"I just got sooooo lonely cooped up with Gustaf." Tara moved her lips closer to the soldiers and with satisfaction felt a shiver of anticipation run through his body. "I was hoping you could help me out with that."

"I...I...nein." Tara hushed him with just the lightest peck on his lips and looked down as her fingers slid seductively along his belt to the buckle.

"Has science equipped you as well down there as it has everywhere else?" Tara asked with a half smile. "Let's find out."

She dropped to a crouch in front of the man and slowly began unbuckling his pants with one hand. She placed her other, seemingly casually, on the hilt of his dagger. She fumbled with the pants until she had carefully worked the finger of her other hand into the finger loop on the knife. When she felt confident that she could grip it quickly if necessary she yanked the soldier's pants down to his knees. Without missing a beat she gripped his almost comically small penis between her thumb and forefinger. He started to say something but Tara was too focused on her own movements to even hear what he was saying. As she manipulated him with fake enthusiasm her mind was focused on easing the knife out of its sheath. Just as the tip had nearly cleared the nylon the soldier abruptly realized that something was amiss.

Tara did not hesitate. She yanked the knife up, spun the blade on the finger that she had through the loop, and hammered it around the armored vest and into the guard's side. Tara was well-practiced with a knife and in the span of two seconds had plunged the blade more than a dozen times into the unfortunate Panzer Kommando's heart. The blood drained out of him before he could say anything more coherent than a dying gasp. Tara eased his corpse to the ground, careful to keep his pants out of the blood pouring onto the terra cotta tiles of the bathroom. She wiped the blade off on his shirt and quickly patted his body down for what she was really searching for; something with a battery. She found a walkie-talkie in a cargo pocket on his slacks and quickly pried off the back with the blade of the knife.

She prized the circular lithium ion battery out with the very tip of the dagger and held it between her lips. Tara turned her left arm over and hurriedly searched it with her fingertips for the lump of scar tissue that would indicate the location where her transponder had been inserted. She assumed that an electromagnetic pulse from the nuke at Soda Lake had fried it; otherwise the palace would be crawling with Sisterhood troops by now. Maybe it was, maybe that's who was knocking on Haushofer's doors, but she had to try in the event that it wasn't.

Tara found the familiar knob of tissue and held her finger there. She placed the tip of the knife where her finger had rested, took a deep breath, and plunged it into her skin until it stopped on something hard. She stifled a cry of pain as she used the blade to lever the eraser-sized transponder out of her arm. Its advanced power source was almost too small to see in the dim light of the bathroom. If she could somehow hotwire the battery from the walkie-talkie in its place she'd be able to beam her emergency signal all over the globe.

Tara pulled on the guard's trousers, tightened his belt around her slim waist, rested his pistol on the rim of the sink, and set to work conducting micro-electronic surgery using a ceremonial dagger on something barely large enough to hold. Half a kilometer away in the greeting lobby of the Presidential Palace Patrick "Liberty" Henry's fragmentation grenade showered the defensive line of Panzer Kommandos with white-hot shrapnel.

"Eat that, Nazi scum!" He shouted triumphantly.

The two assassins moved past him unseen, like sheets carried on a strong wind. Sheets that launched throwing knives.

***************

Bathed in the diffuse white glow of the sunlit moon the repair vessel Drink Mulguk looked liked a cooked turkey made out of metal. The yawning orifice into which a great godlike hand might thrust handfuls of steel and titanium stuffing was packed with two elongated bread loaf shapes. One was the heavy cruiser Venture Capital, one of the heaviest ships in the fleet, and the other was the torpedo frigate Delicious Snacks. Both ships had sustained heavy damage during the screening operation and Venture Capital had nearly come apart trying to regain orbit. Several system tugs had towed it out to Drink Mulguk in lunar orbit where the dozens of tentacle-like metal armatures had pulled the ship inside the repair bay.

Admiral Regel regarded the repair ship through the lens of his antique telescope with more than a little disappointment. A quick glance at the holographic strategic map of earth could tell him that he was near achieving an overwhelming victory, yet to look around all he could see were the scars of engagement. So many losses already, so many valuable lives squandered on a backwater planet and the hunt for a single criminal. At least Maximillian was no longer controlling operations on the ground. In his stead Regel had promoted the infinitely more capable and cool-headed General Aurelius Vp2 Kreez.

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