plan any of it,” said Heron. “You tried to kill your own army, and worse than that, you tried to kill me. I do not take kindly to people who try to kill me.”
    “We thought you might have had something to do with—”
    “I’m not finished,” said Heron. “I was designed to be a killer. You engineered me, from the genetic level, to be a heartless, analytical machine, ready to kill or sacrifice anyone to get the job done. I was made this way: What’s your excuse?”
    “We are at war,” said the voice, “a war we must win at all costs; you know that—”
    “What I want you to do,” said Heron softly, “is think long and hard about this. You made us to kill and conquer, and we are doing it better than you ever anticipated. Far better than you could ever do yourselves. You are no match for us. Do not make us your enemy.” She stared into the darkness, and a wicked smile crept into the corners of her lips. “Confirm.”
    There was no answer but a muffled click , and the line went dead.


    “R aise a glass,” said Hector, “to the best officer in New America.”
    The room filled with the clink of glasses and the roar of a hundred voices. “Cornwell! Cornwell!” The men tipped their mugs and bottles and drained them in gurgling unison, then slammed them down or even threw them at the floor when the booze within was gone. Samm watched in silence, adjusting his spotting scope almost imperceptibly. The window was murky, but he could still see the soldiers grin and grimace as they slapped one another on the back, laughed at ribald jokes, and tried not to look at the colonel. The link would be telling them everything about him anyway.
    Hidden in the trees on the far side of the valley, well outside the effective range of the link, Samm had no such luxury.
    He twisted the knob on his tripod, swiveling the microphone barely a fraction of a millimeter to the left. At this distance even a small change of angle swept the sound across a vast portion of the room. Voices blurred through his earbuds, snatches of words and conversations in a quick aural smear, and then he was listening to another voice, just as familiar as Hector’s—it was Adrian, Samm’s old sergeant.
    “. . . never knew what hit them,” Adrian was saying. “The enemy line shattered, exactly as planned, but for the first few minutes that made it all the more dangerous. The enemy became disoriented, firing in all directions at once, and we were pinned down too fiercely to reinforce him. Cornwell held the corner through the whole thing, never flinching, and all the time the Watchdog was howling and howling; it nearly deafened us. All the Watchdogs were loyal, but not like that one. It was like he worshipped Cornwell. That was the last major battle we saw in Wuhan, and a couple of days later the city was ours.”
    Samm remembered that battle. Wuhan was taken almost sixteen years ago to the day, in March 2061, one of the last cities to fall in the Isolation War. But it had been Samm’s first enemy engagement; even now he could remember the sounds, the smells, the taste of the gunpowder sharp in the air. His head buzzed with the memory, and phantom link data coursed through his brain, just enough to stir his adrenaline. Instincts and training surfaced almost immediately, heightening Samm’s awareness as he crouched on the darkened hillside, prepping him for a battle that existed only in his mind. This was followed by an opposite reaction—a calming wave of familiarity. He hadn’t linked to anyone in days, and the sudden feeling, real or not, was almost painfully comfortable. He closed his eyes and held on to it, concentrating on the memories, willing himself to feel them again, stronger, but after a few fleeting moments they slipped away. He was alone. He opened his eyes and looked back through the scope.
    The men had brought out the food now, wide

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