Allets slammed an attacker into the wall, wincing at the crack of bone. He spotted rubble from the damaged corridor and flung a chunk of debris at the assailant raising a pulser. It struck the man’s hand as he fired, shot going wild.
In the split second of distraction, Allets lunged forward. They tumbled to the floor in a tangle of limbs, pulser clattering away.
“Stand down, now!” Allets growled, pinning the attacker with ease. His squad had secured the other five but at a cost – Rath was injured, though luckily not critically. They had to end this, fast.
The man snarled, free hand sweeping up to grasp a blade from his belt. Before it could flash free Allets struck a blow that cracked bone. The knife fell as Allets followed through with a kick to disable.
“Sorry, you left me no choice.” Allets hauled him up and flung the groaning man at his squad.”The rest went down to sublevel 12. No lethal force – we need them alive!”
“Yes, sir!” The squad rushed past. Allets tapped his earpiece, pulse steady. Confronting such unskilled opponents was child’s play, even pushed to his limits. His gifts were meant for far greater challenges. But to protect The Gleam, no task was too small.
“Rath, status?” Allets barked, striding into motion.
A strained grunt. “Took a hit to the shoulder but I’ll live. Get going – I’ve got reinforcements and a med team on the way.”
Allets broke into a run, squad at his heels with weapons drawn. Sublevel 12 awaited, and with it answers for who would dare attack The Gleam under cover of night.
Not if he had any say!
Allets descended into shadows, senses igniting along familiar sublevel corridors. His squad moved with precision, clearing each room and maintenance shaft along the attackers’ path. But their targets had vanished, the trail ending abruptly halfway down the long hallway.
Allets slowed, gazing along bare walls and pipes with a frown. There – on the floor, a faint scuff mark and speck of blood. “This way.” He strode to a rust-rimmed door, gesturing for his squad to stack up on either side. With a sharp kick, it flew open…onto an empty storeroom, holding nothing but dust.
A dead end. Allets hissed in frustration, hand tightening into a fist. How had they slipped away without a trace? The Gleam’s halls held no mysteries he could not uncover. Tonight, it seemed, that rule no longer applied.
The attackers had escaped. And Allets had failed.
Allets tapped his earpiece. “Squad, report status. Anyone injured beyond Rath?” A chorus of negatives reassured him. At least his people were safe, though their pride would be stinging at this defeat as much as his own.
Though merely an intern, Allets had proven himself leading tactical response teams for two years. His gift and skills were unmatched in all The Gleam’s security forces – at 22, Allets had achieved results that justified the Tactical Response Unit placed under his guidance. Their commanders believed as Allets did: that gifts and skill mattered far more than age or status in determining a man’s worth as a leader.
Tonight though, those gifts had been bested. And Allets could not let that stand.
“Begin clean-up and sweep the lower levels. I want any trace of these attackers found and documented, no matter how small.” Allets strode from the room, the squad rushing to obey. There would be no rest until he had answers.
Allets found Rath in the corridor, the med team patching a graze to his shoulder. “You’ll live,” he said brusquely, though relieved it was not worse. Rath had been with him for a year and was one of his best. “When they’re done, join the sweep. We end this tonight.”
Rath grinned fiercely, never one to be kept from a fight. “Wouldn’t have it any other way, sir.”
Allets clapped a hand to his uninjured shoulder and left to join the search himself. Some clues must remain, waiting to be uncovered by senses that could not be so easily thwarted. The attackers had won this round through good luck and sleight of hand, but the next time they met, his squad would be ready.
Not for vengeance – Allets sought justice, not violence without cause or end. The lives in his hands were a sacred trust, every tactic or strategy was weighed carefully. If lethal force must be used, it was regretfully, and only to defend another life.
His duty was to The Gleam and her people. Answers would be found to thwart future threats, and security tightened to deter another such attack. Allets would not rest until sure all steps possible had been taken to shield citizens from harm.
The squad worked through the night, meticulously scouring every inch of lower levels for clues. By dawn, exhaustion weighed heavy, but their dedication did not flag – like their leader, all grasped the importance of their charge.
Finally, Allets called a halt, squads dismissed to rest while he delivered a report to the Magistrate’s Tower personally. The attack must be publicized, and additional patrols assigned until the assailants are caught and interrogated. His people had to feel secure in their own city, or The Gleam’s bright promise would descend into fear and disorder.
Allets strode out into the rising sun, weariness banished beneath its golden light. Another day of work began, guarding the only home and purpose he had ever known. Failure was temporary; the safety of citizens was his lifelong goal. The attackers would be found and brought to justice.
And The Gleam would shine on, unshadowed, so long as her protectors refused to yield. Protecting hope was what he lived for. There was no greater duty than to serve.
Allets strode into the GESI’s security wing, weariness lifting at the familiar sight of monitors and personnel hard at work. As he passed, more than one nodded in respect – last night’s events had spread quickly, squads taking pride in their commander’s resolve to find answers.
The director’s office dominated the far end of the floor. Allets knocked once and entered, sliding a data chip across the broad desk.
“My report on last night’s attack, ma’am.”
Director Cala leaned forward, violet eyes intent as she reviewed details. A woman of few words, she had led GESI security for nearly a decade through wit, foresight, and a gift for tactics to rival his own. If any could aid in defending against future threats, it was she.
Finally, Cala glanced up, waving the doors shut behind him.”A mess from start to finish. Outsider weapons, oddly coordinated for common mercenaries. Your analysis?”
Allets grimaced.”No. Precision and planning imply intelligence backing. Mercenaries merely carry out orders – they do not orchestrate or fund entire operations.”
“My thoughts as well.” Cala tapped the data chip with a frown. “The weapons worry me most. Outsider tech is heavily restricted, for good reason. Someone went to great trouble and expense acquiring it – which means last night was merely a first move. What do they want?”
Allets hesitated, voicing what had gnawed at him since the attackers escaped. “Or a diversion, to probe security measures around a different target. Covert projects, perhaps, known to only a select few?”
Cala’s eyes flashed with anger, gloved hand tightening briefly. But her voice remained controlled, soft, and precise. “More likely. We increase patrols, and draw attention from key sites.” She turned away, keying her console with steady hands. Only the strain in her voice betrayed fury beneath iron calm.
“Your resolve may gain us ground. Shift extra security to sites 13 and 66.”
Allets blinked in surprise but obeyed without question. Challenging the director’s choices would only undermine their efforts.
Cala glanced over her shoulder, eyes shadowed.”Find how they’ve infiltrated us. No one threatens The Gleam from within and lives.” She raised a hand as he opened his mouth.”You wonder if they were born here. Unlikely – I’ve vetted our people thoroughly. But zealots will go to great lengths when beliefs demand.”
Allets hesitated before voicing the possibility. “Even altering records, to seem native?”
For a long moment, Cala was silent. Then she gave a single sharp nod, turning back to her monitors.”So it begins.”
Allets walked out of the room, suddenly not feeling tired anymore. Their secret enemies were about to attack out of nowhere, and the only way to stop them was to figure out what they were really up to.
The director called after him.”Allets, hold up.”
She waved him back in, the doors sliding shut behind him. Finally, she looked straight at him. “You’ve proven you can be discreet. So I’m going to clue you in on what these guys probably want, and why we built this thing even with the risks involved.”
Allets stood up straighter, heart pounding. “Anything for the city, ma’am.”
The director keyed something into her control panel. A screen popped up showing a map of tunnels and rooms under the city.”Site 13’s located down there, underground for safety…and secrecy. We’re developing tech that could be dangerous if used irresponsibly.”
She switched off the screen, eyes glinting with determination. “We have to protect the future – and the people working to make things better. You in for taking a team you trust to guard this site so our enemies can’t ruin everything?”
Allets didn’t hesitate.”Absolutely. My job is to protect the city, whatever it takes.”
The director cracked a tight smile. “Pick your squad and suit up to go underground. The real work’s about to start.”
Later, Allets walked toward the ride that would take them underground, his best guys following. He turned around, looking serious.
“You know this could get messy. But you also know what might happen if we screw up. The boss lady trusts you like I do – so only you’ll know about Project Spark, and why we gotta guard it.”
They looked surprised. Allets put up a hand to shut them up, frowning.
“Spark uses quantum tech to tap into zero-point energy. It’s almost done, way underground where it’s safe…and secret. If the wrong guys get control, everything’s at stake.”
He looked each of them in the eye, seeing they were ready as he was. “I’m asking as friends – you in to protect Spark until we can finish it, even with trouble close?”
They pounded fists over hearts, saluting. Jai spoke, eyes fierce.
“Don’t ask. Our job’s the future – lead on.”
Allets nodded. Only they knew of Spark’s promise – endless clean power for The Gleam. But in the wrong hands, quantum energy could be released in a single burst. The reactor was nearly ready, buried chambers below containing forces that could drive progress for generations…or lay waste to the world they knew.
The transport shuddered to a halt, sealed doors slowly hissing open. Harsh white lights glared down on them as they climbed out, the sterile air tinged with ozone.
“Decontamination time. You know the drill,” Allets said. They stripped down, sealing uniforms and gear into the clean chamber. Air jets blasted from vents as they stood exposed, chemical misters raining down disinfectants in cycles meticulously timed.
Radiation scanners hummed, security panels blinking all clear at last. Fresh uniforms were dispensed, the fabric thin but lined against stray energies that might escape containment seals below.
Jai eyed the plain attire with distaste. “Charming as always. If I wanted to dress in sacks…”
“You’d have pursued a different career.” Allets smiled briefly. “Come on – protocols met, Spark waits below.”
The security chief greeted them inside, scowling. “Director Cala made clear your…temporary authority here. Do try not to make a mess of things, and don’t disturb the technicians any more than can be helped.”
“We won’t interfere with operations unless necessary, sir.” Allets kept his tone neutral. “Our role is to safeguard Project Spark during a time of heightened risk. My guards are trained for discretion.”
The chief harrumphed but seemed appeased. “Follow me to the laboratory levels then. Try to stay out of trouble…and off sensitive equipment. The future of our world could hang in the balance of what transpires beneath the streets today – I’d rather not see it undone.
The security chief led them into Laboratory 13, gesturing ahead. “Dr. Tollis, the director’s new guards are here. Try not to distract them…or yourself.”
A short, balding man with spectacles askew peered up from a monitor, coffee-stained lab coat hanging off spare shoulders.
“Hmm? Oh, additional security, good, fine. Don’t touch the device.” He waved a hand absently at the small apparatus on the table before him, attention already returned to streams of data.
The chief frowned. “Impressive as ever. Do at least spare a moment to greet them before wandering off to whatever theory now has you enthralled.”
Dr. Tollis blinked up at them again, as if seeing the group for the first time. “Yes, hello. Do avoid disrupting my work here. Terribly sensitive experiments underway.”
He half-turned away, muttering over the compact device housing Project Spark. “Now where was I…ah yes, probability coefficients on interphasic waveform integrity…”
Allets suppressed a smile. The eccentric scientist was notorious for brusque, oblivious exchanges when working – which was always. But no mind was more brilliant, or better suited to grasp zero-point energy.
With a grumble, the chief gestured them on. “That’s done. Follow Doc’s instructions and avoid explosions – containing this one’s notions proves hard enough without added trouble.”
Allets and his team got to work. They set up a tight perimeter around Lab 13 using scanners, alarms, and a few trusted guards. In 12 hours another team would take over, but until then nobody was getting in or out without them knowing.
Nine hours passed quietly, and the lights dimmed to a night cycle. Allets checked the monitors, restless but trying not to show it. This gig was important, but watching empty halls wasn’t exactly exciting.
A sudden beeping shattered the silence. Allets leaned forward, frowning. One of the motion trackers was going off, detecting movement where there shouldn’t be any.
He tapped the comm, keeping his voice low. “Jai, you read? We got movement on Level 3, West Corridor. Probably a glitch, but you and Markus check it out. Report back if you see anything.”
“On it.” Jai sounded fully alert. “Tera, Veil, hold the position with Allets. Let’s go, Markus.”
Allets watched two dots move into the corridor, sweeping through. Seconds passed, tension coiling tight before Jai spoke again.
“Area’s clear, no sign of – wait. Markus, what was that?”
“Thought I saw a shadow move. There, at the end of the hall!”
The two dots converged, alarm spiking before Jai reported. “False alarm. Some kind of…interference with the sensors here. Returning to the perimeter.”
Allets leaned back as their dots returned to position, pulse still racing. Probably just a tech malfunction…but his instincts disagreed. Something felt off. And three hours still remained before daylight came again.
Allets leaned back after the false alarm, pulse still racing. Something was off, and his gift made it hard to ignore.
The crystals of Luzmeria had changed everything. Their energies had spread to ignite extra senses or strange talents in all who lived within their reach. For Allets, it meant perceiving shifts no normal human could.
When instincts warned of another presence, Allets reacted fast. He gripped Jai and Markus, voice low. “Stay alert. This isn’t over.”
They nodded. Jai’s gift was summoning light, banishing shadows where none could hide. Markus condensed air into projectiles he launched with uncanny aim.
Allets watched monitors as anxiety built. Finally, he felt it – a ripple of energy that didn’t belong. In a breath, he sprang forward, pistol primed as a figure emerged from the shadows.
Jai reacted first, light flaring to fill the corridor. The intruder froze, cloak of darkness torn away. No familiar face gazed back – just a stranger clutching gear for bypassing security systems.
Markus aimed with narrowed eyes. “Explain yourself…and choose words with care.”
The thief glared but did not speak. He sprang forward in a blur, wielding knives that narrowly missed as the trio dodged back. They reacted as one, talents igniting to repel the thief by all means required.
Light flared and projectiles flew, Dracus weaving through it all too swiftly. But his luck ran out – a projectile from Markus sliced his leg, blood pumping free. Still, Dracus fought on, movements growing weaker and slower.
Allets aimed to disarm, not kill. Even outmatched, Dracus had landed hits they’d feel for days. But crystal gifts had made them hard to stop…as the thief was learning, to his cost.
Finally, Dracus stumbled and went down, strength pouring out onto the floor along with life. Allets caught him before the end, calling for medics to prevent death and get answers – how Dracus had bypassed security, and who demanded Spark at such cost.
Jai dimmed her light, and Markus let his grip on the surrounding air loosen. They shared a look of grim resolve – this night wasn’t over, and dawn seemed lifetimes away. Defending the hope of The Gleam called on every gift…and more. Did the thief want to use the device for energy production or as a bomb? Did he want it for himself or to sell to the highest bidder?
The med team arrived, swift to staunch the man’s bleeding and stabilize vitals for transport to secure medical facilities. Project Spark remained untouched, its keepers battered but unbowed. And the truth behind this theft must soon come into light – whether Luzmeria was ready to face all that dawn revealed or not. The hour grew late, and some debts could only be paid in the full light of The Gleam.