Then something like an iron fist seized the spirit inside of her and hoisted her to her feet.

Get a grip, soldier. You have been trained to handle situations like this. Now take a deep breath, get your emotions under control, and find out what the hell is going on.

A bolt of blue electricity snapped overhead, raining down a veil of sparks. She closed her eyes, blocking out the chaos and destruction around her and concentrated.

Deep breath. One more. Check the body's vital systems, like a computer doing a diagnostics check. Several painful areas, some needing attention, but nothing life-threatening. Put pressure on each leg and foot. Flex fingers and wrists, rotate shoulders, then neck. No damage to joints and bones.

She opened her eyes. She was functional and intact, which meant she could move on to the next step: finding David.


Three weeks earlier

Washington, D.C.

October 8, 2085

"Cynthia Jeanne Mills."


The man behind the desk looked up with a disinterested expression.

"Mrs. Mills. Would you like to make any final statement or declaration?"

CJ stared at a point just above the man's balding head. The genetic magicians could clone a newborn baby's heart in less than an hour but they still couldn't get men's follicles to behave.

"No," she answered, her voice as rigid as her spine.

The man nodded, looking slightly disappointed. "Print here."

He spun what looked like a simple sheet of paper towards her. CJ waited for a moment before glancing down at the white glowing sheet. It wasn't actually paper; she rarely saw real paper outside of a museum. Every flat surface these days was a computer, and she remembered how funny it sounded when her grandfather had referred to this as "smart paper." It didn't seem particularly smart to her. It could do anything that a normal computer could do, but you could also wad it up and throw it in the trash. That didn't make it "smart;" without a user it was just an inert sheet of electronics half a millimeter thick.

And this particular piece of "smart paper" was awaiting her thumbprint. CJ tried not to read the words on the page but they seemed to jump out at her and claw their way into her eyeballs.

Misconduct... Flagrant disregard... Personal neglect...

And the words that she never imagined would share the same page as her name: Dishonorable Discharge.

She felt it again – that white-hot ball of heat blossoming in her stomach, followed by the curious pain behind her eyes where her retinal implants were embedded. She glanced up, saw the light reflecting off the crown of the man's skull and suddenly wanted to seize him by the throat, slam him up against the wall, and calmly explain how the whole situation wasn't her fault and that she was being unfairly singled out.

Violence wouldn't have helped her case. Besides, the hammer had already fallen. She was being kicked out whether she printed the page or not. This place was a nuthouse anyway. With the monkeys they let loose, running around playing soldier, it was a wonder the Chinese or the African Coalition hadn't already invaded and conquered the nation.

CJ rammed her thumb down on the page, pressing hard and hoping she was ruining some sensitive electronics inside. Again, she knew it was foolish to even try – the only thing that ruined "smart paper" tearing it up like regular paper. But she wanted to damage something. Anything.

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