"INCOMING COMMUNICATION," the screen blinked urgently, "SPECIAL SIGNAL."

She swallowed. Something was wrong; the xenos never contacted her unless it was a dire emergency. For them dire emergencies tended to involve demands that she do something unpleasant.

Raylene pressed the activation button on the console with her index finger and a slightly quavering image of the ambassador filled the enormous screen.

"Ambassad-," Raylene was interrupted.

"I am not the ambassador." The eyes within the armor helmet on the screen flared red with anger.

"I'm sorry, I-"

"You will not speak, witch." The voice was similar to the ambassador's - modulated and deep - but it was touched with a harsh energy and fluctuated with rage. "I am Commander Maximillian Soak Xc8 and I am the clenched fist of commerce. You have impeded the flow of capitalism by your treachery and I hereby declare this world forfeit to corruption and socialist tendencies."

"We, I mean, there is no trea-"

"Silence!" The Imperatrixian pounded something not visible on the screen with its immense fists. "You are now wanted for crimes in violation of the code of trade. I am certain many more crimes will soon become known to us. Let us begin then, with your most obvious of misdeeds. Are you aware of the signals jamming originating from planetary grid coordinates 233, 222?"

"The what?"

"As I suspected, evasive to the last. Since your feeble mind seems to be incapable of comprehending what I am saying I will show you a picture. Even a spawnling should be able to understand that."

The image of the Imperatrixian shrunk to the corner of the screen and the display was dominated by a cloudy view from above the earth of the NWO's advanced communications array in Chile.

"From this location you have interfered with the due process of trade law and have subverted our efforts to apprehend the galactic fugitive Linus Guthry. Now watch as all the many humans within burn and die a horrible death, in agony, with their fleshy blood spurting out and the fluids and…skulls."

Raylene watched for long and awkward seconds. The array was completely automated and as far as she knew there weren't even any roads within a hundred kilometers.

"Nothing seems to be happening." Raylene offered after two minutes had elapsed.

"By Asmark's Bonanza!" The Imperatrixian flailed angrily on the screen. "I ordered you to fire tubes five and six when I got to the part describing the deaths of the weak humans!"

There were panicked squeals outside of Raylene's narrow view of the bridge of the alien ship. The commander seemed to compose itself and then turn to face the camera once again.

"There, now watch as fiery retribution is mine!"

A pair of glowing orange oblong discs streaked into view and evaporated the slight drifting cloud cover above the communications array. The tangle of antennae and satellite dishes atop Mount Mannopata juddered as the two discs struck almost simultaneously. Raylene could see that one crashed through the enormous primary dish antenna while the other struck further down the mountain's slope. Nothing further seemed to happen for almost a full second, and then bright white light blossomed and grew exponentially out. It filled almost the entire screen - an area encompassing at least a dozen kilometers - and then Raylene saw a shockwave racing out, flattening trees and setting them ablaze with the intense heat.

"Just a taste of our power." The Imperatrixian intoned smugly. "Now surrender yourself to our swift judgment and spare your pitiful race the horror of a full scale commerce interdiction."

Raylene contemplated the demand, picturing herself on the bridge of the alien ship, her lifeless body held by its broken neck in the huge hand of the Imperatrixian. Or worse, she imagined an alien stockade, full of all manner of drooling fanged beasts and probing tentacles with no concept of personal space.

"Listen to me good you pompous dumpster of shit, we agreed to let you look for Guthry, but destroying our completely benign commercial communications equipment was uncalled for. Luckily your little show of force didn't hurt anyone, otherwise I might be forced to retaliate and-"

Laughter - cruel, mechanical, and humorless - interrupted Raylene.

"Already we explore the depths of your treachery, witch." The view of the burning Mount Mannopata was replaced with a new view that caused Raylene's stomach to flip-flop. Soda Lake, the landing site of the mimetic hunter, the encampment of the search and destroy team. And Tara.

"You can't-"

"Can and will. But there are things we may want there, so I will not smash it with a hammer. Rather, I think, a scalpel is called for."

A bloated, beetle-like assault transport hove into view much more slowly than the phosphorescent torpedoes had. Its blunt prow was lit briefly with the fire of reentry and then it plunged down, growing smaller as it dipped beneath the atmosphere and spiraled down towards the crash site.

Like bees disturbed by the arrival of an enormous predatory wasp more than a half-dozen helicopters began to scatter from the assault transport's path. Some darted nimbly away, likely attack helicopters or light reconnaissance craft. The slightly larger and heavier transport and lifter helicopters ambled more slowly, and the bristling surface of the assault transport began to flicker and flash. Glowing blue tracers spat out from its armored hide and with dispiriting accuracy burst one helicopter after another. One helicopter darted in boldly, streaks of missiles surging out from its pathetically frail shape. Before the missiles even burst harmlessly on the armor of the assault transport this aircraft too had been reduced to a burning shower of debris.

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