Chapter 17 – Creeping Chaos

Austin blanched as the giant mech in front of him lurched forward. Without a second to spare he threw himself to the side, dropping his claymore and rolling unceremoniously across the lawn as the mech slammed into the front of his house. He quickly scrambled to his feet and bolted around the corner, taking refuge behind the side of the house. There he took a moment to catch his breath, attempting to psyche himself up for facing EA and his so-called “Bug Crawler.”

“Come on out, Fakie…”

Shit… Austin glanced to his side, toward the front of the house. He could hear the house-sized machine slowly stalking about. …If I could just touch it, then maybe I could control it… but does my power even work on something that big? And is getting close enough to touch it even a good idea?!

“There you are!”

“Ack—!” Austin yelped as the mech shoved its head into the space between the houses. The cockpit accounted for most of the head unit, and the canopy was transparent, so Austin managed to lock eyes with EA for a brief moment as he scrambled backwards and out of reach of the mech’s pincers. When he backed into the fence, he whipped around and tried to jump over it, but failed spectacularly and collapsed to the ground.

As he was recovering, the sounds of snapping wood and crumbling bricks reached his ears. Immediately he psychically ripped the fence out of the ground, taking advantage of his earlier touch to seize control of the fence and use it as a shield as the Bug Crawler’s tail crushed the house next door to Austin’s, sending all kinds of debris his way. With the fence now destroyed, Austin dashed into the backyard, flinging bits of debris at the mech the whole way. But instead of dealing any kind of damage, all of the debris simply bounced harmlessly off of the mech’s hull as each impact point shimmered brightly.

Looks like it’s protected by an energy shield… Austin scowled as he rushed around the back of his house and to the other side. Probably can’t control it by touching it, then, since I can’t actually touch it. I’ll have to beat it down first, by flinging stuff at it, I guess… but I can’t do that if I’m constantly on the run! Damn it! If only I could fly! He froze momentarily. Not even a minute ago, he had manipulated part of a fence to fly through the air — so “seizing absolute control” over an object seemed to include manipulating its position in space in ways that shouldn’t technically be possible. Which is par for the course when it comes to Chaotic abilities, but if he can make anything that he touches fly…

Austin’s thoughts were interrupted as the ground next to him lit up briefly — and then exploded. He reflexively shielded his face from debris as he scrambled away from the house and attempted to climb over the fence again, this time succeeding due to being on the side with the cross-supports. As he tumbled to the ground on the other side, the entire lawn erupted as EA’s mech crashed down into it, having jumped clear over the two-story house from the backyard. It whipped around toward Austin and reared up its head, revealing a small gun mounted on the underside. Without wasting any more time to stare down its barrel, Austin clapped his hands, focused… and then launched himself into the air just in time to evade being obliterated by a laser. He hung in the air over the mech for a moment, staring at his hands in awe as EA looked up at him.

“…Ha HA!” Austin whooped and pumped his fist triumphantly. “I can fly!

EA gave Austin little chance to revel in his newfound technique — several slots in the back of the Bug Crawler opened up, each launching a small self-guided rocket aimed at Austin. He promptly dived to the side, flying low to the ground as he rushed out to the street and away from his thoroughly-wrecked house. “Mom and Dad ain’t gonna be happy about this,” he muttered to himself as he managed to outmaneuver the rockets and cause them all to explode some distance away. However he had no experience with flight, and the effort required just to evade the rockets meant that he failed to accurately gauge just how close to the ground he was. He yelped painfully as he skid and then rolled across the pavement, but he quickly picked himself up and brushed himself off — just in time to dive out of the way as EA’s mech landed in the middle of the street, sending the sounds of crushed cars and pavement echoing down the block. The mech’s tail whipped up and exposed a laser cannon mounted to its end as it began firing at Austin, but he quickly clapped and lifted back up into the air, at which point he began trying to evade the gun. As the gun fired lasers, it was impossible to see where it was firing until its target erupted in an explosion of energy, so Austin was left to simply make himself too difficult to aim at — which itself proved rather difficult.

After several stray explosions, Austin launched himself over the mech and landed on the road behind it, where he slammed his fist into a vacant SERRCom truck. He winced from the impact, but quickly moved his attention back to the truck as he manipulated it into the air and then launched it at the Bug Crawler. It impacted with the loud screeching sound of crushing metal, causing the surface of the mech to light up brilliantly as its energy shield absorbed the incoming kinetic energy. Ah ha! This should do it! Austin smirked to himself as he backpeddled to another truck, slapped it, and threw it at the mech just like he had the first. As the second vehicle was flying through the air, the mech jumped and spun around, bringing its head back to face Austin and deflecting the truck with its tail. Not to be deterred, Austin launched a third truck at the mech… only for it to catch the vehicle in its pincers. It then tossed the crushed mass into the air and spiked it with its tail as though it were a volleyball, sending it careening toward Austin.

Watch out!!

“Eh—?” Austin stumbled backwards as a large, disk-shaped projectile flew through the air and crashed into the flying vehicle and knocked it back, clear of Austin. He barely had time to recover as a car zoomed past him, slamming into the mech — while at the same time, Spike came rolling to a stop by Austin’s side, having just jumped clear of said car.

“Spike!” Austin’s eyes lit up. “You’re alright!”

“Yeah… just suddenly showed up a few blocks over,” he responded as he stretched and cracked his knuckles. “Looks like I got here just in time. …Why does this thing look familiar?”

“We’ll have time to talk about that later— look out!!” Austin dove into Spike, knocking the both of them to the side as the Bug Crawler brought its tail laser to bear. The spot where they had stood barely a second early promptly exploded, sending the both of them tumbling along the ground. Spike recovered almost immediately, jumping back to his feet and summoning a massive shield to block the next laser blast. But the mech’s high-energy beam obliterated the shield, staggering Spike and leaving him open to attack — yet before EA could follow up, another truck smashed into the mech’s side. A second truck quickly followed, diverting EA’s attention away from Spike, who took advantage of the opening to wind up a punch and slam his fist into the mech’s front right leg. Its energy shield shimmered brilliantly, covering nearly the entire leg and protecting it from harm — but the sheer force from Spike’s punch still caused the leg to buckle, sending the mech stumbling to its side. Spike promptly grabbed the other front leg, encircling it with his arms as he attempted to pull it off, but a second later the mech simply flicked him away, sending him flying into a nearby house.

Austin watched Spike in alarm, but quickly shook off his concern. Spike was a Forcetechnic — he’d survived fiercer blows than that over the past week and a half. But as Austin turned his attention back to EA’s mech, he noticed EA refocusing on him, and with his supply of vacant trucks dwindling, Austin found himself in a tight spot. He quickly clapped his hands and then shot off into the air, narrowly avoiding another laser blast as he flew over to the wreckage of one of the trucks he had previously used as a projectile. He slapped it and began lifting it into the air; however, manipulating an object through the air required significant effort, and while he was moving a truck, he couldn’t move himself. So when he saw a salvo of rockets homing in on him right as he launched the truck wreck at the mech, he panicked and reflexively shielded his face with his arms instead of attempting to move out of the way.

But before the rockets came too close, a jet of water burst through the air and sliced each one in half, causing them all to prematurely detonate. The mech began turning to identify the source of the attack, but water promptly inundated the street, causing the mech to lose its footing and haphazardly fall to the ground again. Without wasting a second, Spike bounded across the lawn and leaped forward, spiking the cockpit with enough force to shatter the canopy through the energy shield and slam the whole unit into the street, creating a small crater. He was promptly knocked back by the mech’s tail, but landed feet-first and dashed forward to continue his assault.

“Austin! You’re okay!!”

“Twy! You’re back!” He glanced over as she rushed to his side, floating in a water bubble that was itself floating in the air.

“Where’s Sky?” Twy questioned as she kept a watchful eye on EA’s mech, “or the rest of the SERRCom forces?”

“Dunno. I think EA beamed ‘em all away, scattered them across the city or somethin’.”

“Why would he do that? If he can just beam us away on a whim, then…”

“Fuck if I know what’s goin’ through that bastard’s head. But we gotta beat up that mech he’s piloting, he’s already wrecked half the neighborhood—! Whoa—!”

Austin braced himself as Spike slammed into him, having been thrown back by the mech’s tail. The two tumbled to the ground again, Spike barely able to summon another shield to protect them from an incoming laser blast. A second blast blew the shield away, exposing them both, but before the laser could fire again Austin slapped himself on the arm and grabbed Spike by the collar of his shirt, throwing them both to the side. Spike landed on his feet and immediately charged at the mech, summoning another shield to protect himself as Twy began firing jets of water at the Bug Crawler’s hind legs. The mech’s shields flared up again, signaling that Twy was doing at least some amount of damage, but EA’s attention remained focused on Spike. The Crawler began stepping back, swinging the tip of its tail down and in front of the cockpit in an effort to swipe Spike away — then, a moment later, the unidentifiable wreckage of a truck swung through the air by Spike’s side and up at the tail, knocking it out of the way. Spike threw up a quick thumbs-up to acknowledge Austin before balling his fingers into a fist and slamming it into the mech’s leg, toppling it again. Austin immediately followed by slamming the truck wreck into the mech’s topside with such force that it completely collapsed; Twy then siphoned enough water out of the surrounding environment to completely encase the mech in a bubble of water. Then, her entire body tense in concentration, she began attempting to crush the giant machine with the water surrounding it — its entire surface promptly lit up as its energy shield fought against the pressure of the surrounding water. But the pressure wasn’t enough — one step at a time, the mech slowly turned toward Twy and brought its tail-mounted laser cannon to bear.

“Sis! Get back!!”

Twy barely had time to acknowledge the command before the giant water bubble exploded into steam, obscuring half the street in a white cloud and throwing boiling-hot water droplets across the entire block. Spike immediately summoned two shields, holding one over his head and throwing the other toward Austin, who managed to slap it in the air and then manipulate it to sit just over himself and Twy, shielding them both. Once the brief rainfall subsided, they looked back at the mech — and then at Sky, who had just burst onto the scene and was now launching waves of fire to clear out the steam. As the flames rolled over the mech, its surface flared up again, a sign that the energy shields were still active. But Sky remained undeterred, using sustained combustion underfoot to keep herself airborne as she continued lobbing fireballs at the giant machine. A moment later, the hatches on its back opened up, giving way to another salvo of rockets… which Sky spotted and immediately detonated with a blast of fire. Half of the rockets were only halfway through the mech’s shielding when they exploded, causing substantial damage to the launch bays — but more importantly than that, the mech’s entire surface briefly flashed a bright white before a sort of static effect swept across its armor. Austin took advantage of the opening to lob his shield at the mech, and when it hit, no light was produced.

“Alright! The shield’s down!!” he shouted at Spike and Sky, “one more good hit, and the whole thing’s down!”

“I don’t think so.”

Austin flinched, startled by EA’s first words since the beginning of the battle. But before he could respond, the mech jumped high in the air, clearing a distance of several houses before crashing back down to the street in the middle of a cul-de-sac. It then whipped around to face the four, extended two flaps of metal from its back, and lowered its tail to mount the tip against the flaps.

“You’ve done better than I expected!” EA shouted over the mech’s loudspeakers, “you managed to take down the energy shield. Good job! But I think it’s time to end this little game.”

“Shit, shit!” Austin immediately grabbed Twy’s arm and rushed toward the nearest house. “Everyone!” he yelled back toward the street, “take cover!!”

Sky glanced his way in confusion, but Spike reacted faster, grabbing her out of the air and tucking her under his arm as he made a mad dash for Austin and Twy. Austin peeked out of cover momentarily, just to keep an eye on EA’s mech — and then widened his eyes in horror as the house across the street exploded.

“What the hell?!” Sky exclaimed, “what was that?!”

“The mech has a laser…” Austin scowled. “EA must be pumpin’ more power into it than he was before—!”

Austin flinched as the house next door to the one they were hiding behind exploded in a burst of energy.

“…Let’s try something,” Spike muttered as he summoned another shield in his hand. He then tossed the shield out toward the street; it was annihilated before it even hit the ground.

“Well… shit,” Sky swore. “What do we do now?!”

“If only I could get close enough to touch it, then I could just flip it and smash it into the ground or somethin’…” Austin frowned. “But we’re too far away…”

“And the moment we go out there—” Spike paused momentarily as another house across the street ceased to exist. “…Well, that’ll happen.”

“So if we move at all, we’ll get shot by a massive laser?!” Sky rapidly glanced between Austin and Spike, her eyes wide with panic. “There— there has to be a way around this!”

“…There is,” Twy spoke up. “…I have an idea…”

Austin, Spike, and Sky listened attentively as Twy outlined her plan, punctuated by the continued sounds of houses being wiped off the face of the earth. A minute later, Spike and Austin exchanged uneasy glances as Sky grabbed her sister by her shoulders.

“You can’t seriously expect—!”

“No, she’s right,” Spike interjected. “…If we wait, the other SERRCom forces might show up and take out the mech for us, but we don’t know if we have that long. There are only so many houses on this street.”

“I hope they’re all empty,” Austin muttered. “It’s at least midday, but still…”

“All the more reason to hurry this up,” Twy urged as she shook Sky off of her. “We need to move now!”

“On it!” Spike whirled around and summoned a massive tower shield in each hand. He chucked one into the street, charging after it a second later as it was blown to smithereens. Almost immediately, he jumped and placed the remaining shield under his feet just as Sky ignited the air beneath him, causing an explosion that launched him into the air — and avoided the next laser shot. As he soared through the air, he began summoning and throwing shields at a rapid pace, launching each of them at the ground with enough force to lodge them in the street and create dozens of cover opportunities. He then created one more shield to protect himself as the mech’s tail flashed, prompting another laser blast that obliterated Spike’s shield and sent him flying backward, where he tumbled to the ground in a painful roll. But thanks to his Forcetechnic durability, he was able to immediately jump back to his feet and rush for the nearest shield as Sky and Twy rushed out to take cover behind other shields. Twy quickly began gathering together all of the water she had used to submerge the mech the first time, forming a massive water bubble in the middle of the street that also served to lessen the power of the incoming laser by diffracting it. The next blast exploded against one of the shields in the road, this time merely blowing it backwards instead of destroying it outright. Just as it tumbled past, Sky and Twy leaped out of cover and rushed forwards, pushing the water bubble ahead of them. A moment later, Twy doubled back as Sky rapidly superheated the water, causing another steam explosion that obscured the entire street.

The twins immediately took cover behind a nearby shield as Spike rushed forward, using the cover of steam to advance undetected. He grit his teeth as he entered the hot environment, stopping momentarily to summon two more shields and throw them out of the steam cloud in two different directions. As soon as he heard one of them explode, he burst out of the steam cloud, protecting himself with a third shield as he charged toward a house that had not yet been destroyed. He managed to evade two laser blasts as he moved, but the moment he took cover behind the house’s wall it was blown to smithereens, knocking him back. He tumbled along the ground, taking hits from all manner of hot and sharp debris but coming out with only scratches. “Shit, this whole passive durability thing might be more useful than the super strength itself,” he muttered as he picked himself up and shook himself off. He promptly hid behind a piece of wall that was still standing; peeking out, he could tell that EA and his mech were only two more houses down. He glanced across the street, noting the twins as they took cover across from him. With a curt nod, he summoned another shield and dashed out into the street again, prepared to take another laser blast—

—only for the Bug Crawler to lunge forward with incredible speed, knocking Spike’s shield away with its tail and then pinning him to the ground with its front leg. Sky immediately made to attack, but the tail whipped around toward her, prompting her to take cover again.

“Not bad, not bad…” EA offered Spike a pained smirk as he stared at him through the broken canopy of the cockpit. “I wasn’t sure if you’d pick up on the laser’s firing interval, or the fact that I needed a sight-line to attack… well, mostly. But since you did, it made my job a lot easier.”

Spike scowled. The mech wasn’t putting down enough pressure to actually crush him, but with his back to the ground and his arms pinned at his sides, it was impossible for him to get the leverage needed to lift the mech off of him.

EA cocked his head. “Got nothin’ to say?”

“Tch…” Spike snorted. “…Think you’re so smart, huh?”

“Well, yeah. I am an Intellitechnic.”

“Hah. …You’re missin’ somethin’… real obvious…”

“Huh…?” EA narrowed his eyes, and then snapped his attention toward where Twy and Sky were hiding. “…Shit, Fakie—!”

“Right here!”

Austin dived toward EA from above and slammed his fist into the impostor’s face. Then, using his Imperator powers, Austin telekinetically ripped EA out of the Bug Crawler’s cockpit and threw him at the ground some distance away; following that, he slapped the mech’s exterior and began straining to lift it. He managed to raise it off of the ground enough for Spike to scuttle out from underneath, at which point Spike grabbed the leg, tore it off at the hinge, and then swung it down on the mech’s cockpit like a massive bat. The cockpit unit completely sheared off of the mech from the blow, causing the giant machine to crumple to the ground, lifeless.

Austin alighted on the ground next to Spike. They glanced at each other, grinned, and exchanged a firm fist-bump.

“Ha! What took you so damn long?”

“Hey, I was bein’ cautious. I can’t take lasers to the face and survive like you can.”

“Heh…” Spike snorted in amusement, and then turned back toward EA. Twy had immobilized him by trapping his hands and feet in water bubbles from which he couldn’t escape.

EA struggled briefly, though when he realized that the water shackles were surprisingly secure, he simply turned his attention toward Austin. “Where did you even come from?”

“Really didn’t see me comin’, eh?” Austin remarked triumphantly. “I was sneakin’ around the alleyways to get behind you. Spike, Twy, and Sky were just distractions!”

“Right…” EA glanced toward Twy. “So this was your idea, yeah?”

“Hey—!”

“It was,” Twy responded, ignoring Austin’s indignant outburst.

“Tch…” EA smirked spitefully. “Looks like I underestimated y’all.”

“Even more proof that you aren’t me.” Austin stepped forward to stare down at his physical counterpart. “I wouldn’t’ve been that careless.”

“The hell’re you talkin’ about?” Spike refuted, “you’re careless all the damn time.”

“Heh, guess you’re right…” EA sighed. “…Suppose I’ll have to work on that for next time.”

“There won’t be a ‘next time,’” Twy countered. “We have you pinned. Once SERRCom gets here, you’ll be locked up for good.”

“And then we can get on with our lives,” Austin added as he glanced around at the ruined neighborhood. “…Though… now that we’re done fighting… this looks really bad…”

“Yes, well, hate to break it to ya…” EA grinned. “But y’all are gonna have to hang on just a little while longer. I’m not done yet.”

“What?…” Austin snapped his attention back to EA as Spike and Sky backed away cautiously. “…The hell are you talkin’ about?”

“Just think, Fakie. I beamed away everyone else who was here so that we could fight. So why do you think I can’t beam away myself?”

The two stared at each other briefly — EA in triumph, and Austin in disbelief.

Austin then lunged for his impostor, his arm outstretched. “No—!”

“See y’all later!” EA chuckled before disappearing in a flash of light just before Austin dived into his former location.

Twy sighed impatiently as she allowed the now-empty water shackles to disperse. “Great. Just great.”

“He got away!” Sky exclaimed, “come on! How did he do that?! We had him!”

“I guess he ain’t workin’ alone…” Spike mused. “…That would explain a lot, actually.”

“That’s not the worst of it.” Austin scowled. “He got away. That means we failed to catch him! Do you know what that means?!”

“Yep…” Spike pursed his lips, glancing off to the side as Mote and Danielle dashed into view. “…Looks like we’ll be with SERRCom for a while longer…”

Chapter 5 – Black Chaos

“What the hell have you done?!”

“What have we done? We just got here!”

“Exactly. We’ve been here for months with no issue. The fact that the Drakkars have appeared now must be because of your arrival!”

Colonel Saito stared incredulously at Colonel Triiant, who had just stomped over from the Black Suns command tent. Saito had been conferring with Major Hackett, Captain Travis, Mark, and Danielle — the members of CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir who hadn’t gone ahead to investigate the dig site — in an attempt to plan for dealing with the incoming Drakkar threat before being interrupted by the Black Suns Colonel; the fact that Triiant seemed to be blaming the Earthians for the appearance of the Drakkars merely irritated Saito even further.

“I can think of a dozen reasons for the Drakkars showing up here that don’t revolve around us,” Saito countered. “The fact is, Colonel, you’re the ones who have been mucking around on this planet. It’s far more likely that the Drakkars picked up on the months of your activity than on the hours of ours.”

“And hours might just be all it takes,” Triiant shot back. “We have been traveling to and from this planet through the Interstellar Gate, and keeping a low profile as we did. You’re the ones who decide to traipse around the galaxy in spaceships all the time, instead of just taking the Gate like a normal, organized military!”

“Ships that have faster FTL drives and increased stealth abilities over the rest of the galaxy, you mean. The chance that the Drakkars detected the Out of Hand from their territory and is so minuscule as to be non-existent.”

“And so you think that they detected our outpost on its own, then? Might I remind you that you, yourself, were surprised to find us here? You, the ones whose Homeworld is so close?”

“You can’t honestly expect our sensor technology to be on par with the Drakkars. The CSA can’t even keep up with them!”

“Sirs,” Major Hackett interjected, “I don’t quite think that there’s time for this—”

“Of course there isn’t, because you brought down the Drakkars on all our heads!” Triiant snapped.

“Cut the attitude, Colonel. The Major’s right,” Saito countered. “According to our Frigate’s sensors, the Drakkars will arrive in under an hour. We need to come up with a plan to deal with this situation.”

We? And just what tactical knowledge about the Drakkars can you provide?”

“Oh for the love of…” Saito sighed in frustration and massaged his temples. As he was doing so, he noticed Commander Rabine suddenly appear in the air just next to Triiant.

She glanced between the two Colonels warily. “Sirs? What are you doing?”

“I was just about to tell the Earthian Colonel here to pack up and leave,” Triiant replied, his furious gaze fixated entirely on Saito. “They’re the ones who brought the Drakkars here.”

“You have to be kidding me,” Saito responded in exasperation. “We’re the ones with a ship! Just what the hell is your evac plan if we leave without you?”

“Lay low and wait the Drakkars out. We know they’re coming, after all; we just need to leave this site, flank around the Drakkars, and beat them back to the Gate.”

“And then when the Gate is still active and connected to a Drakkar world?”

“We wait until they leave. They don’t know we’re here.”

“Ah yes, I forgot. They’re here because they detected our ship. And so, in response, they send a ground team through the Interstellar Gate. A ground team that just so happens to have immediately started moving toward this exact location. But certainly, they don’t know you’re here at all.”

“You can’t—!”

“Sir,” Rabine interjected, stepping forward to put herself within Triiant’s line of sight, “we can argue about who attracted the Drakkars here later. For now, we need to focus on dealing with them.”

Triiant opened his mouth to respond, but then he closed it without saying anything and pursed his lips. A few moments passed as he and Saito continued glaring at each other, but eventually Triiant let out a frustrated sigh and snapped his gaze away. “I suppose you’re right.”

At least he listens to her, Saito thought bitterly, but knew better than to say as much out loud. Now that the Colonel’s second-in-command was present and he seemed slightly more likely to listen, it was time to address the actual matter at hand. “With that out of the way,” Saito began, “the Drakkars will be here in… probably around forty minutes, at this point. According to our Frigate’s scans, they have a few vehicles with them. The actual Drakkars number around thirty. Now, we have a ship on our side, but the Out of Hand isn’t outfitted for ground combat. And there’s only eight of us. How many combatants do you have with you?”

“…Only ten of my soldiers are Chaotics,” Triiant begrudgingly replied. “All twenty of us have received combat training and can fire weapons, but we’re Sector 3. My team’s primary purpose is research, not combat.”

Saito nodded as he began processing possible courses of action in his head. “Alright, so a fight is out of the question.”

Is it, though? Danielle spoke up from behind him, drawing the attention of both Colonels. If it’s just a bunch of Drakkars, well, we’ve handled that before. She then glanced at Mark. Right?

Yeah. Mark nodded. We can handle a few Drakkars.

“Even if you could, when the expedition team doesn’t return, the Drakkars will know to send a larger force, maybe even a ship,” Rabine pointed out. “This dig site isn’t worth escalating up to a Drakkar siege.”

“Speaking of the dig site…” Triiant looked around himself at the Earthians, and then back at Rabine. “What happened to those Earthians I told you to keep an eye on?”

Colonel!

Saito and Triiant both reflexively glanced off to the side, where Mote was approaching with Kate and MacTavish in tow. Both Colonels’ attentions then immediately dropped to the overly extravagant crimson, gold, and black armor that Mote was now wearing, with elaborate designs and flowing robes that seemed designed more to impress than to protect. It clashed heavily with both the Black Suns’ black, blue and silver armor, and the Earthians’ conservative blue and green armor — and neither group had nearly as much robing as Mote now wore.

“C-Colonel,” MacTavish began as she rushed to Saito’s side, “th-that armor—!”

“Where the hell did you get that?” Triiant interjected, his gaze fixated on Mote.

“It was stored in the tomb we discovered three months ago,” Rabine answered.

“WHAT?!” The Siion exploded in fury, prompting MacTavish to shrink away and hide behind Saito as Mote reflexively backed into a defensive stance. “Take that off, immediately!”

“Sir? Sir!” Rabine quickly interposed herself in between Triiant and Mote just as sparks began flickering around the latter’s arms. “He is wearing the armor under my advice. If you’ll allow me to explain—”

“There’s no explanations needed for this! They’ve shown their true colors. They were here to steal the artifacts from under our noses all along—!”

The low hum of electrical motors cut Triiant off as Out of Hand suddenly appeared in the sky just above the treetops. As a Frigate, she wasn’t a large ship — just slightly over 80 meters long, bow to stern — but her altitude was so low as to scrape the tops of the tallest trees and cast shade over most of the dig site.

“And now you’ve come to make your escape,” Triiant growled, glaring up at the hovering craft.

“Oh for the love of…” Saito simply shook his head in response before looking up at the Frigate and activating his communicator. “Commander Huerta, what’s going on?”

«Lo siento, sir,» Huerta responded, «but we had to act quickly. A Drakkar Cruiser just appeared in orbit.»

“A Cruiser?!”

«Sí señor, I do not lie. I believed it prudent to approach and activate our beam jamming field in order to prevent them from beaming any of you away.»

“Shit. Well you made the right choice—”

“We’re under attack!!”

“What the…?” Saito, and everyone else in the immediate vicinity, turned their attention in the direction of the shout: toward the far side of the dig site. Flashes of flames and weapons fire could be seen, as well as flickers of familiar silhouettes — silhouettes with lithe frames, digitigrade legs, and long hair-like spikes extending from their heads.

“Drakkars!?” Triiant exclaimed.

“Damn!” Saito scowled. “Did they beam down before Huerta could activate the jamming field…?”

Don’t worry, Colonel, Mote responded as he materialized his massive battle hammer, wreathed in extravagant blue and silver designs and possessing a faintly glowing blue orb inset on either side of the hammerhead. We can take care of the Drakkars while you get everyone on the Frigate.

“I don’t think so!” Triiant roared. “Not while you’re in that armor! Take it off and hand it over, now!”

We don’t have time to argue about this, Mote snarled back. In the distance, a couple explosions could be heard, followed by the loud creaking of falling trees. I’m going to deal with the Drakkars. Then we can talk about this armor—

“Hold on, Mote.”

Huh…? Mote stopped in his tracks, his attention focused on Saito as the Colonel stepped forward.

Oh c’mon! Kate complained as the sounds of combat began to draw nearer. Just let us fucking fight already! It’s been forever since I saw a decent fight!

“That depends on what Colonel Triiant has to say.” Saito turned toward the Black Suns Officer. “Listen. I’ve been trying to help, but so far, all of my attempts have been met with contempt.”

You’re the one who—!” Triiant started, but Saito held up a hand to stop him.

“I’m not done,” the Earthian Colonel insisted. “I tried to play nice, but that ship has sailed. So now you have two options, Triiant. You let us keep that armor, and we’ll kill those Drakkars, and then let you on our ship. Or, we hand the armor over, wipe our hands of this asinine situation, and leave you to deal with the Drakkars all on your own. Your choice.”

Saito maintained his gaze on the Siion Colonel, but in the lull that followed, he could feel the surprised stares on him from everyone present. Even Mote and Major Hackett, who Saito could see just out the corners of his eyes, seemed uneasy at the Colonel’s ultimatum. He was threatening to leave behind an unprepared group to fight a superior force all on their own, after all; he wasn’t directly violating any SERRCom rules or procedures in making the threat, but it was a questionable act all the same. In a way, he was glad that the rest of CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir were startled to hear him make these threats — it meant that none of them would stoop quite so low as he was now.

It also meant that his bluff was all that more successful.

A flash of light emerged from across the dig site, and a stray laser blast tore through a tent just a few meters away. Saito ignored the encroaching chaos and kept his attention focused on Triiant, who readily returned the glare — but through the corner of his eye, Saito could see the Black Suns forces fighting against the Drakkars. Waves of water and rock washed over the Drakkars, and blasts of weapons fire exploded across their shields; the Black Suns were fighting surprisingly effectively for a research team, and were doing a good job of keeping out of melee range with the Drakkars so as not to have their Ciei stolen. But their Chaotic attacks were unrefined, and their weapons fire was overwhelmed by the sheer number of Drakkars. The Black Suns were being forced back, with several of them already taking cover in excavated parts of the dig site itself.

On the other side of Saito, he spotted Mark tighten his grip on his halberd, and Mote leaning forward, as if preparing to enter the fight. But Saito simply held out his hand to signal that they should stay put. Triiant’s glare remained unbroken, but Saito could tell that he was tense. Part of Saito hated holding a non-hostile force hostage like this, but the other part of him knew the value of both Aldredian artifacts — particularly intact ones — and of the need to enforce SERRCom’s borders. Yielding to the Black Suns, the galaxy’s largest and most powerful PMC by far, could set a dangerous precedent for SERRCom sovereignty.

Eventually the conversational lull was broken by Commander Rabine, who’s attention was focused on the fighting by the dig site. “Sir,” she urged, “we need to act now.”

Triiant growled in response, his eyes still on Saito. “…You wouldn’t leave us behind.”

“I’d trust what the Colonel says,” Hackett interjected. “He’s no joker.”

Saito cast a glance toward the Major. ‘No joker,’ ha, he thought to himself as he fought the urge to smirk. She’s definitely seen through me.

The Siion bristled, but held his tongue. His eyes bore incredible fury, but he seemed to have grasped the situation and realized it better to cease his antagonistic attitude. “…Fine,” he eventually conceded. “…You can keep the armor.”

“Good!” Saito smiled and then turned toward the Eximius Vir. “You’re free to engage.”

About fucking time! Kate whooped as she materialized a pair of red and golden greaves around her feet and two large grenades in her hands, and then charged forward. Let’s murder us some Drakkars!!

Kate! Don’t get careless! Mote shouted after her. …Damn it. Danielle, make sure she doesn’t accidentally kill anyone she isn’t supposed to. Mark! You’re with me!

Got it! Mark and Danielle replied simultaneously. Mark then followed after Mote as Danielle transformed into a giant mech and dashed after Kate.

The four rapidly crossed the dig site and entered the battlefield, at which point an incredible bolt of lightning struck the ground around Mote, blowing away all of the trees within fifty meters of him and frying everything within twenty. Mark immediately bounded over him and slammed his halberd into a fallen tree trunk, imparting enough force to immediately split the entire trunk into two lengthwise halves. He grabbed one of the chunks, hoisted it into the air with one hand, and then hurled it through the air at a nearby Drakkar, nailing it in the head and sending it flying. Danielle, as a giant mech, snatched the Drakkar out of the air and then chucked it at the ground, completely overloading its energy shielding and splattering it in the process. She then stomped on another Drakkar nearby before opening fire with a 10mm rapid-fire gauss cannon mounted to her arm, tearing through the surrounding shrubbery and forcing the remaining Drakkars back under a hail of bullets. Mote seized the opportunity afforded by their distracted state to approach and remotely manipulate the voltage of the batteries in their armor, setting it to zero and therefore immediately shutting down all of their energy shields.

Fire in the hole!!

With little warning, a massive explosion erupted from deep within the forest, incinerating trees, dirt, and Drakkars alike within several dozen meters and flattening everything else within a hundred. Kate promptly came tumbling forward, thrust through the air by the blast wave; as she landed in a roll into a sprint, she fabricated half a dozen chunks of plastic explosive in her hands and began slapping them to the backs of the remaining Drakkars. Several of them attempted to grab her, but she managed to dodge all of them, save the last — which was then cleaved clean in two by Mark’s halberd.

Mote! Kate shouted toward the Electrotechnic, and then gestured toward the Drakkars she had tagged. Light ‘em up!!

Mote responded with a brief nod before holding his hand out toward the Drakkars. A streak of lightning jumped from his fingertips to each of the chunks of plastic explosive, detonating them and blowing the attached Drakkars to pieces. Danielle and Mark then rushed through the aftermath to chase down and deal with the remaining Drakkars.

From their location across the dig site, Triiant and Rabine watched the battle in awe.

“…I must admit, Colonel.” Rabine glanced toward Saito. “When I heard that you Earthians had a handful of Chaotics, I didn’t think they would be quite so… effective.”

“This isn’t even them at their best,” Saito responded airily. “I guess they’re using it as an excuse to let off steam. Normally a fight like this wouldn’t last two seconds.”

Triiant gave Saito an uneasy look. “…You’re bluffing.”

“Now now, Colonel,” Saito replied sagely, “I never bluff.”

“Hmph. I could believe some of what I’m seeing. But your Electrotechnic and Explosives Formtechnic are more powerful than they have any right to be.”

“You mean Mote and Kate? Ha! You just haven’t seen Mark and Danielle at their full potential, then.”

“I’m serious.” Triiant’s eyes narrowed again into a glare. “This level of power at their young age should only be possible with an Ayas.”

Saito frowned. “If you’re suggesting that they’re using any Ayas, then you’d be wrong. You as well as anyone should know that SERRCom only has one Ayas, and we sure as hell didn’t bring it with us here.”

“And even if they did, now isn’t the time to discuss the matter,” Rabine interjected as she turned away from the battle. “Colonel Saito, I understand that you’re willing to help us evacuate?”

“Our ship should have enough room for all of you,” Saito replied. “We can take you to the nearest Tier 5 world with a Gate and then send you on your way.”

“You have our thanks.” Rabine briefly bowed her head, and then glanced toward Triiant. “Right, sir?”

“…Yes,” the Siion begrudgingly admitted, and then turned around to leave. “…I’ll go gather my soldiers.”

“Make it quick,” Saito shouted after him, “we need to leave before that Cruiser approaches to within firing range!”

Triiant raised a hand in acknowledgment, but otherwise remained facing forwards as he left.

“Alright…” Saito turned around toward the rest of CSF-1. “Pack your bags, everyone. It’s time to leave.”

“Barely had any time to see the sights,” Captain Travis remarked.

“I-I saw something im-important, though…” MacTavish commented quietly.

“What are you talking about?” Rabine questioned, stepping forward to approach the group.

MacTavish shied away from her, but continued anyways. “…Th-the armor that, um, th-that Mote is wearing. J-just before we g-got here, i-it showed him a-another set of c-coordinates.”

Rabine’s face scrounged up in confusion. “’Another’?”

“Mm-hmm. I-in Dead Space—”

“Alright, MacTavish, that’s enough for now,” Saito interjected as he passed a surreptitious glance toward the Black Suns Commander. Rabine herself seemed reasonable, but he had no desire to leak information to Triiant’s chain of command — or even the Black Suns as a whole. “Let’s save it for the debriefing, shall we?”

MacTavish backed away, startled. “O-oh… w-well… okay…”

“This isn’t the first time you mentioned something about prior knowledge,” Rabine commented, and then crossed her arms as she stared at MacTavish. “Just what do you know? What information lead you here?”

“Like I said, let’s save it for the debriefing,” Saito insisted as he activated his communicator. “For now, we need to get out of here. Colonel Saito to Out of Hand, come in! We’re preparing for evac, standby for further instructions…”

Chapter 16 – Dead Chaos

«Wh-what?! B-but that’s, that’s impossible!»

“Impossible? MacTavish, this base is about to be obliterated from on high! You can’t tell me that we have to leave a damned intact Aldredian Frigate behind!”

A what? Mote passed Colonel Saito a surprised look as the group rushed through the dark hallways of the outpost. You found a Frigate?

The Colonel nodded. “Yeah. But if we can’t even leave with it…”

«I-I, I-I’ve tried to b-bring it online!» Kirstin responded over the communicator, «b-but, um, like I said e-earlier, i-it needs some kind of, um, some kind of key!»

“Then we need to find a way around it,” Commander Rabine pressed. “The path back to the Interstellar Gate won’t be safe. By the time we could reach the Gate, the Drakkars will likely be in position to bombard us into oblivion.”

We’ll still have time, though, right? Danielle questioned as she effortlessly kept pace with Saito, Rabine, Mote, and the Black Suns soldiers. Orbital Bombardment rounds take a while to actually travel between the ship and the planet, don’t they?

“If you use projectiles or missiles, yes. But the Drakkars use lasers,” Rabine countered. “The moment the Drakkars are in position, we’re dead!”

If it’s escaping we’re worried about, then we have that covered, Mote declared, and nodded toward Danielle. She can get us all out of here, easily.

Well, normally, yeah… Danielle frowned. I can still use my powers here, but it’s a lot more draining… I don’t know if I could manage something as big as a Frigate…

“That’s another subject entirely.” Rabine glanced between the three Earthians, an irritated look on her face. “For both of you to be able to use your powers in Dead Space, and for them to be so powerful, at that… you have to have an Ayas on you, or be using the Chaos State. But SERRCom’s only supposed to have one Ayas, so where the hell did you get the other one?”

Mote grimaced internally. Originally, upon learning that he and the other members of the Eximius Vir could still use their powers in Dead Space, he had every intention of following Director Hamasaki’s directive to not display said powers in front of the Black Suns — but when he arrived on the field of battle and found Saito staring down a Drakkar tank, he decided that saving the Colonel’s life was more important than keeping secrets. But now, it meant that he had drawn the Black Suns’ suspicion, and rightfully so.

But… we don’t have any Ayas, Danielle responded cluelessly. And… what’s the Chaos State?

Rabine looked back at Danielle in surprise. …Say that again. ‘Chaos State’, exactly like that.

Uh…? Chaos State…?

The Commander’s gaze hardened; Mote had no idea what was going through her mind at that moment. But before either she or Danielle could continue the conversation, Saito slowed to a stop and gestured upward. “Let’s save this discussion for later. We’re here.”

Mote glanced around the small subterranean bay they now stood in, and then looked up at the ship before him. She was much smaller than a typical Frigate, but she did appear to be some sort of spacecraft, considering the massive engines that adorned her aft section. What’s more is that she didn’t truly appear to be aerodynamic at all, and sported a fair amount of armor all over her ‘t’-shaped silhouette. But as Mote stared at the craft further, he realized that something about her seemed… familiar.

Hey, Mote! Danielle drew his attention as she pointed at a sword-shaped insignia painted on part of the ship. Look, that emblem! It’s the same as the one on your armor!

“It’s a good thing that you’re here,” Saito added. “MacTavish thinks that this ship needs a key to start, and the way I see it, you’re our best bet.”

What…? Mote stared at the Colonel incredulously. It was certainly true that Mote seemed to be the only one capable of interacting with any of the Aldredian artifacts that they had found so far, but to so quickly jump to the conclusion that he was necessary…?

Mote? MOTE!

He glanced over to the side, where he noticed Kate disembark from the ship and run over to him.

“Kate? You’re already here?” Saito questioned.

Yeah, Mark and I saved the asses of the other two groups and booked it here when we realized what was going on, she replied, and then turned toward Mote, her eyes glistening eagerly. Mote, you have to turn this thing on! Just think of all the shit we could find! Aldredian spacecraft design, engine design, FTL Drive design, weapons design, computers design—

“A way off this planet alive?” Rabine interjected.

Kate rolled her eyes. Yeah, sure, that too. But seriously, Mote! Move your ass and turn the damn thing on already!

Mote simply stared at her incredulously. What? And just why the hell do I have to—?

“You should do what she says, just this once,” Saito urged as he began moving toward the ship’s embarkation ramp. “Right now, it seems that this ship is our only ticket out of here. And we don’t know how long we have until the Drakkars obliterate this base, so let’s get moving!”

“Let’s go!” Rabine ordered sharply, prompting the Black Suns soldiers to follow her onto the ship after Saito. Danielle jogged after them, followed by Kate as she began dragging Mote by his arm.

Hey! I can walk, he snapped as he yanked his arm out of her grasp.

Then fucking act like it! she shouted back as she rushed toward the ramp. If we all die here before I get a chance to study all this sweet new tech, then I’ll fucking murder your ass!

Tch… Mote glared after her, but began jogging toward the ramp all the same. He knew that, objectively speaking, she and the Colonel were right. Given everything they knew, if anything could activate the ship, it was Mote. But even so, something about the overall situation and the craft itself put him on edge. …Or maybe it’s just this constant draining sensation I’ve been feeling, he thought uneasily. …It’s not unlike what I felt when I fought those two robots yesterday. But I’ve never felt this before when in a CENT field… I guess Dead Space is just that different.

As he finished his thoughts and ran aboard, he took a quick look around himself. The interior of the craft seemed surprisingly spacious given her exterior size, but it was also clear that the ship wasn’t built to ferry around more than a couple dozen individuals. Between the Black Suns, CSF-1, the other SERRCom soldiers that had been sent to reinforce the base, and the Eximius Vir, the craft looked to be filled to capacity.

Mote! In here!

He glanced to his right, through a small doorway. Through it, he could see what looked to be a bridge — at least, there was a massive window through which he could see the walls of the subterranean bay. He quickly approached and stepped into the room, glancing left and right to acknowledge Kirstin and Kate, who were sitting at two consoles toward the back of the bridge — and then his attention was drawn toward the center of the room as a giant blue sword emblem on the floor began to glow softly, and the chair located directly in the center of the bridge slowly turned to face him.

“I-it… it’s working!” Kirstin remarked in surprise.

Hurry up and sit your ass down! Kate exclaimed. We’ve burned enough time as is—!

As she spoke, the entire base shook tremendously, throwing Mote off his feet. His world went spinning, and as he attempted to reorient himself, he noticed an abundance of falling dust and collapsing debris through the bridge window. Damn it! We’re out of time! Quickly, he scrambled into the captain’s chair, bracing himself against another tremor as the chair slowly spun to face the front of the bridge — and then, without any action on Mote’s part, the helmet of his armor materialized over his head. The hell?! he exclaimed in confusion, but then began to notice info boxes and various other pieces of information appearing on the helmet’s heads-up display.

Mote! The hell are you doing?!

I don’t know, damn it— Mote froze suddenly as a stream of information began flowing into his mind. He couldn’t recognize most of it, as it was steeped in the Aldredian language — of which he had no knowledge. It passed through one ear and out the other, metaphorically speaking, and only served to irritate him as he found it difficult to focus on anything else. But then, an image appeared on his HUD, overlaid on the bridge window to make it seem like a screen.

An image of a woman with olive skin and red hair, wearing regal armor bearing the insignia of a sword.

That’s…! he muttered in awe, but trailed off as the image began moving, and the woman began to speak. Mote couldn’t understand a word out of her mouth, but as the video continued to play, he couldn’t help but watch. The woman didn’t appear to be much older than he was now, but still she carried herself with the air of an experienced general; her voice was smooth and calm, yet also steady and strong… even without knowing what she was saying, Mote felt himself mesmerized. Just who was this person…? And why did she appear in his vision?

Mote!!

Agh! Mote flinched as he felt something whack him upside the head. He glanced to his side, where he found Kate standing over him with her hand poised to strike him again. The hell are you doing?!he questioned irately.

You zoned out, dumbass! Kate retorted. We don’t have time for you to be sleeping on the job!

Oh. R-right…

God, what’s the matter with you? We’re all about to fucking die, here!

I know, I know! Mote snapped. He glanced back toward the video still playing on his HUD and made a motion to dismiss it, at which point it disappeared. The stream of information into his mind ceased as well, though one final piece of information somehow managed to stick despite the language barrier: the name and class of the ship. …We’re on a Corvette.

“A-a what…?” Kirstin questioned.

That’s… that’s what it says. This ship is a Blade of Raen-class Corvette, named the… ‘Raenaros’—

We don’t have time for the fucking name, dumbass! Kate snapped. You turned on the ship, great! But now we can see the sensors, and guess fucking what? There’s a fucking Drakkar Battleship in orbit! So how’s about we get a fucking move on, huh?!

Mote opened his mouth to retort, but another tremor cut him off — followed by a loud clang as a massive chunk of metal fell onto the ship from above and tumbled off past the bridge window. The Electrotechnic needed no further prodding at that point; he promptly focused on the task before him, that is, getting the ship to move. …But how do I even do that…? he wondered uneasily, and then — just as he did — his field of view went dark and was soon replaced with a view of the subterranean bay that contained the Corvette, and all of the rubble that was steadily falling into it. The hell? Am I seeing through the ship’s sensors, now? Is this some kind of neural dive interface…?

A sickening crack reverberated through the bay as the southern wall shattered and began to buckle. The loud sound of a metallic clang soon followed, as a massive hatch just above the ship began to open. Wait… I can see all of this happening at the same time. It’s like I can see everything surrounding the ship, simultaneously. This is weird… but I don’t have the time to marvel at this. How the hell do I get this thing to move?

The Corvette’s embarkation ramp and landing pads promptly retracted into the ship’s hull as she began hovering in place. Just as Mote noted that the ship seemed to have active anti-gravity systems, he felt a wave of weakness wash over his body, followed by a constant draining sensation. The feeling wasn’t new — in fact, Mote had felt constantly drained ever since setting foot in Dead Space. He had simply assumed that the sensation was associated with Dead Space itself, but as the strain on his body increased in proportion to the number of active systems on the Corvette, he began to have second thoughts. Somehow, the ship seemed to be siphoning energy from him.

An alarm sounded in the bridge, followed by an arrow indicator in Mote’s field of vision that pointed upward. It seemed as though the Corvette was being targeted — and with the knowledge that there was a Drakkar Battleship in orbit, Mote knew just how bad that was. He promptly activated the ship’s shielding, momentarily faltering as the strain on his body increased even further, and then engaged the ship’s engines. By this point, the giant hatch in the ceiling had mostly retracted, revealing a large shaft going straight up to the sky above, at which point Mote realized that there had actually been several hatches throughout the shaft — and most of them had been blown open.

Looks like laser damage, Kate remarked. Mote could tell from the direction of her voice that she was still on the bridge with him, but since his vision was currently decoupled from his body, he couldn’t help but feel intensely disoriented.

…I thought orbital bombardments were supposed to be more powerful than this, he responded as he slowly began to raise the ship through the shaft.

Lasers tend to be diffused, diffracted, or deflected by atmosphere, which is why most of the galaxy uses railguns or missiles for orbital bombardments. If the laser isn’t close enough to its target, or isn’t allowed to charge to full power before firing, then the resulting beam can be pretty damn weak. There was a pause from Kate; Mote couldn’t see what she was doing, but eventually she continued, seems like the Drakkars started firing their orbital strike laser before they were actually close enough to take out this outpost in a single blow. But they’re approaching that position soon, so this next strike—!

As soon as the words left her mouth, an incredible burst of energy exploded across the Corvette’s shields. The ship rocked violently under the blow; Mote could feel his body almost get thrown from the captain’s chair, and he could hear many of the soldiers in the compartment behind the bridge stumbling and attempting to keep their footing. An indicator appeared in Mote’s vision, showing him a sequence of symbols that he could only recognize as being a part of the Aldredian script. Shit. It’s probably telling me just how much shield charge we have left, but I can’t even read it! Even without being able to read the symbols, however, the multitude of blinking icons that appeared across his field of view was enough to indicate that the ship was in trouble.

Mote—!

I know! he shouted, cutting off Kate. Everyone, hold tight! We’re getting out of here! With but a thought, he began to reorient the ship. Until that moment, she had simply been raising through the air using her anti-gravity generators while still being parallel to the ground, but Mote rapidly flipped her around such that the engines were facing downward, and the bridge window facing up the shaft — the shaft that was beginning to collapse due to the damage sustained from the previous laser strike. The Corvette continued to raise through the air at a sluggish pace, but then, Mote engaged the engines.

A shock reverberated through the craft as the engines roared to life; Mote promptly began feeding more power into the inertial dampeners in an attempt to keep everyone aboard safe from the high g-forces of spacecraft acceleration, and as he did so, he recognized a peculiar facet of the Corvette’s design: despite being located in Dead Space, he was easily able to route his electricity powers through the craft. And immediately after that, he realized that he had figured out the location of the inertial dampener systems without even actually looking for them. …This ship has plenty of surprises, that’s for sure. Now let’s see how it handles in an actual flight!

Mote began pushing even more power into the engines, ignoring the further increase in bodily strain as the ship accelerated out of the shaft and into the clear skies above. As soon as he was clear of the shaft, an alarm began sounding in his ear, prompting him to bank hard to the right — just as the entire building below, as well as a large chunk of the forest surrounding it, was obliterated by an incredible blast of energy. The blast wave rocked the ship and knocked Mote off course, but he managed to adjust and swing the Corvette around to begin ascending again. Damn, that was close

A few moments later, an ‘X’ appeared in his vision over a part of the sky, surrounded by three triangles that slowly rotated around it. The hell…? Kate, can you see what I’m seeing?

Yeah, there’s some stuff showing up as holograms on the bridge window! Are you talking about the targeting reticle?

That’s what that is?

It’s a big fucking ‘X’ with shapes rotating around it, what the hell else would it be?!

What’s it targeting? The Battleship?

No, clearly it’s targeting your brain, because you sure seem to have lost it!

The hell are you—?

The ‘X’ promptly shifted in color to red and began flashing. Mote didn’t need a primer in the Aldredian language to realize what that could mean — so he promptly banked left just as a burst of energy hit the side of the Corvette. The symbols that had appeared after the first time the shields were struck shifted to red and began flashing, eliciting a scowl from Mote; the shields were obviously getting dangerously low, and the ship had increased the amount of energy she was siphoning off of Mote to recharge them. And then, just as he refocused on continuing the ship’s ascent out of the atmosphere — now nearly four kilometers over the ground — a large number of smaller ‘X’s began to appear in his field of vision, as though emerging from the large ‘X’.

Shit, Drakkar fighters! Kate exclaimed.

Just what we needed, Mote muttered.

Without knowing what kind of FTL Drive this ship has, you’ll need to get out of the atmosphere before we try engaging it, in order to not risk us fucking blowing up! Which means you’ll have to fight them off!

Of course I will. As if we could ever make a clean escape…!

Mote focused on all of the targets that now appeared on his HUD. He could neither read nor interpret any of the symbols, so he wasn’t quite sure how fast the Corvette was moving, or how quickly they were accelerating — but judging by how small the crater where the outpost once stood now looked, Mote guessed that they were at least a dozen kilometers high. The Drakkar Battleship and her fighters were still too far away to visually see, but as the Corvette continued to accelerate, Mote could tell that the distance was rapidly shrinking.

The targeting reticle over the large ‘X’ began flashing again, prompting Mote to quickly change directions. A moment later, the ‘X’ ceased flashing, though there was no other indication that the Battleship had fired on him. Mote scowled in frustration; he hated fighting against laser weaponry for this reason alone. If a laser missed you, there was basically no way to know that you had been targeted in the first place. On the other hand, he was currently up against a Battleship — and the high-caliber weaponry of large spacecraft were notorious for being incredibly inaccurate against small, fast-moving targets like fightercraft or Frigates. Now that the Corvette had reached a healthy speed, and was high enough in the sky to even see the curvature of the horizon, Mote was hopeful that the lasers from the Drakkar Battleship had become far less of a threat.

A dozen small energy blasts peppered the shields around the bow of the Corvette, drawing Mote’s attention to the Drakkar fighters — which now represented the main obstacles between him and escape. The fighters still weren’t close enough to visually see, but that they were managing to hit him with their lasers regardless was sign enough that a fight was imminent. Just what weapons does this ship even have, Mote wondered, and began rapidly looking over the craft for anything he could use. A moment later, conduits all across the outer hull of the craft began to glow and spark, while two turrets extended out of the horizontal engine banks on either side of the ship. Seeing that the Corvette did indeed have weapons, Mote began to turn the craft toward the incoming Drakkar fighters while still continuing his race to the edge of space.

By the time the deep blue sky had faded to a dark black, the smaller targeting reticles on Mote’s HUD began flashing, and turned blue. Without even the slightest clue as to what that meant, Mote simply hoped for the best and mentally commanded the ship’s guns to fire. Moments later, the two cannons on either side of the ship began to glow, drawing energy from both the ship and Mote for several seconds until finally letting lose with two deep blue beams of light.

Chaos Cannons! Kate exclaimed, just like the Genesis! But how the hell are they working in Dead Space?!

Mote continued to focus on the incoming fighters as the two turrets continually fired their beams of energy, gradually dissipating a few moments later. Once they had shut down, Mote quickly counted the number of remaining fighters — and scowled when he found that they were all still present. The range on those cannons is abysmal—! he muttered, but cut himself off as the opposing fighters finally fell into visual range.

Half a second later, two fighters whizzed past the Corvette; Mote was barely able to recognize their presence before they began turning through space to swing back at the Corvette. A handful of other fighters kept their distance, swooping down to approach the ship from the sides as they opened fire with their myriad laser cannons. Mote promptly pitched the bow down and then rolled to the left, hoping to give chase to some of the fighters. He momentarily recalled some of the vehicle operation training he had received a number of years ago; he knew some of the basics of piloting both air-breathing and space-based fightercraft, but nothing in-depth — and he was currently flying a Corvette, not an actual fighter. Well, it’s all I have to go on for now!

Ignoring the continued strain on his body, Mote forced more power into the Chaos Cannons, charging them in preparation for another attack. He then looked over the fighters in search of a target; there appeared to be over two dozen of them, swarming around and above and below the Corvette as they made passes to attack with their lasers. Mote could no longer make out the details of the outpost below or the forest surrounding it; instead he could only see the general green and brown of the planet’s landmasses, and the faint blue gradient of its atmosphere fading into space. He estimated that he had passed the planet’s equivalent of the Kármán line, and with that, he locked into the mindset of a spaceborne fighter. With a single thought, he cut power to all of the engines except the engine farthest over on the starboard side — and then, to his surprise, the respective engine on the opposite side of the craft spun around and began firing in the opposite direction, rapidly accelerating the craft into a yaw-wise spiral. So the two far engines can pitch and rotate on their own? Good! That’ll make fast maneuvering a lot easier! A moment later, Mote fired the Chaos Cannons, noting that the beams seemed to only reach about a hundred meters out as they tore into two nearby Drakkar fighters and completely obliterated them. Mote then cut power to all the engines, allowing the Corvette’s inertia to carry her up and into space as she spun around.

The swarm of Drakkar fighters began to adjust to the Corvette’s heading, and Mote noted that they were doing their best to stay out of the firing cone of the Chaos Cannons. He cut power to them, noticing that as he did, the conduits across the craft dimmed and ceased to spark. Curiosity nearly compelled him to investigate further, but a Drakkar fighter slamming head-first into the Corvette’s shield and a following screeching alert siren snapped his attention back to the battle. He spun the ship around to face her engines toward the planet and pushed them all to full burn for a few moments, so as to increase their steadily dropping upward speed, and then he snuffed out the four propulsion engines and engaged the two vectoring engines to spin the craft around toward a group of four approaching fighters. They immediately began to disperse, peeling off in an attempt to evade, but the Corvette proved to be faster — Mote fired the Chaos Cannons once again as he spun the bow in a small circle, sweeping the beams through space and intercepting all four Drakkar fighters. He then pitched the bow down and rolled the craft to target four other fighters that had been approaching from behind, and fired the Chaos Cannons once more, ripping through their engines and annihilating them. This is… much easier than I expected. Is the ship auto-targeting and maneuvering along with my inputs…?

By then, the rest of the Drakkar fighters were beginning to back off and out of the range of the Chaos Cannons entirely. Mote quickly maneuvered the bow of the craft around to tag as many fighters as he could, spinning the ship like a gyroscope and sweeping the beams of Chaos Energy across space to snipe another five fightercraft. The rest of the craft managed to escape his reach, however, and began swarming around the Corvette over half a kilometer out. Just as Mote began to weigh his options, the ‘X’ marking the Drakkar Battleship began again to flash. What—? Shit! He immediately spun the craft around, managing to minimize the Corvette’s cross section relative to the Battleship. A moment passed of nothing happening, and then two; then, the ‘X’ ceased blinking. Did it miss? Or did it not fire in the first place? Damn it, this is why I hate fighting against lasers!

Mote briefly turned his attention to the environment around him. Beyond the swarming fighters was the planet below, the curvature of which was readily apparent from the ship’s high altitude. This has to be high enough… good. Time to get the hell out of here! With but a thought, Mote made to activate the Corvette’s FTL Drive, prepared to jump into Subspace and escape the Drakkar onslaught.

Suddenly, a new alert appeared on his HUD. He had no idea what it said, but a wave of unease crashed over him as he heard Kate swear behind him.

What is it? he questioned warily.

What a fucking useless piece of shit! What the fuck!

Kate, what the hell is going on?

Mote could easily hear the scowl in her voice as she replied, this ship doesn’t have an FTL Drive!

…What?

I mean what I fucking said! No Chaos Drive, no Subspace Drive, nothing! This ship can’t enter FTL!

You must be kidding. How the hell did it get here, then?

I mean, it’s not the first time a spaceship’s been built without FTL capabilities. A lot of early SERRCom Frigates didn’t have FTL Drives either, and had to tether themselves to another ship to go anywhere… but still! Mote heard the impact of a fist against metal. To come this far…! Fucking damn it!

Just as Mote made to respond, the targeting reticle on the Drakkar Battleship began flashing again — at the same moment that all of the fighters, simultaneously, turned and accelerated directly at the Corvette. Shit! Hold on! Mote shouted as he spun the craft around again, this time re-engaging the propulsion engines to accelerate perpendicular to the Battleship’s trajectory, in line with the surface of the planet below. He then prepared to cut out the propulsion engines to start attacking the approaching fighters, but before he could, a spectacular flash of energy filled his vision as the Corvette rocked under a massive impact. The strain on Mote’s body spontaneously lightened, prompting an involuntary sigh of relief — and then a frustrated scowl as he realized why the strain had disappeared.

The Corvette’s shields were down.

Mote, the shields—!

I know, I know! He fought to regain control of the craft as the momentum from the laser blast she had just took sent her spiraling. Dozens of smaller lasers from the surrounding fighters found their mark against the Corvette’s hull in that time, scarring her armor and taking out the starboard propulsion engine in the process. Mote responded by throwing the Corvette into a controlled series of rolls and pitches, firing the Chaos Cannons at careful intervals to take out another eight fighters as they swarmed around him — but then, one of the Drakkar lasers hit the port-side vectoring engine’s anchor point, obliterating the joint and tearing the engine off of the Corvette. The ship quickly fell into an uncontrolled spiral that Mote struggled to correct, but with only one vectoring engine, the craft became extraordinarily sluggish.

And then, the targeting reticle marking the Drakkar Battleship began again to blink.

Damn it, not now…! Mote fought the Corvette’s inertia in an attempt to evade the next laser shot, but with two engines disabled — one of them a vectoring engine — he knew he would never be able to move the ship in time. He then looked off to the side; the remaining Drakkar fighters were swooping in for another laser run, presumably hoping to pick off whatever remained after the Battleship’s weapons fire. An exasperated sigh escaped Mote’s lips; there weren’t any further options for him at that point. There was nothing else he could do.

A flash of light momentarily distracted Mote, but he quickly realized that it couldn’t have been any Drakkar laser fire. One split-second later, an additional two targeting reticles appeared on his HUD as two large steel-gray spacecraft shot out of a tear in space and onto the scene. Mote stared at them in surprise as the nearest ship simply smashed through the incoming Drakkar fighters with her superior size and mass, and the other drew the fire of the Drakkar Battleship.

«This is Chief Captain Krick, of the ESC Genesis! Unknown ship, identify yourself!»

Mote’s vision still remained outside of the Corvette, so he couldn’t see any of the Corvette’s bridge or even his own body — yet he could still feel himself involuntarily smile and relax as the Captain’s voice reached his ears. He promptly opened up a line of communication with Genesis. This is Lieutenant Emerson, of the Raenaros! This ship is under my control!

«Oh, it’s you. Well, better you than those no-face bastards.»

What are you doing here? I thought the Genesis and Origin were headed back to Earth!

«Of course not, dumbass! Standard procedure is to park our asses just outside of Dead Space after we’ve spent any amount of time in it, and make sure our ships are fine. Colonel Saito just got fucking lucky that we were still there when a Drakkar ship showed up on our long range sensors! …Doesn’t explain why you’re here, now that I think about it. What the hell happened to the Colonel?»

He’s on board this ship, along with the rest of the SERRCom soldiers, the Eximius Vir, and the Black Suns.

«No, dumbass, I know that. But our life sign sensors say that all but four of you are fucking unconscious! The hell’s going on down there?»

…What…?

Mote heard rustling behind him, and then a sudden impact against his shoulder. The hell do you mean, ‘what’? Kate questioned incredulously, Mote, those moves you were pulling were so fucking high-g, I’m surprised anyone here is still fucking alive! You could feel those turns even through the fucking inertial dampeners! Shit, even I almost blacked out there. How the hell did you not realize that?!

Oh… shit. I can only see outside the Corvette, I didn’t know—

«Well as long as they aren’t dead,» Krick interjected in a huff. «We can go over the details later, but your goddamn ship — if you can even call it that — looks like it’s limping to a junk yard! Can you fly out of there on your own?»

It can fly, Kate replied, but this worthless trash heap doesn’t have its own FTL Drive!

«You’ve got to be god damn kidding me! Figures. We’ll clear out fighter bay one so you can dock up. Don’t you fucking blow up before then! Krick out!»

Mote sat in silence as he observed the two Earthian Battlecruisers engage with the Drakkar Battleship. Mere moments ago, he thought he had been staring death in the face — now that the cavalry had arrived and the enemy’s attention was off him, he finally realized that his body had grown so tense that his muscles all over were throbbing. Or maybe that’s just from the ship draining my energy…

His thoughts were interrupted as he felt another rap on his shoulder, this one softer than before. Hey, he heard Kate’s voice. For an untrained bastard flying a useless piece of shit, those moves weren’t half-bad.

…Not if I almost killed everyone on board without even realizing it.

Oh c’mon, I’m trying to compliment you. Suck it up and accept it! You’re so bad at this.

Some compliment, that you called me an ‘untrained bastard’.

Well you are. Literally. Well, who knows about the bastard part, but I’d be willing to bet we all classify.

Mote simply shook his head in mild amusement and leaned back in his chair. He sighed again in relief; he could still only see the exterior of the Corvette, but now that the tension of the battle had passed, it no longer felt as disorienting as it did at first. In fact, as he looked out over the green and blue planet below, and the soft blue gradient of its atmosphere, he felt a wave of post-adrenaline tranquility fall over him. Even the most beautiful of scenes can become a battlefield

A new message spontaneously appeared on his HUD, distracting him from his thoughts. The new message appeared in blue text, so Mote assumed it wasn’t urgent — that is, until he heard Kate gasp behind him. …Since when could you read Aldredian? he questioned.

I grabbed Kirstin’s AR glasses after she fell unconscious. But holy shit, Mote. This new coordinate is… just, holy fucking shit! Fucking jackpot, bitch!

What? What is it?

Literally all we could ever hope for when it comes to Aldredian tech! The gleeful grin on Kate’s face was obvious through just her voice alone. Mote, if this message is telling the truth — and it damn well better be! — then we’ve got a new coordinate. And this one leads straight to a whole fucking shipyard!

Chapter 26 – Ancient Chaos

30 Minutes Later

Silence. Eerie silence.

Mote shifted uncomfortably, his grasp on his blue and silver battlehammer tightening as he watched the corridor in front of him. No movement

It had been twenty minutes since CSF-1 achieved communication contact with Genesis and relayed Kate’s plan. To say that Captain Krick wasn’t thrilled would be an incredible understatement, but Saito eventually convinced him to come around — even if only because of the fact that the Dreadnought’s Subspace Drive was so large that it couldn’t possibly fit aboard Genesis. Any work on it would have to be done while still aboard the Dreadnought, regardless of if it was attached to Raenaros.

Silence. Uncomfortable silence.

Mote dismissed his hammer and clenched his fists, sparks flying and wreathing his arms as he watched the corridor in front of him. Still no movement

It had been fifteen minutes since Krick deactivated Genesis’s beaming jammer for just the split-second required to beam CSF-1 onto the Battlecruiser, and the Dreadnought’s Subspace Drive into the fighter bay that contained Raenaros. However, that split-second was just long enough for the Drakkars to beam in another large squadron of fighters — but this group didn’t go after Genesis. Instead, they immediately turned around and focused on the shipyard’s shield emitters. To everyone’s surprise, the emitters seemed to have shields of their own, but the focused fire from the Drakkar fighters would be sure to drain the emitters of power at a rapid pace. It couldn’t be long before the shipyard shield failed now.

Silence. Deafening silence.

Mote crossed his arms impatiently, glancing over his shoulder at the docking bay behind him before turning back around to watch the corridor in front of him. Still nothing

It had been ten minutes since Kate requested that he disable the artificial gravity generators in the docking bay, to allow her to maneuver around the bay more easily. The Dreadnought’s Subspace Drive was truly massive — over a football field in length, and at least a quarter of that in the other dimensions. It easily dwarfed Raenaros in size, but Kate claimed that she could make the system work anyways. Mote simply had to pilot the Corvette to just above the Drive and then activate the ship’s newfound object fabrication system to link the Corvette to the Drive. This was where shutting down the artificial gravity generators came in; it was simply one less force to put stress on the connectors between the Drive and the Corvette. Then again, wouldn’t maneuvering put even more stress on the connectors than a single g? Mote mused, I suppose Kate must be planning to extend the Corvette’s inertial dampeners to include the Drive, then…?

Footsteps. Echoing footsteps.

Mote snapped his attention forward, summoning his battlehammer back into his hands as he glared forward. He had hoped that the half hour of relative inactivity would continue, but he had suspected that it wouldn’t. That’s why he was standing guard in the hallway, after all — to protect Raenaros from the Drakkar approaching slowly down the corridor.

To protect it from Telregina.

The Faction Leader walked steadily, holding a gun in her left hand and a polehammer in her right, that she casually rested on her shoulder. She glared forward at Mote, locking eyes with him; he involuntarily shuddered as he beheld her and her black and silver robing befit of a regent — though torn and singed after her fight with Kate. Both of his previous encounters with her had resulted in her immediately fleeing, but now she approached him openly… just what was she hiding?

Without moving a single muscle, Mote launched a fierce lightning strike at Telregina. The burst of light momentarily blinded him as it lit up the hallway brighter than the brightest day, and the immediately resulting thunderclap deafened him and left his ears ringing for several seconds. The blow clearly struck the Drakkar, as her robes were even further damaged than they were previously. But Telregina herself remained unscathed and unfazed.

((Over a hundred thousand years))

What…? Mote narrowed his eyes as the Drakkar stopped approaching around ten meters away from him. She maintained her casual stance, shifting her weight to rest on one leg while she kept her eyes on Mote.

((Over a hundred thousand years have passed since our war with the Aldredas,)) she continued, slowly sweeping her gaze across the corridor before returning her attention to Mote. ((It has been over a hundred thousand years since I last laid eyes on a craft of Aldredian construction… over a hundred thousand years since the Aldredas fell… over a hundred thousand years since I last laid eyes… on that hammer.))

Mote glanced over at his battlehammer. The long pole, the intricate blue and silver designs, the faintly glowing blue orb and the massive hammerhead in which it sat… there was no doubt that the weapon’s appearance was unique. He had always thought that his ability to summon this hammer — and Mark, Kate, and Danielle’s ability to summon their own respective weapons — was simply a form of Formtechnism, a Chaotic type that entailed fabricating items on the spot out of thin air. But after watching Telregina’s own Formtechnism, and how the weapons she fabricated were different every time, Mote grew doubtful. His hammer was always the same, exactly the same, and he had never been able to summon a different weapon. A thought flashed through his mind that the hammer might be similar to the Aldredian technology that seemed only to respond to him, but he quickly dismissed that thought, and shouted his reasoning to the Drakkar. Impossible. I’ve only been alive for 22 years; this hammer can’t possibly have anything to do with the Aldredas. You must be misremembering.

((…Is that so,)) Telregina responded dryly. ((Then how did you know this shipyard was here? How can you wear that armor? How can you interface with all of this accursed Raen Technology?!))

Raen Technology? Is she talking about all the stuff that only responds to me…? After a second, Mote simply shrugged. Who knows, he replied casually, if this ‘Raen Technology’ is gene-based, well, it is a common theory that the Aldredas interbred with the ancestors of the modern galaxy.

((Is that what you think? How absurd.)) She crouched down into a battle stance, throwing away her warhammer and summoning a second gun in its place. ((But if you insist on being insolent, self-proclaimed descendant of the Aldredas, then I will partake in the pleasure of seizing your Ciei. Then, I will know all that I seek!))

Mote scowled, but had no time to respond as the Drakkar snapped her guns to the ready and fired. His armor’s shielding absorbed the blasts, but the force still staggered him as Telregina aimed her guns backwards and fired once more, using the blasts to propel herself forward. With little time to think, Mote firmly grasped his hammer and supercharged it with electricity before swinging at the Drakkar’s approaching form. She quickly brought her guns up to block, but the moment he made contact, Mote forced all of the charge in his hammer through her guns and body. The resulting electric blast flung the two combatants away from each other, tumbling through the air and to the ground before jumping back to their feet in a race to recover first. Mote promptly discarded his hammer and shot another blast of lightning at Telregina, only for the Drakkar to take the blow head-on and charge forward with a set of newly-materialized laser cannons. Blasts of laser fire immediately began exploding on and around Mote as Telregina fired wildly while continuing her bullrush toward her opponent; Mote’s first instinct was to dodge out of the way, but just before he did, he remembered that the docking bay was just behind him — and if Telregina destroyed the Subspace Drive, then the shipyard and its contents were as good as hers. So instead, he braced himself and held out his hands, charging his right hand with an incredible level of voltage as he prepared to intercept Telregina’s charge.

Once she closed to within a few meters, the Drakkar tossed her weapons aside and materialized a massive club. To Mote’s surprise, she stomped hard on the ground to arrest herself of most of her forward momentum and then channeled the rest into swinging her giant weapon. Mote quickly reached out with with his hands to intercept it, making sure to touch the weapon with both hands simultaneously — and immediately forcing a massive current through the mace from his right hand to his left, practically detonating the weapon mid-swing. Debris smacked against the walls and Telregina staggered back under the blow, at which point Mote quickly pressed the advantage.

Summoning his massive battlehammer back into his hands, he swung once to force the Drakkar back, and then sent an incredible electric charge into the floor and walls of the corridor in an effort to keep her away. Telregina seemed only mildly annoyed by her electrified surroundings, but she quickly backpedaled regardless as she fabricated a humongous cannon onto her shoulder. The cannon’s interior began to glow with energy, before firing a split-second later; Mote managed to predict the Drakkar’s aim and block the laser blast with his hammer, but the force of the blast flung the hammer out of his grasp and staggered him backwards. He quickly dove to the ground to evade another blast before firing off a powerful electromagnetic pulse at the cannon that immediately destroyed it — only for Telregina to instantly materialize a new, working version of the same weapon and take aim.

With a scowl, Mote threw himself to the other side of the corridor to avoid being hit by another laser blast, and then magnetically manipulated his hammer that lay on the ground behind him to float through the air — and then fling itself at Telregina. The Drakkar discarded her laser cannon and snatched the hammer out of the air, at which point she charged forward and managed to swing it once before Mote forced it to disappear from her hands and reappear in his. He then forced a tremendous amount of electrical current through the floor, part of the wall, the air around Telregina, and then the other wall. The raw power of the voltage he generated forced the air itself to become a conductor, allowing him to instantly launch Telregina backwards down the corridor like a bullet out of a railgun, slamming her into the wall nearly a hundred meters back and obliterating it. Mote couldn’t see her through the dust and falling debris of the annihilated wall, so he instead attempted to locate her by electric field — only for lasers to begin carving up the hallway around where he stood, tearing into the walls and flooring and blowing them to pieces.

Before Mote could react, the floor under him gave way and exploded downward; he quickly altered the magnetic charge of himself and the ceiling to secure himself in place, and then launched a fierce lightning blast toward Telregina’s previously known location — a blast so fierce that it bathed the hallway walls in white light, and generated such a ferocious thunder that Mote cringed from the pain in his ears. And yet, the moment after the lightning disappeared, Telregina launched herself down the hallway at such an incredible speed that Mote barely had time to react. She tossed aside a laser cannon midair and materialized a massive polehammer, swinging it toward Mote; he prepared to repel her with a blast of electricity, but just before her attack connected, she pulled a feint and tossed the weapon away before fabricating another massive laser cannon instead. His eyes wide with surprise, Mote immediately fired a lightning strike into the cannon in an effort to disable it, but the same moment he did, the Drakkar fired.

KRA-KOOOM

A deafening boom echoed through the corridor as Mote’s world went white, and his ears rang. The sensation of rushing air crossed his face, and he could feel himself tumbling — and a moment later, just as he was regaining his vision, he felt his armor’s helmet spontaneously materialize over his head. Hissing filled his ears for a brief moment, but as he looked around himself, all he could see — aside from the helmet’s HUD — was darkness. He quickly inspected his surroundings, searching for where he could be, but as he moved his body he felt a peculiar sensation of weightlessness. …Shit! I’m in space! That blast was strong enough to cause a hull breach? Seriously?! Mote glanced down at himself, and the armor he was wearing. Seems like this armor is graded for atmosphereless action. That’s good. But how the hell am I going to move myself around in zero-g? And where the hell is Telregina?

((Where are you…?))

Mote reeled from the sudden voice in his head, which contrasted greatly with the silence of space around him. She’s still alive?! Do Drakkars not need to breath? Or is this just part of being a Faction Leader…? He began searching the space around him, but found it difficult to see anything close to him. In the distance, Mote could see the other Aldredian ships in the shipyard as the light from the besieged shield fell upon them, but the area immediately around him lay within the Dreadnought’s shadow — and as such was nearly pitch black. Mote immediately sought to take advantage of the situation; he could still attempt to locate Telregina through her minute electric field, but he was virtually invisible to her.

That is, until he drifted far enough away from the Dreadnought to fall out of its shadow, his armor being lit as though under twilight.

((Ah! So you’re still alive?))

Damn it… Mote muttered to himself, summoning his battlehammer into his hands and honing his focus in an attempt to locate his opponent faster. Where is she…?

((You may wear the armor of the Aldredas, but you wield none of their skill or ability!))

A split-second later, Telregina rocketed into view, a massive hammer in hand. Mote scowled and attempted to block her incoming blow, but was unable to act fast enough as the Drakkar slammed her weapon into him and sent him tumbling through space. She then threw the weapon after him before fabricating a gun and firing it in the opposite direction of Mote, using its recoil to launch herself through space. With a swing of his hammer, Mote managed to intercept her and knock her off course, but the force of the blow altered his trajectory and sent him flying even further from the Dreadnought.

Damn! I can probably just summon and throw my hammer over and over again to move through space, but that won’t cut it when I’m on the clock! He glanced off to the side, where the giant white triangle that was the shipyard shield under fire stood. A moment later, however, a text box suddenly popped up on his HUD — just as a blast of energy exploded across his back and sent him reeling.

((Give in!))

Mote jumped as Telregina seemingly appeared out of no where, holding onto a missile with one hand and grabbing him firmly with the other as she flew past him. He immediately channeled an incredible current through the contact point, creating a burst of electricity that launched the two away from each other and detonated the missile, but the Drakkar quickly materialized a missile launcher, fired another missile, and then grabbed the projectile as it carried her right back to Mote. Immediately after she launched herself, Mote altered the voltage of the tip of the missile, inducing a current that detonated the warhead and changed Telregina’s trajectory — but not enough to put him out of her reach. ((Let down your shields)) She fabricated another hammer and smashed it into Mote’s chest, sending him careening downward. ((And give me your Ciei!))

Argh…! The Electrotechnic’s brow furrowed in frustration, his attention focused largely on the text in the middle of his HUD that refused to go away. What the hell is this? Is it asking for a prompt, or something? I can’t speak Aldredian, I only know one word—! His thoughts were interrupted as Telregina rocketed past him and then fired on him from behind, sending him flying toward a different part of the shipyard. Damn it, I can’t see anything with this alert. Just… fuck it! Kai!

Immediately after uttering the Aldredian word for “yes”, the text disappeared from his HUD. A moment later, he felt machinery on his back whir to life, followed quickly by a familiar draining sensation. Conduits along the armor began glowing a soft blue — and then Telregina appeared in his view, rocketing toward him with her hands outstretched. Reflexively, he made to dodge… and just before the Drakkar reached him, light burst forth from the back of his armor as he evaded her charge. What…? he muttered in confusion, and then glanced at his back, finding several bright golden holographic triangles hovering just behind him, arranged so as to appear similar to wings.

He promptly scowled. The hell? What edgelord designed this? A jet pack would’ve been fine—!

His attention was brought back to the battle as yet another blast of energy exploded across his energy shielding, flinging him in a new direction. However this time, instead of tumbling helplessly, Mote focused on the new armor system he had managed to activate; the golden wings behind him increased in brightness as he altered his momentum, gaining the ability to maneuver through space as though flying.

((So you finally managed to activate it! To take so long, but be able to do so anyways… the mysteries mount!))

Mote quickly searched the surrounding space for the Drakkar leader, summoning his hammer to himself and gradually increasing the charge in its head as he looked. A moment later, Telregina slammed into him from above, grabbing the back of his helmet and whirling around to chuck him at a nearby spacecraft. As he left her hands, he spun around and whipped his hammer through the air, just barely missing the Drakkar as she fired her gun at him and blasted herself away.

((By the end of this day, I will have your Ciei — and with it, the secrets you possess!))

Figures she’d only get mouthy when I have no way to respond. Mote scowled as he chased after her, randomly throwing himself to the left and right in an effort to evade incoming projectiles from a materialized railgun while simultaneously launching lightning strikes of his own, all of which Telregina seemed to ignore. A moment later, Mote counter-fired with an EMP, destroying Telregina’s railgun and giving him a moment of peace — but the Drakkar responded by simply tossing the weapon away and then materializing a dozen giant javelins around her, which then flung themselves at Mote at high speeds. He threw himself to the side to evade the weapons, and then continued dodging in lateral directions as Telregina continually launched volleys of javelins at him. Damn it, she can summon and throw weapons without even touching them? I can’t EMP or short-circuit javelins—!

«Mote! Mote, you there?»

What? Kate? Mote questioned incredulously as he continued defending against Telregina’s attacks. How are you—?

«Your armor has a comm system, dumbass! I can easily contact you from the Corvette. Which is all ready to go, by the way, so get your ass back here already!»

Right, understood! He blocked an incoming polehammer blow with the shaft of his own weapon before lashing out with it, taking advantage of its greater length to force Telregina to evade. As she flew away from him, he quickly spun around, located the Dreadnought’s docking bay, and sped off towards it. It’s almost a kilometer away, it looks like. Just how long have we been drifting here—?

((Where do you think you’re going?!))

Mote snapped his attention behind him just as Telregina flew past him and then launched herself into him from the front, knocking the both of them away from the Dreadnought. The Electrotechnic quickly threw her off of him and then chucked his hammer at her, but she simply deflected the weapon with her own before firing a newly-fabricated railgun and knocking Mote even further off course. She then tossed the weapon before Mote could disable it and materialized dozens of javelins that she rapidly launched at the Electrotechnic, each knocking him further off course. Shit! I can’t get back while she’s on me. I have to lose her, but how?

A split second after the hail of javelins ceased, Telregina was on him again, attempting to grapple him with one hand as she swung a mace at him with the other. He briefly fired up his armor’s maneuvering system to shoot himself up and out of her grasp, at which point she discarded her mace, materialized a flail with an incredibly long chain, and launched the ball out past Mote. He dodged away from the chain, then dodged in another direction to evade a second chain — only to be startled as Telregina suddenly fabricated a gun and launched herself forward, her left arm enveloped in a massive mechanical gauntlet as she slammed her palm into Mote’s chest. The blow sent an astounding amount of force and energy into Mote and his armor, generating a number of alerts on his HUD as the armor increased the amount of energy it siphoned off of him to account for the blow to its shields. Mote huffed wearily; the energy drain was greater now than it had been at any point during his time in Dead Space, but only for a brief moment — until Telregina struck him again with her gauntlet.

((Even Aldredian shields can’t stand against shield-breaker technology,)) the Drakkar declared haughtily as Mote reeled from the blow and the increased energy draw of his armor. ((I’d hoped for a more interesting battle… but now…)) She drew her arms back, fabricating a second gauntlet onto her right arm as she prepared to strike once more. ((Your secrets… will be mine!))

Shit—! Mote bit his lip to restore his focus in the face of Telregina’s approaching form. With little time to dodge, he instead reached out with his arm and grabbed one of the chains that were still floating around him, and then yanked the chain to wrap the end around one of the Drakkar’s gauntlets. As soon as there was contact, Mote shoved as much current as he could down the chain and into the gauntlet, immediately overloading it and blowing it to pieces. Startled from the blow, Telregina failed to land an attack with her other gauntlet — and as her body carried past Mote, he slammed his own palm into her chest and imparted an incredible electric blast that launched the two away from each other. He then spun around and took off toward the Dreadnought, but a moment later something wrapped around his ankle and yanked him back. Instantly, he funneled a charge through the object in an effort to stun Telregina, but she had already let go of the weapon and summoned another long-chained flail to snare Mote with. He managed to dodge this one, and then evade to the side again, only to be forced to summon his battlehammer to block Telregina’s own incoming hammer. I can’t even get a moment’s respite. Damn it! She always ran away before at the sight of my hammer, why not now?!

The sensation of a chain wrapping around his ankle appeared again, prompting Mote to shove as much current through it as he could. But this time, Telregina kept hold of the weapon and simply ignored the electricity as she summoned another shield-breaker gauntlet on her right arm and moved in to strike. His brow furrowed and his mouth curled into an impatient scowl, Mote reached out to intercept her hand with his own, generating a massive enough electrical shock to explode the gauntlet on impact. He then immediately grasped his hammer with both hands and smashed it down on the chain connecting him and the Drakkar, using a combination of shearing force and electric discharge to break the chain. Telregina quickly fabricated another gun in her hand and launched herself toward Mote just as he swung, slamming her own hammer down over his head just as he broke the chain and knocking him away. He immediately zeroed his momentum and then shot to the side to avoid the Drakkar as she charged at him, but she reached over and grabbed his ankle to prevent herself from flying off. She then tried to grab his other ankle with her other hand, materializing a half-dozen javelins that each independently attacked Mote as she did so — but Mote ignored the weapons as they crashed down over his shields. Quickly, he curled up and grabbed Telregina’s free hand with his own before generating a massive current in an effort to drive the Drakkar away. Her hand eventually released his ankle, but just as he thought himself free, she fabricated another gauntlet and attempted to attack. Mote intercepted her fist with his own, resulting in the two vying for control of the grapple as Mote forced tremendous voltages into Telregina, and her gauntlet continuously drained the charge off of his energy shielding.

((I take back what I said earlier. This exchange just now has been interesting)) Her eyes narrowed, glinting with vicious glee. ((But now))

A flash of light from the side startled Mote, followed by an eerie darkness… the same darkness that had shrouded the shipyard before the Drakkars attacked. Mote snapped his attention to his left, to the part of the shipyard shield that had been under siege — the part of the shield that had just given way.

((This yard, and everything within, is MINE!))

She jerked her gauntleted fist forward, momentarily overpowering Mote and slamming her palm into his chest. Alerts and alarm beeps began sounding inside the helmet, and Mote’s HUD turned red as it seemed that every aspect of his armor was screaming at him to move. And move, he tried — but the golden wings dimmed, almost fading completely as the armor struggled to keep itself active by draining energy from Mote, energy that he wasn’t sure that he had. Instinctively, he tried shoving a high voltage across the armor in an effort to raise its power levels, but the electricity didn’t help. It seemed as though the armor was seeking a different kind of energy.

As he struggled to recover, Mote spotted out the corner of his eye Telregina winding up for one final blow. She approached rapidly, both of her arms enclosed in mechanical gauntlets as she drew them back, a dozen railguns and missile launchers appearing around her and firing randomly to force Mote to stay put, a number of floating lights slowly drifting past from behind him…

Wait Mote stared at the lights in confusion. …What—?

Dozens of lights spontaneously burst all around him and Telregina, filling his vision with white — if not for the vacuum of space, then he was certain that his ears would be ringing as well. He then felt something grab hold of his arm, causing him to flinch away, but just before he shot electricity into it, he realized that the grasp felt somehow familiar. …This is…!

A moment later, he could feel himself accelerating through space; a moment after that his vision returned to him, allowing him to look down at his arm — and at Kate, who tightly held onto him with her left hand as she repeatedly fired rockets out of a launcher in her right to propel the pair back toward the docking bay. Mote couldn’t see her face from his position behind her, but he could still tell that she was struggling to hold her breath. Her armor wasn’t like his, after all; hers wasn’t designed for vacuum environments, and while the Eximius Vir were known for being more durable than a normal human, they still needed air to survive.

But he didn’t have long to think about the situation. The docking bay rapidly approached; Mote quickly searched the space behind them, but Telregina was no where to be found. Those lights had to have been Kate’s explosives. I guess she managed to get Telregina off of me, but for how long?

The sound of Kate taking a massive gasp next to him brought his attention back to the matter at hand, and to the fact that they had just passed through the docking bay’s barrier shield. OH my fucking god, Kate swore after taking several deep breaths, and then spun herself around to glare at Mote. Dumbass! Didn’t I tell you to hurry up?!

I was a little distracted fighting a Drakkar Faction Leader in zero-g, Mote shot back. He then slowly engaged his armor’s maneuvering systems, enough energy having returned to allow him to navigate over to Raenaros’s loading ramp with Kate in tow. I apologize if I wasn’t able to just break off at the drop of a hat!

Yeah, yeah, fucking whatever, let’s go already! Kate urged, the ramp closing behind her as the pair landed within the Corvette’s artificial gravity environment. The fucking shipyard shield is down, we need to be out of here fucking yesterday!

Don’t need to tell me twice, Mote replied as he rushed to the bridge and leaped over the back of the Captain’s chair to sit in it. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the armrests, waiting for the neural dive system to engage as Kate rushed into the room behind him. A moment later, everything went black; a moment after that, his field of view transitioned to Raenaros’s exterior, nearly half of which was filled by the massive Subspace Drive that was now attached to the bottom side of the Corvette. …You’re sure this’ll work? he questioned.

Of course I’m fucking sure! Kate shot back, I wouldn’t have fucking told you I was ready if I wasn’t, now would I?!

How do I make it work?

First step is to get out of the bay, dumbass! Then once you’re clear of the Dreadnought, I’ll activate the Subspace Drive!

Alright. Here goes…

Carefully, yet urgently, Mote fired up Raenaros’s engines. The Corvette immediately began to pitch forward, as the Subspace Drive threw off her center of gravity; Mote quickly moved the vectoring engines to compensate, managing to level out the ship before she smashed the Drive into the floor. As he began maneuvering to leave the bay, he realized just how small the space seemed — a large contrast to when he first arrived and the bay was empty. Just how large does this Drive need to be? I know it’s for a Dreadnought, but still…

Several beeps sounded within the bridge, followed by a large number of red ‘X’s appearing on Mote’s HUD. Shit, fighters!

You’re almost out, Kate urged, the Genesis will retreat to a safe distance the moment we jump out… just keep it up!

Easier said than done… Mote muttered, his attention torn between the fighters in the distance and the cramped bay he was slowly flying out of. Thanks to the zero-g environment, the maneuvers he needed to make were minimal, but he still couldn’t help but feel tense. Raenaros herself was inching by barely meters from the top of the bay; Mote didn’t know exactly how big the Subspace Drive was, and so couldn’t risk flying any lower.

Fifty meters from the exit…

Streams of light appeared in the distance, a sign that Genesis was firing her weapons. The fighters Mote saw on his HUD seemed to be primarily distracted by dealing with the Battlecruiser, but a handful of them had broken off to fly in his direction.

Forty meters from the exit…

The Corvette’s shields flared as several blasts of energy exploded across them. A number of blasts scarred the outside of the Drive, as well — but none broke through its outer casing.

Thirty meters from the exit…

A loud snap reverberated through the loading bay as one of the connectors holding Raenaros and the Drive together broke. Several of Mote’s HUD elements turned red and began flashing at him, but he still couldn’t read them; all he could do was focus on the object fabrication system to create a new connector, and attempt to reinforce the others.

Twenty meters from the exit…

The snapped and recreated connector caused the Drive’s weight to shift, resulting in the Corvette beginning to drift downward. Mote adjusted the vectoring engines to compensate, but as he did so, another volley of Drakkar laser blasts peppered the Corvette’s shields and startled him.

Ten meters from the exit…

The screeching of metal against metal filled the bay for several moments as the Drive scraped along the bottom. Mote had no way of actually seeing the bottom of the Drive, so he had no idea how much damage was being done — but there was no time to be concerned now.

With a single thought, Mote pushed full power into the engines as Raenaros reached the exit of the docking bay and passed through the energy shield that kept in the atmosphere. The metallic screeching ceased and the ship suddenly pitched downward as there was no more bay floor for the Drive to scrape across, but just as Mote began to relax, a Drakkar Battleship lowered into view barely a kilometer away, her weapons turning toward Raenaros. What—?! Kate!!

I know! It’ll take a second to spool up, the Drive wasn’t designed to be operated like this!

Tch…! Mote glared at the Battleship in frustration. Attached to the massive Subspace Drive as she was, Raenaros was in no position for quick maneuvering or evasion. All Mote could do was watch the Battleship and the red ‘X’ on his HUD that marked her — the same ‘X’ that promptly began blinking.

Jumping!!

A hole in space opened up in front of Raenaros, opening the way to the odd grayscale spacetime that was Subspace. An instant later, the Corvette leaped through the window — and the next instant, Mote found himself still in real space, with nothing but darkness surrounding him. He glanced around in mild confusion. …What happened? I thought you were going to activate the Drive?

I did, Kate replied from behind him. It was only a split-second jump, enough to take us well over a million kilometers away from the shipyard. But we aren’t done yet!

Right. Mote engaged the vectoring engines and slowly turned Raenaros around. …We still need to launch the Drive bomb.

Exactly. I managed to write a script to automate the process, so you don’t have to aim manually. Which would be kind of really fucking impossible, given the utter precision you need at this kind of range!

What about the Genesis? How do we know that they’ve left?

Krick said that he would leave the moment we did, but we don’t have time to manually verify if we want to catch that no-faced bitch in the explosion!

…Right… Mote pursed his lips; he wasn’t sure if the Corvette had the comm systems in place to contact Genesis from their great distance, but even so… he had heard about how devastating a Drive Bomb could be. If Genesis wasn’t able to escape…

Alright! Launch procedure started!

Conduits along the outer shell of the Drive began to glow, indicating that the gigantic device was powering up once more.

Launch in three! Two! One…!

Another hole in space appeared, offering Mote a glimpse into Subspace. The Corvette’s engines fired up, slowly accelerating the Drive forward — and then, a couple seconds later, a deep rumbling reverberated through the ship, signaling that the connectors between the ship and the Drive had blown off. Mote quickly flipped the vectoring engines around and engaged them to slow Raenaros respective to the Drive, so as to remain outside of the Subspace window. The Drive itself continued forward, carried by its own inertia as it disappeared into the grayscale gradient, which then disappeared itself. Mote couldn’t help but stare at where the Drive had just been in bewilderment; for such a powerful weapon, the launch sequence had been rather meek.

Shield your eyes!

Huh—? Mote started, but was interrupted as a bright flash of light in the far distance momentarily blinded him. The hell? What was that?!

That… Mote heard Kate release an incredible sigh of relief before continuing triumphantly, was the Drive Bomb!

Oh… He stared at where the flash of light had originated. It faded just as quickly as it appeared, but even from this great distance, it had seemed to be nearly as large as the moon when viewed from Earth’s surface. As he continued staring at the spot, he gradually noticed that his entire body was tense, and his brow was still furrowed in concentration. …That’s it, then, isn’t it? We’re done.

That’s fucking right! Though Mote’s field of view remained outside of the Corvette, he could hear Kate step up to the Captain’s chair, and then feel her rest her arm on the top of the chair’s back. Way to fucking go, you dumbass! I can’t believe you actually pulled that off!

Mote exhaled warily. Kate’s words were harsh, but he could hear genuine pride in her tone — and she was right, regardless. As he disengaged the neural dive system to take a break, the past twenty minutes quickly played through his mind, from his extended battle with Telregina, to piloting Raenaros out of the loading bay, to finally launching the Drive Bomb. Fighting a Drakkar Faction Leader in and of itself had stacked the odds against him, and yet, here he now stood, alive and victorious.

Alright. Encrypted distress beacon activated… the Genesis should be on it’s way soon. Fuck, I can’t wait for a shower and some damned sleep!

You really can’t complain. I was the one fighting a Faction Leader, after all.

And who had to save your ass from said Faction Leader, huh? I almost fucking suffocated myself doing that, you know. You better be fucking grateful!

Watch the attitude. But… Mote took a deep breath and exhaled wearily. …You are right. He glanced up, meeting eyes with Kate. You were an integral part of this whole plan, and you did your part well. Better than I did, even. Thanks.

She stared down at him, wide-eyed in bewilderment, before averting her gaze and shoving him. Ah, fuck, I just did what I had to.

I mean it, Kate. You’re a valuable part of the team, and as annoyed as I can get with you sometimes, there are few people I’d rather have at my back when the cards are down.

After Mark and Danielle, I’m sure.

Well, of course. Don’t push your luck, I’m not going to sing your praises for forever.

Good! It’s fucking weird when you do that. You should go back to being the humorless stick-up-the-ass bastard that we all know and love.

If anything can make me do that, it would be your attitude.

Ha! Now that’s what I’m talking about! You had me fucking worried for a second.

You ungrateful…! Alright, you know what? If there’s only one free shower when we get back to the Genesis, I’m taking it first.

What? Bitch please, I’ll fucking fight you!…

The two continued bantering back and forth, whiling away the time as Raenaros drifted quietly through space… their mission, complete.

 

Chapter 8 – Falling Chaos

“…Their inevitable debris is likely to come down right on top of Alus.”

“What?!” Phoenix exclaimed, wide-eyed. “Are you saying the city’s going to be destroyed?!”

“Shit, that can’t be right. Can it?” Pierce questioned, his attention on Brikén.

“Not the entire city, no…” Brikén replied, her eyes jumping back and forth as though reading an invisible book. “…There’s a handful of satellites coming down, as well as a bunch of rocks from the rings. The ring debris isn’t threatening any settlements, since there aren’t any cities on or near the equator… but the satellite debris is going to be spread over a large area of the planet’s surface, and Alus is included in that area. The city won’t be leveled, but if debris reaches it, then it could take out several of the buildings.”

“That still doesn’t sound good,” Phoenix responded uneasily. “Are we in danger?”

“It’s impossible to say. There’s too many variables in play. We won’t know exactly how many pieces of debris there will be, and where they’ll land, until it’s too late.”

Pierce glanced down the street at an NSD checkpoint several blocks away. The soldiers stationed there had already begun spreading out and entering nearby establishments, presumably to ensure that the inhabitants were aware of the new disaster. “Just our fucking luck,” he muttered, his expression sullen — until an idea suddenly formed in his head. Turning back to Brikén, he asked, “just how big are these satellites?”

“Not too large. According to the reports, they’re mostly communications and global positioning satellites, so… under a thousand kilograms?”

“And how small is the debris likely to be?”

“It’s hard to say. Maybe they’ll break up into a thousand tiny pieces, maybe they’ll stay completely intact. Who knows? They’ll be dangerous either way.”

“Yeah…” Pierce nodded absentmindedly, “…but one is easier to deal with than the other…”

“Oh no…” Phoenix grabbed Pierce’s sleeve and yanked him down to hiss into his ear, “you are not thinking of doing what I think you’re doing.”

“Why the hell not?” Pierce shot back, his voice low in an effort to prevent Brikén from hearing. “I have fucking superspeed!”

“And how the hell is that going to help you stop a bunch of de-orbiting satellites?!”

“There’s a lot you can do with superspeed besides just running hella fast. You just have to be creative!”

“Creative my ass, you just discovered your powers four days ago! There’s no way you have enough practice or control to handle this!”

“What are the two of you whispering about?”

Pierce and Phoenix both glanced back at Brikén, who was eying them warily.

She then jerked her head toward the NSD checkpoint. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but we need to go find the safe spots, now!”

“Yeah. Of course.” Phoenix cleared her throat and stepped away from Pierce. “You hear that, Pierce?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Pierce nodded… and then whipped around on his heel and ran in the opposite direction of the checkpoint, making sure to keep his speed down to a human level as he shouted over his shoulder, “I’ll meet you guys there! I just have to do something real quick!”

“What?!” Brikén stared after him incredulously. “You dumbass! What are you—?”

“Damn it!” Phoenix shouted in anger before taking off after Pierce. “You stupid bastard, get back here!”

“Wait, Phoenix! What’s gotten into you?!”

“Just go on without us!” Phoenix replied impatiently, “I’ll make sure Pierce doesn’t get himself killed!”

“Ha! Like that could ever happen,” Pierce retorted under his breath, just as he and Phoenix rounded a corner and Brikén fell out of sight. “I’ll save this city from destruction, and I’ll do it all without getting hurt. Just you guys watch!…”

*     *     *

“Pierce, you fucking idiot!”

“Hey, you’re the one who decided to follow me.”

“Yeah, to try and talk you down from getting yourself fucking killed!”

“I won’t die. In fact, I’ll be the one preventing tons of other people from dying!”

“Argh…!” Phoenix threw her hands up in frustration. “I can’t believe you!”

Pierce simply snorted in response as he continued scanning the twilit skies from his position on top of Alus’s tallest skyscraper. Shortly after he and Phoenix had escaped Brikén’s line of sight, Pierce had scooped Phoenix up into his arms and then taken off across the city as fast as his legs could carry him — and then, in one clean motion, he had jumped from the ground to just over the top of the two-kilometer tall skyscraper he now stood atop. It had been the first time since discovering his powers that he had allowed himself to actually run with them, and the experience was — in a word — exhilarating. Without access to a speedometer, he had no idea how fast he had actually been running, but he felt certain that he surpassed twice the speed of sound at a minimum.

As his thoughts lapsed into reminiscing over his brief run through the city, Pierce felt a satisfied smirk spread across his face. With a power like this… heh. No one can stop me!

“Alright, you dumbass, what exactly is your plan, here?”

Pierce glanced back at Phoenix, who had her hands on her hips as she glared at him expectantly. “Well,” he began, “as you just saw, I have fucking superspeed. I just jumped two kilometers like it was nothing!”

“And how the hell is that going to help us here? Don’t tell me you’re going to try redirecting the incoming debris by jumping at it.”

Pierce grinned. “That’s exactly it.”

Phoenix stared at him incredulously. “You can’t be serious! Do you really think that will work?!”

“Of course it will. Just think about it.” Pierce turned around to continue searching the sky for signs of any incoming debris. “Some satellites were de-orbited, but they’re still going to be coming in at an oblique angle. Hitting them with a high-speed object should be enough to deflect them.”

“The scales are all off, though,” Phoenix countered. “Objects on atmospheric re-entry are often hypersonic, especially if it’s an uncontrolled re-entry! That means that any debris will be moving so fast that you’ll only have one chance to hit them. If you miss, you’ll never return to the ground fast enough to try again!”

“That’s no problem. I might be a track star, but I’m no slouch in jumping and throwing events, too. I’ve got plenty of control over aiming my body.”

“You think your fucking track practice is going to help you here?!”

“It should help you, too,” Pierce replied as he glanced back at Phoenix. “You’re supposed to be some javelin-throwing, shotputting goddess, aren’t you? That should help out a lot with your Chaos abilities.”

“That doesn’t even—! Argh, you’re so dense!” Phoenix scowled. “Skill in one area doesn’t transfer to another so easily!”

“You might surprise yourself if you actually tried.”

“…You really aren’t going to let me talk you out of this, are you?”

“Nope.” Pierce shook his head and grinned again. “C’mon, think about it. We could save a whole damn city from calamity! That’s the kind of hero story that’ll have chicks dropping their pants for kilometers!”

Phoenix responded with a deadpan stare before closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose. “…I should’ve known your primary motivation was getting laid.”

“Of course it is. All dudes’ primary motivation in life is getting laid.”

“For fuck’s sake…” She sighed warily. “…Well, fuck it. If you’re so intent on getting yourself killed, then I might as well watch so I can tell Conrad and Kestrel how pathetic you looked.”

“As if I could let myself die here. This is only the start of my heroics!”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure.” Phoenix made a grandiose show of rolling her eyes. “But if that’s the case, then we should actually work out exactly how this is going to work.”

“Finally, some cooperation,” Pierce remarked. “But this isn’t hard. Just spot a piece of debris, jump at it, deflect it — bam, done.”

“It isn’t that simple. Like I said earlier, this debris is likely to be hypersonic — and even if the satellites break up, their debris is likely to weigh a lot, as well. Certainly more than you. That means a lot of momentum, a lot of kinetic energy. You, by comparison, will have far less kinetic energy, even with your superspeed. If you want to deflect the debris, then you’ll have to hit them at just the right angle — an oblique angle, rather. Like, you won’t stop them if you jump at them head-on.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Pierce retorted. “C’mon, this is basic kinematics.”

“And who had to tutor you on kinematics back in high school?”

“Please, that was, like, four years ago.”

Phoenix shook her head in disbelief. “Anyways, the speed of debris will be the biggest issue. We should still have some time before it actually comes down, but when it does, it’ll all come at once. You won’t have time to jump at one piece of debris, return to the ground, and then jump at another.”

“Why the hell not? I have superspeed!”

“Yes, and you can run fast, and use your speed to jump high. But can you make yourself fall faster?”

“…Okay, good point…” Pierce regarded her with a questioning look. “What, do you have a solution?”

“I do, if you’re really as good with your powers as you think you are.”

“Of course I am. Hit me with what you have.”

“…Well… it might sound silly, but what you’ll probably have to do is use each piece of debris you deflect as a springboard toward other pieces of debris. So instead of returning to the ground, you’d launch yourself at one piece of debris, hit it feet-first, and then jump off straight at a new piece of debris.”

“Ah, like a wall-jump, but all the walls are in the sky and hurdling toward the ground at Mach speeds.”

“Uh… sort of.”

“Sounds like a plan to me. But what about you?”

Phoenix gave him an odd look. “What about me?”

“I’m not the only Chaotic here,” Pierce declared. “We established that, haven’t we? So what can you do? You’re a Chaostechnic, right?”

“What? How do you know that?”

“Do you really think I’m that stupid? Your voice did that weird echo thing when you said the word ‘Chaos’, that’s literally the signature ability of Chaostechnics.”

“No, I know that, but how do you know that?”

“I looked it up on the Intranet earlier this week. You know, when I was bored out of my damn skull.”

“You looked up Chaostechnism on the Intranet?! Do you have any idea how that could trace back to us?”

“Fucking relax. No one will suspect that the two Earthians were Chaotics. Besides…” Pierce passed Phoenix a knowing glance. “You knew I was right when I called you a Chaostechnic. You looked it up too, didn’t you?”

“…Hmph. So what if I did?”

“If you did, then you should know what you can do with your power, right?”

“…Theoretically, yes. And… I suppose there are a few abilities that would be useful here, if I could use them. But I don’t know if I can.”

Pierce glanced into the now dusky skies; in the far distance to the east, he could make out a handful of lights slowly growing in size. “Looks like the show is about to start soon.” He looked back to Phoenix. “If you have something in mind, now is the time to try it!”

“Don’t you order me around,” she snapped, and then sighed. “…But you’re right. Damn it. I hate it when that happens.”

“You hate when I’m right?!”

“Just… keep your distance.” She took another deep breath, turning away from Pierce to look out into the rapidly darkening skies. “…Alright. Let’s try… Chaos Assist!”

Nothing happened.

“…Nope. Okay, then. Chaos Surefire!”

Still, nothing happened.

“Damn! That would’ve been useful.”

“Surefire?” Pierce questioned.

“It would’ve increased my accuracy,” Phoenix replied. “But apparently I’m not a weapon-type Chaostechnic, so I can’t use it. As for other options… hmm… Chaos… Void? Shit.”

“Better hurry it up,” Pierce muttered, his attention now focused on the incoming debris — which had now come close enough to see, as they glowed from the heat and pressure of re-entry.

“Damn.” Phoenix scowled, and then reached her right hand outward. “There’s only one more type that could be useful here. Here’s hoping I can use it… Chaos… Cannon!

The moment the phrase left her mouth, a small purple projectile appeared in her hand and immediately launched into the distance, where it nigh-instantly disappeared from sight.

“A projectile attack! Perfect!” Pierce exclaimed.

“Yes, but it’s small…” Phoenix frowned uneasily. “Who knows how much it will actually help.”

“Well we’re about to find out,” Pierce remarked, his eyes skyward. The sun had now fully set, allowing him and Phoenix to easily see the glowing pieces of metal that rocketed downward to the planet’s surface. If Pierce hadn’t known any better, he would have thought they were simply shooting stars; but unlike shooting stars, these burning chunks were straight on track to slam into Alus’s large collection of skyscrapers.

Chaos Cannon! Chaos Cannon! Chaos uh… wait— shit. Chaos… Mach 2 Cannon?

Pierce glanced over at Phoenix just as she launched a volley of three energy projectiles at the incoming debris. He couldn’t track the small projectiles themselves in the post-dusk darkness, but a couple seconds later, one of the debris chunks in the distance appeared to slightly alter course. Alright, close enough! He took a brief moment to locate the nearest piece of de-orbiting satellite debris, and then one moment to work out in his head the best trajectory to deflect it, at which point he crouched down in preparation to launch himself into the sky. Here… we… GO!

Instantly, Pierce’s feet pushed against the roof of the skyscraper with enough force to accelerate him to well beyond the speed of sound. The skyscraper disappeared underfoot as he sailed through the air over Alus, and the sea of buildings below — but Pierce hadn’t the time to take in the sights. He quickly whipped his body around in the air, bringing his feet in front of him as he neared a piece of debris. Alright, just one chance! Deflect it, and then…!

A split-second later, he found himself near enough to the debris to see the actual shape and texture of the object. It looked like a piece of a solar panel — but that was all he was able to discern before his feet found purchase against it. Time had already seemed to be progressing slowly to Pierce, but now it slowed to a crawl as a million thoughts raced through his head. The right angle to push against the debris to deflect it from the skyscrapers, the location of a nearby piece of debris, the right angle to launch himself toward it, the fact that the piece of debris he was just next to felt searing hot— shit, shit, this is fucking hot!!

The realization that the heat of re-entry was incredibly high momentarily distracted Pierce, forcing his body to act on instinct alone. Instantly, he slammed his feet into the side of the debris, launching himself through the air. …Well, all things considered, that could’ve been a lot worse, he mused as he glanced down at his shoes — which, surprisingly, remained completely intact. I did read on the Intranet that Velocitechnics have increased durability, and that that durability passes on to anything that’s in contact with their skin… but man, this is hella useful—!

His thoughts were cut short as he slammed into another piece of debris. Caught completely off-guard, he was unable to position himself to launch off of the debris again, and so simply rebounded and began falling toward the streets below. Shit! Damn it, Pierce, stay focused! He momentarily glanced back at the piece of debris he had just slammed into, watching as it clipped the side of a towering skyscraper, but continued on without hitting anything else. Good, looks like I AM helping! Now, for the rest!

At that point, his vision of the sky was eclipsed by the walls of another skyscraper that he had just fallen below. As his falling trajectory took him closer and closer to the building’s side, he whipped his legs around — and then slammed his feet into the outer wall as soon as he was in range. The wall immediately gave way, but just before it did, Pierce was able to launch himself upward, toward the wall of another skyscraper. Alright, that’s less than good. At least its not enough damage to bring down the building, so as long as I can deflect the rest of the debris, it’ll be worth it!

He then kicked off of another skyscraper wall, sending him further skyward until he found purchase against a third skyscraper. This time, he took a split-second to reorient himself toward the oncoming debris — just in time to spot one chunk that was on a collision course with a nearby building. Immediately, he launched himself toward it, slamming into it feet-first within a second and rebounding off of it violently, deflecting it just enough to miss the building.

As Pierce sailed through the air once more, he took a quick moment to investigate the state of the situation. Much of the debris had shot past the city; he could see a few areas in the distance where a chunk of debris had landed in the middle of some shorter buildings and caused damage, but all of the skyscrapers toward the center of Alus appeared to be be intact — or at least, mostly intact. As he took note of this, he also noticed that several pieces of debris were being deflected long before they could enter either his or Phoenix’s range. Do the Nimalians have deflectors of their own? But what? Some kind of lasers, or guns, or something? Well, whatever it is, the more help, the better!

A split-second later, Pierce whipped his legs around just in time to kick off of a skyscraper toward another piece of debris. With a little bit of experience under his belt, Pierce was able to deflect the satellite chunk and rebound directly toward another piece of debris with ease. He hit that piece and kicked off toward another, and then another, and then another again — in the span of only a few seconds, he had managed to deflect five pieces of debris from their building collision courses. With a satisfied smirk on his face, he allowed himself to fall onto the roof of a shorter skyscraper before looking up at the sky to see what was left. The vast majority of debris chunks had passed by at that point; judging by the dull red glow that seemed to fill parts of the sky, he could tell that not all of the debris had been stopped from hitting the city. Even so, the tallest building remained intact — and as far as Pierce was concerned, that had been his main objective. Allowing a massive skyscraper to collapse when surrounded by a veritable forest of other skyscrapers would have been disastrous—

Wait a minute— shit! He pursed his lips as he noticed one last piece of debris hurdling through the sky toward the city, having already made it past the Nimalian deflectors. It only took a brief moment for Pierce to figure out where the debris was headed, and once he did, his expression collapsed into a scowl. It’s going to take out the building I left Phoenix on! Shit!!

Without wasting another moment, Pierce launched himself into the sky, using other skyscrapers as further springboards to rapidly close the distance between himself and the piece of debris. A split-second later, he was rocketing toward the chunk of metal, his feet angled upwards in preparation to kick it. Fuck, it’s too big! I’ll have to hit it more than once! A moment later, he landed against the debris — ignored the heat — crouched his legs — and then kicked off as hard as he could, sending himself hurdling toward the ground so fast that he slammed into the surface over two kilometers below before he even realized what he had done. And yet he still didn’t stop, as he immediately leaped back toward the piece of debris, prepared to deflect it once more. A quick look at the metal’s trajectory suggested that one more good push should properly alter its course to miss Alus’s tallest skyscraper, but a quick look was all Pierce had the time for. Barely a second after he had kicked off of the debris the first time, he slammed into it again, grunting in pain as he kicked off it once more. In an effort to more severely alter the course of the debris, Pierce angled his kick to send the debris up and to the east, sending him down and to the west — and straight through the wall of the skyscraper. He rolled to a painful stop within the building, completely unable to properly catch himself against the broken glass and furniture that stood in his way.

Ow… ugh… Pierce gingerly rubbed his back as he slowly picked himself up. Damn… that—

An intense rumbling threw Pierce off of his feet and knocked several pieces of furniture over. Instantly, he jumped back to his feet, only to feel continued rumbling throughout the building around him. The shaking now was less intense than the first shock, but as he witnessed a shower of glass and metal fall past the window outside, he felt a terrible wrenching in his gut. Shit, I didn’t deflect the debris on time! This building’s about to come down!

Pierce crouched down and prepared to launch himself laterally out of the building, but just before he did, he remembered one important fact. He immediately adjusted his footing and stared upward, bracing for a vertical jump. Velocitechnics are supposed to have increased durability, to account for the fact that we can accelerate to high speeds so quickly. If that’s true, then hopefully, this will work!

The sound of shattering glass reached his ears, followed by the rumbling screeching of metal beginning to buckle under stress. Without wasting a single moment more, Pierce held his arms up to shield his head and then launched himself straight upwards, puncturing through the floors above through sheer momentum alone. He grit his teeth and closed his eyes, trying his best to maintain his focus as he repeatedly broke through metal flooring — while all around him, windows began shattering, and supports began to collapse.

And then, he found himself once again exposed to the night air of Alus as he sailed upward over the city’s tallest skyscraper, having misjudged the necessary amount of momentum to perfectly reach the roof. As his upwards speed rapidly decreased and eventually turned into downwards speed, he stared down at the building roof below, the roof that was beginning to collapse under the blow from the debris — the same roof on which Phoenix remained.

“PHOENIX!” he shouted, reflexively kicking in an effort to launch himself downward, but there was nothing for him to kick against. He was solely at the mercy of gravity now.

The next several moments passed in a crawl. Phoenix glanced up at Pierce; he reached out to her; the building shuddered, and released a piercing metallic shriek; the roof under Phoenix’s feet collapsed; she shouted something, something that Pierce couldn’t quite decipher; and then she disappeared from view, blocked by the collapsing building debris.

A moment later, Pierce touched down on what little remained of the roof. As soon as he did, his perception of time returned to normal, with him dashing toward Phoenix’s former position and then launching himself downward into the debris cascade. Immediately, he found himself on top of a pile of debris, stable for the time being — but certainly not for long. “Phoenix! Phoenix!” he shouted, whipping his head to and fro as he searched for any sign of his friend. “Damn it! Phoenix, answer me!”

A muffled clang reached Pierce’s ears, drawing his attention back to the pile of debris. He cautiously approached, unsure of what caused the noise — only for it to repeat again, only less muffled, and accompanied by a minor shift of the pile. Pierce jumped back, somewhat confused, only to lose his footing as the skyscraper began rumbling again; just as he managed to leap to his feet, the pile of debris in front of him exploded outward. “Wha—? Shit!” he exclaimed, reflexively throwing himself to the floor in an effort to evade the flying pieces of building debris.

“You’re here! Finally!!”

Pierce looked up just as Phoenix rushed to his side, her entire body encased in a veil of purple energy — a veil that seemed to have a similar shape to protective armor. His first impulse was to ask what the veil was, but he quickly shook that thought away and leaped to his feet, just in time for the remaining pieces of the roof above him to collapse.

Chaos Deflection!

Startled, Pierce glanced over at Phoenix just as she jumped toward him and shouted the phrase. Immediately, a rotating sphere of purple energy appeared around both her and Pierce, shielding them from the debris directly above them.

A moment later, the sphere dissipated, but the debris remained — as did the collapsing building. Without sparing a moment for recognition or thanks, Pierce scooped Phoenix up into his arms and launched himself up and at an angle, escaping the building and sending the two careening through the air high above the city. Pierce remained mentally on alert, scanning the sky for any final pieces of debris, only to find none remaining.

Several seconds later, as they began to fall toward the ground, a low rumbling reached their ears. Pierce kept his eyes forward in preparation for landing, but he noticed Phoenix turning her head to look behind them — at which point her eyes widened in awe.

Before long, Pierce found himself again on solid ground. With no other people around as far as he could see, he carefully set Phoenix down and then kneeled down himself. Now that the primary disaster was over and he was out of danger, Pierce realized that his veins must have been filled to brimming with adrenaline — and he was starting to come down from the momentary high. His breathing ragged, memories of the past several minutes flashed through his mind. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes — or even five — since he launched himself at the first piece of debris, and yet it had felt so much longer. Was this the regular experience of a Chaotic? Had Trenon felt this much stress during his final moments…?

A dull throb prompted Pierce to grasp at his torso again. …I guess this is what it feels like… to keep on living. Damn… well, all that’s left is to make the most of it.

“Pierce?”

He glanced over at Phoenix, who stood next to him and looked down at him in concern.

“You alright?” she questioned.

Pierce exhaled deeply and hung his head. Then he shook it in an effort to clear his thoughts before leaping back to his feet. He forced a smirk and beat his chest once as he replied, “hell yeah! Damn, that was really something, huh?”

“I’ll say…” Phoenix responded, her attention shifting to the skyline of Alus. Pierce followed her gaze to look at the skyline himself, only to find that something about it seemed off.

A moment later, it hit him. “Shit. The building…”

“Yeah… it’s gone,” Phoenix finished solemnly, and then smiled — though Pierce could tell that it was forced. “Well, at least we were able to save part of the city, right?”

“…But not all of it…” Pierce muttered.

“…True… but some is better than none.”

Pierce glanced down at Phoenix, who returned his gaze with the forced smile still on her face. He simply snorted and turned away in response.

“Well…” Phoenix sighed. “We should probably head back to Brikén. She has to really be wondering where we are right now.”

“…Heh. I wonder what she’d think if we told her that we rushed off to try and save the city.”

“You know we can’t say that.”

“Man…” Pierce scowled. “What’s the point in having a hella cool story if you can’t even tell it?”

“I told you when we started that your motivation was all wrong,” Phoenix shot back. “Fame and glory don’t work in this world.”

“Clearly it works for some people. That Nanocreature War 20 years ago was stopped by Chaotics, and they got hella famous for it!”

“I really hope you aren’t trying to compare what happened here to the Nanocreature War.”

“Hmph. One day, I’m going to show you that you’re wrong.” Pierce smirked, puffed out his chest, and planted his hands on his hips. “Some day, I’ll be hella famous for being a hero!”

Phoenix rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you will.” She then turned and began walking off. “Now let’s get going already. We shouldn’t leave Brikén waiting for much longer.”

“Alright, if you say so!” Pierce exclaimed as he rushed to Phoenix’s side, scooped her up into his arms again, and blasted off at Mach speeds — more than ready to return home and rest after a stressful night.

*     *     *

3 Days Later

— Monday, September 5, AD 2129 —

(Ligdia, Beauth 27, 8054)

“Well, we’re here.”

“So we are,” Phoenix remarked as she stepped out of the hovercar and grabbed her suitcase.

“You didn’t have to tag along with us, you know,” Pierce commented as he followed suit.

“Sure, I didn’t have to,” Brikén replied, “but this will be the last time I see you two in quite a while — maybe even the last time ever. I’d have to be an insensitive idiot to miss out on saying good-bye.”

“Heh,” Pierce offered a brief chuckle in response as he glanced toward the large building that the trio now stood in front of. The main building appeared to be just over three stories tall and featured the same rolling contours as the rest of the buildings in Alus, though it also featured glass walls covered in some sort of abstract art. To the left of the building and down a story, Pierce could see a large trainyard, with train tracks running into the yard from almost every direction and criss-crossing each other until condensing into two pairs of rails that ran directly into the building. On these rails were a variety of trains, not too different in appearance from the mass transit trains he was familiar with at home. He watched for a moment as one of the trains disappeared into the building, where it would soon disappear from Ainminthalus altogether by traveling through its Interstellar Gate — for the complex in front of Pierce was none other than Ainminthalus’s Gateport.

During the previous week, the Gateport had been closed to civilians and commandeered by the NSD, as an emergency response to the sudden Chaos Energy Quake. However, just as everyone was beginning to settle in for the long haul… yesterday, Chaos Energy inexplicable became usable once again. The Relaynet came online, anti-gravity technology re-activated, and spacecraft were once again able to use their FTL Drives. In less than an hour, the entire galaxy came back online, and not even an hour after that, the NSD had released its hold on the Gateports across Nimalian space, thereby restoring the Interstellar Gate Transportation Network within the Nimalian Union. There still remained a small amount of chaos, of course, as people scrambled to sort out the disruptions caused by the week-long Quake; but, to Pierce’s surprise, the entire galaxy seemed to have immediately resumed operating as normal.

Well… most of the galaxy, he amended mentally as his attention drifted back to the city of Alus. The distant skyline remained mostly intact, backed as it was by the planet’s magnificent rings, but the point that had once served as its apex was now conspicuously missing. The skyfall — as many of the city’s citizens had taken to calling the debris storm — had caused a significant amount of damage to the city. Pierce remained glad that he had successfully mitigated much of the damage, but his and Phoenix’s ultimate failure to protect the entire city still didn’t sit well with him. Thankfully, there had been enough time between the initial emergency warning and the actual skyfall for many people to evacuate the largest and tallest buildings, so casualties were at an overall minimum. Too bad we couldn’t drop the casualty count all the way to zero, Pierce thought bitterly, as he absentmindedly grasped his torso wound. Shit, it’s harder to save people than I thought. Maybe, if I had just tried harder… like Trenon…

“Is that all your stuff?”

Pierce shook himself of his idle thoughts as he turned to face Brikén, who now stood outside of the hovercar while leaning on it. He then looked down at his single suitcase; it was larger than a typical piece of airline carry-on luggage, but thankfully, Gate Network travel featured less stringent luggage restrictions. “Yeah, this is everything,” he eventually replied.

“It’s kind of a weird feeling, to finally be standing here,” Phoenix commented, her attention on the Gateport’s main entrance. “After spending three months here, especially after the ch— uh, the wildness of last week… Alus almost feels like a second home.”

“I find that people often feel that way after their first long-term trip away from their home planet,” Brikén remarked.

“No, it’s not just that.” Phoenix glanced back at Brikén. “I legitimately enjoyed my time here, last week aside. I really did learn a lot from you.”

Brikén smiled in response. “Glad I did my job successfully, then!”

“Eh, you might teach well enough,” Pierce countered, “but those exams… those could use some work.”

“I still haven’t officially submitted the results, you know. Don’t make me retroactively fail you.”

“Ah, c’mon, as if you’d fail a great guy like me.”

“Don’t oversell yourself, buddy,” Phoenix interjected.

Brikén chuckled. “The two of you never change.”

“Well of course I wouldn’t change, why would you change perfect?” Pierce smirked. “Phoenix, though…”

“If this is what you call perfect, then your outlook on life must be in a real sorry state,” Phoenix retorted.

“You just say that because you’re jealous.”

“No more than I am of an untrained dog.”

“Alright, alright, no need to keep the argument going,” Brikén cut in. “A little bit is charming, but too much is just sad.”

Pierce elbowed Phoenix cheekily. “You hear that? She called us ‘charming’!”

Phoenix simply rolled her eyes in response.

“Anyways, I did enjoy teaching and hanging out with the two of you, despite all your quirks,” Brikén commented with a smirk. “With a job like mine, you spend a lot of time on your own. You don’t often realize just what you’re missing until you get to spend time with people long-term again — and these three months I spent with you two, and… with Trenon…” She glanced down for a moment before returning her attention to Pierce and Phoenix, her smirk now a genuine, if somewhat morose smile. “…It’s been a fun three months. I’m glad I signed up for this job, even if I don’t get that Subspace Drive.”

“The feeling’s mutual,” Phoenix replied.

“Don’t know about the Subspace Drive, though,” Pierce remarked.

“Yeah, yeah…” Brikén simply waved him off. “Well, how long is the trip home?”

“We should be back on Earth within a couple days,” Phoenix replied.

“How many Gate trips is that? Three, four?”

“Four,” Pierce answered. “What a pain in the ass. I get why the network is set up this way, but it’s still hella fucking weird to have to detour across three other planets when we could just go straight home.”

“If the Gates operated on ‘first come, first serve’ then the backlogs would be incredible. No one would ever get anywhere,” Brikén countered. “…But you are right that it can be a pain. That’s why I fly a ship instead.”

“Which takes even longer!”

“Not if I get a Subspace Drive, it won’t.”

“Oh please, we both know that’s never happening.”

“Anyways…” Phoenix interjected, “our train should be boarding soon, so we should really get going.”

“Alright. I’ll stop holding you up,” Brikén replied. “Even if you never come back to Ainminthalus, maybe we’ll see each other again elsewhere. I am a courier, after all. I go all over the Union, and sometimes even in the CSA!”

“We’ll be sure to keep a look out for you if we’re ever off of Earth again,” Pierce said. “Don’t expect that to happen for a while, though.”

“Still. Don’t forget me, you hear?”

“As if we could.” Pierce snorted and grabbed his suitcase.

“I guess this really is good-bye, now,” Phoenix remarked as she picked up her own suitcase.

Brikén nodded. “So it is… Have a safe trip, you two!”

“We will! See you later!” Pierce replied, waving as he and Phoenix began to approach the Gateport entrance. After three months away, and late by a week, the two were more than prepared to finally return to their home on Earth.

Chapter 12 – Hidden Chaos

1.5 Hours Later

Damn, that’s a big ship…

Pierce perched atop a building roof along the outskirts of New York City, his gaze directed upward. Hanging in the sky like a metal cloud over New York’s tallest building was a massive spacecraft — the same as the one he had seen in the photos earlier that morning. Even in the photos, it had looked rather large, but now that Pierce could see the craft in person and hovering directly over the city, it appeared even larger still. Must be half a kilometer long, at least. Damn… well, let’s get closer and see what I can do.

He momentarily tugged at the dark balaclava he was now wearing, having swiped it from a department store during his run to New York; he didn’t want anyone to identify him, after all. Once he was sure that the balaclava had stayed on straight during his journey, he launched himself through the air, covering several hundred meters in that single leap before touching down atop a building and launching himself forward again. It didn’t take long for him to reach the roof of a building adjacent to the One World Trade Center, at which point he paused for a moment to look down at the streets below. Despite being almost noon, the streets immediately around him were completely empty, with police and military barricades blocking the roads in every direction. Even from dozens of stories in the air, Pierce could spot the crowds gathering behind the barricades, filled with people staring up at the hostile spacecraft in awe.

He smirked to himself. A massive crowd. Just perfect for my heroic debut! He then turned his attention back up to the Cruiser, and the top of the skyscraper over which it hovered. Time to bring down a spacecraft! Looks like I’ll be putting that mentorship knowledge to use sooner than I thought!

Pierce narrowed his eyes as he stared up at the Cruiser in an attempt to locate any potential hand-holds or loading bays that he could use to board the craft. It didn’t take long for him to spot a potential boarding location on the underbelly of the craft, where there appeared to be a closed loading ramp. After taking a brief moment to adjust his stance, Pierce leaped vertically, easily clearing the distance between his position on the lower building and the Cruiser itself. As he approached the loading ramp, he reached out with his hands to grab some of the railings that lined its underside, and then firmly held tight, leaving himself to hang as though from monkey bars.

Alright, how big is this ramp He carefully inspected the craft’s underside, tracing the lines in the bulkheads with his eyes to figure out where the end of the ramp actually was. Upon doing so, he determined that the ramp wasn’t too large — likely only big enough to support a tank, by his estimation. If the locks on this ramp are anything like the locks on the ramp that Brikén’s ship had, then there should be a bunch of metal inserts along each side of the ramp. If I can destroy those, then it’ll fall open, and I can board. Easy.

The sounds of shouting reached his ears, muffled by wind and distance. His interest piqued, he glanced downward, at the top of the One World Trade Center. There, he caught sight of five individuals, though it was difficult to make out many defining features from how high he was. One thing that did stick out to him, however, was the presence of the man he had seen in the recording Kieran showed him earlier that morning — his dark, wild, unkempt hair was simply that recognizable. But as Pierce looked closer, he realized that there actually seemed to be two versions of the same man, standing opposite each other. What the hell? …Don’t tell me this is supposed to be a new hairstyle fad or something. It looks like he just got out of bed! What a stupid style—

His thoughts were cut short as a robot flew in from no where and knocked one of the five individuals off the top of the building. Pierce’s eyes grew wide and he immediately prepared to kick off of the ship in an effort to catch the man, but just before he did, he noticed a plume of fire and a pillar of water emerge from two of the other people on the roof, as though they were attacking one of the two men with unkempt hair. Oh. These guys are those Chaotics that SERRCom arrested, huh? They should be able to take care of that guy on their own, then. I’ll just focus on this ship—

Pierce paused with confusion as he witnessed one of the men with unkempt hair summon a scythe out of thin air and then plunge its blade into the torso of the other man, only for the second man to disappear in a mist of blue particles. Barely a moment after that, the man with the scythe disappeared in a flash of white light. What the hell was that? Where’d they go? …Shit, time to board!

He immediately swung his right foot upward with incredible force, slamming it into the metal underside of the Cruiser and producing a massive dent. …Damn, I barely even felt that. I mean, I suspected that I had some kind of increased durability, since my innards don’t immediately liquefy each time I go from 0 to Mach 2 in under a second, but still. Damn, this is hella useful! With a gleeful grin, he swung his torso back in preparation to kick the underside of the ship again, but just before he could launch the kick, an intense rumbling reverberated along the hull of the spacecraft. A loud electrical hum filled the air as the Cruiser began moving through the New York skies, and then — barely a second later — the entire hull of the Cruiser faded away, almost as though the ship had disappeared entirely. Pierce stared up at it in confusion; his hands were still clearly grabbing on to something, so it was clear that the Cruiser was still physically present. It was now simply invisible. Well that’s… weird. But if it’s still there, I can still break in — and if I can kick as hard as that last dent, then I don’t even need to break the locks. I can just bust a hole through the bulkhead itself! Alright! He swung his legs back again, and then launched his right foot into a high-speed kick aimed at where he thought was the dent he had created earlier. Just as he expected his foot to connect, however, a flash of white light momentarily filled his vision — and once it disappeared, he found that his surrounding environment had changed entirely. No longer could he see the midday skies, or the New York skyline, or the streets below; now he found himself inside of a dimly lit room, with metal flooring and walls. In fact, it looked a lot like a loading bay.

Pierce’s inspection of his surroundings momentarily stopped as he crashed to the floor just beneath him. Ow… fuck! Damn. Whatever the hell that was, I guess I ended up in the air in the same horizontal position I was in while mid-kick… well that’s annoying. Now… where the hell am I?

“Who the hell are you?”

Pierce looked up from his position laying on the ground to find a man with unkempt hair standing several meters away. He stared at the man for a moment before leaping to his feet and turning to face him directly.

“Hey, answer the question!” the man demanded, a confused scowl painted across his face. “Who are you? And just what the hell do you think you’re doin’?”

…This must be that guy who sent the videos, Pierce mused as he inspected the other man. On a closer look, he could tell that the man also had a small goatee, and wore a gray t-shirt, jeans, and a navy blue vest. Furthermore, his left arm appeared to have been replaced by a cybernetic prosthetic. …Yep, this is definitely the guy. What was his name? Austin? …Shit, he looks like a total loser. Taking him down won’t look cool at all.

“Oi, can you even talk?” The man crossed his arms and began tapping his foot impatiently. “Helloooo? Can you understand me—?”

With no warning, Pierce blasted toward the man, crossing the distance between them in the blink of an eye. He then slammed his foot into the ground just in front of the man to arrest himself of his forward momentum, and transferred the remaining energy into swinging his right arm around to grab the back of the man’s shirt and force him down to the ground. Once on the floor, he quickly grabbed the man’s wrists and pinned him. “Ha!” Pierce snorted in derision. “Well, that was easy.”

“What the—?!” The man scowled. “I should’ve known you were a Chaotic!”

“Yeah, you probably should’ve, huh?”

“Tch. Damn it! Beta, get him off me!”

“Beta—?” Pierce echoed incredulously, looking up to inspect the room. Just as he did so, he spotted a robot flying through the air directly at him. Startled, he reflexively released the man with unkempt hair and jumped back, successfully dodging the robot’s charge — only for it to suddenly lash out with its hand and grab him by his shirt collar. In the same moment that it grabbed hold of him, it blasted downward, smashing clean through the floor and dragging Pierce along with it.

“Fuck! Get off me!” Pierce ripped his shirt out of the robot’s grasp and kicked away from it before taking a moment to take stock of his surroundings. Once again, he found himself surrounded by the clear outdoor skies, but now he was falling over the undeveloped land far outside of New York City — and the Cruiser was no where to be seen. Ah, shit, that damn invisibility system! Where the hell did the ship go?!

A moment later, he hit the ground, rolling unceremoniously across the dirt for several meters before leaping back to his feet unharmed. He glared down at himself, and at his now dirt-caked running shoes, pants, and shirt. He then turned his attention toward the robot that had come down with him, that was hovering in the air some distance away. It possessed a vaguely humanoid silhouette, in that it had two arms and two legs, but it lacked a head and also had a pair of mechanical wings attached to its back, that moved much like a bird’s. Its large frame appeared to be lithe and streamlined, though also had an angular, rugged appearance that evoked the sense that it was a military robot. Slate blue metal plating covered its entire body, save for its shoulder joints, and a red orb was situated in the upper center of its torso.

Pierce simply scowled as he beheld the robot, and the gun that it brought to bear. That damn robot! What, did it crash us through the underside of the Cruiser, just to get me away from that loser? Damn! …Well, if I can’t stop the loser, then I can at least obliterate his stupid robot. I’ll show you to mess with me!

Immediately, he crouched down and then sprung forward; just as he did, the ground where he had just been standing exploded spectacularly. Without sparing a thought for what just happened, Pierce focused on throwing his foot forward to deliver a fierce supersonic kick to the hovering robot. The area where the kick connected brightly glowed with energy and the robot itself didn’t seem to take any damage, but the pure kinetic energy of the kick still forced it backward.

What the…? Is this what energy shielding looks like? Guess I’ll just have to bust through that first—! Just as Pierce landed on the ground after rebounding from his kick, a burst of energy exploded across his chest, flinging him backwards. He tumbled across the ground painfully before managing to jump back to his feet and leap out of the way of another blast of energy, his teeth grit in pain the entire time. What the hell is this? he thought irately as he kept moving across the ground, evading another two bursts of energy in the process — and noting that each time a burst occurred, the robot’s gun was pointed directly at that spot. …Ah, shit. That’s a laser gun? Why couldn’t it just be a regular gun? I want to outrun some bullets, damn it! Oh well, at least I know what to look out for now!

With that, Pierce lunged at the robot again, his focus now entirely on the robot’s weapon. In a split second, his foot connected with the gun, only for the gun to be covered by a plane of glowing, golden energy — just as with his earlier attack on the robot. Pierce expected it this time, however, and immediately latched onto the robot’s arm with both of his hands before slamming his foot into the gun over and over with incredibly high frequency, like a jackhammer, in an attempt to rapidly deplete the protective shielding. But the robot simply grabbed the back of his shirt with its free hand, yanked him off, and chucked him at the ground, at which point it spread its metallic wings and blasted off into the air.

Ha! Pierce smirked to himself as he eyed the robot gaining altitude and then stopping to hover a few hundred meters above him. Like that’ll stop me! He promptly jumped to the side — a precaution, in case the robot was preparing to fire its laser at him — and then crouched down before leaping high into the sky, much like he had done against the satellite debris on Ainminthalus. Just before his foot came into contact with the robot, however, it ducked to the side, leaving him to helplessly sail through the air.

…Guess I should’ve expected that, Pierce mused bitterly as he began to fall back to the earth. He turned his attention to the robot hovering in the air, and grimaced as he noticed it bringing its gun to bear. Well… this is going to hurt.

His thought was punctuated by a blast of energy exploding against his hip, sending him tumbling violently through the air. Pain shot through his body as his head began spinning — he was at least able to determine that his body was still intact before another laser blast sent him spinning in another direction. He barely had any time to regain his bearings before finally slamming into the ground in a painful heap.

“Ow… fuck…” he muttered, staring up at the clear sky in a daze. A moment passed before he was able to shake himself out of it and jump back to his feet, at which point he quickly inspected himself. Remarkably, he seemed to have escaped with only a couple minor burns — but his clothes were shot and riddled with burn marks and holes. Shit. Now I need a whole new set of running gear. How the hell am I going to explain this—?

A piece of the ground exploded just near him, reminding him that his opponent was still intact and after him. Quickly, he scanned his surroundings in search of anything he could use as a weapon, but to his dismay, the only objects around were some plants and trees. With a brief sigh, he launched himself toward the flora. At least I can use them for cover

A second later found Pierce hiding behind a tree in an effort to catch his breath, though the moment’s respite was all he was able to achieve as a blast of energy obliterated the base of the tree trunk and sent him sprawling. He quickly jumped back to his feet and dashed behind another tree, only for it to be obliterated in much the same manner. Shit! How the hell am I supposed to fight this thing? I don’t have any way to engage at range, and I can’t fly… is there really nothing I can do?!

The next several seconds passed with Pierce constantly trying to hide behind various pieces of flora, and the robot simply annihilating them with its laser cannon from on high. As this went on, Pierce grew more and more irate, finding himself unable to come up with any way to counter. Before long, he had run out of trees to hide behind in the immediate area — and with them, any further opportunities to prolong the fight. It was now win or go home, and Pierce knew well which option he’d rather pick. So, as his final piece of cover exploded under laser fire, he made one final move in frustrated desperation: he spun around and dealt a fierce kick to one of the chunks of tree that was flung away from the laser blast, his kick trajectory carefully calculated to launch the tree chunk at the flying robot. Immediately, his foot connected, and a moment later… the piece of tree debris slammed into the robot, stunning it. Without wasting a single moment, Pierce leaped into the air after the tree, taking advantage of the robot’s momentary incapacitation to wind up a kick in preparation to spike it down to the ground. He sailed through the air, rapidly closing the distance between himself and the robot as it recovered from the initial blow, his own foot raised into the air, ready to slam down on it — only for something to catch Pierce’s attention in the corner of his eye. Wait, is that… another ship—?

The moment of distraction was just enough for Pierce to miss his window, allowing the robot to whip around, snatch him out of the air, and chuck him at the ground again. He managed to land on his feet this time, but he then turned his attention to the ship he spotted in the sky — the ship that seemed to be rushing straight toward his position. It looks kinda small… ah, shit. His expression darkened with apprehension. It looks like a SERRCom ship. Damn it! He turned to glare up at the robot, which had also seemed to spot the approaching ship. His fists clenched, and his lips pursed; he had been so close to landing a blow on the robot, only to be distracted. Every fiber of his being urged him to try once more, to do his best to eek out a victory against the mechanical opponent before him… but as the SERRCom Frigate rapidly approached, the voice of reason in the back of his head won out.

A moment later, he spun on his heel and launched himself to the west, starting his long journey home.

 

*     *     *

2 Hours Later

“Pierce? What are you doing here—?”

“Just shut up and let me in.” Pierce scowled as he pushed past Conrad and stormed into his apartment.

“…Uh, okay.” Conrad shrugged and closed the door after Pierce. He turned around and followed his friend into the main living area, which Pierce stopped in the middle of, planted his hands on his hips, and began glancing around with a frustrated look on his face, as though he were looking for something to kick.

“…You okay, dude?” Conrad questioned warily as he slotted his hands into his pockets and leaned against the wall.

“Am I okay? Am I okay?!” Pierce glared at Conrad, only to rip his gaze away and take a deep breath. “…Sorry. Didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“It’s cool. Did something happen?”

“You could say that…” Pierce grabbed his shirt and lifted it, revealing the laser burn marks on his lower chest.

Conrad’s eyes widened in alarm. “What the hell? Dude, what happened?”

“I went to New York to try and stop that Austin guy…” Pierce shook his head and then collapsed into a slouch on Conrad’s sofa. “I got on his ship, somehow, but then he sicced a robot on me.”

“…So those burns are from the robot?”

“Yeah. It had a laser gun. It shot up my old track outfit, so I had to… uh… ‘acquire’ a new one on my way back home.”

“Huh… wait, hold on a sec. You’re saying you went to New York to stop the attack? As in, the attack earlier today?

Pierce smirked bitterly. “Superspeed, yo.”

“Oh. Right.” Conrad frowned. “Didn’t Phoenix say—?”

“Who cares what Phoenix said, alright? Just don’t tell her I did this and everything will be fine.”

“If you say so. But, did something bad happen? You don’t look very happy.”

“‘Did something bad happen.’ Hmph.”

“…Did you lose against the robot?”

“I didn’t lose,” Pierce shot back, “I just… didn’t succeed in destroying it. A SERRCom ship showed up, so the fight ended in a draw.”

“Is that so…”

“Don’t patronize me. If I had more time, I totally could’ve destroyed that fucking machine.”

“I’m not saying that I doubt you. Although…” Conrad began moving over to his living room computer. “If you spent the past couple hours running back from New York, then I guess you haven’t heard the latest news about this EA guy, huh?”

Pierce stared at Conrad in confusion. “EA?”

Conrad nodded as he began interacting with the computer. “Yeah. It turns out, the ‘Austin’ that was putting out all those videos was an impostor, or a clone, or something. There was a whole bunch of footage from New York that showed him facing off with an exact copy of himself, and SERRCom is saying now that the real Austin has been with them the whole time. They’re calling the one we saw ‘EA’.”

Pierce snorted. “You’re telling me we’re dealing with fucking evil clones now?”

“Hey, I’m not the one who broke the news,” Conrad countered, and then moved away from his computer monitor to allow Pierce to see it. “But that’s not everything. Here, check this out.”

Playing on the computer screen was a video, shot as though from a helicopter. Below was a large suburban neighborhood, filled with idyllic two-story houses — and in the middle of the neighborhood, several of those houses laid in absolute ruin. As the video got closer, a house exploded spectacularly, followed closely by the sudden appearance of a massive cloud in the middle of the street. Pierce stared at the video in confusion as it slowly swept across the battlefield, and then settled on a large, mechanical beast standing in the center of a cul-de-sac. The four-legged mech looked vaguely like a yellow bug, and seemed to be firing lasers at the surrounding houses. Then, just as the video approached closely enough to see that the mech was standing with one of its legs on top of a single man, another man suddenly flew in from behind the mech and slapped a third man who was sitting in the cockpit with the canopy opened. Pierce’s expression settled into a scowl when he realized an important physical detail of the latter two men: they both possessed terribly unkempt hair.

“That’s the fucker I tried to stop!” Pierce turned toward Conrad. “What the hell is this?”

“This is video of a fight that just happened down in Texas, near Dallas,” Conrad replied. “And when I say ‘just happened’, I mean, like, this footage is from less than half an hour ago.”

“What? But I just saw those assholes in New York two hours ago! How’d they get to Dallas with enough time to start a fight and destroy a neighborhood?”

“SERRCom future tech? I dunno man, I’m just telling you the news.”

“Did they at least stop him? This EA dude?”

Conrad shrugged. “There’s been no official word, but there’s some video footage of EA disappearing in a bright white light. Rumor on the Internet is that he was beamed away, but no one knows by who.”

“Hmph…” Pierce returned his attention to the video, which had stopped on a shot of the devastated neighborhood and the partially destroyed mech. I can’t even stop one robot, but these assholes destroyed a whole mech? …Must be because the mech couldn’t fly. Yeah. If the robot I was fighting had been grounded, I could’ve destroyed it easily…

“It’s a lotta damage, huh?”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah…” Pierce nodded. “…What losers these guys must be, causing that much collateral damage. I might not have destroyed the robot I was fighting, but at least I didn’t rip up a whole damn neighborhood while I was at it.”

“Uh, right…”

“And how many casualties did they cause? I bet it was a lot.”

“The fight only just happened, it’s too early to tell…” Conrad frowned. “But there’s a bigger problem.”

“What? Didn’t this fight happen in Texas? What does that have to do with us?”

“The fact that we’re Chaotics is what it has to do with us. The Internet’s gone nuts about this fight, you know. People are citing all the damage as reasons in favor of officially instating a Chaotic conscription rule…”

“What?” Pierce scowled. “You can’t be serious.”

“I wish I wasn’t. The fact that every other nation in the galaxy does it isn’t helping, either.” Conrad sighed. “It’s starting to look like, if we ever get caught using our powers…”

“…Then SERRCom will fucking draft us. Damn.” Pierce crossed his arms and slouched back into the sofa again. “I guess Phoenix really was right, after all.”

Conrad eyed his friend warily. “This means you should be more careful about doing stuff like running across the country to fight bad guys, you know.”

“Shut up, I can take care of myself.”

“Hey, I’m just warning you…”

“I’ll be fine.” Pierce stood up from the sofa and stormed toward the front door. “I’m going for a run.”

“Uh, okay, then. See you—?” Conrad started, but by the time he looked back at his door, it had already closed, leaving him alone in his apartment.

Chapter 26 – Mechanical Chaos

“C’mon, Fakie, Speed Demon! Let’s see what you’re made of!!”

The moment after EA issued his challenge, the War Wasp fired its gun, launching a supersonic projectile through the air toward Austin and Pierce. They both dived out of the way, managing to evade the bullet just before it hit their former positions; Pierce then spun on his heel toward the giant mech and launched himself toward it through the air, only for the War Wasp’s tail to whip around and spike him down to the ground. As soon as he hit the floor in a painful heap, the mech fired on him again, slamming him with another supersonic projectile that flung him across the room and against the wall in the back.

“Agh…!” He grunted as he dropped to his knees. A soft beeping noise drew his attention to the small shield generator that he had clipped to his shirt, which now sported a small flashing red LED. What the hell? Did those two blows already almost overload the shields? What a piece of shit—!

“Sky! Fog cloud!!”

“Got it!”

Pierce looked up just in time to see a massive water bubble form in the middle of the room, followed by it exploding into a cloud of steam that blanketed nearly an entire third of the room — and successfully masking everyone, except for Pierce, from view. The cloud also blocked Pierce from seeing the War Wasp on the other side of the arena, but the three flying robots hovered in plain view as they turned their weapons on him. This fucking shit again He scowled as he dashed forward, effortlessly evading their weapons fire before leaping straight at one of the Eagles. His foot slammed into its chest a split second later, causing its shields to flare up as the force from the impact knocked the robot upward and toward the back wall; he then used the rebound from the kick to launch himself toward the other Eagle, where he grabbed its arm and clung to it as he began jackhammer kicking its side.

A flash of purple light momentarily distracted Pierce, turning his attention toward Beta as it was struck by two streaks of purple lightning, followed nigh-instantly by a supersonic energy projectile. The large robot simply shrugged off the blows, however, allowing its energy shielding to soak up the damage as it turned its weapon on Pierce and blasted him in the face. The force from the blast knocked him clear of the robot he was clinging too, sending him tumbling to the ground where he rolled uncontrollably for a second before jumping back to his feet.

“Pierce!”

“Huh?” He glanced to his right, where he spotted Phoenix and Kestrel running out of the steam cloud toward him. Immediately after, Beta dove at him, forcing him to jump backwards to evade its incoming fist. He then launched himself toward it, his foot impacting its lower leg in an instant and knocking it off-balance. It turned its weapon on him and opened fire, but before the projectile left the barrel, Pierce felt fierce winds surround him and drag him toward the center of the room — thereby preventing the bullet from hitting him. After the winds disappeared, he jumped back to his feet, just in time for Phoenix and Kestrel to arrive at his side.

Chaos Cannon! Chaos Strike!” Phoenix fired off two more attacks before turning toward Pierce as Kestrel took over defense with her powerful winds. “Twy and her group will distract EA for now,” Phoenix quickly reported, “we’ll take care of these robots, alright? Once they’re down, we can join the others in fighting EA.”

“What?!” Pierce exclaimed indignantly, “why do those losers get the satisfaction of beating EA?”

“I knew you’d complain,” Phoenix responded impatiently, “but trying to fight a battle like this without some kind of plan is suicide!”

“I do have a plan. My plan is to let us fight EA, and let them deal with these two-bit robots—!”

Pierce was cut off as Kestrel jumped between him and Phoenix and swept the three aside with a fierce gust of wind, just in time to evade the two Eagles as they both simultaneously dove toward the Chaotics. One of them managed to grab Pierce by his arm and lift him into the air; he responded by whipping his legs around through the air and into the robot’s side, causing its energy shields to flare up as they absorbed the force of the blow. The Eagle then brought its gun to bare, pointing it directly at Pierce — but before he could react, Phoenix suddenly appeared beside him, having been launched into the air by Kestrel. “Chaos Deflection!!” she exclaimed, creating a spinning spherical shield of Chaos Energy around her just as she impacted the robot’s chest. The spinning shield jerked the Eagle’s arm back and threw Pierce to the ground, where he caught himself and immediately leaped back up at the robot with a kick aimed directly at its optical sensor. A bright flash of light filled part of his vision as his kick connected, followed by visual static fuzz sweeping across the surface of the robot.

Before Pierce could celebrate overloading its shields, however, Beta rocketed onto the scene and grabbed the overloaded Eagle by its legs. It then swung the smaller robot through the air like a club, slamming it into Pierce and launching him clear across the room — and into the waiting pincers of the War Wasp.

“Welcome back!” EA taunted over the mech’s loudspeakers as the mech grabbed Pierce with its hand and chucked him toward the ground, where he collided with Spike in an unceremonious heap.

“What the? Where’d you come from?!” Sky exclaimed as she stared at Pierce in surprise. But Pierce wasn’t offered the time to respond as the War Wasp launched a volley of rockets at him and Spike; Pierce immediately dove out of the way, but Spike remained in place, instead materializing a massive tower shield that he used to block the flying explosives.

Looks like they can take care of themselves, Pierce mused as he eyed Spike block the attack. He then turned his attention back to the War Wasp, watching it dive out of the way of a couple of water tendrils and fire more rockets from a hand-held rocket launcher. …Wait. A rocket launcher? I thought it had a cannon or something! Where’d it get that—?

“Look out!!”

“What—?” He spun around in response to Phoenix’s cry, just in time for her to slam into him and send them both tumbling along the ground. Both of them were covered in sheets of golden light as their energy shields absorbed the force of the blow, but the light around Pierce was soon replaced by a visual static fuzz. In frustration, Pierce jumped to his feet and ripped the now-overloaded shield unit off of his shirt before chucking it through the air at the large flying robot that was in pursuit of Phoenix. The dead shield unit bounced harmlessly off of Beta’s shields as it smashed onto the scene and grabbed both Phoenix and Spike off of the ground.

Chaos Deflection!” Phoenix immediately called out, the spinning shield of Chaos Energy forcing open the robot’s hand and allowing her to drop to the ground while Spike simply pried open the fingers that were holding him with his superior strength.

“So much for splitting up…” Phoenix muttered in irritation as she glanced between the flying robots and the War Wasp, which all now hovered in the air mere meters from each other. She then turned toward the one remaining Eagle and shouted “Chaos Cannon” just as Twy fired a high-pressure jet of water at it, successfully overloading its shields in the process. Spike immediately fabricated a disc shield out of thin air and made to hurl it at the exposed robot, but just as he did, both the War Wasp and Beta opened fire on him — the War Wasp with rockets, and Beta with a railcannon. At the same moment that Spike’s shield obliterated the last Eagle, the blows from the War Wasp and Beta flung him across the room, slamming him into the far wall where he slumped to his knees in a mild daze.

Beta immediately blasted off through the air toward Spike, but Pierce dashed after it. He easily caught up to and leaped at it from the ground, using his sheer speed to knock the robot off-course. Pierce rebounded toward the ground, alighting a split-second later — just in time for the War Wasp to dive into him, grab him off of the ground, and then chuck him across the room away from Spike. A cushion of air caught him halfway across the room, allowing him to drop to the ground and resume attacking as Sky and Phoenix both unleashed attack after attack into the War Wasp’s shields. It simply ignored them and fired another salvo of rockets at Spike’s position; a jet of water swept through the air, slicing up several of the rockets, while a whirlwind managed to divert the rest, all while Austin rushed to his friend’s side and helped him up — only to be forced to dive out of the way as Beta turned its cannon toward him and fired. EA seized the opening to dive toward Spike with the War Wasp again, only for Spike — who had now managed to recover — to uppercut the incoming mech and send it reeling.

“Everyone, protect Spike!” Twy shouted as she dashed toward his position, launching jets of water at the War Wasp and Beta as she did so. “EA’s trying to destroy the jammer on his back! If he does that, we won’t be able to stop him from using his beaming systems. We’ll lose!”

“Thanks for the concern, but I can handle—!” Spike grunted with exertion as he hurled a new shield at Beta, knocking it backward through the air. “—Myself!”

“I’m sure you can, but one mistake on your part is all it takes for us all to lose, and I can’t allow that!” Phoenix retorted as she jumped into position beside Twy. In that moment, the War Wasp fired another salvo of rockets toward the three Chaotics, but Phoenix managed to call out “Chaos Deflection” just before they hit, forming another temporary spinning shield of Chaos Energy that deflected the rockets in every direction. In response, the War Wasp fired one more salvo of rockets — but this time, just as the rockets began to emerge from the rocket launcher, Sky swept across them with a torrent of flame. Two of the rockets were caught in the flames as they were halfway out of the launcher, causing them to detonate in the War Wasp’s mechanical face and destroy the launcher in its hands. Now stuck with a defunct weapon, the War Wasp chose to discard it by chucking it through the air at Spike’s position — only for Pierce to intercept the chunk of ruined metal by leaping at it from the ground, successfully knocking it off to the side.

“Hmph. That may be one down, but I still have more where that came from!” EA retorted over the War Wasp’s loudspeakers as the mech zipped through the air toward the ceiling of the room, where it disappeared through a hatch in the ceiling.

Is that where he swaps out his weapons? Pierce mused, ha! Well then, time to destroy the armory! He crouched down and then leaped into the air toward the hatch, impacting it within a split-second — but when he did, a glimmering sheet of golden light momentarily appeared and blocked his attack. What? A shield?! He glared at the hatch as he began to fall toward the ground. Then how did EA go through it—?!

His thoughts were cut short as Beta snatched him out of the air and flew across the room. Annoyed at the robot’s persistence, Pierce began to jackhammer its side, at which point it chucked him at the ground — where he hit so hard that the metal dented. “Ow…” he muttered, his teeth clenched as he jumped back to his feet and glared up at the robot. Damn! Just what’ll it take to defeat this thing? If only there was a way to bypass its shields— wait! He glanced back at the hatch that the War Wasp had disappeared into. …I got it! The hatch shield must go down temporarily to let the mech through, and then it turns back on. If I remember right from Brikén’s teaching, then anything in the way of an energy shield when it activates is destroyed. So if I can get this damn robot in the way of the shield, right as the mech goes through the hatch… yeah, alright! Let’s do this!

No longer than a second had passed while Pierce processed those thoughts, allowing him to dash across the room in an effort to get an angle on Beta so as to knock it into the hatch, all while it zipped around to evade attacks from the others and exchange fire. That big mech won’t be hidden for long. Gotta act now! C’mon Pierce, let’s go!

An instant later, he found an angle — and the moment he did, he took his chance. He crouched down and launched himself into the air toward Beta as hard as he could, kicking it mid-air and sending it flying up toward the hatch. Pierce used the force of the kick to rebound back to the ground faster than falling would get him there, allowing him to launch another jump-kick — but this time, the robot dodged, sending Pierce sailing through the air just as the War Wasp dived through the hatch back into the room, now with what appeared to be a giant cannon in its hands.

Shit! It dodged! Pierce scowled in annoyance. It’s been doing that a lot. I need to be able to hit it without it seeing me — of course! Conrad! Where the hell did he even go? Probably hiding in one of the corners. Well, Conrad, time for you to actually help out!

As he sped off in search of his invisible friend, the War Wasp opened fire with its new cannon, blasting Twy and Phoenix across the room with a well-aimed laser blast. The shields of both women overloaded from the attack, stunning them momentarily and allowing the War Wasp to turn its fire on Spike. He quickly fabricated a new tower shield to block the inevitable laser blast, only to be overpowered and blown backwards from the sheer energy — and then snatched out of the air by Beta, which then proceeded to slam him into the ground, repeatedly. He managed to twist around so as to prevent the device on his back from being damaged, but the robot gave him little chance to react any further; it took a plume of fire from Sky, followed by Austin manipulating loose debris through the air to chuck it at the robot, to distract it long enough for Spike to pry himself out of its grip — and then get flung across the room again as EA fired the War Wasp’s laser cannon directly at him. EA began to pursue, but Kestrel managed to slow the War Wasp’s aerial speed with incredible gusts of wind, prompting him to begin firing on her and forcing her to evade.

“Damn it…!” Phoenix scowled as she watched the fight unfold. “We’re getting no where!”

“We need some kind of plan,” Twy commented, “but what? EA’s shields and weapons are too powerful…”

“And that’s where you’re wrong!”

“What? Pierce?” Phoenix glanced to her side, and then all around her when she couldn’t pinpoint his location. “…Where are you?”

“I’m invisible!” Pierce declared, “I’ve got Conrad with me!”

“I hate everything about this,” came Conrad’s deadpan response.

“What?” Twy’s eyes flitted about in an attempt to figure out where Pierce was standing. “…Oh, I see! Now EA and his robots won’t be able to dodge your attacks!”

“Exactly! But there’s more to my plan than that. Look, I need you guys to destroy the mech’s weapon again, and get it to fly up through the hatch. And I also need you to make sure that the robot is on the same side of the room as the hatch when that happens. If you can do that, then I’ll take care of the rest!”

“This plan sucks,” Conrad interjected.

“What the hell are you planning?” Phoenix demanded.

“Just trust me!” Pierce replied, “follow my directions and we’ll take out the robot!”

“What?! You—! Argh!” Phoenix growled in annoyance as Beta turned toward her and Twy, forcing her attention back to the battle. “Chaos Cannon! Chaos Strike!

“We should split up!” Twy exclaimed as she jumped to the side, just in time to evade a cannon shot from the robot. “You take care of the robot’s position, I’ll get the mech’s weapon!”

“Got it!” Phoenix nodded back, and then turned her focus back to Beta just as it dove toward her. “Chaos Deflection!” she called out, generating another shield of spinning energy that knocked the incoming robot off to the side, at which point she began peppering it with Chaos Cannon and Strike attacks while staying constantly on the move in an effort to evade anything that came her way. The robot’s shields absorbed and deflected all of the attacks, however, allowing it to begin firing back with little issue — until an unseen force slammed into it from the side, knocking it over. Kestrel then appeared on the scene, effectively riding the wind to dash faster than normal and then create fierce gusts of wind to further destabilize Beta’s flying.

“Ah! Kestrel!” Phoenix exclaimed, “focus on getting the robot near the hatch in the ceiling! Pierce says he has a plan to take care of it!”

Kestrel glanced her way and offered a brief nod and grunt of acknowledgment before whipping up a whirlwind around Beta. However it broke out of the gusts of wind and dove toward her, forcing her to dive out of the way — at which point Phoenix shouted out, “Chaos Impact!” As soon as the words left her mouth, the robot was knocked across the ground in the opposite direction from her as though by an invisible force; while it attempted to recover, Kestrel began slamming it with bursts of wind, slowly but surely forcing it across the ground toward the side of the room where the ceiling hatch was.

Under the hatch, the War Wasp swept its tail along the ground, knocking Austin and Twy’s feet out from under them. Spike lunged forward, grabbed the tail, and began tugging in an attempt to swing the giant flying mech around — however it simply lifted its tail into the air, easily overcoming Spike’s weight before flicking him against the wall off to the side. It brought its cannon around to aim at Spike, but just before it fired, a torrent of flames slammed into it, disrupting its aim just enough to miss. Sky then rocketed herself through the air around the War Wasp, shooting out fire all across its shields as it began swinging its tail around in an effort to intercept her, all while it continued aiming its laser cannon at Spike and repeatedly firing. Spike managed to dodge out of the way of the first two shots by watching the cannon and where it was pointing, but the third shot hit him squarely in the chest and flung him backwards again — just as the mech’s tail finally smacked Sky out of the air. The War Wasp then dove after Spike, but just before it could reach him, a giant bubble of water formed all around it, slowing its pace. The mech’s entire surface then began glowing brilliantly as Twy attempted to crush it with the water surrounding it.

“Now this is just annoying…” came EA’s voice over the mech’s loudspeakers, though somewhat muffled by the water bubble that surrounded it. “I didn’t wanna take you out first, but you’ve forced my hand!”

“What?!” Twy’s eyes grew wide as the War Wasp slowly turned toward her and brought its laser cannon to bare. With most of her attention focused on trying to crush the mech, she found herself unable to react to this new threat — but just as the cannon fired, a massive shield zoomed through the air and intercepted the blast. Austin then jumped onto the scene, using his Imperator powers to manipulate one of Spike’s shields through the air and block another laser cannon blast.

“Damn it…!” Twy’s brow furrowed in frustration as she continued focusing on the water bubble, attempting — to no avail — to stop the War Wasp’s movements. “…Sky! A hand…!”

“Say no more, sis! I got this!” Sky jumped to her feet, having just recovered from being smacked out of the sky, and thrust her hands toward the War Wasp. For a brief moment, the water around it seemed to bubble — and then it exploded outwards in a heat-driven steam explosion.

“Tch… how many times do y’all have to try this stupid trick before you realize it doesn’t work against a fuckin’ shielded mech, huh—?” EA began, but just as the War Wasp turned toward Sky’s position, a massive shield — masked from sight by the steam — slammed into the mech’s laser cannon from below. A second shield blow less than a second later loosened the mech’s grip on the weapon, causing it to no longer be protected by the mech’s energy shield — at which point Austin zipped through the air, using his Imperator powers on himself to fly. As he passed the now-exposed cannon, he slapped it with his hand and then manipulated it through the air to throw it at the ground, where Twy quickly obliterated it with multiple jets of high-pressure water.

“What was that about our ‘trick’ not working, again?” Sky taunted.

“You…! Argh!” EA’s frustration was evident over the loudspeakers. The War Wasp then lowered itself to the ground, where it stabbed its tail spike into the metal flooring; Spike lunged for it, his fist out, but before his attack could connect, the spike released an incredible pulse of energy that blasted Spike, Twy, Austin, and Sky all away from each other. Sky managed to stop herself midair with flame jets before she slammed into a wall, and Austin just barely stopped himself and Twy from hitting a wall with his Imperator powers — but Spike had nothing to stop himself with as he was flung across the room and into the flying robot that Phoenix and Kestrel were fighting.

“I’ll have to give you credit for that,” EA growled, “but my patience is wearing thin!”

“What? Shit!” Phoenix eyed the War Wasp with frustration. Its weapon had been destroyed, but Beta was still no where near the ceiling hatch. She and Kestrel had been able to slowly force it back with their powers, but it wasn’t enough to make up the difference. As the War Wasp ripped its tail out of the metal flooring and began to ascend, however, she had an idea. “Spike!” She dashed around him to put him between herself and Beta, which itself was hovering in the air nearly a dozen meters away. “I need you to knock that robot toward the hatch! Okay? Just trust me!”

“What?” He stared at her incredulously. “It’s flying! How am I—?”

Chaos Impact!

“Agh—!” Spike grunted in both surprise and pain as Phoenix launched him into the air toward Beta. But he didn’t need any hints to figure out what to do at that point; as he flew through the air, he wound his right fist back, prepared to slam it into Beta. It began to dive out of the way, but Kestrel managed to slow it with her winds just long enough for Spike to reach it and deliver a full-force superstrength punch. Beta’s shields protected it from direct damage, but the force still flung it through the air up and back toward the ceiling hatch. It stopped itself just short as the War Wasp zoomed past it, but then — right as the War Wasp entered the hatch — Pierce appeared on the ground below and launched himself straight upward, at Beta’s underside. He impacted the flying machine at a solid supersonic speed, imparting enough impact force to knock it upwards toward the hatch…

…and then right in it, just as the War Wasp fully disappeared through it.

What followed was a brilliant flash of light as the hatch shield and the robot’s shield intersected, and immediately after that was the sound of wrenching metal as the hatch shield sliced clean through Beta’s arms and torso. Furthermore, in the instant after the robot was bisected, its shield and the hatch shield interacted to produce a violent burst of energy that obliterated the physical hatch behind the shield, exposing the War Wasp and the small room it was now hiding in. Sky quickly flushed the room with flames, revealing that the energy shield covering the hatch had been completely overloaded as she incinerated everything around the War Wasp with plumes of searing fire. The mech itself remained protected by its own energy shielding, but everything around it was reduced to molten slag that began dropping down into the arena below.

“Ha HA! Alright!!” Pierce whooped as he watched the remnants of Beta and the War Wasp’s armory fall to the ground. “That’s what you fucking get, you bastard!”

“Not over…” Kestrel muttered, alighting on the ground next to Pierce as she kept her eye on the open hatch.

“She’s right,” Phoenix affirmed, running up beside Pierce as well. “We still have to destroy the mech itself!”

“Should be a walk in the park, now!” Spike exclaimed, slamming his fists together eagerly. “No more distractions, and no more weapons! This’ll be easy!”

“I dunno, guys…” Austin responded warily, “don’t get carried away just yet…”

“Fakie, you don’t know just how right you are!”

“…Of course he doesn’t give up yet,” Twy lamented, watching as the tip of the War Wasp’s tail extended down out of the hatch.

“I would say that he’s more stubborn than Austin,” Sky remarked, “but I guess Austin can be a pretty sore loser sometimes, too, huh?”

“Calling me the loser when the battle ain’t even over yet is peak arrogance, and you will pay for that!” EA retorted. “I’ve held back so far, to try and make sure that no one dies. But clearly, that hasn’t been working!”

“I really don’t like the sound of that,” Conrad commented as the exposed tail of EA’s mech turned toward one of the corners of the room and fired its tail spike like a projectile. As the tail spike slammed into the corner and sunk into the floor, another spike appeared on the tip of the mech’s tail and fired at another corner, followed by two more tail spikes fired at the two remaining corners. The tail then withdrew into the exposed hatch.

“Keep your distance,” Phoenix warned, “I don’t know what those are… but I have a bad feeling about this.”

Kestrel shook her head. “Not primary danger.”

“…Well, yeah, the mech is, obviously,” Sky retorted as she passed Kestrel a glance. “It’s still worth staying away from whatever those spikes are.”

“Mm…” Kestrel returned Sky’s glance before looking straight up. She then lifted into the air slightly, using her control over air to levitate as she declared, “above. Spread out.”

“Above?” Pierce echoed incredulously. Had anyone else made the claim, he would’ve retorted that they already knew that the mech was above them — the exposed armory was in the ceiling, after all. But the fact that Kestrel had bothered to say it gave him pause…

…just enough pause for the War Wasp to smash through the ceiling directly above the group, diving toward the ground faster than anyone could react and slamming straight through at the same instant that the four spikes in the corners of the room detonated. Echoes of thundering explosions and wrenching metal rocked the room as Pierce felt the ground beneath his feet give way, the metal bending downwards and exposing what laid beneath the arena:

Open water.

Wait a minute. Open water?! Pierce beheld the sights around him with confusion. Sparkling blue stretched to the horizon in every direction he looked, while above him, he could begin to make out the silhouette of a giant ship. As he fell further toward the waters below, he was able to determine that this was in fact the same ship that he had seen over New York. …Damn! I mean, Austin said we were actually on a ship, but— I didn’t expect this! How are we supposed to fight in an ocean?!

Flashes of light in the air above him drew his attention toward Sky, who had begun flying through the air with jets of flame as she chased the War Wasp in an effort to bring it down. At the same time, Pierce could see Twy and Kestrel attempting to slow everyone’s free fall with their water and air, but the War Wasp constantly fired tail spikes at them, forcing them to focus primarily on evading — and therefore leaving everyone else to plummet down to the waters below. Immediately, Pierce’s attention snapped to Phoenix, who was falling through the air above him. Shit! I can survive impact with the water just fine, I’m sure, and Spike seems durable enough. Twy, Sky, and Austin all seem to be able to fly, and so can Kestrel, but Phoenix and Conrad are screwed! If they hit the water from this height, then…! Damn it! I can’t even SEE Conrad…!

The sounds of ocean waves began to reach Pierce’s ears, drawing his attention downwards once more — when an idea popped into his head. “Conrad! Go visible! Get next to Phoenix if you can!” he shouted skyward, and then focused on the rapidly approaching waters. Swimming wasn’t his strong suit, and while he was certain that his superspeed would help him stay afloat perfectly fine, he wasn’t certain that he would be able to launch himself out of the water the same way he could leap off of solid ground. However, there was still one brief window for leaping into the air to catch Phoenix and Conrad, all thanks to one important attribute of water: surface tension. They say that falling into water from a high enough altitude is like slamming into concrete. So if I can time a kick just right, then I can launch myself back into the air like I was jumping off of solid ground, and grab Phoenix and Conrad! But I only have the one chance…!

He glanced upward once more to locate Phoenix, noting that Conrad had appeared in the air next to her as well — all while the War Wasp continued harassing Twy and Kestrel in the skies above. Damn it. I’ll have to focus on that later. For now… I’m close…! Quickly, he maneuvered his body around in the air and bent his knees in preparation to launch a kick as the ocean below rapidly approached. Splashing noises filled the air around him as metal debris dropped into the ocean, accompanied by loud hissing sounds as the molten slag from the War Wasp armory hit the water and began producing clouds of steam — but Pierce remained focused on the waters just below him, carefully watching the waves and mentally timing his approach. Ready

A large piece of debris fell into the water just a few meters away, generating a massive splash and a resounding echo that drowned out the sounds of battle above.

Ready…!

Natural winds blew past Pierce’s face, carrying with them steam produced by some of the molten slag — and temporarily obscuring his view of the waters.

Oh, shit! Fuck! How high am I?!

The next moment passed as an eternity, with Pierce struggling to determine where he was in relation to his surrounding environment. But between the splashing noises of the large debris and the steam that obscured his vision, it was impossible for him to tell how high he was as he continued to fall. And then, a split second later, he fell out of the steam cloud — now finding himself a mere meter above the water’s surface.

Eyes wide with alarm, Pierce instantly shot his legs out, slamming them into the surface of the ocean below. The pure speed of his kick generated such force that he was able to launch himself off the water’s surface before he broke the surface tension, sending him flying through the air toward Phoenix and Conrad. In a fraction of a second, he reached his arms out and grabbed them both by their hands, carefully ensuring that he had made skin-on-skin contact so as to temporarily give them his own acceleration resistance as they sailed through the air at supersonic speeds.

“Ha!” He grinned and glanced down at Phoenix and Conrad, who both stared back at him with a mixture of relief and panic. “Alright, now let’s—!”

A sudden blow from above sent Pierce reeling, his entire world spinning out of control before he slammed back into the water barely a second later. He flailed around in a panic, utterly unprepared for such a turn, only to break the surface of the water a moment later and then be lifted into the air by a bubble of water around his legs and waist. What the—? Oh, this must be Twy’s doing. Phew. Alright, now it’s time to—! Wait! Where’d Phoenix and Conrad go?!

“Stop fighting, now! Or I kill these two!”

Pierce turned his attention upward, spotting Kestrel, Austin, Twy, and Sky all using their abilities to hover in the air near the War Wasp — which itself was firmly grasping Phoenix and Conrad in its hands, with its tail curled upward to hold its spike menacingly to Conrad’s head.

“You…!” Pierce’s face contorted with fury. “You bastard! If you hurt them, I’ll fucking murder your ass!”

“Y-yeah. You— you wouldn’t kill them, anyways!” Austin accused, momentarily glancing to his side as Twy lifted both Pierce and Spike up to the rest of the group with levitating bubbles of water.

“…Hmph.” EA snorted in derision as he glared through the War Wasp’s canopy at the six Chaotics hovering in the air in front of him. He then looked down at the mech’s hands, which held Phoenix and Conrad by their torsos — and had also blocked Phoenix’s mouth with its giant index finger. “…I’d prefer not to,” EA eventually continued, “but y’all have proven yourselves to be way more of a pain in the ass than I expected, so if I have to, then I will!”

“Figures you’d have to stoop to taking hostages to beat us,” Pierce retorted. “What a fucking coward move!”

“And yet cowards are the ones who live,” EA countered. “Dying achieves nothin’, as does losin’. If this is what it takes to achieve my goals, then…!”

“What the hell are your goals?!” Austin questioned incredulously, “I can’t imagine what kind of fucked up situation I’d have to be in where I thought threatenin’ the life of someone else was a good idea!”

“That’s only because you’ve yet to experience, or even grasp the kinds of dangers that exist in this universe,” EA responded. “None of y’all have. Even SERRCom hasn’t. But I have! I know what’s at stake here, and I know that drastic measures are the only thing that will save Earth, and the entire galaxy!”

Pierce scowled in response to EA’s claim. What a fucking megalomaniac. But there has to be some way to get Conrad and Phoenix out of his hands. Damn it! If only we weren’t all in the air, if there was just some ground to jump off of…!

“Now, I’ll make my demand just one more time,” EA continued, his voice low. “Stop fightin’, and turn off the beam jammer. Otherwise, your two friends here are—!”

Before he could finish his demand, an incredible blast of lightning jumped from the waters below to the War Wasp, generating such a brilliant burst of light and deafening thunderclap that pain shot through Pierce’s eyes and ears. Agh! What the fuck?! Lightning?! Wait, I’ve seen this before…!

As the ringing in his ears and the blinding white over his vision began to subside, Pierce quickly turned his attention toward the War Wasp — just as a large man, with short black hair, olive skin, and a green uniform practically flew through the air with a massive halberd in hand, which he used to cleave clean through the War Wasp’s arms. Pierce simply stared after the man in disbelief as Kestrel quickly caught the newly freed Phoenix and Conrad with carefully controlled winds. Holy shit! Pierce thought in amazement, his attention snapping between the man with the halberd and the mechanical arms that were falling to the ocean below. Did that single lightning blast take out the mech’s shields?! Hot damn!

A second later, another hovering craft appeared in the air under EA’s Cruiser, having just arrived from the skies above. «Surrender, now!» A man’s voice emanated from a loudspeaker aboard the small craft; Pierce didn’t recognize its silhouette or its crimson, gold, and black regal designs, but the voice shouting over the loudspeaker did sound distinctly familiar.

“Mote?!” Austin exclaimed, confirming Pierce’s suspicions. “What the… I thought they were off-world!”

«Surrender!» Mote repeated over the Corvette’s loudspeakers, «or I will be forced to annihilate you!»

“Tch…!” EA glared at the Corvette through the War Wasp’s canopy. The mech appeared to be battered and warped all over after Mote’s lightning strike and Mark subsequently chopping its arms off, yet it still seemed to be capable of flight. However, EA offered no response. Instead, the mech turned to the side, as if looking at all of the Chaotics hovering in the air beside it… and then a burst of light emanated from the cockpit unit as EA ejected backwards. Now without a pilot, the War Wasp began to fall toward the ocean below, with its pilot flying through the air away from the Chaotics — and then, a moment later, he disappeared in a brief flash of light. As soon as he did, the massive Cruiser above everyone began moving, generating a thundering electrical hum as it did so; a second later, a hole in space appeared in front of the Cruiser, which the ship promptly disappeared into, followed by the hole closing and leaving behind nothing but empty skies.

“Damn it!” Sky exclaimed irately, “he got away! Again!”

“The bastard does seem to be good at that…” Spike muttered.

“Still, though…” Twy passed Austin an uneasy glance. “Do you think he really would have killed Phoenix or Conrad…?”

“Why the hell are you questioning? He threatened it, and that’s enough!” Pierce interjected. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to give this asshole the benefit of the doubt!”

Twy and Austin both stared at him in surprise, though Conrad spoke up first.

“Hey man, at least we’re okay now,” he said. “Though it was hella close…”

“Who the hell made that lightning bolt?!” Phoenix questioned, “if we’re talking about ‘close’, then that takes the cake! That could’ve fried us!”

Pierce snorted. “Hmph. I think that’s just Mote’s style.”

“Mote?” Phoenix stared at Pierce incredulously before snapping her attention toward the mystery Corvette, which was now slowly approaching the group. “Wait, as in—?”

“Mote Emerson, the leader of the Eximius Vir,” Twy stated.

“The Eximius Vir! But that means… we were saved by SERRCom?!”

Kestrel nodded once. “Mmhmm.”

“Pretty good save, I’d say,” Conrad remarked.

“No, that’s not my point!” Phoenix responded impatiently. “If SERRCom is right here, then there’s no way we’re getting out of this!”

“…Ah… right, ah ha ha…” Austin laughed nervously. “Uh… welcome to SERRCom?”

“Hmph…” Pierce snorted in derision. He wanted to argue, but as he watched the Corvette approach and a loading bay door on its underside open up, he felt a sinking feeling in his gut. They may have managed to break free of EA’s grasp and chase him off, but now they were merely falling into SERRCom’s hands. As wrong as EA’s plans and intentions might have been, he certainly seemed to be right about one thing: Pierce and his friends’ days of being beholden to only themselves were as good as over.