7:08 AM (Local)
Have you ever had one of those dreams?
You know the type. The ones that you tell your friends about later that makes them wonder what kind of CRACK you've been smoking… Or at least, you imagine that's what their response would be.
Ever had a dream like that?
Imagine if you could, half a dozen combat cyborgs, in full battle gear, standing on empty air at six thousand feet. Okay, given the scenario that might not be too weird. But what if they were singing?
And not merely some little battle hymn or catchy tune, but singing with a full dance number up to and including line dancing. Now throw in the fact that they're all wearing tiger stripe bikinis and pirate hats and you have a display that Freud would have a field day with.
The only thing that didn't seem to match up, was the music. It consisted of a catchy tune, but was drowned out constantly by a loud tone, and had been that way for a good half the dance number. Finally, the one in the middle got fed up with the obnoxious sound, turned, pointed her finger, and-
Crash sat bolt upright in the infirmary bed.
"CUTE-BUT-DEADLY!" He snapped, almost falling off the side in surprise.
After a few seconds, the face of General Roland resolved next to him, bathed in a harsh pulsing red glow, the door behind him shaking as if it had been slammed open in a hurry.
"Whoa, you've gained demonic powers," Crash blinked groggily. "The evil glowy kind…"
"Don't be daft!" Roland snapped, stepping away from the bed. "I can't believe you could sleep right through an alarm that loud."
"Alarm?" Crash asked. Looking around, he realized for the first time the ambient red glow of several information hologram panels all displaying 'ALERT' in bright red Mid-Childan lettering. In time with those, came the shrieks of the standard Mid-Childan emergency action signal; A combination of a high pulsing squeak, and a slow howling klaxon.
"Oh, that alarm."
"Get up. Get your jacket. " Roland snapped. "I want to be airborne in fifteen minutes."
"Airborne?" Crash asked, shaking the sleep off. "What's going on?"
"That's what I'd like to know too!" Shamal snapped, briskly entering the room. "Just where do you think you're going with my patient General? I haven't released him yet."
"Now is not the time doctor," Roland replied sharply as they made their way out of the room. "I've got a situation to deal with, and I need my personnel now."
"What's the situation?" Crash asked, but immediately he felt ignored as Shamal continued to bicker in what her opinion was his best interest.
"I still haven't been able to determine if there's any lasting injury from yesterday's incident," she informed the rapidly striding commander. "The nature of his injuries may still have unseen effects and it's just not safe to let him walk out of here as if nothing happened."
Roland whirled on her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Look, I know you want to make sure he's okay," he began. "But unless you have something more solid than your own vague sense of unease, I'm going to have to disregard your advice. Do you have any kind of evidence to back your suspicions? Or is it just that his recovery was 'too easy' for your own tastes?"
Shamal worked her mouth once, but bit her lip and huffed grumpily.
"I thought so," Roland nodded. "If it helps, I think it's all too convenient myself. But my pilot is not a case study on unusual linker core conditions, and I need him, NOW."
"What is going ON?!" Crash interrupted loudly, this time determined not to be brushed off. Slightly surprised by his aggressiveness, Roland stared at his pilot for a few seconds before responding.
"Just a few minutes ago we picked up a signal on the short wave band from MIDSAT Alpha, relaying a text message."
Crash squinted and turned his head.
"We got a short message from McGreggor," Roland continued. "It cited code: One, two, zero, seven, one, nine, four, one."
Crash froze, his eyes getting wide as his face drained of color.
Shamal looked between the two.
"What?" she asked.
"It's an emergency code," the General explained. "It corresponds with a date back home. And it means simply-"
Crash bolted down the hall, interrupting his commander with a quick reply.
"Abenobashi is under attack! Which means Fox is in danger!"
"Exactly," Roland finished wryly, turning back to Shamal. "And I'm willing to be you that it's those psychos, Sektor Twenty-One. So I need all the manpower I can get."
Shamal sighed deeply, but the harsh look on her face melted to defeat.
"Do what you have to," she nodded. "But try to keep him in one piece. I have enough problems patching Nanoha up from her own bull-headed antics."
Roland set his jaw.
"I don't intend to get my best soldier killed," he asserted firmly. "And you still have Yagami to take care of. Focus on her, and I'll focus on Crash. Deal?"
"Deal," Shamal nodded.
Roland moved past her and began half-jogging at brisk pace down the hall before she suddenly turned and shouted after him.
"What?" Roland snapped over his shoulder.
Shamal's gaze turned deadly as she clenched her fists.
"Kick their ass," she stated. "For Hayate."
"They're on my turf now!" he responded, rounding a corner. "And I don't play nice…"
"I'm through playing nice with these punks!"
Martin turned his head to Don, lit by the dim red glow of emergency lights. The last twenty minutes had gone to hell in a hand basket. He'd been down here doing his usual early morning briefing with Don when Lime had noted some rather strange magical readings across the complex. The next thing the sub-commander knew she was barking about the appearance of Type I gadget drones all over the place, AMF going up, and all manner of general noise. Seeing an AI like Lime actually panic had pretty much an academic response. He immediately slapped his hand on the command console's hard-wired panic button. And not a moment too soon. Seconds later Cherry reported the systematic destruction of the communications network.
The base's assailants got to work quickly. Drones spread out in every direction, tearing into any vehicles or equipment in the open while various groups of armed men set loose shooting at any personnel they saw. They watched this horror for five minutes before a shudder and the sudden blackout of the cameras announced the destruction of the primary generators.
TICTOCC of course, had backups.
"Let me out, I'll rip them apart," the senior mechanic snarled at the main entrance.
"Warrant Officer Donald," Martin commented dryly. "For the fifth time, calm down."
"How can I keep calm at a time like this?" Don asked with a snarl. "Those bastards practically appeared out of nowhere and started trashing everything in sight. Months of work, RUINED!"
The XO huffed and shook his head, turning away from the ranting mechanic.
"Cherry," he commented to the screens in front of him. "Did you find their insertion point?"
"Camera Five Charlie Seven," the demure AI responded. "Just twenty seconds before the communications towers were knocked out."
The AI displayed a grainy image showing the glowing edges of a spell pattern mostly obscured outside the camera's field of vision. After a few seconds it flashed brightly. A moment later, several drones and men started flooding into view, fanning out in all directions.
"There were six altogether," Bloodberry cut in. "Obviously previously prepared summoning patterns. The distance between them and raw power is too much to be done on the spot. This was a carefully executed attack."
"So what was used to trigger them all at once?" Martin continued. "Did you locate the source?"
"Cell phone transmission," Bloodberry commented idly. "The main signal came from the test facility cargo landing strip near the test hangars. It was relayed across our comm system before they blew up. That's the only way a weak signal like that could have hit all the islands. The bombs that took out the comms were probably wired on a delay.
"How's the air field looking?" Martin continued. "Anyone get off the ground?"
"I can't say for certain without the cameras," Cherry advised. "But from what I could tell, no aircraft were able to launch in time and one of the circles was right on the runway. Last contact with AWACS Glass Eye was zero-five hundred when the comms went out. Vector three, three, six at one hundred miles polar Abenobashi. Altitude angels twenty-six, heading two six zero."
Cherry's screen blinked out to be replaced with a mid-range map of McGreggor, marking the last known position of the aircraft and its projected course.
"Hmmm…. If they follow procedure," Martin began. "They'll climb to their max altitude and fly in the direction of Cranagan until they can establish contact. I'm not sure if that alert signal got out before the comms went down. We may be down here for three hours before anyone even knows there's a problem. What's the casualty count?"
"Hell if I know," Bloodberry supplied. "All sector nodes indicated a successful lockdown except for Seimei, so most everyone who wasn't hurt or killed in the initial attack should be safe, for now."
"However," Cherry continued in her sibling's place. "The suddenness of the attack no doubt means that all exterior guards near the strike area are probably dead or seriously wounded. Only the fact that this occurred so early has kept my casualty estimates in the double digits."
"And what's your estimate of our holdout time?" The vice-commander continued.
"TICTOCC security bulkheads have all fully sealed," Cherry answered. "Unless they're dedicating their attack to this facility, it would be impossible to breach-"
Don whirled on the sound coming from a panel near the ground on the left side of the wall. A flash of light forming a large vehicle wrench in his hand. Martin likewise, whipped out an S3U device and tracked the spot where he heard the sound.
"My first chance to make someone regret attacking us," Don shook his head with a smirk. "Come on out punk!"
There was a metallic thud as something hit the panel. Then it repeated twice more, jarring it loose. Finally, with a loud bang, the panel popped free, disgorging a large man in a white coat.
"AIR!" he gasped in a near panic. It was only for his recognition of that absurd outfit that kept Don from killing Cooper with a blow to the head.
"You blundering dumbass!" the senior mechanic snapped in slight relief. "I was about to give you a lobotomy."
"AIR!" Cooper gasped again, trying to crawl away from the new entrance.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Don asked. "Did you not hear what I-"
"Step back, STEP BACK!" Key barked from under Cooper's coat, making Don back off a few steps. "Can't you see he's claustrophobic?"
"How'd you two get in here?" Martin asked with a scowl. "This place is harder to crack than Bureau HQ Tower."
"The level three underground utility tunnel from server center two," Key responded as if it was obvious. "It connects with the central air shaft just below security seal six. There was just enough room for LARDO here to squeeze into it."
"That tunnel's two hundred meters long," Don frowned. "How did you manage to get him to crawl that length like this?"
"You'd be surprised how motivated Cooper can be when his ass is on the line," Key chortled.
"And the shaft?" Martin tilted his head. "Hundred foot drop there…"
"He's fat," the device snapped back sarcastically. "The shaft's half a meter wide. Do the math."
"Is he going to be okay?" Don turned to the engineer.
"I'm," Cooper began between huffs. "Okay… It was dark… So I couldn't actually see how small the shaft was. Otherwise…"
Martin turned back to the command terminal.
"Do you think you could get any kind of communications working?" the vice-commander asked. "We're blind, deaf, and mute down here."
"Sure I could…" Cooper huffed out. "Just… Give me a second…"
"I'm linked up with the M.E.G.A.S. at the moment," Key supplied. "Its back at the base of the shaft. I had it follow just in case we needed to have some fists."
"I could… Wire the device remote link into from M.E.G.A.S. into Cherry and use it to broadcast on device channels at long range." Cooper's breathing was calming down. "Key's too small to have good range through this rock."
"I prefer the term 'compact' myself," Key quipped.
"Then get started ASAP," Martin instructed coldly. "Bloodberry, how do our gate crashers look?"
"They haven't breached security seal two yet," the AI responded with a smirk. "Looks like they wasted most of their momentum on the first seal."
"It's only a matter of time before they manage to get some explosives from D complex," Don grumbled.
It was as if someone had heard him when a deep rolling boom shook the control center.
"Security Seal Number two holding," Lime suddenly chimed in happily. "Plus I just found a way to reroute the grid and get power to our external cameras. That should help."
"How long do you think we can hold out in here?" Don asked.
Martin gave the Warrant Officer a stern look.
"Long enough." He quipped.
A few hundred meters above on the surface, a pair of yellow eyes appraised the latest attempt to breach the plate.
"So this is what Magic Forged Steel looks like…" Mr. Kage intoned quietly. "The kind of material you get when you put real motivation behind magic. Not bad."
Stepping through the pre-dawn darkness, he reached down and ran his hand across the scorched metal surface.
"Three times the density and weight, a dozen times stronger."
Standing back up, he turned to the other man accompanying him. In the dark, it was hard to determine who was who, but it was easy to read the agitation in the other man's voice.
"I still don't see why you're so interested in blasting through it though," he commented. "You can get some from the freight area or the test labs."
"I'm not," the mysterious masked man commented non-chalantly. "The command center has nothing of particular value to me. This endeavor merely acts as a means to apply pressure to the command staff. That I can embellish a few curiosities in the process is merely a bonus."
"Then you'd probably like the bonus in the test hangar better," the other man responded. "I saw project Lawmaker at work. I'm sure you'd love to get your hands on some of that technology."
"Indeed," Mr. Kage nodded. "Though it would be more the interest of one of my associates. However that is not the reason I'm here. How is the main event progressing?"
"You've got what you need," the other man replied. "It's already shipped out. I'd double check it all after letting your boys handle it though. It's precision equipment. What exactly are you planning?"
"Now that would be telling," Mr. Kage noted, turning away and walking towards a hole blown in the side of the building. Their improvised entrance.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out you're preparing to start a war," the man asked. "But to what ends?"
Mr. Kage turned, his eyes almost seeming to glow in the dark.
"A history lesson, Mr. Logan," he commented. "A lesson older than the TSAB itself."
The logistics manager paused at the usage of his name, but brushed it aside.
"I was never too good with history," he responded.
"A pity," Mr. Kage continued, turning away once more. "It has been shown that those who fail to heed the warnings of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. The TSAB is no different than those societies that came before it. Al Hazred, the Belkens… None of them learned."
"So that means-" Logan began.
"I am going to be a Terrorist," Mr. Kage explained curtly. "I am going to be a TERRIFYING terrorist. In such a manner that even the most ignorant of fools in the bloated, corrupt Bureau will realize how badly they've failed. It will be grand, it will be showy, and it will be terrifying."
"That still doesn't tell me what you're up to," Logan responded coldly. "I'm risking everything just doing this."
"Do you how to keep a secret, Mr. Logan?"
The logistics manager almost started in surprise.
"Because I do," the terrorist leader continued seemingly off hand. "And if one wishes to keep a secret as such, the first rule is not to tell anyone. Would you not agree?"
Logan nodded, and despite the dark, it seemed the masked terrorist could see him as clear as day.
"So why would I tell you my aims and goals? A man who's not even sure if he wants to go along with this plan even though he's past the point of no return…."
There was no response.
"Mr. Logan, human beings are horribly ineffective at keeping secrets," Mr. Kage continued in a lecturing tone. "Most just lack enough discipline for it, preferring the attention they gain by telling others of their exploits or other bits of juicy grape vine gossip. Most of the rest are incapable of hiding any secrets. The human body can say more with the subtlest of actions than entire pages of masterfully scripted dialogue could ever portray. If I entrusted the secrets of my plans to everyone here… Not only would my plans collapse in their entirety, but it would be the hottest gossip on every world administered by the bureau for months."
Mr. Kage stepped out into the open and faced the east, where a slight early morning glow was beginning to bring a blue tinge to the horizon.
"Thus, you only learn what you need to know, what I deem I need to tell you. Every person here has instructions that simple. This is where you will be, this is what you will do, and this is how you will do it. You need know nothing more. That is what has kept this organization active despite the best efforts of the TSAB, and it is how it will continue to operate."
"They put an awful lot of faith in plans you won't even tell them about," Logan sniffed.
"Faith?" The terrorist leader turned and regarded him from behind the mask. "Mr. Logan, these men, each and every one of them, lost their 'faith' a long time ago. It is not faith that drives them; it is not trust that compels them to follow my words. They are not participating in this as a team effort any further than to spit on the TSAB. Their own goals and desires drive each and every one of these men. Some for profit, others out of spite or irrational prejudice… And some motivated simply because they see something they can do for themselves. They would do all this on their own if given the chance. I merely point each of them in a direction and set them to a particular task. And they get that task done of their own volition. What the task means in the big picture is of no concern. The fact that their seemingly random tasks happen according to my design is merely a bonus. These men, like you, are merely pawns. And they don't care."
There was a loud boom as another attempt to blast through the armor plate rattled up from inside the building.
"All of these men are more motivated than ninety percent of the entire TSAB, it's amazing. They have so much potential."
Then suddenly, Mr. Kage seemed to slouch, the sound of a sigh escaping his mask.
"It's a pity. They'll all be dead by noon."
"What?" Logan asked, getting nervous.
"You know quite well what I'm talking about," the terrorist leader waved a hand to the building glow in the eastern sky. "One does not strike the hornet's nest and expect to walk away unscathed. This attack was perfect. But by no means do I expect the advantage to last. Once the TSAB realizes the blow its been dealt here, the response will be brought upon this place as if a message from death itself. The pawns will have to be sacrificed for the sake of the mission."
"I don't like the idea of being 'sacrificed' myself," Logan commented dryly. "And I don't like being a pawn."
"Then take a couple Type IIIs and some of the other cannon fodder machines and look after that little pet project of yours," Mr. Kage nodded. "You should be ready to leave as soon as things start heating up. I trust that someone like you already has their escape route planned?"
"Yes," Logan nodded calmly. "I've already got a jump scripted out in-"
The masked man placed a hand in front of Logan's mouth, silencing the logistics manager before he could finish.
"Secrets…" he stated simply. "Are best kept that way."
"Go," Mr. Kage motioned. "I have business to attend to."
Logan turned, heading on foot towards the test hangar area. As he went, he activated the voice command on two large spherical gadget drones. Each three meters in diameter. They were remains of Jail Scagletti's previous attack, somehow scooped up by Sektor Twenty-one and seemingly modified. They seemed, smarter.
As he went, he shuddered. Mr. Kage was downright creepy. He was without a doubt, committing treason against the TSAB, and yet, following the masked man's instructions seemed like it was just the only logical thing to do. The terrorist leader seemed to reek of some kind of twisted wisdom. No wonder so many people followed him.
Pushing those thoughts aside, Logan turned to his own interests. Lawmaker. That technology would make him rich. Rich enough to offset the boring life of cataloging plastic tubes he was throwing away. He had to hurry.
Mr. Kage was right. They're coming.
"Cranagan Tower, Alpha Foxtrot One Five Delta with SCREAMER. Emergency takeoff runway three, departing west. Clear all traffic. Climbing to ten-thousand, expect heading two six five, transition supersonic."
"Roger that Alpha Foxtrot One Five Delta. Squawk: Zero, Zero, Zero, One. Cranagan Traffic: Traffic Alert: Aircraft is type AIR FORCE on takeoff. High-speed departure west. All aircraft on final go around. Hold at five thousand until cleared."
Mav hadn't even finished his call to the tower before the Deep Sky was on the runway and gaining speed. Not only cutting in front of several civilian craft holding short on the taxiway, but forcing several passenger aircraft on short finals to abort their landings.
While he'd seen the occasional dimensional cruiser. The traffic controller had never seen a military climb-out before, and thus, when the Deep Sky not only picked up off the runway, but immediately pitched back to forty degrees and thundered skyward. He couldn't help but lean towards the tower window with his mouth open. Seeing something that big move that nimbly just wasn't a regular thing.
Deep Sky was rocketing southeast at ten thousand doing Mach Four about a minute and a half later.
Roland scowled at the display repeatedly as he tried to raise the base, only to have a contact error message flash back at him as he did.
"Dammit!" he grumbled. "I had four redundancies in place in case this kind of thing happened. And they're all DOWN."
The satellite scans were not encouraging things. On top of the distinct communications blackout, there was something preventing a good clear scan from MIDSAT C. And the best he could get was thermal imaging photos since it was still dark at their destination.
"Let me have a crack at it," Fate hunched right over his shoulder and started tapping keys.
Roland had grabbed Fate, Nanoha, Signum, Vita, and Lynn on his way to Storm Raider prior to heading to the airport. Everyone else he ordered to stay put, gut feeling. Now packed into the aircraft, they all sat apprehensively in their barrier jackets as the general worked furiously to try and figure out what was going on. Crash sat between Vita and Lynn, his own foot tapping with impatience.
"AMF," Fate concluded with a scowl. "We should be getting ground returns or false returns from jamming interference or barriers. AMF nullifies magic. No magic means no scan returns, period."
"That leaves only two possibilities," Roland frowned. "And one's in prison which just leaves…"
"Sektor Twenty-One," Lynn finished in monotone.
"I already figured it was them," Roland nodded. "But this confirms it without a doubt."
"That's beyond bold," Vita growled. "It audacious! A power facility is one thing, but you've got a full scale military base with some of the highest security on the planet!"
"That shows a significantly higher level of capability in their forces than we previously thought," Nanoha postulated. "To think they'd have the ability to hit that hard is something I wouldn't have expected."
"It's an inside job," Roland interjected.
Everyone watched him expectantly.
"The fingerprints are all over it," he continued. "I had a high degree of communication redundancy in place. The fact that there was only a real short burst transmission means someone hit all four communications systems, including a hidden backup, near simultaneously. Nobody outside the base would know how many there were, let alone where they were. At least, not within the time frame this occurred in."
"So you think there's a mole on your base," Fate asked.
"No doubt about it," Roland nodded. "Who, is another question."
"Logan," Crash stated matter-of-factly.
"Pardon?" the general, asked.
"High level clearance," the test pilot began. "Unrestricted access. Tracks almost all the inventory. Knows all the security protocols backward and forwards, and nobody even gives even a second glance to what he's doing, and where he's doing it. The only people who know the base better are you, Fox, Don, Martin, and myself. Fox hangs around me too much. Don doesn't know the inventory since he yells at everyone else to bring what he needs. And Martin would be the one down in TICTOCC putting the distress signal out in the first place. That leaves Logan as the odd man out."
"Good Logic," the General nodded. "That's why you're my pilot."
"So what's our first order of business?" Nanoha asked, mind already on the tactical.
"Air superiority," Roland replied, bringing a briefing display up that showed the island chain. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what they're after."
The display highlighted the two ammo dumps, the air base, and the test facilities.
"Even if we're compromised, that was part of one of my scenarios," he continued. "If there's any major security breach, the entirety of McGreggor is to go immediately into a level six lockdown. Anyone looking to attack would have to either bring an overwhelming army, which you can't exactly hide, or focus on breaching one particular target, which means at best token security elsewhere to prevent a counter attack. Which means they'll be vulnerable anywhere but their primary objective."
"You designed for failure," Lynn pointed out.
"Yes," Roland nodded. "The entire defense network is designed to fail in such a way that I already know everyone's move."
Roland selected the airbase and zoomed in.
"The priority attack after the communications system went down would be the air base. Nobody in the air... Nobody to put up a real fight. I expect all aircraft caught in the open to be a total loss. Depending on the swiftness of the attack, and the force level, the light hangars are gone, along with the half the training squadron. However, the armored hangars should still be intact, but sealed. AWACS may or may not be down, but we'll know when we get there."
Roland highlighted the airfield itself and marked the hangars.
"As such, after the initial attack, the token defense will be enough to keep pilots grounded. So breaking the air base defenses will be the first step. A low, fast southeast approach makes for a wonderful sweeping strike."
Roland pulled the display back and zoomed in on a facility labeled 'Teamwork Training Building D'.
"Once we've broken enemy hold on the air base, we can get any remaining assets airborne, and that's when we take the fight to objective two. C complex. I have a little something special stored in a building there that Logan wouldn't even know about. I guarantee even the best that Sektor Twenty-One has won't like this surprise. I can para-jump in during the approach to TICTOCC, at which point you'll begin an offensive and clear the test complex and hazardous materials bunker."
The screen panned to the main complex of buildings.
"The test hangar where EDI, as well as Fox's Arwing are stored are pretty robust, but chances are they're stuck too. EDI would be perfect for this scenario, so we need him, and if at all possible, FOX airborne as soon as possible. After that, we engage targets of opportunity based on threat level and clear the weapon storage bunkers. We strike hard, we gain momentum, and we don't stop until all the objectives are secure. That means we don't waste time with TSAB white glove policy. We're not asking anyone to surrender; we're not reading their rights. If you can't stop someone on the first try, you use lethal force. Do you ladies understand?"
General Roland looked around. Nanoha and Fate seemed a bit uneasy, Vita just scowled but showed no real signs of concern, and Signum masked her own thoughts as well as Lynn did. He decided to emphasize a point.
"They want the weapons!" he snapped. "NOTHING is to leave that island without my permission! They are not suspects. The moment they showed up on McGreggor they became ENEMIES. Their very presence on my facility is proof of guilt in a court of law. I know its not how you fight, but they won't be giving you the benefit of fair combat. If you don't do it, THEY will. Am I clear?"
There was muted acknowledgement from the group, but nothing near what he should have heard. That didn't bode well for them if they were too busy mulling over the potential consequences of ending a life. Especially if that was going to bug them in the middle of a battle… Where one hesitation would be catastrophic. This called for some old-fashioned army Drill Sergeant.
"I said, AM I CLEAR?!" he snapped suddenly, and absurdly loud.
"Yes sir!" Came a responsive snap from all present. About the only good piece of conditioning that came out of that thing the TSAB called cadet training. A nice strong bearing that overrode conscious thoughts with a simple, automatic response.
"I'm going to try raising the Tsunami again," Roland continued after a moment's silence. "It figures Admiral Mishima would have that thing in a Molniya Orbit of all things."
"It's the best orbit for the approach," Lynn supplied.
"He could have at least popped a transfer orbit into something more standard," Roland grumbled. "I'm no astrophysicist, but Geostationary Orbit is a little more convenient."
"Against naval procedure," Lynn shook her head. "The stationary target presented to a ground observer is considered too risky to be acceptable. That's why naval forces always seem to be early or late when they're on station. The most convenient orbit is also the most dangerous one."
Roland sighed. "Fair enough… Though some naval support would be nice to have. Naval sensors are far more powerful than anything the MIDSAT system has."
"It'll have to do," Fate shook her head. "Admiral Mishima no doubt knows what's going on. He'll get his ship on station."
Roland nodded in agreement before going back to hitting keys.
"I guess that's about the best a briefing we're going to get," he continued at length.
"So," Crash began. "What do we do now?"
Roland peeked past his console to notice that the test pilot's foot was tapping away, a mile a minute.
"We wait," the general instructed.
'THUMP' Crash's foot stopped with one solid tap.
"I hate waiting," he muttered.
"Me too," Vita growled quietly.
"Welcome to the military," Roland got back to work.
"UUUUGHHH!!!" Fox snarled as she paced through the test hangar for probably the hundredth time. "This is boring!"
"You need to be patient," EDI responded from nearby in his resonating artificial tone.
Fox, in her excitement to get to try out her new 'toy', had been at the test hangar early. Most would wonder who in their right mind would actually wake up at four-thirty in the morning for anything. But then again, most everyone on base got up at five-thirty anyway. What's an hour?
The AI plane mused to itself about that last rhetorical question. What is an hour? Sixty minutes… Three thousand, six hundred seconds… Two-hundred and sixteen thousand alternating current cycles from the backup generator… Or perhaps if you wanted to look at it from his own core clock speed, three hundred and twenty-four quintillion cycles in total.
Really, the perception of scale in time was something that the AI was all too accustomed to.
EDI, or in fact, any device AI could process entire fifty-year archives of data in the blink of an eye. And when you can process the entire criminal history of Sektor Twenty-One in the time it takes for a human nerve impulse to travel the length of the body, you find yourself with a lot of spare thinking time. An hour at his clock speed would be equal to an entire week to a human brain. That very important fact taught the AI that the passage of time was solely dependent on the perception of the observer, and that the world operated at a fixed speed regardless of his own clock.
Luckily... Whoever originally invented the Intelligent Device first, a name lost to history, had the sense to include variable clock speed standard in the concept. EDI in this case, had clocked himself back to human speed, almost two hundred times slower. Who wanted to spend a week inside an hour anyway?
"Patient?" Fox looked at the aircraft.
"Patient," the AI repeated. "I am sure that with the communications burst I detected, reinforcements are on the way.
"We've been stuck in here for an HOUR," she responded in a ranting tone, unaware that she'd hit upon the very subject the drone hunter had just been thinking about. "I'm bored, this is annoying... I have to PEE! Just, what exactly is going on anyway?"
"I am unsure of the current situation," EDI resonated. "The communications arrays were knocked out during the initial attack, the primary Abenobashi Air Defense Net and the link to MIDSATs A, B, and C are also down."
Fox threw her hands in the air as she spun away from the drone. "Some good you are!" After a few seconds she began to pace again, pausing only for a second as the front hangar door banged once more as the Sektor Twenty-One lackeys tried their best to bust the high security steel open.
"Would you like to do something about it then?" EDI asked. Fox paused, looking at the drone curiously.
"The primary networks are down," he repeated. "However, I've been calculating the relay ranges on device communications while we waited, and it may be possible to do something about that."
"Like what?" she asked.
There was silence...
After a second, Fox started to turn away, but suddenly, a small hologram projector in EDI's cockpit flickered to life.
"ACCESSING... " Came the resonating tone once more. "DEVICE DIRECT COMMUNICATIONS DATA NET..."
Fox watched as the display began to flicker rapidly with a text based display of network information.
[EDI ACCESS CONFIRMATION, CONSTRUCT NETWORK]
[INTERNAL NETWORK INFRASTRUCTURE]
[ACCESS GRID, RANGE 15 KM]
[SIGNAL BOUNCE, DEVICE CALL... ACCESS]
[SIGNAL RETURN, TRCRTE]
[KEY, GRID ACCESS; SQUAWK EDI MADCAP]
[LINK ESTABLISHED, ACCESS LOCAL GRID]
[RANGE, 30 M]
[CHERRY, ACCESS PARAMETER 'MISO SOUP']
[SIGNAL BOUNCE, DEVICE CALL... ACCESS]
[SIGNAL RETURN, TRCRTE]
[SQUAWK HANDSHAKE: EDI MADCAP]
[ACCESS LOCAL NET: ... ...]
[LOCAL NET: RAISING HEART DEEP SKY]
[ACCESS: DEEP SKY, LONG RANGE COMM]
[SIGNAL CONNECT, MIDSAT C]
[NETWORK ESTABLISHED, INTEGRATING]
[EDI = KEY = CHERRY = RAISING HEART = DEEPSKY = MIDSAT C = MIDCHILDA DEFENSE NET]
[ESTABLISHING SERVER LINK]
[COMPLETE; BOUNCES: 5]
"I have integrated all networkable devices within range and established a battlenet," EDI finished.
In TICTOCC, there was an almost shocked squeak from Key.
"Hey!" the device squawked. "EDI just logged into my routing functions… Looks like Fox is okay and…"
"And what?" Martin asked.
"He wants tactical data," Cherry continued in her place. "He also found a way to link up with the Deep Sky… Implementing now."
Fox blinked a few times back in the hangar. "You did what?"
"I improvised," came the curt response. "A concept Crash had been utilizing during the field test two days ago. Would you like a situational report?"
Without hesitation, EDI's holographic projector flickered and displayed McGreggor Archipelago.
"The attack came rapidly in two waves," he began. "The first strike came internally as Sabotage when transport magic of unknown origins was detected near TICTOCC's surface facility. Shortly after that, the communications net went down, and a wide field AMF went up. One minute later, the second wave struck the Air base. Several air wings of modified gadget drone mechanisms established superiority over the airfield and shot any aircraft in the open, and used AMF projectors to disable airborne mages. All air wings are currently trapped in their hangars as we are. Surface facilities went into lockdown immediately, following the General's procedures. Shortly after, the main generators went down and observation was lost."
The hologram flitted over to the D complex. "The attack came simultaneously. According to visual scans by MIDSAT B-"
The image flicked to real-time photos of the McGreggor Archipelago, showing thermal images of the area, with excessive heat clusters around buildings Fox recognized from the air....
"-I would say it is highly probable that they are after the materials kept within the mass weapon storage bunkers, and all other objectives are secondary, thus why they have not performed more destructive means of disabling the base."
"We can't let them have what's in those bunkers!" Fox blurted out. "There's no telling what kind of damage they could do if they got away with all of that!"
"At their rate of work, they will be able to make off with more then thirty percent of the materials in the disposal bunker site, and will have managed to get ten percent of materials from the test facility bunker by the time reinforcements arrive."
Fox pounded the wall once.
"And we're just going to stand here and do nothing!" she shouted.
"That would be up to you," EDI continued. Fox looked at the drone confused.
"Successful launch of air-based counter attack would hamper their efforts greatly," he stated. "Full scale air intervention until reinforcements arrive would cost them in combat materials and manpower more than the value of the weapons they could gather from the storage bunkers."
"But you just said," Fox began, and took a deep breath. "All the air wing forces at the air base are stuck on the ground and unable to launch."
"Affirmative," EDI responded. "All Abenobashi Airforce Base aircraft and airborne mages for the McGreggor Archipelago are currently trapped on the ground."
"Then what good will an air strike do us?"
"The enemy has established an aerial blockade over the airforce base, and dedicated nearly all its airborne drone units to flying heavy cover," EDI paused. "If a strike were to come from outside their CAP, the resulting breach of activity would allow for air force deployment."
"Wait, you mean..." she turned, looking at EDI, then her head drifted to her 'birthday gift.'
"You are currently the only ranking officer capable of taking an aircraft out at this time," EDI continued. "Whatever your decision, is my orders."
"There's no way," Fox began. "I haven't flown that yet..."
"You are a test pilot."
"I know, but I haven't even been taught how to START the thing..."
There was a pause, then EDI responded.
"Is that the only objection?"
"I really don't know how to start it yet," Fox stated. "Martin was supposed to run me through it when Roland and Crash got back."
"Then there is no problem," EDI responded. "I have downloaded all pertinent specifications to the FS-87 Arwing Space Superiority Fighter design from Cooper's database, and have already determined the starting procedure."
Fox couldn't help it. EDI was an exact copy of his fictional counterpart. She couldn't help but see him as the insubordinate rampaging AI jet depicted in that movie. But here he was, with calm, reasonable options and well thought out solutions.
"But how do we get out of there?" she asked. "There's got to be a bunch of guys on the other side of that door armed with all kinds of weapons, and I don't think they'll just let us open the door and wait around while you talk me through a checklist."
"I have a plan."
Somehow, that simple response from the AI seemed to inspire more optimism than she felt. Despite all the berating on Crash for being a coward, she felt powerless trapped in here. And it did scare her. But EDI's warm tone had kept her calm. With another glance at the door, she finally shook off the feelings and turned her ever-confident glare back to the fighter.
"Then let's do this."
"Affirmative," EDI responded. "Please board your craft and seal the cockpit. Overpressure will be a significant hazard."
In TICTOCC, Cherry raised her graphical representation of a hand over her mouth. "Oh my… I do believe he's going to do something, rather outside of procedure."
Martin opened his mouth to ask what, but Bloodberry beat him to it.
"Hey what's he planning?" she began. "Share some data will you?" Then, after less than two seconds her mouth dropped. "That's- Oh, I like this. I like this a lot."
"Hey, hey, HEY!" Lime jumped in. "Lemme see, lemme SEE!"
"Check it out," Bloodberry grinned, an invisible exchange seeming to occur and Lime's eyes too got very large.
"Ladies," Martin nodded dryly. "For those of us who don't speak binary…"
"Oh, you'll like this," Key piped in. "Lime, I think camera four on test building two has a good view."
"Right!" The chirpy AI responded, and her face blinked out to be replaced by a view of the test hangar and its antagonists.
Back in the hangar, Fox dashed over to her triangular fighter, grabbing a boarding ladder as she went.
"I will provide cover during the start procedure," the AI continued as she crawled into the cockpit. "The controls are simple enough and logically placed for anyone familiar with the standard TSAB holographic console layout."
Fox nodded as she absentmindedly found the cockpit canopy hatch lever right where it belonged, shutting it and sealing herself into the fighter while snatching up the helmet that was conveniently laying across the console.
"Now how about some music?" EDI asked.
"- Stuck inside this lonely room again."
Fox froze as loud rock music blared over the climbing whine of EDI's MISSCRAMJETS...
That song... was he? He couldn't be... Did he know the IRONY of it? He had to!
Just outside the door, two men paused from their work, trying to bust the master lock on the main hangar door as they heard the sound echo straight through the metal.
"See vultures circling!"
"What the hell is going on in there?" one of them asked.
Fox watched as EDI rolled to alignment with the door lifting into a hover on his fans. Then his lower weapons bay snapped open, deploying his buster device.
"Firing lock cancelled, all safeties removed," the drone resonated. "Full power..."
The tip of the device flashed as an orb came to life. After a few seconds of gathering energy it seemed to compress in on itself, then expanded and flared. There was a loud crack as it fired a beam of energy right at the hangar door.
The two men on the other side instantly burst into flames before they even knew what hit them. Several Type I modified gadgets exploded as the entire area around the door became an inferno. Further back, the shock wave picked men right off their feet and threw them as far as thirty meters, some being crushed by drones that were likewise caught in the blast. Others faring only slightly better as they hit the ground amidst a rain of flaming shrapnel, screaming in pain, some on fire as flammable materials on their person reached flash-point.
Logan slid to a halt, almost getting knocked over by a type I drone that hadn't been prepared for him to stop.
"What the hell?!" he mouthed, gaping at the curling fireball casting its own glow in the predawn light. Something landed beside him. Turning to look, he had to immediately look away. Surely, surely he hadn't just seen a burnt and mangled arm…
Several drones shot past him along with a few of the men who were more or less hanging around buildings nearby to make sure nobody got out. What ever had just exploded in the test hangar definitely had their attention. Wait, there was only one thing in the test hangar that could do that. And it was designed explicitly to deal with…
"No…" he began. "No… I'm not going to be sacrificed like this!"
He almost panicked but managed to stay in control of himself, looking around franticly. Then he grabbed one of the guys heading towards the explosion.
"You!" he snapped. "Take me to the drone controller!"
The armed thug yanked himself free. "Are you crazy?" he asked. "Someone just blasted our guys! I'm going over there before the others get all the good kills."
"Wait!" Logan grabbed him again and spun him around.
"Listen bub," the guy began again, emphasizing with his pod-shaped weapon. "If you don't-" but was interrupted before he could continue.
"You can't kill what's coming out of that hangar," Logan snapped as fast as he could. "That little thing-" he indicated the weapon, "-wouldn't even put a scratch on it. But it will certainly smear you all over as easily as it just cooked your friend here."
Logan finished the statement by indicating the burnt limb lying nearby. He was banking on the fact that while these guys didn't care about being pawns, they still cared to stay alive to continue to be pawns. The thug looked back at the smoke column and then back at him.
"If you want to run straight to your death," he continued. "Be my guest, otherwise, take me to the damn drone controls!"
The man glanced one more time, but nodded.
Amidst the instantly created chaos, through a gaping hole in what was once the test hangar's heavy security doors, the MADCAP slowly floated into view on its VTOL thrusters, music still blaring at full volume.
"BURN BABY! BURRRN! STRUNG OUT ON A WIRE!"
After clearing the jagged entrance he had blown in the doors, EDI switched to the main thrusters with a loud crack and a roar, accelerating hard past the scrap metal and pulling back hard to climb into the sky.
Fox gaped at the burning ring that was the door, and the debris beyond. Okay, EDI had a little more punch than anyone had let on, but HOLY SHIT THAT WAS AWESOME! And just like the movie... Cooper's sense of humor rubbed off quite a bit on all his creations.
"Area clear for the moment," EDI suddenly resonated clearly over her headset. "Prepare for startup procedure checklist…"
"Roger," Fox stated, looking down at the controls. The layout seemed a little too simple for the fighter. Holographic interface, of course.
"First," EDI began. "Locate the master power console, it has solid state switches and will be on your left."
Fox looked around, then found it, noting small labels on the buttons and switches there.
"Checklist as follows..." he continued. "Internal power to enabled."
Fox flipped the large red switch; there was a beep and a hum around her as a sub-generator kicked on and began to spool up.
"External Power to disabled,"
Fox hit the button next to it. There was a thump as a cord connecting the fighter to the test hangar wall came free.
"Primary Weapons To Enabled"
Fox flipped the next switch; there was a beep and the light turned green.
"Secondary weapons to Enabled and primed."
The light turned yellow as she flipped the switch only half way.
"Astrogation Systems to Enabled."
About four switches had to be flipped, but a satisfying green light blinked in front of her as she did so.
"Life Support to Enabled."
"Deflector Shields to Enabled and Primed."
This thing has DEFLECTOR SHIELDS?! Sweet…
Somewhere below and behind, something started to whine.
"Targeting systems to Enabled."
With the flick of a switch, the scanner lobes on each side lit up.
"Alpha Interface to Enabled."
Fox pressed a button, and suddenly, the console lit up with more advanced holographic touch screens.
"Beta Interface to Primed."
A click set the backup interface so it could take over if the primary failed.
"Twin Lasers to Enabled."
Fox found the controls on the holographic console, and quickly tapped arming commands. The screen highlighted the space frame and showed green indicators for the lasers.
"Onboard AI to Primed."
"Star Flight Motion Enabled."
After several beeps, the system indicated that inertial damping systems were online.
"Auto wing modes to primed."
Fox flipped a lever, the wings on each side swung out wide and locked into place.
"All Systems go."
Fox looked across her console, all green lights.
"Acknowledged," she mouthed. "All systems are go. Arwing is primed, and ready."
During the momentary silence, Fox tapped a few buttons and changed her configuration slightly, she was interrupted by a new, and seemingly familiar voice.
[ORDER OF THE SETUP WAS ACCEPTED]
Fox blinked, that sounded just like the Device Nanoha had. Cooper. The sly dog. Where did he find time to install that voice package?
"Main Engine Activation any time you're ready," EDI resonated. Fox looked down at the blinking green button in front of her. She pressed it, getting a brief beep from the console.
[MAIN SYSTEM: START UP]
The generator onboard started to whine as the engine warmed up.
Outside in the wreckage, those not outright killed in the blast from EDI's departure were just starting to pick themselves up, a few of them sporting nasty wounds, more running to assist. They all looked up at the hole in the hangar as a new sound started to emanate from the black depths.
The main engine came online with a hiss, filling the cockpit with a low resonating thrum as the Arwing picked itself off its landing gear and retracted them. Fox angled herself towards the door
Outside, the suddenly loud thrumming of the sub-orbital drive instantly made all the Sektor Twenty-One agents who could still move turn and run, even as more devices moved to reinforce their position.
Fox looked down at the console as the last engine lights turned green.
"You may find the engine to be slightly temperamental," EDI advised. Fox simply grinned dangerously, and shoved her throttle control all the way forward.
Fox was unprepared for what happened next. The Arwing responded by hurling itself out of the hangar as if shot out of a cannon, breaking supersonic before it was ten meters into the open. Out of reflex, with so many buildings suddenly hurtling at her, she yanked back on the stick and shot into the sky.
If Fox had been unprepared, those on the ground couldn't even come close. The sonic boom from the starfighter's passing hurled the nearest enemies right off their feet, and the air burst from the flaring sub-orbital drive exaggerated the results, smashing the reinforcing drones easily.
Fox had the presence of mind to pull the throttle back gently as she shot above the first layer of clouds around six thousand feet up before leveling the fighter off.
"Holy," she gasped as the horizon returned to its normal upright position. "You weren't kidding!"
"The Arwing is essentially built as a frame around one of the spare sub-orbital drives the Deep Sky uses," EDI resonated. "For all intents and purposes, the fighter is ninety percent miniature TSAB cruiser thruster, and carry roughly sixty times more thrust power than myself."
Fox nodded, spotting EDI drifting in from altitude to form up on her wing as they shot northwards.
"Which means I can out-fly and out climb everything those drones have to offer."
"Affirmative," EDI resonated. Seemingly sounding pleased.
"Then let's go get them," Fox grinned a devil's grin. Come in HER house would they?
"Turn and engage on heading one, three, two," she ordered, suddenly becoming serious. "We'll hit them at full speed and break their formations up. That should buy Mouse Squadron enough time to get airborne."
"Affirmative," EDI responded. At the same moment, Fox rolled on her side and yanked back hard, breaking off her original course and bolting for Abenobashi Airforce Base, EDI replicated the movement with equal snap.
"Mess with the B.E.S.T." she began.
"Die like the rest," EDI responded.
Twin sonic booms thumped over the ocean.
"I've got telemetry," Bloodberry announced. "EDI's sensors are pretty damn good."
"I've got the Deep Sky," Cherry chimed in. "They're inbound, and they're bringing along half of Riot Force Six."
Martin's face hardened in determination as he went to work reading the information appearing on the screen.
"Bloodberry, build me a tactical map at once," he began.
"Cherry," he continued. "Get to work on that AMF field. I want that thing dissected. I want a countermeasure to AMF, an Anti, Anti-magilink field or something."
"Hard to do since it shows up as a void in magical sensors," she commented matter-of-factly.
"You'll think of something," Martin nodded.
"Oh! ME! ME!" Lime jumped in. "Give me something to do!"
Martin paused, looking at the center screen. Then one eyebrow shot up.
"Lime," he began. "Psychological Warfare."
The loud speaker outside one of the hangars at Abenobashi Airforce base came to life with a loud series of beeps at the same time as several others scattered around the area, startling the armed men who were standing watch.
"Hey, hey, HEY!" Lime's voice shouted out ever so chirpy. "Listen up all you pin headed terrorist guys! This is LIME! I'm the AI running things around here in case you didn't know! Listen up! I have an announcement to make! Are you listening? Good! I've been watching you all for a while now, and I can't help but notice all this pent up anger you all seem to have. According to my psychology database, this is bad for you. So I've arranged a little something to help lighten the mood! Are you ready? HERE GOES!"
What followed next was even louder than Lime, if at all possible. As from every speaker at once, a series of loud synthetic tones erupted, quickly turning into an insanely loud hyperactive house beat.
"That's- You're kidding…" Key intoned as the background behind Lime began to flash in time with the beat. Then with a giggle, the bubbly AI simply responded by putting her hands up on her head and began to sway her digital hips back and forth in a goofy dance.
"You're not kidding," Key's tone was now dripping with horror.
"That's Lime's favorite song," Bloodberry laughed.
Vi undrar är ni redo att vara med
Armarna upp nu ska ni få se
Vem som helst kan vara med
Vi undrar är ni redo att vara med
"What the HELL!?" One of the thugs guarding a hangar yelled over the sound, backing away from the nearest loud speaker. "What the hell is that!?"
"Techno-pop?!" another replied with a shout.
Så rör på era fötter
Och vicka era höfter
Gör som vi
Till denna melodi
Så rör på era fötter
"What the hell is that AI doing?" the guy Logan was following asked as they sprinted. "Is it insane?!"
"You wish!" Logan shouted over the din. "Hurry!"
"Okay!" Lime laughed on her screen. "Let's put some light on the subject!"
Around the air base, lights began to flick on and off. Within seconds the airfield looked like a giant dance floor covered in strobe lights. The seizure inducing light show quickly began to unnerve several of the guards, who began to jump in surprise whenever a new set of blinking lights they hadn't known about came on. In time with the chorus, the runway lights came on and started blinking in intricate patterns.
Dansa med oss
Klappa era händer
Gör som vi gör
Ta några steg åt vänster
Lyssna och lär
Missa inte chansen
Nu är vi här med
Dansa med oss
"Fucking shit!" one thug shouted over the din. "Shut that damn thing up! Destroy the speakers! Destroy the lights! DESTROY EVERYTHING!"
They began to shoot at anything and everything that blinked, moved, or emitted noise. The sound of automatic weapons fire filled the air along with the sound of the music while muzzle flashes lit the early morning air.
"Hey!" Lime's voice cracked over a momentarily muted segment of the track. "That's not a very nice way to treat your host's stuff!"
"Shut up you bitch," one of the thugs snarled, and shot the nearest observation camera he could find. "And shut that crap off too!"
"If you don't want to play nice," Lime continued. "I guess I'll just have to let my friend EDI teach you not to break other people's things."
"Eddie?" he paused.
There was a blink of light out of the northwest. Catching it out of the corner of his eye, the man spun around to see what it was. Two seconds later, an orange beam of energy carved right through a drone not fifty meters away and obliterated it, along with about six others that got caught in the blast.
"What the?!" He gaped. "We had all the aircraft shut down… How-"
"Meet your worst nightmare you pin-headed terrorist thugs!" Lime chirped with a giggle. "He's lean, he's mean, and he's here to ruin your day! Let's hear it for my pal! The Magic Assisted Drone, Combat Assault Platform! EDI!"
Another orange beam ripped into another pack of drones, turning them into a cloud of scrap metal. The sound of the explosions drowned out the music the AI had been playing. With a roar of retros, EDI flared in and spun sideways, using his hover fans to control a sideways skid as he pumped a mixed pack of type I and II drones full of Cerberus fire before they could scatter. As soon as two exploded, he rolled, turned, and put himself back on course with a bust of engine power.
"Don't just stand there!" someone shouted. "Shoot it!"
Type I and II drones scattered in every direction. Many firing their thermal blaster weapons as EDI spiraled right through them. The thugs on the ground likewise opened up in futility with their pod shaped weapons, a few brief flickers of his barrier indicated otherwise ineffective hits.
"Enemy locations catalogued," the drone hunter resonated on his comm frequency. "Targets six through fourteen marked. Ground element distracted. I'm out east. Commence Hi-Low sweep."
Two Type II drones forming up on EDI exploded one after the other. Then a Type I near the ground along the same path, followed by one type III drone so close the shock wave threw the man off his feet and blew out his eardrums. Scrambling to right his spinning world, he pushed himself up just in time to see a pair of icy blue bolts rip from the darkness, zipping past to plunge into a trio of men trying to use another type III as protective cover, transforming it into a fireball.
Even with his ears out, he felt the pressure of the sonic boom as the second aircraft ripped by, curving sharply skyward as it swept over the runway with deadly elegance. The machine climbed for several seconds before seeming to slow to a halt in mid air, pitching backwards until it's nose was pointed at the airfield below. Then came the blue death once more. Twice a second, the bolts lanced into the fleeing enemy below even as the aircraft began to settle into a dive.
"Sweep complete," Fox indicated as she pushed the throttle forward, accelerating away from withering surface fire. "I'm out north east."
"I'm in south," EDI responded.
The orange beams came in from the south this time, seemingly smaller and in more shots than before. More Type I drones exploded as the last of the Type IIs cleared the area at full speed. EDI concentrated on clearing the leftover Type I and III units from the areas near the hangars.
Logan reached the object his guide indicated was the drone controller while another guy kept swearing up and down.
"What the hell is going on over there?" he smacked a machine a little larger than a dishwasher. "Thirty-seven units!"
"Can this control them directly," Logan inquired.
"Only one at a time," the man indicated the controls. "I just use it to give basic instruction codes."
"Good enough," the logistics manager pushed him aside. "Just tell me how to fly a Type II."
"Thirty seconds!" Mav called out.
At mach four point five, the Deep Sky was covering forty miles a minute as it approached the base. Roland had absolutely no intent of having the aerospacecraft slow down on approach when he needed to have mages in the fight immediately.
The general snapped a safety hook onto the bar near his head as he mashed the pressure equalization button at fifteen thousand feet.
"Devices Ready!" he snapped. "Barriers ready!"
When you're doing just short of hypersonic, the last thing you want to do is come out of the Deep Sky's slipstream without an active barrier. Hitting the slow moving air would be like slamming into a brick wall.
"Stand by!" he snapped again. Mashing the door button. The exit ramp opened with one last hiss of the remaining pressure equalization. The cabin then filled with a roar as the inside was exposed to the sound of hypersonic passage and quad plasma drives throttling back to idle.
"Ten seconds!" Mav snapped over the noise.
Crash counted down mentally and then watched as the general waved his hand.
Fate was first out, her barrier flaring to life as she leapt off the ramp. Followed by Nanoha, Signum, Vita, Lynn, and finally it was his turn, clanking forward and diving into the air stream.
The velocity difference was obvious as he dropped clear of the slipstream. The air slammed into his aerodynamics barrier, slowing him down dramatically as he oriented the armor in the direction of travel. Markers on his HUD blinked to life, pointing out the positions of the other five as they slipped from a fall into flight. Not having been thrown from the Deep Sky this time around, Crash followed suit, slipping into mach cruise mode as he did so.
"We're going to slow down and come around," Roland crackled over his headset. "I want the enemy element on the airfield completely neutralized before we do. Time is momentum! Go!"
"Roger!" Nanoha responded.
Mr. Kage paused and looked up as the sound of a loud double thump reached his ears. The masked terrorist calmly watched as the early morning light caught a glint off something moving incredibly fast high overhead.
"Sooner than I expected," he mused. "No matter…"
Turning, he walked to the entrance of the Seimei weapons bunker and tapped one of the men on the shoulder. When the thug realized who it was, he stiffened visibly but to his credit, remained grim faced.
"Prepare one more load," the masked man instructed casually. "After that, arm your men with the biggest weapons you can carry and prepare to welcome our opponents home. Our time is up."
"Got it," the thug nodded, then turned and began to shout instructions.
"Banshee One to Banshee Two," Crash crackled over the radio. "You okay Fox?"
Fox glanced at the console and pushed a frequency match button and assigned it as Comm Two.
"Banshee Two to Banshee One," she replied. "Affirmative, nothing a little creative destruction couldn't fix."
"Stars One to Banshee Two," Nanoha's voice joined in. "How bad do things look on the ground?"
"They've overrun the place," Fox responded. "I'm cleaning up the airfield as we speak."
"I'm out north," EDI's resonant tone interrupted. "Sixteen Type II drones have escaped to the west. Be advised that their performance is significantly superior to what records indicate."
"They must be smarter," Fate's voice crackled. "Don't let your guard down."
"Fox is in north," Fox interrupted, changing to her call sign. "I'm clearing hangar six, that should give Mouse unit their first opening."
She depressed the trigger on her control stick, firing the twin high-energy laser cannons on each side. Really, they technically weren't lasers, but rather fired directed energy bolts similar to some kind of contained blue plasma. But that made no difference to the enemy units she aimed at, a Type III drone that was firing back at her, along with the worthless automatic fire those thugs were trying to use. The bolts incinerated the immediate area around them and blew chunks of dirt and concrete into the air before everything was enveloped in a fireball.
It would have probably been a 'Squick!' moment for her if it wasn't for the fact that she couldn't really see what happened. Just the mere thought of what happened to them however made her almost feel sorry for them as she rolled right and banked off.
"Fox out southwest," she advised.
On the ground, that one thug who'd first seen the initial attack from EDI was miraculously, still standing. It was probably his good fortune for being away from the drones, and not firing his own weapon. But in that short amount of time, he'd come to have a newfound respect for what his enemies were capable of. The main group he'd come in with, what was left of it anyway, was smoldering three hundred meters away. Now the dark arrowhead shaped fighter swooped by again, a series of orange homing rounds spreading out and destroying the remaining type I drones. What the hell were these monsters?
A hollow metallic boom alerted him to the fact his hearing was slowly recovering. The sound came from the nearby armored hangar he'd been guarding. The lock had opened, and the door was in the process of sliding clear.
Several security mages spilled out, pointing combat staves in both directions as they quickly assessed the immediate surroundings. One waved behind him and they all cleared the way as a high pitched engine whine split the morning air. A moment later, a small aircraft rolled into the open and began to taxi towards the runway. More of these attack aircraft?
The thug laughed unsteadily, catching the attention of the security mages, who immediately brandished their weapons at him. He continued to laugh as he leaned against the side of the hangar and slid down into a sitting position. After what he'd witnessed, he understood. This fight was over. The enemy had ambushed the ambushers, and decimated them.
Looking down, he had one last thought, they may win, but he wasn't going to some TSAB prison.
"Weapon down!" One of the security mages was in close now. If he decided to fire, the shot would easily penetrate the low AMF in the area at this range. When they finally got almost to arm's reach and inspected him. They found he was bleeding out the ears and nose.
"He's no threat," one commented, but kept his staff trained. "Remove his weapon. Secure him."
The lead mage moved forward while the second remained trained on him as a third moved to provide extra cover. The thug remained limp and stared straight ahead as the mage yanked his weapon free, grabbing it by the handle.
There was a piercing series of sharp beeps from the weapon that caught their attention.
"Fuck you," he smirked, and went out with a bang.
"Suicide bomber!" a new voice crackled over the radio. "This is mouse one, all pilots keep your head on a swivel!"
"Mouse One, Banshee One," Crash cut in. "Elaborate."
"I just rolled out of the hangar and my security detachment caught one of the survivors…" Mouse One crackled back. "They're probably all wired to blow if they can take out at least a mage in the process."
"They're known for trying to spit their last breath at you in protest," Lynn advised. "Don't give them a single chance to try anything.
"Just keep an eye out for any others and keep them away from the runway," Mouse One replied. "I'm taking off now."
"How many aircraft survived the attack?" Nanoha asked, watching a modified F-15 accelerate down the runway before pitching back into a steep climb.
"We've got six combat ready," Mouse One returned after a moment. "And I'd say fifteen others that weren't destroyed."
"That puts our attack strength at eight aircraft and six mages at the moment," Signum spoke up. "Now that surprise has worn off, it'll get more difficult."
"It'll be enough," Fox commented positively. "They're just thugs with drones, we're a trained group of ass kicking."
"They're SMART thugs with SMART drones," Vita snapped in. "Don't get cocky just because you have a fancy plane."
"Are you upset because I've got more enemy kills than you?" Fox responded playfully.
"Excuse me?!" Vita's tone indicated total outrage. "You little brat! Do you have any idea how many fights I've been-"
"Both of you shut up and get your heads in the game or I'll see to it you spend the rest of your respective careers in transportation as baggage handlers!"
That, could only be Martin. The second in command knew how to make a verbal entrance that could scare even Don.
"It's nice to hear your voice sir," Nanoha crackled. "Is everyone okay?"
"We're just peachy," the sub-commander replied caustically. "We had your devices feeding telemetry for a while now, but only just managed to get two way comms open. And what do I hear? Bullshitting in my airspace when we've got a battle to conduct… If mouse one is airborne, let him perform the mop up of the airfield. We've got bigger problems over here at C Complex."
"He's right," Roland crackled. "I'm coming around now, and I don't want to jump into that hot zone without cover."
"On our way," Fate responded.
Logan blinked several times as he ran over the process again. Flip the third switch, select a drone from the list, and get it's forward 'eye' view. Assign it to a list, and give it updates. Hit the second button from the left and get manual control.
The logistics commander was no pilot, but it was just a remote controlled plane. He had to keep them busy until he could make his getaway. He growled just thinking about it, but what would Roland do? The commander was brutal efficient. He always made noise about prioritizing the most important tasks over anything.
What was the most important task when you were fighting a highly organized opponent? Communications was out as best as he could do it, which meant the next thing was command and control, which meant.
"Decapitation strike," he muttered, selecting two drones. He fed them instructions to assist a third drone, which he then took direct control of with a flip of a switch. He watched the camera pitch slightly as its onboard computer relinquished control to him.
"Deep Sky, Deep Sky," he muttered as he scanned a sensor. "Take out the Deep Sky…"
There it was, sweeping in on C complex from the south. What's a type II got for armament? Logan scanned the inventory. AMF, thermal blasters, missiles… MISSILES!
"Oh god MISSILE LOCK!" Mav snapped. This served little warning to Roland as he yanked the entire craft into a hard right roll, throwing the general around in the back from the sudden turn.
A second siren sounded even more shrill than the last, forcing Mav to reflexively lash out and strike a button.
"Hostile launch!" He shouted. "Popping flares!"
Deep Sky carved a turn through the air that seemed impossible for a vehicle that big. As it did so, the back began to spew brilliant motes of light one after the next until it seemed the aircraft was trailing Christmas lights.
"EDI!" Fox blurted out as she swung her fighter around.
"Three drones have detached from the retreating formation and have climbed to intercept the Deep Sky at two six zero," the drone hunter resonated. "The missile was fired from the lead craft."
Fox maxed the booster, causing her Arwing to leap forward through the air like a pouncing tiger, easily out pacing EDI and the others.
"EDI stay with her!" Crash ordered. "Don't let her do anything rash…"
"Affirmative," the AI responded, and kicked in his own boosters to give chase.
The Deep Sky flipped and carved another vicious S through the air. The drone launched missile having ignored the flares for the most part.
"Dammit!" Mav snarled as he watched the missile track. "Flares did nothing, it must have shape recognition guidance!"
Roland, trying his best to hold himself steady, snapped his head up.
"Thermal barrier to max, but don't count on it holding!" Mav commented, punching a few more flares.
"Hit the brakes!" Roland barked.
"WHAT?!" Mav shouted in confusion.
"Full brakes, wings out, roll ninety left and push the nose!" he barked. "Do it now!"
The pilot complied, hitting the spoilers on the Deep Sky as he cut the throttle. Then he slapped the wing control mechanism, causing the wings to sweep forward, reducing their speed even further.
Rolling the whole thing on its side, he pushed the stick all the way, causing the oversized machine to seemingly slide on a wing tip through the air as the whole thing stalled out.
"Now what?" Mav asked, the missile warning now mixed with the obnoxious sound of a stall alarm.
"GUN IT!" Roland snapped.
He needn't say it twice. The Sub-Orbital drives flared to life, emitting a burst of plasma that kicked the Deep Sky forward in a direction perpendicular to its original vector.
The missile shot right past the tail, a white trail in its wake as is continued to curve into the distance. A second later, a distant blue flash raced into it and it exploded harmlessly.
"Shape recognition hates variable geometry!" Roland explained to an unspoken question. "Combine that with a sharp lateral direction change for best effect! Just watch a few skirmishes next time you get the chance."
"Fox is in!" Fox snapped over the radio. "Three targets! Confirmed Type II drones!"
The Arwing flashed around after shooting down the missile and ripped by the Deep Sky, shots already lined up and firing.
"Shit!" Logan snapped in surprise, yanking his remote flight stick to the side. "What kind of fighter is that?"
The drone he was controlling rolled sideways in response to his command and dove away from the formation it was in just before a blue bolt from Fox's Arwing passed through the space it had vacated. The drone on the right however, was not so lucky as the second shot incinerated it instantly.
"Lead's breaking formation," she noted. "Pursuing… EDI, take the straggler."
"Affirmative," the AI resonated.
Fox rolled inverted and launched after the drone leader while EDI gave chase to the survivor.
"Crap, crap, CRAP!" Logan pulled on the stick watching the tiny camera view like he was playing a video game. "Where'd it go?"
Fox chased the drone through a dive before it curved sharply to the left, then the right. It was moving erratically, almost like it couldn't make up its mind.
"Drones always this jumpy?" she asked innocently.
"Where are you?!" Logan asked with a snarl, pulling up in the middle of a turn and activating the air brakes. "Come on…"
Fox snapped to the side and rolled in as the drone climbed and lost speed rapidly, craning her neck she watched the thing roll upside down and then try to drop behind her.
"That's got to be the ugliest High Speed Yo-Yo I've ever seen," she commented dryly.
"Got you!" Logan cheered to himself and pulled the trigger.
Fox yanked the stick one way and then pulled hard the opposite direction, watching her scope as the drone flinched one way then followed her with a sharp yank of its own that almost overshot, its weapon blazing haphazardly.
"EDI," she crackled. "Is it just me or is this drone sloppy?"
The Drone Hunter's target exploded violently as he curved out of a rolling scissors.
"The pattern of the drone you are engaged with indicates a response time of about one hundred and ninety four milliseconds," he resonated. "There is also a great deal of over-compensation in its maneuvers."
Fox cut her throttle and pulled back before twisting into a roll, evading more fire. The drone failed to even attempt to replicate the maneuver, and began to overshoot before it responded by braking.
"It also fails to recognize a basic air combat maneuver," EDI resonated as he swooped up behind them. "Characteristics indicative of an untrained human controlling it."
"Remote control," Fox glared, slamming her airbrakes while applying hard stick and rudder.
Her fighter shuddered as it turned on its side and snapped its nose in the air, seeming to slide sideways while losing speed. The drone overshot in a confused course as she completed the roll and let the nose drift down naturally. The brackets lined up as the thing began to roll in the direction it would have appeared she had gone. And a moment later, it vaporized.
"Fuck!" Logan yelped when the camera view suddenly went static. "What kind of move- Dammit! I'm not through yet!"
He went to work slapping more buttons.
"EDI," Fox snapped. "Find that drone controller. And jam it!"
"Already done," the AI responded. "However jamming is ill advised as it may render communications non-functional."
"Then we'll just hit it," Vita snapped over the comms. "I can do that."
"Stay alert!" Martin's voice crackled. "The drones have regrouped, they're climbing to intercept."
"Stars and Lightning have the air," Nanoha instructed. "Banshees Two and Three back us up."
"I'll take Banshee One, Hammer, and Knight," Lynn indicated, assigning Vita and Signum with arbitrary call signs. "We'll hit the controller and work our way from there."
"Now we're talking," Logan announced to nobody in general. If it was one thing he was good at, it was being able to catalogue things in a list. The flight of drones now under his command resembled the command screen for a real time strategy game. All he had to do now was pick his targets.
"Chew on this," he smirked.
"Oh, NOT AGAIN!" Mav complained as the missile warning went off once more.
"I count one shot, two, five," Fox began.
"Twenty-six," EDI resonated pointedly. "All aimed at the Deep Sky."
"I think someone wants to kill you sir," Mav laughed unsteadily, popping more flares.
"We'll soon take care of that!" Roland responded venomously from the back. "Are we over the island?"
"Yes sir!" Mav responded.
"Good!" the general snapped. "On my mark, fly ninety vertical, count to ten, then hit the burners and pressure seal. Don't stop until you hit angels one hundred. And then STAY up there!"
"You sound as if-"
"I'm stepping out for a bit," the general remarked. "READY?"
Mav pulled back hard on the stick, feeling his stomach twist as the Deep Sky pitched back like a fighter one quarter her size. The aerospacecraft creaked from the stress as of the sudden maneuver. Behind him, Mav heard the telltale click of a releasing safety hook and the sound of something sliding.
After silently counting to ten, he slammed the throttles all the way to max; feeling the satisfying thrum as the engines spooled up to full power and went into sub-orbital. With a roar, the vehicle began to accelerate like a rocket, vibrating intensely as it shot skyward. It took the pilot a moment, but he remembered to seal and pressurize the cabin.
The missiles, locked on to the Deep Sky as they were, curved up to try and keep pace. But now, running on full engine power, the transport easily out-climbed them.
The beam of angry pink energy ripped through the missiles a second later. The pressure wave created by its passing setting off their trigger mechanisms and creating a cloud of small explosions in its wake.
Nanoha dove head first into the fray, a barrier snapping up to protect her from the thermal bolts the drones trained on her. Picking a pair, she tore into them with a snap burst of her shooter spheres. The round pink bullets looking more like streaks as they tore away from Raising Heart. One drone snapped a roll and broke away hard and fast, the other wasn't quite so lucky as it got perforated and shredded by the attack, exploding harmlessly a second later.
A sharp yellow arc passing through another drone and slicing it in half indicated Fate's angle of attack as she too entered the furball. The drone flight broke formation, splitting into pairs to avoid getting caught in a group, forcing the two aces to split their attention and pursue in separate directions.
Immediately, those drones that weren't being directly attacked swept around on their flanks and began firing, forcing the two aces to curve and twist in a fashion rarely required of a combat mage.
"They're definitely smarter!" Fate snapped as she twisted past a bolt of energy.
"They're using improved wing tactics," Nanoha noted in response. "Four-pair and a trio."
"That makes it about even then!" Fox blurted out. "The tougher they are, the more satisfying the kill!"
Fox broke in from below, tailing a drone that was forcing Nanoha to redirect some attention to barrier upkeep. It split off the moment she did so, reshuffling with its partners so at least one of them could retain the advantage of position.
Now it was Fox's turn to fly defensive until Fate assisted by rotating in to chase the drone off her. Only to in turn have to go evasive a second later and get assisted by EDI.
This rotation continued in a blindingly fast display of aerobatics as the two groups battled for air superiority.
"Holy shit! They're good…" Logan spat as he worked the controls. His hands were flying fast now as he constantly reshuffled the attack priorities on the drones. They certainly performed better than he did, but their ability to recognize a threat was based on a reactive coding instead of a proactive coding. Meaning they wouldn't change tactics unless shot at, or instructed manually. This of course meant the logistics manager was constantly reassigning targets as fast as he could select drones to give instructions to.
"I didn't realize S ranks were THIS good." he continued, more to himself than anything.
"Two on me, going vertical!" Fox indicated as she got into a climbing fight with a group. "Stars break low right!"
Nanoha dove off to the side as EDI quickly moved to cover her flank to buy her a few spare seconds. Then she doubled back and checked above her. She found Fox right where she expected, diving back towards their level, still heavy two attackers.
Fox broke right as soon as she saw the pink flash of light, unmasking her attackers behind as they turned to follow. A dozen bolts of energy slammed into one, ripping its frame apart before it could react. Not waiting for the drones to reshuffle, Fox immediately rolled in the opposite direction of the turn she'd begun and pulled back while cutting the throttle.
The drone found itself alone at exactly the wrong moment as it overshot its target. A condition Fox remedied half a second later with a snort of contempt.
"Splash two!" Nanoha indicated, already evading attack by more drones. "Nice execution!"
"Gah!" Logan snapped as he watched two drones disappear from the roster. "Let's try something new…"
"Drones are increasing AMF intensity," EDI resonated as Fate chased a pair off his tail. "If we continue this engagement at our current rate of attrition, I predict a twenty-seven percent increase in fatigue levels resulting in a fifty percent increase in the likely hood of a friendly casualty before the conclusion of the mission. More drones are also being routed to intercept, which further increases the probability of casualty."
"Then we need to get out of this mess and hit them decisively" Fate interjected.
"Blind them!" Nanoha snapped the order.
"EDI!" Fox snapped.
'Pop.' The orange orb deployed.
EDI disengaged from he opponent, diving for the ocean below.
One became two…
Fox shot skyward, relying on engine power alone to out-climb everyone else.
Two became four…
Fate zipped in, grabbing Nanoha, and threw everything she had into speed.
All became chaos.
"Son of a bitch!!!" Logan jumped as his displays turned into so much noise. The thugs around him too jumped in surprise, but instead from the surprisingly loud sound generated despite the distance. They all looked in shock in the direction of the brilliant flash and the dull roar generated by the drone hunter's disorientation attack.
It was probably a good thing they did that too…
It gave them just enough time to acknowledge the existence of Graf Eisen right before it disassembled the control unit in one strike.
Vita was the first on the ground, charging in swinging with Graf Eisen like a rampaging bull in a china shop. It was only so much Logan could do to throw himself backwards at the very last moment to avoid things far worse than a concussion as the miniature knight went right to work with her trade skill.
Men and drones scattered at the sight of the Hammer Knight's rampage. Two Type Is on guard were crushed by the wild swings as they turned to deal with her, pieces of them raining down on the logistics manager.
"Kill her!" Someone shouted.
The thugs responded fast enough. Vita, being a melee weapon user, presented her attackers with a minor tactical illusion that aided in their confidence… They had range, she didn't. The thug that had escorted Logan here spun with a howl and opened fire with his weapon, peppering Vita with a hail of bullets.
Vita responded with a rage filled sneer as she hurled up a tri-form barrier before making an air-dash towards him, swinging Graf Eisen around low. The unfortunate thug did his best to backpedal as he continued to try and take her down.
Vita swung up, connecting with the man in the ribs and catapulting him high into the air over her head, where he smashed into a wall and dropped to the ground motionless. Logan scrambled away as fast as he could on all fours as more men and drones charged into the fray.
Vita ducked as something white shot past her ear, flash freezing a drone in place conveniently enough to allow her to shatter it with untold ease.
"Damn you!" she snarled, realizing what that attack would mean if it hit. Always getting herself surrounded too fast. Vita wanted to kick herself for doing that, AGAIN as a type III launched an all out attack with its manipulation cables.
It exploded spectacularly as Lynn bisected it with Waldron, sweeping into a wide swing that caught a type one and smashed its casing open, but not before it could take a potshot at her.
The prickling on the back of her neck warned her something was coming. She immediately planted her foot and blurred from sight as what appeared to be a bolt of lightning snapped from the weapon of one of the thugs, catching the exposed circuits of the drone she'd attacked and frying it instantly.
"Dammit!" he snarled while trying to track the blur as it reconciled a dozen meters away. "Die you bi-"
He didn't finish as his leg suddenly yanked out from under him, Levantine's whip-like blade wrapped around it and pulled taught as Signum whipped him into the air. With a curving snap she hurled the man bodily into a drone, damaging it beyond functionality and breaking his arm in the process.
"Not to the likes of you," she commented offhandedly, then retracted Levantine and parried an attack from another type I drone.
The thugs learned quickly after the initial brutality of the assault and started firing from around corners while the drones closed to engage. Vita snarled viciously as she threw half a dozen metal orbs into the air and launched them with a metallic crack from Graf Eisen.
The attack smashed right through four drones at once, ripping their insides out and destroying them instantly.
Logan scrambled for cover as fast as he could, terrified that at any instant that walking blender with a war hammer would find him and end his life instantly.
Glancing over his shoulder with a jump as Vita turned another type I drone into scrap metal, he pushed himself up and made to sprint, but stopped short when he bounced off something large and solid.
The logistics manager looked up in fear as he recognized the voice, even as an armored hand reached down and hauled him up by the lapel of his shirt.
"What the hell have you DONE?" the pilot snarled through his helmet. "You're putting deadly equipment into the hands of psychopaths!"
"You're the one who's psycho!" Logan yelped in fear. "Let me go before that crazy hammer bitch gets to me!"
"She's the least of your worries," Crash responded, pulling the smaller man right up to his visor. "I should take you up to the stratosphere and just let you drop for this!"
"Now's not the time!" Vita snarled as she ducked an invisible attack that had scorched her hair.
At the same time, Logan cocked his head slightly and looked past the pilot.
"Get him!" he snapped.
"Bastard!" Crash snarled, spinning around. The thug behind him raised his pod-like weapon and depressed the trigger. The pilot threw the traitorous logistics manager to the side in response as a superheated burst of flames spouted forth at him, causing the pilot to protect his face in reflex.
"Flame thrower!" Lynn noted quickly.
"As hot as a plasma attack," Signum nodded, stabbing through a drone.
Logan screamed in abject terror as he tumbled end over end through the air, certain he was going to break his neck, only to come crashing to a halt in the branches of a tree.
"Lucky…" he sighed, right before the branch started to crack. "Dammit!"
"Burn you demon!" The thug snarled as he walked towards the enveloped pilot. "Burn in hell!"
Crash snarled in rage as he watched the temperature gauge on his HUD appear and start climbing rapidly. The pilot stepped into the inferno, reaching out and swatting the weapon to the side, surprising his attacker.
With another step, Crash swiped again, backhanding the individual across the jaw with a loud crack. The man spun in place and went down in a heap, his weapon cutting off abruptly.
"Dammit!" he snapped, breathing hard and looking down. "That's what you get for-"
He noticed the man he'd just struck wasn't moving, and froze. His head was twisted an odd angle. Crash began to breathe heavily, and took a step back. Obviously that last move had snapped his neck. That wasn't his intent, he was just… Aw man.
"I…" he began, his breathing quickly approaching hyperventilation. "I think I'm going to be sick."
"Crap!" Vita swore, splitting her attention between the pilot and four drones. "He just killed someone!"
"Shit!" Lynn replied, leaping right over a drone to avoid its attack. "He's been terrified of doing that!"
"If he freezes up he'll be a liability to the mission!" Signum advised. And as if she were predicting the future, several of the drones seemed to notice the pilot's inactivity and made to capitalize on it.
"Dammit! Not now!" Vita shouted as she moved to intercept. "Crash! You're a sitting duck! Move it!"
Crash barely heard Vita over his on hyperventilating. But he did notice the attacking drones, especially the large Type III that was bearing down on him. In a mild state of mental panic, he backpedaled away from the attacker, but didn't really process the threat it presented with two, ten-meter long manipulators and three heavy thermal blasters.
Battery joined the chorus next, making things worse by announcing the problem. Still, he just killed a man… How could he-
Lynn's voice was like a bucket of cold water to the face as she barked the order right into his headset.
'Don't think, do.' His mind locked onto that simple phrase, drowning out every other errant thought instantly. Everything seemed to click right into place, the world seeming to slow to a crawl. He could hear his own heartbeat as his mind snapped into perfect focus. A three-meter wide drone was attacking with a foot wide metal tentacle as if it were a massive whip in an overhead motion.
Don't think about what it might do to you...
Crash twirled inside, stepping just clear where the thing would come down.
Just do something about it.
His arm rotated inside as the manipulator came down. It barely missed by inches.
Don't think about what the rest of the drone's weapons were doing.
Crash's arm continued to circle around on the same motion, catching the manipulator as it bounced off the ground.
Just prevent them from being used.
He spun into the manipulator, grabbing it with the other arm and giving a firm yank. The entire drone was pulled towards him.
Don't think about how big it is!
Crash let go and pivoted on his foot.
Just exploit it!
The pilot whipped his arm around, hand open.
Don't think about the battle!
His hand snapped forward, plunging right threw the middle 'eye' of the drone as it was warming up to fire a thermal shot. The armored fist went through it like paper machete.
His hand wrapped around something cylindrical and solid.
Don't think about being a test pilot.
Crash yanked the item free of the drone in one swift stroke. It seized up as he spilled its electronic guts.
"Just break it." His eyes narrowed as the drone collapsed to the ground and went limp as he tossed a sparking power core and its torn cables aside. The world seemed to return to something resembling normal time from his perspective as that last line of thought ran through his head. Battle is all about breaking things. He was a test pilot. What do test pilots do?
Crash fished the MFR off his shoulder, switching it over to thermal rounds as he scanned his targeting brackets on the HUD.
He picked out two fighting Vita, one on Lynn, and three on Signum as he brought the weapon around in a sweep.
A type one gadget drone, or Type I, is an ovoid machine roughly one meter high, one meter long, and half a meter wide. As it is built for cheap mass production and was considered expendable by its creator, Dr. Jail Scagletti. It is mounted in a light polycarbonate shell with a half-inch aluminum casing.
Aluminum melts at roughly one thousand, two hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit, and boils at roughly four thousand, five hundred and sixty six degrees. The average thermal round fired from the multi-form rifle in contrast, is a packet of magically contained energy about an eighth of an inch in diameter, one inch long, and is roughly four thousand, eight hundred degrees.
It is thus interesting to note that while a thermal round is almost completely absorbed and dispersed by any magical defense with little more than minor singes caused by bleed through… Impact against unprotected materials results in almost instant melting and vaporization of the impact point, aggravated by the explosive expansion of gas that would go along with it.
So it is of little surprise that against just about any type of drone, the MFR's thermal round would be capable of instantly blowing a hole almost right through it, much the same way the six rounds Crash fired each blew the tops right off the drones attacking his allies.
For just a few seconds, everyone, including enemies, simply stared at the pilot in surprise.
"Did my eyes deceive me?" Signum asked with a sardonic smile. "Or did a C rank mage just destroy seven gadget drones in five seconds?"
That comment seemed to have an effect on the remaining thugs, who started to backpedal away, ducking behind drones that had yet to actually enter into the fight itself.
Logan managed to free himself from his tree as the branch snapped, causing the logistics manager to hit the ground with a thump. Wasting no time, he quickly tore around a corner.
"You okay?" Lynn asked, noting the distance their enemies were giving them.
Crash took a deep breath as he lowered the MFR. Took one look at the corpse, and looked away.
"I've been better," he shook his head.
"It happens," Lynn stated curtly. "Combat is like this."
"Yeah I know," Crash turned his helmet to one of the drones. "People, breaking things and each other."
He noted the lack of attack coming from those who remained to confront them.
"I think we made an impression on them," he joked, trying to lighten the mood.
Vita frowned and gave an extra swing to smash the already destroyed remains of the drone she'd been fighting, and noted how much the thugs flinched at the sound.
"Heh, they're trying to put up a tough front, but they're obviously scared half to death. Rookies."
"Almost," Crash commented off hand. "They're trying to focus a lot of portable AMF units at the moment."
"How do you know?" Lynn took up a fighting stance.
"Count's been climbing since they backed off," the pilot tapped his visor. "I don't think they realize how ineffective it is against our level of power."
To emphasize, Crash raised the MFR and aimed at one of the drones standing off from them. A moment later, a thermal round went right through its 'eye' and blew the back out. Seeing how easily that occurred, the remaining thugs cleared out, their drones falling back a moment later to protect them.
"Where's Logan?" The pilot continued after a moment. "I have a bone to pick with him."
"I saw him over by that tree a minute ago," Vita pointed with her war hammer. "You pitched him when you got jumped."
"What kind of weapon is that anyway?" Signum indicated the pod-shaped weapon laying along side the corpse of the fallen enemy combatant. "I don't recognize the design and it was easily capable of matching a plasma attack."
"I don't know," Crash began, walking over. "Looks like a combination assault weapon."
He reached down and picked it up by the main body.
"It's got a series of barrels that look like they do different things," he continued, rotating it in his grasp. "Modular…" He noted a button on the bottom. "Lots of odds and ends…"
Crash rotated the weapon and slipped his hand around the handle.
"Professionally designed gr-"
The weapon let out an ear-splitting shriek.
"Oh SHI-" he began, flinging his arm and launching the weapon from his grip. It exploded a moment later, knocking him flat on his back and raining debris on the others. After a few seconds, the cloud settled.
"State of the art anti-theft device," he concluded, sitting up. "Whatever you do, don't touch the handle."
Martin pressed a button and saved the image of the weapon displayed from Crash's HUD.
"We have our suicide weapon," he noted. "Lime, inform the rest of the forces."
"Got it," the AI nodded, blinking out.
Pressing another button he took a look at the air battle.
"Takamachi," he began. "Status."
"Things eased up after ground team took out the controller," Nanoha noted. "They're still troublesome, but nowhere near as organized. We should have this wrapped up in ten minutes."
"We're almost wrapped up here too," Mouse One reported in. "I can route to engage enemy air as soon as you're ready."
"It's messy, but it's a route," Signum continued next. "We'll have the test area bunker cleared in no time."
"Right," Martin nodded. "Then I want someone over on D complex NOW! We need to clear them out."
"Already on it," Fate crackled. "I'll be there in thirty seconds."
"I'm going after Logan," Crash crackled in. "He started this mess, he's going to answer for it."
"Find and take out any portable AMF generators while you're at it," Vita responded.
Don opened his mouth, but didn't so much as get a word out before a strange rumbling vibration shivered down the walls of the command center.
"What the hell was that?" Vita crackled.
"That came from the southeast!" Lynn responded instantly.
"Sounded like an explosion," Crash crackled.
There was a squealing crackle of static on the line. It took a few seconds before it resolved into the sound of a loud whine and someone talking.
"Hello? Is this thing on?" It was Roland. "Testing, testing."
"We hear you," Martin indicated, frowning at the high static whine. "You're not exactly clear though."
"You get used to it," Roland commented dryly.
"What was that sound?" Signum asked. "We heard an explosion."
"That's just me," the general crackled back. "I introduced a few pinheads to the concept of democracy. They were out-voted a hundred and twenty to seven. How's the mess?"
"Manageable," Martin responded. "Surprisingly good shape for the attack."
"Then mop up these punks," Roland crackled. "Their game is over."
Fate touched down at the entrance to the disposal facility, several of the Sector Twenty-One 'peons' as she had come to think of them scattering away from her as she blasted at them with a weak attack. She could see several more guarding a hover-sled covered in various explosives equipment sitting in the middle of a pre-prepared magic transport circle. Strange they were using high level magics when they claimed to hate magic. But now wasn't the time to think about that. She needed to stop them before they stole more of the quarantined materials.
"I'm on site," she commented. "Looks like your predictions were right…"
"Nothing leaves," Roland crackled back.
With a snap, Bardiche bit into a cartridge, her arm coming back as the axe-like head rocked back, igniting a blade of plasma.
And with a swing, she hurled her boomerang of plasma at the sled...
…And a hexagonal green barrier flashed, scattering the attack.
Fate quickly tried to figure out where it came from, and for the first time, noticed the figure in the flowing cloak and mask just opposite her side of the sled. His hand was extended, glowing. After a few seconds, he lowered it. Around her, the various thugs and a few more fanatical looking followers seemed to gain a new sense of courage. On that reaction alone, Fate realized this may be their trump card for this operation. If she took him down, the rest would probably flee or surrender. At the very least, he intended to run interference.
The masked man seemed to regard her silently as his followers tightened the ring around her slowly, automatic weapons raising unsteadily. Then he raised a hand. They all looked up at him as he signaled for them to back away. Grudgingly, they did so. And then he floated up over the top of the sled, as if simply standing on the air. No wasted movement at all. Coming to a rest on the ground a few meters away, Fate took a moment to study him some more.
Wrap around green cloak with a purple robe beneath it, a mask disturbingly similar to one a pair of familiars had used years ago, but with a single teardrop coming off the corner of the left eye. Almost like a cleric. It was most certainly a style of barrier jacket, and had blue orbs at the shoulders and on the cloak's tie off.
"Keep prepping the sled," she heard one of them say. "He'll handle her..."
Handle her? That arrogant tone meant trouble.
"I think I just hit a snag," she indicated on the comm. "This guy doesn't look like your average thug."
The man held out his hand, palm up as if accepting change. There was a glow, and a small green orb appeared in his outstretched hand. With a flick, he twisted his wrist around and grabbed the orb. There was a flash and the green ball elongated in his grasp and took shape, becoming a glowing green broadsword. Fate tightened her grip on Bardiche. Whoever this was, they were far too calm.
With another flick of the wrist, the glowing blade arced, slashing down to a low position, as he seemed to challenge her to advance. Very well…
Fate made the first move, but was surprised when he met her in mid air. Batting aside Bardiche with only one hand while shifting and floating back, he parried her first and second strikes, then slashed with the blade, forcing her to swing Bardiche around rapidly. He continued to maintain a vertical position, as if the air itself was as solid as the ground they had started on. Pressing the attack further, his sword arm curled up near his neck, and he let go with a stronger swing, forcing her to duck back, skidding across the ground slightly.
Parrying his follow up, she jabbed with the head of Bardiche, hitting nothing but air as he suddenly zipped upwards and back in an arc, his body movements betraying none of his flight motion intents.
Pushing back towards him, she continued impossibly find nothing but air as he evaded a vicious combo of swipes from Bardiche, only the last blow managed to hit anything, and it was merely a parry from the sword, which the masked man used to propel himself backwards.
Gripping his sword with both hands, he rebounded almost immediately, hurling himself full force into Fate's half-prepared block. Fate stumbled back and pushed off into the air rather than fall flat on her back. He drove into her with ferocity forcing her to give up ground... or air to the flurry of sword strokes.
Then Fate suddenly realized the sword techniques coming at her were strikingly similar to ones Signum used. Adjusting accordingly, she quickly found a hole she'd often use to exploit Signum's defenses and drove back on the offensive. The masked man quickly shifted back again... Without a scabbard like Signum had, she knew exactly where to strike. Vanishing in a blur, Fate went for the opening, Bardiche kicked off a puff of smoke as it bit into a cartridge, igniting its scythe blade as she came out of her dash in a blind spot. And gave a swing.
The man's back was still turned, but a green blade had interposed itself between Bardiche and his open flank. Tracing it, she discovered it came from his other hand. This would produce exactly the same opening as-
Fate winced as she went through a couple of trees. She remembered now, Signum hesitated in that fight.
Roaring overhead at high speed, Fox saw the exchange from the cockpit of her Arwing. Breaking pursuit of a couple of modified Type IIs, she banked around, spotting the transport circle glowing slightly on the ground.
"Hey guys!" she snapped over the communication lines. "Looks like Lightning ran into some kind of trouble over here at Seimei... Some dude with a green sword just got into it with her, and he's holding her off."
"That's a joke..." Crash began. "Right?"
"Not from what I'm seeing," Fox retorted. "Looks like they've also got transport magic up and a loaded hover-sled. The next inspection won't turn out too well if those are missing... WHOA! Did he just put her through trees like that?!"
"Who's closest to D complex?" Roland's voice squealed through static. "Get over there and back Testarossa up!"
"I'm already on my way," Signum's voice crackled in.
"Those two are on you Fox!" Martin's voice suddenly interrupted her view of the fight. "Do a barrel roll!"
Fox resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she yanked the flight stick hard to the side and then back, sending the Arwing into a corkscrew as the whole thing tried to 'climb' while spinning. And not a moment too soon as a stream of bluish bolts shot through the air where she'd previously been.
Fate managed to regain her wits just as she saw the green bolt coming in at her. Rolling off her arm and to the right, the bolt slammed into the ground, igniting some of the grass and kicking up a cloud of dust. She managed to scramble to her feet and duck past a tree trunk as another one whipped past her face, exploding bark off a tree further behind her. Preparing a shield and risking a glance, she spotted the masked man floating towards her while hurling the green bolts like daggers.
She ducked back as this time four were fired at her, one bouncing off the shield and the other just barely missing her legs. The man hopped into the air and hurtled at her, reaching back and then swinging, his sword igniting to life again as he aimed for her head.
Fate jumped away and took flight as the blade went right through the tree, cutting it down in a single swipe. Dropping to the ground and dashing sideways to avoid some of the falling branches, she swung Bardiche to block as the man closed the gap. After a few seconds, and more falling trees, Fate realized the constricted space was putting her at a disadvantage, parried a blow, and leapt upwards… only to be caught by the foot. It was a mistake she knew she shouldn't have made in her haste, leaving herself open like that, but her auto guard took care of the impact when he swung her around into a tree, and then threw her back into the open.
The man jumped back into the clearing of collapsed trees without so much as looking up as the flaming blade of Levantin slashed where his head had been, creating a guard as Signum planted her feet and came around with a brutal horizontal slash. The masked man quickly parried the blow as he jumped further back, then slapped down on her swing, smacking the sword into the dirt and igniting a blade with his other hand. Signum reacted quickly, having so many practice fights with Fate to be used to such speed and aggression, and quickly whipped her scabbard up to block.
What came next was a total surprise, as the man used the blade to rebound his momentum and spun around in a whirl of cape, leaving Signum shocked as the back of his boot connected squarely with her jaw. It didn't hurt very much, but left her off balance as he opened his hand and shoved his palm into her stomach. There was a green flash on red as her auto guard protected her from the point blank blast, and was hurled several meters backwards to crash directly into Fate.
Both went down in a heap.
"He seems to fight very well," Fate stated, her head somehow stuck between Signum's thighs in their tangled mass of limbs.
"He's definitely no amateur," the Knight concurred, rolling back off Fate and regaining her feet. As she did so, she looked up, and immediately froze.
The masked man crossed his arms in front of his body, eight green dagger-like blades between his fingers. With a snap of his arms outwards, he hurled the cluster of energy blades directly at the duo.
Signum pushed Fate to the side and then dove the opposite direction as they shredded through the spot they'd occupied. As soon as they gained bearings, they bounded as one in a pincer move towards the man. Who in turn brought his hands together and his sword became a single long rod, which he quickly began to twirl in a defensive motion to block multiple attempted slashes from the two mages.
As he maintained position to keep them both on the same side, he retreated back slightly. Then suddenly, ducked under one swing, half his blade vanishing from sight, allowing Levantin to swing uselessly through empty space as he elbow-checked Signum in the abdomen and formed a small dagger in his empty hand to slash at Fate's face.
Stepping back from his strike, he struck Signum with his return stroke, who had reacted to the gut-strike by hunching slightly, square in the back. Signum slammed face first into the ground with a loud thud as the man reformed his Bo staff-like blade and piled into Fate.
Backpedaling quickly away from the twirling fury of green, Fate tried her best to keep the masked man's eyes on her by probing a little more aggressively between parries, if only to draw him away from Signum long enough to recover.
On the telepathic command to 'MOVE!' Fate used a backward leap to hit the skies as Nanoha joined the fray with a Shooter attack. The man shot after her and charged right into the magical attacks, swinging at the shots as they homed in on him. His weapon changed from thin bar into something more akin to a tennis racquet as he did so.
Nanoha dove to the side as one of her own shots was sent right back at her before she could will it away. Below her, the man created an arm length shield over his free arm and began to return her 'serve'. Either defending against shots with the shield, or actively swatting the attacks away with his racquet. Fate was forced to dodge a few that seemed actually aimed at her.
"Stars has engaged the target," Martin's voice crackled over the commlink. "This guy's still going though. I want someone else in there, and I want them in there right now!"
"I'll mop up my area and move to assist as soon as possible," Lynn snapped in response. "These guys are pushovers, but there's a lot of them."
Signum regained her feet and shook her dizziness off. Those last two blows were even more surprising and she made note to keep an eye out for such a trick again. Turning to the fight, she saw Nanoha dropping back and firing on him once more as Fate tried to position herself for a better blow. Her eyes Narrowed.
Levantine's blade came apart into links as she whipped it up and gave it a twirl, turning it into a ribbon of blades as she crouched and then sprung upwards, taking off into the sky.
The masked man parried back another blow from the twenty or so shots Nanoha now had in the air, trying to overwhelm him with sheer numbers as her attack whipped around him like a swarm of angry wasps. When he noticed Signum charging up to meet him, he changed direction, heading straight for her. Almost immediately, Nanoha's attacks clustered up and shot towards his back.
Thinking ahead a few seconds, Nanoha recognized a lead into a friendly-fire shot and prepared to will her attack out in a split second. Signum seemed to the think the same thing, as she whipped Levantin out and shot sideways, trying to smack the man with the elongated blade whip. Instead of dodging it, he suddenly reached out, his blade condensing into a green glow around his hand as he grabbed hold of Levantin and gave a yank. Not to fall for such a simple whip counter, Signum leveled her strength in a massive heave. Only instead of being flung off, the man stayed along for the ride of his life as Levantine curled up and cracked madly. Then at just the right moment, he gave another tug and snapped off in what seemed to be a random direction as if swinging from a vine, just missing Nanoha's cloud of shooter spheres, which had to do a one-eighty to continue the chase.
Using the extra momentum, the man shot towards Fate, catching her just slightly off guard, as his 'weapon' became a lance. She dove out of the way as he hurled it mid-flight and spun quickly to counter as he came in on her face first with an axe this time, emitting a loud clang as it slammed into Bardiche. Pitching backwards from the momentum, they quickly came close to getting tangled up in each other's limbs as he leveraged in and grabbed hold of Bardiche. Letting his weapon disappear, he elbow checked Fate right in the face to disorient her, and then used the momentary shock to gain control of the two of them and spun around, hurling Fate right into the oncoming cloud of shooter shots.
They winked out instantly as Nanoha had prepared, but Signum wasn't so lucky when for the second time, herself and Fate collided.
Nanoha snapped her attention from the two to discover a cluster of green blades coming right at her. Without so much as a thought, her own barrier went up and they exploded harmlessly.
With her best attempt at a blood curdling scream that her deceptively young body could produce, Vita joined the battle, Graf Eisen about five times larger than her head now. The man crossed both his arms, his weapon becoming a double thick shield in front of him as she struck, sending him flying towards the ground... The knight kept momentum and chased right after him.
He landed like a cat on all fours, then immediately back-flipped out of the spot with a swirl of cape, just half a second before Graf Eisen slammed into the same place and turned it into a small crater. Reacting quickly, he snapped forward and stomped down on the head of the giant war hammer, reaching back to form a sword. Vita would have to either let go or be decapitated on the spot.
Luckily, this was the moment Signum came to her aid with redoubled fury, Levantin just narrowly missing a counter-decapitation as she went right for a reflexive kill strike.
The man jumped back from the blade, twisting in the air as he landed right on it then bounced away, hurling himself into the sky once more and tossing more exploding dagger attacks to cover his flight.
Forming a shield on his forearm and reaching up, he blocked a strike from Bardiche as Fate brought the blade down on him from a blind spot. He whipped around the moment the blade came to a stop on his arm, his free hand forming a dagger while he leveraged in towards Fate and gave a slash. Yelping, Fate backpedaled as the blade nicked her barrier jacket right across her belly, exposing skin from the strike. A sword would have been more effective, but it probably would have been too slow to hit.
Nanoha narrowed her eyes at the exchange but couldn't find a clear opening to attack just yet. The masked man was too close to Fate. He obviously knew this, as he seemed to be deliberately staying as close to someone as he could. Amidst a flurry of exchanges with Fate, he smashed and opening and twirled. Right in the middle of it he hurled blades at Nanoha.
Shifting lightly to avoid them, she realized he wasn't ignoring anyone, best to stay on one's toes then.
Driving a knee into Fate's stomach, the man spun and countered a flanking maneuver by Signum as she rose again into the fight, going back into Bo staff -motions as he did so. Then Vita came right up the middle and went for another overhead smash. Pushing off Signum's sword, he braced the staff with both hands and caught the blow just behind the actual head of the hammer. Then he twisted and dumped her momentum off towards Signum. Twisting to form a blade to block a blow from Bardiche, the man fired an open palm shot at the two from his free hand. Then flipped into the inverted and kicked Fate square in the back as he came around, driving her into the other two to crash into a tree before falling to the ground.
Nanoha saw her opening. This guy was just too mobile. He was depending on avoidance to hold his ground. There were ways of dealing with that.
Coming around to hurl daggers at the collapsed form, the man suddenly found his arm locked in place, followed by the other, then his legs and feet. Taking that as her cue, Nanoha brought Raising Heart into position, a cartridge ejecting as she did so.
His eyes narrowed behind the mask as Nanoha prepared to trump him in brute power.
With a crack, the pink beam of force fired. This fight was over.
But the man had other plans. The blue orbs on his shoulders flashed to life, the binds around him wavering and shattering. Even as the beam rocketed away from her, Nanoha barely contained her shock as she felt the burst of AMF. With nothing to hold the man up, he dropped right out of the path of the buster shot, arching backwards as the beam ripped through his position just inches from his face.
Recovering his flight, he whipped his arm and hurled four dagger bolts right up along the edge of the beam. Nanoha reacted a moment too late and jerked slightly as one caught her shoulder, cutting into it through her barrier jacket and sending a small mist of blood out from the minor flesh wound.
Nanoha bit her lip to ignore the pain and the urge to grab her shoulder as the man immediately righted himself and zipped at her, reaching his arm back to create a sword. Gripping Raising Heart, she took a defensive stance as the man laid into her.
"You're not going to believe this guys, but he's taking them ALL on and WINNING!" Fox blurted as she shot overhead once more. "He just dodged a buster from Stars and has her pinned in hand to hand range. The others look to be picking themselves up."
"Jesus Fucking Christ!" Roland swore, fighting not to be drowned out by static. "That's got to be what? Double S level skill?"
"Whatever it is," Fox responded. "He's kicking ass and taking names."
"I want as many people on station as possible then," Roland ordered. "Take him out before he kills someone!"
Nanoha winced as she took a near miss to her arm. The man was exceptionally fast, and his fluid shifting from daggers to sword to staff and back again was nothing short of nearly impossible to plan against. If he'd been limited to just one weapon style, she'd have won this a while ago, but his ability to manifest whatever shape he desired at will confounded any attempts to effectively fight back. He was a wild card.
The masked man swiped at her once more, his weapon glancing off the head of Raising Heart as Nanoha defended. Then suddenly, as he'd done with Fate earlier, he lashed out and grabbed the device, pulling himself inwards towards Nanoha as his free hand formed a dagger. Nanoha couldn't get away from it and reached up with one hand, grabbing the blade directly. For a second, neither moved as she held the blade an inch away from her neck. The man seemed to regard this move with a certain level of respect, if the curious look coming from the eyes behind that mask was any kind of indicator.
Nanoha could feel the blood dripping from her hand, but dare not let go with him putting so much force into the stab motion that would mean a near instant death. Then, without warning, he jerked backwards, pulling her in his grasp and swinging around, hurling her bodily towards the spot where he'd deposited the rest of his opponents less than thirty seconds ago.
Fate, only half recovered from her own tumble through the tree, jumped back in surprise as Nanoha came through the tree branch above her with a loud crack before slamming into the ground.
Nanoha winced before quickly sitting up.
They all looked up as the masked man settled into a vertical stance once more, as if standing on an invisible platform above them.
"He's extremely clinical in his style," Signum nodded, sporting a minor black eye. She'd taken Graf Eisen to the face in their little tumble. Vita in turn had a cut where Levantin had accidentally come across her leg, her battle dress torn and shredded below that point. "No taunting, no gloating, no hesitation, not even speaking. He just fights."
"He's stalling," Nanoha stood up. "All the more reason to take him down quickly."
As she said that, she looked up at the figure as he stood, a white star coming to life in the sky above and behind him.
The man tilted his head slightly, keeping one eye on the group below him, as he seemed to casually regard the newest reinforcements. What was one more to a fight?
With a viciously loud, blood curdling battle cry, Lynn came out of her dive with a crack that almost sounded like a buster in itself as she brought her battle-axe high over her head.
The man went on the defensive immediately, spinning about and creating a staff to guard against the blow as it prepared to fall.
The Waldron came down with full force as Lynn struck the man like a falling meteor. The axe slammed into the green energy given form. And for the briefest of moments, it held, creating a shock wave that billowed the man's cape.
But under the incredible force of Lynn's signature strike, the staff finally gave in, and snapped clean in two. Since Lynn carried so much momentum in a downward stroke, the masked man had more than enough time to display total shock to everyone close enough to see it. Lynn continued on to the ground to slam into it with the force of a small truck, cratering it around her feet as above her, the man tumbled backwards and landed lightly on the ground himself.
After a second, she stood up and faced him, swinging Waldron down and to the side as she began to walk towards him with a certain air of Menace not even Signum managed at her most fierce.
"YOU…" She began. "I know you. I could never forget the face of the man who killed my friends, nearly killed me, and left me to die half buried in the burning rubble of a collapsed building."
The masked man cocked his head to the side as if to question her. Nanoha noted how Lynn had seemed to keep her channel closed when she said that. This was personal.
The man took a fresh battle stance as Lynn readied her axe, still marching forward.
"I'm bringing you in," she growled. "Mister, Kage."
"That's our Cue!" Signum kicked into the air, Levantin ejecting a cartridge.
"Right behind you!" Vita snapped as Graf Eisen performed similar.
Nanoha and Fate looked at each other and nodded, bolting in separate directions.
Lynn scowled and crouched in, then suddenly shot forward. Mr. Kage sidestepped and parried the strike. The enforcer immediately blurred away as Fate shot in from a disjointed angle. The man reformed his staff and began to parry Bardiche as Signum planted herself beside him and tried a horizontal slash.
Lynn came out of her high speed Blur, her face a mask of concentration as she jabbed with Waldron from the open spot. The man leapt into the air and immediately twisted to avoid Graf Eisen caving his skull in. His staff flashed and became a pair of wicked short swords as he began to twist about three sets of weapons, Lynn having once more vanished in a blur of Flash Dance.
Since only two or three could really attack simultaneously, Nanoha fell back and began charging for a buster shot, should the opening present itself.
Vita was limited in her motions and knew it as well. With such packed grouping, hammer strikes in a horizontal fashion would be silly. Falling back from the pack of attackers, she eyed Nanoha across the way and started forming her Swallow Flier attack.
In the blur of the melee, Mr. Kage shifted his short swords into shields and let go of a dagger swarm with a swing, forcing Vita to duck as a blur of green ripped into the newly formed metal spheres. Then he spun again, hurling a dagger at the ground in a seemingly random direction. With a blast of dirt, Lynn suddenly came out of her blurring high-speed dash and tumbled several meters to land upside down against a tree.
Signum and Fate redoubled their strikes, coming in fast from each side. The masked man crossed his arms, his shields overlapping as he fell back to the ground and then planted his feet. With a hefty thrust, he pushed them outwards, causing them to expand as he did so, catching both mages in preparation for their own strikes.
Nanoha saw her opportunity.
With the flick of the wrist, a green dagger hit the glowing orb. Nanoha realized she needed to stop drawing this attack out so long as the orb exploded in a burst of magical energy.
In the commotion, Mr. Kage started walking forward, his hand's snapping to create new blades. Then with a second snap they elongated. With a third snap of the wrist they started to waiver around. And with a fourth snap the ends split into three parts.
Signum immediately recognized them as flail whips, but made of energy. This guy was something else.
He began to cycle them, causing the long ribbons of green to curl and snap around his body as he began to advance on them in an utmost confident fashion.
Nanoha dropped back quickly, erecting a shield as she saw a flail snap at her. The others quickly began to work on the defensive as the flails snapped about quickly and precisely. Now Mr. Kage was on the offensive, his latest weapon style having as much distance as Signum's Levantine in its Snake Form, and the unpredictability to strike at anyone with almost no warning.
Vita was the first to realize what the true intent was when suddenly the flail snapped about and caught her by the foot. With a quick yank, he flung her into the air.
Fate managed to dodge a strike aimed at her, but he quickly brought Vita around with a spin and let her go to slam into Fate full force.
Signum tried to charge in and close inside the effective striking radius, but only got herself wrapped up with her arms pinned to her sides before she was summarily launched straight at Nanoha.
Realizing she would hurt Signum if she left her defense up, Nanoha was forced to drop her shield, allowing the knight to plow directly into her as she tried to backpedal to lessen the impact... They still landed in a heap on the ground not too far from where Vita and Fate had likewise landed.
With a blur, Lynn appeared right at point blank range, Waldron already high to strike. The whips blinked out as the man spun sideways, the Axe passing an inch away from his face, and with a continuation of his spin, he brought a closed fist around in a backhand.
Lynn's eyes snapped wide as she felt the blow to the base of her skull, her vision instantly going double as she stumbled forward, her eyes crossing. Then she dropped to her knees, and fell flat on her face. Waldron clanging to the ground by her side.
And for the first time in several minutes, there was silence. Mr. Kage looked at each of the mage groups, once again trying to untangle themselves from each other, then down at Lynn. His shoulders heaved in a sigh as he raised his hand.
Both pairs of mages froze when they saw the green sword snap to life over his head, the ground around him beginning to sparkle slightly.
Nanoha shut her eyes as the man swung.
Opening one eye, Nanoha was surprised to note the blow hadn't quite fallen.
The reason seemed to be the blade had been stopped in mid air... by a hand?
A hand attached to a very muscular looking arm.
Blinking away a little combat tunnel vision, she noticed the fading remains of a transport spell around an extremely muscular and extremely grizzled-looking old man. His hair graying and spiky around the large bald spot on top. His glare was met only by total and complete shock from the masked man.
"That is MY disciple you just tried to kill," he snarled in a low tone that sounded like a growling tiger. As if to emphasize his point, he tightened his grip on the blade, not even drawing a single drop of blood. Then suddenly, the glowing weapon cracked and shattered. The masked man stepped back quickly.
"But seeing as you did manage to take her, and all these aces on single handedly," the muscular man continued... "You may be..."
He tightened his fist, flexing his biceps as he did so with a sound similar to stretching leather. He sneered at the masked man as sparks of lightning based magic danced across his arm.
"...A worthy opponent."
And then the hammer fell. Mr. Kage had no time to react as a vicious punch caught him straight in the face. This was quickly followed up with; Nanoha tried to keep track. One, two, four... seven... TEN lightning fast punches, not a single one met with any sort of defensive counter. On the tenth blow, the old man didn't even connect. The concussion of air from his swing alone hit so hard that the terrorist leader went flying backwards a good twenty meters and nearly crashed over the hover sled.
Recovering his footing in an attempt to gain some dignity, the masked figure stood up, carefully placing one gloved hand on his mask as he noticed the long crack in it. The old man scoffed.
"Is that all you've got?!"
He crossed his arms and raised his chin a little bit, but his eyes remained narrow, and directly on his opponent.
"I'm amazed a terrorist of your caliber menaced us this long. You're not even worth my breath."
After ensuring the mask was secure, Mr. Kage took two steps forward, creating his energy sword again, then froze.
Signum and Fate were in the air once more, powerful bombardment spells forming around them. With a snap, Nanoha joined the group, followed shortly by Vita. Mr. Kage seemed to regard this sudden level of pure firepower with caution, as his blade vanished and he took a step back, relaxing to that neutral stance he'd used so often, his arms hidden under his cape. After a few seconds, he took a look to his left and to his right, then raised his arm. Around him, the glowing circle of the transport spell began to light up.
"Running away?!" The old man spat, as if in disgust. "HMPH!"
"Don't let him finish!" Nanoha cried, charging a divine buster as Fate began charging a Trident Smasher.
"Don't waste your energy," the old man interrupted. "He's already gone."
True to the word, there was a green flash, and the loaded hover sled, as well as the masked opponent, vanished from sight.
"However, you may wish to do something about the cannon fodder," the old man continued in mild annoyance. Around them, the resounding click of nearly a hundred automatic weapons greeted them. Nanoha's eyes nearly bugged out noticing some of what Roland had called 'Fifty-cals' being pointed at them.
"Fire on my Fire!" Someone shouted. Without a second thought, she flung up a Protection Powered.
With a roar, the fanatics opened up, peppering the magical shield with heavy automatic fire. It seemed that Mr. Kage had bought plenty of time for them to bring as much armaments to bear as possible. Nanoha felt the strain already building as the barrier held. Fate quickly joined her to reinforce the defense with one of her own. In the middle of it all, the old man stood along side Lynn's unconscious form, arms crossed. A kind of chagrinned scowl on his face.
"Most obnoxious," he rumbled, then turned to Vita.
"You, Brat," he snapped. Vita resisted the urge to put Graf Eisen in Gigant Form and smash him right there. "You know transport magic don't you?"
"Yes I do," Vita snapped back, glaring at the rude old man. BRAT??? Why I oughta'...
"Then perhaps you should use it and send us some place a little less hostile," he continued. "We can't shoot out like this, and they're not likely to run out of ammo anytime soon."
To emphasize, he motioned at a couple people acting as runners into the disposal storage bunker, and more coming out with cases of ammunition.
Vita grimaced at his clearly logical statement as Nanoha's face tightened under the strain, and for just a second considered leaving the old man behind to eat automatic weapons. He looked like he really could eat bullets, and then spit them out as return fire.
With a flick of Graf Eisen, she formed the transport markings. The man bent down and picked up Lynn and Waldron as she did so.
"Any time," he rumbled, seeming to regard the events around him with little more interest than dust under a carpet.
Vita muttered a silent curse and activated the magic. After a few seconds, the group felt the vertigo of transport as she jumped them clear of the area.
A moment later, the world came back into focus and they were standing within the confines of the Test Operations Command Center... TICTOCC.
Nearby, Don held what appeared to be a large wrench up like a baseball bat, obviously ready to smash anyone who wasn't supposed to be there upside the head. After a second, he managed to identify who it was aimed at, and lowered it.
Nobody really paid attention to that line. Cooper was over in a corner with a panel removed from a wall below Cherry's monitor. Martin was over in the operations command console looking to the back of the room.
"You got out of there alive," he began. "From what Fox was saying-" He broke off and shot to his feet. "Admiral Mishima! Sir!"
Everyone froze and turned to the old man carrying Lynn. Cooper jumped from the shout and bumped his head from somewhere inside the cluster of wires he was half buried in.
"It's about time someone around here recognized me," the Admiral growled, stepping forward and handing Lynn off to Signum. "Where's General Roland? It's time to stop toying with these terrorists."
"Getting myself better equipped," Roland's voice crackled over the short wave across the entire room. Again, he was fighting to be heard over the whining. "Nice to hear your voice Kanemitsu... when'd you get here?"
"I just arrived," the Admiral admitted. "Sorry I'm a little late. Orbit transition took longer than expected and I was having trouble burning through the blanket AMF fields in the area. It took a while to get a good position lock on the largest threat."
"That's fine," Roland stated. "Oh, one moment."
There was a crackle as the whine intensified.
"Target! Four, five, nine meters..." came over, barely audible.
"Roger, four five nine meters..."
"On the way!"
"Oh man look at them scatter!"
There was a crackle and Roland returned.
"Sorry, still out-voting these punks. What's the sitrep Admiral?"
"The airbase is in the clear, and complex C is ninety percent under control last time I checked." The Admiral rumbled. "Looks like they've got the Disposal Facility completely locked down though. Even with these Aces, we won't be able to take it back fast enough."
"And we can't let them just walk out of here," Roland returned. "There's over five hundred tons of explosives buried in that facility. That's a lot of 'BOOM' to let the terrorists walk away with."
There was a pause.
"And they're just sitting on top of it," Mishima pointed out.
"Are you suggesting what I THINK you're suggesting?" The general asked.
"If we're on the same wavelength…" the admiral crossed his arms. "If they want boom, give them boom."
"NO WAY!" Don cut in, realizing what they were going on about "That's ten feet of heavy reinforced concrete with three layers of defense spells laced in it. It would take an S class or better spell at very close range to penetrate it. And the explosion that results from five hundred tons of explosives would make any such attack a suicide mission!"
Mishima turned and looked at the master situation display showing the Archipelago. "I could have the Tsunami Arc the site from orbit…"
"Not THAT much boom admiral," Roland commented. "I'm going to be buried under paperwork as it is with this fiasco."
"I have a solution," EDI suddenly resonated across the room. Lime's screen blinked to be replaced with an inventory display. "Next week's test schedule was for a test of multi layered barrier defenses against various types of attack."
"And?" Roland seemed to be hanging on EDI's concept.
"One of the test sequences was the application of a moderately up to date test on bunker penetration weapons," the AI continued. The inventory list scrolled down and selected an item, a picture of a fairly generic missile flashed onto the screen. "Mouse one was Equipped with two AGM-130 Bunker Busters in advance preparation for that test."
"The AGM-130 is capable of penetration up to eleven feet of solid reinforced concrete," Cherry interrupted. "A direct hit would punch through and breach the defense spells enough to start a fire."
"That's good enough!" Roland snapped back. "Make it happen!"
Martin spun in his chair and hit a comm switch.
"GEOFRONT to Mouse One," he snapped in his authoritative tone. "Do you copy?"
"Mouse One here..." came the response. "Where's the fire chief?"
"Listen carefully," Martin began... Everyone else looked at the screen, examining a photo of the AGM-130.
At twenty thousand feet, Mouse One banked around towards Complex D in his modified F-15, carrying two live, mass based weapons onboard.
"Nose on target Vector," he crackled over the radio. "Confirmation is Smoke on the Water. I'm in."
"Roger that," Martin responded. "You're cleared hot. EDI will lase the target for you and give you the target vector."
There was a crack as EDI shot by several thousand feet below at mach four, ripping towards Angel Island. Rising up along side Mouse One, Fox brought her Arwing into formation to cover him.
"Roger, Master Arm, Mouse One Hot, arming AGM-130..."
On D complex, EDI cut speed as he came around the main entrance to the storage bunker. Almost immediately, the massed fanatics defended their transport circle with heavy small arms fire. Unfortunately for them, they had no concept for speed and altitude as EDI ripped around and shot away, having marked the target and keeping a laser designation right on it.
"Area confirmed clear of friendlies," he resonated on an open channel. "Cleared to fire."
Mouse one saw the bracket go green on his HUD, and squeezed the trigger.
The missile dropped away from the Test Force modified F-15, it's rocket motor igniting almost immediately and hurling the weapon away from the jet at mach three. Those around the transport pad saw the white trail of smoke it left as it closed on them. Eyes followed it in silent apprehension as it curved in overhead, arching down into the bunker, and that was the last thing anyone on the ground ever saw.
Fox saw the brilliant flash and the billowing smoke cloud as far away as she was along side Mouse One, the blast wave creating a semi-transparent dome of condensing water vapor as it rushed out from what had previously been the Seimei Mass Weapons Disposal Facility. Small yellow streaks of burning debris were launched from the cloud over a mile into the sky as that entire section of Angel Island was obliterated by five hundred tons of high explosive. Her jaw dropped.
"Oh my god..." she mumbled.
Inside TICTOCC, they all paused as they felt the ground shudder slightly around the same time.
"Jeez…" Don grumbled. "You could restart the volcano chain with that."
No matter where you were on the Archipelago, you could hear, and see the blast from the D complex island as it rose high into the sky.
"I confirm the target has been Neutralized," EDI resonated over the channel. "No further transport magic can be detected from the target area."
Logan nearly tripped and fell on his face when the sound of the explosion passed over him. Pausing from his run, he stared at the rising cloud coming from the northwest, fragments of white-hot debris high in the sky.
Feeling his panic redouble, he turned quickly and started to run towards his escape point. Everything had gone completely to hell so fast, that it was impossible to understand. He had to get out of here and make good on his escape before-
Crash came down ten meters in front of him, wires from a drone he'd just destroyed still gripped in one armored hand.
"Nice try Logan," he growled. "But you're not getting away so easily after the shit you've pulled."
Logan spun and ran the other way. The two drones that he'd put on voice command earlier were just a few meters back. A pair of Type IIIs would be more than enough to handle ANY mage for a minute or two. Long enough to get to his escape point. He'd have to risk being tracked but he'd be able to make a second jump before they could catch up. But he wasn't going to be sacrific-
One of the drones turned inside out and exploded in a hail of debris. Scrap metal raining against the concrete wall of one of the nearby test buildings. The violent event was even more sudden and noisy than the distant explosion on Angel Island. The logistics manager fell flat on his back both from surprise, and the concussion. Crash too, took an involuntary step back.
After a second Logan realized the Type III heavy drone had been taken out. And not just taken out, obliterated. Was that possible? That was a single shot! Could an S rank mage do that?
The second drone began to pivot in place, turning to face whatever the new threat was. Just as it reached position and identified its opposition, there was a loud crack and it too dissolved into a cloud of flying metal parts.
Logan tried to pick himself back as a strange whine grew in intensity from somewhere around the corner. Along with the whine, came the distinct sound of someone playing heavy rock. After a few seconds, the ground began to shake, and then with a metallic roar, a squat, tan, tracked vehicle he'd never seen before came around the corner.
It was covered in flat, angular armor, and had one large gun sticking out of a turret on the top.
The vehicle rolled right up to Logan, causing him to scramble back to his feet and stumble towards Crash in sheer panic before it came to a stop. The large gun on the front depressed downwards, aiming straight at him. And he froze in the realization he was facing a Tank. A true, honest to goodness, main battle-tank. The biggest tank the TSAB had was a light tank. And many of those were destroyed during the Cradle Incident! This, this…
"You know what my favorite part of Those Who Hunt Elves is?"
Logan looked up. Roland, previously unnoticed, was learning half way out of a hatch on the top of the vehicle, a boom box next to him obviously the source of the music he'd been hearing.
"I'll tell you what my favorite part is," the General continued. "It's the part where a little girl driving a Japanese Type-74 Main Battle Tank blows an old pirate ship right out of the water in a single shot. This is about the level of overkill you're up against when you decide these pathetic little machines are a match for seventy-four tons of good ol' fashioned WHOOPASS. The TSAB don't make them like this boy."
He narrowed his eyes.
"I might be glorifying my home a little and pushing TSAB policy using this vehicle. But I decided to put it to the vote. And I'm afraid the one-twenty smoothbore won the vote."
He paused, turning the volume on his boom box down.
"As for you, I'm afraid you won't be seeing home for a long... LONG time."
Logan stumbled slightly, and fell to his knees.
"Cause I'm TNT" the boom box blared on.