morales sat in his office at SSI Sporades Headquarters, watching the away team’s progress through the holo on his desk. The unit commander’s audio and video feed from his neural implant provided most of the show, although Morales could switch to any of the agents if needed.
So far, he had kept his mouth shut even as events took a turn for the worse. The agents were all seasoned veterans, and they knew what to do even when things went south.
It had started well, at least. Morales had been very happy to see the elimination of so many undesirable societal elements in the AWD. This was a happy side benefit of a 50-man raid. They could eliminate a lot of homeless people.
But at the moment, they were losing too many agents to . . . egg grenades?
He ground his teeth in irritation, watching a flash in the holo with an accompanying Boom! as more black-clad bodies went down.
He decided to intervene at last. Something needs to be said, he thought.
He pressed his implant and said, “Team Leader . . . ”
Morales heard a loud Pop! and saw something outside his window. A long, thick black bar of metal stretched across the glass, blocking his view.
“What in the—”
A huge flash lit up the city as the entire SSI Building disappeared in a microsecond of contained sunlight.
Solar radiation blew out from the top and all four sides of the cube, scorching nearby buildings, melting their windows and killing three people on the street.
The entire SSI building simply disappeared. The cube around it now covered a crater.
A plume of smoke drifted up between the black metal beams.