"With these locales I have just mentioned I do not believe that we require assistance." Replied Kreez. "Fires are raging but they can and will be extinguished. My concerns now are two unusual cases. One is the largest urban area in the national zone adjacent to the United States of America. The pacification force landed off course to the south and has since suffered crippling losses due to interference from technologically advanced forces of allegiances unknown. I believe that this is the most likely location of Linus Guthry."

"And the other?" Regel prompted.

"The other area of concern is the autonomous trade empire of Finland. Our agreements with Finland have precluded an invasion there and as of yet they have shown no inclination to resist or interfere in our operations elsewhere. However, as one of only two human trade empires we were previously engaged with I feel it is paramount that we reexamine our standing with them and consider making further demands."

"What sort of demands, General Kreez?" The question came from one of the few infantry officers attending the meeting in person, a particularly large Imperatrixian named Slenk.

"I believe that it is unnecessarily wasteful to squander fleet assets and the resources of our future human trade partners by engaging in global war while ignoring an entire nation. Finland does not appear to be the dominant nation of the humans, nor is it particularly large, nor does it possess particularly large volumes of natural resources. However, as long as Finland remains inviolate we cannot complete our search for Linus Guthry. My suggestion is that we demand the governing body of Finland submit their nation to a full code enforcement search. Our military victories throughout the human world should place our diplomats in an extremely favorable negotiating position."

"I tend to agree with your assessment, General." Commented Admiral Regel. "However, as you have just informed us, your military assets are being heavily taxed by the current campaign. How do you expect us to mount a secondary campaign without detracting from our engagements elsewhere?"

"A fair question, Lord Admiral." The Kreez hologram bowed slightly in the direction of Regel. "There are currently 123,088 fully trained and capable fleet arms men, ship security detachments, and boarding marines in orbit around earth. The humans have absolutely no boarding capability that we know of and even if they did we have now achieved total air dominance within the earth's atmosphere. I feel that it would be safe to form landing parties from the ships to conduct code enforcement searches in the human empire of Finland. These units should not see much if any combat and are already well versed in more traditional forms of criminal prosecution and investigation. I believe that a force of 60,000 would allow us to conduct and complete a search on roughly the same timetable as we have already projected."

"Requiring no further seconding and no further review," Admiral Regel began the formal affirmation of the proposal. "I, Lord Admiral Regel and sitting Supreme Fleet Commander, do hereby affirm the proposal by General Kreez and decree that beginning immediately landing parties will be formed from every fleet vessel's security and boarding detachments to aid in the search for criminal Linus Guthry. I will personally make my demands known to the ambassador of Finland."

"Thank you, Admiral." Kreez bowed again. "I will begin making transport arrangements immediately."

"Next on the agenda," Admiral Regel segued the meeting, "we have Air General Lezex, who will brief us on bombing operations."

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

Raylene watched with annoyance as the enemy bomber climbed heavily away, leaving a smoking wreck where her last means of extraction had been preparing for take off. The Osprey was unrecognizable now, just pieces of smoking and in some places white hot metal scattered around a crater in the grassy lawn of the library. Raylene and her entourage had actually been walking towards the aircraft to board it when the bomber had descended from the smoke haze drifting over New York and New Jersey in an unbroken gray cloud bank. They had thrown themselves to the ground just in time as the white disc-shaped bomb released from the underside of the enemy aircraft.

"Are you alright, ma'am?" Eliza asked with concern, her face streaked with soot.

"Fine." Raylene replied as she stood and began dusting off her armored red leather long coat.

A member of Raylene's security detail had been decapitated by one of the Osprey's rotor blades, all of the others had survived with scrapes and bruises. They gathered together and sought cover beneath the overhang of a nearby bank building.

"I suppose I'll make this my last stand then." Raylene commented, still dusting off her coat. "Get your things in order sisters, we head for the front."

It was not even noon yet, but the smoke gave the impression of a dusk sky marked by an approaching rainstorm. New York City had fallen an hour earlier and Raylene knew that the alien offensive in the area had been undiminished by the feeble resistance it had met. Sapper teams had blown the George Washington Bridge and collapsed or flooded the tunnel approaches, but the catastrophic acts had hardly slowed the enemy advance. When Raylene had made the decision to flee minutes earlier it was because reports from advance teams stationed along the Hudson talked of huge convoys and troop movements. She had ordered the advance teams to harass and retreat as possible, but most had already been wiped out. She was left with a main force of less than a thousand.

"Our last line is about six blocks out from here. The command post is in a convenience store close to the egress point from the transcontinental rail link." One of the Conservators offered.

"The spearheads of the enemy columns should be hitting our first line of defense soon." Eliza paused as a sustained flurry of gunfire and explosions sounded. "Make that now."

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