Someone was laughing. Admiral Regel was so disoriented and confused that for a moment he thought it was his own laughter. Then he realized that Guthry's silencer hood had fallen off. The fugitive was nearly hysterical with glee.

"Shut up." Regel snarled.

"You had," Guthry gasped and struggled to control his laughter, "you had better take this thing off my neck or we're all dead."

"Linus Guthry, I would not take the psycho dampener off your neck if it would save my entire species." Admiral Regel drew his ornamental saber.

"If I had wanted to I could have killed you back on earth. Let me out of this thing or Crutch Limply is going to murder us all, and not in a pleasant way."

A snide remark formed on Regel's tongue but it was bitten back as a cry of agony came from the other side of the drop ship's door.

"I'll be goddamned if I'm dyin' like that."

The copilot of the drop ship emerged from the cockpit, strode quickly over to Linus Guthry, and snapped off the field generator on the psycho dampener.

Moments later the door to the drop ship was flung open. The crazed simulacrums of Crutch Limply paused in their grotesque feast on the flesh of the fallen Imperatrixians. There was a sound like someone twisting bubble wrap and the gates of time and space opened up and vomited out a river of Linus Guthry. To the five thousand insane eyes of Crutch Limply it seemed as if the drop ship was the ultimate cosmic clown car. More and more versions of Linus Guthry piled out onto the disembarkation ramp. Unlike their bewildered and maniac counterparts these duplicates were very heavily armed.

More than two thousand iterations of Crutch Limply howled with rage and surged forward. The shooting began.

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

The wall of the bedroom in the Presidential Palace burst inward with a flash of light and heat. The force of the explosion threw Tara to the ground and rained plaster and masonry onto Karl Haushofer and his thronging mind-controlled soldiers. With the animal cunning of abject terror Dale wrapped his meaty arms around Cokey's neck and yanked her down to the floor of the hallway. She struggled against him like a de-clawed cat trying to wriggle out of its owners grip, but he was able to hold her down with his larger size. Streams of tracers pierced the smoke and drifting brick dust and lanced into the mass of Haushofer's zombies.

Things grew even more chaotic as the zombies started to fire at the women emerging through the large wound in the bedroom's wall. Dale stifled a cry as blades flashed above his head, decapitating the poor wretches in Haushofer's entourage. A cloaked figure moved with the silken grace of a sheet carried on a summer breeze. His brilliant silver scimitar flickered and whistled as it hacked apart the zombies. A second man, large and muscular, clad a tangle of special forces combat webbing joined the robed figure's assault from the rear. He swung a huge pistol like a truncheon and used it to knock Haushofer's guards senseless.

"Kill! Them!" Haushofer screeched and flailed a mechanical armature.

Bullets smacked and crashed against the floor near Dale's head and he whined in fear. The women advanced through the smoke and took apart the last of Haushofer's guards. At their front was a tall woman of indistinct age. Her left arm had been replaced with a lumpy bandage that wrapped around her bosom. In her right she cradled a large and oddly shaped pistol that spat out whirring bullets. These curved as they flew and blasted the dangerous components from Haushofer's wheelchair. At her side a diminutive woman with soft pixie-like features swept an assault rifle across the final rank of fascist slaves and sent them tumbling to the ground.

The shock of the blast was still ringing in Dale's ears when the shooting ceased. The one-armed woman hurried to the side of the woman Haushofer had sequestered in the room. She seemed bloody and battered, had been shot at least once in the leg, but was so relieved to see the one-armed woman that she began crying tears of joy. They embraced awkwardly while the small fine-featured woman stood by with her gaze averted. The others closed in a cautious semi-circle around Haushofer. A few of the women kicked weapons far away from the questing hands of mortally wounded zombie soldiers. The man in the white robe curled a dagger to Haushofer's throat. His blade sought a soft spot amid the nest of wires and tubes where he could finish the cripple off with the slightest pressure if necessary.

Dale knew that a sudden or wrong move would get him killed. Cokey had become docile so he let go of her arms, flattened his hands on the floor, and spread them as far away from his body as he could. He clenched his eyes shut and steeled himself for a sudden death.

"I'm an American citizen and I surrender!" Dale's voice was hoarse and quavering.

Powerful fingers grabbed Dale by the bunched collar of his filthy shirt and heaved him upright.

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