"Yes, ma'am. I think I'm beginning to get a handle of their control surfaces. The computer or whatever is buried in the console seems to run the big stuff, I just have to finesse the precision instruments. I was yanking the big stick around, but from what I gather that's more of a key than a flight stick. You tell it to get going with that and do all the actual flying with these four things that look like trackballs."
"And you can handle all this by yourself?" Raylene leaned into the cockpit to examine the wide control console.
"In a pinch I could, but I've been showing one of the gals from the medical team how to copilot for me. She just has to manage the top attitude vector nozzles, just one of the four controls."
"Fascinating." Raylene remarked with disinterest. "We'll be departing shortly."
Rhonda saluted again and Raylene turned to begin informing the others to pack up. Eliza was practically sprinting towards her from the field communications station, a look of surprise on her face.
"Find anyone?" Raylene called as her assistant approached.
"Yes!" Eliza gasped, stomping to a halt in front of Raylene. "You're not going to believe it."
"Out with it."
"We're getting a signal from Tara's emergency transponder." Raylene's eyes widened as Eliza spoke. "The signal is irregular so it might be malfunctioning, but we've got a fix on it and she's nowhere near Soda Lake."
"Where?!" Raylene grabbed Eliza by her forearms. "Where is she?"
"That's the bad news." Raylene slapped Eliza hard on the face and then gripped the woman's cheeks in her hand.
"Tell me where she is." Raylene let go of Eliza's face.
"Mexico City, ma'am. It's Haushofer. It has to be."
"Can you get through to Captain Henry?" Raylene began walking towards the communications equipment, her stride urgent, her face darkened with conflicting emotions.
"Nothing. No response, no signal. Either his radio is dead or he is."
"He's not dead." Raylene turned on her assistant. "She's not either. We're going for her."
"Yes ma'am, but shouldn'tů" Eliza let it go as Raylene rushed to the gathering near the communications equipment.
"Pack it all in. We're leaving now."
"We've got to get out of here!" The only remaining member of the National Guard contingent shouted. "They're surrounding us, we've got to go!"
The wide hallways of the Presidential Palace had opened into a beautiful domed ballroom with a central double staircase of pink marble and wrought iron railings. Captain Patrick "Liberty" Henry had charged into the room with his surviving ersatz Gamma Strikers moments earlier. It was the third ambush he had walked them right into. Panzer Kommandos in full mechanical armor suits had filed out of the second floor entrance to line the staircase. More had emerged from side passages to cut off the way behind them in the hallway. Between the elegantly curving staircases a double door on the ground floor had flung open and a zombie-like throng of grimy men and women had attacked.
There was very little cover in the room. The Gamma Strikers were huddled together behind two overturned foyer tables with thick, but unfortunately fragile, polished slate tops. Captain Henry glanced to his left and right. They were all injured in one way or another. The Marine that had survived an earlier ambush died before they had even had a chance to seek cover. His body lay in the debris-littered kill zone, churned bloody by the repeated exchanges of gunfire.
"You're a fucking moron." Cursed the square-jawed Amazon with the taped nose. "I warned you to check the entrances before you barged in here."
"Shut it, beefcake." Captain Henry casually wiped sweat from his brow with an American flag handkerchief. "I've got a plan."
She rolled her eyes melodramatically and then turned to fire a carefully measured burst of full auto from her rifle. Bullets tore through the chaotic mass of unwashed men, women, and AK-47s, sending several to the ground. They fired back wildly, but as the Gamma Strikers had quickly learned the real danger was from the Panzer Kommandos on the staircases. One of them let loose with a mini-gun and blasted baseball-sized chunks out of the top of the table.
Captain Henry squat-crawled behind the second table, exposing his head in the process. Somehow the sniper who had been waiting for just such an opportunity missed Captain Henry entirely, burying his carefully aimed bullet directly in the forehead of a painting of President Vincento Fox. Captain Henry did not even notice as he dropped down next to the practically catatonic SWAT officer and the elderly man in the business suit.
"Alright, here's the plan." Captain Henry shouted and his voice echoed loudly in the domed chamber. "Detective Pisspants, get over to the other table. I want you, Jill of the Jungle, and Army of One to give me a buttload of suppressive fire when I yell 'America'."