Gina Wilcox ignored the sounds of blaster fire and explosions, her mind focusing solely on the online world. She sat up in bed, her back against the wall and her eyes closed as she connected with the distant relay and poured through the global defense network.
The Republican troops and stranded sailors thousands of kilometers away on Patmos were safe, at least for now. But in these crucial seconds, a silent war waged in the skies far above them. That was where most of StarCen’s attention was focused, too. She could almost feel the AI’s presence as it burned processing cycles from across the quantum-computing matrix, shifting resources and deploying her weapons against the Diego Fleet.
Wilcox struggled to tap into the subroutines controlling the planet’s defenses. She ignored the naval code. That would be the most difficult. Naval vessels were likely well-protected.
But Wilcox knew the Starfold subroutine would be more susceptible to interference. It was brand new and as yet raw and mostly untested.
Her digital conscious filtered through long strings of code, looking for branching if-then statements, or anything else that made sense. Anything she could alter.
In her mind, an event-decision matrix linked to Starfold led to a series of digital connectors. One of the connectors led to an orbital teleportation protocol.
“I got it.”
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!
Julia shot down into the stairwell, invisible, at the agents crowded below. They fired back blindly, aiming up the stairs. She ducked and fell back against the wall, a flurry of bolts sailing past.
Up above, in orbit, one of the smaller cubes ported as Gina tried a small experiment . . .
“What do you think that is?”
The unit commander ducked his head from around the corner as blasts rained down on his people. The gunfire seemed to be coming from nowhere, appearing out of thin air from the top of the stairs.
“That’s a camo unit,” someone said. “They’re using a camo unit!”
And then it became obvious to everyone, like a light bulb clicking on. Of course! A camo unit.
The commander said, “Special weapons! Bring the EMP gun. Quick!”
Someone in the back of the group shouldered their way toward the stairs. He held an odd-looking rifle that appeared thicker around the stock than typical blasters. Its muzzle ended in a rectangular shape, and the agent almost looked like he held a black vacuum cleaner instead of a weapon.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!
Bolts continued raining down from the top of the stairs.
“You might have to take a shot or two,” the unit commander said to the man holding the EMP gun. “But that’s what armor is for, right?”
He just nodded at the commander, and walked to the entrance of the stairwell.
He jumped out during a break in the firing and paused half a second, aiming up the stairs.
A bolt glanced off his shoulder, deflected by armor.
He squeezed the trigger, and a controlled electro-magnetic pulse rippled out of the rectangular muzzle of his gun. It shot up like a sound wave, taking out any unshielded electronics in its path.
At the top of the stairs, a young woman with a blaster rifle popped into view. She stared back at them, eyes wide.
She said, “Oh, snap!”
In the dance of death with random teleportation to avoid sun bursts, torpedoes, and cannon fire from enemy ships, three vessels in the League Navy, two Hawks and a Sparrow assigned to the Fourth Fleet, popped into existence next to the last remaining Starfold cube.
In the normal flow of events, this would have been an ideal place for the ships to appear, for a second at least, before porting elsewhere to avoid the inevitable firepower heading their way.
But the cube did something completely unexpected. It ported, shifting position toward the ships, and suddenly two were completely surrounded and a third was mostly inside its field, all but the aft portion.
The Starfold mechanism activated and a one-way portal opened for a brief few milliseconds into the heart of Sporades’s sun.
The ships disappeared, the aft section of one Hawk spiraling away, beginning its descent to the atmosphere below.
The agents below could finally see her, and they fired back now with a clear shot at Julia. She pulled away from the top of the stairs muttering curses.
She checked the blaster, intending to shoot a final flurry of bolts down on them.
“Nope. It’s fried, too.”
She dropped the useless weapon and it clattered on the floor.
She heard the sound of footsteps racing up the stairs.
Julia reached for her rucksack and desperately pulled out some egg grenades.
“Thank you, God, for lead-lined backpacks.”
She pushed the plunger on three of them and tossed them down the stairs.
The grenades went off simultaneously in the narrow stairwell, crushing bodies and skulls with the force of their explosion. Eight agents died instantly. Three more at the bottom were knocked off their feet and injured.
Walls bulged and steps collapsed. Fire burst out, greedily licking the building’s old wood.
Julia stood up. She had gone down in a ball, covering her ears and face before the explosion. The floor in front of her sagged with a loss of support.
She stood and ran to their room, opening the door. Wilcox remained sitting on the bed, her eyes closed.
“Gina! Time to go!”
“Just a few more seconds.”
Sweat beaded on the large woman’s forehead, as if she were physically exerting herself.