The herder doesn't need to touch her charge to know it's there and to direct its movement. Indeed, physical contact is frowned upon by official training doctrine, because it leads the xeno to rely on the herder for physical direction and affirmation. It is better to train your raptor bugs to be aloof yet pliant. Any Xenodriver with a measure of experience, however, knows that this is balderdash. Warriors don't give their brothers-in-arms the cold shoulder. The Biotechnicians claim that pheromones cause xenos to bond to their herders, but the herder knows better. A far stronger force connects them, one that, unlike pheromones can't be hacked by an enemy: love. The xenos aren't pets, of course, although civies can be forgiven for mistaking the relationship as that. Beetles and raptors have been known to roughhouse with their herders, and more than a few trips to the infirmary have been excused as "love bites." Still, the herder must reciprocate the xenos' loyalty with something slightly different, a sort of honor. There is some evidence for this relationship in pre-Mistake sources. Horses were the mount of choice for most of pre-Mistake history and they were respected by the soldiers who relied on them. Dogs, ancient companion mammals that inspired the wolf beetle's common name, were commonly used by paramilitary forces in urban environments and in close contact with non-combatants. Some sources even reference a long forgotten avian called a pigeon which soldiers used as a messenger up until and even after the discovery of telecommunications. The herders who bonded with these creatures surely also loved them, but it was like the love of a tyrant towards subjects. Individual gallantry deserved recognition; greater glory was the priority. And still, Sam thought, Buckaroo always brushes his carapace against my legplates just when I need him to. I don't know what I'd do if I lost him. It was thoughts like these that she tried to suppress before an engagement but tonight she let them linger. The swarm was restless for good reason. Command had selected Sam and her charges for a critical assault on FI Base G76. As its designation suggested, it was just one of dozens of semi-automated defense fortifications scattered around the Effeye capital. Sams presence, however, suggested that it was something more. She had not been told precisely what she was to be looking for in the base, just that Cynosure indicated that something of great value existed inside. She was to investigate further and retreive any items of military importance within. And, hey, Cynosure got it right almost half the time. Sam stood up stock straight, signaling to the xenos that it was time to move. Although she administered the two-click command for "Advance," her charges didn't really need it. Buckaroo knew what she expected before she even asked for it and the swarm followed Buckaroos lead. She had not specially practiced stealth maneuvering with the xenos beforehand, but this too they instinctively perceived as critical to their mission. Even the manticore, Bismarck, normally a clumsy doofus, treaded lightly. The exterior of the base was a rough slate color. There wasn't much light this night anyway and the base reflected none of it, heightening the sense of dark invisibility of the place. Sentry beacons spun overhead but they were easily disabled by a well placed shot from Bismarck. Microcharges fixed near the hinges of the door frame blew out the locks with minimal noise and smoke. Sam's tendons went taught in preparation for possible bogeys that could be lying in wait but nothing was on the other side except a long, blank hallway. The xenos shivered with anticipation. Single file the swarm entered. A wolf beetle named Henrí went in first. He looked back and forth, expecting something to pop out and strike, but nothing came. There were no doors or corners on either side of the hallway. At the far end was a sliding glass portal, clean and transparent, so there was nowhere for any ambush to hide. The anticlimax seemed to make Henrí even more skittish, which Buckaroo quickly noticed. He wove his way through the swarm to nip Henrí's hindquarter, startling him back into composure. Sam approached the glass. An unseen sensor failed to register any of the xenos but did recognize Sam as a human-form. The glass slid open granting access to another hallway, this one shorter, wider, and lined with small doors to workspaces. Sam raised her rifle and the xenos dutifully assumed strike positions. The beetles opened their forelegs just slightly. The raptors lowered their mass a little closer to the floor. Bismarck looked goofy. For the briefest moment, the whole swarm held perfectly still so they could perceive the sound of any possible enemies. Nothing. One by one Sam ordered beetles into the cubicles. Each one was empty. At the far end, the hallway turned slightly right and opened into a larger tech-comm room. When manned, this is where the CO would stand, directing the base operations. No one was here right now. The electronics were all cold. They hadnt been turned on in days, maybe weeks. No one had expected Sam's incursion. Nothing in the tech-comm room seemed of interest. HQ knew the standardized layout of every Effeye installation. Whatever she was here to find, it was somewhere else in the base. In a small room to the left is where the base's power management unit was kept. Normally, these were not of any interest either, but if Sam were hiding something of value in a nondescript military facility she'd probably stick it in the power closet. The door to the room creaked slightly—this one was decidedly non-automatic. Sam entered with her finger on the trigger. Buckaroo sidled behind her, covering her flank. Unsurprisingly, the power unit also clearly had not been spun up out of standby mode for quite a while. A heavy switch near the door initiated the power unit's cycle. Perhaps she was hunting for information, not an artifact. If so, she'd have to interface with the base hard drive. The humming electronics were unsettling to the xenos. When Sam wasn't training (or playing) with the swarm, she was probably at a desk filing reports so the hiss-crack-snap made by the machines was not unusual to her. The xenos, however, were rarely indoors and their holding pens were situated in an isolated corner of the xenocamp. This world, of solid state memory and plasma displays and force-feedback input, was wholly foreign to them. Sam felt it was better to let them be anxiously curious rather than nervous so she ignored them and focused on the main terminal. Security locks were non-existent. After all, she wasn't supposed to be in this room so why would they lock the computers. The directories held all the usual detritus of a military networked computer. Sysadmin tracksheets, budget tables, half-finished fanfic, an out-of-date commissar menu. Wait. Effeye grunts were rationed protein paste. Why would they have a menu at a defensive base? Sure enough, the menu was not a menu at all. After a simple decryption the file resolved into a database map showing the location of command-keys within the mainframe. Bingo. After loading the file onto portable storage, Sam rounded up the xenos. It had been such an uneventful night, she felt a little bad for them. They deserved some action. Sam powered down the system, hoping no one would be back here in time to realize it had ever been turned on. To her surprise, however, the system didn't cycle down. In fact it seemed to spin up higher. Dammit! She'd been potempkined! "Driver Samantha Walid, this is Captain Esteban von Pacheco, Franco-Iberia Cyberforce." The stern face of a middle-aged officer flickered onto the main display. "As you already have surely noticed, your violation of our security perimeter has been confirmed and you have been surrounded. Exit the the facility with your weapon discharged. Your creatures will be humanely destroyed." "Go to hell," Sam said aloud, in spite of herself. Apparently, the Captain had two-way comms. "Very well, Driver, then you also will be destroyed. Sentinels, remove the intruder from the facility!" At that, the relative silence of the base was ripped apart by a concussion grenade. Already the xenos had taken up positions behind walls and under desks, prepared to attack the soldiers as they entered. If the impact of the sound affected them they didn't show it. If only she had such presence under fire, Sam thought. She'd make a lousy raptor.