Author : William Tracy

The moonless night was interrupted by a bright flash of light. A demolition round gouged a neat twenty-meter hole in the jungle. A light jumper craft settled into the fresh clearing.

A group of people emerged from the vehicle, lights casting hazy cones in the muggy air. “The liverwort was reported less than ten kilometers from here. Let’s move!”

Beneath the shadow of the jungle canopy, plant growth was thin enough to easily walk through, and the party fanned out among the trees. Nobody knew if the newly discovered plant might have medical uses, or whether it might produce an enzyme capable of catalyzing biofuel production, or if it would even be useful at all. All that mattered was that the Northern Union had to get the plant before the Pan-Alliance did.

After two hours of searching, the party found what it was looking for. A botanist scaled a tree trunk to a height of three meters, and scraped from the trunk a sample of the tiny epiphyte for genetic sequencing.

They hurried back to the jumper. “Let’s go—the package is on its way!”

Inside the craft, status lights winked in lockstep with the biocomputer’s nervous system. The jungle outside dropped away, and the jumper sped toward the coast.

“Damn. Company’s coming!” Four dots appeared on the radar. In the distance, enemy ornithopters rumbled faintly.

The jumper launched two missiles. They spread leathery wings for guidance, and rocketed into the night. An ornithopter cried as it went down.

A flickering light appeared in the sky behind the aircraft, a projectile launched from an orbital missile platform. “Here comes the package!”

The jumper crossed the shoreline. The black waves below reflected the running lights of the jumper—and the rapidly approaching ornithopters.

“Package here! Cover!” The jumper crew bent away from the windows and covered their eyes. The night lit up as the neutron bomb detonated, wiping away the rare liverwort and its jungle home.

The ornithopters were still gaining on the jumper, and began opening fire. “Hang tight!” The jumper began evasive maneuvers, rolling sharply.

Then, three jet biofighters peeled down from the sky. Their strong wing muscles flexed around polymer fiber skeletons, giving the airplanes fine control that would make an inorganic aerospace engineer weep. In minutes, the biofighters gunned down the remaining ornithopters and returned to formation.

Soon, the fighters and the jumper touched down on a waiting carrier. As the air crews disembarked, a clamshell roof closed over the flight deck. The aircraft carrier sank beneath the waves, and swam away.

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