Next chapter. I don't know if I've gotten any reviews yet, but I'll be thankful for any I missed.

I. Don't. Own. Z.O.E.

Hopefully, I'll FINALLY get something else done in this chapter. I think I'm going all Tolkien, but I wouldn't know.

The title comes from the Project 86 song of the same name. Has little relevance, but who cares? A lyric is mentioned in the chapter. That works. I've given it a little meaning.

Reviews, as always, are appreciated.


Chapter 6: 3 Card

"Well, that actually left me speechless!" Amante remarked with a hint of smothered amazement in her voice.

"Hmm... So that's how to shut you up. So, are still interested in 'destroying' us?" I asked boastfully.

"How rude! If I wasn't interested before, I certainly am now! I'm teaching you some manners, little man, if it's the last thing I ever do!"

"Famous last words, ya know."

"Maybe. But you should know that I was heading to BIS headquarters to throw them a little party. Now I don't have any favors, thanks to you."

"I'm not stupid, BAHRAM whore. That's exactly where I was headed, and you're more in my way than I am in yours."

"Ooh, well aren't we determined? I think you're the one who needs to shut up. But don't bother yourself about it. Let me."

With that, the red dot that the crimson frame had faded into lunged in my direction, exhibiting impressive speed for something other than the Lindskog. Still, it wasn't my frame, and therefore no match. I had one question for MITCH while we waited.

"Hey, does our OF have Self-Sustaining Armor?" I asked.

"Indeed it does. The damage we suffered from the Venator's attack is being repaired as we speak," he confirmed. "You're familiar with it?"

"Yeah, I've read about it. It's an impressive technology. How close are you to fixing that scratch?"

"It may take some time, but no more than half an hour to finish recovering."

"Okay, that's fine. I don't suppose we could do that Burst Attack again and save ourselves a little time?"

"We could attempt it, but this frame is currently capable of only one Horakhty discharge without taking damage. It is a very large strain on our resources, and could destroy the Lindskog."

"Well, then I don't think we'll try that again for awhile. Here she comes!"

I was actually kind of excited about battling something other than a machine. Humans were always far more creative with their strategies, and they had personality in their piloting techniques. Or at least that's what I assumed. The enemy flew towards us. I thought she would stop and begin hand-to-hand combat, but Amante continued forward. There would have been a collision, but I floated to the side at the last second. I'd planned on launching my own attack once she stopped and turned around, but I found I didn't have time. The crimson frame had continued on its way, but its whipping tail arched and fired a thin red ray straight for the Lindskog's head. I moved out of the way, avoiding the sizzling laser by just under a foot.

"It can shoot from behind?!" I despaired. That was certainly no good. Getting behind it would be useless, and that had been my plan. I had seen the shoulder-mounted turrets on the front. It seemed to have us outgunned, at least. But was it any good at close combat? Our opponent was heading back our way without any further attempts at offensive maneuvers. At about fifty meters, the two frames came face to face, each hovering in a Metatron-fueled staredown.

"You dodged! That's an impressive reaction time you have there, little man," Amante complimented with what I guessed was a smirk.

"Glad you like it. It'll be a real honor to beat you down with it!" I replied with a threat.

"You're so weird. Just like BIS, I guess."

"Sure, why not? I've got a problem with both you BAHRAM trash and the UNSF. BIS is the only group that tries to get anything done. The Mars Angels have good information, but they're complacent. And so we come to the third group 'trying' to fight big bad Earth: BAHRAM. Do you really think that you can do whatever you want and say you're just being revolutionaries?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. I'll tell you a secret, since you're such a naughty boy for reading things you shouldn't. I'm a professional. This is my business, you see. And you can think of this little skirmish we're having as a transaction. Beggars and choosers, Sammy. That's all this planet is. And we have to choose. Besides, not everyone deserves to be liberated. If you're no better than the Earthlings, then you really don't need to be free. If you were, you'd have no idea what to do, and then you'd come crying back to the UNSF, and we all know how they'd handle that."

"I hope you're not equating me with weakness. That'd be a darned big mistake."

"Oh no. You're just confused. You've got a frame, and you're capable of getting pretty good with it. If we put aside our differences, we could be friends. BAHRAM is a very important player in fixing what's wrong with this silly, mixed-up universe. I'm sure you can relate to that."

"Once, perhaps. But being a puppet isn't my idea of fun. And I'm sure you can relate to that. But you're the one pulling the strings, so I don't know."

"Hmph. Very well. You seem to have developed a very biased opinion of me and my coworkers. We just want freedom for Mars. That's all. Earth doesn't help us, so we help ourselves. My offer stands, if I don't kill you, that is."

Does this woman ever stop talking? There's a super-powerful frame floating in front of her, run by one angry teenager who's ready to tear her limb from limb, and she's running her mouth about being friends. And here I was fed up before this discussion ever happened! Needless to say, I was about to go back on the offensive. It was my move, anyway.

"This conversation's been dead on arrival," I told her. "But I'd like to know: what is that frame you're piloting?"

"It's name?" Amante reiterated, acting like she was going to avoid the question. She was silent for a moment, but finally answered. "Serqet."

"Serqet. Super. Now I've got something better than 'enemy frame' in my mind. Great. Discussion over."

Lindskog darted forward, arm blades readied for a clash of wills. I spun once, aiming for Serqet's head. I brought the weapon down, hoping for a surprise attack. What I got was a parry. In a split second, the opponent had extended its fingers into energized claws and used them to catch my attack. It was a precise move, but I wasn't fazed. I tried a jab with the other arm, but it also met the enemy's talons, this time with the fingers together in a sort of short, broad-edged sword. I could still get a good aim at my foe with either of the energy weapons centered around the hands. The right would fire into empty space, but the left could get a shot at one of Amante's cannons. I thought about it for a moment, but I had to concentrate on the pushing match before me. I wondered if she'd fire upon us immediately if I broke away for a moment. It would be risky, but I decided to use a wave attack. The left hand opened, the green field flew recklessly into Serqet, and I took the consequential moment of confusion to jump from the immediate vicinity. I charged back in with a burst of speed that I was certain my foe couldn't match. She regained her bearings that second, and dodged the main fury of my swing, only receiving a minor grazing on the right arm. Our OF spun to catch her, and my next blow met another sword formation of the enemy's talons. I'd have said that Amante and I were evenly matched, but she had the upper hand. I moved the free appendage to block one of the red balls of light that rocketed from the cannons. However, I couldn't catch the other, which rammed the left side of the torso, right below the cockpit.

"Aargh!" I grunted as the shock knocked us backwards. I shook the sensation off and focused on stabilizing the frame. Lindskog came to stop several meters away, but Serqet was on us that very second. I somehow was able to block the vicious slash with my own blade, and I lunged forward towards the opening I thought I saw. My point had almost reached the opponent's side when something clubbed my frame in the chest and sent us reeling again. I looked to see that the enemy's tail was in fact long enough to swing around from behind the arms. The tail snaked back and forth, acting like it was sizing me up. I used the moment of hesitation to start charging a wave pulse. If I could get direct contact with the crimson frame's shell, I could do some serious damage. I'd have myself a distraction whether that worked or not. When the armored stinger finally fired its slicing ray, I dropped us below its sweeping range and mentally stepped on the gas. Lindskog roared upwards, its energized fist raised and shining with viridian fluorescence. I unleashed the terrible force I'd built up, the green wave throwing itself against Serqet's straight-pointed nails.

"What in the..." I stuttered, appalled by the result of my attack, which was proving harmless. Amante was holding the charged pulse back in its entirety. The twin cannons pounded against the ethereal assailant, and the other hand flashed forward to hold the pulse. That darned tail was firing again and again, its output somehow augmented in this occasion. I was stunned, but I broke out of my trance and continued my flight upwards. We ascended to the air right above the enemy, and promptly came down hard against the green barrier to start another pushing match. My vision started to become hazy as I put all my mental effort into railing against the waning energetic wall that kept the two combatants apart. I blinked a few times, trying to stay focused. This was a serious strain on my mind, and I couldn't afford to black out. I'd never heard of this happening to someone using I.D.O. Mindflow System before, and that frightened me. I took a deep breath and cleared my head. One thing kept coming up, though. MITCH had been especially quiet for the past few minutes. I needed an analysis of Serqet's structure, and I needed it right then.

"MITCH," I groaned. "Can't you tell me anything about Furlair's machine?"

"Nothing important that you don't already know," he answered. I sighed, and watched as Amante finally broke through the paper-thin wave of energy and went back on the offensive, putting out a straight thrust towards Lindskog's 'gut.' I moved to the side in the nick of time and delivered a stab into the left cannon as the second claw struck my OF's midsection. I'd broken the cannon, but this deep slash was a higher price to pay for it.

"What kind of damage did we just take?!" I demanded as I spun away from the next blow and made away in reverse.

"Mostly superficial, but some more important components were damaged," he informed me, to my displeasure. "The SSA-4 system will take care of some of the repairs, but this will require time."

"Okay, so long as I can still fight."

"That much is guaranteed."

Amante had also backed away while MITCH and I were speaking. She hadn't said anything during our combat. I was still thinking about how odd her voice had sounded, at least compared to a normal human's. I had the feeling that this was more than the average frame, besides the fact that it was dominating this fight. I had to admit that I was inexperienced, but I could hold my own well enough. It didn't matter. Vengeance was vengeance. If I went down, then I went down fighting. That would mean, above all else, that I could be with Amy again. Avenging her was the very reason for my potentially short-lived crusade against BAHRAM. Also, I was not about to let anyone else have to feel the loss I had felt. Seeing her in her final, beautiful, fleeting moments almost drove me mad. Something I could never have because I longed to set it free. One could have called my state of mind cliche, but they wouldn't know the truth of the matter. I had noticed earlier that the photograph in the console had been the only thing that didn't change to a projection of the Martian landscape when the cockpit converted to battle mode. I experienced some pain while looking at that picture. But it galvanized me. The haziness that was clouding my vision vanished, and the headache I was getting faded. Newly resolute, I took Amy's photo from the wall and carefully inserted it into my jacket's inside pocket. It was only one of many depictions of her I kept around. But I brought that one specific item along, just to remind me. If something happened to it, I wouldn't care. I had spares back home. And home wasn't on my mind. I got off my train of thought, and came back to reality. My eyes narrowed on Serqet's diminished form. I found it odd that Amante seemed to be waiting for me to strike again.

"I remember the day when the mojo ran away. You say you're here to back us going down that way. You're the one who's rattling on these cards of plenty. Twelve has come and none are ready," I quoted from an antique song. "Your thumb is working on another victory. No telling officer..."

I fell silent and readied my mind for combat once more, focusing energy back into the Lindskog's arm blades. Only three cards were being played here. Somehow I knew that there was only one from the foe, and two included in my OF. It didn't make the most sense, but I finished the lyric "3 Card" calmly.

"...I've had my card."

We tore through the black atmosphere towards the enemy's static form. There wasn't much to my strategy. But this time I had an opportunity to build speed that was yet to present itself in this duel. I broke the Martian sound barrier quickly, and shot like a bullet towards Amante's frame. She seemed to have made a last-ditch effort to avoid my charge, but that wasn't about to happen. I followed her movements intently, sacrificing as little speed as possible with each change of direction. I brought one arm's blade to bear, and braced for impact. She'd readied her defenses, but there was no stopping me, at least at this point. The collision occurred swiftly, and was over within the minute. We caught Serqet in the shoulder, tearing one of the cannons straight off. The arm could still work, but then the frame itself made an impact. The two were tangled together, the blue OF continuing to fly forward, its crimson opponent carried along. The frames were ground together for several seconds, until Amante's fell away and we flew to a stop. I could see that one of the enemy's wings had been smashed, and it had taken serious damage throughout its layers of armor. I looked down as it crashed into the dust.

"MITCH, if that's what happened to her, then what's the Lindskog's situation?" I wondered, knowing at least that we were still in the air, and nothing else of consequence.

"Reports from various parts of the frame are showing critical amounts of damage. I suggest taking this opportunity to continue to BIS headquarters," my A.I. friend advised.

"I'm with you."

"We seem to have defeated a potentially superior opponent without getting torn to shreds. I would name this as the optimal outcome."

"Wow. Well, I'm glad you trusted me well enough to let me nearly get you destroyed."

"Once more, no thanks is necessary. My exterior hull damage will be repaired within the next day, given a good supply of Metatron. But it is your fault."

"Hey! You didn't tell me not to."

"True."

Suddenly, there was a shrill scream blaring from the radio.

"Oh no..."

"YOU RUINED MY PRETTY SERQET!! ARRGGH!! THE PAIN!! I'M GONNA KILL YOU!!" Amante shrieked, as angry as I'd ever heard anyone.

"Aww no! I thought I was done with you!" I complained.

"YOU'LL NEVER BE DONE WITH ME!!"

"Wait a minute! 'The pain'? Is she hurt or something? I don't see how she could make such a noise and be injured. There's something not right about that frame. MITCH, can you scan for life signs or something like that?"

"I have detected real human brainwaves, as well as the rhythm resulting from a human pulse inside of an Orbital Frame equipped with I.D.O. Mindflow System. I am as puzzled as you are. But we cannot continue a combat situation in our current state."

"Oh no..."

I watched in horror as the mangled form of Amante's frame tore itself from the red dust and hurled towards us, one of the claws still active. In fact, it was pointing straight at us.

"...Awww CRAP!"

"I see no alternative but to attempt an escape," MITCH chimed in among my various hushed profanities. "Chances of success: 22.567% and falling."

I was motionless. I couldn't even trigger a flight response. The BAHRAM whore was heading towards us with no sign of stopping, closing the gap at an impossible rate.

"Sam!" MITCH shouted. I snapped out of it, having heard an A.I. yell, which was certainly out of the ordinary. I didn't even turn tail, though. I just flung Lindskog in reverse, still panicking. The grotesque demon was going full-tilt, literally howling from its speed, even in Mars' thin atmosphere. We didn't have near enough speed to take us out of the way. I started praying as I concentrated as hard as I could. My headache came back, and my vision started to blur. This would be the decisive factor. I'd failed. I accepted that. But I went down in battle, if not fighting. I'd basically given up hope, resigning my fate to Heaven or Hell or wherever I was headed. But suddenly, another frame appeared. And right in front of Lindskog! I heard metal clash with metal, and saw Amante's frame start falling again. It stopped its descent, hovered unsteadily for a moment, and flew off in the opposite direction.

"MITCH, there is SO a God!" I shouted with jubilant relief. I knew this OF before us. It was light blue, with indigo and red in places. It was similar to Lindskog, but stockier. Two great blades stood out on the arm. The sabers glowed blue from their last use. I was going nuts again. This wasn't just any OF that happened to be stopping by. This was the Durandal II. And inside of it was Warren Lumenlux of BIS.

"Hey!" his gruff voice shouted from the radio. "Your frame's taken more of a beating than mine's ever seen. Are you okay in there?"

"Never better," I replied. "Never better."
Whew. I thought I'd NEVER finish that one. And I'm just getting started with BIS.

This time I need to thank:

Project 86, Bride, and Demon Hunter.

They are indeed inspiring. All tough like Warren, only they can sing.

Any reviews are greatly appreciated. I don't really think I need to tell you that.

That was kinda fluffy at the end, but I've been rushed to finish this. I'm going out of town tomorrow. I started this around 2:30 pm, July 22nd, and finished it, unofficially, at 12:57 AM, July 23rd. New record. I think I'm gonna keel over, but that's my problem.

I have no predictions for the next chapter. Have fun guessing, should you be reading this.