Severs frowned as he watched stars flicker on the bridge’s main holo. He was certain this was the right move. Ultimately the decision rested on his shoulders, and he almost literally felt the weight of that decision.
The Chancellor had placed the fate of the war and the Republic’s largest fleet in his hands.
The blow his fleet suffered in the first battle against Sporades has been sharp, and unexpected. RNI came back with a report. They said the new weapon was called Starfold. It was so new, no one knew anything about it. This was the first time it made an appearance. Apparently construction finished hours before the battle.
Later, as they floated in an isolated location a few hours from Sporades, he received more information from RNI. The eggheads at Republican Shipworks came up with a solution to counter the weapon, and fed it into PLAIR. They felt relatively confident their solution would work. Mainly, it involved hitting the giant cubes with so many shots, it couldn’t destroy or evade everything.
He hoped it worked. Severs could see no reason it would not. And, he thought, whomever the nameless soul was deep within the employee pool at Republican Shipworks who thought up the idea should get a raise. If it worked.
And now they would find out. The stars stopped shifting and a planet filled up most of the holo. Bursts of star fragments appeared as the Condors called in their first rounds of firepower. They would concentrate on the Starfold cubes first. They had a numerical advantage over the League ships in the system. PLAIR counted two dozen before they left the last time.
He closed his eyes to avoid vertigo as the Thomas Paine flickered, jumping positions to avoid enemy torpedoes again, and again.
A thought crossed Severs’s mind as he reflected on his ancestors sailing in ancient warships on Earth. In those days, battles might take hours. Or at least minutes. Right now, everything would be over in seconds.
He watched on the holo as one of the giant cubes was surrounded by bursts of sunlight. It flickered, quickly swallowing the bursts on one side, two sides . . . then the other fireballs slammed into its structure and the cube broke. Chunks of metal flew out into space.
A cheer went up on the bridge as the Paine popped away and the view on its holo shifted along with it.
Wilcox opened her eyes and said, “We’ve got company. About 50 SSI agents, all closing in on this building. They’re taking people out as they move.”
Julia’s grew wide. She cursed and said, “We should have been paying better attention to the perimeter. I’ll hold them off.”
As she headed for the door, Wilcox said, “Also, the Navy is back. I’m trying to disrupt the cubes and help them out.”
Julia nodded and said, “You just stay online and do what you can. I’ll take care of things out here.”
They moved into the AWD without words, wearing full black armor and visors, blasters pointing outward.
Five approached from the northernmost alley, and they found a small collection of tents in the courtyard it opened into. Twenty bedraggled people looked at them. Two of the men in back had sense enough to start running.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!
In seconds, everyone was dead. The lead agent made a hand motion to follow and stepped over a little girl’s body. He ignored the smoke drifting up from charred flesh. His visor had oxygen connected. They were fully prepared this time.
They met the other teams, ranging in size up to 15 agents, near the entrance to the main building. This was their objective.
Along the way they had mowed down anybody they could find. The dregs of humanity were expendable, as far as SSI was concerned. And indigents were at the bottom of the pecking order.
Someone panicked and scrambled up out of a pile of bodies in the courtyard. They made a run for it.
One of the snipers on the roof took the young man out. He stumbled and fell, a chunk of his back and chest missing. He was dead before hitting the ground.
There would be no surprise snipers taking out agents this time. SSI carefully sneaked in their own snipers across the rooftops.
All was ready as the main force gathered in front of the door.
In their mind’s eye, each agent saw snapshots of their three primary objectives: two women and a priest.
They paused, committing the faces to memory.
Then someone nodded and three of them opened fire on the door.
Thoop! Thoopah! Thoop! Thoop!
It blew inward from the force of the blasts and two agents ran in together, sweeping the entryway.
Other agents poured into the building behind them, blasters ready.
One of them stopped and adjusted a setting on his visor, looking up at the ceiling.
He said, “Sensors indicating subjects on the second floor.”
Another one pointed at the stairs and said, “Go! Move! Move! Move!”
The stairs were narrow, only one agent could ascend at a time. Four quickly streamed upstairs, the lead trusting in his body armor to protect him. This resulted in a fatal error.
When he reached the top of the stairs, an invisible blaster on full auto fired pointblank into his visor.
His visor cracked and a blast obliterated the man’s face. He died screaming, falling backwards into the agents behind him. Everyone rolled down the stairs, blaster bolts raining down on them.
On top of the building, on the roof, another agent lay prone near the edge, his blaster pointed down into the courtyard.
He had an electronic scope mounted on the gun, the highest quality available. It made his job easy. Unlike old-fashioned weapons using traditional ballistics, blaster bolts were generally more resistant to environmental factors such as the wind.
When the sniper squeezed his trigger, whatever lay in the crosshairs got hit, simple as that.
He scanned the courtyard now, looking for signs of life. His job was to cover the team’s exit, and he took that to heart. He spotted movement below, and he quickly zeroed in on a new target.
An old woman was alive, with two blasts to her midsection. Blood covered her middle, and her intestines were open to the air.
Despite that, she survived. With prompt medical treatment and a shot of nanobots, she might even make it.
The sniper focused on her head, lining up the digital crosshairs. The old wrinkled face glanced up at him, gray hair drenched in sweat.
Her head exploded like a bloody melon, and her body slumped to the pavement.
Satisfied, the sniper resumed his scan of the courtyard.
He heard the sound of a hesitant footstep behind him.
He whipped around to look over his shoulder. A young teenager stared back at him, a very thin girl with stringy brown hair. She looked malnourished.
She stood crouched next to an air vent. The sniper’s eyes darted to her fist. She held an egg grenade. He glanced up at her face.
She snarled and pressed the plunger.
He scrambled to move, bring the gun around in time to—
The force of the blast knocked his body off the roof. He landed in the courtyard near the other bodies, a few meters from the headless old woman.