Articulated needles burst out from the smooth surface of the palm pressing down on Luke's chest and he gasped in pain as they drove into his skin. They coiled deep, each questing for the nearest vein or artery to slip inside. Luke felt lightheaded as one punctured his carotid and began to sip; pulling hot blood back into the complex array of sensors concealed inside the armor's hand. Pain flashed hot as the needles recoiled, winding back into their housing in a split-second of tearing flesh.

Just when he was sure he was about to be killed, the huge suit of armor glaring down at him with its unearthly red eyes, Luke was shoved roughly off the counter onto the floor. It loomed over the counter and plucked Lauren out by the back of her shirt. It dangled her in front of its emotionless face like someone holding a child.

"Linus Guthry." It stated.

She was too terrified to reply and thus the probing continued, violent, sometimes fatal. Minutes later Luke watched as the huge suit retreated from the Javabucks with a crash through plate glass side windows. Lauren was still alive, he could hear her ragged breathing, and both of the children in the corner were bawling, although he wasn't sure about their mother. The old man had died at some point, he had heard breaking bones and could only see the guy's feet from where he was laying on the floor. But, at least for now, the horror was over.

Outside, the invasion of the earth had just begun.

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

It was the first fully attended meeting of the heads of the New World Order in almost half of a century. The Illuminati secret lodge in Cambridge, England had been selected as the best location for reasons of security and neutrality. Tempers among many in the NWO were running high, and the last thing Raylene wanted at such a difficult moment was an attempted putsch by the decrepit old guard or some new faction forming in the shadows. Raylene's personal guards, the Amaranthine Conservators, were on full alert by recent events and were providing all of the security for the unprecedented summit.

The heavily armed women in the glossy red uniforms and body armor had unceremoniously taken over a large and historic chateau. It belonged to a wealthy but lowly member of the Illuminati who was too tenuously involved in the NWO to be invited to the conference. He and his family were turned out on the street with little notice and only what belongings they could gather in five minutes. Annabelle Von Luck, the commander in charge of the Amaranthine Conservators, was a hulking muscular slab of a woman. She looked like a male bodybuilder crammed incongruously into the femininely shaped hard red armor of her order. A deep burgundy cloak swept behind her as she walked down the exquisitely appointed halls of the chateau, instructing her women on preparing the defenses and waving her gold inlaid command baton with authority.

Annabelle Von Luck knew what was at stake. The entire leadership of the New World Order was gathering a few hundred feet below her in a hardened bunker. If the xenos interlopers got past her Amaranthine Conservators they could decapitate the secret world government in seconds. The flat roof of the chateau bristled with sophisticated anti-air lasers and guided missile launchers. The perfectly landscaped greens had been churned by rapid minelayers and seeded with tens of thousands of mines of various sizes. Every entrance and window had been heavily sandbagged and was defended by fire teams of Conservators ranging from a single elite sniper to an entire breaching squad.

Her women were pulling double duty in terms of security. Not only did they have the xenos to watch out for, but Raylene had personally warned her to be particularly thorough in screening dignitaries before they descended to the bunker. Raylene suspected that now would be a prime time for her opponents within the NWO to strike, and Annabelle was inclined to agree with her. To ward off this danger she had instructed the "greeting detail" to meet arriving dignitaries as far away from the chateau as possible and conduct thorough searches in a trio of black recreational vehicles. The dignitaries had been infuriated, but Annabelle had been resolute in mediating all disputes, even relishing some of the almost torturous sensor sweeps she had subjected them to. More than one dignitary had promised she would die within the week.

A petite woman with a pretty face, glittering blue eyes, and a crew-cut that emulated Annabelle's hurried up and stood to attention with a click of her heels. Anabelle recognized her golden collar brocade as belonging to a junior intelligence officer.

"Yes?" Annabelle inquired firmly, letting the woman remain in a salute posture.

"Primus Von Luck, it has been indicated to me by Princeps Watanabe that all of the delegates expected have now arrived. She is awaiting your command to seal the elevator and stair access with the cordon squads."

The woman seemed nervous despite all of her training and her chemical and hypnotic indoctrination into the Conservator corps.

"Then you may give her my command to do so Junior Princeps." Annabelle paused before dismissing the woman. "This is your first deployment isn't it?"

"Yes, ma'am." The woman replied, still saluting.

"At ease. What's your name?"

"Eliza, ma'am." The woman slowly lowered her saluting hand to fidget nervously with the utility belt beneath the hardened breastplate of her armor.

"Eliza, you cannot entertain fear or thoughts of defeat." Annabelle rested her large hand gently on the officer's shoulder. "You are a member of the finest fighting force the human race has ever known. What you face, be it today or many months from now, may be alien to you, but it must never win. We must be the rock against which the highest tide breaks, because we are the best mankind can do. If we fall, then all is truly lost."

The woman swallowed.

"But that will never happen, Eliza." Annabelle squeezed her shoulder. "Dismissed."

As the young officer retreated down the hall Annabelle wished she could be sure of herself this time.

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

Two hundred and thirty eight meters below the stone-faced Annabelle Von Luck was a madhouse worthy of a Steadman illustration. The interlocking bunker complex that comprised the Illuminati's secret Cambridge lodge was teeming with dignitaries from every component faction of the New World Order and their bizarre entourages. Each dignitary had been assigned a section of the bunker complex depending on their seniority and relative power within the NWO. These accommodations ranged from the three-tiered and wood paneled suites that Raylene and her Sisters of Enoch enjoyed to the bare concrete hangar occupied by the proto-Nazis of the Thule Society. Those with even less clout than the Thule Society were relegated to sharing a sweaty tangle of barracks crammed to capacity.

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