"That's a start, what about US forces along the border?"

"Not much." The Amazonian blotted at the blood on her chin with a Kleenex. "I've got logistics elements of the 101st, cooks and supply officers mostly. The rest of them are waiting on the tarmac at Rammstein for a chance to fly back stateside. Most everyone else is headed to Washington or in Iraq right now."

"I could hand out rifles to the 1106th in Fresno. They're qualified to fight even if they don't have any experience." Added a rail thin Princeps with dark brown eyes and a pageboy haircut.

"1106th, what is that?" Raylene asked absently as she continued paging through the transcript of intercepted radio traffic.

The Princeps answered that the 1106th was involved with aviation classification and repair. Others present at the table enthusiastically offered their own token or pet project. Companies of cooks, platoons of flight controllers, squads of elite wildlife rangers. The Princeps offered nothing to truly challenge the forces of the Thule Society. But Raylene's mind had already settled upon another answer to the problem. Asymmetric threats required asymmetric solutions, and she could think of no unit more lopsided than the Gamma Strikers.

"Where is Captain Henry?" Raylene asked Eliza.

"He resisted hypnotic and chemical memory regression and has been trying to escape from holding cell 8 in the sub basement for roughly two hours."

Raylene could not hide her amusement.

"Put together a reel of these rallies Haushofer has been holding. Edit in some tape of DC burning after the air battle and slap on some waving American flags and bald eagle stock footage." Eliza nodded but Raylene was impatient. "Go, now. Get to it."

She smacked the young woman on her backside as she left the room.

"You. Punchy." She continued, addressing the Amazonian. "Go to the roof and wait for the president. The second he gets here I want him with me outside holding cell 8."

The Amazonian brushed past, not waiting for Raylene's order to be emphasized with another sucker punch.

"The rest of you. Get me uniforms, weapons, Kevlar, whatever they're issuing to the Special Forces these days. Just pile them up in the children's section. I'm going to need a dozen or so men. I want trained soldiers, but don't give me the cream of the crop. They're just going to die on this mission. They always do."

The remaining Princeps began to hurry out of the room.

"And a helicopter or vertol. Something fast." Raylene called after them.

The women left and Raylene was alone, the fluorescent overheads showing much more of her age than had been apparent for quite some time. She was overdue for a rejuvenation treatment, and the crow's feet were etching out from her eyes like spilled ink. Raylene inspected her face in the chrome surface of a blocky automatic pistol left behind on the table. She traced the pattern of age spots beginning to bloom on her forehead and cheeks, still just barely apparent even in the harsh lighting. Raylene wondered if technology would keep up with the constant decay of her flesh; if she would be immortal, as she had always hoped, or if one day the rejuvenation treatments would just stop working.

Raylene was a trained killer with more than a century of experience. Her senses were attuned to a perfect point beyond what almost any human being could hope for. Even lost in her daydream she could have heard an ant stub its toe on a grain of rice halfway across the room. Despite all of these advantages of training, engineering, and experience Raylene did not detect the approach of the twin assassins.


The Well Meaning Gesture was cradled beneath the rib-like docking arms of Party Up, a sprawling slab of Imperatrixian fleet carrier and the cornerstone of the "Wow! Sector" battle fleet. Millennia ago, when the Imperatrixians had just forged their great galactic trade empire, the sliver of space that just happened to contain the human home world had been assigned a numerical designation. Centuries later under the beneficent rule of Emperor Jake Rh9 Vlots all of the sectors still referred to by numerical designations were given more media savvy titles. 3342.48 became "Awesome! Sector", 3354.21 became "Oh Yeah! Sector", and 3380.10 was declared "Wow! Sector". Though Emperor Vlots and Marketing Consul Hestus faded into obscurity, their sector names had sufficient "zazz" to remain in use.

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