The security guard lays his left palm on the scanner beside the door. It beeps, the display goes green and the gentlest of clanks is heard. The thick metallic door slides open and he steps through. Lucy walks beside the man down the corridor lined with square panels equally sterile as the dress she is wearing.

“Welcome to the Department, Miss Goretti.”

Lucy snickers. “Thanks for having me.”

The guard chuckles. “We don’t get many new people, especially one as young as you.”

“So I should be glad then?”

“I suppose it’s a privilege however you look at it, ma’am.”

Despite his friendly tone, Lucy sees that his hand is always on his holstered sidearm.

They come to another door, this one having two scanners, one on either side. The security guard puts his palm on one scanner and nods to Lucy. She places her palm on the other. The door slides open with a soft hiss.

“After you, ma’am.”

Lucy steps inside, the guard a few feet behind her. The room is merely lit by the numerous large screens. A dozen uniformed men and women are sitting in front of them. A middle-aged man, solid-build with greying hair turns his eyes to her and skims her head to toe. Lucy browses the room.

“Miss Goretti, I’ve been looking forward to your arrival,” he greets in the standard professional expression.

Lucy nods with the slightest twist in her lips. “Good morning, Mister Kerensky.”

“I’m glad you’re here to help us,” he adds.

“I didn’t get much of a choice. Now, show me where you’re all at.”

The seated operators turn to glance at Kerensky.

“Don’t look at him,” Lucy snaps.

The operators bang away on the keys. More personnel files, maps and satellite tracking pop up on the tactical screens.

Lucy points to the portrait of a young man: Aiden Doherty. “Try sector two-five-six. Given the position of your roadblocks, he’ll be there still.”

“Are you sure?” asks Kerensky. “He was last seen in sector two-five-two.”

“Look, you’ve captured Diana Harrison and Aiden is the other expert in detonators.”

Something blares.

Lucy’s eyes are glued on the data in front of her. “There’s a hospital in sector two-five-six, right?”

“Yes, but- ”

“Doesn’t matter, he would have gone through decontamination and injected a dose of nanites to confuse sensors and no one at the hospital would have known he was there. Your satellites are now useless. We gotta reconfigure them to track him.”

Lucy sees glazed eyes trained on her. She marches over to a door on the far side of the room. “Don’t give me that security clearance crap.”

Kerensky nods. The door barely opens and Lucy slips through. She bolts down the dark corridor and into a room on the left, a room which looks like a library, not of books but processors.

Lucy sprints to Row D and rips out several cubical processor cells. She replaces them in a different order and calls up the satellite tracking on the screen. As she enters several lines of new code, the screen flashes.

“I guess we’re too late, Miss Goretti.”

Lucy turns to see Kerensky and the security guard standing at the end of the row. The latter pulls out his sidearm. Tentacles of energy lashes at her… all her muscles tense, she grits her teeth and-

***

Lucy opens her eyes and manages to get on her knees to look beyond the glass: the blue Earth in the abyss. A mushroom cloud is slowly dissipating but it is nevertheless a mushroom cloud.

Her legs feel numb but as she staggers onto her feet, she sees Kerensky behind the glass on the opposite side. “I tried.” It’s a statement, not a plea.

He grins. “The condition of your parole is to prevent detonation. I’m sorry to say that your first day on death row is also your last. In a way, you were the one success of Project Bed Stone. Ironically, I had more use for the nut-jobs than you.”

Lucy sees a sparkle in Kerensky’s eyes. “You prick, you deliberately- ”

“The Department requires authority and funding. Unfortunately, our politicians need the occasional reminder.”

A young man in a crew cut turns up. Kerensky winks at Lucy. “David here is the first of Project Runner Stone. In fact, it’s his first day. Be glad you’re contributing to your successor’s training.”

Kerensky walks away. David avoids Lucy’s glare momentarily… but then they exchange stares, his hand on the red button beside the airlock. The next thing she knows, she is whipped off her feet and a sharp coldness thrashes her.