How do I get myself into these things?
I didn't want to be on the ground assault.
No, seriously! I didn't!
Okay, yes, you keep seeing me deep in the thick of it.
And yes, I was a courier, and an assassin.
But that doesn't mean I enjoy being on the pointy end.
I'm crazy, not stupid.
Oh. Wait. I guess that's kinda the point.
Anyway, enjoy the chapter!
“That went better than I hoped,” panted Kendra. For all that she was in fundamentally decent shape, and her nanobots certainly stretched her endurance, she hadn’t had any reason to run in gear for a long, long time, even at ⅛ g.
To Kendra’s disgust, Cass didn’t even seem winded. Of course, it might have had something to do with the physical fitness requirement Alley had insisted her crew meet, a requirement that the Admiral judged herself exempt from.
“I’m happy we got the Marines out of the way without any bloodshed,” agreed Cass. “Do you have a plan to take care of the diplomats?”
“Yes,” she answered shortly. When no further elaboration was forthcoming, Cass switched to the ‘plant.
I’m going to find the leader and tell them to surrender. If they don’t, I’m going to disable them and ask the next person. Sooner or later, they’ll either agree or I’ll run out of bodies.
And what are the rest of us doing while you go all single combat maiden warrior on their Artemis asses?
Covering my back.
Cass increased her pace and drew parallel with Petra. Kendra could see the conversation, but couldn’t make out the words. Whatever it was, it didn’t take long, then they both peeled off and started checking in with others in the group.
What are you doing?
Covering your ass, Cass replied.
She could see their target building now, hear the roar of the Alexander’s engines, smell the smoke from the destroyed ships. Ahead, Plymale raised his clenched fist and the group slowed to a stop.
“You still insist on doing this, Ma’am?” he asked Kendra when she’d come to rest.
“My job. At least we got Kyra to stay back with the rest of her people.”
“You don’t enter until we give the all clear.” It wasn’t a question, and she simply nodded.
“Door group, with me!” The six OutLook agents, Cass, and the five most experienced from the Enterprise volunteers, headed for the main entrance. Their hope was anyone from the Union would be pressed against the windows on the far side of the building, watching the excitement at the pad.
Plymale eased the door open and slipped inside. So far, so good.
The other five agents moved in in rapid succession, followed by the Enterprise crew.
“I hate waiting,” Kendra muttered.
“Maybe they’ll see the agents and surrender,” LJ suggested hopefully. Her experience had been a single two-year hitch in the Republic of Texas’ Army a decade earlier, doing systems maintenance. But she could shoot straight, at least, and flatly refused to not take part. That didn’t mean she was happy to be there.
“Maybe,” Orloff said doubtfully.
“There!” exclaimed Batgirl, pointing. An agent had emerged from the door and was waving them forward.
“You were right,” he said to Kendra when she passed. “They’re all watching the show.”
Another agent waited to lead them through the corridors. At a ramp Plymale was waiting.
“There’s a balcony overlooking the foyer, or whatever it is. We’re going to take up a position there to give you cover fire if you need it. We’ll coordinate through the implants.”
Kendra, Orloff, and LJ followed one agent; the rest went up after Plymale.
Don’t stare at my ass, Kendra commed.
Wouldn’t dream of it, Cass answered. Cover now, stare later.
The hatch leading to the foyer was closed. Worse, it didn’t have a window.
This is going to be tricky.
We’ll go first, Plymale replied. The corridor up here opens up to the balcony. When we go, I’ll signal and you open up.
Got it. On three?
“On three,” Kendra said aloud. Orloff put her hand over the switch and LJ drew her flechette gun.
One, two, three!
Orloff slammed her hand onto the control and the hatch started to dilate. LJ dove through and rolled, Kendra hard on her heels.
The assembled Union forces, who were just pivoting to look upward when the trio burst through the lower door, were completely surprised. Kendra popped to her feet, hands held open at her side, while Orloff and LJ covered her flanks.
“Hi!” she said brightly. “Who’s in charge here?”
There was shuffling but nobody came forward immediately.
“Don’t try it!” Plymale shouted from above.
“No clumps! You!” He pointed at a group of four. “Two meters between everyone. Move!”
The Artemesians separated and one finally took a couple reluctant steps forward. “I am Iyan Vinson, Artemis Foreign Minister. What is the meaning of this barbarity?”
“What happened to Dent?” said Kendra.
“Minister Dent has been retired,” said Vinson, with only a slight hesitation.
Kendra’s features hardened. “In Artemis, ‘retired’ tends to mean ‘murdered.’ I hope that isn’t the case.”
“I really can’t discuss…why are you here, and who are you?”
“I’m here to negotiate your surrender. You want to do this the hard way?”
Vinson shook her head. “I asked you a question.”
“Sorry, I forgot my manners. Admiral Kendra Cassidy, on behalf of the – oof!”
It all happened in an instant. As soon as she introduced herself, one of the group pulled a weapon from their sleeve and fired. LJ saw the movement and jumped at Kendra, knocking her sideways and out of the line of fire.
And herself in.
The round was a tiny steel bearing, accelerated to 0.01 c by a handheld rail gun, and caught her high on the right shoulder. She fell gracelessly to the ground and skidded.
From the balcony a single shot from Cass severed the gunman’s arm, then a second nearly decapitated him. His body dropped slowly in the light gravity, blood spraying the screaming people standing nearest. All around them the group scattered to the floor.
“Nobody moves!” Cass bellowed from above. “Kendra?”
“I’m fine. Hold fire!” shouted Kendra, climbing back to her feet. Orloff was already crouching by LJ’s form. “Petra?”
“She’s alive. Don’t want to move her, but she’s breathing.”
Kendra stalked to Vinson and, using her Terran strength, hauled her off the ground with a single arm.
“I know you have MinSec and MinInt fuckers mixed into your group, I want them against the windows, now.”
Vinson frantically gestured for them to move back. “You heard her, back up!”
In seconds thirty-two of the forty people still standing were separated and standing with their backs to the view of the smoking pad and the menacing Alexander.
“What are you going to do?” asked Vinson.
“I’m going to ask you again, real polite-like, if you want to surrender, and I’m going to do it before I lose my temper.”
“You’re on a Union planet!” objected Vinson.
“You’re a little behind the times. There’s been a change of heart in the leadership. Technically, you’re an invading force on a Federation planet. But don’t worry. We don’t kill prisoners without a trial.” She dropped Vinson to the ground and turned to Orloff.
“She’s still not conscious. I think she hit her head on the, watch out!”
Kendra whirled with all the speed her enhanced genetics could offer her, but it wasn’t quick enough to stop the single-shot needler in Vinson’s hand from firing. She closed her eyes in automatic reaction but the expected pain didn’t come.
Her body on automatic, even with eyes closed, she turned the spin into a roundhouse punch that caught Vinson’s outstretched elbow. She felt the bones crumble before the sound registered, then she was lashing out with her spinning foot. That connected with Vinson’s midriff and folded the woman in half. Only when Kendra’s foot hit the ground did she open her eyes and glance down.
“Zarquon loves me,” she murmured, seeing the undamaged CeeSea fabric of her skinsuit. One single dart had managed to embed itself in the surface and she plucked it between her fingers, dropping it on the ground, before turning back to a wheezing and moaning Vinson.
“That was dumb,” she said. “The rest of you lot, on the ground. Plymale, we’re going to have to secure them before we turn them over to Kyra and her justice.”
“On the way,” she heard from above.
“Hustle! We’ve got to get LJ back to the ship, and the only way to do that is Alexander.”
No it isn’t, Cass commed. Teleport.
I knew I married you for your brains.
“Enterprise, come in.”
“Go ahead, Kendra. Everyone okay?” Alley answered.
“Not so much. LJ took a shot. She’s alive, but unconscious and bleeding. We need to get her up to sickbay and Dr. Desjier, so we’re going to teleport her.”
Alley’s voice belied her concern yet she still maintained her professionalism.
“Who’s going to run it? Cass is the only one I know who’s ever done a portal-less teleport.”
“Gigluk,” said Cass, coming through the hatch, pistol leveled at the petrified Union people, and heading for LJ.
“Science. She knows how.”
“You heard her?”
“She’s already on the move,” Alley said.
Plymale and Adrick, one of the junior agents, were methodically securing the prostrate foes with what were essentially CeeSea zip ties while the others provided cover. Kendra pulled Vinson to her feet.
“You’re coming with me. Who’s your second?”
“Malia! Malia Villanueva!”
Kendra scanned the nearest figures. “Malia Villanueva, stand up!”
A darkly complexioned blonde stood. “I am Maria,” she said with a surprisingly Martian accent.
“Come here and take care of your boss. Enterprise, how are we coming?”
“Gigluk here, Admiral. I’m focusing the scanners now and a medical team is standing by.”
“Say when.” She pushed Vinson into Villanueva’s arms.
“Any time you’re ready.”
Kendra stepped over to LJ and knelt behind Cass. “How is she?”
“She won’t wake up, but we’ve slowed the bleeding. The suit helped.”
“They’re ready to teleport her.”
“We have to step away then,” said Cass. “The quantum scan needs a clear meter.”
The three women backed away, and Kendra said, “Ready for transport.”
“Scan starting,” Gigluk answered.
The process was utterly silent, which made it even more eerie for those who hadn’t seen it before. There was nothing visible to the eye at first, then the slightest hint of a silvery light encapsulated LJs body. Kendra knew, because Cass had patiently explained it to her, the light was the interaction between the scan and every particle that made up LJ; every time the characteristics of a particle were recorded, it was annihilated, releasing energy which was seen as light. The glow intensified quickly before her body disappeared, leaving only a bloodstain on the floor.
“Transport successful,” Gigluk said. “We’ve got her.”
“Good,” Kendra answered. “I’m ready to get off this rock.”