The Devil wasn't supposed to be beautiful, Frank Tomlinson thought. She wasn't supposed to walk among them, either. Oh, no. He was a human being, working for her government, waiting for the signal that now approached.

He didn't really think mortal men could kill this bedeviled woman of strength and beauty. More likely, such men would all too happily surrender their services to her, unable to escape her mystical appeal. Just as he had done fourteen years ago.

Now, the bald, overweight man sat, as he had for fourteen years, at the security desk. Not that the Devil needed security, but that her agents did. His fellow men, who loathed themselves for their weakness. Just as he loathed himself.

Ever since the Great Fire had burned his great-grandfathers' homes to bedrock and mud, he and his brethren had lived a life of Hell. They were ruled -- first "saved" from death by this very Devil, and then ruled as a price for their salvation.

Some salvation. She seduced you, mind, body and soul... and at the same time put the fear of her right where your yearning for her was. She didn't punish failure. She did punish betrayal, even if it was just a thought of her as the Devil. But the Devil she was. Frank considered himself Blessed that the Devil hadn't come through his gate in over two years, as he waved the men in black past, and called his own brethren to the evacuation.

No, mortal men could not kill this beautiful Devil, unless God was on their side. And so these men from the stars with faces behind strange masks had to be, he thought, as they entered the stairway to Hell.

He would later be pleased to discover one of the men was a distant cousin. But for now, he kept dialing.

You could hear the tension.

On the floor beneath the penthouse, the tension expressed itself as air passing through cans with charcoal filtering. The stairway door opened silently, smoothly. Good. One man, their leaader, wagged his finger in various directions -- giving orders without speaking. What he saw with his eyes matched the smuggled blueprints. Again, good. Men in black moved to the other stairwells carrying large black fire extinguishers, and duct tape.

It wasn't a fire they planned to extinguish. But if she woke up and went out a window, that was it. They were the ones extinguished.

The lead man, who ordered the others with hand signals, took his backpack extinguisher to the elevator. Infrared goggles -- he tapped his head for his teammate. They slipped them on, pushed the toggle button, and looked up.

Lights, of course, were bright, as were the heating ducts. And where her bed should be...

... a heat source, about one point eight meters long and one quarter meter wide.

Stepping in the elevator, the leader's hand shot up in warning. His teammate stopped cold; his own right foot didn't touch the floor.

He listened. He heard something. He almost called the abort... but his head tilted to the side.

And then he smiled, and waved his friend in. Over a hundred years ago, this kind of music had been smuggled aboard Hercules. He almost laughed.


Fucking Beethoven.

The elevator doors closed. Instead of pushing the button, the two men quietly tore tape off the rolls and covered the elevator's inside door edges. And they waited. With the infrareds, they watched.

Almost forty minutes later, they had watched the heat source get out of bed, drift around the penthouse apartment doing various tasks, and finally call for the elevator. Mozart played in the background as the me opened their extinguishers and leaned against the walls, hidden from the elevator door's line of sight. A yellow gas hissed into the confined space. No scratching itches now. This game was now deadly serious.

Seconds later, the doors opened, the duct tape broke, and a woman was heard coughing, thudding to the elevator floor on her knee. For a few brief seconds. Then, she coughed no more.

Phase one, complete. The leader muttered six words into his voice-activated transmitter. "Get out the rye bread, Grandma."


At that, every man broke for the parking garage. They had five minutes.

Two minutes later, the leader slammed the door on their truck. "Go-Go-GO-GO-GO!" The driver floored it, while the men started removing their masks. Frank Tomlinson watched in amusement and glee.

They were four kilometers away when the "rye bread" hit. The overpressure wave kicked their truck hard and blew out all the windows.

"Grand salami time," the leader breathed, relaxing now. He didn't know why Tomlinson chose that code phrase, and yet he looked back, through the shattered glass window frame. The headquarters building was totally gone. A good number of other buildings around it were gone too, and several more heavily damaged. "Everybody get out?" he asked, not taking his eyes off the massive mushroom cloud. It wasn't quite as big as he imagined it -- but it was big enough. He shook his head in awe at his own might.

Tomlinson shook his head. "No, sir, we got them all out of the area. I was the last one." Tomlinson bent down, and reached under the truck's seat. He pulled out a miniature cooler, opened it, and handed out salami sandwiches. Plus a few beers. It was the first salami any of the men in black had ever had. It was even their first beer. Tomlinson had plenty to go around. He thought to himself, Even the good Lord was known to enjoy wine.

All in all, it was one hell of a homecoming.

They had ordered the Last Rebellion, as native Earth people were calling it. But they knew also there were more rebellions to come. The men and women who successfully executed the latest rebellion had not died in the attack, but neither would they speak on what they had done, or even announce who they were. Name and rank badges had been removed before the operation, and literally all weapons were destroyed within minutes of O'mara’s death. A nice FAE bomb took care of that, leveling everything within two kilometers, and leaving only one thing in its crater: O'mara’s dead body, blasted into the crater by the explosive. The attackers remained anonymous. (No one else had anything resembling a Fuel-Air-Explosive, anyway.)

The fact she had been the last living T’set’lar in the Universe was a nice bonus.

“Operation Green Planet has been completed, Admiral,” the commanding officer of the Military Colonies Marine Corps, aboard the Colonies flagship Reagan reported. “All our crew have returned safely to the Reagan.”

“Congratulations, General. You’ve managed to achieve a wonderful victory. It’s going to take some time for Earth to restore true peace, but we’ve taken the first step. We must now announce...”

At that moment, the Fleet Admiral heard a knocking on his cabin wall. He smiled. It hadn’t come from the door, nor had it come from any wall adjoining another space on the ship. Rather, it came from the ship’s hull, where his cabin held a view of Earth. Only a few beings could have knocked from the other side of that wall, from the vacuum of Earth orbit. He went over to his viewport to see who.

Ah, yes. Xara was there, with an impatient look on her face. He pointed to his left, indicating the airlock some three hundred meters behind his cabin. She flew off in that direction. “Inform the crew to prepare the airlock for repressurization. We have a guest.”

“Yes, sir. Shall I call the crew to battle stations?”

“By all means, General. By all means.”

“All right, who the hell are you, and what the hell just happened?” Xara demanded of the Fleet Admiral.

The Admiral, a short, fit man whose hair was turning gray, grasped her hand as if to lift it and kiss on the knuckles. She held her hand firm by her side, and the Admiral made no attempt to force it. Him being totally human and her being half Velorian (and half something greater, he knew, but not what), it would have been a futile gesture. But no one could ever accuse him of not trying to be a gentleman.

“To answer your question, Xara Kor’El, I am Fleet Admiral Pedro Yevgeni, of the Terran Military Colonies. I am their commanding officer. As for what just happened, I’m sure the newsmedia will cover that event quite effectively.” His voice was cheerful and confident, that of a man who had just achieved a major victory.

As indeed he had, Xara had to admit. He had managed to do what she had labored decades to do: kill that tyrant and evil woman. At first, she had attempted direct force. Then as Earth degenerated into chaos, she resorted to subterfuge, the Arions’ classic strategy. She’d lost a lot of her Velorian honor in the process, and was a changed woman now, hardened by decades of warfare and suffering to protect her assigned people. Her unofficial title of Protector O'mara had rendered meaningless far too long ago. She was now unused to having no enemy to fight, to struggle against, to plan for.

“I’ve been to the bomb site – there was no way such a small bomb could have killed her, and you know that. I managed to find her body and confirm she was indeed dead, but I couldn’t find anything that had injured her. So why don’t you tell me what’s going on here?”

The Admiral raised his right hand to silence her. Instantly, he closed the right three fingers inward, leaving his thumb and pointing finger extended. He also closed his eyes, and kept his smile. He wagged his finger at her. “No, my dear, you shall not find that out just yet. Let Earth enjoy her release from O'mara first. This is a time of celebration for all humans. It is the beginning.”apon

“The beginning of what?”

“Of our Freedom.”

Xara could hear the religious undertones in his voice. She also noticed the crucifix of Jesus hanging on the wall. It was one of the few decorations in the room. “I haven’t seen a cross like that in a long time. I’m sure the Pope will be most gracious to you.”

He smiled even more. “I’m a layman, not a priest. I’m quite satisfied to see I have accomplished this particular mission, however. I’m not a fanatic about the Faith, Miss Kor’El. As for your question of how O'mara died... I’m sorry, but that information is, at this time, classified. I cannot even tell the American puppet President down there, finishing his speech.”

At this, Xara lost her patience. She jumped forward and pinned the Admiral to the wall, her fists gripping his uniform just tight enough to not tear it, her face mere inches away from his, her legs levitating four feet above the artificial-gravity floor. “You’d better tell me, Admiral, or I’ll take you back to Earth myself... at full acceleration. Would you like to know how fast I can get through Earth’s atmosphere? And how hot going through it gets?”

The Admiral’s smile faded and anger was evident on his face. He brought his hands up slowly between hers. Again, he did not try to force hers apart, simply laid the back of his hands against her wrists on the inside, putting only the slightest of pressures there. He said absolutely nothing.

There was just enough of the Velorian’s honor in her for her to let go, and to realize she had been defeated again. She wasn’t going to get one word of helpful information from him, and they both knew it. She could destroy the entire ship around him, and he’d take the secret of O'mara’s death to the grave.

She let him go, and lowered her feet to the floor. She towered over him, reaching her full height. She looked down on him. “I want some answers, Admiral. And I will get them, sooner or later.” She turned and began walking back to the airlock, military escorts following her.

Yes, you most certainly will, he thought to himself. I hope there’s enough honor and wisdom left in you to survive it. I really do. But I must do what I must, to save my people from yours.