Afterwards, every detail of the worst day of his life played over and over in Colonel Bencasilat Ming’s mind.
Seylat lay on the rug on his stomach, drawing a picture of a tank, and Sala the nanny was combing a tangle out of Lilias’s long hair before restoring a pink barrette. His wife was on the sofa, feet up as instructed by the obstetrician, but defying orders by pecking out a staff memo on her tablet. Ben had recently had an exercise bar installed high in the doorway to the hall, and was on the second of three sets of 20 one-handed pull-ups. The sudden sound that broke into this domestic evening tableau was not one his soldier’s trained ear recognized, not a mortar or a missile. There was a buzzing mechanical quality to it, rather than an explosion.
Before Ben could do more than drop to his feet the back wall of the sitting room fell away, taking a good chunk of the high ceiling with it. Yet the cloud of dust and debris hung clear of a neat dark sphere, which enclosed a tall blonde woman. Only later did the oddity of her long black gown strike him, a bizarre combat attire. At that moment he only saw the strange weapon in her hand. Ben snatched up his own M9 from where it lay with his jacket on the back of the sofa.
“Jack!” the invader called. “Jack, come out! Or else —”
Calla rolled off the sofa. “Fanny?”
In that same moment the invader fired. A blizzard of silver blasted out of the bell-shaped muzzle of her weapon. Shielding the toddler in her arms, Sala caught the full impact. The energy or missile passed right through her back and through the child as well, dissolving them both into red meat. Red spattered Seylat and then Calla as well.
Calla’s personal bodyguard Mr. Lia burst through the cracked glass of the doors from the terrace, firing as he came. The bullets bounced off the sphere, whirling in a strange way out of sight. Ben racked his heavier piece but held back because Calla was clawing herself up into the line of fire. “He’s not here,” she screamed. “I married Ben. Ben!”
Ben steadied the M9 on his muscular forearm, aiming at the invader’s head. Mr. Lia dashed up just as she fired again. In the instant of her firing the sphere blinked out to let the charge or missile pass. At the short range it took Lia square in the chest. He seemed to disassemble into arms, legs and head with no torso to connect the pieces. But Ben fired in that same moment, two aimed shots in the space of three seconds, and the blonde head shattered like a rotten vegetable. The sphere didn’t blink back, and the darkness lingered for only another instant before everything cleared away. He was left in the smoking wreckage of his home with his wailing wife clutching the corpse of his daughter.