Restraining straps tightened at my shoulders, waist, and upper thighs as the hovercraft accelerated. I felt a little sleepy, but not the least bit hung-over which was surprising, considering the night before. I guess I was still a little drunk. Across from me, I watched Karyn Yamamoto, a shapely Eurasian who was second in command. Straps wrapped around her, gripping her in place, outlining her breasts and hips through her otherwise bulky combat clothes. I shifted with the growing discomfort in my groin but continued to stare anyway. She caught my eye and I smiled before I closed my eyes and napped.

When the alarm went off, I snapped awake. The others were already unbuckling, checking their weapons, preparing to disembark as soon as the hovercraft touched down. The gravity was uncomfortable, but we'd all been training the preceding weeks in a weighted environment, so it was bearable. I just wanted to get the job done and take some time off. I needed it. I was burnt out and knew it.

We touched down with a thud and the rear gantry descended. According to plan, I was the first out with the others following quickly behind. We spread out and watched the surrounding trees for movement as the hovercraft lifted, leaving us behind. I checked my compass and signaled for everybody to move out. Our destination was a Type-5 colonial complex two klicks to the north housing some fifty-odd manual laborers who had lately expressed their desire to separate themselves from colonial authority.

By dawn we were spaced along a ridge overlooking the complex. It was a shabby little place but what do you expect for a Type-5? Our job was to round everybody up, inform them they were under arrest, and call in transports. We were authorized to use force, if necessary. I didn't expect any problems though. The workers had no weapons to speak of and my team of ten was armed to the teeth.

We started down the hill through tall grass with me at point. A dull ache throbbed at my temples and I began sweating. I was thirsty but had forgotten my canteen, then remembered, in any case, it was filled with Kentucky's finest. I whispered into my throat mic for the advance to pause and squatted in the covering grass. Loosening my chin strap, I pulled off my helmet and mopped my forehead with the back of my glove. Digging in a pocket on my utility vest, I fished out a small packet of aspirin, tore it open, and tossed the contents into my mouth. The tablets crunched between my teeth.

The ache hammered behind my eyes and I shut them momentarily while breathing in the sweet smell of the surrounding grass. I had drunk too much the night before and was paying for it. Oddly, and with that deep tug only an alcoholic knows, I yearned for another drink to steady my hands, to focus my thoughts on the task at hand, to anesthetize the pain in my head.

Yamamoto's voice buzzed in my earpiece. "What are we waiting for? Is something wrong?"

I opened my eyes. Before me stood a little girl in a yellow dress. She held a daisy in her hand and stared at me open-mouthed before suddenly turning and breaking into a run back to the complex. I heard her calling to someone as I clapped the helmet atop my head. "Move forward now," I hissed into my mic. "We've been compromised." I picked up my rifle and ran after her.

To either side of me, I could see the bobbing heads of my team as they ran through the grass. Ahead of us was the colony, a complex of warehouses and prefab dome houses. A man stood in an open doorway, staring at the little girl as she ran toward him out of the surrounding grass, trying to understand what she was saying. Then he caught sight of us as we rushed forward. He tripped an alarm that echoed with startling volume among the structures and with an expression of panic on his face, he reached toward the girl as she approached. To my right, Yamamoto stopped and stood upright as she leveled her weapon and squeezed off a short burst on full automatic. A crimson flower blossomed on the back of the little girl's dress and she went down. A split-second later, the man in the doorway was hit and also went down.

"Hold your fire!" I screamed into my mic, but it was too late. The bark of small arms fire erupted from doors and windows and was answered by a withering hail of fire from my team as we continued to rush forward. As we reached the perimeter of the compound, I saw one of my team go down to my left. The others rushed the first buildings. Doors were kicked in and sounds of gunfire mixed with excited shouts. I made my way to the communications center, which was open and unoccupied, and secured the small building. As I stepped from the door, there was a muffled explosion from the other side of the complex. Moments after, I received a message from Yamamoto through my earpiece, "Area is secure."

"Where are you?"

"Northeast corner, cinder-block building. You better come take a look."

I made my way quickly to the location. It wasn't hard to find. Yamamoto and two others from the team lingered at the blown-out door inspecting two bodies, one lying in the dust just outside the door and the other in the doorway. Empty shell casings surrounded the bodies. Around me, surviving colonists were being herded together and made to sit on the ground. As I passed a young woman, she looked at me from her kneeling position and spat in the dust.

My head felt like it was about to explode. I was out of breath and my knees were weak. "What have you got?" I asked Yamamoto. "This was the only non-prefab in the complex. Most solid building here, I guess. Some of them sort of made a last stand. We didn't know what they'd done." She shrugged and looked at the ground. "You better take a look inside."

I looked at her, but she avoided my gaze. The two other soldiers remained mum. I stepped to the door; its edges black with soot. The building was small, one room, no windows. I flicked on my helmet light and panned the beam through the darkness. On the concrete floor were small charred bodies lying in pools of blood.

From behind, Yamamoto spoke. "They put their kids in here; figured it would be the safest place."

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