Flesh and Blood
Kneeling before the place where Darkon, the great warlord of the Radam Empire, had commanded him to be Gunnar waited patiently for Darkon to appear. He did not have all that long to wait.
"Report, Gunnar. How goes the invasion of Earth?"
"All goes according to plan," Gunnar said calmly. "As you had suspected, their puny armies are no match for our Spider-crabs; their feeble weapons have almost no firepower, and their so-called Planetary Defense Force is nearly helpless. Their forces are being defeated all over the planet. In a matter of weeks, all resistance will be crushed and the planet Earth will be completely under our control," Gunnar finished confidently.
"Excellent. But beware of the Teknomen Saber and Slade. They somehow escaped before completing the transformation, and they may still be loyal to Earth. If they attempt to interfere, kill them."
The red glow of Darkon's signature teleportation enveloped him then, and the Warlord was gone from his command chamber as quickly and silently as he had come. It fell to Gunnar to think of a way to dispatch the traitorous Teknomen, but he had not been put in command of the first wave of the Radam's invasion solely because he had hatched first…
Gunnar looked out over the vast army of Spider-crabs that he had been assigned to lead. Smiling coldly, Gunnar began to think of ways to draw the traitors to him. In the end, though, Gunnar realized that the attack on the Space Ring would be enough to accomplish that. If they were still loyal to Earth, they would be sure to try and protect something the humans considered one of their greatest technological feats.
It was pathetic, really. If the traitors did come, they would die. If they didn't, Gunnar would track them down and bring them back into Darkon's fold, by force if that became necessary.
For a moment, the few lingering traces of humanity that Gunnar had left rebelled against the idea of fighting his two closest friends. Ruthlessly Gunnar crushed them, Slade and Saber were traitors, nothing more. And so there was no reason for Gunnar to feel anything but pride in the fact that he would be the one to serve Darkon's will by killing them.
Deep in the recesses of Gunnar's mind, the few remaining shreds of Fritz Wallace's personality wept soundlessly.
They were in the thick of the invasion now, and Slade seemed to be retreating further into himself the closer they got to Earth. Saber wasn't sure what he could do to help his brother, but he knew that if the Spider-crabs all around them suddenly decided to attack, the two of them were going to be pretty well screwed. Saber didn't intend to lose his last brother, not on top of everything else he had just lost.
"Slade, we've got to get out of this escape pod. The Radam are bound to stop ignoring it sooner or later, and I for one don't want to be a measly Primary Body when they do," after he finished speaking, Saber wondered just how he had known what a Primary Body was.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Slade said dully. "We'd never survive a fight with them in these forms."
Nodding, Saber pushed against the wall of the escape pod and slowly rose to his feet. It was going to be a long hard battle, Saber knew, and he just hoped that neither of them would have to face off with any Teknomen right now. He didn't think Slade could deal with that right now, Saber wasn't even sure that he could deal with having to do that right now.
There was only so much a human mind, or for that matter a human heart, could deal with in such a short time. Now Slade could just make out the far outer edge of the Space Ring, and the horde of Spider-crabs that were attacking it. Then there was no more time for the twins to sit back and plan a strategy, as a small swarm of Spider-crabs came charging straight at the escape pod.
Focusing, both twins managed to do something that they had never done before in all their lives: Saber and Slade both managed to pull their teknocrystals out of subspace. Slade's was emerald green, the same color as his eyes in fact. Saber's was a bright sky-blue, and it was like his brother's in the fact that it matched his eyes, as well.
"Tekno-power!" both brothers shouted at the same time, holding their crystals aloft.
Both words and willpower became the catalysts for the crystals to transform Slade and his brother Saber into the most powerful warriors that Earth would have on its side for quite some time. As the almost rudimentary armor of a Primary Body was covered over and enhanced by that of a real Teknoman, both twins readied themselves for a tough fight.
The escape pod that had carried them to the outer edge of Earth's orbit couldn't handle the massive outpouring of energy from both transformations, and so it ended up as little more than burning spaceborne shrapnel. Once the transformations were done, Saber and Slade began cutting their way through the massed Spider-crabs that had surrounded them.
There were no words exchanged between the two of them; there was no time. But the brothers instinctively watched out for each other, covering for any blind spots or weaknesses that could prove fatal in this kind of battle. Their fight had eventually moved onto the Space Ring, after they had slaughtered their way through about two dozen Spider-crabs.
They were now moving about on the Space Ring itself, running and jumping and dodging across the uneven surface beneath their feet. It was nice to be able to feel gravity again, Saber reflected, then he leaped out of the path of a spray of Spider-crab venom.
"Saber," Slade's voice came through the speakers in Saber's own helmet.
"What is it?" Saber asked. Slade had sounded uncertain, as if he didn't quite know how his brother was going to react to what he intended to say.
"I… I'm really glad you're still here with me."
"Always," Saber said, smiling even though he knew that Slade wouldn't be able to see the action.
Another swarm of Spider-crabs forced the twins apart then, but rather than fight their way back together, Slade and Saber decided that the best way to get rid of this group was to start at opposite ends and then fight their way back together.
"I've eaten your relatives, you oversized sea-insect!" Saber taunted. "Why don't you come and get me?"
Meanwhile, far enough away that he couldn't have picked up on Saber's short-range transmission, Slade was just starting to have his own fun with the Spider-crabs that had the misfortune to be attacking him.
"What are you waiting for, an invitation?"
Slade leapt forward, gazellelike, ripping into his opponents with lethal ferocity.
"Chew on this, shell-breath!" Slade snarled, jamming the sharp point of his double-ended teknolance into the Spider-crab's mouth, then he used his superior strength to flip the thing over on its back. Jabbing his teknolance into the soft, fleshy underside of the Spider-crab's head, Slade finished the job.
That was when he noticed the other Spider-crab that was bearing down on him. "You two were made for each other!" Slade cracked, as he whipped the wounded Spider-crab up and over his head, smashing it into the oncoming Spider-crab. Once they were both incapacitated, Slade rammed his way through them.
Back at his end of the fight, Saber was also hacking his way through a persistent swarm of Spider-crabs.
"Try this, it'll be a real blast!" with those words, Saber focused.
Saber had found out about this ability of his teknolance almost immediately after he had summoned it. The two ends of his lance folded into themselves, ending up looking almost like a pair of rockets. Then they launched, trailing an incredibly destructive ribbon of energy behind them. The bladed ends of Saber's lance did what they were designed to do: wreak havoc and devastation among his enemies.
How are things going on your end?
Fine. Telepathy was a completely new experience for Saber, but at the same time he had been almost prepared for it. Saber decided that that must have been another side effect from what he had been through in the teknopod. How are things with you?
Saber nodded. There were more Spider-crabs to be destroyed, though, so as much as he might have preferred not to have to, Saber dragged his focus back to the battle at hand. The gap between the two brothers was getting narrower, and Saber waved to Slade as the Spider-crabs were cleared from his line of sight. But the hordes seemed endless, and for every two or three Spider-crabs that they managed to destroy, five more came to take their place. But something worse was waiting for the two boys, something a lot worse.
It was Saber who managed to catch the first glimpse of their new adversary, but only because he had turned to grapple with a Spider-crab that had tried to blindside Slade. Standing almost casually a few yards ahead of where the twins were engaging his forces, tapping the flat of a sword-like longbow against his left palm, was a demonic looking dark green figure.
Another Teknoman. The Spider-crabs cleared a path for the three space warriors, having at least enough intelligence to know that they didn't want to be in the way of any of the attacks that were about to be launched.
"I was wondering when you two traitors were going to show up."
Saber squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to remember just whose voice he was hearing. Hell. "Hey Gunnar," Saber heard himself say, as if someone else was speaking for him. "I'm surprised you came out this far. Shouldn't you be back licking Darkon's boots?"
"Oh yes, the funny one," Gunnar laughed cruelly. "I wonder how amusing you're going to find it when I present both your corpses to my master."
"You're completely aware that that's not going to happen, right?"
"Oh it will. In fact I think that just for your insolence, I'm going to kill your brother first and make you watch," Gunnar sneered.
"Over my dead body!" Saber shouted as he charged.
"So be it!"
If the vacuum of outer space had been capable of transmitting sound waves, it would have echoed with the sounds of crashing metal as Gunnar and Saber rammed into each other. Pivoting on one foot Saber kicked Gunnar in the face, forcing them apart. As Saber and Gunnar circled, each looking for an advantage over the other, Gunnar suddenly leapt forward and slashed with his longbow.
The edges of the bow were sharp as razors, and Saber just barely managed to dodge out of the way before the tip could pierce his throat. Pulling out his own weapon, Saber parried Gunnar's next stab. Slade had been overwhelmed by a group of Spider-crabs, and so wasn't able to come to the aid of his brother. The clang and crash of alien steel went unheard in the absence of an atmosphere, but both Teknomen could feel the shock of the blows as they traveled up their arms.
Feinting another stab at Saber's face, Gunnar reoriented quickly and drove the point of his bow deep into Saber's calf, almost severing the bone. Saber screamed; every nerve in his leg feeling like it was on fire.
"Saber!" Slade screamed, shrugging off the remaining Spider-crabs before they could overwhelm him again.
Rushing over to where his brother was, Slade hit Gunnar like an out-of-control locomotive, driving the green Teknoman backwards for as long as his momentum held out. Gunnar, not having the patience to deal with an irate Slade, twisted aside and stabbed Slade in the face. Slade's armor took most of the force of the blow, the outer covering shattering, but somehow the inner layer remained intact.
So Slade didn't suffer from explosive decompression on top of everything else. Gunnar looked back at his target, just in time to catch Saber's punch full in the face.
"You bastard!" Saber raged.
Leaping forward, Saber stabbed Gunnar deep in the left shoulder, before flying past the evil Teknoman to try and help his brother. Gunnar, thrown off balance by Saber's sudden reactions, struggled to reorient himself. He knew that the traitors would probably die before they reached the planet's surface. Or they would perish when they hit the ground, given how fast they were both moving. Either way, it's no concern of mine anymore. Darkon will be pleased.
Not happening again. It's Not! Happening! Again! I won't lose him! Not Slade, not any more of my family! Saber flew, faster than he had ever flown before, faster even than when he had been fighting the Spider-crabs alongside his brother. Slade was still just ahead of him, but Saber was closing the distance between them with desperate speed.
Just out of arm's reach now, Saber managed to put on one last burst of speed, just enough to get him close enough to put his right hand around Slade's waist. Completely wrung out now, all Saber could do was attempt to slow down Slade's descent in any way he could think of. His vision blurred, hanging on to consciousness by a few fraying threads, Slade was still able to sense the presence of his brother close by him.
Saber could see the ground rushing up at them, ground that they would hit like a meteorite unless he did something. Saber knew that Slade wasn't in any shape to do anything about that, but Saber's problem was that he wasn't in much better shape himself. The ground was even closer now, and Saber could even see just where he and Slade were going to hit: it was an empty patch of desert, the kind that no one at all seemed to care about.
They were probably only ten feet up by now; only ten feet between them and the hard, unyielding rock and dirt. Less, now. Saber wondered if he would feel it when they hit, or if he would black out just before it happened, like Slade had. Six feet left… Five… Four… Three… Two… One…
The impact itself was a maelstrom, an endless instant of flying dust and exploding rock. As both their energy reserves reached critical, the twins instinctively transformed out of their armored forms in order to survive. All of the rage and the adrenaline that had been the only things keeping Saber from passing out were slowly but steadily draining away, leaving him weak and dizzy in their wake. He saw the ground coming up swiftly as if to hit him, and Saber knew that he was falling.
And then, after that, Saber knew nothing more…
Coughing, Saber spat. A small trickle of blood ran out of his mouth, Saber wiped it away with the side of his left hand. Looking at the unconscious form of his brother lying collapsed in the dust beside him, Saber noticed that there was a slowly growing puddle of blood forming on the left side of Slade's head. Lifting up his brother's body, Saber saw the shallow cuts that nearly bisected Slade's left eye.
They were in fact shallow, but they were also bleeding very enthusiastically. There was nothing that could be done for his brother out here, with no bandages and no water, Saber knew. Pulling Slade's left arm over his shoulders, Saber slowly rose to his feet, wrapping his right arm around Slade's waist to help steady him.
There was a thick cloud of dust that covered everything, making it harder for Saber to breathe than he would have liked. The cloud seemed to be getting thinner up ahead, but Saber thought that that could be just wishful thinking on his part.
Ringo Richards and Star Summers, who had been sent by the Space Knights to collect more samples of the alien plants that had sprung up all over the planet, stood staring into the deep crater that now graced the Arizona desert.
"Whatever it was, it must've been huge," Star opined.
"Yeah, just look at that crater. It must've been at least a flotilla-class cruiser."
"Do you think there's anyone alive down there?" Star asked, concerned for any human being who could be trapped at the crater's bottom.
"No. I'm afraid not," Ringo said. "A crash like that would have vaporized everyone on board."
Just then, giving the lie to Ringo's earlier assertion, moving shapes were glimpsed through the thick cloud of dust that had been thrown up by the impact. Before the dust cleared, all that could be seen was a large, blurry, moving figure. A breeze cut through the dust then, revealing that there were actually two people. Sliding down into the crater, Ringo and Star got as close to the two new… people as they dared. Now that all the dust was no longer concealing them, Ringo and Star could now see that the people were completely naked.
They were also both very obviously male, and Star made sure to keep her gaze above both boys' waists. They both had long hair, even a bit longer than Ringo's, but both of these boys had black hair as opposed to Ringo's blonde. The one on the left was supporting the other one, who seemed to be bleeding rather badly. Finally, just as Ringo had pulled out his gun and was about to start demanding answers, both of them fainted.
The one on the right collapsed first, pulling down the other who had been trying to support him. Star rushed over to them. Ringo, thinking that someone who was unconscious and so badly injured couldn't be that much of a threat, followed Star after holstering his gun.
"Who are they?" she asked.
"Beats me. Do you think they're even human?"
"What do you mean?"
"Think about it, Star: they come walking out of a huge crater with nothing on, apparently no way of having gotten down to earth in the first place, and with no injuries on one of them. All those things strike me as being just a little suspicious. I mean, who's to say that these two guys aren't working for the aliens?"
"Ringo, that's crazy. These two have obviously been through some kind of horrible experience. The least we can do is try to help them."
"All right, Star," Ringo said tolerantly. "Just don't say I didn't warn you. I'll go get some blankets from the Polaris, you just see if these two are more injured than they look."
With a nod, Ringo turned and walked back over to the Polaris. He hadn't been prepared to find anything like this when he had first been ordered to go and collect those much-needed samples by Commander Jamison. The rest of the Space Knights had either been busy or hadn't been suited for the task, and Ringo knew that he had been asked to go out not only because he was the best pilot that the Space Knights had, but also because he had been pretty much at loose ends when they had needed him.
Stepping back into the Polaris through the aft door, Ringo stepped out of the airlock and came into the hallway that bordered it. There were two doors that could be used to get into the ship, but the other one led into the back of the cockpit, and the emergency supplies were stored in the mid-aft section. Once he was inside the room he had been looking for, Ringo made his way past the ration packs and picked up two of the neatly-folded blankets.
The blankets themselves were heavy cotton, good for insulating a person from the cold. There were only the two of them, to save space, but right now that was all Ringo needed. He wouldn't have admitted it to Star, but he was just as curious about these two guys as she was. Ringo was just determined to be a little more cautious about them then Star was being.
Starting to carry the blankets back out to where Star was with the two boys, Ringo decided to take one of the emergency First Aid kits. After all, there was an injured person out there, despite the fact that they could be working for the enemies that the Space Knights had been formed to fight in the first place. Hurrying back out to where the two boys lay, Ringo took a minute to scan the skies for any sign of Spider-crabs.
It would be just like those annoying mutant freaks to show up when they weren't wanted. But there was nothing in the sky at the moment but stars and the occasional cloud. Ringo strode quickly back over to Star and the two boys. Star had turned both of them over on their backs, and now Ringo could see that the one on the left was a lot paler than the guy who he had been helping to walk.
Moving over to the boy on the right, Ringo began to wipe the blood off of his face. There was more of it than Ringo would have liked, but the face itself didn't seem to be too badly damaged. That was good, but whoever this kid was, he was going to have some scarring over his left eye. Heck, he's lucky he didn't lose his eye, whoever he is. I'm sure he'll get over a little scar or two.
"So, aside from this, how are they doing?" Ringo asked.
"The other one has a deep gash, almost like a stab wound, on his right calf," Star said, pointing to the other boy's leg. "It was deep enough to scratch the bone, but luckily for him it only did superficial damage beyond that. Even then, he's not bleeding badly enough for the wound to have severed any major veins or arteries."
"Good for him," Ringo said, handing Star a bandage and an antiseptic wipe. "Well, after we get these two field-dressed and wrapped up, let's head back to the base."
"Right," Star nodded, as she finished cleaning the other boy's leg wound.
Once both boys were ready to be moved, Star and Ringo wrapped them up in the blankets and hoisted them up into their arms. Carrying them back into the Polaris, Ringo confronted his next problem. Ringo wondered for a minute where to put them so they would be both safe and out of the way. But then he saw that Star was strapping her guy into the chair right beside the one she usually sat in. shrugging, Ringo went over to the chair in the back right of the cockpit that was used for those rare occasions that the Polaris had an extra passenger.
Strapping the boy with the bandages on his face – who Ringo was henceforth going to refer to as 'Bandage-guy' until he figured out something better or until he found out the guy's real name, whichever came first – into the chair at the back of the cockpit, Ringo walked over to the pilot's seat and finally strapped himself in. Star had already strapped herself into her chair, so Ringo knew that it was safe for him to start the take-off procedure.
Lifting off in the Polaris without the use of the launch ramp back at the command center was hard, but Ringo had always welcomed the chance to demonstrate his skills at handling the ship. Some people might call it showing off, but Ringo had never really given much thought to other people's opinions of him. He was just the type to do what had to be done.
And if he could have a little fun while he was at it, so much the better. Now, with the Polaris back in the air, Ringo found himself wondering again just who these two new boys were. They were both very similar looking, which could mean that they were either family or some kind of clones. But the fact that the two of them didn't look completely identical gave more credibility to the former idea.
Ringo decided to leave the matter of the two boys' identities until he and Star got back to the Command Center. Just as he thought that, though, the outer edges of the Space Knight Command Center came into view. Well, that's good. I like a minor mystery just as much as the next guy, but even I'm starting to get a little antsy. Ringo looked over at Pale-guy, who was still asleep in the chair next to Star.
Then he took another quick look back at Bandage-guy. They both seemed to be pretty normal, aside from the outrageously strange manner that they had arrived in. In fact, it was almost hard for Ringo to think about these guys as anything but normal humans. Of course, that could all be part of the aliens' plan, and these guys could have just been cloned from someone who had been killed in one of the hundreds of alien attacks.
Ringo always liked to consider all the possible angles of a situation before he made any judgments about it. He had often tried to apply the same kind of thing to meeting people for the first time, but he would be the first to admit that some people just rubbed him the wrong way from the start. As the Polaris hovercraft settled once again on terra firma, Ringo started turning off the engines and getting ready to disembark.
Walking over to Bandage-guy and unstrapping him from his seat, Ringo picked him up again.
"You know, whoever you are, you're not exactly light," Ringo muttered.
Star, who was already carrying Pale-guy out of the cockpit, turned and gave Ringo a sidelong look. Ringo smirked at her, and Star rolled her eyes at him. Together they made their way into the base of the Space Knights, one of Earth's best hopes for survival. I just hope we're not getting into something all of us are going to end up regretting. I have a lot of friends in the Space Knights, and I don't want to put them in harm's way any more than they already end up there.
With that thought, Ringo made up his mind to watch the two boys, just in case they turned out not to be trustworthy after all. Not stopping to talk to Maggie and Mac the way they usually did after a mission had ended had apparently raised some suspicions on the part of the two technicians. But Ringo and Star both made it to the infirmary before they had to deal with either of the techs.
Setting Bandage-guy down on a med-bed, Ringo watched as the doctors swarmed around him and Pale-guy. There was only one med-bed currently in the infirmary, and the things were a little too unwieldy to be moved with this kind of short notice, so the two guys ended up sharing a med-bed. There had apparently been some minor nicks and cuts on both boys' chests, and one rather large one on Pale-guy's left arm, that Ringo and Star had missed when they had first bandaged the two of them up.
It had probably been because both Space Knights had been more concerned with keeping the two boys from bleeding out through their major wounds than they had been with looking for any others. Apparently someone had thought to put in a call to the Commander, since he was the next one to come striding into the medical bay.
"What's the situation?" Commander Jamison asked.
"Sir, we found these two boys out in the desert when we were searching out the samples of the alien spore plants that you requested," Star reported.
"Really?" the Commander looked over at the two unconscious figures in the bed.
They had been dressed in some spare Space Knight uniforms. Minus the shirts, vests and shoulder pads, of course. The two of them were also wearing slippers instead of standard-issue boots. Both of them were also hooked up to IV fluids by now, since it was pretty obvious that neither one was going to be getting up for awhile. Or at least that was the general assumption.
As he fought to regain some shred of consciousness, Slade found that he could still sense his brother Saber somewhere close by. As Slade started to come back to himself, he could now feel that he was lying on something soft and body-warmed. That didn't fit with any of his earlier recollections, though, since the last thing he could clearly recall was being stabbed in the face by Gunnar and then being left for dead.
Trying to force his heavy eyelids to open, the first thing Slade realized was that he was completely blind in his left eye. That woke him up faster than almost anything, and Slade barely had time to register the female voice that was speaking. Slade thought that the girl might have been talking to him, or maybe about him, but he was much more concerned with finding his brother and finding out where he was. In that order.
Sitting up, Slade tossed the blanket that he only now noticed off of himself. That it landed on the person standing next to his bed was an unexpected but not unwelcome bonus. The next thing Slade did was to pull out the tubes that someone or other had jammed into his arm; who knew what kind of chemicals they were trying to poison him with.
That was when Slade finally noticed that Saber had been lying next to him the entire time. His brother's eyes were just starting to open, and Slade tore the IV line out of his arm as well. Lunging forward; knowing that he would be in a much better position to demand answers after he managed to take a hostage, Slade wrapped his right arm around the girl's neck, trapping her against his body.
His left arm went around her waist, further restraining her and insuring that she wouldn't escape before Slade had gotten some satisfactory answers. Naturally, Saber chose just that moment to wake up.
"Ohhh, my aching everything," Saber moaned, nearly making Slade smile at his brother's melodramatics. "I swear, even my hair hurts."
It was hard for Slade not to laugh, but the situation they were both in right now was a good reminder that this wasn't the time for Saber's rather strange sense of humor. Slade could only hope that Saber realized that, and soon.
"Where are we?!" Slade demanded of the nearest person, a blond in a strange looking blue flightsuit. "Who are you?! Do you serve the Radam invaders? Or are you loyal to the planet Earth?"
Hearing all this, Saber quickly got off the bed and stood behind his brother. Slade didn't acknowledge him right then, but only because he was so completely focussed on finding out the information that could prove vital to the survival of himself and his brother. And to the Earth itself, of course.
"Radam? You mean the aliens?" the blonde man asked, looking confused.
"An answer! I want an answer!"
"Listen you jerk, we're Space Knights! We're fighting for the Earth, not against it! If anyone's the enemy here it's you two, pal!"
"Is that so?" Slade demanded of the now-irate man. "Then how come we're your prisoners? And what's a Space Knight?"
"That's something I'd like to know, too," Saber said warily.
"You're in the Space Knight Command Center, boys. Not a prison."
It wasn't the blond man speaking this time, but a far different voice. Whoever this new person was, they sounded like someone who would probably be in charge in a place like this. Looking up at the huge window that he had only just noticed, Slade regarded the older man with his one working eye. There was a bit of a resemblance to… to people that Slade had once known. But Slade quickly put that out of his mind.
That past was dead, the future was all that mattered now.
"How do I know you're telling us the truth?"
"Tina! You've got to break free now! Get away from that guy!"
"Huh?" Saber muttered.
That had been a woman's voice. Turning to look where it had come from, Saber saw that there was a young, pretty, dark-haired woman standing next to the older, albino man. For a moment, Saber wondered who she was. Then, hearing his brother's grunt of pain, Saber quickly turned his attention back to what was happening in front of him. The girl, Tina, was running up to the blonde man whose name neither of them knew yet.
"All right boys," he said, sounding smug and a little hostile at the same time. "Fun and games are over. Who are you? What are your names?"
"Our names?" Slade asked.
"That's the question," he reiterated.
"I remember someone calling me Slade. That's all I can recall."
"My name is Saber. It's all I know."
"That's all?" Tina gasped, looking horrified.
"Who's in command around here?" Slade demanded, ignoring Tina's pitying look and the blond man's wary hostility.
"I am, son," the albino said. Confirming Slade's earlier supposition.
"Will you help us?" Slade asked.
"In what way?"
"We need to borrow one of your ships to get back up to the Space Ring," Saber explained. "We have some… unfinished business up there."
"Unfinished business? What kind of-"
The sudden blaring of one of the loudest, most grating alarms that either twin had been subjected to in all the time that they could remember cut into the albino's question. For once, the twins were grateful to hear something unexpected. Neither had looked forward to trying to explain just what they were talking about.
"What's that sound?" Slade demanded. Just because he was grateful for the interruption didn't mean that he wouldn't want to know what had caused it.
"It's the Command Center alarm," Tina said. "It means there's some kind of an emergency."
"Of course!" Slade exclaimed.
"The Radam invasion," Saber said, finishing his brother's sentence.
"Bring our new friends along, Ringo," the albino ordered. "Come on."
Ringo, so that's his name, Saber thought, as all four of them rushed out of the hospital-like room. They were hot on the heels of the albino and the woman, and Slade didn't have long to wonder just where they were all going before they got there. 'There' was a huge room with a huge viewscreen, obviously the main center of operations for this Space Knight Command Center. What Slade and Saber saw on the screen was depressing, but not at all unexpected. For them anyway.
Armies of Radam Spider-crabs were landing all over the place, tearing buildings, tanks, fighter-craft and anything else that got in their way to shreds.
"What you are looking at took place two hours ago at Fort Rome. One of the largest bases in the Allied Defense Force."
"Not anymore," Saber said, almost sounding sad.
"You're quite correct I'm afraid. It was totally destroyed," the albino said, sounding remarkably calm for someone who was giving that kind of news.
On the screen, another group of fighter-craft had just been destroyed by a single Spider-crab. The image then changed to a group of tanks, again confronting only a single Spider-crab. The tanks did about as well as the fighter-craft, and they of course met the same fate.
"These images were just received by coded relay from one of our few remaining orbital satellites. They indicate that the same pattern is being repeated all over the planet."
"What? All over the world?"
"Yes, Star. They're attacking everywhere."
Star. That's a pretty name. Before Saber could have any other thoughts about it, though, Slade butted in.
"We're wasting time just standing around here talking about it! Saber and I need to borrow one of your ships to get back up to the Space Ring!" Slade exclaimed, jumping in front of the albino commander.
"What makes you think we've got a ship?" Star asked Slade.
"You mean you haven't?" Saber asked no one in particular.
"What're you guys talkin' about?" Ringo asked.
"What I'm talking about is stopping the alien invasion!"
"Unfortunately there are no spaceships on Earth, son," the albino said.
"What?!" both twins exclaimed at once.
"None?" Slade asked.
"That can't be right," Saber muttered, and then bit his tongue to keep himself from saying anything else.
"What happened to them all?" Slade asked.
"I'm sorry," the albino said, not sounding particularly sorry at all. "But at present that information is classified."
"That's a lie!" Slade burst out suddenly. "The Space Knights must have a space ship!"
Tact, older brother. Remember what you always told me about having tact? Saber didn't say any of what he was thinking, though. He and Slade were brothers, and they had to present a united front to these 'Space Knights'.
"If we did, what would you do with it? What would you use it for?"
"What you've seen so far is nothing," Slade said, seeming to go off on a completely irrelevant tangent. "It's only their advance force, testing your defenses. If you don't attack their main force and reduce the odds before they reach Earth, you'll never stop them! Humanity's only chance to survive is to attack before they get here, while they're still in space!"
"Why should we listen to you?" Ringo demanded.
"My brother knows what he's talking about. And besides, what he's saying makes sense, doesn't it?" Saber asked.
"Yes it does. And yet, there are other things that don't make sense at all. For instance, how did you two learn that the aliens are called Radam? And what makes you boys think that fighting them on your own will do any good?"
"Just give us a ship! There's no time to explain! We need it now!" Evidently, Slade was not in the mood to waste any more time.
A huge explosion on the screen drew the attention of all the participants in the argument then.
"The new spaceship is ready," Tina said, coming in with singularly bad timing.
"New spaceship?" Saber said turning toward Tina, hopeful excitement just barely audible in his tone.
"New spaceship?!" Slade repeated, rushing over to where Tina stood and grabbing her by the shoulders. "That's what you said, isn't it?! Now tell me where I can find this new spaceship of yours!" Shaking the girl caused the bandages around Slade's head to come loose, and he shook them off without a second thought. "Tell me!"
"Well," Tina said with a bit of difficulty. "The Blue Earth is in Hangar Three, I think."
"Finally!" Slade exclaimed, dashing out of the room.
"Thanks for all your help!" Saber said over his shoulder, running to catch up with his brother.
The blaring alarms came as somewhat of a surprise to both twins, despite the fact that they probably should have expected something like this to happen given the way that the Space Knights had reacted to their presence in the first place. Though, I have to admit that we really didn't do much to improve their opinions of us, Saber thought to himself.
"Code Red Alpha. Code Red Alpha. Intruder alert. Intruder alert. Destination: Hangar Three," a monotone female voice announced with such regularity that it suggested that 'she' was in fact a computer.
"Great," Saber groused. "Well that's going to make things harder for us."
They quickly came to a metal door. Slade rammed into it with his left shoulder, and Saber finished the job by kicking the door all the way open. Slade ran through first, while Saber quickly rebalanced himself. Slade was running fast enough that he almost tripped and fell headlong down the stairs, but he managed to right himself in time. Using the railing to vault down to the lower landing, Slade ran the rest of the way down the stairs.
Saber was now a few feet behind his brother, but he vaulted over the railing and managed to land on the lower flight of stairs, just a few steps behind Slade now. Both twins raced out of the stairwell and into the hallway that presumably led to Hangar Three.
The base was a bit confusing for someone who hadn't been there before, and Saber couldn't help thinking that that was the entire point of the design. Both he and Slade hoped that they would be able to find this 'Blue Earth' before the Space Knights' security forces found them.
Saber's spinning kick knocked one of Slade's opponents to the floor, and Slade's punch took out one of the others. There were still more guards, or personnel, or whatever they were to deal with, though. As Saber and Slade moved quickly through the corridor, Slade spotted someone who might be able to help them. It was a red-haired woman.
She was just sitting against the wall, apparently thinking that she would somehow not be noticed if she didn't move. That plan was just about to fail, though. Grabbing her by the top of her purple overalls, Slade shook her violently.
"Tell me how to get to hangar number three!" Slade ordered. "Tell me!"
"Don't tell him anything, Maggie!" shouted a Scottish-accented voice from just behind him as the woman, Maggie, cowered. "Come here, you!"
Saber, having fallen behind Slade in order to better protect his brother from anyone who might try to attack from the rear, heard the commotion and came racing over. He was just in time to see a large, burly, rather portly man grab Slade in a bearhug and lift him off the ground. He's strong. I'm going to have to be careful about how I handle this. I don't want Slade getting hurt because of my carelessness, Saber thought to himself.
"No Mac, don't hurt him!" Maggie pleaded. "I don't think he meant any harm!"
Slade, being held up over Mac's head, was in the perfect position to watch as Saber came charging to his rescue. He didn't know exactly what his brother did to make Mac loosen his grip, but from Saber's stance it had probably been one of his brother's infamous high-impact punches.
"Sorry, but I have to go now," Slade said, slamming his head into Mac's with all the force he could safely use. Back-flipping out of the man's grasp as Mac started to fall, Slade landed back on his feet with the grace of a cat.
"Thanks," Slade said.
"Not a problem, brother mine," Saber acknowledged.
Turning back to Maggie, Slade once again grabbed her by the top of her overalls.
"Now, you're going to tell me where Hangar Three is, or else," Slade threatened, Maggie moaned in response. "Tell me! Where's Hangar Three?! Where's the Blue Earth?!"
"Go out that door and take a left," Maggie instructed, pointing to a door down the hall in front of them. "You'll find Hangar Three about a hundred yards down that hallway."
"Thanks!" Slade shouted as he ran off, following the directions that Maggie had given him. "Thanks a lot."
"Thanks again for your help! Sorry to scare you like that!" Saber called over his shoulder, following Slade.
As the twins turned left out of the door, then ran the hundred yards that Maggie had instructed them to, they came at last to the huge entrance doors to Hangar Three. Saber whistled softly.
"This is the place," Slade said confidently.
"Pretty hard to miss," Saber opined.
Punching the glass that protected the door controls, Slade managed to get the entrance to the hangar to open. Once the doors were open and the twins' eyes had adjusted to the brighter lights, both of them marveled at the sheer size of the Blue Earth. After about a minute, though, Saber and Slade remembered that they weren't here to sightsee. And that there were probably still people after them.
Both boys quickly made for the relative safety of the spacecraft in front of them. Inside, Slade grabbed two red and white jackets. Tossing one to his brother, Slade kept the other for himself. Saber, only now noticing that he was cold, quickly put the jacket on.
"Can you pilot?" Slade asked, as he passed the pilot's station.
"Already on it," Saber said, plunking himself down in the pilot's seat and zipping up the jacket as he did.
As Saber worked the piloting controls, Slade familiarized himself with the navigation of the Blue Earth. Starting the take-off procedure proved to be a little bit more complicated than Saber would have preferred, but he soon had the ship off and coasting up the launch-ramp.
"And we're off," Saber commented. "I hope we make it back from this."
"Yeah," Slade muttered. "So do I."
There was a sudden lurch as the Blue Earth broke free from its pre-launch vehicle, and the usual high-g's that were always a part of leaving or entering outer space. As the last scraps of the Earth's atmosphere were left behind, the twins' destination was thrown into stark relief.
"The Space Ring," Saber said with some satisfaction.
"Yeah, the Space Ring," Ringo, however, did not sound quite as enthused about their achievement, as he grabbed Saber by the collar of his jacket. "With all its weapons pointed right at us. And we have no way to defend ourselves! I hope you two hotshots are happy now."
"Get off me," Saber swatted Ringo's grasping hands aside. "At least we're trying to do something about that."
"They're zeroing in!" Star shouted, before Ringo could think of something else to say. She edged Slade out of his seat and quickly took his place at the navigation console. "Taking evasive action."
"So, what're you two hotshots going to do now?" Ringo asked, sarcasm practically dripping from his words.
"You just keep this ship flying, if that's not too hard for you," Saber shot back. "We'll take care of the rest." Saber smirked at the look on Ringo's face.
"Hey, it wasn't my idea to attack these guys in their own back yard," Ringo protested. "There's no way we're going to survive for long against this kind of firepower. We're getting out of here!"
The lasers on the Space Ring continued their barrage, and Slade nodded to Saber, signaling that it was time. Saber followed his brother to the doors at the back of the Blue Earth's cockpit.
"Thanks for the ride, guys," Slade said.
"Yeah, too bad we can't stay longer," Saber smirked.
"What, are you guys getting airsick on me now?" Ringo asked, not picking up on the seriousness of the boys' declarations.
"Saber and I have to destroy as many as we can," Slade informed them.
"What're you talking about? From inside the airlock?" Ringo demanded.
"That would be extremely stupid," Saber scoffed.
"We're going to fight them out in space, Ringo," Slade said.
"That's not possible," Star opined.
"There's no oxygen out there, it's a complete vacuum!" Ringo shouted. "You'd both be killed!"
"No, we wouldn't," Saber said. Not by the lack of air anyway, maybe by the Spider-crabs… Or Gunnar.
"You're wrong," Slade said, backing up his brother.
"You wouldn't have a chance!" Star shouted, trying again to dissuade them. "Don't you boys understand?"
"You two are the ones who don't understand!" Slade shot back, just before he opened the airlock doors and proceeded Saber into the only exit on the Blue Earth that hadn't been locked shut when the ship had left the earth's atmosphere.
Now standing alone together, side-by-side in the airlock, no words were exchanged between the two boys. It wasn't for lack of time, not in this instance, but because there was no need. Slade and Saber both knew what they had to do. Now all that remained was to do it.
Slade held up his right hand, while Saber pulled his right hand out from his side in a way that would suggest that he was pulling something out of his pocket. Both Slade's green crystal and Saber's light blue one appeared within seconds of the twins having summoned them. Slade and Saber both held their crystals aloft.
The energy of their transformations filled the airlock, snapping and humming as their armor was recalled from its resting place. Still surrounded by the radiant energy of their individually colored crystal-fields, Saber and Slade both flew right out of the airlock and into space.
The first things that Ringo and Star saw, the things that let them know that something drastic had just happened, were the two strange… glowing things that shot out into space; flying just ahead of the Blue Earth. There seemed to be people inside them, one in each, and Star was the first one who thought to scan the airlock for any lifesigns. It was empty.
That was when both Space Knights noticed that the boys they had just met were somehow inside those glowing energy shapes. The one that held Slade was a bright emerald green, and Saber's was a bright sky-blue.
"Wow! That's incredible!"
"I'll say," Star added.
More incredible things were to come, though.