Date: July 16, 2519
The provocateur entered the Pentagon at 10:28. He was a natural-born, something that automatically made him a person of interest. He stood in the queue surrounded by clones calmly waiting his turn to walk between the posts—the security system that would search his identity right down to his DNA.
His brown hair fell just past his shoulders, not the kind of style you normally see in the Pentagon, home of the flattop. His dark beard ran the corners of his jawline. His eyes were green. his skin pale, almost colorless.
He wore a gleaming white shirt buttoned up to the neck, a blood red tie, and a charcoal-colored suit. The clones around him wore Navy white, Army drab, and Air Force blue.
The provocateur followed the queue past a security station, closer and closer to the posts. Armed guards with M27s stood in full armor behind a wall of bulletproof/grenade-proof glass. Unconcerned about the guards, the provocateur checked his wristwatch, looked around the lobby, tried to decipher the tabs that a nearby soldier wore on his chest.
The posts was a detection device disguised to look like a set of ten-foot Ionic columns. The column on the left, “the sprayer,” emitted a burst of air and vapor that dislodged flecks of skin, dandruff, and loose hair. The column on the right, “the receiver,” drew in and analyzed the debris. Identity, blood type, genetic information, medical history . . . the posts created a profile based on genetic material, which it transmitted for analysis.
Anyone planning to fool the posts would need to trick the Census Data Agency, the government information storehouse that tracked citizens from the cradle to the grave, an impossible task.
Criminals and terrorists had tried covering themselves with skin peels, loose hair, dandruff, and eyebrows from other people. They’d tried scrubbing themselves with defoliating sponges, laser shaving all their hair, and wearing wigs on their arms and eyebrows, but the posts still identified them. If flecks of skin showed too much decay or there were signs the hair came from multiple donors, the posts’ computers asked questions.
With the government on high alert, every person entering the Pentagon was searched for metal, X-rayed, and spectroanalyzed for radioactive and chemical residue.
When his turn arose, the provocateur calmly stepped between the posts while its sensors checked his heartbeat, pulse, and brain activity for signs of tension. A set of detectors searched him for traces of chemical agents while an X-rayed device identified his telephone, wallet, and belt buckle.
The guard at the far end of the posts asked, “You Leonard Herman?”
“I go by ‘Lenny’,” said the provocateur.
“Lenny Herman?” asked the guard.
The provocateur stood over six feet. He had big shoulders that had gone soft with age.
“What’s your business here?” asked the guard.
“Floors and sinks mostly,” said the provocateur. “My company sells janitorial supplies.”
“Yes, sir. We’re bidding on the Pentagon contract.” The provocateur had a high voice, not effeminate but innocuous. He spoke softly, slowly.
“Who are you meeting?” asked the guard.
The provocateur pulled his phone from his jacket and tapped the screen. “Major Day.”
“We got a bunch of Day’s working here,” said the guard. Never taking his eyes off the provocateur, he accessed the building directory using his visor.
“Major Walter Day.”
“Got a branch?”
“Enlisted Man’s Army.”
Using the equipment in his visor, he contacted Day’s office. The conversation didn’t show on the security brief, but the communications system recorded it. When Pentagon Security investigated the attack, an officer uncovered the recording.
Once he’d reached Day’s office, the guard said, “Major, I’m calling from the main entrance security post.
Do you have an appointment with . . .”
“Is Lenny Herman here? Damn, I let the time get away from me. Tell him I’ll be right down.”
The guard grunted and let the provocateur through.
Major Day, a standard-issue five-foot-ten-inch clone with brown hair and brown eyes, met the provocateur in the lobby. The Pentagon had been on high alert since the discovery that the enemy had learned how to reprogram clones. Security not only screened for wolves in sheep’s clothing, it screened for sheep that sided with the wolves.
“Mr. Herman, thanks for coming on short notice,” said Major Day. He shook hands with the provocateur.
“Call me Lenny,” said the provocateur, he of the innocuous persona. He shook Day’s hand, looking slightly befuddled. Nothing strange there, natural-borns generally became disoriented when they entered the Pentagon. All of the officers were clones; they all stood five-foot-ten; they all had brown hair cut in a military regulation flattop. To natural-born eyes, the lobby of the Pentagon looked like a hall of mirrors.
“I’m glad for this chance, Major . . .”
“Call me Walter.”
He clapped the provocateur on the back, and they headed for an elevator. As they rode to the third floor, Day asked, “Have you looked at the floor plan?”
The provocateur nodded. He said, “Big place. You have a lot of floors to polish.”
“It’s a big contract,” said Day. “Pull this off, Lenny, and you’ll be a wealthy man.”
The provocateur nodded, and said, “I bet you guys go through a lot of wax and cleanser,” as the elevator opened to the third floor.
Day smiled, and said, “Seven hundred drinking fountains, five thousand toilets, seven million square feet of floor space.”
“Aren’t pentagons supposed to be five-sided figures?” asked the provocateur.
“The original building was pentagonal. The U.A. Department of Defense went with a cube during the rebuild.
It’s a more economical use of space.”
As they started down the hall, the provocateur’s voice took on a less friendly tone. “Did you get the cases I sent ahead?” he asked.
“Sure. I shepherded them through security personally,” said Day
“Any problems?” asked the provocateur.
“Smooth as silk.”
Major Day didn’t notice the way his guest played with the ring on the middle finger of his right hand as they chatted. Day led the way, walking slightly ahead, not bothering to look back as he spoke. In another minute, his confidence would cost him his life.
“Your package is in the third-floor facilities locker. That’s where we’re headed.”
They walked down the hall. Most of the people they passed were clones, males, soldiers, sailors, and Marines. Day, an Army man, led the provocateur along the Army face of the building. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines—each branch had a side.
They reached a service hall, an empty, dead-ended corridor. Day said, “I know it doesn’t look like much, but you’d be surprised what goes into keeping this place clean. This is only a locker; our main warehouse is on a subfloor.
The provocateur said nothing.
Day pressed his hand against a security plate, and the door slid open. The lights inside the locker powered on when the door opened. So did the security system. The Pentagon was on the verge of a security lockdown. The entire Enlisted Man’s Empire was on the verge of a security lockdown. What happened next pushed it over the edge.
Major Walter Day stepped into the storage area. He asked, “Do you have a family, Lenny?”
Rows of shelves lined the floor. There was a clock on the wall. The time was 10:52. Afraid he might have
missed his deadline, the provocateur saw the time and felt a sense of relief. Hoping he sound relaxed, he said, “Three kids. The oldest is my girl.”
Day said, “You’re a lucky man. Me, I got the Army, but I don’t have a wife or children. You civilians get things too good.”
Bright lights shone from the ceilings. The glare caused the provocateur to blink. He asked, “Where’s the package I sent.”
Day turned, pointed to the package, and staggered forward. He didn’t call for help. He barely grunted as he dropped to a knee and turned to face his killer, his arms already paralyzed.
The provocateur had hit Day in the back of the neck, stabbing the poisoned spike in his ring into the spot where the dying major’s spine and skull met. The spike delivered a powerful shock as well as a dose of neurotoxins, paralyzing Day first so that he could not call for help as he died.
The provocateur grabbed the dying officer by his tunic and struck him several times in the face, the spike of his ring puncturing both of Day’s cheeks, his left nostril, and his left eye. Unaware that Day had been dead for several seconds, the provocateur continued hitting him, then dragged his body into a blind between a sink and some shelves. He moved his crates in front of the body to block it from view.
The attack left no blood on the ground. It was quick and clean and silent, leaving no mess and attracting no attention. Security cameras in the ceiling recorded it, but no one was watching.
The provocateur opened the largest crate. He pulled out three layers of cleaning supplies from the top. Beneath the supplies was a burn-a-bomb, a collection of benevolent chemicals that wouldn’t set off bomb sensors until they were exposed to heat and mixed into a decidedly malevolent compound.
Laced around the chemicals was a heating coil that would work as a catalyst, melting the packaging that separated the chemicals, heating them, and converting them into an explosive solution. The burn-a-bomb didn’t pack sufficient power to bring down the Pentagon. The layers of concrete and cement in the floor and ceiling would channel the explosion, spreading the percussion horizontally rather than vertically. In another five minutes, every person on the third floor of the Pentagon would die.
Deeper in the crate, the provocateur found two other weapons—a miniature burn-a-bomb designed to work like a grenade and a porcelain-alloy pistol with ceramic bullets. He pulled the tab from the side of the grenade, allowing an electrical charge to heat the copper coil. The chemicals reacted quickly; in a minute, a whiff of acrid smoke would arise from the globe, signaling that the mechanism was armed.
The pistol, a five-inch tube, had been sent as a precaution. It was a three-shot security blanket that the provocateur couldn’t reload once he’d spent his ammunition. He held it between his cuff and his palm, just under the wrist. He placed the grenade into his jacket pocket.
After checking one last time to make sure that the bomb had started cooking, the provocateur closed the crate and sealed it. Hoping to camouflage his handywork, he arranged his cleaning supplies on the lid. His left hand thrust into his coat pocket, thumb held over the grenade’s pin, the provocateur gave the janitorial locker one last scan and left.
He crossed the empty service hall and entered the main corridor. A pair of soldiers walked past him, then stopped. With the building on alert, civilians were not allowed to travel alone. One of the soldiers called out, “Excuse me. Excuse me, are you with someone?” As he turned to respond, the provocateur whipped the porcelain pistol from his cuff.
The soldiers weren’t attached to Security, the only department with personnel who carried weapons inside the Pentagon. They hadn’t prepared for a confrontation and didn’t recognize the tube as a gun.
It was at that moment that the chemicals inside the grenade melded and emitted a trace of acrid smoke.
Security sensors in the ventilation system detected the dimethylformamide and pentaerythritol tetranitrate that the smoke gave off, and alarms began to blare.
One of the soldiers said something about escorts, and then the provocateur shot them both. Blood and brains and scalp splattered the walls. The bodies lay in spreading puddles, their white tunics stained deep red.
The provocateur didn’t waste time inspecting the damage. He trotted toward the elevators as alarms echoed through the halls. Soldiers emerged from their offices. The doors of two elevators slid open and MPs poured out. The doors remained open, locking the elevators in place, the first step in securing the floor.
As the halls became more crowded, soldiers with MP bands screened people as they entered the stairs. They detained civilians, employees and visitors alike, escorting all nonmilitary personnel to the security office.
Seeing MPs moving toward the two soldiers he’d shot, the provocateur slipped the cylindrical pistol back into his cuff. He turned a corner and blended in with the crowd, then pushed into a different corridor, wading against the tide of clones coming from another direction.
There was no blood on him, nothing to suggest he was dangerous. He stationed himself against the wall in a corner where two halls met, and herds of workers shuffled past him. From here, he could see the door of the laboratory in which key scientists performed the Enlisted Man’s Empire’s most urgent experiments. The door was inconspicuous, and the hall looked no different than any other hall.
He stood there for ten seconds, watching the door for movement.
An MP grabbed him by the shoulder and shouted, “We’re evacuating the floor. Move it.”
The provocateur jumped at the contact. He pulled out the little pistol and shot the man, then entered the nearest stairwell. As everyone else ran down toward the street, the provocateur forced his way up against tide.
This was not a panicking crowd. Most of the clones had mistaken the evacuation for yet another drill. Combat-tested soldiers and sailors seldom panicked at the sound of alarms. Had they panicked, they would have trampled the provocateur.
By this time, though, Pentagon Security had eyes watching every monitor. The unescorted natural-born pushing his way up the stairs did not escape their notice.
Major Alan Cardston heard the alarms and ran from his office to the surveillance room. He saw the emergency screen that identified traces of dimethylformamide and pentaerythritol tetranitrate had been detected on the third floor . . . the makings of a bomb had been smuggled into the building, and not only smuggled into the building but placed near a high-security area.
Cardston knew the chemicals and what they were used for. The officer in charge of Pentagon Security, he had arranged his organization so that the bomb disposal teams, the evacuation teams, and the MPs didn’t waste time waiting for obvious orders. The first team to arrive on the scene was the six-man bomb disposal squad. The lieutenant in charge reported the two dead soldiers but did not stop to investigate the scene as they hustled to the facilities locker.
Cardston studied the security monitor. The floors of the Pentagon showed as two-dimensional mazes with white dots identifying his security men. Red pixels would mark the locations of possible intruders. Only one red dot showed on the screen; the person it represented had entered one of the stairwells.
Cardston tapped the dot, switching to the cameras covering the stairs. He saw a natural-born male, tall and pudgy with long hair, dressed in a suit and tie. Using the data gathered at the posts, the computer identified the intruder as Leonard Herman, the owner of a janitorial supplies company.
Cardston looked at the names of the MPs chasing after Herman. The man leading the team was Sergeant Major Gregory Goldsmith.
“Goldsmith, this is Major Alan Cardston. Do you read me?”
On the security monitor, the red pixel moved slowly up a crowded stairwell. Had Leonard gone with the flow instead, he might have been able to escape the building with the flock.
“I’ve got your target on my screen. He’s entered Stairwell Number 121. Do you read me, Sergeant Major?
That’s Stairwell Number One-Two-One on the north side of the building.”
“Take a right at the next hall, and you’ll see it on your right.”
“I see the door, sir.”
“He’s moving slowly, Sergeant Major. He’s passed the fifth floor and is working his way to the sixth.”
“Yes, sir.” A pause, then, “We’re on the stairs. There are a lot of people in here, sir. Do you have any men on the fifth?”
“Negative, Goldsmith. You and your men are our closest team.”
Cardston heard Goldsmith and his men shouting, then the sergeant major said, “Sir, this crowd is going to slow us down.”
“Your target has the same problem, Goldsmith,” Cardston said. “Proceed with caution; he may be armed, and I want him brought in breathing. Do you read me?”
Cardston stood beside a console in the Pentagon Security nerve center, a dark vault lined with computer screens, phones, and microphones. Dozens of officers worked inside this lair.
Cardston checked the monitors showing the various exits around the building. He saw screen after screen of people leaving the Pentagon as calmly as moviegoers emptying a holitorium.
“How is the evacuation going?” he asked the captain to his right.
“Smooth. Most of them think it’s a drill.”
“The disposal team has the bomb,” said the lieutenant to his left.
Cardston stepped behind the man and watched the operation over his shoulder. He said, “Is it going to give them any trouble?”
He stared into the screen. Three men in armor stood around a crate in a janitorial closet. They had not bothered to place protective walls around the crate. The operations manual called for a flimsy protective firewall, speck knows why. If the bomb went off, it wouldn’t matter if it was nuclear or packed with horseshit, that wall would not protect the men trying to disarm it.
“It’s a textbook burner, sir,” said the lieutenant.
For Cardston, that explained quite a bit. Terrorists and provocateurs made sacrifices when they used a burn-a-bomb. They were easy to smuggle, but they were also easy to defuse. The only advantage burn-a-bombs offered was ease of concealment. Their innards were simple, straightforward, easily disarmed—separate the chemicals before they oxidized, and the bomb became as benign as a child’s chemistry set.
“Alert me when the bomb is disarmed,” said Cardston.
“It’s disarmed,” said the captain.
“That was fast,” said Cardston.
“Almost not fast enough,” said the captain. “Twenty seconds more, and it would have gone critical.”
“Major, sir, we’re closing in on him,” said Goldsmith. “We got a flash on him.”
On the display, the five white dots representing the MPs had gained ground on the red dot representing the provocateur. Once he passed the seventh floor, Herman had run out of options. The stairs led to the roof, but the roof access door was locked, and Goldsmith’s security team waited one flight below with M27s raised and ready.
The stalemate lasted nearly a minute.
Goldsmith asked, “Major, did he make it out to the roof?”
Cardston looked at the floor schematic. Something had happened. The provocateur couldn’t have opened the door to the roof without a bomb or a bazooka or possibly a laser torch, but the red pixel no longer showed in the stairwell.
The pixel had disappeared.
“Bring up a map!” Cardston yelled to the officers around him. When the map showed on the monitor, he needed only a moment to spot the escape route, then he pulled the microphone close and said, “Sergeant Major, one-two-one connects to a service floor. He’s entered a machine-and-maintenance area just below the roof.”
“Can you see him?” asked the sergeant major.
“Negative, Sergeant Major. We don’t have eyes on that floor.” Once they had the bastard, Cardston would personally oversee the installation of cameras and sensors. What a speck-up, he thought.
“Yes, sir,” said the sergeant major.
The flight of stairs leading to the seventh floor was clear. The flight leading beyond it was clear as well. Bright light shone down from the ceiling, illuminating the entire concrete enclosure. The open door to the service floor stood out like a dark cave on a chalk mountain. Goldsmith led his team as carefully as if they had entered an enemy base.
The alarms went silent, but their ringing still echoed in Sergeant Major Gregory Goldsmith’s ears. Speaking much louder than needed, he said, “We’re going in.”
They moved slowly, stepped softly, traveled as silently as possible. Step . . . step . . . step. The door to the service floor hung open.
One step from the door, they paused.
Goldsmith signaled for his men to wait while he checked the doorway. He pressed the muzzle of his M27 against the doorjamb. He checked his men to make sure they had taken their positions, then he counted to three in his head and sprang through the door. MPs on either side of the jamb lunged in behind him, forming a cross fire, covering the entrance from every angle on the off chance that the provocateur had smuggled help onto the service floor.
The floor seemed to stretch the entire length and breadth of the Pentagon. Heavy machinery stood like twenty-foot-tall buttes on the floor, reaching up into the open ceiling. Wires, cables, and vents snaked this way and that above the unadorned light fixtures.
In the center of this, fifty feet from the door, the provocateur stood facing the men. The moment the MPs entered, he smiled, opened his right hand, allowed the grenade to roll across his fingers.
The explosion all but ionized the provocateur’s body. It killed the three MPs who had entered the service floor. The two standing outside the door were deafened for life.
Once his team had checked the service floor for chemical and radiation, Cardston surveyed the damage. As men in combat armor swept for traps and photographed damage, the major looked down at the bodies of the MPs he had sent on a fatal assault.
The blast from the grenade had smashed two of them into a wall hard enough to leave bloody imprints. The remains of Sergeant Major Gregory Goldsmith, who had been standing directly in front of the door, lay in the stairwell.
The only parts of the provocateur that remained recognizably human were his feet. His chest, shoulders, and head were gone, plastered all over the walls in every direction.
Cardston stared down at the feet, ignoring the grinding of machinery around him. The Pentagon air-conditioning system was stored in this area, fifteen enormous turbines made of aluminum and sheet metal. Ten of those turbines spun silently. The force of the grenade had split two of the turbines wide open, their caverns and tubes exposed like a metal model of human viscera. Three more limped along, spinning in twisted cabinets.
Cardston saw oil running down vents, dripping into the industrial air conditioner. It wasn’t oil, though. It was blood. You painted the room, you bastard, he thought as he saw bone and hair and shreds of clothing.
Location: EME Correctional Institution
At precisely 08:00, the gunship dropped out of the sky looking more like an oversized insect than a bird of prey. She descended out of the clouds and hovered in place about 150 feet above the forest, her stubby steel-and-carbide body beneath dual rotors gleaming in the sun.
The Sheridan Correctional Facility didn’t have radar; the first officers to notice the gunship were the guards in the southwest tower—a nest made of steel and bulletproof glass with window walls and a wraparound balcony. One of the guards spotted the gunship, and asked the other, “Where the speck did that come from?”
The gunship remained a few hundred yards away, looming like a dragonfly looking for prey. At this distance, the guards could barely hear her rotors. The glass walls of the nest blocked the sound.
The first guard flipped a switch on the communications console, and said, “We got a helicopter flying out here. You know anything about that?”
“A helicopter? What the hell is a helicopter doing there?” asked the dispatcher.
“Flying,” said the guard. He meant it as a joke.
“What kind of chopper?” asked the dispatcher. “Can you identify it?”
Sheridan Correctional was a federal penitentiary, run by the Enlisted Man’s Empire. A few of the guards were clones, retired military. The dispatcher was a local civilian.
The first guard, a natural-born who had never served in the military, said, “How the speck would I know that? If you want aircraft information, call a specking air traffic controller.”
The second guard in the nest was a clone, a retired airman. He leaned over the console, and said, “It’s a gunship, maybe a TR-40.”
“A gunship?” asked the first guard. “Are you sure?”
“No, sir, I’m not entirely sure it’s a TR-40, could be a forty-two.” He picked up his binoculars, equipment made for searching prison yards, not skies. “Two racks for rockets . . . Yes, sir, it’s either a forty or a forty-two.”
“What’s it doing here?” the dispatcher asked.
Below the tower, guards started lining up along the prison wall for a better look. There were no military bases near
Sheridan, the gunship was an unusual sight. Off
in the distance, the gunship dropped slowly until she was almost even with the
tower, then she remained in place, as still as a toy on a shelf. She hung in
the air about fifteen feet above the tips of the pine trees.
“Are you sure that’s a gunship?” asked the dispatcher. “I just checked with the tracking station at
They say there’s no air traffic in the area.”
“Speck that,” said the first guard. “That sure as shit ain’t no seagull.”
The dispatcher said, “Let me check with . . . hey,
isn’t answering.” A moment later he added, “I can’t reach .” Coos Bay
The natural-borns didn’t know that gunships carried equipment that could block satellite transmissions; the retired airman did. He ran the military math in his head, and asked, “Have you tried using civilian communications?” Military consoles used a satellite link. Civilian lines used underground laser cables.
The dispatcher said, “Hey, there it is; we have it on our security cameras now.”
“I told you it wasn’t a seagull,” said the natural-born guard.
The clone guard didn’t join in their conversation. If that bird is one of ours, he asked himself, why didn’t we know it was coming? But gunships were not known for their stealth capabilities. There was no way the Unified Authority could have flown one in without being spotted.
“What’s it doing out here?” asked the dispatcher.
Still staring out at the bird, the clone guard said, “Once you broke in, what would you do with a gunship?” A silent moment passed before he answered his own question, “You couldn’t land it, not in here. You’d only need it for . . . cover.” Speaking to the dispatcher, he said, “We’re in deep. They have infantry out there.”
The dispatcher shouted, “I tried the landlines; I can’t reach anyone.”
“They cut the lines,” said the clone guard.
“Who cut the lines? Who the hell are they? What are they doing here?” asked the natural-born guard.
“Here they come,” said the clone guard.
Five military transports approached in the air, drifting in behind the gunship, then touched down along the highway that led to the gates of the penitentiary.
Isolated and alone, the penitentiary at
Sheridan was protected by gates and walls and
a handful of guards. The warden addressed his men over the intercom. He said, “Sheridan
FCI is now under lock . . .” Before he finished the sentence,
the prison went dark.
“They cut the lights,” said the natural-born guard. “What do we do now?”
Raised in a military orphanage, having survived airman training and a life at war, the clone guard had duty programmed into his brain. He said, “We lock down.”
“Lock down? With that thing out there? Lock down? Bullshit! I didn’t sign up to fight gunships. I didn’t sign up for this!” His mind decided, the natural-born guard fled. He sped down the stairs of the tower and disappeared into the tunnel that led into the wall.
The second guard, the clone, hustled to the rail and prepared to shoot. He saw enemy Marines dressed in combat armor marching up the street. They marched in a column. They did not carry guns. Seeing this, he knew that the battle was forfeit.
Unified Authority Marines, he thought, knowing that U.A. Marines wore shielded combat armor. Bullets and batons were useless against men in shielded armor . . . “glowboys” as the EME Marines called them.
The gunship fired her chain gun into the fences that surrounded the prison perimeter.
danced on the electrified wire as bullets tore the posts to pieces. The gunship
opened fire on the inside fence.
Across the wall, guards fired at the gunship and the troops on the ground. Useless, thought the clone guard, as he chambered and fired another bullet.
The gunship raised a few feet higher and fired a rocket. A thin arc of white smoke hung in the air, like a thread made of cloud, connecting the gunship to the outer wall of the cell block. Flames and smoke and clouds of concrete dust flushed into the air as the façade crumbled down in an avalanche. The crack of the rocket still echoed in the air, drowning the dull thud of the demolition.
The gunship pivoted nearly imperceptibly, then fired chain guns at the guards manning the towers. Bulletproof, but not chain-gun-proof, the guards’ nests shattered, splattering nuggets of glass around the guards’ dead bodies.
The guards clustered around the entrance to the cell blocks on the second floor of the building. With the electricity out, the halls had become dark as a moonlit night, lit mostly by squares of light slanting in from through small windows above the cells. A line of emergency beacons shone red along the wall.
A few yards deeper into the darkness, prisoners stood in their prison cells, screaming at the guards. They couldn’t hear the battle outside. Concrete walls and shatterproof glass drowned out the sound of rifles.
Then the rocket struck the front of the building, and a thunderous blast shook the facility down to its foundation, followed by a soft rumble as the wall collapsed in a concrete avalanche. Smoke and dust filled the hallway, sunlight slowly creeping in through the miasma.
That first rocket didn’t harm the guards, but it sent them scurrying into the building’s depths. Outside, beyond the tattered ruins of the electrified fence, men in combat armor marched across the grounds unopposed. The gunship hovered protectively above them, no more than fifty feet from the ground.
Some of the guards approached the ledge where the wall had been. They saw troops crossing the scraps of the outer gate and the gunship hovering above their heads. Death had come.
One of the prisoners taunted the guards. He yelled, “You better run, rabbits.”
“Shut up, Andropov,” said the warden. “Shut the speck up.”
“Warden, you must really love your job,” said Andropov. Once a powerful politician, he knew how to slash at enemies with his words.
The warden raised his riot gun and pointed it at Andropov. “I told you to shut the speck up.”
Andropov lifted up his hands, palms out, and backed away, as silent as an altar boy.
“He’s right,” said one of the guards.
The warden looked down the line. He saw only forty men. The others had run away or died defending the building. Most of the men who remained were clones, retired military men who didn’t have it in them to run.
Forty men, he thought. He’d started the day with over one hundred.
The first of the invaders entered the hall. He looked like a ghost, a glowing silhouette of a man that materialized out of the sunlight. Two more followed. Many more came after them, their armor glowing a dull orange-gold as they entered the shadowy building.
Though he knew it was too late to surrender, the new warden handed his shotgun to the nearest guard and walked out to meet the invaders. He held his hands out so they could see that he came without weapons. Squinting into the sunlight, he took slow steps. He inhaled and held his final breath.
The first of the invading Marines stood about fifty feet off. He did not carry a gun.
Don’t shoot me, the warden willed. There’s no need to shoot.
He came within thirty feet of the invaders before the man on point raised his arm and fired three fléchettes —hair-width fragments of depleted uranium that penetrated both the front and back of the warden’s skull.
One of the remaining guards, a clone, raised his riot gun and fired. The buckshot spread, forming a two-foot-wide pattern. Shot that went wide of the invader cut ellipses in the wall on either side of him. The shot that should have hit his shielded armor flashed like sparks and evaporated.
The gunfight lasted five minutes. In the depths of the hall, their shotguns echoing like thunder and flashed like lightning, the guards, shot, pumped, shot, pumped, retreated farther and farther into the hall, gave up ground, unintentionally freeing prisoners as they backed away from the attack.
A clone guard hid behind a corner, gripping the butt of his shotgun as tightly as he could. Fear surged through his brain. As an invader passed his hiding place, the guard rose to his feet, and fired a shot at point-blank range.
The U.A. Marine turned, grabbed at the guard, and the power running through his shields both burned and electrocuted the man. His face and shoulders charred as the clone died of heart failure.
One of the guards threw his riot gun to the side, turned, and ran. The invaders shot him in the back. Blood drained from his body through dozens of pinprick holes. Another guard raised his hands high above his head and tried to surrender. He was a natural-born, something he hoped might save him. The invaders shot him.
Once the guards were dead, the invaders turned on the prisoners. They freed Andropov and most of the politicians, then killed the incarcerated former Unified Authority military officers in their cells like penned animals.
When investigators came to search the scene, they found no survivors.
Location: The EMN Churchill
At the time of his death, Admiral Don Cutter had not heard about the attacks on Sheridan Correctional or the Pentagon. It was 16:00 by the Space Travel Clock, which was synchronized to Greenwich Mean Time, five hours ahead of
and eight hours ahead of . Sheridan,
As the provocateur armed his bomb, and the gunship approached the penitentiary, Don Cutter, the highest-ranking officer in the Enlisted Man’s Navy and de facto leader of the Enlisted Man’s Empire, sat alone in his office.
Cutter maintained a deck for himself and his staff on the Churchill, the flagship of the Enlisted Man’s Fleet. He was not the captain of the ship or the commander of the fleet. As the head of the Enlisted Man’s Navy, he no longer participated in the tasks that he loved. He had risen from commander to “commander in chief,” which, in his mind, meant the same thing as being put out to pasture. He had become the kind of officer he had most despised throughout his career. Instead of leading space leviathans into battles, he now settled political squabbles.
He had trouble concentrating on his work. The report on his desk was about the integration of “Martians” into
Martians was a derisive term that referred to evacuees from the planet Olympus Kri. Officially, they were New Olympian refugees. When the Avatari aliens began the second wave of their invasion, the Unified Authority and the Enlisted Man’s Empire had agreed upon a truce as they evacuated 17 million New Olympians to a mothballed commuter spaceport on Mars, a facility designed to serve as a revolving door for 6 million travelers. The truce had ended in an ambush, leaving the New Olympians stranded in squalor even as the Enlisted Man’s Empire defeated the Unifieds[AU20] [AU21] [AES22] and established a new government. Nearly two years after relocating the New Olympians on Mars, the Enlisted Man’s Empire transported the refugees to Earth.
According to the report, the New Olympians weren’t any happier in
Mexico and Guatemala
than they had been on Mars.
It’s Harris’s headache now, Cutter thought with some satisfaction. He had sent Wayson Harris, the highest-ranking general in the EME Marines, to survey the situation.
But Harris’s headache had managed to work its way up the chain of command. Cutter felt it as well. He leaned back and massaged his forehead. “Damn Martians,” he muttered.
When the trouble began, the war hadn’t been between the Unified Authority and the Enlisted Man’s Empire.
The clones had been the foot soldiers in the Unified Authority’s military at the time, and the enemy had been an ill-fated band of religious revolutionaries . Then the Avatari attacked, an alien force that would ultimately destroy 179 of the Unified Authority’s 180 planets. Rather than take the blame for their failures, the natural-born officers who ran the military blamed their losses on the cloned conscription.
After that, the Unifieds had jettisoned the clones by relegating them to deep-space patrols. That was how Cutter had risen to power. As they abandoned the fleet, he had received a field promotion that raised him from chief petty officer to captain.
Having stranded the clones on ships spread throughout the galaxy, the Unifieds thought they had solved the situation. They hadn’t. Wayson Harris had figured out a way to transport the ships back to Earth, and the war began just as the aliens launched a second, more destructive, invasion.
Cutter poured himself a cup of coffee.
A light winked on his communications console. The light winked red, alerting him that the message was urgent.
He sipped his coffee, hit the switch, and asked, “What is it?”
“Admiral, I just received a message from Pentagon Security. They’re evacuating the building,” said Thomas Hauser, captain of the Churchill.
“Is it a drill?” Cutter asked. In his head, he added, I hope you aren’t pestering me because of a specking fire drill, Captain.
The admiral sipped his coffee. “Very well. Let me know when you know more.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Hauser signed off.
The door to the office slid open. Cutter looked up and saw something that struck him as strange. The man in the doorway, an ensign, had brown hair and brown eyes and stood the right height for a clone, but his face didn’t match everybody else’s. He would blend in only as long as no one looked closely.
Without speaking a word, the ensign pulled an S9 stealth pistol from inside his jacket. He aimed it at Cutter and fired. The first fléchette barely nicked the admiral, cutting a quarter-inch crease across his right cheek, slicing part of it from the rest of his face. Before Cutter registered what had happened, the ensign fired a second shot that hit Cutter in the forehead, killing him instantly.
Cutter did not fall from his chair. His corpse slumped against the backrest, and his arms dropped over the sides.