"I'm afraid it's much worse than I originally thought" Duelo said, sitting in front of the massive console in the infirmary.
"How bad are her injuries?" Magno asked him from the bridge.
"I'm afraid they vary" Duelo told her, "She has some minor bruising against the side of her temple, but that isn't all. She also has a minor concussion and some internal bleeding in, as well as a few bits of shrapnel in her leg from the damage she sustained in her fighter. I'm sorry to say there's not a whole lot I can do for her even with the amount of supplies I have".
Magno closed her eyes, silently praying before she opened them again, "Will she survive?"
"I'm afraid there's no way for me to tell just yet. I'm still running tests and stabilizing her condition, but I'm getting some minor interference in the med bay systems".
Magno remained calm in her response, "There's a nearby planet with a strong gravitational pull. The closer we get to it the more interference in the Nirvana's systems. We're trying to devise a way to escape, but with the enemy hounding us it's going to be difficult".
Duelo's calm voice sounded panicked for a second, "We need to keep the systems as clear as possible captain, I can't operate on Cipher's wounds otherwise".
"Do what you can for now Duelo. I'm afraid in a situation like this there's not much we can do". The captain ended the communication with the infirmary and growled mentally at how helpless she was to help her crew in a time like this.
BC looked to the captain and spoke her mind like always, "We're all worried about Cipher as well captain, but we must place our priority on surviving the enemy for now".
The captain stayed quiet for a few seconds before she answered, "I don't like it, but you're right BC. If we don't survive the enemy then she'll die anyway. We have to take our chances…keep the shields up and dive straight into the planet".
"C…Captain!?" Belvedere gasped.
"Do it!" the captain ordered, "It's our only chance".
The Nirvana retreated into the planet below forcing the enemy fleet to break off their pursuit after the copy of Vandread Meia was crushed under the intense pressure of the planet's gravity.
For now the Nirvana was safe, but there was no way they'd be able to escape through the other side of the planet before the shields gave way and if they turned around they'd run straight into the enemy.
During their retreat, Meia's dread also took a hit from the copy of her Vandread and as a result she suffered a shrapnel wound to her shoulder.
Seeing their leader being pulled away on a cart devastated the dread pilots even further not only was Cipher, someone they saw as invincible even though most of them were intimidated by her, but now Meia as well was being taken to the infirmary.
Jura leaned her back against the wall and slid down into a sitting position before hugging her legs close to her chest and Dita's seemingly infinite cheery disposition vanished.
"Don't worry about me" Meia said giving them a pained smile, "I'll be fine".
Dita watched the response team cart Meia away just as Pixy reentered the hangar, "Mr. Pixy!" she called before running over to him, "Please tell me Cipher is ok, she has to be!"
Pixy quickly turned his head to the side thinking of a way to tell her without making her feel worse, "Its not looking good" he told her, "But don't worry I've seen Cipher survive worse".
Dita saw the fake smirk on Pixy's face and lowered her head, "I hope you're right. I don't want anyone to die I want everyone to stay happy, there's got to be something we can do! There's just got to be!"
All around them, the sound of creaking steel echoed as the ship began to feel the pressure of the planet's intense gravity.
"ARGH I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!" Jura yelled, "I can't stand picking fights we can't win! It's all useless!"
"That's not true!" Dita cried at her, "We can still survive this! There's got to be a way!"
The red head immediately ran out of the hangar, leaving Jura sitting against the wall and Pixy staring at the wreckage of Cipher's F-15.
"For the first time in my life" Pixy said getting Jura's attention, "I've never felt this helpless about anything…I wish there was a way, but right now I can't think of anything that would help".
Pixy realized that Jura was listening to him and promptly apologized to her, "Sorry, I'm not making you feel any better am I?"
Jura looked away from him and brought her knees closer to her chest, "Why did this have to happen?"
"I can't answer that" the mercenary replied, "I know its hard to right Jura" he said before stopping to take in his own advice, "But try to think positive, we're definitely in a tight place right now, but there's always a way out no matter how bad it looks".
Jura wanted to take his advice, but no matter how much she wanted to she couldn't see any possible way for their situation to get better, "How?" she asked him, "How can there be a way out of this? Meia's injured and Cipher might…How can we survive this?"
Pixy looked at the ground, "We simply have to believe" he said, "I can't give you an answer other than that. If we believe then maybe a miracle will happen remember when Hibiki and Dita first combined into the Vandread when all of this started? And when Hibiki and Cipher saved Meia from that trap on the desert planet? We've seen miracles happen before we just have to believe it can happen again".
Jura gave him a small, fearful smile, "I want to believe you, but I just can't see a way out this time…"
In the infirmary, Duelo noticed Barnette had a minor cut on her arm and asked the fiery pilot if she wanted him to treat it, but of course she violently denied his offer, slapping his hand away.
"I don't need the help of a man" she told him, "In case you've forgotten I wanted all of you men locked in your cells for good".
Duelo remained adamant against her hostility, "Regardless of whether or not you trust me, right now I'm your doctor and I only want to help".
"Doctor!" Dita's voice cried as she barged into the infirmary, "We need a medicine to make everyone happy again".
"I understand your concern Dita" Duelo began, finally giving up trying to treat Barnette's injury, "But there isn't any kind of medicine like that".
"But there has to be something!" Dita cried to him, "Everyone is saying its hopeless!"
"That's right!" Paiway yelled from the corner, "Its all over we're all going to die!"
"Paiway!" Dita gasped, "You can't give up".
"Dita open your eyes!" the nurse yelled, "We're risking our lives for a planet that doesn't even care about us and now we're about to die! We should have just run when we had the chance now it's all over!"
"How can you think that way?" Dita asked her before looking to Barnette, "You don't think its hopeless do you Barnette?"
"Leave me out of this!" Barnette demanded, "You know I've never been a fan of your optimism and your undying bubbly spirit".
Dita lowered her head, "I know you think I'm stupid, but I don't know what else to do other than to try my best. I just don't want everyone to be so sad…IS THAT SO WRONG!?"
No one answered her, the room was filled with an atmosphere of dismay and fear, "It's not hopeless" Dita quietly cried, "We can still win we just have to think of a way to…" Barnette cut her off, "Dita will you just shut up already! None of us want to hear your sappy speeches right now".
Dita took a step back, her eyes immediately filled with tears from Barnette's words. Barnette was prepared to say something else, but someone spoke from behind her.
"Will you all stop yelling already" a groggy voice said.
Everyone looked to the back corner of the room to see Cipher sitting up in her bed and yanking the monitor patches from her body.
"Cipher you shouldn't get up" Duelo told her, "You need to rest, you're badly"
Cipher held up her hand, silently asking him to be quiet, "I appreciate your concern Duelo, but I refuse to lie here when there's a job to be done".
Cipher got up and rubbed the side of her head, "Now then" she began ignoring the fact that everyone was staring at her naked torso, "You" she said pointing to Barnette, "No more yelling, in fact no more talking unless your going to say something nice, and you" she continued pointing at Paiway, "You need to get to work helping Duelo take care of the injured people".
Cipher grabbed her shirt and blazer jacket from the table next to her bed and dressed herself before leaving the room, stopping at the doorway next to Dita. "And you" she said placing her hand on the red head's shoulder, "No more crying, we haven't lost yet".
After Cipher walked away, Dita looked back at everyone still in the infirmary; Meia and Duelo were looking at her as well while both Paiway and Barnette continued to think it was over. "It's not over" Dita said to them, "We're going to get through this I just know we will".
The red head ran out of the infirmary, leaving them behind, "It's not over" she thought to herself, "I refuse to let it end like this, I…I don't want to see everyone so sad we have to win!"
Cipher made a stop in engineering after she overheard some of the crew talking about how the Peksis was reacting.
"Parfet" she said after the door opened.
The head engineer cheerfully greeted her despite the situation around them, "Oh Cipher how are you feeling?"
"I've been through worse" Cipher simply said before looking at the Peksis, "So what's it doing?"
Parfet looked back at the Peksis as well, "As far as I can tell its building up an internal pressure so it will survive the force of the planet around us".
"So it's preserving itself?" Cipher asked her to which Parfet nodded before tilting her head and comically pointing at the giant crystal.
"Ever since this journey of ours first started I've had more and more suspicion that the Peksis might actually be a living thing, but this definitely proves it. Its in danger of dying just like us so it's trying to preserve itself".
Cipher stared at the giant crystal for a few minutes, thinking about the dream she had after she was injured. "Is it safe to go inside?" she asked Parfet.
"I don't detect any signs of radiation or anything harmful inside the reactor, but I have no way of predicting what could happen inside it the Peksis continues building in pressure like that".
"Whatever happens, happens" Cipher said before heading for the door leading into the reactor, "See if you can't find Pixy for me, I need to talk to him and the captain when I'm done in there".
Entering the Peksis reactor, Cipher walked across the catwalk and stopped directly in front of the Peksis, noticing the change in its color as she approached it.
Cipher leaned her back against the railing, "You brought me and Larry here…why?" Hearing a loud humming and creaking sound from the Peksis and the ship's interior, Cipher closed her eyes, remaining completely calm in the face of their impending end, "You've helped us before, so why stop now? Or do you just not care what happens to them? You just helped because you thought it would fun?"
The Peksis continued to change from a light bluish green color to a light red, almost in response to Cipher's inquiry something Parfet noticed and reported to the captain.
"She's doing what?" Magno asked.
"Its hard to believe, but she's talking to the Peksis and it seems to be responding to her" Parfet reported before showing them a video feed from inside the reactor.
Parfet only meant to show the bridge the video feed, but the abnormalities in the ship's systems caused the video feed to be broadcast to the entire ship.
"So why don't you just go ahead and admit it?" Cipher asked the Peksis, "You're scared just like the rest of us? Afraid that this might be the end so you're trying to preserve yourself while we all die".
The Peksis continued to turn a brighter red in response to Cipher's words, "I may be afraid, but I'm not going to let that stop me" she said, "I'm going to go out there and fight, to show them that even in our current situation there's still someone who won't back down. We're going to survive this with or without your help".
Cipher pushed off the railing and gave the Peksis a smug grunt before she began walking away. The female mercenary only took a few steps before the Peksis unleashed a bursting wave of energy around the reactor, forcefully knocking Cipher to the ground.
Cipher groaned as the pain from her injuries came flooding back in force and her vision quickly faded to black.
"Parfet!" BC yelled from the bridge after they witnessed what happened.
"Standby" Parfet replied, "Running scans in the reactor room".
Parfet began a full scan of the reactor room to see if Cipher was still alive after the burst of energy knocked her out.
"She's alive, but her vitals are barely showing up!"
"We need to get her out of there on the double!" Magno ordered.
Parfet tried to open the door to the reactor room, but it was sealed for some reason, "Oh no!" she gasped, "The door is sealed I can't get inside!"
"Cut it open if you have to Parfet!" Magno ordered, "Get her out of there!"
"What's the point?" Paiway said in the infirmary, unaware that the entire ship could hear her, "We're all going to die anyway so why should we bother saving her?"
"Paiway" the captain groaned before closing her eyes, "I refuse to let it end like this for any of us" she said to herself.
The video feed showing the reactor room went to static before showing a blurry first person view of inside the cockpit of a fighter, "Cipher I've heard stories about you" Pixy's voice said, "They say you've got what it takes to win".
Suddenly many overlapping voices started yelling from the video feed making it impossible to distinguish them from each other. Hundreds of shorts images flashed on the screens, showing several battles from a first person point of view, but it didn't take long for the crew to realize that they were Cipher's memories.
"All planes break break!" a voice yelled before a massive laser was fired at the group of fighters, shooting down a large plane with a tube hanging from its underside, "The tanker's been shot down!" a different, younger voice said.
"This is Eagle Eye" the first voice said, "Galm team, Crow team listen up. The Excalibur weapon is protected by a line of jammers, you'll have to destroy each of them to target the weapon itself, just keep an eye on your radar for the projected firing pattern of the laser, I know you can do it!"
The images continued to flash by in a rapid order, with the voices overlapping each other and only a few were heard over the other.
"Target destroyed!" the younger voice yelled, "It was Cipher, Cipher did it!"
"40% of allied forces already lost!" a panicked voice yelled as a new image showed a massive air battle over a giant deserted mountain range that resembled a large rounded crater, "We can't last much longer like this!" a second voice yelled, "Where are the reinforcements!?"
Another image appeared, showing two fighters flying toward the air battle at top speed, "Time to dive into the fireworks" Pixy's voice said before the two fighters entered the battle.
"Our reinforcements are here, who did they send us?"
"IFF has confirmed its Galm, the reinforcement team is Galm!"
"The guy who pulled out Tauberg's sword is here" a voice said, "Be careful".
"So he's finally showed himself?" another voice asked, "That Ustio mercenary, I'll shoot him down and make a name for myself!"
"Enemy threat level has dropped below 50%" Eagle Eye's voice said, "Keep it up, we're almost there".
"Looks like Galm has revived the front line" an allied pilot said.
"Dammit the captain's gone!" a voice yelled, "Confirm the chain of command!" the voice was replaced by static as the pilot requesting the confirmation was shot down by both Pixy and Cipher who attacked from both sides before flying past each other as if they were in an air show instead of a battle.
"That mercenary is destroying everything in his path!" an enemy pilot yelled, "We can't stop him another one just went down!"
"How can one pilot be so dangerous?"
"He can't be human…"
"That kind of pilot they call a Demon Lord"
"Warning eight additional targets approaching the battle at high speed, Galm team you are cleared to engage, take them out!"
The eight fighters were revealed to be MiG-31 Foxhounds with a red and black paint scheme, the 13th Night Fighter Air Division, 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron the Schwarze team.
"That Foxhound with that emblem" Pixy muttered, "Is that the Vulture?"
The images showed a long grueling battle between the two pilots of Galm team and the eight wings of Schwarze, these MiG pilots were exceptionally skilled, pursuing their target three to one while they chased after a single one who played bait, but in the end the pilots of Schwarze began falling before the flight lead himself was shot down and the battle officially ended.
Finally the images slowed down, showing a small scale air battle above a valley, with multiple planes being shot down one after another. While plane after plane was shot down, two lone fighters flying through the valley at lower altitude made it to the dam facility at the end, destroying the Anti Aircraft Artillery around the facility before a single F-15 with an emblem of an orange dog flew into the underground part of the facility to destroy the inside.
"The launch controls have been destroyed; facility confirmed to be shut down, the V2 launch has been stopped".
The F-15 flew out of the facility and was joined by an F-16 flying to its side, the pilot of the F-16 was cheering at their victory, "I've got a girlfriend back at the base, I'm going to propose to her when I get back. I even bought flowers".
Eagle Eye began yelling, "Warning! Warning! Unknown aircraft approaching at high speed break! Break!"
"What!?" the pilot of the F-16 yelled as he turned in front of the F-15 as a laser was fired at them, "Dang it!" he yelled just before the laser hit him, destroying his fighter.
The shockwave from the exploding fighter completely shattered the canopy of the F-15, leaving its pilot exposed to the cold air around her as the unknown aircraft appeared.
"So have you found a reason to fight yet?" Pixy's voice asked, "Buddy".
"Is…this when Pixy and Cipher fought each other?" BC muttered as they continued to watch the video along with the rest of the crew, while the ship around them continued to give way under the pressure of the planet.
The dog fight between the former allies was heated from the beginning, two former allies and friends now fighting against each other.
"Those who survive a long time on the battlefield start to think they're invincible" Pixy said after evading one of Cipher's missiles, "I bet you do to buddy".
"There's no mercy in war, people live and people die that's all there is to it!"
Evading another one of Cipher's missiles, Pixy turned to counter attack, but was hit by a quick strafe of gunfire, damaging the laser on his fighter, making it useless. "Heh, this is the way its supposed to be buddy, a couple of old dogs like us fighting one on one".
"This isn't over yet buddy, this is where it all starts. You know what I mean".
Pixy and Cipher's dogfight continued the swift reaction times and evasion maneuvers almost made it seem like their fighters were dancing in the sky.
"You fired up yet?" Pixy asked, "Come and shoot me down!"
Cipher's missile impacted Pixy's fighter again forcing Pixy to his final goal in their fight, "Its time!"
A massive missile was launched from the dam facility below them and quickly rose into the atmosphere.
"Dammit!" Eagle Eye yelled, "Confirmed launch of V2!"
"Too bad buddy" Pixy said, "This twisted game needs to be reset; we'll start over from zero with this V2 and entrust the future to the next generation".
"Listen up Galm 1" Eagle Eye said after completing his analysis of Pixy's fighter, "Analysis of the enemy craft is complete, Codename Morgan. It's protected by an advanced ECM defense system. Its only weak points are the twin front air intakes under the wings, go take down Morgan; you're the only one who can stop it. Demon Lord of the Round Table, I pray for your success".
Cipher and Pixy flew toward each other, gaining an immediate lock on the other, but neither of them fired they held their fire until they were close enough to ensure the other didn't dodge. Various voices and images flashed through Cipher's mind as her thumb hovered over the fire button for her final missile and when the two fighters were only a few hundred feet from each other she fired her last missile before jolting to the side.
"Come on!" Pixy yelled just before the missile hit him and he turned his fighter away.
Both fighters passed by each other turning in opposite directions before the damaged Morgan went into an uncontrollable nosedive, "This isn't over yet buddy" Pixy said before manually detonating the V2 in the atmosphere above them.
The crew watched the nuke go off and a familiar bright light engulfed the area before the video screens turned to static and returned to Cipher in the reactor room, the pilot slowly returned to her feet, groaning from the unbearable pain in her body.
Grabbing the railing next to her, Cipher forced herself to her feet and looked at the Peksis, "I did not…come this far…to die now. I'm going to win…WE'RE GOING TO WIN!"
Cipher ignored her pain and left the reactor, leaving the engineering deck and returning to the hanger completely unaware that the entire crew had seen her memories.
Entering the hanger, Cipher saw BC talking to Hibiki in front of the Vanguard.
"Have you considered using boosters?" the commander asked the young pilot.
Both Pyoro and Hibiki looked at her, "We've already added boosters to our calculations, but we still fall 20 seconds short of a complete escape" the NAVI-bot answered.
"So that's the way it is huh?" Hibiki muttered.
BC smiled at him, "You seem to have changed a bit, you look better to me than you used to".
Hibiki kept his eyes on Pyoro's screen, "Look if you're up to something I really don't have time for it".
"Nothing of the sort" BC replied, still smiling, "I'm trying to pay you a compliment".
"Hey everybody listen up!" Dita's voice suddenly echoed from the speakers around the ship, "We might lose and we might die, but that's what life is isn't it? We've all decided to fight this battle and we decided to fight it because we didn't want someone other than ourselves deciding our future for us or controlling our destinies, but now you're all losing heart and giving up. That's a mistake please don't say it's hopeless because if you say so then it'll become true. I'll never give up and I'll never say it's hopeless because I want to be with all of you forever because I love all of you, so you have to look deep within your hearts to find hope. Cipher already did, so why can't all of you?"
"Oh great she's dragging me into this" Cipher muttered to herself.
"If we give up now then we're going to lose, but I'm telling you we can still win I know we can! So please…don't give up".
For better or for worse, Dita's words seemed to get through to everyone, the entire crew went back to work preparing for the next round against the enemy not a single one of them showing any signs of giving up, it was full speed ahead from here.
BC left Hibiki to his planning and noticed Cipher watching them from below, "How are you feeling?" she asked her.
"I'll feel a lot better once I'm back out there" Cipher told her, "What's the status on my fighter?"
BC told her that he fighter was too damaged to be repaired, the canopy alone would take weeks to replace, but the underside of the fighter's body was so damaged there was no way to repair it at all. "I'm afraid your fighter is lost" BC finally told her.
"Then how about a dread?" Cipher asked her, "Is there a spare dread I can use?"
"There's a spare dread in the auxiliary platform, it belonged to one of our crew that we had to leave behind on Mejere".
"Then I'll use that" Cipher told her, "Its time to get back into the fight".
"Yo Cipher!" Pixy called from behind them, "Looks like your feeling better".
Cipher turned around to face him, he was smiling at her, "And what are you smiling about?" she asked him.
Pixy chuckled, "Oh I'm just thinking about what's going to happen to the enemy once you get back out there. Things have a habit of exploding around you when you get angry".
Cipher smiled at him as well, "I can't really say it's my fault if they piss me off".
Pixy turned around, "Well we've got work to do right? Let's get to it".
Cipher walked over to her destroyed F-15, the severely damaged fighter was mostly intact, but its technology was so old there was no way the crew of the Nirvana could repair it.
"It's just a minor ding buddy" Pixy said looking at the wreckage, "I'm sure we're only seeing it like this because the light is hitting at that angle".
"No" Cipher said quietly, "I think its time to walk away".
"What do you mean?" Pixy asked her.
Cipher smiled at him, which made Pixy nervous, "You'll see" she said in a playful voice as she walked away from him.
"Something is different about you now" Pixy muttered after Cipher left, "You look like you've finally found a reason to fight".
"Will you shut up with that already?" Hibiki yelled from the other side of the hanger, "Nothing is impossible!"
Pixy looked over at Hibiki just as Meia called over to him, "How about using my dread?"
"Meia?" Pyoro muttered at the dread leader walked over to them.
"That should solve your little speed problem. I take it you've given some thought to the next step?"
Hibiki smirked at her, "Oh course I have".
The hanger door opened again and Jura entered with a mischievous smile, "So this is where you've been hiding. I hope you weren't planning on leaving me out of this. You should know by now that I have a nose for things that are interesting".
Pixy smiled at them as he walked over to them, "Hibiki!" he called to the Vanguard pilot.
"What is it?" the young pilot asked him, "I'm kind of busy right now.
"What do you need from Cipher and me?" Pixy asked, "Whatever you need the Galm team has your back".
Hibiki smirked at him, "I've got plenty that you two can do so don't worry about that".
Out in the hallway Dita was happy to see Cipher walking around, "I'm really glad that you're ok Cipher" the young dread pilot said, "I was afraid that you wouldn't" Dita stopped when she felt Cipher's hand on her shoulder.
"Thank you Dita" Cipher said to her with a small smile before kneeling down and looking her in the eyes, "No more crying alright? We're going to win this".
Dita smiled and nodded at her, "You bet!"
Both Cipher and Dita returned to the hanger to see Hibiki, Pixy, Meia, Jura and Barnette standing in a group going over Hibiki's plan. "You're late you two" Jura said to them.
"Well don't just stand there" Hibiki said to Dita, "You're part of the master plan. And no slacking off got it?"
It was finally time the second round was about to begin, Cipher headed to the dread platform where her new fighter was waiting for her while Pixy returned to his ADFX-02.
"Cipher can you hear me?" Pixy asked after switching on his radio.
"Loud and clear…buddy" Cipher replied.
"Our role in Hibiki's plan is to take down as many enemies as we can, its going to be rough so don't get shot this time, I won't be able to clean up after you".
Cipher smirked, "Make another remark like that and the enemy won't get the chance to shoot you down".
The pilots took off from the Nirvana, Jura and Hibiki quickly combined into Vandread Jura while Meia, Barnette and Dita headed for their assigned positions leaving Cipher and Pixy to follow Vandread Jura outside the planet.
Once the Vandread appeared outside the planet it put up its shields knowing that the enemy would immediately fire at it.
"Alright, Cipher, Pixy go!" Hibiki yelled once the enemy started firing at the Vandread.
Both Cipher and Pixy flew out of the planet's atmosphere and began firing at the enemy, immediately shooting down several targets allowing the Vandread to place its shield around the entire planet.
"Vandread Jura is in position!" Aramone announced.
"Begin the operation!" Magno ordered from the bridge.
"Only three minutes until the pressure crushes us" Belvedere announced, "Please proceed with the mission".
"Roger that!" Meia answered, "Parfet its time!"
The head engineer cheered, "Alright its time! Energy reverse!" The engineers reversed the flow of energy from the Peksis reactor, unleashing the excess crystal from the ship and into the planet's atmosphere allowing the Peksis to return to its natural state.
"Power levels are returning to normal" Belvedere said as the ship's systems began returning to their normal states.
"Pixy here, another bandit down!"
"Galm 1 splash two more! Meia are you guys done yet?"
"Just a little more" Meia growled monitoring the core's temperature, "Done!"
"They did it!" Aramone said, "Nuclear fusion achieved!"
"Let's get the hell out of here!" Magno yelled, "Bart turn the ship around now!"
The helmsman turned the Nirvana around and began flying out of the planet's surface as the core erupted into a massive flare that lashed out in every direction.
Meia looked back at Dita as the three dreads began their retreat, "Dita from here on out speed is everything don't slow down for even a second".
Hibiki and Jura separated and the Vanguard fell back into the planet's atmosphere, combining with Meia's dread.
"You were out of position" Meia told him after they combined.
"Yeah because you took so damn long" Hibiki fired back.
Meia smiled at him, "If we didn't combine I never would have had to hear your wisecracks again".
"I could say the same about you" Hibiki replied before looking ahead of them, "Let's go!"
Vandread Meia grabbed hold of Dita's dread and began escaping while Barnette returned to the Nirvana making an emergency landing on the ship.
Watching her radar, Cipher waited for the exact moment when the dreads and Nirvana would break through the planet's atmosphere, "Almost there" she muttered, "Just a little more". Narrowing her eyes, Cipher felt a stinging pain in the side of her head which caused her vision to blur and she became dizzy.
Cipher grunted as she collapsed against the controls of the dread she was flying, causing the dread to bank right into an enemy squad, thankfully Pixy saved her.
"Cipher!" Pixy yelled, "Cipher you ok?"
Cipher was breathing heavily as she pushed herself back up, "I'm alright" she panted before noticing Vandread Meia and the Nirvana were mere seconds from escaping the planet, "PIXY NOW!" she yelled.
"Roger!" Pixy replied, turning his ADFX-02 toward the enemy and fired his Multi-Purpose Burst Missile. The missile soared at the enemy line directly in front of the Vandread and Nirvana before detonating and wiping out the enemy forces in the immediate vicinity, clearing the way for them to break through.
"Alright they're through; let's get back to the Nirvana!" Pixy said, but Cipher refused.
"No! We're going back until this is over!"
Cipher's dread sped after Vandread Meia, keeping a safe distance from the flare trailing after them.
"Cipher its too dangerous, pull out!" Pixy pleaded, but Cipher wouldn't listen she continued to follow after the Vandread.
Cipher's grip tightened on her controls, "I'm not going to leave! I'm going to stay here and see this through! I won't leave until this is over!"
"Fiona get out of there!"
"This is it!" Meia said, "Dita get ready!"
Vandread Meia separated, leaving the Vanguard to combine with Dita, once Vandread Dita was formed the enemy began attacking, but Cipher quickly shot them down.
Flying in front of the Vandread, Cipher turned her dread into a rapid spinning barrel roll, firing a barrage of lasers hitting each of the enemies, shooting them down.
"Hey you're in the way!" Hibiki yelled at Cipher as the Vandread's shoulder mounted cannons separated from the mech and fused together in a massive lance like weapon.
Grabbing hold of the lance, the Vandread reared back allowing the flare from the planet to be drawn to the lance's energy before hurling it toward the enemy flagship ahead of them, causing the flare to fly after it.
The flagship fired its main weapon at the Vandread and the two attacks collided, but with the force of a exploding planet behind it, the Vandread's lance easily overpowered the flagship's attack and pushed it back before piercing through its hull and destroying it. The following shockwave wiped out the entire enemy fleet along with the flagship.
"We did it!" Dita cheered, "We won!"
The Vandread was about to turn around, before another hit appeared on the radar, "We're not done yet!" Cipher yelled as the flagship appeared out of the explosion, extremely damaged, but still functioning.
"They sure are persistent" Magno noted as the flagship advanced toward the Vandread.
"There's another flare coming from the planet" Belvedere said, "Its heading straight for Vandread Dita!"
"Vandread Dita get out of there now!" BC ordered.
"No!" Hibiki refused, "This ends now! I won't let them get away!"
"Hibiki" Cipher said as her screen appeared in the Vandread's cockpit, "I know you can do it".
Hibiki smiled at her as the mercenary turned her dread away from the incoming flare, "Right, just leave it to us".
The flare reached the Vandread and consumed it leaving Cipher flying away from it with her eyes closed, hoping that Hibiki knew what he was doing.
When the flare engulfed the Vandread, its signal was lost and everyone thought they were dead.
Cipher kept her eyes closed and silently prayed that the Vandread had survived.
"Hibiki you idiot" Bart moaned from the helmsman portal, "None of this will have any meaning if you die".
"I'm not dead yet!" Hibiki said as the Vandread's signal appeared again.
The Vandread charged forward after absorbing the energy of the planet's flare, flying directly into the massive hole in the head of the flagship, ripping through it and destroying it from the inside with a violent explosion.
After watching the Vandread destroy what was left of the flagship, Cipher smiled as she leaned back in her seat, "I'm glad you're both ok…"
With their nightmare finally over, everyone gathered in the hanger as Hibiki climbed out of the Vanguard to see everyone waiting for him.
After Hibiki climbed out of the Vanguard, Jura immediately grabbed him, "Oh my hero! You were so amazing!" she said, smothering him against her breasts, "I doubted you for a while, but I misjudged you!" she began kissing him making Dita jealous.
"Stop that!" Dita cried as she pulled a very tired Hibiki out of her arms.
"What's with you?" Jura asked Dita, "I'm only trying to thank him for saving my life is all!"
"Well you can't!" Dita told her, "Mr. Alien still has a promise he has to fulfill to me!"
"Alert!" Pyoro screamed as he rushed over to them, "We've got a problem!"
"What's with you?" Jura asked the NAVI-bot, "Can't you see I'm in the middle of something here?"
"There's no time for something like that!" Pyoro yelled before his face changed, showing them an image of other flagship, "Earth has already discovered that we've destroyed one of their flagship and have diverted their other fleets from other solar systems to destroy Mejere and Tarak!"
"There are five of them!" Jura gasped.
"What are we going to do?" Barnette wondered, "We were barely able to defeat one, how can we destroy five of them?"
Everyone began wondering the same thing, how would they deal with another flagship, let alone five of them.
"What's wrong with all of you?" Hibiki said getting to his feet, "Are you just going to shrivel up in fear? We can't back down, no matter how high the wall we have to climb over it and show proof that we exist and to do that we have to take the path we have to take" he looked up to Dita and then down to Cipher who was standing at the doorway, "Isn't that right?"
Dita smiled and nodded at him and Cipher closed her eyes with a pleased and respectful smile of her own as she looked away.
Everyone slept well that night, the toughest battle any of them had ever seen was finally over and without a doubt they all earned the rest they got, even the captain and BC retired early that night, the only two people left awake were Cipher and Pixy.
The two mercenaries were standing next to each other in the garden, staring up at the stars around the ship.
"I was worried about you" Pixy admitted, "I'm glad you're ok".
Cipher remained quiet as she looked up at the stars.
"We still have a long way to go before this is over" Pixy continued, "But after today, I'm sure we can handle anything they throw at us".
Cipher had a small smile on her face as she looked down at the stream in front of them, "Larry I want an honest answer out of you".
Pixy looked at her, "What is it?" he asked quickly becoming nervous.
"What do you really think about me?" Cipher asked him, "Since we became a team again you've been trying to get closer to me, I want to know why. What do you really think about when you look at me?"
Pixy looked away from her to compose himself, "An honest answer?" he asked.
"Please" Cipher told him.
Pixy slowly exhaled as he answered, hoping Cipher wouldn't be angry by his response, "I used to see you as just my friend, but after what happened on Christmas…I realized how scared you were".
Pixy paused and kept his eyes off of Cipher, trying to brace himself in case she swung at him, but after nothing happened he exhaled again before continuing, "When I saw the way you just collapsed the way you did…I felt like I just had to help you I don't know why, but seeing you like that made me feel horrible, I couldn't stand seeing you like that".
"I know you want to go back to the time we knew, where we belong and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to go back as well, but this is where we are now. I want to go back to Cipher and if you want an honest answer, I wouldn't want to be here if I couldn't be here with you".
Pixy paused again to take another breath, once he said what he was thinking there was no turning back, "You want to know what I really think when I look at you?" he asked her, finally turning to face her, "I see more than my friend" he told her, "I don't know how you feel about me Fiona, but I see you more than just my friend and I think a small part of my has always felt like that even after I…"
Cipher looked away from him, her voice sounded distant and afraid as she spoke, "You betrayed me and then tried to kill me".
Pixy closed his eyes and looked away from her, he figured that she still blamed him for them being where they are now, but he hoped that she would be willing to forgive him for it.
"It's funny" Cipher said in a faint breaking voice, "You tried to kill me, but…I think you're the one that saved me".
Pixy looked back at her, unsure of what she meant, but he saw the small tears in her eyes and the sadness in her voice as she tried to keep herself from crying in front of him.
Cipher continued, her voice still breaking through he words, "If you didn't detonate the V2 that day. I would probably be the same person I was that day. Because of what's happened up till now I think I've changed…I don't know why, but I think its because of you…When you helped me that night, when I was ready for it all to end…you saved me that night Larry".
Cipher was trembling as she leaned toward him and wrapped her arms around him, the hardened person she used to be was still fighting to keep him at arm's length, but she didn't want to be that person anymore. Cipher wanted to change, to become the person Magno knew she could be when she talked to her during Christmas.
When Cipher wrapped her arms around him, Pixy could feel how badly she was trembling, he could tell she was afraid of what she was doing, afraid of appearing weak to him. Raising his own arms, Pixy held her against him.
Feeling his arms around her, Cipher instinctively tensed up, but quickly settled down and accepted his embrace, "Larry…will you stay with me?"
"Of course I will" he told her, keeping his voice calm for her sake, "I…I love you Fiona".
Cipher felt as though her heart stopped after she heard those words, she began to feel like she was suffocating as Pixy's admission played over and over in her mind. She felt like she couldn't breathe and was drowning on the air in her throat.
She was still trembling as she gently pushed away from him and looked up into his eyes, she could see how sad he looked himself and knew that he was telling the truth, he really did love her. Looking into his eyes, Cipher swallowed the suffocating feeling in her throat and kissed him. When their lips met her body finally stopped trembling, Cipher closed her eyes allowing the silent world around them to stop existing for a brief moment. For now it was just the two of them and for the first time in many years, Cipher was happy, she finally found something important to her maybe the thing she had been looking for from the beginning.
A/N. And there it is, the final chapter in the first stage of Vandread Zero. The Nirvana and her crew have survived the nightmare of the harvest flagship and are ready to continue their journey with a new found sense of determination.
Not only has Hibiki finally gained the respect of the female pirates, but now Cipher as well.
And the two pilots of the Galm team have finally admitted that they need each other to keep surviving in the world they're in now, leading Pixy to admit to Cipher how he really feels about her allowing Cipher to do the same.
For now their relationship has taken a great step forward, but will it last? That and other questions will be answered when the Galm team and the crew of the Nirvana return in Vandread Zero: The Second Stage!