“Honey, I’m coming home. Can this wait?” she said with a grin.

“Maria, run! Hide! The SWD issued a kill order for the Inferi Boon!”

She only had a second to register Dwayne’s terrified expression before she heard another volley of missiles hitting the ground. Denman stood near her, staring at her wristlet in confusion.

“What do you mean?” Maria finally asked.

“Run! They’re going to kill all of you! Hide!”

“We need to warn the others!” Maria gasped. She grabbed Denman’s arm, yanking him after her.

As she was about to clear the side of the carrier, she saw the last of the Inferi Boon Special Ops waving frantically at the approaching fleet of tiltrotors. They were cheering and leaping, overjoyed at the sight of the lead tiltrotor moving steadily toward them.

Denman yanked her backward.

“Omondi!” Maria screamed.

The big, beautiful black man with the wonderful smile threw out his arms to welcome the tiltrotor crew. It was the last she ever saw of him as the crew on the aircraft unleashed their arsenal and the Boon was engulfed in a firestorm. The tiny form of Cruz disappeared in a wash of fire. McKinney and Holm staggered briefly out of the blaze before being engulfed again.

Denman dragged Maria around and pulled her after him. She instinctively ran with him in the shadow of the carrier, then bolted around a low wall that encircled the station. Hunched over, they scurried along the wall, waiting for the blast of fire that would engulf them. The tiltrotors continued to hover as they fired at the carrier and the building. Flaming debris filled the scorching hot air and Maria choked as they fled. Reaching the side of the building, they broke into full sprints now that they were out view of the tiltrotors.

“Keep running!” Denman shouted. “Aim for the lake!”

The massive building next to them shuddered as eruptions within the concrete walls resounded through the dying day. In the distance, the Maelstrom Platforms roared to life. This was it. The final push. The day the Inferi Scourge would be completely wiped from the valley.

As they arrived at the rear of the building, Maria saw that the ground sloped straight into the dark waters of the lake. More explosions rent the air, hot wind and ash swirling around her. Denman ran straight into the waves lapping up on shore.

Casting a hasty look over her shoulder, Maria saw that some of the tiltrotors were moving on to attack other locations, but the ones remaining to destroy the station were drifting their way. She wasn’t sure they had been seen.

Wading into the water, she felt her armor pulling her down. Gasping, she pressed on into the shadow of the dam. Denman vanished beneath the waves, then reappeared further away. He didn’t have to breathe anymore, but her lungs were functional again.

She dove under and tried to swim through the murky water, fish and underwater plants flowing around her. The armor kept dragging her into the deeper depths of the blue lake. Kicking furiously, she held her breath. Finally, afraid at how deep she was sinking, she swam toward the surface. It took many hard, fast kicks to get her even near the top. Denman emerged from the murk, gripped her under the arms and helped her swim upward.

They crested the waves halfway along the dam. Maria’s lungs ached, but she was surprised at how far she had managed to swim. Denman’s hands tugged at her armor, unclasping it. In the shadow of the dam, they bobbed on the choppy waves as more fireballs erupted out of the station.

The Maelstrom Platforms growled to life again in the distance and the world was full of smoke.

They managed to disconnect the top of Maria’s armor from the bottom half and let it sink away.

“Better?” Denman asked.

She nodded, feeling more buoyant. Her undershirt stuck to her skin, but the water felt wonderful.

“Okay, we keep along the dam until we can get to those trees over there.” He pointed to a thin line of pines growing up against a steep incline. “We need to get into the foothills.”

“Do you think they know we’re alive?” Maria asked.

Denman lifted his wrist out of the water and stared at his wristlet. Maria followed suit. They were water resistant devices and the shiny surfaces reflected their frightened faces.

“I saw you talking to someone. Can they help us?”

Maria hesitated, then nodded. Sliding her finger over the surface, the screen activated. She quickly accessed the hidden program.

“Maria, it’s Linds. I have your feed redirected to me now, not Dwayne.” Lindsey appeared to be at a workstation in the Constabulary. “I am jamming the feed from all the Inferi Boon wristlets right now. How many of you are alive?”

“Me and Denman. That’s it.”

Denman sank into the water so just his eyes were visible above the waves. He was watching the tiltrotors moving over the station. So far, they had not been spotted.

Lindsey’s shocked expression transformed swiftly into one that was all business. “Okay. That’ll make it easier. They’re attempting to confirm that all of you are dead using the wristlets. I’m trying to come up with a false transmission that will make them think you were inside the building. Meanwhile, you two have got to get away from that area. It’s fuckin’ ground zero.”

The Maelstrom Platforms continued to roar. Somewhere in the distance, more explosions filled the air with fire.

“Is Dwayne there?” Maria asked.

“I’m here,” her lover’s voice said from off camera.

“I love you,” she sobbed.

“Keep going, Maria. You can do this. You and Denman need to find a safe place to hide. We’re going to get you out of this.” Dwayne’s voice was calming. He bent over Lindsey’s shoulder to peer into the camera. “I love you. Keep going. This isn’t over.”

Maria nodded.

“I’m killing this connection. We’ll be in contact,” Lindsey said, then vanished.

The screen dissolved into the shiny silver of her wristlet.

Denman kicked so that his mouth was out of the water so he could speak. “We need to move. One of them is starting to search the shoreline. Deep breath, hold it as long as you can.”

Maria nodded, then dove.

Caitlyn’s big blue eyes stared at the vid screen as the SWD transmitted live coverage of the destruction of the remaining Inferi Scourge. Dwayne gently rested his arm over her shoulders to comfort her.

Beyond the walls of the Constabulary facility, people were filling the streets to watch the coverage on the drones rolling along the streets. Cheers filled the night. The sound of the Maelstrom Platforms firing on the walls echoed throughout the vast expanse of the city.

The Constabulary Command Center was eerily silent. The SWD had replaced them as the protectors of the city and the officers watched the battle on the vid screens. Commandant Pierce sat in her command chair watching with a grim expression on her face. Lindsey and a few other communication officers worked vigilantly on the far side of the room.

Dr. Curran sat at a station watching the magnificent show on the screens. “Every last bit of ammunition, every last bit of fuel, every last bit of weaponry is putting on the biggest fireworks show in history.”

“They knew what they were doing,” Dwayne said, barely contained anger in his voice.

“They will worship the SWD as their salvation. We’ll just be their foot soldiers when the food riots begin.” Commandant Pierce sighed.

“Dad?” Caitlyn whispered, her hand resting on his.

“Yeah?” She looked younger than her age. He could almost see the child in the young woman. “What is it?”

“The woman who is out there. The vanguard?”

Dwayne nodded, not sure if he liked where she was going with her line of questioning.

“Do you love her?”

There was no other way to answer. “Yes. I do.”

Caitlyn smiled ruefully. “You’re going to save her, aren’t you?”

“She saved me once. I owe her,” Dwayne said with a shrug. “Plus, I’m not sure how to live without her.”

The doors to the command center slid open and Petra hurried in. Her usually impeccable persona seemed ruffled in light of all she had learned. She strode to Dwayne’s side and gave Caitlyn a slight smile.

“What is it?” Dwayne asked his harried assistant.

“My media sources informed me that the President is set to go on the air within the next hour to announce the destruction of the Inferi Scourge. He also will reveal the details of the sad death of the Special Ops who died tonight during the assault on the hydroelectric plant. The official story is that their tiltrotor crashed, killing all on board.”

“Then when we reveal the truth of the matter, what do you think the reaction will be?” Dwayne asked.

“They won’t care,” Dr. Curran said tiredly. “The people won’t care because it means all the Inferi Scourge in the valley are dead. All of them. Even the Inferi Boon.”

Petra pursed her thin lips together, then nodded. “I agree.”

“So how do we usurp the SWD?” Caitlyn asked.

Dwayne glanced toward Lindsey and her minions working away. “We hope that our little hacker over there can piece together what the SWD did in an attempt to take over the government illegally. And we save the President from being removed from office.”

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