Seen through squinted eyes, the bright flashing in the sky could have been a lightning storm. Perhaps a particularly heavy one, but a lightning storm nonetheless.

“Eyes peeled, Vat Two-Twenty.”

Anna’s eyes jerked open at the sound of Operative Charles’s voice and recognized the orbital bombardment for what it was. She moved her leg slightly to make herself more comfortable and peered through the binoculars at their target. The pyramid in the distance appeared as a dark silhouette set against a world lit by streaks of light that rained down from the heavens.

Three figures stood in front of the pyramid, pointing at the fires that raged in the distance; they were tall--nearly ten feet each--and held glaive-like weapons with blades made of black energy that absorbed the light around them. Anna had seen those weapons in combat before; they could cut through anything, from thick metal plating to the protective layer of keratin that covered most of the body of a Clone soldier. She shivered when her mind recalled the images.

She looked to her left for confirmation. Operative Charles lay in the undergrowth, pressed against the damp earth in a way that seemed highly uncomfortable. His neck was arched up at an unnatural angle and his single sensor eye was focused on the pyramid ahead--even though magnification was needed to make out any level of detail. Where his armor plating had folded away to accommodate his prone position, Charles’s metallic joints were visible. He turned his head towards her almost instantly. His sensor held her eyes; the single, glowing pupil dilated slightly.

“Go ahead, Vat Two-Twenty,” Charles said.

Anna turned back to the binoculars. She read out loud the coordinates that flashed on the display and listened as the targeting technician on the other end of the com-link confirmed them to her. A moment later, a series of intermittently flashing red dots--visible only through Anna’s binoculars--marked the approximate area of impact; it neatly covered the pyramid and the three tall figures that stood in front of it.

“Fire for effect,” Anna said.

In an instant, a bright flash shot down from the sky. When it connected, it consumed the pyramid and its three guards in a perfect orb of blinding light.

Anna averted her eyes and looked to her right. In the corner of her eyes, she saw Charles, his sensor locked on the explosion. There was always something unnerving about how he stared at destruction, and Anna had always wondered why he did it. Perhaps it was because the light was no discomfort to him, or perhaps the sight of a perfect orb was aesthetically pleasing to his synthetic sensibilities, or perhaps he just took pleasure in his job--to visit a great many different worlds and set fire to each of them.

When the flash had died away, Anna looked through the binoculars. The pyramid had been reduced to a pile of partially melted rubble: there was no trace of the three guards. She watched for a few seconds as the wreckage cooled down, switching between the binoculars’ different modes of vision, and searched for life signs.

There were none.

“Good effect on target,” she finally said. The targeting technician on the other end of the com-link confirmed with smugness in his voice.

She looked at Charles again, whose sensor was still fixed on the smoldering pile of glassed ruin in the distance. His left arm jerked: a movement that was unnecessary, and odd to observe in an AI.

“Sector clear for sweeping teams.”

AI might mimic humans, but the satisfaction Anna heard in Charles’s voice was genuine enough.

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