Planetary Marine Lieutenant Freya Sondergaard threw her Aerotank into a climbing turn momentarily evading the three craft pursuing her. Then she banked sharply and plummeted down, miniguns firing. One craft exploded, another fell away badly damaged, while the third resumed the pursuit. She continued the dive, props and turbofans at full power. Pulling out at the last minute, her attacker crashed into a stand of trees.
"Well done, Lieutenant," said a voice in her ear. "Those attack drones are the latest model. You outmaneuvered them brilliantly."
"Thanks Control. They gave me a good workout. This upgraded Aerotank did it's job and then some. Pulling out of that last dive put some terrific stress on the fuselage and props."
"Roger that. When you return to base, Colonel Flaherty wants to see you in his office."
"I copy, ETA twenty minutes."
"Affirmative Bumblebee One, Control out."
"I have an interesting assignment for you, Freya," said the Colonel. "Our R&D facility on the Scientific Continent has been robbed of some experimental equipment. There has been a rash of such robberies in the past weeks, mostly from private laboratories and technical facilities. Take a run out there and see if we can nab these thieves.
The Sky Police are in on this one too. A Lieutenant Burkhalter's heading up their operation. Coordinate with him and good luck."
Freya smiled inside. She'd be working with her lover and friend again. It seemed an age since they had been alone together.
"Thank you, sir." She snapped to attention, saluted, turned on her heel and strode out the office door.
Provost Lieutenant Jared Burkhalter landed his patrol cruiser on the roof of Sky Police Precinct 85 in Ampere City. In moments, he was in Precinct Major Gonzales' office.
"This is a tough one, Jared. Seven facilities have been burgled including one belonging to the Planetary Marines. No signs of forced entry, no one saw anything, yet various items have disappeared. All personnel have been questioned, but no one has a clue how it happened."
"What's been stolen, major?"
"Several electronic devices, step-up generators, various optical instruments and lenses; I have a complete list of the items. There seems to be no discernable rationale for these thefts. The Marines lost a crate of Aerotank laser sights and optical sights."
The desk comm buzzed "Lieutenant Sondergarrd to see you, sir."
"Send her in, sergeant."
Freya strode through the office door to the majors' desk, stood at attention and saluted.
"Lieutenant Sondergarrd, Planetary Marines, reporting as ordered, sir."
"Welcome Lieutenant, please be seated."
Freya sat; she and Jared briefly made eye contact.
"This is Provost Lieutenant Jared Burkhalter, ma'm. He'll be working this case with us."
"We've met, Major"
"Very good, the next order of business is how should we proceed? These strike me as no ordinary thefts. There's a motive behind them, of that I'm sure."
"I concur," Jared said. "Over half the stolen items have been optic in nature, the rest lasers and generators; maybe someone's building a laser projector."
"Lasers have limited use, but not as weapons," Gonzales replied. "No one has been able to solve the problem of diffraction limitations on beams combining intensity and distance."
"I think we should begin by interrogating personnel from where the items were stolen," Freya said.
"Already done," Gonzales replied. "No one saw anything."
"Permission to re-interrogate individuals as needed, sir," Freya replied.
"Very well, if you think it will be of value."
"I think the Lieutenant and I should begin our investigation immediately," Jared said.
"Agreed, we're getting nothing accomplished sitting here. Good luck."
"Marines' make their own luck, sir," Freya said with a smile.
Jared and Freya's first stop was an R&D lab in Curie City, one of five cities hovering over the scientific continent. The planets' surface was only used for testing and experimentation due to periodic planet quakes.
They had no luck there, or on Faraday or Gauss, finally on Pascal they caught a break. One technician remembered a scientist named Nikita Petrov who had been dismissed from the staff for unauthorized use of equipment unrelated to the project he was working on. The equipment was lasers and optics.
A check of his personnel file showed it was not his first offense and that decided his termination. Another of his colleagues remarked that Petrov boasted to whoever would listen he'd accomplished a scientific breakthrough that would revolutionize optical science. Since he was a metallurgist, his co-workers humored him and chalked it up to eccentricity.
"So the person we have as the most promising suspect is either an eccentric genius or a few sandwiches short of a picnic," Jared said.
"If he's not coo-coo and has in fact developed some breakthrough in optical science involving lasers," Freya replied, "Then we could have a potentially dangerous adversary on our hands."
Jared's comm buzzed. "Sergeant Punjab here, Lieutenant. There's been another theft; this time from Gauss City equipment compound."
"What's been stolen?"
"The report states it's a transporter platform with two hydraulic cranes. Lift capacity of 250,000kg with fans at full power. It can lift an entire city section if necessary."
"Now what's been stolen?"
"A transporter platform, I'm guessing it's our pal Petrov, what's he up to?"
"Patrol Unit Seven on Gauss just called in. Petrov left work yesterday and no one's seen him since," Jared said, snapping his comm shut. "The building manager said he saw him removing several boxes from his apartment, but his rent was paid for the month, so he thought he was throwing things out."
"Probably some of the things he stole," Freya replied. "He's up to something alright."
His comm buzzed. "Lieutenant Burkhalter? Precinct 85 calling, Curie City has disappeared. You and Lieutenant Sondergaard are to report to the Major immediately."
"How can an entire city disappear?" Gonzales fumed as he paced up and down. "If we don't do something soon, headquarters will take this case away from us, not to mention the Marines."
"Do we still have contact with Curie?" Freya asked.
"Yes, they're still there, we just can't see them and they can't see anything but sky. City officials and the precinct there are trying to alleviate any panic, but they don't know how long they can keep order."
A secretary burst into the office "Major, there's a madman on the televisor threatening to destroy the Aerocities unless his demands are met!"
The screen on the wall flared into life showing a thin faced bald man with a Van Dyke beard and brooding dark eyes behind thick lenses.
" ... at this moment to display the extent of my powers, I have cloaked Curie City in refractory light beams rendering it invisible. I could as easily destroy it with my laser cannons. I am beyond your reach and concealed from your sight, so any attempts to locate or destroy me will meet with failure.
I desire nothing less than to rule this planet as Petrov the First, Master of Light, Ruler of All. If my demands are not met within seventy-two hours, I shall incinerate an Aerocity. If you hesitate to meet my demands, then more cities shall die."
Petrovs' image faded from the screen, being replaced by an agitated news reporter.
"Master of Light?" Freya snorted, "He's crazy as a bedbug."
"He's disappeared a city," Jared said. "He may be crazy, but he's clever. Any ideas Major?"
Gonzales shrugged, "This is bigger than the Sky Police can handle. We need to call out the Marines."
"There's one Marine here, Major," Freya said with a smile, "One problem, one Marine, no problem."