Raylene swallowed hard and blinked away the tears forming in her eyes. She swallowed the vomit that threatened to rise as a cloud of dust surged around the landing assault transport. The image was too distant to see what was happening on the ground, but she assumed she would know in gruesome detail soon enough.
"Ah," the Imperatrixian nodded, "your blinking, your vascular response, even the dryness of your fat lips, they are a balm to me. I see your fear, witch. You understand the futility of your situation at last. You understand the terrible folly of your betrayal."
"Understand this." Raylene pressed a button she had installed on her console almost as an afterthought.
Not even the shielded zero-point reactor inside the assault transport survived the atomic firestorm that turned the desert surrounding Soda Lake into a rolling sheet of glass. Hundreds of her most valuable soldiers were incinerated in an instant, and along with them the one she held most dear. Hard debts were paid in war.
"Your turn." Raylene forced a smile and cut off the transmission before the Imperatrixian could recover.
Raylene folded her arms on the table and lowered her head so that it rested neatly in the crook they created. She was still sobbing softly when the first of her officers burst into the room with the news of what had happened.
Captain Patrick "Liberty" Henry was pretty sure that he was still alive. He hurt a hell of a lot and his vision kept going all blurry, but he could feel his arms and legs and as long as he could he kept willing them to move. He was stumbling along a road, listening to the sirens and helicopters that kept buzzing overhead. The doctor had left him to recover from surgery and he had forced his way out, shoving the nurse with the mustache and breathing in the strangely dry jungle air outside.
He remembered walking through thorns, being looked at by some sort of medic working out of a van with a tent stuck to it, and then being caught for hours in a swell of refugees. He had thought at first that it was a parade of some sort, but in the glimpses of clarity he had realized that it was people of all ages and many were burned or bandaged. Now he was alone, dimly aware of the point at which the refugees had collected at some sort of camp and he had continued on.
Captain Henry had purpose, though, and in his many years of service to the United State of America he had learned that purpose could be enough to get you through. If you had a clear mission, then you could keep yourself going. He had assigned himself the mission of getting to a telephone and warning the president about the communist plot unfolding in…where was he? Mexico? Nicaragua again? It didn't matter, the office wonks would know.
It was with great relief that Captain Henry pulled himself into a saloon and ordered a bracing shot of tequila. He ordered a second and dumped the contents of the dirty shot glass over his bandaged head, faintly hoping that the alcohol might kill off the hundreds of jungle diseases working their way into his wounds. It stung terribly, but it also woke him up a little more, and gave him the energy to stagger to the battered payphone set next to an unlit neon sign for Budweiser. He stared at the sign for several seconds, the familiar logo comforting to him in this unfamiliar and painful setting.
Other than the bartender, who was eyeing him impatiently because he had not paid for his shots, the patrons of the bar were oblivious to his presence. They were gathered around a tiny black and white television that was perched on the bar top.
Captain Henry lifted the receiver of the payphone and slowly fumbled through entering his memorized calling card number. It was one of the most important pieces of information a covert operative could know, and was more familiar to Captain Henry than his social security number. It took him three painful attempts to enter it correctly with his quivering fingers, but he did. When the automated voice cheerfully asked for the number he wanted to call he carefully entered the phone number of the president's attaché for intelligence emergencies Riana Norton. A male assistant answered the call.
"Yes?" It was a secret line and was not answered lightly.
"This is," Captain Henry rasped, "this is Captain Patrick Henry, serial 43243-4224, special task force Gamma. I-I don't know where I am, there was a- an ambush, a bomb, something happened."
There was silence on the other end.
"Hello?" Captain Henry steadied himself on the wall to keep from toppling over.
"Yeah, I, uh, I mean we thought you were dead Captain. Are you on a secure line?"
"Yes," Captain Henry looked at the telephone. "No."
"Alright, sit tight sir, I'll get a trace put through on that and we will evac you ASAP. Are you in a secure location?"
Captain Henry looked around the bar, briefly meeting the baleful gaze of the bartender.
"Well, there's uh, there's no one shooting at me. I'm in a bar of some sort."
"Okay, I've got you nailed down, just have a seat and we will-"
"I need to talk to the president, in case something happens." Captain Henry pounded his knuckles hard on the rough wooden wall to keep himself awake.
"I'm sorry," the voice on the other end seemed distracted, "there was just an-, there was an incident. The president can't talk to you right now."
"Listen to me," Captain Henry could feel himself slipping away, "listen! My men were ambushed by some sort of commie hit squad. It was a trap, this whole fucking thing was a trap. The commies, they're…they…."
He was losing it.
"Girls, it was girls," he slid down to his knees, still holding the phone to his ear.
"You can't trust women…they're…commies," Captain Henry tipped backwards, releasing the phone and slumping unconscious on the floor.
The patrons of the bar ignored him, their eyes riveted to the small television screen. On it, in a global broadcast carried by every network and being overdubbed live in Spanish, President Clark was explaining that the United States of America had just suffered a nuclear attack.