Chapter 44 – Under the Cover of Light

Chapter 44 – Under the Cover of Light

1 Hour Later

The sound of leaves softly rustling in the wind filled the chilly afternoon air, providing a soothing aural cover for CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir as they cautiously moved through the underbrush. Nearly half an hour had passed since they landed on the planet’s surface, thanks to Danielle’s ability to transform into a fast landing craft; in the time since, they had been stealthily working toward the outpost in the hopes of not drawing attention to themselves. Every so often, an explosion would sound in the distance as Drakkar fightercraft shot each other down, and tanks fired across the shallow valley that contained the Aldredian outpost — but thus far, none of the Drakkars seemed to have noticed the Earthians.

Colonel Saito looked upward for a moment, at the blue skies above. Past the fluffy clouds, massive golden lights would sometimes manifest high in the sky — a sure sign of the bombardment shields flaring up under weapons fire. Most bombardment shields in the galaxy, Drakkar ones especially, focused the entirety of their energy into shielding the skies above the shield generator, which gave the Earthians an opening to approach along the ground. Just because they were now under the shield’s protection didn’t mean they were close to the generator, however; individual bombardment shields were capable of protecting areas up to 10 kilometers in radius, so the Earthians still had some distance to cover before reaching the shield generator and the outpost it was shielding.

Spotting movement in the corner of his eye, Saito immediately stopped moving forward and held up his hand to signal for everyone else to do the same. He then made a lowering gesture, prompting everyone to slowly lower themselves to the ground, using the forest underbrush as cover — just as two Drakkar foot soldiers came into sight. They were walking a couple hundred meters away, barely visible through the trees and other forest flora as they swept their gazes and guns to and fro.

Prolatio Drakkars, huh? Saito mused as he watched the two, and their prehensile tails — a limb that Drakkars from only the Prolatio Faction possessed. Clearly a search party of some kind, but for what? Have they detected us…? He then glanced back at the group, just in time to frantically raise his hand up to stop Kate from rushing forward. She opened her mouth to respond, but Saito quickly put a finger over his mouth to indicate silence, and then gestured back to the ground. Kate’s brow furrowed in clear frustration, but she nonetheless obliged, allowing the Colonel to turn back to the rest of the group. Silently, he pointed at Mote, and then at the Drakkars, at which point he waved his hand vertically in front of him — to indicate energy shielding — and then made a quick motion with his hand across his throat. Mote nodded once in acknowledgment and began crawling forward, while Saito turned toward Hackett, pointed at her and then himself, and gestured at the Drakkars again. She nodded in response, and then brought her assault rifle to bear, just as Saito did.

The two officers cautiously eyed the Drakkar soldiers, their weapons trained on the soldiers’ heads the whole time. Seemingly still unaware of the Earthians’ presence, the Drakkars continued to slowly work through the forest… until blue sparks briefly wreathed their bodies, followed by their energy shields shutting down in a cascade of visual golden static. Immediately, Saito and Hackett both fired one bullet each, nailing both Drakkar soldiers in their heads and dropping them to the ground.

A stiff silence filled the air. Soon, Mote appeared back with the group, unharmed. When he did, Kate again opened her mouth to speak, only for Saito to once again stop her. She turned her irate attention to him as she clearly mouthed out “why not?”, to which Saito responded with a roll of his eyes. He then glanced toward Mote and made a horizontal circle motion with his index finger, before throwing up his hands as if in a question. Mote remained silent for a few moments, his gaze directed upward… and then he looked back to the Colonel and shook his head.

“…If there’s no one nearby, then I permit discussion. Quietly,” Saito declared, his voice low as he shot an annoyed glance at Kate. “What did you want to say?”

Why the hell are we doing this all fucking stealth-like? Kate questioned irately, though still in hushed tones. Stealth isn’t our thing!

“It’s still sometimes prudent,” Saito replied. “Due to our missions last month, it is entirely likely that the Drakkars have realized that we have a way of accessing Aldredas tech. Now, these Drakkars are a different faction than most of the ones we ran into, so they might not know, but if they do — then if they saw us coming, they might decided to drop the bombardment shields and destroy the outpost from on high, just to deny us the tech.”

Would they really do that…? Danielle questioned.

We did it to them at the shipyard, Mote pointed out. It stands to reason that they would do the same to us.

Ah, don’t fuckin’ remind me… Kate muttered.

“The air space around here is pretty full, though, sir,” Hackett remarked, her attention directed at the skies some distance away, where a dozen Drakkar fightercraft could be seen dogfighting. “We’re likely to be detected soon, no matter what we do.”

“Even so—“ Saito started, only to stop as the sound of roaring thrusters filled the air. A second later, a humanoid figure shot through the air just above the trees the Earthians were hiding under, moving toward the outpost at high speed.

What was that?! Danielle exclaimed.

That was a robot! Mote remarked with a scowl. I barely saw it, but I’m certain. It looked like one of EA’s!He then looked over at the Colonel. Sir! Should I go after it?

Saito returned the look for a moment. Through his tests with Kate a few weeks ago, Mote had discovered that his armor’s flight system even worked under normal surface gravity — so he was more than capable of pursuing the flying robot. Yet, even so…

“No,” the Colonel replied with a shake of his head. “There are too many unknowns. Between the two Drakkar Factions, and now EA, it’s best if we stick together. That said…” He leaped to his feet. “EA has forced our hand; we can’t let him bring everything down on top of us. We’re going loud! Danielle! Get us to that outpost!”

Oh! Uh, right! she replied, and then stepped away from the group as her body rapidly increased in size and took on a more angular silhouette. Within a second, she had taken on the form of a massive 40-meter tall armored mech, at which point she stooped down to scoop Saito and Hackett into her left hand, and Mote and Kate into her right.

“Brace for combat!” Saito shouted as Danielle began barreling across the forest, her massive form enabling her to dash at well over 100 kilometers an hour as her newly mechanized giant feet ripped up and smashed the trees underfoot. Now well above the trees, Saito could see the entirety of the shallow valley, as well as the black-metal outpost sitting in its center. The building appeared to stand only around four stories tall, and was much smaller in length than it was in height; the outpost in which Raenaros had been found was much larger. However, Drakkar forces filled the valley all around the outpost, with a dozen fightercraft inhabiting the skies and many tanks appearing throughout the forest, while Drakkar foot soldiers exchanged laser fire in the clearing that directly surrounded the outpost.

The robot that had flown overhead had already disappeared somewhere, but it wasn’t long before the Drakkar forces began to notice the Earthians. A burst of energy exploded across Danielle’s chest plating, causing her to stagger back as Mote quickly sought out the source: a Drakkar tank, parked across the valley and partially obscured by trees — and accompanied by two more like it.

As Danielle transformed her mechanical chest back into an undamaged form and manifested energy shielding for herself, Kate whooped and grinned with glee. Al-RIGHT! she shouted as she eagerly punched her palm, this is what I’m fuckin’ talking about!! Overdrive: CRITICAL OVERLOAD!She then fabricated a massive rocket launcher onto her shoulder before firing at the three tanks in the distance, just as two more blasts of energy exploded across Danielle’s newly created shields. Two autocannons appeared on Danielle’s armored head and opened fire on the tanks, but almost immediately after, Kate’s rocket finally impacted — and exploded in a brilliant flash of light that nearly blinded Saito and Hackett, even from several kilometers away.

“Tch…!” Saito scowled as he shielded his eyes with one hand and tightly gripped Danielle’s mech hands with his other, to keep himself from falling. A second later, he looked back at where the tanks had been, only to find a small mushroom cloud obscuring the charred remains of the center tank and the blackened, cratered terrain all around it. The two adjacent tanks appeared to have survived, though the one on the right clearly had lost its shields in the explosion, as laser blasts from other sources were beginning to scar its armor.

“Oi!” the Colonel shouted, turning his attention toward Kate. “Watch it! Don’t blow up the outpost!”

I know how to fucking aim! It’ll be fine! Kate shot back, just as she fired another rocket at a tank further up the valley. WooHOOO! This is great!

Saito simply shook his head and focused on using Danielle’s mech fingers as shields against incoming weapons fire. The electrical whirring of gauss cannons filled the air as Danielle fired her autocannons into the Drakkars, and Mote struck down approaching fightercraft with his lightning. All of the Eximius Vir’s attacks outranged the assault rifles Saito and Hackett wielded, leaving the two officers to simply wait until they had approached closer to the outpost to contribute. The Colonel cast a wary glance skyward; golden sheets of light continued to mask the sky behind the clouds, indicating that the bombardment shields were still active, but then he noticed that he could actually see the two Drakkar Cruisers high in the air. They were still far enough away to be mere specks, but the fact that he could see them at all indicated that they were descending into the atmosphere. What the hell are they doing…?

An incredible burst of energy blasted Danielle’s right leg, drawing Saito’s attention back to the fight as Danielle was knocked off-balance. A couple explosions echoed through the valley from the distance — a sign of Kate’s continued explosive attacks — but Saito was focused solely on holding on to Danielle’s fingers as she fought to stabilize herself. Another blast of energy knocked her left leg out from under her, but before she actually fell over, she manifested another two sets of legs out of her torso and slammed them all into the ground, managing to continue her forward momentum as she transitioned from a normal human-like gait to a more insect-like run, all without actually collapsing.

At that point, the Aldredian Outpost stood less than half a kilometer away, allowing Saito to clearly spot the scarred clearing that surrounded the building. Broken and charred barricades littered the land, coupled with hover tanks strafing around the outpost to take shots at other tanks and squads of Drakkars — which themselves covered the field as they rushed around, attempting to flank or otherwise get the drop on their other-faction opponents. The Colonel could see EA’s robot as well, zipping through the skies above the outpost as it engaged the Drakkar fightercraft in battle.

Hang on! Danielle shouted, prompting the other Earthians to brace themselves as she leaped forward through the air to cover the final distance. As she came crashing down to the ground in the middle of the outpost clearing, she created massive physical shields on her left and right shoulders to absorb incoming laser fire while she set the others down on the ground. A handful of Drakkars stood within eyesight just behind a barricade, and their lasers soon lit up the shields of Saito and Mote — but the latter immediately responded by blasting the barricade with an incredibly intense lightning strike, utterly obliterating the obstacle and sending the Drakkars flying.

“Let’s go! Inside!” Saito ordered, his feet pounding the ground as he sped toward the building. Hackett and Danielle, now returned to her normal form, followed closely on his heels while Kate whipped her rocket launcher to and fro, firing rocket after rocket at the Drakkar forces while grinning maniacally. Her work quickly yielded a series of blinding flashes and deafening roars as a half-dozen fireballs cleared out massive chunks of the surrounding forest and overpowered the energy shields of several Drakkar tanks, leaving multiple charred wrecks.

If the Drakkars didn’t think we were a threat before, they definitely do now… Saito thought bitterly as he ran around the outpost perimeter and found the main entrance. I’m sure they’ll pull back and bombard this place to oblivion soon enough — so we need to be in and out, fast.

Putting that thought aside, he kicked open the entrance door, only to find a couple of Drakkar soldiers standing inside. Immediately, he and Hackett both opened fire on the two, pelting them with bullets and flaring up their shields around their faces, momentarily blinding them. Danielle took quick advantage of the opening to lunge forward and massively enlarge her arms, allowing her to grab the Drakkars, slam them together, and then hurl them outside of the outpost.

Fighting Drakkars is always a fucking blast! Kate remarked as she ran into the outpost alongside Mote. The bastards don’t even have Chaotic abilities; it’s like shooting fish in a fucking barrel! We should do this more often!

“I’ll take your request under review,” Saito replied dryly as he jogged ahead through the outpost corridors. Few Drakkars seemed to be inside of the building, and the ones that were present were easily dispatched by Mote’s electrical powers. What’s going on? the Colonel wondered as he kept pressing forward in search of anything valuable. Why are the interior defenses so light? It’s like the Drakkars weren’t even trying to stop each other from accessing it…

“Sir!” Hackett shouted, her attention directed down a hallway to the left. “Check this out!”

Quickly, the Colonel backtracked to follow Hackett’s gaze. On a wall at the end of the hallway was an insignia in blue of a sword, pointed upward, in front of a circle.

Hackett glanced over at Saito, and then at the chest plate of Mote’s armor — which bore the same insignia. “Look familiar?” she remarked.

…Is this another locked doorway? Mote muttered.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Saito stated as he gestured for everyone to head toward the wall. “Though it would make sense. If the passage only opens to your armor, then that explains why the Drakkars can’t get in — and why they weren’t actively protecting this place. They knew that neither side had the means to immediately access it!”

All the better for us! Kate exclaimed, rubbing her hands together eagerly while Mote stepped up to the insignia on the wall. Especially if it’s something that inspires this much fighting! Oooooh, I can’t fucking wait to see what it is! She then turned toward Mote with an impatient expression upon her face, and her hands on her hips. Hurry the up and open the fucking door, already!

Have patience, Mote retorted, passing her an annoyed glance before returning his attention to the insignia as it began to glow. A second later, the entire wall briefly glowed a bright blue before the light suddenly disappeared, as though an energy shield had shut down. The wall with the insignia soon silently withdrew into the ceiling while lights flickered on behind it, exposing a small, cylindrical room.

Danielle peeked over Kate’s shoulder and stared into the empty room. …That’s it?

No… this is an elevator, Mote commented. …I just received a map of the outpost. There’s a large cavity a hundred meters below us… about as large as the space that contained the Raenaros.

Is it holding another Corvette?

“We won’t know if we just stand around here,” Saito declared as he ushered the group into the room, constantly glancing behind himself while he did. “The Drakkars have to know that we’re in here, so we don’t have much time to investigate.”

True… Mote muttered, coming to stand on the far side of the small cylindrical space as everyone else filed in. As soon as everyone was in the room, a metallic shriek echoed through the walls, followed by the platform jolting and beginning to descend. However, a mere second after that, a loud clunk emanated through the air — followed by the platform suddenly falling out from under them, leaving everyone to careen toward the darkness below.