Paul nodded, but something wasn't sitting right with him. His ears were still buzzing painfully from the gunshots in the stairwell but he over the buzzing he could make out a soft hissing sound. Before the eyes of the two confused CIA agents a low purple fog began to coalesce and swirl around the corpses. Fortuna opened his mouth to saying something and a gout of purple gas erupted from the fog, straight into the agent's nose and mouth, and more kept flowing in on a vaporous column. Paul recoiled in horror and turned to run back up the stairs.

A purple haze swept over his vision and he could detect a cloying chemical stench as he inhaled, almost unintentionally. His body heaved as his lungs tried to expel the gas filling them but his diaphragm refused to comply. He grew dizzy and leaned against the wall, his vision wavering and an oppressive hand seeming to push back against his consciousness. He blinked hard and then, calmly and slowly, took a step up the stairs. He turned to look at Fortuna, and as he did, he realized to his horror that he was not willing his body to do these things.

Special agent Paul Douglas had become a passenger within his own flesh.

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

In a matter of minutes after the alien drop ship landed the skies above Washington DC had turned into the single largest aerial battle since the Second World War. Fighters scrambled from six different Air Force, Navy, and even Marine bases were whirling over the nation's capitol searching for a target. While a few A-10s and Apache helicopters finally made their way into the metro airspace the enormous combat air patrol whirling above met the first of the interceptors launched from the orbiting Imperatrixian cruiser Well Meaning Gesture.

Four wings of black and star-speckled fighters shaped like the letter "T" slipped through the atmosphere and came screaming down on top of the human aircraft mercilessly. Dropping heavily from 80,000 feet they unleashed a hail of impossibly accurate micro-missiles, each 5 kilogram warhead finding a target and destroying the engine of a human fighter. In the city below the already panicked citizenry watched in horror as explosions burst in the sky in rapid succession and one by one almost 200 F-16s, F-15s, F-18s, and Harrier jets plummeted from the air. Two thirds of the human fighter aircraft were wiped out in less than a minute.

While air controllers scrambled to make sense of the catastrophic blow showing up on their radar the surviving pilots struggled to gain altitude and launch their own salvo of return fire. The Imperatrixian fighters were slippery, flickering shadows on their radar, and only a handful of F-22s assisted by a lucky AWACS were able to get a fix and launch air-to-air missiles. Compared to the micro-missiles fired by the Imperatrixians the human missiles were moronic, streaking in laborious arcs trying with their pitiful minds to get an angle on the nimble alien aircraft. None of the missiles struck home.

To save money the Imperatrixian squadron commander ordered his fighters to abort a second missile salvo and close to eliminate the humans with their almost free rapid-fire laser weapons. Invisible bursts of light pattered destructively along the fuselages of the human aircraft as the T-shaped fighters easily outmaneuvered them. A few daring pilots lead the aliens on harrowing chases at nearly street-level, each ending tragically as the human pilots failed where the Imperatrixian guidance computers did not. One F-16, traveling at mach 1.2, hit the top of the Capitol Building and exploded the reinforced dome in a massive blast of fiery fuel and tritonal explosives. The Imperatrixian giving chase pulled easily up and through the blast of fire. Smoke and flames swirled into a vortex in its wake.

The low-flying ground attack helicopters and aircraft met with much more success, albeit short lived. A-10s and Apaches savaged an entire squad of Imperatrixian troopers with Hellfire missiles and 30mm cannons before the second squad scattered. While the helicopters prowled in search of more targets the Imperatrixians began using their jet-assist packs to leap above rooftops and latch onto the attack helicopters. Like a young crocodile snapping its mouth shut on an enormous heron the smaller suits of powered armor were still large and heavy enough to bring the helicopters crashing down. In other instances the Imperatrixians merely fired upwards as an Apache passed overhead, bringing it down with an accurate burst from their nuclear reapers.

The ground attack aircraft were consolidating and preparing to mount another sweep across the city to clear out the remaining alien troopers when the Imperatrixian interceptors pounced. The best the ground attack aircraft could hope for was escape. A few did manage to steal away back to their bases, but for the vast majority it was a quick and pitiless death at the wrong end of the Imperatrixians' scything laser fire. Before the interceptors were done with their murderous work nearly all of Washington DC was ablaze from hundreds of crashed aircraft and burning buildings.

The one positive note for the human defenders of Washington was that their rapid response troops, bound from two Army bases by a mixture of helicopter transports, turned away before they too fell prey to the alien interceptors. A few Blackhawks put down at a safe distance outside Washington and the soldiers inside the helicopters began commandeering any vehicles they could find to drive to the capitol. The rest returned to their bases to convoy back to Washington by trucks or armored transports; convoys that would take hours to reach DC.

One helicopter did not turn away. It was a VIP chopper, carrying a CIA controller and a field operative named Captain Patrick "Liberty" Henry, crewed only by a single volunteer pilot. The CIA controller was knocked unconscious, tied and stowed on the rear bench of the Blackhawk's interior. Captain Henry sat in the copilot's seat, aiming a loaded 9mm pistol at the pilot's head.

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