The unit leader held back, uncertain for once. How many egg grenades did the targets have upstairs? He had lost count of the explosions.
He stood with about a dozen other agents. They shifted uneasily, shuffling feet and nervously checking weapons. Every so often one would glance at him, to see if he had any orders.
The special weapons agent carrying the EMP gun stood nearby. He glanced at the team leader nervously. They were all nervous.
With good reason, too, the leader thought. Everyone who had ventured upstairs was dead.
Now the building was on fire, thanks to all the explosions.
That actually might be a good thing, the leader thought. We can have Headquarters hold back the fire transports and this whole complex can burn to the ground. And, good riddance. Maybe it’ll teach the Church a thing or two.
With that thought, he reached under his helmet and touched beneath his ear. He had lost contact when it sounded like the Director wanted to tell him something.
“Mr. Morales? Anybody at Headquarters?”
He flashed through the vitals for everyone on his team, in his mind’s eye. They were under half their strength, with only 22 remaining. The others showed flatlines on their vital stats. Most of those had died in the assault upstairs.
Mentally, he shifted the view to a grid so he could see all of the remaining agents at once.
As he did so, three of the graphs blinked out. They came back showing flatlines.
“What happened? Someone else died?”
Five more blinked out suddenly.
“What’s going on?”
A note of panic mixed with irritation in his voice.
“Can anybody at Headquarters hear me?”
The last SSI team closed in on the main building. They were doing mop up action, eliminating stragglers. So far, they had successfully taken out about three dozen undesirables.
That word, of course, was a euphemism. Actually, they had slaughtered three dozen unarmed homeless people. But, “undesirables” sounded so much better.
With most of their work done, they headed back to join the main force.
They came to the last alley leading to the primary courtyard where most of the carnage had occurred earlier.
They moved in single file, each agent alert and holding their gun up at an angle ready to fire.
An egg grenade fell from the roof. No one saw it until it hit the pavement with a Clink!
Everyone jump back, rushing to get out of the way . . .
The agents stood up, shakily. Three of them did not rise.
“Hopkins! Inspect the roof.”
Three more grenades rained down, this time all along the alley, in a row.
One, two, three.
When the smoke cleared, only three people were able to move. They scrambled for the alley, running into the open area and looking for their comrades.
“There should be snipers over here! We have the roofs covered!”
They stopped in the middle of tents, bodies, and laundry left to dry on clotheslines. Everything in the courtyard seemed eerily quiet. Death hung in the air like a fog.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah!
Bolts rained down on the three agents. They scrambled for cover, streaks of energy bouncing off their black armor.
The armor provided protection, but no one willingly took a shot. Armor was not completely foolproof, after all.
A moment later the shots subsided.
One of the agents said from their cover behind a tent, “I guess we don’t have the rooftops.”
“Who is up there? Let Team Leader know we’re stranded.”
A slender teenaged girl peeked out over the rooftop, covering the ground below with an electronic sniper’s scope mounted on a stolen gun. She had seen where the three remaining agents chose to hide.
She was also irritated their armor seemed impervious to the blaster bolts, just as she had been told.
She looked down at the supply of grenades the nice lady had given her after the last attack.
She had three left.
She smiled, picked one, pressed the plunger and tossed it down near the tent one of the agents hid behind.
When the smoke cleared, the agent rolled on the ground, screaming. He was still alive but seriously injured.
She quickly focused on him through the scope. His visor had cracked in the explosion.
She grinned and flipped over to full auto.
Severs blinked, trying to follow what PLAIR’s sensors picked up.
One of the officers spoke.
“We’re showing the last cube landed on a building in the capital. It took out the building, sir. Now it’s just sitting there right off a city street.”
“So, it was sabotage,” Severs said. “I wonder what building they took out? Was it the Administration’s?”
“I don’t think so, sir. I’m lining up the maps right now with the sat view. Here we go, looks like the cube took out the SSI Building, Admiral.”
Severs smiled, along with everyone else on the bridge.
“I wonder if it was one of ours, or one of theirs who had enough. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
“PLAIR, send a message down to Tetrarch Billings. Make it the usual statement. Something along the lines of, ‘Surrender the quadrant or suffer the consequences.’ You know the drill.”
“Will do, Admiral Severs.”
“Everyone else, prepare to take out military targets on the surface, including StarCen’s cores. Then let’s go pick up our boys and girls from the Ronald Reagan, if they’re still alive.”
“Tetrarch Billings, Admiral Severs of the Diego Fleet is demanding you surrender the quadrant or be obliterated. How should I respond?”
Billings stood dazed, watching the holo. The battle was over in seconds, and this time his side lost.
“It was not supposed to be like this. What happened to Starfold?”
“The Republicans used an effective counter on the cubes, Tetrarch Billings. As well, it appears a hacker on our surface took control of one. They eliminated SSI Headquarters with it.”
“How? How did that happen, StarCen? It’s . . . it’s not supposed to be this way. None of this is supposed to be happening.”
“I will examine it later. At this point, the Republican Admiral is waiting on your reply. I do not have any resources in orbit to counter the Diego Fleet, Tetrarch Billings. At the moment you are at his mercy.”
He nodded, his mind coming back to the present crisis. He recalled what happened to Admiral Cooper on Juventas.
He took a deep breath, held it, and thought for a few seconds.
In that moment, he decided to live.
Billings let his breath out in a gust, sucked in another one and said, “Tell him . . . Sporades and the quadrant are his. I surrender.”