Rashmi was so intent on explaining the multi-armed walkers she saw filing across the flat-top of a spacecraft and into unguided cargo drops that she failed to notice the movement of the sleek escort destroyer Laughing Out Loud. It was barreling through the fleet at cruise speed, its captain either oblivious or apathetic to the numerous terrestrial satellites that were impacting on its hull. NavStar 14 smashed into a gun sponson, bursting like a beehive and deforming around the jutting length of a gun barrel. One of the abandoned Irridium satellites bounced harmlessly off of a radar array, spun inwards, and was sucked into a particle scoop being used for auxiliary power.

"Shit." Rashmi said, finally noticing Laughing Out Loud as it filled her porthole.

The Underlord operator asked her something, but it was drowned out by the explosive decompression of the International Space Station's primary modules. The ISS had struck Laughing Out Loud directly in its immense transmet bridge porthole and it splattered there like a bug. For several seconds there was an awful rending metal sound in the communications capsule and Rashmi screamed in terror. Then the heat shielding and insulation were sucked out into space by a growing gash in the capsule's underside. For an instant Rashmi clung to a hand grip, the suction pulling her boots and pants off and sucking the breath from her lungs. Realizing her fate was sealed, Rashmi let go, and was pulled out into the searing heat of unshielded daylight. Contrary to popular opinion, she did not explode, but neither did she survive more than a few moments.

On the bridge of Laughing Out Loud, Captain Ermine Hg3 Coleg grew annoyed with the debris smashed across the window and ordered one of the crewmen to deploy the primary wiper.


The bridge of Party Up consisted of an expansive semi-circular room with a domed ceiling so high it disappeared into the shadows. A broad stairway extended up through three staggered platforms, each of which was bristling with computers manned by uniformed Chimopterans. Imperatrixian design philosophy tended towards the grand, the oversized, but in the case of Party Up the immense scale of its bridge was actually somewhat of a necessity. It was the nerve center of the battle fleet, and all course plotting, communications, and orders were being relayed through the bridge of Party Up.

Each of the commanding officers of units involved in the landing operation had been assigned their own bank of computers and communications equipment. Chimopterans bustled to and fro wearing armbands signifying their temporary allegiance to a given unit while commanders and their aides paced and conferred in their own demarcated section of the bridge. Above it all, looking like nothing so much as a disco ball, hung the spherical enclosure of the cockpit.

Inside the cockpit the pace was much more relaxed. Fleet Admiral Regel and Maximillian sat sipping Vorian tea, conversing casually and glancing over at a holographic display of the battle area. A handful of Regel's closest advisors were crowded around the display and one occasionally hurried over to whisper something to the admiral or hand him a printed sheet. The ships of the fleet were nearly to their starting points and the primary batteries of the various cruisers and destroyers were already powering up for the scheduled bombardment. Only a particularly slow supply vessel and Party Up itself were still en route to their orbit points, the rest were busy preparing troops for landing or plotting firing solutions to level the human defenses.

"I really wish you had allowed for satellite bombardment, Maximillian." Admiral Regel commented as he scanned a report handed to him by an aide. "This plan is going to be costly and ship bombardments are always so incredibly tedious."

Maximillian resisted the urge to throttle the life from Admiral Regel and drummed his armored fingers on the arm of his ornate and throne-like chair.

"I enjoy the pyrotechnics." Maximillian replied, waving his empty teacup in the air to get the attention of the server. "You heard the projection on how long it would take to set up the ion satellites. We are in the midst of a situation where patience is not a virtue."

Admiral Regel was about to mildly chastise Maximillian when the door to the cockpit hissed open. The Trade Council esper glided into the room, its glistening luminescent cassock casting strange patterns of light in the crystalline windows of the chamber. Espers were always physically feeble, even for an Imperatrixian, and this one was no exception. Its rubbery skin glistened with the exertion of locomotion and its especially large eyes were watery and shot through with purple capillaries. It had no name, just its psychic rating and a numerical identifier for inventory purposes. Protocol clearly stated that it was not to be directly addressed; when in the presence of an esper you were to either ignore it or respond as simply as possible to its questions.

The esper slithered past Maximillian and Regel to the holographic display.

"I see that it is beginning." Its voice was reedy and unpleasant.

It stroked tendril-like fingers across the heads of the aides working at the display, pulling their surface thoughts out and browsing them as one might browse a magazine about hot rods and women in bikinis. The esper moved from man to man, occasionally pausing to wet its fingers with a cyanotic blue tongue that was thick with unhealthy mucus. The electric sensation of the freak's powerful mind prickled Maximillian's flesh and made him the slightest bit woozy.

"Do we really have to tolerate that thing's presence on the bridge?" Maximillian whispered to Regel.

"Shut your mouth." Regel replied angrily. "If it hears you it will insist on a deep read."

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