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A note from WriterObscura

Tribal Warfare Volume III is part of the Femitokon Series.
To start at the beginning, please visit:

Calgary Correctional
Plantation #3, Foxe Sea Island
0800 Hours - 2 Yulitat 2228

Ornith broke through from the clouds as a pair of helicopters appeared. The clunky machines flanked his position, nearly colliding with one another after Orny tucked his metallic wings and dropped beneath them.

“Twentieth-century choppers are damned noisy,” said Dox.

“Those are refurbished Sea-Hawks.” Sofita blinked, closing the mission briefing that floated in her eyes. “Orny, scan for munitions,”

“Neither flier carries an inventory of missiles,”

“What are the morons hanging out the chassis carrying?” asked Dox.

Each of the six per flier carry M4 carbines, all ineffective against my phasic shielding,” Orny explained. “Also, there is no detectable operative programming within the fliers,”

“Even if they had munitions, they couldn’t fire them?” Dox laughed while studying the landscape projected above her.

Foxe Island consisted of open grassy fields near the shoreline, with tall gates outlining a sizable parcel of flatland. A cluster of windowless concrete structures sat surrounded by endless rows of uniformed stalks; corn remained a necessary vegetable due to the Nauist reliance on ethanol.

“Orny,” said Sofita with a grin. “Reduce speed and rejoin.”

“Look at those bulky uniforms,” Dox said. “Are there any women among them?”

“There are two, Dokomad. One of them is piloting the flier.”

“Let’s not be bullies, Orny,” said Dox. “Find their communication band and request an escort.” The young marix had matured considerably since Uralskey, and only she knew if the reason was down to losing Ilo Cux or having her brain repaired with cells from a Toxic Class lifeform.

“The request is acknowledged, Dokomad.”

Outside, the choppers set down on the helipad of a five-story building.

A small crowd of clerical types gathered near the rooftop entry door, curious to see a farc-officer. Lingering behind them, however, stood some geared-up pilots eager to see a legendary Ornithocheirus.

“Remain inside,” Sofita said, stepping to the hatch door.

Dox nodded. “Affirmative, Komad.”

Orny’s spherical body spun upward upon landing. Glassy face aimed at the sky, his wings became hardened and morphed into sharp angles as they punched into the concrete, cracking it. The outline of the hatch door glowed upon his belly, and when it opened, Sofita stepped outside.

Confusion clouded the onlookers; bullheads don’t have hair. She marched past their whispers and approached the only man with a firearm in his belt. She raised her hand and presented an ID badge, a crude way to identify, but Nauists opposed any technology they didn’t invent.

The stocky sentry examined the picture.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, stepping aside.

“Komad,” she corrected, staring down at him.

He stared at her. “Ma’am?”

“I’m not a madam, miss, or misses,” she asserted. “I’m what you’d call a Commander, and you’ll address me as such.”

“Yes, Commander,” he said, coming to attention.

“I can take you below, Commander,” said a uniformed girl at the door. Hair cropped short and dyed white, her archaic attire spoke of a time when this land existed as the United States, a nation entering the first of two world wars.

Below, black doors without handles broke up the monotony of the gray painted walls. Tucked high in the extended vestibule hummed a closed-circuit camera, while an open service panel in the ceiling revealed soundproofing on the pipes.

Beyond barred doors sat desks with paper-fed typewriters and kerosine lamps. Oil remained a scarce commodity, and the Nauists heavily regulated electricity, leaving most with centuries-old tech made operable with outmoded applications. Though solar panels dotted the courtyard, Orny’s scans indicated no tracking converters; these people cooked with fire in a broken, hollowed-out microwave.

A russet-skinned guard regarded her coldly through a barred partition at the intake office. When asked to step to a faded ‘Stand Here’ mark, she focused on the accordion camera’s circular lens and didn’t blink when the flashbulb exploded.

The guard shoved a clipboard through the bars.

“Can you sign in, please?”

Sofita eyed the pen in his hand as she pulled on her gloves.

“We have computers, styluses, and even optical scanners,” he said. “But you farcs ain’t got eyes, so,”

Sofita printed her name in English on the paper.

“You haven’t shaved in two days. You forgot to clean your ears this morning, and you have acne budding in the corner of your mouth.” She pushed the clipboard back through. “I have eyes, Sergeant, and unfortunately, they’re working right now.”

A few giggles followed from somewhere behind him.

“Pardon me, Commander.” A matronly gray-haired woman sidled up to the window, a darker shade than the guard yet lighter than that whore from Port Yukon. “Jameson, go sit down,” she said before addressing Sofita. “I’m Sergeant Givens. May I ask whom you’re visiting today, Commander?”

“Carl Crystal,” she replied.

“Mister Crystal’s been here a long time. Never known him to have visitors other than those crazy women of his.” Givens took the clipboard and reviewed the information. “May I ask what your business is with Inmate 586?”

“I’m here to sell Carl some corn,” she cracked.

Givens sighed. “It’s a standard question we ask all visitors, Commander.”

“I’m aware of that, Sergeant.” Sofita smiled. “But that’s my answer.”

Givens chuckled. “I’ll have to report your visit, Commander,”

“That’s fine by me, Sergeant,” she added, watching the woman gather her paperwork, “I prefer dealing with you. You’re certainly better looking than Jameson.”

The man scowled as his superior padded to the door.

“Don’t you aim none of that lesbian sass at me, Commander,” said Givens. “I’m a Christian woman.”

“You follow the teachings of a Jewish prophet who revolutionized his follower’s connection to their unseen God during a time of oppression by polytheists?”

The guard, Jameson, scowled as Givens led her through the barred office.

“After claiming to be the unseen God’s son, he acquired a following sizable enough that the governing faction ordered his crucifixion,” Sofita continued. “The man became deified when his followers created a myth around his resurrection.”

Jameson smirked. “That wig got a brain in it, bullhead?”

“I didn’t know your kind cared about religion,” Given said, gracious.

No, her kind didn’t.

The Sixth Tenant of the Ramaxi L’uxial stated that no higher being had created, controlled, or could destroy the Femmar.

When the Second Gen arrived in Brasilia, they’d repaired damage to a stone statue called ‘the Redeemer,’ and its effect on the populace had intrigued future Primary, Pitana Kul. Then just a Promad, she’d witnessed their reverence for the figure, which played a part in her decision to build the Caryatids.

Givens stopped at a fax machine sitting upon a metal stool.

“I’ll need a clearance sheet from Banff,” she said.

Sofita handed her a slip of paper, and Givens pulled her chained eyeglasses up from her chest and set them on the bridge of her nose. Outside the intake room, the rooftop group passed the doorway, many peering in while Given tapped on the number pad and then fed paper into its front tray.

“Pay no mind to them looky-loos,” she said.

She held the door for the woman as they entered an open courtyard. Under the morning sun, Givens commented on the colder winters affecting the growing season, and like the bartender at Port Yukon, she asked if the Femmar caused the sudden chill.

Sofita polluted the subject by noting that the sudden cold did little to affect the smell of the freshly manured fields.

Sergeant Givens led her into another structure where dozens of metal doors lined a cinder block wall. Givens pushed a cracked intercom button beside the third door and asked for Carl Crystal.

“How long have you worked here, Sergeant?”

“Since I was fifteen,” she replied.

“I hope they pay you well.”

She smiled warmly. “I think it’s nice what y’all do with those whaleships. Coming ashore and releasing all that freshwater.”

The goal never involved gifting freshwater to drought-stricken humanity, and ‘nice’ wasn’t a word applied to any World Oceans initiatives.

Toxis Class lifeforms leached saline from the saltwater they imbibed and used it to maintain their thyroids. After the water’s reverse-osmosis, it required a purge. Bizaki filtration engineers mandated landfall dumps after hizaki specialists warned them to avoid flooding oceans with mass freshwater infusions. Promad’s took advantage of the necessity, dispatching their cooped up Fleeters to shore for digging massive pool pits.

“Please wait here, Commander,” said Givens as a buzzer sounded, popping the door. Sofita watched her through its narrow opening as she attached handcuffs to a metallic ring fused to the tabletop. “You got a visitor today, Prisoner 586,” she said.

“Is it someone I know?” Cristi’s accent held a touch of old-world Britain, an intonation native to certain groups residing on the northwest island of the African Trisect.

“I don’t think so,” she replied.

Cristi whispered, “You have a blessed day, Cecile,”

“You also, brother Carl,” she whispered back.

He’s still got that zaxxy charm,” said the Shell in her mind.

When the door opened, out came Givens.

“You have twenty minutes, Commander.”

Sofita moved aside as she shuffled past.

Closing the door behind her, Sofita silently studied his back and recalled their first encounter. Caro Cristi had been chubbier the night he’d snuck into the estate for reasons young Sofita and Fusada couldn’t fathom.

That night, Fusada had warned him to flee.

Later, they’d heard his screams.

“I’ve been waiting for—” he stopped speaking after facing her. His eyes flashed with hatred before dulling in defeat. “You’re not one I expected.”

Sofita walked around the table and grabbed the chair opposite. Turning it around, she straddled it to face the male zaxir presenting himself as a well-manicured man with bright eyes, youthful skin, and delicate aquiline features.

Fusada’s original reports stated Caro’s hair had been dyed brown, and his eyes turned blue; sadly, she lacked the means to verify.

“You look so much like him. It’s uncanny,” he said with a smile, but when he made to laugh, Sofita slammed her fist upon the table, startling him.

‘Extreme physicality still intimidates him,’ she thought.

“I imagine living through a night with Fusa left its mark,” the Shell said.

Raising her fist, she turned it over and opened her hand to reveal a chunk of misshapen ice melting on her palm. Without haste, Caro snatched it up and slipped it between his lips.

“Nothing tastes like home,” he said, crunching it between his teeth.

Sofita said nothing.

“You’re not what I expected.” His face relaxed. “I’ve imagined meeting the Femitokon called Fusada so many times.”

Sofita said, “Utahraptor Sil,”

“Doctor Sofita Kul,” his eyes narrowed. “That silver thing in your blood punches me in the gut every time you murder one of my boys,”

“Utahraptor Sil,”

“So much anger slithering under that Kul hide.” He straightened his back and spoke with an elegance that transcended his human masculinity. “Your sire possessed a natural scowl. I see him in your face. There’s no denying who made you.”

“Utahraptor Sil,”

“He never feared Fusa.” His lips spread and displayed his perfect human teeth. “He hated Fusa as much as he cared for Fee. Oh, but you never knew Fee, having killed her,”

“Utahraptor Sil,”

Why should I tell you anything?” He growled in Ramaxi. “You’re the worst form of predator, taking orders from the wombs in the shadows, the same monsters that would kill you to remain in power!

“Utahraptor Sil.”

He laughed heartily. “What a lovely beast you are, Sofita Kul. The product of a male’s seed. The freeborn epitome of our failed caste designations.”

“Utahraptor Sil,”

When you stepped in here, I felt the other one,” he goaded. “Tell me, did you kill her too?

Sofita blinked.

There it is,” he cooed. “Even the toughest hides have a tender spot.”

She remained stoic. “Utahraptor Sil.”

“Doctor Kul, for your sins against me, I’ll let you take your chances with my youngest. He’s not had a proper upbringing like my others,” he said, sighing before employing their native tongue. “My boy is in the wasteland, between the Austin coast and the southern waters of the Utah Bay.”

Sofita stood and dismounted the chair.

Now that you’ve paid me a visit, he added, smile fading. They’ll take me from here. They’ll cut me apart in hopes of making a farc of their own.”

Sofita moved in behind him and put her lips close to his ear.

You must’ve been excited finding Jal out there, she whispered. I wonder why, after everything Jal went through before crossing paths with you, he didn’t kill your wives, along with your daughters.

Carl’s hands balled into fists so tight that his knuckles went white.

There it is,” she whispered. “Even human skin has tender spots.”

“Hizzah fuck,” he growled.

After joining Givens in the hall, Sofita glanced back at the closing door and watched as Caro’s hand moved over the paperclip she left on the table.

 


 

Two Hours Later
Foxe Sea Island, Plantation #3
December 2, 2228

Tara Whitley’s fragile state remained hidden until a colleague walked into the barracks and found her about to eat her gun. This attempt at silencing her guilt came on the heels of burying her brother at Christfaith Cemetery in Holy Cross.

NAUSIS stripped her of her rank and seized her credentials and firearm. Jobless for the first time in her life, she hiked the Rockies, experiencing enough isolation to deal with what had happened that summer.

After ninety days, Tara applied for reevaluation and got the all-clear to return to duty. Her contemporaries had ostracized her; the sin of suicide far outweighed the recklessness of getting her brother killed. Still, she appreciated the second chance, even if it meant permanent desk duty.

When orders came assigning her to the field, she felt elated—until hearing she’d be serving alongside Colonel Adam Pierce. The man’s career as Commissioner Perry’s ghost came with a long list of dead partners.

He’d been in one uniform or another since his teens, and on paper, he came off as a rugged, burly operative with a manly beard and the body of a T-Rex. Alas, the legend far exceeded the man. Narrow and muscular, Pierce, with his awkward thin-lipped smile, kept his handsome face clean-shaven and his brown hair short. Another dour whiteboy in military boots, his dark, intense eyes made those he focused on uncomfortable.

Tara kicked aside a glass milk bottle that rolled past her feet while sitting in the Jeep’s passenger seat. Pierce pounded down dairy as if allergic to everything else, but he understood the farcs well enough that most overlooked his shitty habits.

The radio announcer rambled on about the NAU’s planned resurrection of the US Space Surveillance Network.

Along with the Orthodoxy in Africa, the North American Union spent decades trying to salvage pre-impact satellites in orbit. Last Tuesday, their efforts to reconnect with a lone weather satellite failed.

Tara wondered, “You think all our sats fell in the Dark Years?”

“None of the fell. Ramaxia’s second-generation picked our territories dry of sustenance, animals, and tech,” said Pierce, his eyes on the road. “What makes you think they didn’t do the same thing when they got into space?”

“They’re in space?” she asked.

“I know you’ve been MIA for a time, but the farcs have a cannon in orbit, Ensign,” said Peirce. “They’ve got space stations,”

“When I first made rank, I accompanied a flyover of the AWI. I got to see those large geothermal stations. The ones those kids built,” Tara said. “All that shit’s just sitting on the coast, not being used.”

“They’re using cold fusion while we’re still fracking, drilling, and mining for barely enough shit to run our vehicles.” Pierce turned off the main road and veered toward a gate on the horizon. “Compared to them, we’re prehistoric.”

“They didn’t have an impact event,” she said.

“The same meteor that fucked us also screwed them,” he countered.

“Those kids hit the ground running,”

“I agree with you there. Twenty-first-century humanity left us nothing to recover.” Peirce slowed as they approached a brick-built guard shack. “They consumed everything. To them, the future was disposable,”

“My grandmother said the farcs came with the asteroid,”

Pierce sucked his tongue.

“You don’t believe they’re aliens, Colonel?”

“Farcs need air to survive long-term. There’s no way they’re from a hunk of lifeless rock,” he said. “I thought you were smarter than that, Ensign.”

“My mother believes it wasn’t a rock,” said Tara.

Amusement flashed in his cold eyes.

“Have you read Balantin’s work?” he asked. “The Russians found them in Lake Vostok, and they woke up after the volcanoes on this planet started shitting themselves.”

“The Slavs are as dead as Balantin, now,” she sighed.

“So is that spaceship theory.” Pierce held up his credentials, and when the guard looked at Tara, she did the same. “VK was a PHO for years before it slammed into Eros.”

Tara smiled as Pierce took off for the next checkpoint.

“The ‘Coptis have been digging iron and nickel from the shallow sea over Arabia for years,” he added. “That shit wasn’t there when the peninsula was above the water. It wasn’t a ship, Ensign. It was a rock,”

Fields of tall stalks curtained the narrow road, giving way to a stretch of grass that surrounded the prison. The angular cinder block facility looked out of place against the mountainous backdrop. When the unattended gate at the next checkpoint opened too slowly, Pierce nearly hit it while entering.

“Just one of those farc hydro-stations could power all the NAU,” Tara said. “It’s just sitting there, doing nothing.”

“You agree with Gideon’s kid?” he asked. “You think we should ask for help?”

“I’m a Dubois follower,” Tara declared. “Humanity needs to unite and take out those Antarctican bitches,”

“There aren’t enough of us to unite and do anything,” Pierce said. “Even if we did combine our weaponry, the farcs have air-to-land scorchers that can burn entire continents from sea to shining sea.”

Tara stared at his profile. “We should all just kill ourselves?”

“I don’t disagree with your sentiments,” he clarified. “I’m tired of waking up every day on the losing team, Ensign. We’re kissing dirt while they’re landing ships on Mars.”

“You think they’re on Mars?” she asked, but Pierce said nothing more as he parked the Jeep upon a paved square in the grass. He then climbed out of the driver’s side and walked on without waiting for her to exit.

“Is that what you were doing in Australia?” she asked, following him to the building’s guarded entry.

“That’s classified, Ensign,” he said.

Tara pressed him. “Did you find anything?”

“Classified,” he repeated.

The sentry worldlessly checked their IDs before opening the door. Inside, they silently passed two more armed guards standing watch. Flashing their identification to a third, they got into an elevator and rode it up to the central intake.

Through the bars, she felt the attending guard’s gaze.

“I take it they don’t get to see women in their line of work?”

“There’re women here,” said Pierce. “The civilian shift ended half-hour ago,”

“Why did a farc Commander come here, Colonel?”

“That’s what we’ll find out,” he said.

The first person questioned was Sergeant Cecile Givens.

Old enough to be Tara’s grandmother, the woman’s politeness reminded her of the elitist matriarchy at Holy Cross.

“So, a farc officer shows up,” she asked. “And you just let her in?”

“The Commander had the proper paperwork,” said Givens.

“Scanned documents, Sergeant?” she prodded. “Did you forget we don’t honor digital orders?”

“It was paperwork.” Givens pointed to the folder in Pierce’s hands. “It had all the proper signatures, and I called it in,”

“Did you get a verification code,”

“I did, Ensign Whitley,” said Givens.

“What was the name of the officer you spoke to?”

“A nice young man named Terry.” Givens looked at Pierce. “He said he was from Holy Cross and said he had a sister who was an Ensign in the military.”

Tara’s face burned with rage as Pierce stepped between her and Givens.

“The code given was a valid Banff issue, slated for use next week,” Pierce said softly. “Sergeant, whom did she visit when she was here?”

Givens said, “Carl Crystal.”

“Did she say why she wished to speak to prisoner 586?” he asked.

“She dodged it.” Givens frowned. “Complimented me on my looks,”

“Was the interview recorded?” he asked.

Givens replied, “We record all interviews, Colonel,”

Pierce dismissed Givens, and when alone, he reviewed a playback of the interview while Tara combed through Carl Crystal’s intake files. When the farc officer appeared on the playback, Tara nearly dropped the paperwork in her hands.

“Who’s that, Sir?” she asked of the Komad who’d murdered her brother.

“That’s Sofita Kul.” Pierce touched the television screen, his finger lingering on the farc as she sat opposite Crystal.

Tara stood, overcome with anger, until Kul said a name.

“Utahraptor,” she parroted. “That psycho from the Badlands?”

Pierce whispered to himself.

“Why are you talking to Crystal about Eustace Sylvania?”

Tara paged through Crystal’s files looking for any connection to the Badlands among his women or his crimes and found it. “You’re not going to believe this. Carl Crystal arrived here immediately after sentencing in Calgary but never got an intake exam.”

“That’s impossible.” Pierce faced her. “He went into a coma his first year here,”

“The Correctional-Caution Mandate was in effect a month before his arrival,” Tara said, sighing in disgust. “No medical care is given to lifers no matter their condition upon arrival.”

“He slipped through the cracks,” said Peirce, deep in thought. “Are there any observations on his coma?”

“Subject continues to lapse into a comatose state that lasts no more than forty days. It occurs the same time every calendar year.” Tara read back the notes verbatim. “Have requested permission to perform MRI in Banff, but they’ve denied all requests.”

Pierce returned to the playback as Crystal began speaking Ramaxi.

“Crystal was legally married to Mai-Li Zhang.” He grabbed the files from her and began reading. “Zhang’s a trained plastic surgeon. When apprehended by Jungwa, authorities found Femarctic surgical instruments on her person.”

“Zhang fixed noses and made fake tits,” said Tara. “The skill to turn a farc into one of us? No human has that,”

“Think with me, here, Ensign.” Pierce tossed the file onto the table and, grabbing the remote, rewound the playback. “There’s no physical exam of him on record, anywhere, and here, he’s speaking Ramaxi.”

On the television, Crystal snapped at the Komad.

“Why should I tell you anything?” Pierce translated as Crystal spoke. “You’re the worst form of predator, taking orders from the wombs in the shadows...”

“I didn’t know you spoke farc,” Tara said, unnerved by his skill.

“Ramaxian politics,” Pierce mumbled to himself. “The Ninth Gen staged a coup back in eighty-six.”

“I thought they have limited terms to counter that shit,” Tara said.

“No one limits Fusa Kul,” he said. “But an heir might pose a problem,”

“None of this makes sense,” Tara said. “They don’t have males, so why would a farc choose to be a man?”

“What if they do have men?” Pierce went back to translating aloud, “The product of a male’s seed. The freeborn epitome of caste designations utter failure.”

“Freeborn?” Tara demanded. “I thought they employed invitro?”

“We don’t know shit about them. We just think we do.” Pierce rewound the tape to the beginning and turned it up when Crystal began whispering.

“You’re the other one,” Pierce read his lips. “I loved a hizzah once.”

Tara began pacing. “If they have males, then they breed when they feel like it,”

“If they’re breeding without caste designations—”

She flung the file across the room and stared at Pierce as its pages rained down between them. “We got no way to predict their behavior anymore!”

“That’s what threw me off about Kul in Tasmania,” he whispered.

“She’s a soldier with hair,” Tara said. “I thought she was a thinker, but there’s no hizaki that ripped.”

“What if they no longer have castes?”

Pierce slammed his hand against the communication button on the wall and spoke when someone acknowledged.

“I want Carl Crystal brought to me. Then I want a chopper prepped for prisoner transport.” He turned to Tara. “We’re taking him back to Banff, but he will answer my questions before they find out what he is.”

Sirens began wailing as the clang of closing barred doors sounded off beyond the door. Pierce pushed out of the office with Tara on his heels, and outside, they found dozens of armed guards mustering in the courtyard.

Tara grabbed one of them. “Private, what’s going on?”

“There’s been a break, Alpha Wing,” he said, joining the others.

“Prisoners A through D,” Pierce growled, running for the entry.

Tara followed, warning Pierce about the flashing green lights on the towers, signal dampers that rendered their Jeep’s lithium engine useless. Hearing her, he charged past the vehicle and towards the gate.

Along the trellis, eight officers stood firing at a group of men in orange jumpsuits desperate enough to climb the gate. Electrocuted men dangled from the crackling fence, bodies twitching in spasms as current coursed through their flesh.

Pierce avoided the deadly charge by climbing over the dead, but he fell back at the barbed wire rings atop its crown to avoid getting shot. Jogging back to the parking lot, he yanked an armed guard off his cycle and mounted it.

Revving up the motor, he drove around the circumference of the pavement and sailed past the fallen guard. When the dazed man jumped to his feet and aimed his weapon, Tara pulled her pistol and shot him in the leg.

Pierce swung the cycle toward a loading ramp butted against the prison’s north wall.

Riding its slope, he launched off of it with enough air to clear the gate’s barbed wire. Bouncing down onto the road outside, he nearly lost control of the cycle.

“Why’d you shoot me!” the guard yelled.

“You took a shot at a NAUSIS agent,” she shouted. “If you’d hit him, do you know what they would’ve done to you and your family?”

The guard nodded through the pain.

Suddenly a shout came for her to watch herself. She turned in time to see the pick-up truck barreling toward her. Reaching out, she grasped the door as it passed and inside found Sargent Givens at the wheel.

“Mister Carl will run for the water,” Givens cried as Tara climbed into the passenger seat. “There’s a fishing pier about two miles east.”

“What makes you think Crystal knows that?”

“You can see it from the windows of the interview room,” said Givens.

Speeding past the empty guard shack, the woman steered them off the paved road and down a stony path and through the corn stalks. Dozens of orange-suited prisoners rushed between the rows, and up ahead, Peirce’s bike cut across them.

Pulling a pair of binoculars from the glove compartment, Tara located the cycle as it slowed. Pistol aimed, Pierce fired, striking two prisoners down, but one of them jumped up unscathed and fled. The motorbike lost its footing, and as it went down, Pierce’s feet effortlessly found the road. Arms pumping, he sprinted for the closing dockyard gate.

Tara leaned out and took aim, her bullets striking the closing gate’s plating as a fleeing prisoner slid under it. Pierce missed his chance to slip under and narrowly avoided colliding with it as electric sparks snapped along the gate’s metallic threshold.

Givens slowed the van when they came upon Pierce.

“What’s beyond this perimeter?” he asked.

Tara marveled at his calm breathing.

Givens replied, “It’s the only jetty on the bay-”

“Get out. I need the truck,” he ordered.

“I need this van intact, and we need to stop those men from reaching civilian housing,” she argued. “They’re all killers,”

“Drive us through this gate first,” Tara said, sensing Givens’ determination. “You can leave us here after that.”

The woman nodded. “Fine, get on!”

Pierce grabbed the riding sidebar as the Sergeant punched the gas. Tara got her seatbelt on in time as they collided with the gate, tearing it from its metallic braces. Electric sparks rained around them as Pierce shot at prisoners clamoring for the boats.

Givens exclaimed, “He can’t kill them,”

“Keep driving, Sergeant,” Tara yelled. “They’re not dead, just wounded!”

Pierce jumped from the truck and took off after Carl Crystal.

The thick-bodied prisoner got to the end of the pier, turning to discover Pierce walking toward him with the gun aimed.

Carl spoke a few words, prompting Pierce to lower his weapon.

Tara bounded toward them as a hoverbike sailed overhead.

Piloted by a heavily tattooed man with a farc plasma rifle slung over his shoulder, the hover closed in on the jetty, and like a ballerina striking a pose, the smiling Crystal lifted his arm.

“Tuk Pongia,” Pierce shouted as the burly tattoed man grabbed Crystal’s arm and flew away. “What are you doing in this hemisphere?”

Tara stopped running as the hover sailed off toward the horizon.

“We need to get to town,” Givens yelled, stepping out of the truck. “Those men are going to hurt people, innocent people,”

Pierce approached them.

“What did he say to you?” Tara asked.

Pierce lifted the pistol and fired a shot into Givens’ forehead. Once she dropped to the ground, he fired another round into her chest.

“Colonel Pierce!”

“Don’t shout at me, Ensign,” he said, calm. “I’m right next to you,”

“She’s a civilian,”

“Killed in the line of duty.” He took the keys from her hand. “We must acquire Utahraptor Sil before the farc Commander does.”

“-and Crystal?”

Pierce walked to the driver’s side door.

“We find Utah. We find Carocristi,”

“Who’s Caro Cristi?”

Pierce aimed his gun at her. “Get in the van, Ensign.”

“Are you going to shoot me,” she demanded. “Like you did this civilian?”

“If you continue to question my authority on this mission.” Pierce kept his gun pointed. “Yes, Ensign, I will shoot you.”

“You’re fucking psychotic.” Tara raised her hands. “How have you kept your behavior disguised from Perry for so long?”

“Perry knows what I am, just as I know what you are,” Pierce countered. “You’re a fuck-up, Whitley. You risked your brother’s life to gain intel, and then you got him killed,”

“Fuck you,” Tara growled.

“That’s not the compensation I require for getting you reinstated.” Pierce lowered his gun. “Your hatred for Commander Kul will help me eliminate her. If not, you will return to Holy Cross as a civilian.”

Pierce tossed the keys at her and then opened the truck door.

“Get in the fucking truck, Whitley, and drive.”

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