Chapter 15 – Regent’s Confrontation

Two distant trees and the shrubbery surrounding them exploded into pieces as a Rhino tank fired its main cannon. The approaching Drakkar soldiers seemed undeterred by the heavy weapon as they surged forward, hopping from cover to cover behind the forest flora as Saito and Rabine coordinated the defense against them.

Saito ducked behind an impromptu barricade set up by the Black Suns soldiers and fired into the tree line wherever he could see a Drakkar. Several meters off to his side sat one of the Rhino tanks, its treads still as it constantly swung its turret around to fire its secondary armaments on approaching Drakkar soldiers. As one of the largest targets on the field, the tank attracted a large percentage of enemy weapons fire, and Saito could easily see the laser blasts explode over the Rhino’s energy shielding. Its defenses seemed to hold for now, but Saito wasn’t sure how much more of this it could take.

He turned his attention back to the battlefield and surveyed the scene. The tree line was a good two hundred meters out from the outpost building, and the intermediate terrain was largely rock with only sparse vegetation — meaning little in the way of natural cover. The dilapidated outer walls of the outpost stood halfway between the building and the tree line, but they were in such pitiful condition that they made for poor cover. Even so, Commander Rabine had set up her troops behind this wall, farther forward than Saito and the Rhino as they fought to hold off the Drakkars. Saito knew that the Black Suns had more experience fighting Drakkars than any of the SERRCom soldiers and also had more potent powered armor shielding, so he was fine to let them take charge, but as is, it was impossible to tell just how numerous the Drakkar forces were. They had beamed in, so there had to be some kind of spacecraft in orbit… but what kind, and how large?

A blast of energy exploded against the barricade Saito was hiding behind, sending it flying and knocking him over backwards. He immediately rolled to the left and then stayed low to the ground as he crawled over to the tank in order to use it as cover. As soon as he was safe he peaked around the corner of the tank to find a dozen Drakkars rushing across the open field. They appeared to be undefended, but the leading Drakkar was holding out its front hand — and all of the small arms fire that was directed at the charging Drakkars was deflected by an invisible energy barrier. The Rhino Saito was hiding behind promptly turned its turret on the approaching Drakkars and fired with its main cannon; the two projectiles impacted the Drakkar shield nigh-instantly, hitting it with the force of two hypersonic 60mm slugs — and yet only managing to stagger the leading Drakkar. The Rhino fired twice more on the approaching Drakkars as they crossed the field, but the shield they ran behind remained unbroken as the charging Drakkars reached the dilapidated wall and scattered to take cover behind it.

“Commander, pull back!” Saito shouted into his communicator, “the Drakkars are on you. Repeat, the Drakkars are on you!”

He then ejected the empty magazine from his rifle and slammed a new one in before firing at any Drakkars that peeked their heads around the crumbling walls. The Black Suns soldiers began to retreat, planting portable barricades on the ground as they did so to give themselves cover. Eventually Rabine withdrew from the wall as well, running backwards as she fired her laser gun at the Drakkars. Saito could see several blasts of energy explode across the Drakkars’ bodies, but they still continued to fight.

“Damn energy shields,” he muttered as he continued firing into the Drakkars. His vision suddenly went white as a Drakkar laser found its mark on his shoulder, flinging him back across the ground. He tumbled painfully along the dirt but managed to recover a few moments later, due to his own energy shield that was protecting him. As he scrambled back into cover behind the tank, however, he noticed the Drakkars preparing for another charge with their massive invisible energy barrier. It being invisible meant that Saito had no idea as to its actual dimensions, but it had managed to withstand one volley from the Rhino’s main cannon — and as he watched on, it easily absorbed a second. The Drakkars continued charging across the grounds, absorbing all small arms fire as the Black Suns soldiers fired at them; if this kept up, then they could soon break through the defensive line and enter the building itself.

With that in mind, Saito quickly revised the defense plans. The Rhino clearly wasn’t helping by standing still — so it was time to move. “Rhino Beta, abandon plan shield,” he shouted into his communicator, “switch to plan sword! Repeat, switch to sword!”

«Understood, sir!» came the reply. The hum of the Rhino’s electrical motor increased in pitch and volume as the treads started to spin, accelerating the tank onto the field. Saito dove for a nearby barricade and resumed firing at the Drakkars after reloading his gun, watching as the Drakkars slowed their charge and turned their attention toward the moving tank. The leading Drakkar slowly turned to keep its front facing the tank as it circled around, leaving the ten Drakkars around it to continue exchanging weapons fire with the defenders.

It’s turning to face the tank, Saito observed, that must means that the shield only protects from one direction. Good. We can handle that—!

Just as the Colonel prepared to fire on the leading Drakkar, however, another one of the Drakkars in the group pulled a device off its back and then held it forward. The moment it did, all of the defenders’ weapons fire began being intercepted by a massive invisible energy barrier, just as with the first Drakkar.

Damn! Figures they’d have more than one. And it even managed to stand up to a tank’s primary weapon… still, we’re in Dead Space, so Chaos shielding is obviously out. Anything they’ve got on them has to be electrical only, and those only get to be so strong… meaning the first one should be about to wear out. After a moment of thought, Saito spoke into his communicator. “Rhino Beta, how’s about some roadkill?”

«Coming right up, sir!»

The Colonel stopped to reload his gun again while he watched the tank. It was currently a couple hundred meters to the right of both Saito and the Drakkar group, its main turret aimed directly at the Drakkars as its three secondary guns — a 10mm gauss rifle attached to the turret, and two 7.5mm gauss rifles attached to the cab — split their fire between the frontline group of Drakkars and any individual Drakkars that dared to approach from the tree line. A moment later, the Rhino spun its front around to face the shield-wielding Drakkars head on, and then accelerated, covering the ground between it and the Drakkars in a mere couple seconds before charging into them at 70 kilometers per hour. Many of the Drakkars dove out of the way, but the two wielding the massive barrier shields immediately turned their attention toward the tank in an effort to block it. To Saito’s surprise, the two shields held up against the tank rather well; its momentum shoved the Drakkars backward several meters, but then the tank slowed to a stop, despite its treads tearing into the ground at high speeds.

Then, the tank fired.

The Rhino’s main cannon, when extended straight forward, was about eye-level — whereas the two Drakkars were holding the shields at chest-level. As with the previous times the tank had fired, the shields managed to withstand the blow, but at this close range the impact force was incredible. The Drakkars staggered under the blow, unable to hold their shields completely vertical as the railgun slugs impacted above the shield handles, resulting in the invisible shields falling slanted. Immediately, the Rhino’s whirring treads launched it forward, pressing on the slanted shield to force the Drakkars down even further — until the shield was low enough for the tank to climb it like a ramp. As soon as part of the tank’s weight was on the shield, the two Drakkars were forced to the ground, at which point the tank simply ran them over and parked on top.

Saito grinned. The special shields may have been able to stand up to the impact force of the tank’s cannon, but the sustained weight of the tank when applied from above was still too much for the Drakkars to bear. This was Dead Space, after all; even if any of the Drakkars had super strength, it wouldn’t save them here.

The Colonel then joined the tank and the Black Suns soldiers in picking off the now-defenseless Drakkars in the middle of the rocky field. Seconds later, Saito had expended the last of his ammunition, but the frontline Drakkars had been defeated — and the Drakkars that had been charging forward from the tree line now seemed to be retreating.

“Regroup, regroup!” Saito shouted into his communicator. “The Drakkars are retreating for now, but they’ll be back. Shore up any defenses and reload!” He glanced over to his left; a few dozen meters over kneeled an inactive Halberd mech, the last of the three sent to help defend the outpost. In his rush to organize a defense, Saito hadn’t had time to board the mech, but now that there was a lull in the fighting, he began running toward it.

«Colonel,» Commander Rabine spoke over the communicator, «we should move up and reclaim our defensive line around the wall while we can.»

“No complaints here,” the Colonel replied as he reached the mech and began climbing the front of its leg to reach the cockpit. “Rhino Beta, move up to the wall and cover the Black Suns while they fortify it. When the Drakkars show up again, strafe them. Try to split their attention between you and the Suns.”

«Understood, sir!» the tank driver replied.

Saito nodded to himself. He then opened the mech’s cockpit and climbed inside before closing the hatch behind him. The interior of the cockpit was cold and dark, but he still managed to sit himself down in the chair and start the activation process. Dim lights slowly came on as a bright laser-like device scanned his head; he reflexively closed his eyes, and the moment he did, he could see the world outside. Blurry at first, then slightly sharper, and then sharper still, until eventually he saw the rocky field, the wall, and the trees beyond as well as he normally could — better, even. He glanced down, or tried to make the motion, at least; a split-second later, his field of vision dropped, allowing the body of the mech to come into view as if it were his own body.

Still haven’t worked out the latency in the neural dive tech, huh, he thought in frustration. Great. What’s the point of neural dive if the controls aren’t responsive? Ah, whatever. He moved to stand up, prompting the Halberd mech to do the same. As he slowly grabbed the mech-sized rifle off of his back, he thought about the current defense conditions of the outpost. He had sent the other two Rhino tanks and the other two Halberd mechs (piloted by Hackett and Travis), along with all of the SERRCom infantry, to protect the other two entrances to the outpost. This left only one tank, one mech, and a small group of eight Black Suns soldiers to protect this entrance — making for an overall light defense. Saito knew that they wouldn’t be able to hold out for long. Luckily, the Drakkars had attacked just before the Gate team was due to check in with SERRCom through the Gate, so SERRCom was likely to know that something was amiss due to the missed check-in. But if the outpost defenders hoped to survive long enough for rescue, then Saito figured that they would either need some kind of reinforcements, or a way off of the planet themselves. With that in mind, he opened up a communication line. “MacTavish, you there?”

The response came a moment later. «Y-yes, I-I’m here.»

“Can you get the outpost defenses back online? Any remaining drones would be pretty damn useful right now!”

«Uh, uh… p-probably not. Th-the command core’s p-power conduit is, um, i-it’s fried…»

“How long would that take to fix?”

«Uh…? A while? A-and I’d need tools that, um, th-that I don’t have…»

“Damn.” Saito surveyed the empty battlefield as the Black Suns quickly worked to drop their portable barricades along the dilapidated wall. “What about that Frigate? Can you get that online?”

«…I-I, I don’t know…»

“MacTavish, we need something here. We can’t hold off the Drakkars all day.”

«B-but, th-the Frigate refuses t-to activate wi-without some kind of, uh, key!»

“Then find a way around it! We don’t know what kind of ship the Drakkars have in orbit, which means we don’t know if they’re capable of orbital bombardment, which means that a run for the Gate could be suicide. We’ve lost all contact with the team that was guarding the Gate, besides. That Frigate is our only ticket off this planet right now!”

«Uh, um…?! I-I guess…?»

“Relax, MacTavish. If anyone can do it, you can—”

Saito was interrupted as a section of the collapsed wall suddenly exploded, knocking some of the nearby Black Suns to the ground. Immediately afterward, a hail of laser fire peppered the defenders, tearing into what remained of the wall and forcing the Black Suns soldiers into cover.

“Damn it! I’ll have to get back to you. Keep working!”

«B-but—!»

The Colonel put MacTavish’s voice out of mind as he focused completely on the battle in front of him. Energy blasts exploded on both sides of the battlefield as the Drakkars and Black Suns fired lasers at each other, while the Rhino strafed behind the wall and fired through the collapsed segments at the Drakkars hiding in the trees. Saito could spot a number of Drakkars approaching with their hands held out, presumably carrying the same kind of wide energy barrier as the two Drakkars earlier — but this time, the defenders had an active mech to aid them.

Saito began charging to the left, some distance away from the Black Suns and the Rhino. His Halberd mech stood 9 meters tall, and so easily drew the attention of the Drakkars as he crossed the rocky no mans land at nearly ninety kilometers an hour. The Colonel didn’t bother to aim his mech-sized assault rifle as he booked it along the ground, instead opening fire with the Halberd’s four head-mounted gauss rifles: two 7.5mm, and two 10mm, all four tearing into the trees and drawing Drakkar attention. A couple of the barrier-wielding Drakkars turned to face him in an attempt to block his bullets, but the Rhino simply fired on them from the right when they exposed their backs and sent them tumbling back into the forest.

With Saito’s Halberd flanking from the left, the Rhino firing from the right, and the Black Suns continually exchanging fire from the center, the Drakkars began to be pushed back — though even their retreat was cut off as Saito stormed into the trees and began firing near-point blank into the Drakkar ranks. He targeted the Drakkars that appeared to be wielding energy barriers first, successfully managing to take out three of them before the concentrated laser fire on his mech became too much to bear. Its shielding energy levels dropped dramatically, forcing the Colonel to retreat back to the left and use the tall forest trees for cover.

As he stopped for a brief moment to catch his breath, the Halberd’s sensors began blaring at him about two objects approaching rapidly from within the forest. He turned to try and get a look at them, at which point the sound of crashing trees resounded through the forest — at the same moment that a hovering aerial craft shot through the air and over the dilapidated wall, where it began to lower to the ground. Saito promptly whipped out the Halberd’s assault rifle and began carefully firing at the craft, managing to nail it with fifteen consecutive shots — that were all deflected by its energy shielding. However, even from nearly two hundred meters away, Saito could easily see how the impact from the fifteenth shot seemed to generate a bright static flash across the surface of the aerial craft, which he recognized to be the sign of its shields going down. Another two shots later, and the craft was sent crashing to the ground; the Colonel wasn’t sure if any Drakkars on board had survived, however, and made to check so as to ensure that the Black Suns wouldn’t end up surrounded. But just as he began to move, he realized that the thundering noise of cracking wood was still emanating from within the forest. The hell is that—?

Mid-thought, a massive impact against the Halberd’s torso toppled it over onto its side, destroying a number of trees in the process. Saito groaned as several alarms began shouting at him, ranging from the shields being down to less than ten percent, to the inertial dampeners being stressed by the sudden impact. The Colonel simply forced the sounds of the alarms out of mind as he checked the sensors for the location of nearby enemies, and then turned the Halberd’s head unit to face the Drakkar frontlines — where a massive Drakkarian tank had just crashed through the tree line. The tank looked to be significantly larger than the Rhino, and was covered in deep black angular armor with gray markings. From the front of the vehicle protruded a half-dozen long spikes, against which a number of uprooted trees were impaled; its turret sported what appeared to be a triple-barrel gun with exceedingly short barrels that fired intense laser blasts nearly once every five seconds.

Saito scowled; the Black Suns soldiers weren’t prepared to fight tanks, leaving only himself and the Rhino to deal with this new threat — and his Halberd had been reduced to critical shielding levels after a single shot from the enemy tank’s main cannon. As ridiculous as that thing looks, I can’t doubt its effectiveness, the Colonel thought to himself, and carefully pulled his mech back to its feet. In the distance, he could hear repeated laser blasts and explosions as the Rhino and the Drakkar tank exchanged fire, with the Rhino dashing between portions of the dilapidated wall for cover as the Drakkar tank simply parked in one spot and repeatedly fired, obliterating entire sections of the wall with each laser blast. Taking advantage of the enemy tank’s apparent distraction, Saito quickly discarded the Halberd’s assault rifle and carefully pulled out its secondary weapon: a missile launcher. He released some weapons fire from the head-mounted cannons into a group of nearby Drakkars before taking aim with the launcher, just as the Drakkar tank annihilated the last portion of wall in the area, exposing both the Rhino and the Black Suns soldiers — who seemed to be busy fighting off approaching Drakkars from the wreck of the aerial craft. Realizing that their position was about to be overrun, Saito took immediate brash action. With a swift flick of the mech’s fingers, he released the missile launcher’s safety limiter, allowing it to fire all five of its loaded missiles at once. Then, without even bothering to verify the mech’s firing solutions, he launched all five missiles straight at the Drakkar tank — just as it fired its laser once more at the Rhino, nearly toppling it and completely overloading its shields.

Barely a second later, the five missiles exploded across the fuselage of the Drakkar tank. Smoke, dirt, and debris momentarily obscured the battlefield, and an eerie silence befell both sides as seemingly every single combatant stopped to check on the status of the Drakkar tank. Slowly, the dirt settled, the smoke cleared… and Saito blanched as the Drakkar tank swiveled its turret around to face him.

Without even wasting the time to mutter expletives, the Colonel chucked the missile launcher directly at the tank at just the moment that it fired its main gun, successfully shielding himself from the laser as the launcher was blown to smithereens. Saito immediately ducked to grab the previously discarded assault rifle off of the the ground before dashing out of the forest, perpendicular to the Drakkar tank. Ichi… ni… san… shi… he mentally counted the seconds from the last time the tank fired, and the moment after he counted four, he slammed the Halberd’s feet into the ground to slow its forward momentum — just as a distant tree, in line with the Drakkar tank and where Saito’s position would have been had he kept running, exploded. The Colonel scowled; he hated fighting against laser weaponry. Lasers being light meant that they had a practically instantaneous travel time, and as such it was impossible to know that someone had fired a laser at you until the blast of energy exploded across your face. This also meant that laser weapons had little need to lead their target like projectile weapons, making them significantly easier to aim, and thusly harder to dodge. Laser weapons typically traded these advantages for being significantly less effective against energy shielding than the magnetic projectile weapons that SERRCom preferred to use, but that disadvantage meant little to Saito when his mech was already running with critically low shields.

Saito knew that he needed to make himself as difficult to hit as possible, and as the possibilities for doing so raced through his head, he realized that the tank’s turret was incredibly slow to turn by any standard. Filled with reckless determination, he spun his Halberd on its heel and charged straight at the Drakkar tank. He carefully counted the seconds as he crossed the field, throwing himself to the left just after counting to four as the tank’s barrel flashed. The Colonel closed the remaining distance and then leaped over the tank, landing with a tremendous thundering rumble on the other side. More alarms began blaring, indicating that the Halberd’s left leg was close to breaking point; mechs weren’t intended for high-speed acrobatics, but Saito had no time to worry about those limits. He spun the mech around again, watching the tank’s turret slowly turn toward him as he reached down and dug the Halberd’s hands under the tank’s treads. It immediately revved its engine and began moving, but not before Saito could start lifting — more alarms began screeching as the mech struggled under the incredible weight of the giant 12-meter long tank, but Saito managed to coax enough power out of the Halberd to flip the tank over on its side… just as the hydraulics in the Halberd’s right arm gave out.

Damn! Won’t be able to use the rifle anymore. The Colonel scowled, but the tank still wasn’t out. He immediately fired the rest of the Halberd’s head-mounted cannon ammunition into the tank, watching as the hundreds of rounds simply rebounded off of the tank’s still-active shield — and was then startled as an incredible blast of energy exploded from the far side of the tank, creating enough force to knock the vehicle back over on its treads. Saito stared at the tank, surprised both by the fact that it had managed to right itself with the pure power of its main cannon… as well as by the fact that the blow from its own cannon overloaded its shields. Well that was stupid, he thought in bewilderment, but immediately moved to seize the opportunity. With the Halberd’s one remaining good arm, he grabbed the metal-piercing knife attached to the mech’s leg and then slammed it down over the tank’s turret. Just as he did so, he saw the Rhino fire from the corner of his eye — and the Drakkar tank promptly exploded, sending Saito’s Halberd tumbling backward. Even more alarms began blaring, alerting the Colonel to the fact that the mech’s left leg had given out, and that the shields were down to five percent and lowering as the Drakkars still in the tree line began a fighting retreat.

“I managed to junk this one pretty bad, huh…” he muttered as he moved to disengage the Halberd’s neural dive. A second later, his view of the outside world disappeared, replaced by a field of black — and then, a moment later, by the flashing red lights of the mech’s cockpit. Saito simply punched the ‘open’ button and readied his own assault rifle as the hatches slowly opened outward. He cautiously peeked his head out to get a lay of the land: the wrecked remains of the Drakkar tank sat a mere forty or so meters away from him as the Rhino tank moved up to cover him from the retreating Drakkars. He then looked over to his left, where the Black Suns were picking off the last of the Drakkars hiding in the wreck of the aerial craft. The Colonel grasped his assault rifle and began climbing down the side of the Halberd, prepared to join the Black Suns. One enemy heavy tank was down, and for that Saito felt somewhat proud — but more than that, he felt wary. Taking down just one of those tanks had resulted in him wrecking his only mech; if another showed up, then the defenders were as good as dead.

Saito took aim with his rifle as he dashed toward the Black Suns team, firing as he ran. Two Drakkars dropped under his bullets, but just as he took aim at a third, he caught in his peripheral vision some movement near the wreck of the Drakkar tank. He slowed his pace to take a closer look, at which point he realized he was staring at a Drakkar — but this one stood different from the rest. It wore no armor; instead, its dark ebony skin was covered only by regal black and silver robing, and a number of gray markings appeared along its head and exposed hands. Confusion crossed Saito’s face, immediately followed by frustrated desperation. He had been in a moment like this before, with one unarmored Drakkar standing amongst its armored followers. Only one type of Drakkar would dare to be so bold.

“Shit…!” The Colonel scrambled for cover behind a nearby pile of rubble as he kept his attention on the lone Drakkar, watching as they stooped down to one of the tank’s turrets and ripped it off. Saito then glanced over at the Rhino tank; its turret was facing into the forest as it fired on the retreating Drakkars, seemingly unaware of the lone Drakkar nearby. Immediately, the Colonel shouted into his communicator. “Rhino Beta! Move! Move—!

A flash of light momentarily blinded the Colonel, followed by the deafening sound of a nearby energy blast — and the terrible wrenching noise of twisting metal. As Saito’s vision slowly returned to him, he snapped his attention to the Rhino, finding only a burning wreck in its place… and atop the wreck of the Drakkar tank stood the lone Drakkar, holding the tank’s turret over its shoulder like a rocket launcher. “Don’t tell me…!” He whipped out his assault rifle and fired at the Drakkar; from its close range, Saito was able to land every single one of the ten bullets remaining in his magazine, but even though he managed to knock the turret out of the Drakkar’s hand and nail it in both the head and chest, it remained standing and unharmed. “Shit… not another Faction Leader!”

The Drakkar snapped its attention to Saito. He froze for a moment, unsure exactly of how to react, but when the Drakkar jumped down from the wreck of the tank and began sprinting towards him, he immediately dropped his assault rifle and whipped out his pistol before unloading the entire magazine into the Drakkar — only for the bullets to bounce harmlessly off of its skin. Shit! It’s still invulnerable? Even here? In Dead Space?!

Time slowed as the Drakkar closed in on Saito. Ten meters, eight meters, five — the Colonel dropped his pistol and prepared to face the incoming threat. It seemed to be running only about as fast as a normal person could, so he bent his knees as the Drakkar approached to three meters, then two — and then Saito dove to the left, successfully dodging the Drakkar as it charged past. He rolled along the ground and sprang to his feet, pounding the rocks below as he booked it toward the Black Suns and shouted into his communicator, “Faction Leader, Faction Leader!!”

((You’re an awfully tenacious one, aren’t you?))

Saito reeled as a harsh female voice invaded his head, momentarily shattering his concentration. Images of his last encounter with a Faction Leader flashed through his mind — images of how easily Prosusicivious had fought off his attackers, grabbed Captain Feng, stole his Ciei — and all this from the one Faction Leader regarded as the least hostile of the six. The Colonel had read to great depth about the six Drakkar factions, and he knew what the gray markings and the female voice meant: the Drakkar chasing him was Telregina, the leader of the Telum Drakkars, and the most recklessly violent of the Faction Leaders. If she got a hold of him—

((HA!))

A sudden sound in Saito’s head startled him again, just as he felt a blow to his back, sending him tumbling to the ground. He attempted to regain his bearings as he scrambled back to his feet, but just before he could start running again, he felt someone grab him by the neck and hoist him into the air. In a panic, he grabbed at the arm that held him and began kicking with his feet, determined not to let Telregina break his shields and lay her hand on his chest — yet when he finally looked down at the face that lacked a mouth and a nose, her narrow black eyes seemed to glisten with dangerous glee.

((You must be the one who defeated my tank!)) she spoke into Saito’s mind, ((it’s been some time since I felt such a rush. And in Dead Space, no less!)) She glanced over at the Black Suns, who had by now recognized her and were scrambling for cover. ((…How lucky for you, then, that I cannot take your Ciei here. You’ll have the opportunity to live in terror for just a little while longer… and if you can provide me with sufficient entertainment here, then I may even allow you to live indefinitely!!))

As she finished her statement she chucked Saito through the air, sending him flying over ten meters before crashing down on top of one of the Black Suns soldiers. The Colonel and the soldier both scrambled back to their feet as Telregina charged at them, tackling the Black Suns soldier into the wall and ripping his gun out of his hand. She whipped around and swung the gun at Saito like a club, forcing him to duck — at which point she lashed out with her leg to fling him further across the ground. Disoriented, Saito was barely able to regain his bearings as the sound of laser fire reached his ears again; it seemed as though the bulk of the Black Suns soldiers were firing in a direction that wasn’t toward Telregina, which Saito guessed to mean that more Drakkars were attacking from the forest. There was little he could do about that, however, as the Telum Faction Leader dragged him up to his feet and threw him at a nearby pile of rubble.

((What happened to your will to fight?!)) Telregina shouted as she brandished her gun and fired it into the ground around Saito. ((You did so well against my tank. Is that really all you had in you?!))

The Colonel stumbled to his feet and made to retort, but stopped as he noticed Commander Rabine charging at Telregina from behind. Telregina noticed Saito’s gaze and began to turn, but not before Rabine smashed her right fist into the Drakkar’s head and dropped her to the ground. The Commander then whirled around and slammed her left palm into Telregina’s back, at which point a pulse of energy crushed Telregina into the ground. Rabine quickly backed away to approach Saito, but Telregina promptly pulled her arms out of the ground and lashed out, grabbing the Commander’s legs and yanking her to the ground. The Drakkar Faction Leader began climbing back to her feet as she maintained her hold on Rabine’s ankle and dragged her closer, but just before she could slam her fist into Rabine’s face, Saito tackled her back to the ground. As soon as they were down, the Colonel rolled away and jumped to his feet, spinning around on his heel to face the Drakkar as he and Rabine squared off on either side of her.

“Colonel, we need to keep her distracted,” Rabine shouted, passing a quick glance to the side.

Saito looked off to his left, where the other Black Suns soldiers were fighting off the rest of the Drakkars. The Commander wasn’t entirely wrong; if they could keep Telregina here, then the other soldiers could focus on fighting her troops — and by Telregina’s own admission, she couldn’t steal Ciei in Dead Space, so Saito was in no danger of that. Furthermore, his armor still had a decent amount of shield charge left, so he could take more punishment without worrying about sustaining an actual injury. All the same, trying to fight someone who can’t get hurt at all sounds like a bad time…

Telregina slowly climbed to her feet and shook her head, drawing Saito and Rabine’s attention. She turned to look at the Commander, and then at the Colonel… she had no mouth, but Saito could almost swear that she was grinning. ((This is more like it! Show me just how good of a fighter you think you are!))

“…Well… here goes,” Saito muttered, and then charged at Telregina at the same moment as Rabine. Just as Saito was wondering how the hell he had convinced himself that it was a good idea to charge toward a Drakkar Faction Leader, Telregina ducked around both of them and dealt Saito a fierce kick, knocking him to the ground. She then whipped around and grabbed Rabine’s arm, yanking her off balance; the Drakkar then attempted to follow with an elbow-drop, but Saito dove into her and knocked her away from the Commander. He and Telregina rolled across the ground for a short distance as the Colonel grabbed her wrists and attempted to hold her still, but she easily ripped her arms free of his grasp and slammed her foot into his chest, sending him tumbling across the ground. By the time he recovered, Rabine had engaged Telregina in a fist fight, with the two rapidly exchanging blows and blocks — and continually wearing down Rabine’s energy shielding. Saito promptly rushed to the Commander’s aid, throwing his fists out to clock the Drakkar upside the head, though Telregina responded immediately by uppercutting Saito in the chin and kicking Rabine over. The Faction Leader then grabbed Saito by his neck and slammed him down to the ground, at which point she reached behind herself with her free hand and pulled out a small device that rapidly unfolded into a silver gauntlet. Saito’s eyes widened in recognition — it was the same kind of gauntlet that he had seen the Prolatio Drakkars use to instantly knock out Colonel Miles’ energy shielding.

((I see you recognize this,)) Telregina commented as she pulled her fist back. ((So you’ve fought other Drakkars and survived, hmm? Allow me to change that!)) The gauntlet began to glow brightly, blinding Saito due to its close proximity as the Drakkar threw her fist forward —

The next thing Saito knew, he was no longer being held. He reached up to rub his neck and then glanced around, where he spotted Commander Rabine a couple meters over, standing over Telregina as she held the Drakkar’s arms behind her back and forced her to the ground. She held her left palm against the back of the Drakkar’s head. “…Give it up,” Rabine demanded, “we may not be able to kill you, but we can still capture you.”

((Capture me…? Ha! Is that what you think you’ve done?))

Telregina then ripped her arms out of Rabine’s grasp and began pushing off of the ground to stand up. The Commander responded by firing some kind of energy pulse out of her palm into the back of the Drakkar’s head. In the moment afterward, Saito could see that the energy pulse had blown off some of the skin on Rabine’s hand, revealing a cybernetic prosthetic underneath — yet Telregina appeared completely unfazed as she threw Rabine off of her back and leaped to her feet.

Saito eyed the Drakkar warily and prepared to go in for another attack, but froze as the thundering noise of collapsing trees began to reach his ears. One glance at the distant tree line confirmed the fear that began welling in the pit of his stomach: the appearance of another gigantic tank, just as large and menacing as the first. And its turret was aimed directly at Rabine and Telregina.

“Shit…!” The Colonel immediately dashed toward Rabine and dove into her, tackling her to the ground — a mere moment before the dirt around Telregina and Rabine’s previous position erupted, flinging dirt, debris, and the two officers across the battlefield. Saito felt himself tumbling through the air and then along the ground, a sensation that felt significantly more painful than before due to the explosion overloading his shields. He groaned; he was getting tired of being thrown around like this, but there wasn’t exactly much he could do to stop it.

((Ha ha ha haaaa! What an interesting little fight we had!))

Saito rolled over off of his back and slowly pushed himself to his feet, noting that Rabine was doing the same a couple meters over. He then looked toward Telregina, who had jumped on top of the massive tank after it charged into the middle of the battlefield and focused its turret on Saito and Rabine.

((It’s not often that anyone actually attacks me head-on!)) Telregina shouted from on high, ((usually you stupid Aldredanoids are too cowardly to face me in straight battle. Though I suppose you probably would have behaved differently if we weren’t currently in Dead Space, wouldn’t you?))

“I’m just trying to survive, here…” Saito muttered. He glanced side to side; the Halberd mech was shot, the Rhino tank was destroyed, he and Rabine were out of energy shielding, and the Black Suns soldiers seemed to be tiring as well. Damn it… we’ve reached the end of our rope…!

((Well, even though you did fight me, it still wasn’t quite as exciting as I had hoped. Fighting without my powers isn’t all that fun… Dead Space really is worthless.)) The Drakkar glanced to her right at the Aldredian outpost. ((At least there’s something to gain from this. After I kill you all here, I can help myself to the technological marvels that the Aldredas left behind! Oh, the thought of wielding their own technology against my enemies… if only they were here now, so that I could bask in their helpless fury!))

The interiors of the Drakkar tank’s turret barrels began to glow.

((But oh well. That kind of scene would’ve required that we let the Aldredas live… and killing them all back then felt too good to not.)) Telregina’s eyes glistened. ((A little like right now. You fought decently enough, for a pair of fools! Farewell!))

Saito scowled, his whole body tense; even if he managed to dodge the tank now, it could still easily enough fire in another four to five seconds, and that was ignoring the encroaching Drakkar army. As far as he could tell, this was the end of the line. He eyed the tank with a sense of resignation — sometimes, even your best just isn’t good enough.

The turret flashed, indicating it was about to fire one more incredible laser blast…

…which was intercepted by a giant hammer?

Confusion crossed Saito’s face as the tank’s laser cannons fired, only for a massive blue and silver battlehammer to fly onto the scene and intercept the blast. And then, just as Saito realized that he recognized the hammer, Mote slammed into Telregina from above, grabbing her by her face before whirling around and chucking her at the ground. He then summoned an incredible lightning bolt directly into the tank he now stood upon, bathing the entire battlefield in bright white light as he channeled such a fierce electric strike into the tank that its shields instantly overloaded and the vehicle’s parts partially melted and fused together, as though Mote had applied a welding torch to its entire frame, both in and out — simultaneously.

Saito simply stared at Mote as he leaped off of the tank and summoned his hammer back to himself. Just a moment ago, he had been staring death in the face, but now…?

…Colonel? Colonel!

Saito realized that Mote was talking to him, at which point he shook his head and looked up at him. With a massive grin on his face, he heartily slapped Mote on the back. “Lieutenant! I have never been more happy to see someone in my entire life!”

It’s good to see that you’re alive, as well, Mote responded, and then glanced around the battlefield. What’s the situation—?

((That armor… and that weapon…))

Saito and Mote both turned to face Telregina, who was now standing a short ways away from the fused wreck of the tank. Mote glanced over at the massive hammer in his hands, and then at the armor he was wearing; it was only just now that Saito realized Mote was sporting the Aldredian armor.

((…I see… so this is where you went.)) The Drakkar crossed her arms as she glared at Mote. ((This… explains a lot.))

The hell are you talking about? Mote demanded as blue sparks wreathed his body.

((You don’t know? Interesting…)) Telregina took a step forward, her hand outstretched toward Mote. ((If you come with me, I vow to—))

Two missiles slammed into Telregina’s position and exploded spectacularly, obscuring her location in smoke and debris as a jet rocketed overhead — and then transformed into Danielle as she landed on the ground next to Mote. She leaped to her feet and summoned two pistols out of thin air, each with intricate white and silver designs, a sharp, curved blade attached to the barrel, and a faintly glowing gray orb set just above the grip. With a flourish, she assumed a battle stance next to Mote, and then nodded toward Saito and Rabine in acknowledgment.

A moment later, Telregina leaped out of the smoke, her robes and clothing torn to shreds but her body unharmed. She made to charge, but stopped herself when she noticed Danielle. Saito couldn’t quite tell what was going through the Drakkar’s head, but he could see her eyes widen, and then narrow — and then she whipped around and sprinted toward the tree line. ((This won’t be the last we see of each other!)) she shouted back, ((but the next we meet — if we meet — I will demonstrate just how much more powerful than the Aldredas we Drakkars are!))

Damn it! Mote scowled, and then nodded toward Danielle. C’mon—!

“Mote, wait.” Saito reached out and grabbed their shoulders before they could dash off.

What…? The Electrotechnic looked down at the Colonel’s hand, and then passed him a confused look. Sir…?

“We all know that the Faction Leaders are invulnerable, and Telregina seems to keep that trait even here, in Dead Space. Chasing after her won’t gain us anything,” the Colonel explained. He then glanced over at Rabine. “And on top of that… Commander, when have you ever known the Drakkars to retreat like this?”

“Only when they were preparing to bombard a planet from orbit,” she replied.

Uh oh… Danielle muttered.

Saito nodded. “Exactly. We aren’t in the clear just yet.” He passed a surreptitious glance toward the wreck of the Rhino tank, his lips pursed, and then he spun around and set off toward the entrance to the outpost at a hurried pace. “Let’s go. If we’re lucky, then MacTavish has our ticket out of here.”

 

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