"The, uh, the situation is stabilizing on the ground," Eliza replied as she consulted a tablet PC. "The enemy is still in control of the air over the cities where it has asserted itself, but ground forces are pulling up stakes."

"A retreat? That's quite interesting. Thank you, Eliza."

The young woman saluted and turned to walk to the back of the car.

"Wait." Raylene stopped her.

Eliza turned back, averting her gaze, and Raylene cast an appraising eye on the shy young woman. The girl had the usual crew-cut that Von Luck had popularized with the Conservators - a bit too dykey for Raylene's tastes - but she was shapely despite her bulky armor and had big blue eyes and a small mouth that demanded to be kissed.

"Turn around again for a moment," Raylene instructed and Eliza obeyed, showing off her unarmored backside in the bloused-tight cargo slacks.

"Is there something wrong ma'am?" Eliza asked nervously.

"No, no," Raylene laughed. "Why don't you come back in here and close the curtain behind you. You look tired soldier, join me for a drink."

Later, as Eliza's tongue worked obediently between Raylene's legs, she would grab the young woman's short blond hair and cry out Tara's name.


Annabelle Von Luck wiped blood from her eyes with the back of her arm and with a loud wrenching of metal giving way pulled the antique double-bladed axe from the chest of the Imperatrixian. Her head was pounding from too many jarring parries with the creature and she could feel one of her molars coming loose in her mouth. One of the women fighting by her side - Leah or something like that - screamed in agony as blue electrical fire arced out from where the tip of an Imperatrixian's shock staff had made contact. The woman dropped to the blood-slick floor, convulsing and retching briefly before lapsing into unconsciousness.

"Tighten it up!" Annabelle shouted as she brought her axe up just in time to parry another attack from one of the metal-shod giants.

Annabelle knew they were doomed. They had lost half their number in the melee already, either dead or knocked unconscious by the electrical discharges of the alien weapons, and only two of the Imperatrixians were out of the action. Most of the women fought with ceremonial katanas, their blades flashing white against the blue electrical fire that encased the head of each alien staff. The blades were exceptionally fragile unless handled with exacting precision and many had shattered under the impacts already.

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