“Well, so much for easy,” Gunny said.

Major Henderson looked down the street, littered with the corpses of his men. He nodded in agreement with the Sergeant.

The transports had been devastating.

“I think we got most of the people hanging out the doors,” Gunny said, continuing. “It was a smart move, but they were vulnerable. I guess nobody had any armor. It looks like we brought down one of them, too.”

He nodded in the direction behind them, where smoke darkened the sky.

Combined small arms fire must have taken down a vessel, Henderson thought. Either that, or somebody got very lucky shooting through the door and took out the pilot.

“Alright,” Henderson said, straightening up and coming out from cover now that the aerial assault was over. “Regroup. We continue with the mission’s objectives.”

He touched the implant under his ear and said, “You still with us, Bisset?”

“Yes, sir, I am,” Bisset’s voice came back. “Can’t say that about most of my guys, though. We lost at least a hundred.”

Henderson frowned. How many had Gunny lost? He would have to do a head count at some point, but he supposed his losses were on par with the other company’s.

“Alright. Let’s resume. Keep an eye on the skies and take cover if those transports come back.”

“Yes, sir.”

Henderson headed back out in the street, gun aimed level and to the side this time.

Gunny waved at the men behind them, the survivors. A couple of wounded crawled out from under debris.

Gunny activated his implant and said, “StarCen, port our dead and wounded to the hospital ship.”

“I cannot do that, LEAF Sergeant Adebayo.”

“What? Why not?”

“The soldiers are armed and have explosive ordnance on their persons. I am under orders not to port anything explosive to any ship in orbit. This comes from a ship’s Captain, LEAF Sergeant Adebayo.”

Gunny gave Henderson an incredulous look.

Henderson, who had not been privy to both sides of the conversation, said, “What?”

“StarCen is refusing to port our boys up. Says a ship’s Captain ordered her not to port anybody with explosives.”

Henderson grunted. He said, “Probably a new safety protocol or something. Have the wounded disarm themselves then see if she’ll port them. Leave the dead for now, we don’t have time.”

Gunny moved to carry out the orders, then he stopped again.

“What if the civilians grab the guns, sir? It’s SOP to port the weapons of the dead and wounded out.”

“That’s right. I didn’t think about that.”

Henderson rubbed his chin for a moment.

“StarCen, are you willing to port the weapons and explosives of the dead and wounded to a safe terrestrial location?”

The AI answered a second later.

“I can do that, LEAF Major Henderson. There is an isolated space in the fields a few kilometers out that is suitable. I will move the weapons there temporarily.”

Gunny smiled and said, “Good thinking, Major.”

“Yeah, but I shouldn’t have had to think about it, Sergeant. That’s a major deviation from standard operating procedure. I’ve never heard of StarCen acting like this before.”


“They’re coming!”

The shout went up along the rooftop of the Governor’s Mansion.

“Hold your fire!” Pak yelled.

Dutifully, not one defender shot at the soldiers advancing on their position.

“You have to admit,” Kim said, “My mini-rail gun idea was a good one. We could use it to launch egg grenades at a distance.”

“We don’t have many grenades, though,” Pak pointed out.

“I also thought about using concave mirrors and blinding them, maybe setting off some explosives at a distance that way. You know, Archimedes did something like that during the Siege of Syracuse. Those were the first heat rays.”

Pak nodded. He said, “I know about Archimedes. But that would have taken up too much time. Plus, we gave most of our grenades to the transport crews.”

He turned to Kim and smiled.

“Fortunately, I’ve got a plan. I only wish I had thought about it sooner.”

He turned back to the other men and women lining the roof the mansion, their guns aimed at the LEAF soldiers advancing toward them.

“Do not shoot!” Pak shouted. “Let them approach the lawn!”

Everybody nodded or waved to let him know they understood. The soldiers continued advancing, loosely spread out and aiming their guns at the building.

“So, you going to tell me what your plan is?” Kim said. “I don’t see any equipment or anything. How are you going to stop those guys?”

“I’m not. Lootie is.”

When the last soldier set foot on the Governor’s lawn, they began disappearing, 50 a second.

They reappeared, 100 meters in the air.

They fell back to the ground, screaming.

Everyone winced as about 150 men splatted on the ground in three groups.

Pak and Kim exchanged glances. Pak grinned while Kim looked at him in shock.

Kim said, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“I know, right? Like I said, I wish I thought of it earlier. It’s easy to take out the bad guys when your AI is still in place.”

“But, how . . .? I thought teleportation was limited to a handful of people at a time.”

“No, 50 people is about the maximum. Even so, this was just a short distance, and we didn’t care if they got hurt in the process. But yeah, I think she pooled all her available energy on the planet just now.”

They looked out again at the bodies on the lawn.

Kim said, “What a mess. I’m not cleaning that up.”


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