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A short story by

Alex Irvine

Even though it was designed for anti-vehicle purposes, the Warhound is more than ready to deal with enemy infantry. Just because you're not wearing steel doesn't mean you can stand up against the DPF.

The Warhound fired its DPF from less than five meters away, and Eli's body simultaneously melted, burned, and blew apart. Drenthe dove away from the wash of heat, sound, and pieces of Eli. He covered his head and did not move until he realized Ayla was saying something over the speaker. After a moment he parsed it. "Like you said, Eli. Corporate espionage is a capital crime. Sorry we didn't have time for a full hearing."

Drenthe reflected that Eli would not be asking for a refund of the credit he had advanced Drenthe. Eli's employers, on the other hand... but that was a problem for another time.

"Now, Warhounds," Ayla said. Drenthe realized that he was not the only one who was monitoring the whole situation.

The Warhounds turned en masse and roared up out of the proving ground, silhouetted by the burning tanks and vikings behind them. The demonstration had gone off perfectly, with the added thrill of Eli's unexpected immolation and the branding of Drenthe as a criminal menace. Drenthe had never seen anything like this. The firepower! The skullduggery! He felt fortunate to be part of it.

Axiom Ordnance was going to sell many Warhounds. But they were also going to have many problems.

The Warhound formation reached the perimeter of the executive complex. Along the way they put the DPFs to good use against the security vehicles. Drenthe counted eight of them burning before the rest of the security guards jumped out of the trucks and ran for it back into the factory works. None of them, Drenthe noted, made any move to defend the executive complex.

In situations that call for reducing enemy structures, the Warhound's DPF systems are also highly effective.

The Warhounds stomped through the fence, snapping its steel posts off with almost casual waves of their arms. Drenthe saw Ayla come out of the factory works, leading a group of techs who looked both grim and excited. Checking his feeds, Drenthe saw that Ayla was recording everything and piping it to him. Drenthe nearly clapped with joy.

"We've got the AI locked down," she said from the monitor audio. "None of the civil-defense countermeasures are going to work, and AxO's security goons aren't going to come out and face down Warhounds. Things are going to be a little different around here from now on. Axiom might just be under new management."

The Warhounds were methodically destroying the buildings of the executive complex. The buildings' occupants came out at a run, and were welcomed by the workers the way the workers had been welcomed by AxO security two days before. Drenthe started to say something about restraint. Then he recalled that at least some of those managers and executives had been party to a plan that called for the killing of a number of workers. With that in mind, he exercised restraint on himself.

"Nice work, Drenthe," Ayla said. "Did you get your holo?"

"Drenthe has what Drenthe needs," he answered.

"Then Drenthe better get the hell out of here," Ayla answered. "The planet-hopper we talked about is waiting at the launchpad. How fast can you get there?"

"Fast," Drenthe said. He gathered his recordings and abandoned his equipment in place. Holorecorders were cheap. Drenthe was not.

His one regret was leaving his chair. It had accompanied him across star systems and onto the set of every holo he had directed since his breakthrough with Flight of the Mutalisk. Yet there was a time to let all objects go. Perhaps that time was now, when Drenthe had a chance to avoid being embroiled in a small revolution that had already turned quite violent. Drenthe had the material for a great holo. Perhaps the loss of his chair was a necessary price. "Drenthe bids you farewell," he said to the chair. Then he climbed down off the platform, avoiding Eli's remains as best he could, and crossed the broken ground to where Ayla stood at the gate to the executive complex. As always, his micro-recorders took everything in.

There was one last thing he wanted. "Ayla," he said. "Come to Korhal. You could be a great star of the holos."

"Are you discovering me, Drenthe?" she said with a quirky smile.

"I am," he said. "Billions of people will see you. They will love you. Your boldness, your charisma."

"Uh-huh. I'll make you a deal," Ayla said. "You go find Yakov Iliev and tell him that Axiom wants to hire him. Do that, and maybe I'll pay a visit to Korhal."

"Your principles. They will love your principles," Drenthe said. He was smitten, the way any good director grew smitten with natural star power.

"Get out of here, Drenthe," she said.

When he boarded the planet-hopper, the pilot said, "We owe you one. You gonna make sure this gets out?"

"If you make sure Drenthe gets out, Drenthe will make sure this story gets out," said Drenthe.

"Deal," the pilot said. The ship lifted away. Drenthe looked down at the factory works and the burning executive complex. He recorded it all as it receded and then disappeared behind a layer of clouds. Three days. All of it had happened in three days. Yet another version of the story occurred to him. Ayla, he thought. She had led the rebellion against the repression of Axiom Ordnance. He had enough holo of her to make it work. And if he could find Yakov Iliev... no matter. Either way he intended to make a star of Ayla, the fearless and magnificent new leader of Bukari V. She would soon be one of the most famous people in the Dominion, her renown born in the desolation of the company town, the smoky chaos of the factory, the courageous overthrow of Axiom's treachery. Yes!

It was not the story he had set out to direct. It was not even the story he had imagined when the Warhound test was beginning. But it was the story he intended to make. There was truth in it, even if it was not the exact truth of what had happened. From the material of reality, one could make a truth that was truer than the reality itself.

I direct this reality, he thought. I am Drenthe.

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