Annabelle felt the comforting press of one of her warriors against her hip and let her guard drop just a fraction on that side. She turned her full attention to the Imperatrixian she was facing. Her stomach knotted with uncharacteristic fear when she did. The alien was not wearing its faceless black helmet and for the first time she got a good look at her foe. Its monstrous gray visage was tinted blue by the staff it was holding, but its huge black eyes flickered with menacing intelligence and guile.

Without seeming to move it brought the inactive bottom of its staff around in a rapid strike that caught Annabelle's axe just below the double head. It rotated forward, pinning the axe to the ground and following up with a knee that passed over the entangled weapons and struck Annabelle in her armored chest. The blow reverberated with a hideous cracking of composites and creaking padding. Somehow her ribs held beneath the impact, but her armor was crazed with fractures like a shatterproof windshield struck by a rock.

The attack was intended to push her away from her weapon, but Annabelle let the force turn her body, keeping her hand locked onto the grip of her axe.

"Yield." The alien stumbled over the word, its eyes meeting hers, the black pools there seeming to swallow her gaze.

In response Annabelle yanked her axe with all of her strength, pulling the alien's staff up from the ground and raising sparks as she forced her weapon free. She struck with the axe's gleaming top spike, driving the two-inch titanium needle into the belly of the creature's armor. The Imperatrixian did not even flinch. It hammered a fist down onto the head of the axe and snapped off the spike embedded in its armor. It followed through with an upswing of its staff that would have caught Annabelle on the tip of her chin if she had been a split-second slower in backpedaling. Just as she was weighing her openings for a counterstrike something heavy slammed her sideways. She gathered her footing and turned to see Leah, her neck twisted at a lethal angle, her nose and mouth leaking blood.

The Imperatrixian that had dispatched her flank protection began to move towards Annabelle but the creature without a helmet waved it off. Several of the creatures were now standing idly watching her contest with what she presumed to be their leader. A handful more had surrounded the last two of her warriors. With their backs literally against the wall and a semi-circle of armored foes cutting off any chance of escape the two women were furiously and frantically blocking and parrying the attacks.

Axion caught the focus of the human leader.

"It is the end." He said in stumbling English. "Give in. They will live. You will live."

The human again pressed the attack as a means of response. Her axe whistled through the air and would have sliced into Axion's arm had he not met the blow with his forearm. The handle of the axe struck harmlessly and bounced back. He stepped forward, allowing his size and weight to distract her and then sweeping her legs from beneath her with the inactive half of the shock staff. She cried out in panic as he loomed over her, dropping a heavy boot onto the head of her axe and pinning it to the ground. She defiantly kicked back, but he had the advantage and landed a dizzying blow to her temple with the staff.

"Incoming transmission from Well Meaning Gesture," Axions' radio crackled, the orbital comm uplink having been established by driving a landline relay down into the bunker complex.

"Activate," he responded, kicking away the axe and crouching over the prostrate woman.

Annabelle looked up into Axion's face with hatred. She was beaten and she knew it. As it spoke into its radio in a language she could not decipher she kicked at it. The damnable thing absently held her down with one hand, ignoring the ineffective blows she was landing.

"Axion." It was Maximillian. The fool had survived the Commerce Council's esper reading.

"Leave." Axion instructed his warriors. "Go back to the surface."

The group watching him immediately obeyed his order while the Imperatrixians pummeling the now unconscious women peeled off one at a time, each getting a last blow in before departing up the steep tunnel. When they had all gone Axion reactivated his communications channel.

"I apologize for the delay My Lord. What news do you bring?"

"Wonderful news!" Maximillian exclaimed with undisguised glee. "The Trade Council is convinced that my actions in ordering the interdiction were justified and they are suborning the entire reinforcement fleet to my command."

"This is excellent news sir," Axion lied. "We will have little problem finding Guthry now."

"Yes, well, Guthry is suddenly much less important. The Trade Council feels that the acrimonious climate here on earth and the undeniable socialist tendencies of much of the population merits a full scale indoctrination operation. The humans will learn our glorious ways of commerce and will no doubt find a new and much more equitable role in the Galactic Trade Commission."

Conquest. Maximillian in charge of the total conquest of a class I species. The news could not possibly be worse.

"The news gets better!" Maximillian continued. "I explained to the representatives of the Trade Council that the astonishing losses we have suffered on earth are due to unfortunate oversights on the part of my field commander. You, Axion. The Trade Council has asked for you to be brought back to the ship for mandatory resource repurposing."

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