It was basically a small crocodilian. Colored a dull green, its length at a bit over seven feet was average for its species and age. Aquatic, as were all its sort, it hunted through the murky stream looking for something to eat. It was known to go after small pigs and other animals, invertebrates large and small, and—in places where they were to be found, far south of here—even to feast on the fierce piranha.
The caiman had few needs: to feed, to rest, to rut. At the moment, feeding was number one. Thus, eyes and nose above the coloring water, it hunted.
Ahead was a curious splashing, as of a herd of animals crossing the river. On closer examination, it was a herd of rather large animals. This might mean food as it had in the past; the animals themselves looked too big but there was always the chance they may have taken the kids out for a Sunday stroll. Hope springs eternal and the caiman was either not bright enough, or was self-confident enough, that the thought of danger didn't enter its little brain. Submerging, it swam over.
"Tell me if you see any leeches, Zira. I hate getting those things on me."
Voice calm, the Kenstain assured Guanamarioch that he would indeed keep a watch out. Even so, the damned nuisances were so nearly invisible until they attached themselves that Ziramoth really had no expectation of being able to keep them off no matter how diligently he guarded. Nonetheless, Ziramoth looked at the dozens of oozing sores dotting the Kessentai's torso and resolved to at least try.
Other than the fear of leeches, the water itself was warm and even soothing. Guanamarioch thought that, were his people ever able to rid themselves of this world's multifarious pests, bathing in such a stream might be a welcome activity. In particular, and despite the fear of the leeches, the warm water passing over the God King's reproductive member was most pleasant.
As mentioned, the caiman was only of average size. Thus, when it came upon the legs of the beasts walking through the river bed it was momentarily nonplussed. It knew, instinctively, that there was no way it was going to be able to take down a creature with legs the size of those. Almost, the caiman felt a surge of frustration at the unfairness of it all. Almost, it wept crocodile tears.
Perhaps the crocodile-headed god of the caiman smiled upon it. There, just there, just ahead, was something of a proper size for the caiman to eat. It dangled and danced enticingly, as if presenting itself for supper. The caiman swished its tail, and inclined its body and head to line up properly on the tempting bait.
"You know, Zira, this isn't so bad. One could even . . . AIAIAI!"
Ziramoth's yellow eyes went wide in his head as his friend exploded out of the water, dragging a dark creature almost like one of the People—barring only the shorter legs and two too few of them—behind it. The eyes went wider still as the Kenstain realized just what part of his friend connected him with this alien predator.
Up Guanamarioch flew, legs churning furiously. Down the God King splashed. Both trips he screamed continuously: "AIAIAI!"
Once down, Guano tried to bend over to catch the creature. No use; he couldn't quite reach. Leeches be damned, still shrieking he rolled over on his back, scrambling for purchase on his unseen attacker.
Another half roll and Guanamarioch cried out, "Getitoffgetitoffgetitoff!" before his head plunged back into the water.
Normally steady as a rock, Zira didn't know what to do in this case. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on one's point of view—one of Guano's normals saw no real problem. Instead, it saw the twin opportunities of relieving its god from pain and at the same time providing some much needed nourishment to his pack.
Zira had only just realized what the normal intended and begun to shout, "St—" when the boma blade swung, taking the biting creature's head off but at the same time removing about five inches of the Kessentai's reproductive organ.
Unsteadily, the God King rolled back over and struggled to its feet. His eyes were wider with shock even than Zira's had been. For a moment it struggled with the realization of what had just happened to it. Once it made that realization, the God King bowed its head. . . .
For the first time since the beginning of the invasion of the human world, a Kessentai unabashedly wept.
Remember, me boys, though the Irish fight well
The Russian artillery's hotter than hell.
—"The Kerry Recruit"
Nata Line, Republic of Panama
"Demons of Shit! Will these damnable trenches never end?"
"We've fought through at least eight sets of them, Binastarion, and there seems no end. The loss is frightful."
Including where the trenches ran into the mountains, the Nata Line was approximately eighteen kilometers in breadth and about seven deep. The Posleen were—in places, anyway—about five kilometers into it. That ninety or so square kilometers was carpeted, in places two or three deep, with the People's dead. Though the ground below often showed through, it was possible to walk those five kilometers forward or eighteen across without ever once touching it, and having to leap to get from one body to the next only every other step.
Even where the ground showed, the green grass of this world was stained completely yellow with the flesh and blood of the invaders.
"Should I have struck south, do you think, AS, instead of trying to force this line?"
"You couldn't have, lord. The People were here and there was nothing to eat behind them. It was fight through or die."
Binastarion directed his tenar down to examine one of the bunkers from which the threshkreen had directed such fanatical and deadly fire at the People. The bunker was torn open, apparently by the blast of a plasma cannon.
"It seems too small," the God King observed, "too small to hold even one of the vile creatures."
"Move me closer, Binastarion, and let me examine it."
When the clan chief had done so, and after a short moment for analysis, the AS announced, "It is too small, Kessentai. This repeater was set on automatic. No threshkreen manned it except, perhaps, to begin its cycle of fire."
Setting his tenar down and dismounting, the Kessentai peered himself at the curious device, Binastarion saw that his AS was correct. The weapon had a small muzzle, perhaps a claw's width in caliber. Around that was a larger tube. He tapped the tube with a claw. It sloshed as if full of some coolant, water perhaps. Behind the tube was a block of machined metal with a wood-covered handle on one side. A belt of the heavy metal-colored ammunition the threshkreen favored ran out the side with the tube to a huge drum.
On the other side of the weapon, a pile of the little brass casings had filled a deep hole and begun to build a small hill. Underneath, the block was connected with the weapon's tripodal stand. The curved tube that connected the two rear legs of the stand had a toothed ridge running along it.
"I surmise that the recoil of the weapon causes the mechanism connecting the block and the stand to engage the teeth on that curved horizontal connector and traverse the weapon from one side to the other. Perhaps there is a reversing mechanism that causes it to traverse back when it reaches one end of the arc of traverse or the other. That little locking mechanism on the curved horizontal bar looks like a way to control the arc of fire. To ascertain that, though, would take more examination than I can do without the thing being disassembled, Binastarion."
"No . . ." the God King answered slowly. "I think you're right. It also explains how the threshkreen are able to get away when they are forced to abandon one of their fortified lines without leaving many bodies behind. They set these things off just before they vacate. Bastards!"
"The bastards are almost through, Suarez. I think we need to begin the fire plan now."
Suarez sighed. Boyd was a good man, a fine dictator. As a matter of fact he was the best dictator the country had ever seen, not least because he'd made it so plain from the beginning that he detested the job. He also had more actual combat experience than Suarez.
For all that, however, he was not a professional soldier. Suarez was.
"Not yet. They still have uncommitted reserves that are out of our fire prep area. We'll pay a heavy price, and possibly fail to liberate the west, if we don't catch nearly all of them."
"But there're only three more trench lines left, Suarez. Three! And the infantry divisions holding the line are beginning to fall apart!"
"They won't fall apart, Dictator. I've lined the rear with military police with orders to summarily execute anyone found leaving the front," Suarez answered calmly. Seeing the look of horror on Boyd's face, Suarez explained, "Why do you suppose MPs are given pistols, Dictator? They have them for just that purpose. Always have and likely always will."
Boyd thought back to his days as a rifleman in France and Belgium. Momentarily, he shivered. "I hate MPs."
"Everyone hates MPs," Suarez answered. "Everyone complains about prostitution, too. But cops and hookers serve a valid social function. I shudder to think where society would be without both in plenty.
"But, in any case, relax. The last two trench lines are the most solid. They've each got nearly two hundred of the autoguns. You remember? Those water-cooled machine guns on the recoil-operated traversing mechanism? Pity the gringos couldn't have given us a thousand of their manjacks. But making do is a Latin virtue, I think. Oh, and I've ordered in the Nata Line's Corps' last infantry division to shore it up. It will hold until the LRRPs in the mountains to the north report that the enemy is fully committed to the attack, with no reserves out of our kill zone."
Lieutenant Valparaiso, 1st Cazador Battalion, wondered if the boredom of his mission made up for missing the action to the east along the Nata Line. Actually, he and his men yearned to be in on the fighting. Still, it wasn't as if their job wasn't important. Master of the Horse Suarez had personally spoken to his battalion before they had moved into these hills to dig in deep hide positions overlooking the open ground to the south. From the battalion's deep hides, wires ran back to communications nodes on the other side of the Cordillera Central. From there, the high command was kept informed.
"There is nothing," Suarez had said, "nothing more important than the information you men will provide. No, you won't get any medals . . . at least, if things work out properly you won't. But what you will tell us is key to the defense."
Bloody boring goddamned key, Valparaiso thought as he looked over the huge Posleen pack that simply sat, or lay down, in his field of view below. Miserable alien bastards haven't budged since . . . oh, oh, what's this?
The tenar which had been hovering listlessly or occasionally gathering by twos, threes and fours—even aliens felt the need to shoot the shit with each other, Valpariaso surmised—suddenly took on a new energy. The blocks of the smaller, crestless aliens arose to their feet as the flying sleds moved to take positions at the front of each.
Looking through his binoculars, the lieutenant counted. Each block is about forty by ten of the aliens. There are thirty-seven blocks on the front and they appear to be about thirty deep, or maybe a bit more. Call it . . . umm . . .
"Holy shit!" Valparaiso cursed. To his radio telephone operator he said, "Get on the horn and tell headquarters that there's nearly half a million of the bastards moving east. Do it, soldier. Now!"
"There! I told you they would commit, at last." Suarez pointed one finger at the map being updated by a trooper from the headquarters operations shop.
Boyd looked at the map and asked, "How long until they're in range?"
"Between midnight and two," Suarez answered, after spending a moment in crude calculation.
"And that's the last of their uncommitted troops?"
The trooper at the map answered, "Dictador, the LRRPs say there is nothing behind these except individual Posleen who are acting wildly."
"They go feral," Suarez explained. "If their God Kings are killed and no other takes them under control the normals revert to type. They will be small danger, when we roll through."
Boyd bit at his lower lip, thinking, It's all or nothing. One big roll of the dice and my country lives or dies. But there's nothing to be done to fix that that we have not already done.
The suit was on listening silence. The sender—General Page, himself, thought Snyder—didn't hear. The radio repeated, "Snyder, wake up."
"AID, come alert."
The AID answered, "About fucking time."
Snyder ignored the jab. It was, after all, his fault if anyone's that his AID had acquired a foul . . . mouth.
"Last calling station, this is Lieutenant Colonel Wes Snyder. Repeat."
"Snyder this is Page. It's a go. Get your battalion awake and prepare to execute your mission."
"Wilco," the officer answered. "AID, wake up the commanders and staff."
"Wilco," the AID echoed and began sending the signals to the other AIDs.
"A Company reports . . . B Company; a man who won't fuck won't fight . . . Combat Support; ready to rock . . . Headquarters' Headhunters; ready to take heads."
"Gentlemen . . . oh, and you ladies, too, Alpha Company. Awaken your commands. We're going in shortly."
Nata Line, Republic of Panama
The moon was high and bright overhead as the Artificial Sentience announced, "Binastarion, I've found the metal threshkreen."
"Show me, AS."
The glowing map appeared in thin air beside the tenar. "They've been waiting behind us? Oh, demons. Does this mean what I think it does, AS?"
"Yes, Kessentai. We're . . . what's that phrase the threshkreen use? Ah, yes. We're fucked. Binastarion, look east."
The Artificial Sentience needn't have directed his chief's attention. The sky to the east was lit up, as if by several thousand powerful strobes. "Artillery?"
"I think so; that and their mortars."
Binastarion's sinking feeling managed to sink further. "How many?"
"I think between two and three thousand, my lord. Probably closer to three. And . . . oh, demon shit . . . north and south, Binastarion. Rockets. From hundreds of launchers."
"We can engage the rockets automatically, AS," the God King insisted.
"No. I am sorry. We can't. I can sense them through the mountains and hills, while they are still accelerating. By the time they pop over, though, they must have expended their fuel and gone ballistic. I can sense them, still, and count them. But it would take a major reprogramming for me or the other automated defenses to engage. And there's no time."
"How many shells are we facing?" Binastarion asked, a trace of hope in his voice.
The first of the threshkreen shells had almost landed among the host as the AS answered, "There are twenty-one thousand
two hundred and forty-seven projectiles in the air now, and the rate of fire is not slowing. And . . . oh, Kessentai, I am so sorry. The spirit-
of-the-dead ships are now firing too. Make that twenty-one thousand four hundred and fifty-one . . . sixty-nine . . . twenty-two thousand five hundred and ninety . . ."
USS Des Moines, Southwest of the Nata Line, Bay of Panama
Broadside on, Daisy and Sally took turns blasting away at the Posleen infestation. The flashes of their guns, firing at maximum rate, lit up the depths below. The concussion sent fish, some stunned but mostly dead, floating to the surface.
Down below, in a hold no one ever visited but the Indowy and the avatar, Sintarleen told Daisy's avatar, "It is time." The Indowy's left hand held Morgen, the cat, while his right stroked the creature's back. The cat purred audibly.
The avatar bit her lip and nodded. Then, nervousness palpable in her voice, she said, "Let us do it. Now, while there is still time to feel my captain's touch."
The bat-faced alien's fingers reached out and played over the control surfaces of the tank. Then he placed his hand on a silvery panel. There was a whooshing sound as the top of the tank slid away. As the mist inside the tank dissipated, looking down, the avatar and the Indowy saw a perfect female body and an ethereal face framed by long blonde hair. The mouth on the face opened as the eyes flew wide. The body gasped as it drew in its first breath.
As the body and mind in the tank fully wakened, the avatar faded. Yes, it could have been maintained. But Daisy the woman who was also Daisy the ship and Daisy the AID and even Daisy the soul wanted all of her consciousness in that body, at least for the moment.
Breath drew in. Blood picked up oxygen. Heart pumped. Oh, wonder, to be alive.
The body sat upright. It tried to speak. Instead it croaked, "Ouu ni sau m'tin ta wa."
The Indowy looked at the woman, uncomprehendingly. His head cocked as the woman repeated, "Ouu ni sau m'tin ta wa."
"Oh, dear. We exercised this body daily. But we never did exercise its ability to speak."
Daisy's head nodded vigorously, before she punched the wall of the tank in frustration.
"Never mind, Lady Daisy. That will come. Do you need clothing? A uniform?"
Sintarleen turned away, bent over and rummaged through a chest he kept in this bay. Opening it, he withdrew a complete set of Navy tans, hand tailored in Panama to match the body's size and shape. He held these out along with a bra. Looking at the bra, and then at the body's magnificent breasts he said, "You probably don't need this, yet. Even so, this is a human woman's body and gravity works. You should wear this, too."
Unwilling to butcher the language any further by trying to speak it, at least until she had had a chance to practice on her own, the woman Daisy smiled in gratitude, taking the clothing and bra.
The panties were easy and obvious. But she had never put on a bra before. The Indowy had to help. Since he had never helped a woman in such a way before . . .
"No, that's not quite right. Here." He reached over and tugged a bit left, then a bit right. "There. That looks reasonably correct." He then helped Daisy put on the uniform, adjusting the belt and adding in such insignia as she was entitled to. Lastly, he hung around her neck the gold cross for valor she had won. The base of the cross pointed inadvertently at an amazing cleavage.
Stepping back to admire his handiwork, Sinbad said, "A human male would whistle, I think, based on what I have seen of this crew. I am not human, of course. Still, I can admire the beauty in another species. You look great, Lady Daisy."
A soft hand reached out to stroke the Indowy's furry, batlike face. Soft, warm lips tried to move. "T' an k ou, S' ba'."
Morgen the Cat stropped Daisy's legs furiously and happily.
Daisy's issue shoes pinched as she walked with a steady click-clack-click up the passageway toward CIC. The clicking echoed off the armored deck above and beside her.
Not a man in the crew but had seen her in her avatar form. Thus, even though the avatar rarely walked much, preferring to simply appear where and when she was needed, and despite the click-clacking of the shoes on the deck, the men on battle stations along the passageway really hardly noticed the change, at first. And then she reached out and gently touched a favored crewman here, another there. Mouths gaped and eyes went wide. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, our girl's become real.
A few of the crew, more mesmerized than disciplined, perhaps, started to follow. Wordlessly but smiling Daisy motioned them, no, stay to your duty as she walked on.
At CIC a Marine guard started to port his rifle to bar the way. No blame to the kid; he was used to Daisy's avatar coming and going as it would. It was just surprise that had him lifting his rifle. Daisy, still smiling, cocked her head coquettishly. The guard stepped out of the way, even opening the hatchway for her.
Morgen entered with Daisy and immediately footpadded over and began stropping McNair's legs. The skipper bent over and picked the cat up, asking, "Who let you in here, Furball?"
Davis said, "I'll take the cat, Skip—" and stopped cold. He, too, had a hard time believing the vision before his eyes. Father Dwyer was the only man present not surprised. But, then again, he was the ship's confessor.
McNair followed Davis' stunned gaze completely around and . . .
Daisy held a finger to her lips. Shhhhh. One warm hand, made of honest to God girlflesh, reached up and softly stroked his cheek. Her eyes sought his out, asking the question desperately, Do you like what you see, Captain? Did I do right? Seeing the skipper's shock, Daisy decided to press the issue. She tilted her head, parted her lips, and raised one foot behind her as she melted into her captain.
Even before the probing tongue McNair was conscious of the encircling arms. Even before that, he felt the pressure of two perfect breasts. It was the breasts, actually, pressing his chest but felt all through his body, that first grabbed his mind; grabbed it, and turned it completely to mush.
Unconscious of the crew of the CIC, McNair's hands began to act on autopilot, one beginning to reach up to cup a breast, the other down to give this incredible woman's ass a more than friendly squeeze.
And then Father Dwyer gave a small "Harumph," and McNair backed off. Moving his arms from her back to her shoulders and holding her firmly, McNair stared in wonder and bewilderment at the woman. Looking into Daisy's eyes for answers as desperately as she had looked into his own, the captain's mouth began to form "How?" when Daisy shushed him with a finger. Then a little electronically projected voice whispered into the ear of the very thoroughly kissed McNair, and no other, "I've had ten thousand men inside me, Captain, and I am still a virgin. Even so, when next I lay down on your bed, Captain, my love, it won't be as a hologram."
Sante Fe, Veraguas Province, Republic of Panama
There was no way to have face to face contact and still be heard over the rushing roar of twenty-four guns and ninety-six multiple rocket launchers firing continuously from all around. Snyder had his commanders and staff doff ACS helmets for a moment, if only to read their faces and gauge their morale after their long sleep. Perhaps, too, he wanted them to see his own, to realize that while he had gone almost mad while waiting, the key word was "almost."
He had intended to give his final orders that way, helmets off. After so long a confinement, if there was anything Snyder wanted less than to wear his helmet he couldn't think what it was. But the noise, the never ending, mind deadening Kakakaboomoomoom, made it impossible. Therefore, reluctantly, Snyder ordered his commanders and key staff back into full armor.
"It's really simple," the commander of the First of the O-Eighth said, using a marking laser integral to the right index finger of his command suit to mark out the battlefield as his AID projected a hologram onto the ground.
"The Panamanian artillery is not going to blast us a completely empty hole. Their job is to stun, disrupt, and open up little tactical gaps we can use. That's key, people; there will be Posleen down there when we come out of this valley and off these mountains. Some of them may, and probably will, still be in shape to fight. Even saying that, though, the locals are throwing eighty-thousand rockets and I-don't-know-exactly how much cannon fire down on their old San Pedro Line. There are going to be places where the Posties have been scoured off the surface of the Earth. And there are going to be places where they're ready to rock and roll."
"Recon?" Snyder waited to make sure he had the Scout Platoon leader's complete attention. "You're leading the way. Your job is to find the places where the horsies are strong and to identify the weak points. Don't get wrapped up in a fire fight. Find the spots, go low, and move on. You understand?"
The Scout Platoon leader nodded, answering, "Roger, sir."
"B Company," Snyder said, looking at Connors. "Your job is to clean up just enough of the Posleen strong points remaining after the artillery prep that Alpha and the Twentieth Mechanized Infantry—less one battalion that is staying here to defend the artillery—can pass easy to the east side of the river. When you've got a path cleared, you will hold the shoulders of it and pass Alpha and the mech along it. Once they are past, you will move on, seal the gap you created behind you, dig in facing mostly west—but be prepared to be attacked from any direction—and hang on for dear life."
Though it was difficult, Connors tried to tear his thoughts away from Marielena and their baby. Yes, she had sent him an e-mail with the news, which e-mail he had opened first thing after awakening. The second thing he had done was register a standard Galactic will naming his new offspring and the child's mother as his heirs. Thirdly, he had sent Marielena another e-mail that said, simply, "If I come out of this, the first thing we do is get married, right?"
He hadn't gotten an answer on that as of yet. Well, the day was early and likely to prove long.
"Fuck later, Connors. Pay attention, Goddammit. A man who won't fuck won't fight but a man who is thinking about fucking too much won't fight either. And he's likely to get killed."
Softly, Scott answered, "I wasn't thinking about fucking, sir . . . well, not exactly. Sorry. But I am going to be a daddy in about eight and a half months."
Never slow, Snyder responded, "And a man who is thinking about being a daddy is altogether too likely to get his ass lunched."
"Yessir. Sorry, sir.
"Okay, now—since you were in the never-never land of prospective daddydom—tell me back your orders."
"Okay, so you were paying attention with at least half an ear. Alpha Company . . ."
The steady drum fire of the artillery was almost as bad in the command bunker as it was out in the open. Dust, driven by the sound, leaked down through the spaces left in the dirt-covered logs causing operations and communications personnel to cough and sneeze.
"Your women are starting to become tired, Coronel Mirandova." The Russian's eyes were red from the dust . . . and the smoke of the flaming rockets being launched all around.
"I know that, Alexandrov," Digna answered. "That's why I waited on the music. But you're right; the time is now." Digna looked at one of her regiment's attachments, a PSYOP—or Psychological Operations—sort. "Hit it, Sergeant!"
Outside, louder even than the rockets, there came a sound of cold speakers being warmed by a sudden surge of juice.
Down in the rocket pits, half choking from the rocket's exhaust, the crews heard the static and stopped for a moment before being tongue-lashed back to work by their sergeants. They stopped again when they heard the music, drums first, followed by a fuller band. And then Pat Benatar's unique voice, in English, which few of them understood, though they understood the song well enough:
“This bloody road remains a mystery
The sudden darkness fills the air.
What are we waitin' for?
Won't anybody help us?
What are we waitin' for?”
They understood that, enough of them. Sergeants didn't need to berate them back into the drill. The women of Digna's command went on their own, a touch faster than they had been.
“We can't afford to be innocent.
Stand up and face the enemy.
It's a do or die situation.
We will be invincible . . ."
Except that on that last line, several thousand women, many of them with children hidden in bunkers not all that far to the rear, raised their right hands in fists and sang, louder than the speakers:
Nata Kill Zone, Republic of Panama
He had seen orna'adar not once, but many times. He had seen the mushroom clouds of the major weapons, antimatter and nuclear both. He had seen planets kinetically bombarded from space and ships splintered in the same medium.
Binastarion had seen much devastation. He had never seen or felt a more personal and complete devastation than that engulfing his clan.
There seemed to be a pattern to the barrage. At one end, at the western edge, it was a solid wall of fire that never seemed to let up. Between that, and the farthest point of Posleen penetration to the east, another wall, this one a moving wall, played back and forth. Those were obvious. What was less obvious was the pattern inside. Shell fire pounded one area for a while, then moved on to another. Some areas took it worse than others. And in some areas it never let up at all.
Frustrated, enraged, Binastarion pounded the controls of his tenar. He couldn't even get forward far enough to try to direct his People out. Leaderless, trapped in that hellish maelstrom, they cried out to him.
Worst of all were the cries of those who burned. After a short time of the explosive fire, the threshkreen seemed to switch over about half their guns to firing what his AS identified as a type of phosphorus. This hit the ground and cast flaming, white-smoking chunks in all directions. The People touched by the flame, normals mostly though junior Kessentai were also hit, shrieked and begged and cried pitiably for aid that could not be given. Even Binastarion, himself, had no clue about how to douse the fire that scorned water.
Amazingly, a lone figure struggled and staggered out from the threshkreen-made hell. Binastarion swooped low to look, to help if possible. The poor thing's face was burned beyond recognition. Entrails dragged along the ground behind it, picking up their due of dirt and vegetation. The creature trembled uncontrollably. It took a second look before Binastarion recognized the remnants of the crest that said this shambling obscenity was even a Kessentai.
Binastarion raised his railgun to put the poor God King out of its misery. "We are a hard and a harsh people," he wailed, "but we are not a cruel species. This . . . this is disgusting . . . cruel . . . obscene. Demons, I hate humans." A single shot put the disemboweled, burnt and bloody creature out of its misery.
"That isn't the worst of it, Binastarion," his AS said. "I have calculated the sheer volume of phosphorus the threshkreen are using. It is enough to burn up all the oxygen in the area under fire to a considerable height. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, in itself. The hot air would rise and pull in fresh. But there is a temperature inversion building. Cold air above will trap warm air without oxygen below. Our People are going to suffocate. And there isn't anything we can do."