The MAIA-I lurched forward. The clear shield over its face, long known to be a weakness in any powered armor, was long-since shattered. Though there was a face behind it, mummified and kept from total decay by constant exposure to the vacuum of space, that face was little but a vestigial affectation. The brightly powered sensors on the front of the suit were the MAIA-I’s real eyes, its real ears.

“We require of you a source of fusion power,” it warbled over an open frequency. “Surrender it to us and we will allow you to pass without further interruption.”

“And if I refuse?”

A forest of other lights snapped on from the darkness, revealing a whole platoon of MAIA-I armors, fusions of artificial intelligence and operator.

“That would be unwise.” There was a distinct undertone of menace to the otherwise emotionless synthesized voice.

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