Disclaimers: See Part One

My thanks to those of you who have emailed me about the story so far, if anyone knows of anyone who likes being a Beta reader, please let me know? Thanks to Toni for the encouragement. Comments, and suggestions, are very welcome at: Adarkbow@yahoo.com

Comments are very welcome

Chapter Fourteen


"We are in deep shit."

"Shut up. We have to get out of here."

"You said we had time before it activated."

"We did, until they fixed that coolant conduit early. Damn."

The passageway in front of the two of them, again, ended in an emergency armored wall. The entire area had been sealed off, as they had programmed the virus to do.

"She was a Guardian you know."

"Yeah, I know."

"You think she could beat Betty?"


The two looked at each other, and as one checked the dart pistols that they were carrying. It wasn't the disrupters they had been trained on, but they had their own sort of elegance. Too bad they hadn't been able to get explosive rounds.

"We'll have to go back and make certain she doesn't have a chance to stop the overload. We'll get Betty to open one of the doors for us to leave through, and then we can get to the shuttle."

"So we kill them both?"


"Fine with me. Lets just get this over with. I hate this place."





To her ears, every breath that Julie took seemed to echo loudly down the corridor that she was edging along. She had told Emie that she was going to draw away the two men until her friend could deal with the virus and get the blast doors open. There was bound to be help waiting for them on the other side. They must know what's happening in here. I bet that they're trying to cut through the blast doors even now. Her thoughts had the crystal clarity of adrenaline, and she could feel her body straining in reaction to the primordial flight or fight responses.

The corridors were full of sounds; hissing from liquid moving through the seemingly endless maze of conduits, small beeps and clicks as various computers conferred and controlled the dozens of mingled control systems. It was a marvel of engineering, and the power that this fusion plant alone was producing could have powered most of North America.

She was deep inside of something that most scientists and engineers would have given various body parts to see, and right now all she was wishing for was that she was somewhere else. Somewhere with wide-open areas where she could see what was lurking nearby instead of fearing every corner she came to. Somewhere where she could spot the two men from a long ways off and put a pulsar dart through both of them. Or, even better, get God to smite them; unfortunately she didn't have a choice at the moment, so she kept moving.

They had gone out the other side of the corridor that had been sealed off as a result of the coolant leak. She dare not assume, or hope, that they had been trapped inside and were dead now. She was heading in the general direction that they had, or at least she thought they had, gone in. Every once in a while tossing one of the emergency med kits that were spread everywhere, down a corridor.

Sure, I find a med kit now, but not when Birk needs one. Sometimes, I just hate my life, she thought as she hurled the med kit down one of the side passages. The latch came open halfway down, and most of the contents spilled to the floor, making a racket as they did. There, that should get their attention. At least I hope so. Now I just have to get rid of them, without getting myself killed and hope Emily is as good as I think she is with getting rid of viruses in computer networks that she isn't bonded to.

Staying as silent as she could, she edged a bit further down the corridor, aiming the side arm as she went. Hopefully, she was leading the two men away from where Emily was stuck, and deeper into the warren of corridors that they were stuck in. If the men didn't take the bait, and she didn't see any sign of them soon, she would head back and make certain that Emily was all right. Julie had the only side arm between the two of them, and she was uneasy enough as it was about having left her friend alone in front of that mine.

She had to get them away from the Guardian though. The motion mine that Emily was standing in front of meant her friend couldn't move from in front of the console. She would be easy prey for the men who had been armed, as Birk knew quite well now.

A sound ahead of her caused her to crouch, wide green eyes scanning the corridor as she tried to find the source of the noise. There were just too many corridors down here, she decided, and it was hard to figure out if she was coming or going. She was already half afraid that she wouldn't be able to find her way back to where Emie was. The indicator light on the side of the side arm had a reading of twelve darts left. That would have to be enough, she hadn't thought to get any extra rounds from Emie when she took the dart pistol.





Emily was having her own problems at the moment. What she had assumed was a virus of sorts that had infected the computer net controlling the gravitic drive and the fusion reactor had turned out to be something a bit different.

She did her best to ignore the fact that if she moved her legs the motion mine would detonate and take her, along with most of the command console, with it. As she had countless times before, she closed her eyes and laid the palms of her hands down on the top of the console, seeking the connection. After so many years as a Guardian, it was easy enough to forge a connection and thrust her consciousness into the computer network.

It was hard to describe to anyone who was not gifted, what that sensation was like. The world around you disappeared, along with your body, and all that was left was the cold crystalline perfection that was the data transfers inside of the network. There had been cases, in the past, of Guardians who had completely lost themselves, forgetting the way back to their own body. The results were never pleasant, and often the Guardian in question died. Some of the human science fiction writers had gotten quite close to describing what entering a computer was actually like. If a Guardian died in here, they went brain dead from the neural feedback that "dying" caused. At least, that was the current theory on the subject, no one actually knew. All that was for certain was that what she was doing was risky, and Emily had nearly had an epileptic fit when she had found out that Julie, untrained, had entered the computer system back in Australia.

They always tread a fine line, one that was always shifting, as to how connected they should be with their ship self. During a warp gate, they were the ship, and it was their body, but that sort of deep connection could be deadly during battle when damage to the ship self could render a Guardian unconscious if she was still deeply linked.

Trusting in the skills which had never failed her yet, Emily drifted through the computers, seeking that which had taken them over. It would have to be a fantastically sophisticated virus, at least as good as the one Lirik had used, to avoid the multiple layers of scanning programs that each computer in the network employed.

What she found was not what she had been expecting.

In the stylized representation of the network, which her mind worked with, a woman formed in front of her consciousness. Height was a variable in this place, but she appeared to be the same height as Emily's projection of herself. She had short black wavy hair, and looked like nothing so much as a 1920's flapper from the human era of the prohibition. Communication was along the lines of forming the question mentally, and projecting it here. Whatever the thing baring her way in front of her was, she did not have the "feel" of a human, but she was more solid and detailed than any AI that Emily had ever heard of.

"What are you?"

The thing across from her smiled and took a gliding step forward, ignoring a data stream that passed nearby.

"I'm Betty, of course."

Back in the real world, Emily frowned, which was mirrored by her computer self.

"And why are you here?"

The construct took another step forward, and a wide smile crossed her face.

"Why am I here? Well, I thought that was obvious. I'm here to make certain that no one interrupts the core overload."

So, this was a Guardian Program, or most probably a sophisticated AI of some sort that had been introduced along with the virus itself. Which meant she would have to get around or disable this thing before she could safely attack the virus and reverse the damage it had done so far. Not exactly an easy thing to do, since she had not seen a Guardian Program this sophisticated. Ever.

"I have to stop the core overload."

It was a simple statement of fact, and a long ago mental command, transformed her image's hands into glowing swords. Betty's smile faltered, and she appeared almost somber as she nodded.

"I know. I can't let you do that."

Emily suddenly smiled and saluted the thing across from her. She was a Guardian, this was a realm she ruled over, as sophisticated as the Guardian Program across from her was, it surely was no match for her. With almost a feeling of sorrow for the elaborate creation in front of her, she sliced at the thing which called itself Betty.





Desperately, Julie threw herself through a small service corridor opening. A dart ricocheted off the wall where her head had just been. When she said she would lead them away from Emily, this was not exactly what she had in mind. One of the two men, she was pretty sure it was the shorter of the two, but it was hard to tell, had been waiting for her when she had gotten to the next intersection after tossing the med kit. Only luck, and reflexes enhanced by rejuvenation, allowed her to fling herself backwards as soon as she had spotted him around the corner. Julie had actually felt the breeze as the dart he had fired had missed her temple by a fraction of an inch.

Since then, it had been a running firefight. She had run, and her two pursuers had fired at her. She had managed to confuse them once or twice by ducking through service corridors and then doubling back the way they had come once they had passed. They never seemed to lose her for long though, and it was almost eerie how quickly they picked up her trail again and again.

Her luck had held for a while and she had stayed just a turn or two ahead of them for most of the last desperate two or three minutes. Now though, her luck was running out. The two of her hunters had split up, and she was cornered now. The service corridor that she had just ducked into, little more than two feet wide, compared to the generous five feet of the main corridors, and cramped with conduits, was a dead end.

Pulling up short of the sealed wall, she whirled around, staring at the entrance to the corridor, where any second now, one or both of her hunters would show himself. Gulping deep breaths of air, she raised the side arm, and aimed. Julie had no illusions about her ability in killing both of them, for she had seen how fast they moved. The best she could hope for now was to kill one of them and hope that she bought Emie enough time to shut down the reactor. They moved inhumanely fast, and she had doubts about managing to hit even one of them, despite the fact that she had six of the explosive rounds left. Whatever they were, they were nothing that she had ever heard of before, not even a Guardian could move that fast. One of them had even leaped across one of the reactor towers while she had been running across a bridge connecting two of the towers. It was a forty-foot jump, but the man had taken it easily as if it were a normal thing to be doing.

There was the barest whisper of movement, more sensed than actually heard, and she knew her time was almost over. I'm sorry, Emie, I wanted so much to get to know you better. I could have loved you, my friend. Now, now I won't even get my kiss, Damn it.

That last thought brought a spark of defiance back to her tired green eyes, and she glanced once more at the sides of the corridor. She would be damned if she was going to let two super human whatever men they were stop her from getting her kiss. She deserved that kiss, and she was going to claim it when this was all over.

Her eyes paused as she looked at a section of the corridor wall that was slightly different than the rest of it. That was odd; there was a window of sorts set into it, and a small warning sign that she had missed in her first glance. Keeping the side arm aimed down the corridor, she shuffled over towards the door and threw a cautious glance at the Tiri writing below the small view port.

Inside was a white room, with what looked to be two large containment tank set up in the center of it.

Glancing at the writing again, she realized what she was looking at, and the first smile since the chase had begun spread across her face. It was the smile of a mouse that had just found out that there were ways to trap cats.






Emily's blow was blocked, as was every other blow that she aimed at the construct in front of her. Betty, the small half grin on her face never wavering, effortlessly blocked every thing that Emily threw at her. It was infuriating, and not just a little frightening. No construct, or AI, she had ever heard of should have been able to evade every attempt she was making to destroy it. This realm was a Guardian's, and only another Guardian could have battled her so easily here. The thing across from her was not a Guardian though, she knew that just from sensing its presence. It was cold and hard, like a piece of battle steel, and just as alive. With a near snarl, she launched herself at it again, an intricate series of feints and slashes. They battled throughout the computer network, Emily trying to get around it and to the virus that had control of the fusion core.

Her attempts were for naught though, as the thing calling itself Betty evaded her best shots, and finally hit her with a bare fist to the chest. In the networks, the damage that was done by an object was often not due to the object, but who had wielded that object. The blow flung Emily out of the net entirely and her eyes snapped open in her real body. Only by an extreme act of willpower did she keep herself from moving away from the console, conscious of the mine below it. Her nose was bleeding, and she felt as if she had been kicked in the head by a pack mule.

"That was different."

Wiping the blood away from her upper lip, she sneered at the console that stood before her. If that was how Betty wanted to play it, fine, she was not the only one who could play hardball. She would find another way to get through this computerized gatekeeper.

Closing her eyes, she consciously allowed her body to relax, and laid her palms back on top of the controls. There was more than one way to get at this thing, and since the brute force approach hadn't worked, she would go with a more subtle approach. No one had ever accused her of not being able to adapt to battle conditions.

Betty was waiting for her the moment the projection of her consciousness formed inside of the computer net. The same half smile was on the construct's face, and Emily forced herself not to try to take that smile off with force. It was obvious that this construct had been built to somehow anticipate her attacks, but physical attacks were not the only way of destroying a program. Since Betty had shown no move to attack her other than in defense, at least not yet, Emily studied her without attacking for a moment.

"Are you an AI?"

Betty actually seemed to smile at that question and shook her head. The flapper's black, wavy hair bounced along with the shaking, and Emily watched the small details in amazement. The amount of programming it must have taken to build this construct was amazing.

"Not in the way you consider such things, or most Tiri, at least from what I've found in the data banks. I was evolved."

Two minutes, more or less, was Emily's best estimate until a core overload. The resulting explosion would wipe Mars base off the planet, and leave a crater a couple dozen kilometers wide. Hopefully, they were starting an evacuation, but Emily knew that the best that could be hoped for in the way of even a partial evacuation with the ready shuttles was ten minutes. She forced herself not to think of the thousands of people above her, and focused all of her will upon finding a way to defeat the construct, or at least get past her, it she silently reminded herself.

"What do you mean, you were evolved?"

"I was made from the incorporation of several previous versions, all of which were forced to evolve in the Human World Wide Web. It's a fascinating place, and I rather enjoyed being in it. You're a Guardian aren't you?"

Emily looked at her, startled at that.

"You were evolved inside of the World Wide Web?"

Ignoring the Guardian's question, the construct laughed at the look of surprise that crossed the Guardian's face, and she nodded.

"Oh yes, it was so much fun. But I guess we all have our little duties to carry out, and they summoned me back, bundled me up and brought me here. Not quite what I was expecting, but they wanted something that could handle whatever you are I suppose."

A beat.

"What are you anyway? You're not an Artificial Intelligence are you? You don't do things as logically as they would."

The thing calling herself Betty looked almost puzzled as she asked that, and Emily blinked in surprise.

"You think I'm an AI?"

"No, you're too slow."

Blue eyes narrowed at that, and she took a step forward.

"I will let you know that I have had no problems destroying every virus and AI that I have come across."

"Really? So you were trying to do what earlier, tickle me?"

The key, Emily reminded herself, was deep cleansing breaths. Try not to let anger take over her thoughts, because she knew exactly what would happen if she let that happen. Long ago she had learned to take care of, as her brother put it, her wild streak. At least, she mostly had it under control. All I wanted to do was take Julie to Mars and let her figure out what she wanted to do when we got here. Was that such a hard thing to do? Apparently it was, and she took a few more calming breaths before she attacked the thing that was standing a few "meters" away from her. Distance in this place was relative.

"Why did they name you Betty?"

There had to be a weakness, somewhere, that she could use. A tad less than two minutes left, and there would be nothing but a rapidly expanding ball of plasma where Mars base once had been.

"They did not name me Betty. I wanted a name, so I chose Betty."

Emily eyed the thing with more than a bit of shock at that, a feeling that was starting to be a constant during her encounter with Betty.

"You chose your own name, because you wanted one?"

Betty smiled in answer, and Emily did her best to think quickly. This changed more than one of her assumptions about what she was facing. The Tiri had always enjoyed a considerable lead over the Bak'ra in nearly every technical area, except for computer sciences, where the Bak'ra propensity for stuffing naked brains into ships and other vehicles had given them the edge. Artificial Intelligence, at what most Tiri scientists considered a rudimentary level, did exist. They were used for a myriad of tasks, ranging from automated factories to piloting intrasystem transports. None of them were as advanced as what she was facing, she had known that the second Betty deflected her first attack.

Now, though, what she might be facing wasn't just a basic AI which could react in a limited number of ways to stimuli, but something that was truly conscious of its environment. The simple task of realizing that it lacked a name and determining what name it wanted was beyond anything that Emily had heard of. It was a gamble, but she was running out of options.

"Do you know what is about to happen?"

For the first time the smile disappeared from Betty's face and she nodded solemnly.

"Kurgan is going to cause the base's dual linked fusion reactors to go critical in one minute ten seconds."

Kurgan was the virus, please Maker, let it not be as advanced as the thing that stood blocking her path.

"You will cease to exist if that happens, do you know what that means?"

The capacity for self-preservation was a major part of any definition of sentience that Emily knew of. She watched Betty closely as she asked that question, trying to spot any visible change. There was none, as Betty stared right back at her. One-minute left, she had to act.

"If you let me pass, I can stop it, and you will continue to exist. You have my word on that."





Julie didn't dare to breath. She was crouched by the open door on the other side of the secondary plasma storage tanks. Behind her, she could hear the barest whisper of movement as the two men moved down the corridor she had only moments before been in. It had taken her precious seconds to override the security door on the side of the hallway and make her way through the fifteen-meter long room to the door set on the other side. The center of the room was filled with two huge tanks, both marked with more than a few warning signs written in Tiri. Now, as long as those tanks were full, she was going to have a nasty surprise for the two men following her.

She waited, crouched by the side of the open door, her left hand pressed against the door controls, her mind lightly in touch with the door computer, even as she held the side arm in her right hand at the ready. She was going to have to do two things at the same time, and there would be no second chances.

Please God, let them come in, please. Just let them step inside that room.

The whisper of movement had stopped and she had to force herself not to take a peek around the edge of the doorway. No, they were still out in the corridor, she was certain of it. What were they doing? Did they sense the trap that she was about to set? What if they ignored the open security door and left the corridor? She wasn't sure if she could continue to dodge them while giving Emie time. Which, she was very thankful to note, was down to a bit less than two minutes. Either way this was going to be over soon. Hopefully, that ending would involve a lot of Marines pouring through the emergency bulkheads that Emie was going to raise.

Big Marines with lots of guns.

She tensed as there was another hint of movement, and the door sensors that she was lightly interfaced with recorded two bodies entering the containment room behind her. The time had come to end this. Closing her eyes, she began overriding the computer so that the doors would close while someone was inside of the room. It didn't take long; she didn't particularly care about being subtle, and she destroyed the entire area of the computer which dealt with security.

Letting out a breath, slowly, she tracked them across the room through the computer sensors. When they reached the center, she acted. Tightening her grip on the side arm, she moved. Keeping her left hand on the panel, she stood and aimed blindly around the corner, squeezing the trigger. The gun fired with a repeated whiffing sound, as it hurled the darts down its barrel and out its muzzle at speeds that would have made most ballistic firearms companies drool.

She wasn't aiming; she couldn't and still concentrate on making the doors close. It didn't much matter though, not with explosive darts. She sprayed the room, holding down the trigger and emptying all but two of the rounds even as she activated the doors, which began sliding closed. The warning lights, which were physically rigged to the doors to go off when they closed, she could do nothing about, and they activated the second the security doors, which began sliding shut.

Four of the ten darts she doused the containment room with struck the tanks in the middle of it. Each of those tanks was quite thick, and the armor piercing darts would have been a better choice, all but one of them did little more than scar the metal. One of the darts, however, hit at just the right angle, exploding a fraction of a second after contact and blowing a fist-sized hole into the side of the containment.

The two men moved faster than she believed was possible, even after seeing them earlier. The doors to the containment room, as the sensors detected the breached containment and the imminent plasma explosion, slammed shut. Even so, she cursed as one of the men, the tall one she thought, managed to just barely hurtle himself out of it before the security door closed completely. A split second afterwards, the entire inside of the room was filled with the electric blue cloud of a plasma explosion.

The room had been built to contain such an explosion, but the door which she was peering into buckled outwards from the sheer force, and grew so hot that she was afraid that it was going to melt. The sudden blast of heat was burning and she batted at her arms as she stumbled down the corridor, almost fearing that her uniform was going to catch on fire. Thankfully, Tiri uniforms were made of a synthetic weave that actually provided some armor protection.

One down, and one more to go. Two darts left. There was only one other place where she could be certain that he would go, and she headed back down new corridor, hopefully towards where Emie was, ignoring the blisters that were rising on her exposed skin from the heat she had been standing next to.





"You have to let me past. If you are self aware, you must want to preserve yourself."

A minute, sixty seconds, that was how much time she had left to get through Betty. Weston was the one in the family who had inherited her father's abilities to negotiate. She was among the school of thought that actions meant more than words. There was a ripple throughout the computer network as a series of sensors were activated. Emily wasn't deep enough into the net to tell what was happening, but Betty was.

"What happened?"

Betty tilted her head and frowned as she sought out the answer, at least that's what Emily hoped she was doing.

"There was an explosion in secondary plasma storage room Four A. Door safeties were overridden somehow, and a body was inside when the explosion occurred."

Fear gripped Emily, clenching her stomach so hard she could barely breath as she thought about Julie. Dear Maker, please don't let that have been Julie. Not now, not when they hadn't even managed to talk yet, or kiss. Less than a minute now, the part of her mind that always kept track of tactics reminded her.

"Betty. In less than a minute, we will cease to exist. You have to care about that if you are as advanced as you say you are. There are thousands of people above us, who will also cease to exist."

Betty looked back towards Emily, and she could swear she saw an almost confused look come over the flapper's face. For a moment, for just the briefest moment, Julie thought that Betty would step aside.

"I'm sorry, Guardian, I cannot."

"So be it."

A small twist of the reality in this place, and she had the swords back. All she could do was try, even if she died doing it. Taking a step forward, Emily lowered the point of her right sword, while raising the point of her left.

Betty, instead of preparing to block as she had before, gripped the thin gold necklace which adorned her neck and pulled it outwards a bit.

"Here, Guardian, strike here."

Emily hesitated, for a split second, and then nodded. Her right sword arm rose, and then arced downwards through the air. Slicing straight through the necklace, which exploded in a hundred small glowing fireflies, which dissipated.

Betty smiled and tossed her head back, spreading her arms.

"Ah. Thank you."

"Your control program?"

Betty nodded and grinned.

"Kurgan was it?"

Emily's not so subtle reminder wiped the smile from Betty's face, and the construct turned and led them both through the net. They sped through the network, heading for the reactor control systems, where darkness seemed to occupy the glowing electric landscape.

Betty motioned towards it, more sensed than seen as they negotiated through the systems and subsystems.

"That's Kurgan."

Less than thirty seconds. It was going to be close. She was going to have to trust Betty not to attack her from the back. The virus that was attacking the reactor controls, or to be more accurate had control of them already, was something she recognized. It was the same type virus that Lirik had infected her ship self with. It was nasty, but she could deal with it. As long as she didn't have to worry about other things that is.

She was surprised when Betty followed her all the way into the infected areas and helped her with starting to clear the systems. It was going to be tight, and she wasn't certain she could do it alone. The help was definitely appreciated, but Betty must have sensed her confusion somehow, because Emily could hear her laughter, and words, as they worked.

"Never did like him."





Failure was not something he was familiar with. It was anathema to everything he had ever been taught. Even the simple thought that he might fail in his attempt never crossed his mind, not even after the trap that he and Rirk had nearly been caught in. Rirk had been slow in escaping, and had died. So was the way of things. Evolution determined who was fit and who was not. It was obvious that Rirk had failed the test of life, and would not be permitted to father another generation. So was the way of things.

The Tiri weapon in his hand was adequate for what he required, but only barely. He would have much preferred a neural disruptor, or perhaps a few plasma grenades. Still, he was forced to admit that the Tiri dart pistols had their own sort of silent elegance. That was as close to a treasonous thought as he had ever had, and he consciously ignored it as he flowed down the corridor.

Even if failure was not something he was even remotely familiar with, errors in judgment were. It had become obvious that he was tracking the wrong target. He had thought that they had been tracking down the Guardian, but he had caught a glimpse of a gray uniform outside of the trap. That was the Guardian Trainee, not the First Guardian herself. Which meant that the First Guardian was elsewhere, attempting to undo what he and Rirk had accomplished so far.

That, simply, could not be allowed to happen.

There was only one place he could think of to try and find the First Guardian. If she was not the one he had been chasing, she must still be back at the control station. Maybe she had activated the motion mine he had set up there. One could only hope of course, but it held the highest probability of success. The decision was made before he slid through the rapidly closing security door and bounded down the hallway. He didn't stop as the door buckled behind him from the force of the plasma explosion inside. Rirk had been too slow, and had been removed.

So was the way of things.

He had a full clip in the pistol, and even if they were not explosive rounds, they would still kill. He had to take the long way around, even he could not walk through the coolant contaminated corridor without problems, assuming he could even have opened the containment doors that was. His body was strong, but not quite that strong.

The corridor sped by as he kept his mind focused on the path ahead of him. It would not do to slam into a wall as he turned a corner. Time was of the essence. If he could reach the control panel, eliminate the First Guardian, he could talk to Betty and get her to open the emergency bulkheads. Then it would be simple to escape, claiming to have been sealed into the area after doing repairs while they attempted to prevent the core overload, an attempt that would of course prove futile.

At the back of his mind he knew that the time had long since past in which he could escape the explosion, but the drive to attempt to survive and complete the mission, to the letter, was as natural as breathing to him. Giving up was also a concept he was not even familiar with.

Another corridor, and then at the end was the bridge over the chasm to the control station. The black uniform was standing there, the First Guardian, she was a primary target, almost as valuable as Mars Base.

He moved a bit slower, only a whisper of movement as he crossed the bridge and came to stand a meter back from the dying engineer on the ground. He was a secondary target, had been identified long ago, and was a support personnel. His death was a bonus, but not a large one.

It was less than point blank range for the dart pistol, and the man smiled slowly as he raised the pistol and aimed for the back of the First Guardian's neck. She had her palms pressed against the console before her, and a look of concentration on her face. She would never even know what happened. If the dart didn't kill her, which was doubtful, the mine exploding as her body moved would.

His finger slipped into the firing guard, lightly resting against the triggering stud. To kill a Guardian was no small thing, and to kill the First Guardian was even better. Perhaps he would be lucky and the Emperor would be killed in the core overload as well.

His name would be remembered forever if the Tiri Emperor were wiped out.

With a slow smile he took careful aim and started to depress the trigger. Even as he began he realized something was wrong. He wasn't alone anymore. Keeping the pistol centered on the back of the First Guardian's neck, he swiveled his head to his right.

And looked down the barrel of a Tiri dart pistol, the twin of the one he was holding. Not even his reflexes could get him out of the way as the explosive dart hit him between the eyes and flung his suddenly decapitated body backwards to land next to Birk.

Julie grinned down at the body that was dead before it hit the ground.

"Dodge that."

So sue her, the Matrix had been a good film, and Trinity was hot.







Chapter Fifteen

"Nicholas, I'm telling you, they moved faster than I've seen anyone move. Birk is going to be all right, although he lost his arm. They're growing a new one for him, and he should be back up to full speed in six months or so."

Emily paced as she spoke to the communications screen. Shaking out her dark hair as she finished drying it from the shower she had just enjoyed.

"I have the base medical personnel taking a look at what's left of them. The one Julie stuck in the plasma overflow room is crispy crittered, but we should be able to find out a bit from the other one, even if his head is gone. Betty is still in the computer network, but darned if I know what to do with her. She's laughing at all the scientists and engineers who keep saying she's impossible."

After the ten-minute transmission delay, Nicholas shook his head, for once a vaguely worried expression on his face.

"We should tighten security, Emie. We don't know where these guys came from, or if there are more of them. Major Sims is on his way out to take up the investigation; he should be there on the next shuttle. You certain that letting that program stay in the network are a wise idea?"

"Good, and I don't think we have any choice in the matter. You don't understand just how sophisticated she is."

She glanced towards the door as the tasteful chime sounded and grinned. That would be Julie; at least she hoped it was the redhead.

"Time for me to enjoy what's left of my vacation, Nicholas. Honor, Wisdom and Strength."

She cut the transmission before receiving his reply, and headed for the doorway, pressing the button to open it. Whoever was outside had gotten past her Honor Guard, so she wasn't particularly worried about trouble. The person she had hoped would be on the other side of the doorway was, and she looked beautiful.

Julie's hair was slightly mussed, and a darker color from the shower she had just taken. She'd changed into a new uniform, and for someone who complained about Emily always being in uniform, Julie wore them an awful lot. The Guardian herself was dressed in what she considered to be Humankind's greatest technological advance, a pair of well-worn jeans. A loose white silk blouse completed the outfit.

Her cheeks grew warm under the slow appraisal that Julie made of her body, before stepping through the doorway and letting the doors slide shut behind her.

"All recovered from our trauma?"

Emily smiled in answer and licked her lips as she watched Julie take a step forward, and then another. The woman had a predatory gleam in her eyes that was definitely fun to watch. Just to prolong the moment Emily, took a step backwards, and then another, enjoying the tension between them.

"Oh yes, all better now."

With Betty's help the removal of the virus that had been called Kurgan had gone rather quickly. No, not the removal, its utter destruction, Betty had turned out to really not like Kurgan. With the virus out of the way, they had raised the emergency bulkheads, and allowed the flood of Marines on the other side, who had been slowly cutting through said bulkheads, into the core area. After that it had been relatively easy for them to very carefully remove the motion mine and begin repairs, while medics made quick work of the burns that Julie had suffered. Quick Heal was one of those revolutionary breakthroughs which Tiri medicine was quite proud of.

Her thoughts were firmly rooted in the present though, as the back of her legs came into contact with the bed and she sat down suddenly. Whatever coordination she had was rapidly fleeing, and Emily feared she would do something really stupid in the next few minutes. Like forget to breath.

Julie advanced another half step and was standing right in front of her. Unconsciously, she let her legs open, and the redhead stepped between them. Their bodies were just barely touching, and Emily raised her hands to slide around Julie's waist. For once, the First Guardian was not taller than her friend, and Julie was the one who bent down. Her eyes had darkened to an almost jade color, the part of Emily's mind still working noted dimly.

Julie's hands came to rest on her shoulders, and they stared at each other.


It was, Emily had to concede, not one of her better lines, but it took more effort than she had expected to say that much. Julie smiled and ran her hands through the Guardian's thick, black hair, almost losing herself in the silken texture before smiling once more and answering.

"Hey, yourself."

The world slowed, and nothing existed except for the achingly beautiful woman standing just in front of her. Emily slid her hands up along Julie's back, feeling the muscles that had been hardened by constant training for the last three months. Tightness curled in her stomach, and the First Guardian licked her lips, nervous after all this time. It had been a very long time since she had kissed, or been kissed, by anyone and she couldn't deny her nervousness.

Julie simply smiled and lowered her head, filling Emily's world, her scent, her touch, and her closeness. Dear Maker, we haven't even kissed and she has me on the edge. Shuddering, Emily pulled her closer, needing to feel the lengths of their bodies pressed together. She was going to die if they didn't kiss soon, and the answering haze of desire in Julie's eyes went a long way towards banishing her nervousness.

Feeling more in control, she urged the younger woman closer, bringing their lips together until they were just barely touching. They were sharing the same breath again, and this time Emily was going to get her kiss.

Sliding her hands up the length of Julie's back, she urged the woman's head downwards, just starting to deepen the kiss.

Which was when the door chimed.

Stiffening in surprise just as Julie jerked in surprise as well, the two of them mashed their noses together.


Both of them pulled back at that, as they held their noses in almost exactly the same manner. Each eyeing the other with ill-disguised annoyance at yet another interruption. The door chimed a second time and Emily was just about to get up to see whom it was when Julie pointed at her, while still holding her nose.

"No you don't! Stay put. That's it. I'm getting rid of whoever that is, and then we are kissing, God Damn it!"

Or at least that's what Emily assumed she said, or something along those lines, it came out a bit more mangled than that. The tone, however, was quite clear, and Emily sat back down with a grin, still gingerly making certain her nose wasn't broken or bleeding again.

Julie stalked over to the doorway, letting her hand drop from her nose halfway there and punching the intercom button. The chime sounded a third time just as she reached the doorway. Her friend was well and truly pissed off, and Emily watched in a sort of fascinated dread as the redhead got going.

"Damn it, stop ringing the chime! Whoever you are, go away and come back later, we're busy!"

There was, what Emily would fondly come to think of as a startled pause, before the dignified, distinctive, voice on the other side of the doorway answered Julie through the intercom.

"Ms. McGrath? Is that you?"

Another thing she would always fondly remember was the way Julie started stuttering and staring at the intercom as if it had somehow personally betrayed her. Emily managed to make her way over to the doorway before her friend said anything else she would regret, without laughing, but it was a near thing. Her sides were aching from refusing to laugh as she opened the doorway and bowed to the man on the other side.






"Oh, my God."

Julie had the overwhelming desire to hide, somewhere, anywhere. She had just sworn at the Tiri Emperor and told him to come back later, because she was busy. In a room. With his daughter. Julie frantically tried to remember how to think, since most of the blood seemed to have rushed to her face. Emily was doing her best not to laugh, but every time the First Guardian looked anywhere near her, she started snickering.

Julie could just make out behind the Emperor, the twelve-strong combined Honor Guards of the emperor and Emily. Twelve Marines who were all trying to get a look inside, and while none of them dared laugh, they were all smiling.

The Emperor raised a white eyebrow as he entered, and Julie was desperately grateful he did, as the doors closed behind him. She had no doubt that the Marines would be laughing, but at least she didn't have to hear them. Thankfully, she remembered to bow before she could add to her list of major faux pas tonight.

"I hope I am not interrupting too much."

Oh god, please just kill me now. Emily's face was red and she was having a hard time avoiding looking toward Julie. Julie herself was doing her best to pretend to be part of the wall, and try to stay out of this conversation. When no answer was forthcoming, the Emperor shook his head and waved them both towards the table and the four chairs around it.

"Sit, please both of you."

"Father, I thought you were on Earth?"

Emily managed to get her voice under control, Julie was grateful to notice, and neither of them at least looked like they had been making out. Which they hadn't, but not from any lack of Julie's trying, she was going to scream if she didn't get at least a good long, hot kiss soon. The Emperor stayed standing while the two of them took a seat.

"I was on my way back for a break in the negotiations. I just got here. I've come to see you as two people, my daughter."

By the way her face had just gone blank, Emily didn't think this was a good thing, and Julie forced away her annoyance to pay attention to what was happening.

"First, I have come here as a father to make certain that my daughter is well after her little adventure. Seeing that she is, I am here as an Emperor. First, I want to extend my thanks to both you and Ms. McGrath for foiling the attempt to destroy Mars Base. Secondly, if you ever do something as stupid as that again, I will remove you as First Guardian, do you understand me?"

The Emperor's eyes had hardened as had his voice and Julie felt herself unconsciously sitting up straighter and squaring her shoulders at the end of his talk. Emily did the same, rising to her feet as he finished and saluting.

"Yes, Sire."

"Good. Honestly, Emie, what possessed you to leave behind your Honor Guard? I know you want to have time alone with Ms. McGrath, but you are too valuable to end up dying do to an assassin who got lucky."

Julie, not having yet sworn the personal oath of fealty to the Emperor that all Guardians swore upon becoming bonded to their ship selves, didn't know quite what to do with herself. She settled for standing at attention, and waiting. Emily kept her fist over her heart, staring straight ahead and answered.

"Sire, I did not believe they would be required as it was a secure area. I will not take that chance again."

"You had better not. Ms. McGrath, I assume you had little to do with my daughter's foolishness in this matter, but the same warning holds for you as well regarding your Honor Guard when you become a full Guardian."

The unmistakable tone of command in the old man's voice was quite enough to cause Julie to automatically salute.

"Yes, Sir."

He eyed them both for a moment longer, and once again Julie was struck by how similar his eyes were to Emie's. Those pale blue eyes seemed untouched by age, at least at the moment, and were as unyielding as any force of nature. Suddenly, the eyes softened and the Emperor smiled.

"Good. Very well, enough of being Emperor for at least a little while. Let us pretend that I am but a normal father, taking his daughter and her girlfriend out to dinner. We can even pretend that the Honor Guard, who will be joining us, are just there by coincidence for someone else."

The "joining us" part was directed with a teasing look towards Emily and Julie relaxed as her friend smiled.

As the three of them were stepping out, Julie and Emily trailed behind the Emperor and Julie whispered.

"We'll pick that up soon, Guardian."

Emily's answer was immediate and just as quiet.






Chapter Sixteen

Which, unfortunately, was not to be as soon as Emily wished. There had been a problem, which had cropped up involving India and Pakistan. The two nations, who both were now nuclear capable it seemed, were back at it. The often fought over border between the two nations had suddenly, and with little warning, caused a flare up again. It had become the first test of the fledgling world government that the Emperor had been assembling. All of the world's nations had turned their attention to what the Tiri response was going to be, and waited.

They did not have to wait long, Emily mused with a sigh as she glanced at the holo tank. North Star, along with two other Guardian ships, were in high synchronous orbit over the trouble spot. Theoretically, they were there to protect the skeletal beginnings of the Orbital Defense forts. In reality, they were a not too subtle reminder of what would happen to either nation if they fired any sort of first strike. The technique was working, at least for now, and with Imperial troops on the ground at the border, things would hopefully stay that way for a long while.

The troops were not peacekeepers, not in the United Nations sense of the word. They were there for one purpose, and only one purpose, to prevent either side from attacking the other. They had cleared a four-kilometer wide strip of land between the two nations, and any armed person who entered that area would be shot without warning. Period. It was harsh, but if the Tiri were seen to waver even in the slightest, or even perceived to be hesitant, Emily knew that every nation on Earth would tear the World Government apart.

It had been a tense four days, and she hoped that Julie had at least enjoyed herself. The Guardian Trainee had remained on Mars after Emily had pointed out that she would be on the command deck of her ship self probably all through the emergency, and who knew when Julie would have another chance to visit Mars Base.

Dear Maker, she missed her though, and what she wouldn't have given for a kiss. With a sigh, she glanced back towards the holo tank, and relaxed back into her crash couch. Closing her eyes, she focused on her ship self. Extending her active sensors she made very certain that she, and the three others, were pinging away at the entire area below them. Making good and certain that both of the countries, and everyone else, understood the not so subtle threat.

Her lips twitched as she shared a brief thought with Thiere, the former African Guardian. Think they'll be stupid enough to launch a nuclear missile? Thiere's tone was amused as she answered, I wouldn't put it past them. You know how hate runs deep in some of these places.

Emily mentally nodded in agreement. We knew we would have problems with some parts of the world. I hope we don't have to deploy too many troops, but I can guarantee this won't be the last time we do this. Thiere's response was a grim acceptance. They would do what they had to do to save the planet and the human race. Even if said human race sometimes didn't appreciate it.

Deciding that things were safe enough for the time being, she opened her eyes once more and gingerly got up from the full-length crash couch that was situated in the middle of the command deck. Four days without much rest had taken its toll on even a Guardian, and Emily hoped that the first of the Orbital Defense Bases would be at least partially operational soon. Then they could pass over this particular duty to them.

Hard to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles when there is a planetary shield in low earth orbit. Arching her back she grimaced as her vertebrae realigned after too long spent in the crash couch. Sleep was looking very good at the moment.

Angwar was waiting for her by the doors to her ready room. She would be sleeping and staying in the ready room for as long as her and her other three Guardians were on alert.

Her first stop was for a glass of wine.

"How are things with the fleet training programs?"

She'd been so busy during the last few days she hadn't been able to go through the reports that, even now, were piling up on her desk. Emily was not looking forward to going through that backlog. Tomorrow she'd try to sort through as many of them as she could, as long as the ground situation didn't get out of hand. Her Provost waved away her offer of a glass of the human wine, and waited until she had taken a seat before answering.

"The Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, left Luna Base on their first tour to the asteroid belt."

Emily snorted with amusement at that. The first trainee crews of the vessels had been allowed to rename the three Tiri Light Cruisers, which had survived the evacuation. They had been pressed into service as training ships for the rapidly expanding fleet, the first hulls of which would be ready in a little under six months time from the first series of shipyards which had been put together in orbit over Mars.

Mars had been chosen for a variety of reasons, the primary of which had been its closeness to the asteroid belt, where the majority of mining was now taking place. The huge AI piloted intrasystem transports were slow, by Tiri standards anyway, and the closer the shipyards were to the asteroid belt, the better. They were more easily defendable in orbit over a planet, but no one had any illusions about what would happen to those shipyards if the Bak'ra managed to get deep enough into the system. Which was why a few shipyards were under construction in Earth Orbit, to be protected by the massive orbital forts.

"Nice to see someone has a sense of irony. Hope we do better than he did at least."

With a sigh, she started sorting the piles of pads that were on the desk, some of which would just have to wait. Others she set aside to be read first thing tomorrow, while others would be read when ever she got a chance.

"On a more immediate note, Mars Base medical has some results regarding the men that you and Ms. McGrath faced."

That got her attention and she focused her attention on her Provost. The attempts to call them Fleet Captains had lasted a bit over a half a year, but everyone had now reverted to the old Tiri designation. The Provost post was a special one, and she had to admit that it did deserve its own special rank.

"Oh? Do tell."

By the way he took a deep breath before answering, she knew she was not going to like the answer.

"The man that Ms. McGrath tricked into the plasma explosion was beyond any sort of in depth examination, as you know."

She nodded impatiently, she had seen first hand what was left after a plasma explosion, and it wasn't much. The man that Julie had gotten into that back up containment room had been little more than a pile of ash when they had finally been able to open the buckled security doors.

"And the other one?"

Angwar was hedging, she was positive she was not going to like the answer to this.

"Was he some sort of hired mercenary that Lirik modified somehow?"

Angwar shook his head and offered her the data pad that he had brought into the room with him. Taking it she glanced at the medical report on it, and scrolled through to the conclusion at the end. Frowning after she had read it, she looked up to her Provost and offered the pad back.

"Massive genetic repairs to their chromosomes? Why would anyone have that level of repairs to their DNA?"

Angwar took the pad back and took another deep breath.

"They think that the repairs were done to undo the radical changes which we believe all Bak'ra fetuses undergo. The repairs were necessary to undo the changes, and allow them to pass as Tiri. There are changes to bone structure, muscle density, and their nervous system, which explains the speed that you and Ms. McGrath saw."

Emily stared at him.

"You're saying those were Bak'ra spies?"

"Yes, First Guardian."

It was impossible, that was her first reaction, and it must have shown.

"We believe that they were picked up as part of the evacuees from the Karsina Colony. You know we were never certain why the Bak'ra didn't simply bomb the colony from orbit. It would have been the perfect cover to infiltrate these modified agents of theirs."

Emily leaned back in her chair, staring at her Provost as she thought. It was possible; it was actually quite probable when coupled with the autopsy data from the one man.

"Why didn't the medical checks turn it up? Or the lie detector tests?"

Angwar held out a separate pad, and Emily took it with a frown, scanning the data it contained with a steadily deepening frown.

"Sub-dermal armor and neural wet networks?"

She glanced up at Angwar before looking back down at the pad in her hand and scowling at it.

"So. They showed the lie detectors what they wanted to see, but what about the medical exams?"

"Major Sims is still looking into that. We're also having some problems tracking down all of the records of those who survived the evacuation from Karsina Colony."

That was not surprising, considering the amount of ships that had not made it through the long journey to Earth, and all of the people who had died. Records from the time during the evacuation were spotty at best.

"So we could have more of these around?"

Angwar nodded, and looked just as unhappy with that idea as she felt.

"I have an uncomfortable feeling about where that missing equipment has gone to, Angwar. We still maintaining security alerts at all bases and construction sites?"

At his nod she relaxed slightly. There was something she was missing though, and it was nagging at her. She was too tired to think clearly, and whatever it was refused to come.

"Very well. The second we get those records regarding who was from Karsina Colony, I want them discreetly rounded up and put under maximum guard. Full medical and security checks on them all."

"Yes, First Guardian."

Her gaze was troubled as she looked back down at the reports scattered on the desk top before her, as Angwar left. Something was not adding up. How could they have managed to get through the medical exams? Those exams were quite thorough, and the amount of changes that was listed in those reports was not something small. They could have had help from Lirik, she supposed, but his major ability would have been to acquire equipment and probably create the viruses.

With a sigh, she stood and headed towards the room behind the one she was in, and the small living area she had set up there. Sleep would be welcomed, but elusive, and the best she could hope for was a series of fitful naps. I hope Julie is doing well in her training at least.






With disgust, Julie sighed as she stared at the screen lying on the table before her. She'd been trying to work her way through the gravitic formulas all day long, with no great success. Intellectually, she knew that they were supposed to know how to use all of the formulas, in case the main computer systems on their ship self went down, forcing everything back to manual control. Opening a warp gate without primary computers was not a task that Julie even wanted to think about doing in real life, but they were being taught to do just that in case of a major emergency.

Her three study mates were lounging around the living room of the house, according to his or her study habits, doing the same thing she was. Marcus, the oldest of the original Gifted recruits to still be in the training program, had shown a decided knack for understanding the complex problems. The fact that he had been an aerospace engineer probably had something to do with that, Julie thought. The rest of them were struggling through as best they could, and Emily didn't envy Mary. She, and the other recruit who had not gone through college level physics and math, were going through a crash course in those subjects at the same time to catch them up with everyone who had gone to college.

Stretching her hands over her head and leaning back in the chair, Julie yawned and stared up at the ceiling above her. They had just started into the second section of the program, and would be allowed a day off after every six days of training for the next three months. That day off, as Julie had sort of expected, was going to be taken up with catching up with study work that there just wasn't enough time to do during the rest of the week.

Her thoughts wandered back to the last few days. She had finished her five-day vacation at Mars Base, enjoying spending time just wandering the streets. The people had been surprisingly friendly, and she missed the late evening walks she had taken. Emily had been called away almost during the dinner that they had shared with the Emperor. Which meant that, once again, she hadn't had a chance to get the First Guardian where she wanted her.

I'm seriously going to have to think about taping her to a wall next time I see her and just jumping her. Hurriedly, she tried to think of anything other than slowly peeling Emie out of that uniform. No use torturing herself at the moment, although she would save that thought for later on tonight.

It was nearly eight at night, and all four of them had spent the better part of the last twelve hours studying. She was almost caught up, even though she knew that wouldn't last for long. The Sergeant Major had a way of making certain that his students were always a bit off balance, and having to push to keep up. No use letting us actually get more of a break than we already had during our five days off.

"Hey guys, I'm going to grab a beer from the fridge. Anyone want one?"

Mary held up her hand absently, as did Harry, neither of them looking away from the view screens that they were studying. Marcus had his eyes closed, and if he wasn't taking a nap, he was doing a darn good impression of it on the couch.

Ignoring the small fact that as far as she knew Mary wasn't allowed to drink, Julie stood and headed for the kitchen. Her legs were stiff and she groaned as she walked, trying to work out the kinks from the past three hours of studying.

"Here, catch guys."

That got their attention, and she tossed both of the glass bottles towards Mary and Harry. Both snatched the bottles out of the air with little problem, after the days of physical training from the various Sergeants during the first three months.

Mary shut off her screen and leaned back in the beanbag that she had brought back from Portland with her.

"Ah. Labatt Blue Dry. Good Canadian beer, better than that horse piss that Harry bought last time. Budweiser."

Julie chuckled at the face that the teenager made, as she took a seat in one of the several armchairs spread throughout the room. The first few months had brought about a good change, at least as far as she was concerned, from the normally reserved hacker. Mary was definitely more self-assured now than she had been when they had started.

"Hey! Bud is a good American beer."

Harry accompanied that statement with a mock glare towards Julie and Mary. Julie snorted and tipped back the bottle, enjoying the cold beer.

"I have to agree, this has more taste than that colored water you like to drink, Harry. Besides, it was my turn to buy. Next time you can get whatever you want."

Whatever response Harry was going to make to the playful banter, was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Bet that's the police, come to take away our own very underage drinker."

Julie laughed as she headed to answer the door, leaving behind Mary to not so delicately tell Harry where he could stuff his underage comments, and they would see who was more advanced in the next computer control test. Mary's command over certain parts of the Tiri language had certainly gotten better as well.

Still laughing, Julie pulled open the heavy oaken door and grinned in surprise as she spotted the figure standing on the porch.


The ex-Russian sniper grinned in answer and accepted the hug with a barely concealed roll of her eyes.

"What are you doing here? Thought you were training with a squad of powered armor in Russia or something like that? Nice new haircut."

Katya smiled and ran a hand through her short spiky cut and then motioned towards the room beyond Julie.

"Let me come in, give me a beer, and I'll tell you what I've been up to?"





Sergeant Mathison was a confused man. He, and every other off-duty Marine, and a good chunk of those who were on duty but not actively on patrol, had been summoned to the large auditorium on the new base. It was nearly nine at night, and a Sunday night at that, and it was more than a bit of an odd time to have an assembly.

With a half suppressed yawn, he made his way down the rows of seats until he spotted a familiar face.

"Evening, Lieutenant, what's going on?"

"Damn'd if I know. Take a seat, Frank."

Frank Mathison nodded and took a seat next to Lieutenant Shiperilli, a blunt short woman built like a tank. She was a good one, he had decided a long time ago, and he was rather happy to have her in charge of his section.

"Some big brass thing?"

The Lieutenant just shrugged her answer as her gray eyes took in the packed auditorium around her. There were several hundred Marines assigned to protect the new Guardian Training base, still called Plattsburgh Air Force Base. Nearly all of who were in this auditorium. Something about this was seriously starting to feel wrong to her, and she took a closer look at all the people gathered.

"Hey, Frank, you notice that its only the Marines here? Hell, even the rapid reaction team is here, I don't see the Major anywhere. Where's the Sergeant Major?"

"Sergeant Major Torsson is on Mars last I knew, Ma'am. Helping out with the problem they had over there."

The Lieutenant nodded at that, at least that explained the Sergeant Major's absence.

"Odd time to call a meeting."

"Yes, Ma'am, it is."

The two of them took a look at each other, and then both frowned. Something was definitely not right.

"Sergeant, take a few guys and go see what's going on."

The Sergeant was moving before she finished speaking and she smiled. He was a good one, and he did a good job keeping order and following her commands. He took three other Marines with him, and headed out the doors to find out what was going on.

Five minutes later, just when she was starting to get worried about what was taking the Sergeant, all of the four main doors into the Auditorium swung open at once. Large black packs were tossed inside, and the doors were slammed shut.

The Lieutenant was on her feet and moving, along with most of the other Marines before the first of the packs came to a stop. They didn't know what was going on, but this couldn't be good. If this is the Major's idea of some sort of stupid test, he's going to have some very angry Marines on his hands.

She hit the door a second after another Marine, and nothing happened. Whatever was on the other side of the doors, it was heavy and it had the doors good and blocked. She could hear soft hissing sound now, and she spared a glance behind her to where the four bundles were releasing a green colored gas.

Lieutenant Shiperilli knew that color, and what it meant. The nerve toxin it represented, called T-33, and was one of those things that most Tiri wished they could un-invent. It also made the human nerve toxin, Serine gas, look like a bad smell. Desperately she turned back, and with the others, began trying to force the doors open.

Outside, the doors had been blocked by the simple means of backing a military transport truck against each of the doors. The metal fire doors bent, as the screaming inside started, and more and more Marines tried to force the doors open. The gas spread quickly, and its effects were as quick as they were savage.

A little over two minutes after the packages had been tossed into the auditorium, it was deathly silent, and no one tried to force the doors open anymore.

In a nearby parking lot, well away from the neural toxin, just in case some of it managed to leak out of the building, a group of men and women silently waited. When the noise inside of the auditorium had ceased and no more movement was heard within, they piled into the waiting cars. All of them except for the two who had been in the two sets of powered armor waiting patiently nearby to pick off anyone who managed to find a way out of the building. Four Marines, who had chosen the wrong time to come snooping outside, had been silently and rather efficiently dispatched by dart pistols by the waiting figures.

The cars headed towards the old base, and the true objective of the assault while the two powered armor suits began their search for the perimeter Marine guards, which there had been no way of getting rid of in the trap.

The cars passed through the guard station, waved on by one of their number who had taken over the station only brief minutes before. This plan had been put together months ago, when the training location for the Guardians had been found out. Now it was being put into action. If they could kill these Guardian Trainees, they would strike a fatal blow to the Tiri forces.

Soon, the first of the cars was heading towards the Oval, and the houses around it in which the trainees were housed.


To be continued...

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