Disclaimer: I do not own the Muv-Luv franchise in any way, shape or form; it is the property of its respective owners.

"So come, bring on all that you've got
Come hell, come high water,
Never stop
Unless you are 40 to 1
Your lives will soon be undone!"

"I give my life,

Not for honor,

- But for you."

Yuuya let out another breath as his YF-23 lined up for tanking, as a nearby F-15E attached the necessary hoses from the fuel container. As he thanked the other pilot, Yuuya couldn't help but contemplate how , the brutal combat effectiveness of the Black Widow came at the expense of a rather significant fuel drain…

Behind him, the mix of white and black and dark blue machines of the Space Force and Marine Corps moved about, getting fresh mags or new weapons altogether, collected from unlocked containers that were dropped together with the bombs. With no BETAs in sight, the Divers logically chose to rearm and refuel, knowing that the biggest part was still ahead.

"Attention all Comets and Infinities, this is Bishop speaking," his commander spoke up just in time to match Yuuya's thoughts. "We're beginning the final phase of the operation. In 15 minutes, the Flares will detonate the bombs to blow open the membrane blocking our access to Reactor level. Following that, Captain Gray and Force Recon's VMJ-125 will advance towards the target with C-7 MD charges. Comet's 3rd Squadron will be OPCON to Captain Gray, and will escort the bomb team to the objective." Left unsaid was that 3rd Squadron's casualties had left them as little more than an oversized flight, with limited combat effectiveness – Bishop judged they would be of more use assisting Max, rather than holding the line. " All remaining units will stay behind; there's a high probability that any remaining BETA groups within the Hive will try and retake the Main Hall. Flares and VMJ-67's Daggers will support us. We're going to try and hold the enemy at these two points," she marked the zones on the tacmap, where the forces would emplace their base of fire, "to interdict their approach. We will make sure that no more BETA will follow our brothers and sisters." Bishop's vibrant, green eyes mellowed a bit, and her lips turned ever so slightly upwards, as if in a soft, angelic smile "You have all made me proud. I am confident that no matter what happens, you will do your duty." Her eyes hardened once more, before she saluted them.

So, this is it.

Yuuya suddenly realized that what they were about to do had never succeeded – hell, never before had anyone reached the Main Hall conventionally. It felt… a little overwhelming, to be honest. There was so much that could go wrong, and so much that they couldn't allow to go wrong.

He shook his head – it was still way too early to think about it, and he certainly didn't want to jinx the whole team. Tapping a sequence on his TSF controls, he instead opened a comm. channel to his best friend.

"If you're about to make some sappy "be okay" speech, please save it." Max's voice greeted him before he even had the chance to speak. "I'll be fine with the tears of young maidens and the blood of monsters."

"…okay. If you can joke and be a jerk, then you definitely don't need my concern. Bye." Yuuya comically went silent, while a fresh, young girlish voice broke into laughter as Alice joined their conversation.

"Some people never change, do they?" She winked to both men as her Raptor marched to the rally point of its platoon.

"Tell that to him, not to me," Yuuya shot back, before breaking into a grin. "Anyway. Even if you already know it – good luck Max. You'll probably need it."

"No more than you. I doubt that BETA will just let go; there will probably be a load of them charging in here the minute we reach that reactor. Compared to that, setting up a couple of bombs will be easy. "

"Point taken," Yuuya replied as he observed the remaining TSFs fall into the position. The uneven surface of the Main Hall provided at least some rudimentary cover and terrain advantage, which the US forces begun to augment with bodies of dead Destroyer-class BETA – the large carapaces on the creatures made for a pretty good cover, especially given the BETA's apparently strict no-friendly-fire record.

Something beeped in the background and Max turned his head aside, before turning back to his former wingman. "That's my signal. The demolitions experts will blow up the membrane leading to the reactor. After that…well, do your best people. Toodles!"

And with that, his image blinked out, before the Raptor slowly rose into the air and boosted towards the 3rd Squadron.

Alice sighed as she adjusted her hands on the pair of flight sticks. "Guess that means we should get ready too. Let's do our best, Yuuya."

"Sure will." Yuuya grinned, as he loaded a fresh magazine into the magazine well of his XAMWS-24, before turning his craft to face the rest of the Comets. If the BETA wanted a fight, well, they would get one.


It all happened in an instant.

The final entryway was protected by a large membrane – one that was still opaque, though the sections closest to the wall had begun to turn into a hardened carapace, showcasing the frightening ability of BETA to survive even the harshest conditions…and thrive.

But it didn't thrive for much longer, as several thermobaric warheads embedded into it exploded. Simultaneously, a separate charge exploded over a shell-like appendage that extended from the feet of the "gate". Indentified in a secret portion of the Volks data as the "Gate Brain" strain, it reportedly controlled the opening and closing of the membrane. Somewhat wisely, the humans did not comment on the sheer idiocy of placing the only gate-control mechanism on the side that could be taken by an enemy force, allowing them to open and close the said gate at their leisure.

After all, as Napoleon had once said, never interrupt your enemy when he makes a mistake.

The explosion shattered the case, and the conductive liquid inside exploded into a fiery cascade. The internal, grossly oversized thing shuddered before exploding, sending a ripple of muscled twists towards the gate, which twisted into a definitely unnatural angle. This only served to suck -in the blast from the gate-attached charges, and the entire thing exploded into a grotesque mass of roasted chitin and heated gas.

Max waited only a bare minimum before the blast wave roared across the short corridor to the reactor, before giving the signal.

"3rd Squadron, Force Recon 125, advance! If anything moves, kill it!" The phalanx of white-and-black Eagles along with deep blue Super Hornets charged through cooling alien remains, their guns ready. Behind them, several TSFs carried several large containers with the designated charges, escorted by a single black Raptor.

That was the point when things started to go wrong.

"Detecting seismic wave!" One of the pilots rapidly reported over the tacnet, as the chamber begun to unnaturally shake. Stones plunged down from the ceiling and the ground itself seemed to coil and moan under the feet of remaining defenders. "I-It's off the scale! I've never seen anything like it!"

Bishop gritted her teeth. "Here it comes! Everyone! Stand your ground! We can't let them get past us!"

And then the ground exploded.

The far side of the chamber – the same one from which the Comets initially emerged from –, exploded into a shower of rock and dust. The Divers could only watch in awe as an enormous form of BETA, more similar to a tunnel-drilling machine than a biological organism, emerged from the dust, it's maw opening into a massive tunnel. A tunnel filled to the brim with BETA strains.

"Mother of God…" one of the Divers whispered, as the magnificent, and utterly terrifying sight unfolded before them. "How are we supposed to kill this thing!?"

Luckily, her commander remained more lucid. "Missiles!" Bishop shouted, as her YF-23 engaged its boost engines. "Fire half of everything you got! Aim for the opening of that large BETA!"

"Yes ma'am!" The sharp voice of their commander had whipped the pilots into action. "Comet 2-7, Fox 2!"

"Comet 2-8, Fox 2!"

"Comet 1-4, Fox 2!"

"Comet 4-5, Fox 2!"

"Comet 4-6, Fox 2!"

"Flare Lead to missile teams, give them a hand!"

"Roger! Flare 1-7, Fox 2!"

"Flare 1-8, Fox 2!"

"Dagger 5, Fox-2!"

"Dagger 6, Fox-2."

The designated Strike Eagles, along with Alice's Raptor, opened up from their mounted Missile containers. The small, cube-like boxes slightly rose up from their default position, before opening and revealing dozen of missile tubes loaded with the latest American blast fragmentation, cluster and shaped charge explosive warheads. Each had fired twelve of them – in total a salvo of 108 missiles streaked towards the gaping maw, gifts of the USSF Orbital Divers and USMC Force Recon Marines, for the endless hordes carried within.

The ground exploded yet again, but this time with more fire and blood. Countless Grapplers, Tanks, Soldiers and Warrior-class BETAs disappeared in fireballs, while Destroyer hulks flew into the air like discarded toys.

But it was not enough.

Like a tide, the remaining BETA raced onwards, without care or consequence to their losses. Perched on their ledges, or boosting above the ground, the American TSFs took only a second to continue gazing upon this sight, before their rifles growled with the sound of 36mm chainguns and 120mm smoothbore cannons. Tracer rounds lit up the endless cavern spaces as they struck targets; BETA blood and fluids colored the dark, metallic earth, as their entrails were viciously ripped out by modern weaponry. But that did not slow them down.

"Dammit!" One of the Flare pilots reported over the common radio frequency. "Comet Lead, this is Flare 1-6! I have several dozen Tanks and Grappler-class trying to surround us by our left flank! Watch out!"

"Flare 1-6, Comet Lead, acknowledged. Thanks for the heads -up." Bishop took only a single glance at her tactical map, without even taking the finger off the trigger of the XMAWS-24 rifles. "Bridges! Keep them at bay. Sven will back you up!"

"Yes ma'am!" Yuuya curtly nodded before pushing his YF-23 off the impromptu "Destroyer Barricade", and down on the ground, together with several F-15E Strike Eagles from 4th Squadron. A lone Tank rushed out from the main force, and attempted to latch onto him, only to be kicked aside with full force by the Black Widow's sharpened super-carbon foot. "Let's go, apes!" He shouted as his own rifles roared to life with intermingled salvos of 36mm rounds and 120mm explosives. "Let's sweep the field for them!"


In contrast to the pitched fighting outside, the Reactor Chamber's interior seemed eerily quiet. The soft blue glow, emitted by the bulbous sphere at its centre, gave the entire area a truly unearthly feeling. In some way, it was a pity that this place belonged to an enemy ; there was a certain surreal beauty here, as if a painting brought to life.

Ignoring any of this, Max wasted no time in getting his men to work, setting up charges in pre-arranged position. The Space Force TSFs wasted no movement or minute. They worked quickly, knowing that each minute might mean death for another of their comrades outside. Around them, the Force Recon Marines of VMJ-125 vigilantly watched over the surroundings. They were given orders to shoot on sight, and were all too glad to carry them out, if needed.

"Huh? What's that? I have movement at 3 o'clock! Right at the…reactor?" One of the Marines reported as their Super Hornets turned around, trying to visually identify their new target.

The creature atop of the reactor curiously studied the newcomers, deliberating what would be the best course of action. While it lacked the same defense matrix as its more developed counterpart, it had manage to redirect its working existences to contain the threat. And it seemed like the hostile existences had only focused on a single Access Corridor. Perhaps it would have been possible to…

The last thing that the creature felt, was overwhelming hatred and anger. And the last thing it saw was a flurry of colors, shaped like a whirlwind of reds and oranges.

Aggression

Defiance

Warning! Quantum interference detected. Recommend…

It then died, ripped apart by a salvo of 120mm explosive rounds. It's body shattered, delicate components scattering around to the floor, snapping like thin glass.

A single black machine hovered over it like a bird of prey, it's multiple blue eyes staring impassively at the corpse.

"Hurry up with the bombs. We're already out of the time. And… prepare for combat."


Yuuya panted as his YF-23 pulled into a tight 360 degree turn. The bayonet on one of his rifles streaked, through the air, gutting through multiple Tank-class species, while the sharpened armor on his other leg followed to kill off whatever survived the first blow. The three other rifles continued to fire, guided by the Black Widow's advanced fire-control OS.

But it was not enough.

Using a boost dodge to get out of a Grappler's way, he landed back along with several Strike Eagles from 4th Squadron's 2nd flight, as they continued their continuous barrage of attacks. Each round tore through their relentless adversaries, shattering bones, spilling blood and severing muscles. Dead bodies piled around them, as BETA after BETA fell.

And it was still not enough.

At times, it seemed as if the only thing that separated the army of angry BETA from their position was the endless stream of rounds. Yuuya had no idea of how many of those critters could have been carried around by that huge worm, and he had honestly completely ignored it by now, diverting his entire attention into trying to keep the elements of First and Second Squadron alive. Which was working – but only barely.

"Dammn it! I have Tanks latching up across my entire machine! Someone get them off me!" One of the pilots shouted, and Yuuya cursed before pulling his machine back. Locating his comrade, Yuuya quickly swooped in, using the speed and precision of his YF-23 to quickly dispose of the Tanks using his rifle's bayonets.

"Bridges!" Another of 4th's pilots called him, as the sound of chaingun fire intensified in the background. "We're being overrun! Several BETAs are making their way past us and straight for the 4th's Captain! At this rate, we'll be overrun!"

Yuuya clicked his tongue as he analyzed the situation. Comets' forward position was being steadily overwhelmed. Although they were able to kill BETAs by the dozens, the sheer numbers the enemy threw at them meant that they couldn't completely hold off the enemy, and every BETA that made it past them necessitated someone from fire support to take it out, holding up precious time and wasting ammunition.

"It can't be helped then. Fall back to the final line, down by the barricade. Go, I'll cover you!" Yuuya ordered as his Black Widow turned to face the oncoming tide. The XAMWS-24 rifles belched fire from all barrels, while the Strike Eagles begun to slowly retreat, step by step, firing as they went.

"Comet 4-1, this is Comet 1-3." Yuuya radioed in to Captain Sven as he begun to fall back with the rest of the troops. "Captain Rick, we can't defend our current position. We're falling back right under your barricade. I'm covering the retreat. Watch out for friendlies!"

"Comet 1-3, Comet 4-1, copy that," Rick Sven replied, as his Strike Eagle continued to provide long-range fire support, while several wingmen focused their attention on the walls, picking off rapidly moving Tank-class BETA that tried to flank them from above.

"Yuuya, watch out!"someone shouted, just in time for Yuuya to noticed a rapidly charging Destroyer-class. With a yell, he fired off the last two Anti-Armor Sabot shells, making a pair of holes within the creature, before impaling it with one of the rifle bayonets through the crack. The creature plowed into the ground, blood slowly soaking through its wounds.

"We need to hold out just a little more…just a little…

"Shit, this is Comet 4-4, I got leakers in my zone! Winchester, say again, I am Winchester! Engaging with knives, need backup!" Another pilot shouted in panic.

"Comet 4-4, this is Comet 4-1, I copy, moving to assist. Stand fast." Sven's Strike Eagle responded to the call, turning with one of its escorts in order to assist.

"Good copy, Captain, but you'd better get here fa-AAAARRGGHH!" The call suddenly turned into a cacophony of pained shouts and sounds of torn metal. Elsewhere, vicious fighting continued, heedless of deaths and the violence with which aliens and men perished.

"Comet 4-4, respond! Comet 4-4, respond!"

"Comet 4-6, need backup!"

"Comet 1-3, engaging, got you covered Comet 4-6!"

"Thanks! 4-6 falling back!"

"Comet 4-3, being overrun, can't hold my pos, need help!"

"Shit! Someone get these motherfuckers off me! Nononon-"

Goddamnit! We're getting chewed up and spit out here!"


Bullets whizzed about as the four F-22A Raptors of the Infinities aggressively defended their sector from the overwhelming enemy advance. All around them, fellow U.S. pilots were engaged in equally fierce fighting, and the tacnet was full of shouts, yells and orders as the men and women attempted to hold off the alien enemy. The ground was increasingly covered with alien carcasses, and the solid dirt under the TSFs feet begun to take a shade of deep reddish brown chalk.

But the BETA pressed on.

Leon Kuze cursed as he dodged another Grappler arm, before shredding the creature to pieces with 36mm rifle fire. He promptly turned one of his arms, and fired off a 120mm explosive round. The blast ripped a hole in surrounding BETA formation, sending smaller species and their internal organs flying. But the fire from the explosion's blast didn't even fully dissasipate before fresh BETA poured into the breach. Leon instantly aimed his Raptor's rifles and pulled the trigger. The sustained fire lasted for less than 10 seconds, before the two arm AMWS' clicked empty. Blowing off another curse, Leon deployed the Raptor's switch-blade type knives, and dived into the fray. The super-hardened carbon blades arced in the air as Raptor turned its extensive maneuverability and power into the field of close combat. Grapplers and Tanks felled as knives tore through them, while the two remaining AMWS' continued to fire in short bursts, keeping off any Tanks from catching Leon from the back or sides.

But it was still not enough.

Leon growled as another wave of Tanks surrounded his craft. As the creatures lunged at him, he accelerated to the left, before suddenly changing his course to the right. The first tank was squarely smashed through by the knife's blade. The Raptor immediately twirled around, it's armored leg smashing across the Tanks, too quickly to be effectively grabbed upon. At the same time, without the sharpened armor vanes, most of the Tanks remained alive, if with heavy internal damage. The AMWS roared to life again, the 36mm splattering the still-surviving Tanks into the paste…before the dreaded alerts of "empty magazines" ran amok.

"Aw shit" Was the only coherent thing Leon could think at the moment, as he prepared for another round of CQC.

Predictably, another stream of Tanks leaped at his machine. Setting the boosters to maximum, Leon skillfully maneuvered his Raptor mere meters above the ground, punching, slashing and tearing through Tank limbs. The sheer momentum and blasts of air had sent Tanks and their amputee limbs flying. But finally, the mathematical probability striked at the lone Raptor. A single lucky Tank managed to latch onto the Leon's Raptor. Almost instantly, it's jaws bitten into the machine's composite armor, trying to anchor itself against the sudden, unpredictable maneuvers. With a well redirected thrust however, Leon managed to kill the beast – only for another two Tanks to jump through the temporarily lowered guard. Collision alerts blared in Leon's cockpit as the Tank's nimble limbs smashed against the composite armor, their fang biting into arms and back of the F-22A.

Swiveling his jump-jets into reverse position, Leon executed a short jump backwards, while pulling the air breaks to twist the machine around, in-flight, as if dancing a pirouette. One of the Tanks slipped off – the armor element from the arm ripping off from the frame, sending the creature flying into the other BETA. However, the other one maintained its hold as the Raptor landed, crawling atop of the unit's head. Cursing yet again, Leon drove one of his knives overhead, hoping to impale the creature, when one of its arms shot out. The knife drove through it like through a tissue paper, but the impact was still strong enough to deflect the attack. The Tank gleefully bared its fangs, as Leon suddenly realized that without the head, his Raptor would be blind.

He moved his other hand, but he already knew that it was too slow. Before the blade would drive through the Tank, it would already be through with his mech's head, at which point he would be an all-too-easy picking for the other Tanks.

Suddenly the world shook at the Tank jerked as fell backwards, while a fountain of bloody suddenly sprayed from the mouth over the Raptor's head. Checking his six, Leon noticed the fourth member of his training unit, Alice Neverine, landing her borrowed Raptor as her AMWS rifles fired off in semi-automatic mode, each shot cleanly taking out a target.

"The hell are you doing Kuze!" Her voice would have been like a whip, if not for its tad higher pitch. "You were supposed to be withdrawing with the rest of your unit! Are you out of your mind!?"

"I was trying to…" Leon panted as he begun to regain his bearings "…hold those things off. You know, following my orders."

"Your fucking orders are whatever I or the Colonel tell you to!" The curse seemed almost unnatural, coming from a woman that always looked so composed and stoic. "We're withdrawing to the final defensive line! Is that clear, or do I have to shoot you myself?"

"Y-Yes Ma'am". Leon shuddered. After the latest brush with death, he had no desire to piss off the woman who just saved his ass. Not a second later the two battered Raptors rose into the air, right before a flock of advancing BETA.

For her part, Alice knitted her eyebrows as she begun to lay down precision fire support, as the two machines flew back to their pre-determined positions on the final defensive line.

"Why!? Dammit, why!? We were doing so well...why must everything fall apart now...!? Just a little more...we need to hold out...just a little more to get through this!"


The two machines continued to fall back, leaving behind a trail of alien bodies as they went.

Bishop gritted her teeth as the main line methodically folded before the unrelenting advance of their enemy. The assault rifles of her Black Widow unceasingly howled with 36mm and 120mm rounds plowed into the mass of the enemy. By now, the BETA numbers have multiplied exponentially. Singular specimens had became an endless group, and the endless group of BETA blended together into a singular, massive wall.

100 to 1 supremacy alright. , She thought grimly, and she maneuvered her machine to avoid another blow.

We just need a little more time, damn it. Max should be almost done…we just need to hold off now. I have to buy us the time…

Shouts broke out on her tacnet, when the BETA once again pushed on top of their lines. Nimble Tank-classes begun to scale the dead Destroyers, jumping on top of the defenders. Individual machines were overwhelmed, forced into knife-fighting, having to stop shooting to hack at BETA swarming themselves and their comrades. Each interrupted Gun- Sweeper multiplied the number of BETAs that broke through, and situation rapidly went from worse to outright dire.

Bishop flipped over yet another Grappler, viciously shredding it into pieces with her guns. Behind her however, her wingmate was not so fortunate, as hardened carapace claws seared through an F-15E, ripping out one of the booster engines and separating the unit's cockpit from the rest of the body, leaving it at the hand of merciless Tanks, which hungrily ripped the unit apart, biting through the armor, cables and internal frame, before finally being put down by Bishop. But for the pilot, it was too late.

"We're being overrun!" One of the pilots shouted as her own Strike Eagle wrestled with another Tank. "We can't hold!"

"We can't fight like this. There's just too many of them!" Another one shouted over the roar of all four assault rifles.

"All remaining First and Second Squadron pilots, listen up!" Bishop shouted into her headset. "We have to buy the Bomb Squad a little more time. We have to clear up the field and re-establish our lines. All units, follow me. Advance with all your might!"

With a bloodcurdling yell, Bishop's Black Widow jumped forward, straight into the wall of alien horrors, dropping another pair of assault rifles and drawing its swords. She didn't even try and count how many aliens she had killed. She merely slashed, cut and chopped. Her Black Widow whirled from one hostile to another, its blades spilling a tornado of blood. Behind her, the remnants of her squadrons charged as well, blasting without restraint with their rifles, and slashing and chopping with their knives.

But there were too many targets. No matter how many they killed, far more BETA remained ready to fill the ranks of the killed. Bishop felt her assault being stopped and repulsed, as despite her efforts, her Black Widow was forced to move back bit-by-bit. Behind her, the Strike Eagles were similarly pushed back, some with missing limbs, some barely holding off multiple Tanks from devouring them whole.

But the few minutes they bought were enough for Flare Regiment's pilots to reorganize themselves, and resume their fire support. As fire rained from behind them, Bishop's men to quickly jumped back and regrouped, forming a loose ring of defenses around the Reactor entryway.

This is taking too long." Bishop gritted her teeth as her last pair of rifles howled endlessly, throwing out a stream of 36mm rounds which tore through the BETA in front. "At this rate, we will be overrun…"

"New contact! It's...God-dammit! It's a Fort-class! I repeat, Fort classes have emerged from enemy carrier!"

"How!?" One of the Divers cried out. "How the hell can they do this? It's…it's not fair damnit!"

"Fuck fair!" Bishop growled, as her bayonet rammed through a charging Tank-class. "In any case, the bigger they are, the harder they fall."

"What about the missiles, Colonel?" One of the Eagle drivers asked over the roar of his own AMWS.

"Negative on that. We'll need those warheads if we're to escape them later on. If we spend them all here, we'll have a hard time getting out. "

"Then what do you suppose we should do Colonel?" Another pilot asked with out-of-breath voice, as her Strike Eagle wrestled with a Grappler-class specimen.

Bishop sighed as her rifle ammo display read zero once again. Switching from chainguns to 120mm smoothbores, she fired off the last of her of high explosive ammunition, the explosion throwing the BETA in front of her like a rag doll, showering her Black Widow with rocks, dirt and blood.

"The only thing we can." She muttered as she drew her last intact Melee Halberd. "Infinities on me! Comet First and Second Squadrons, cover my advance!"

The Black Widow threw itself forwards, pressing through the gap in BETA force, one it had just forged by its 120mm guns.

Although surprised, the American forces did not visibly hesitate. The Raptors caught up in a flash, their guns freely blazing away as they trailed behind the fierce colonel.

"This is 2-1, good copy Comet Lead, we're ready to assist-" Suddenly, a barrage of 36mm HVAP rounds burst from the side, tearing through the BETA phalanx. The greedy creatures turned to their new adversary – a couple of battered F-15Es, covered in drying BETA fluids. The momentary split within the endless alien formation was immediately exploited by Bishop , as her Black Widow smashed through the BETA, followed by Infinities.

"Don't stop for anything!" Bishop yelled as her craft whizzed right above the heads of BETA, their specimens rapidly turning away to pursue new threats. "We have to break through!"

The Raptors' guns barked as the 36mm HVAP rounds saturated the ground, blindly fired off into the alien mob – with such a high speed maneuver, the pilots had almost no time to even make rudimentary adjustments to their aim. But even so, the sheer concentration of the BETA meant that aiming was unnecessary, not when the BETA were so tightly packed in together..

And with their speed, it wasn't long before they broke through – proving collectively too fast for BETA to effectively latch on.

But it was just the start.

"Spread out! Surround the Forts and fire all 120mm rounds you have! I will handle the rest." Bishop ordered as she gazed upon the latest two targets – a pair of towering, hornet-esque creatures. They stood tall on their sharpened legs, on the very end of the chamber, in what seemed to be the final attempt by the BETA to crush the Americans.

"As if I'm going to let you!" The Raptors quickly moved to carry out her orders, letting out sporadic volleys of 120mm fire.

As the first Fort wobbled from multiple impacts, Bishop sprang into action. With a savage yell, she swooped in-between the creature's legs, and smashed her sword upward into one of the crevices in their armor, before rapidly splitting it open, spilling bright green fluid and severed muscles. Not taking time to rest, Bishop's Black Widow jumped from point to point, wildly shearing and stabbing the Fort's weak points, the creature's stinger flailing futilely as it tried to nail Bishop. Before long, the mighty creature fell down with a roar. But Bishop didn't stop.

"Keep moving!" She shouted. "We're not done yet!"

She swiftly dodged the stinger of the other Fort, before boosting up to it, closing in for another blow. Her sword struck, painting the air in green as the Fort's muscle mass was torn into shreds by super-sharp carbon blade. She veered to the left, circling the creature to prepare for another strike, as the F-22 rained down the fire on the weakened beast.

That was when its stinger hit.

Like a whip, the purple appendage smashed across the Black Widow's armor, it's edge barely missing the machine's cockpit. Almost immediately, the highly caustic acid burned across the machine, turning portions of sharpened armor into slag.

Before Bishop could react, the whip swung back, slamming into the Black Widow from behind, sending it tumbling down into the ground. Inside the machine, the armored cockpit turned into the trap, as the panel behind Bishop buckled and splintered, sending shards of titanium ricocheting across cockpit. The left part of piloting seat snapped, breaking Bishop's chain into two, and snapping her left shoulder. One of the titanium sheared through her right leg, cracking through outer armor and nearly looping off her leg, were it not for the other side of the leg armor, which failed to break. Several pieces of titanium pierced through the chair itself, smashing onto Reinforced Suit, other than one – one single piece that managed to break through the exoskeleton, biting into Bishop's back; where it split into countless pieces. The seats restraining bolts were finally overwhelmed by the momentum and snapped – ending with Bishop spiraling into the panel ahead, knocking her out.

The Infinities held back momentarily, their shock fighting with heavily ingrained and trained instincts.

"Shit," Leon fiercely cursed. "Colonel's down. Say again, Colonel's down." His Raptor promptly swooped in along with Sharon's , trying to maintain their volume of fire on the Fort-class, even if their remaining 36mm rounds were effectively useless against it.

"Why YOU!" Alice screamed from behind them, as her Raptor raced past them, deploying its knives.

"Wait, Lieutenant!" Keith shouted after her. But the young woman refused to heed him, jumping over the Fort-class' stinger and wielding her knives in a manner that looked more like a bird-of-prey than a TSF.

"God-dammit" Keith sighed in resignation. "Sharon, Leon, get the Colonel's machine out here. Me and Guylos will handle this."

"We can't just leave you sir!" Leon shouted, as he continued to pour on the lead towards the Fort, while Sharon knelt besides Wilma's machine, pulling up transponder data to assess its status.

"You can't help us either, unless you can pull 120s outta your ass, and Sharon won't be able to withdraw alone."

Biting back his retort, Leon nodded, and turned back to Sharon. "Can we move her?"

"We can't pull her out.," Sharon grimaced. "She was hit hard, and her suits computer indicates massive internal damage. If we tried to pull her out fast, we would only do more harm than good. We have to move the whole TSF."

"Shit. Let's hurry then."

Meanwhile, Alice maniacally descended onto Fort, her knives savagely tearing into it. Behind her, Keith Blazer carefully fired his AMWS in controlled bursts, aiming into the gaps between the creature's carapaces.

"McCloud!"

"Yes, sir." The lumbering blond man responded, racing from behind his commander and drawing his own PB knives. Closing in before the Fort could reprioritize its target, he jumped up to the creature's legs, slashing into the joint openings. High-pressure blood sprayed onto the Raptor as it carried out its gruesome task. The creature limped as it lost control over its left legs, letting out a low bass rumble.

"It's not down yet!" Keith shouted. "Nail the bastard's other legs!"

Meanwhile Alice's Raptor jumped down, leveling with the creatures stare. In a second, its stinger raced out, straight into the Raptor. In the last minute, Alice veered aside, and the spike impacted the chest armor at a steep angle, bouncing off, leaving a deep slash instead of a piercing stab. Nevertheless, the blow still did its damage – acid sprayed onto the torso, quickly pooling into the cut, and dissolving the armor into caustic slag which poured inside. Circuits shorted out, while droplets of acid melted through the cockpit in a deadly mist.

As the mist hit her, Alice felt pain unbearable, searing pain. But she wouldn't give up, she just couldn't. Despite literally having her Reinforced suit melting away and her flesh burned by liquid fire, Alice did not stop. In an instant, her Raptor's arm fell down like a Hammer of God, slicing the elastic whip that held the stinger. Acid poured out, burning into the Raptor's hand, melting it and the PB knife it carried.

But the damage was done, and the Fort had lost its most potent weapon.

Inside her Raptor, Alice quickly pulled back on the stick, before deactivating her retinal projectors and trying to get off the armor of her Reinforced Suit as it literally melted away. She screamed as the slag composed of plastics and metals burned into her skin. Her eyes involuntarily watered, but the tears caused nothing but pain as the salty water dripped onto the slagged suit.

Meanwhile, McCloud 'and Keith's Raptors closed in on the Fort-class, one blazing with semi-automatic bursts of fire, the other flinging heavy blows that tore into the exposed soft muscle of the creature.

But the creature remained defiant.

It pulled its wounded whip back, hoping to smother the two TSFs. But they dodged effortlessly, while the acid sprayed into the air, several droplets falling onto the Fort's carapace, to decidedly sizzling effect. McCloud's eyes widened as he saw that. Could it be...?

His commander wasted no opportunity either. "McCloud!" He barked. "Grab that thing and shove it up its ass! I'll take care of the other Comet!" Not waiting for reply, the other Raptor pulled back, firing short bursts to conserve ammo, while still making itself an attractive target.

Not wasting any time, McCloud kicked himself off the ground, before rapidly switching into the Full-Boost flight mode. The afterburners screamed as a long tail of blue suddenly erupted from Raptor's engines, and the machine closed to the Fort faster than you could say "flash".

With skill borne of years of intense training, practice, and full understanding of his TSF, Guylos dumped his cracked knives and swept his TSF's arms forward, grabbing the spikeless whip just below the point where Alice cut it. Kicking off from his position again, Guylos drove under the Fort as it tried to reel -back its whip, and forced it into the first gap he could find, his Raptor's hands squeezing down, and forcing acid into the wound.

The creature gave out an extremely high pitched scream as it wobbled. The muscles in its remaining legs twisted in an unusual position, before the mighty creature finally fell, face-first into the dirt.

The physically-imposing pilot took a second to appraise his handiwork and verify the monster was dead, before boosting out, right above the heads of Grappler- and Tank-class BETA that swarmed around the Fort-class.

In front of him, Keith Blazer maintained level flight, as he helped to stabilize the damaged Raptor, while at the same time trying to contact remaining allied units.

"Any Comet Battalion callsigns, this is Infinity-1. Come in."

A face of young man, with distinct Asian features and gold eyes popped up on Keith's HUD, much to his own surprise.

"Infinity-1, Comet 1-3. I hear you."

"Lieutenant Bridges? Where's Captain Sven?"

"Dead," The other pilot answered in a cold, bleak voice. "He was pulled down the barricade by several Tanks before we could stop them. What happened to Colonel Bishop?"

"Colonel Bishop's WIA. Who's in command of the Comets now?"

Yuuya closed his eyes momentarily, as if to block out a stab of pain. "Most of the other squadron leaders are KIA. As Colonel Bishop is incapacitated, I am assuming command of the Comets, as the highest ranking pilot."

Keith absently nodded, as the reality hit him. "What are we going to do now?"


"What are we going to do now?"

It was the one question Yuuya honestly didn't know how to answer. Oh, how he wished that he was faster. By a second, a minute. It didn't matter. If he was just a little bit faster, than maybe...

"Do it, Yuuya!" The memory was still livid. After all, that was only moments ago. "Please!"The man cried. "Don't let me die like this...! Please, BRIDGES!"

Just as then, the sound of 36mm assault rifle fire broke him out of the shock.

"We...must withdraw to the Reactor Hall entryway." He hoped that his fear didn't show across the screen. We will make our last stand there."

Blazer grimly nodded, as he himself analyzed the situation. While eliminating the Forts gave Divers some time, and eliminated the main BETA assault force, the allied unit was too exhausted to continue effective defense. All they could do now was a final stand – and pray that there was at least one person still alive that knew the remote detonation codes.


The remaining American TSFs begun to fall back from their barricades with the cold, methodical movement of people consigned to death penalty. Their weapons continued to fire until they ran out of ammo or overheated, as the remnants of their truly relentless enemy begun to finally overtake their former position. One Strike Eagle raised its AWMS and fired the last of the team's 120mm rounds at the downed Eagles that lay at the side of barricades, ones who were taken out several minutes before as they held off the enemy assault while their Colonel was valiantly fighting. These men and women would leave nothing behind to their enemy – not even their bodies. The explosions scattered the Tanks and wounded the Grapplers, but the final vanguard of BETA force pressed on.

Leon gripped his flight stick as he handed the last of his mags back to Sharon, while accepting a still-unbroken knife from another Comet.

"So this is what they meant...is this how we will all die?"

Yuuya himself tried not to look at the wreckage of the machines that Bishop's and Alice's TSFs had became. He had long lost the other rifles, and was left only with a chipped PB-blade that could shatter at any second. Well, at very least he still had his knives.

"Bridges!" The loud voice of the 108th Orbital Drop Regiment's CO and 1st Battalion commander set his mind at ease. At very least, that man knew the codes to the bombs – at very least, they would be able to activate them and fulfill their mission.

"Colonel Heimroth."

The man nodded as the survivors of Flare fell in with the Comets. There were even less of them, although to his surprise, the missile-carrying TSFs were largely unharmed, something that couldn't be said for the Comets. "Bridges, I'm activating the bombs. After that...we'll hold them off for just long enough to make sure they won't disarm them in any way. Set the timer too long and the BETA will just disable it. Set it too short and there's no point trying to exfil. Might as well take as many of those sonsabitches with us."

"Roger that, Sir." It felt funny, Yuuya thought, at how he was so calm, facing what was essentially his own death plan, a death that was guaranteed.

"That won't be necessary, Colonel."


Everyone's eyes widened, as a familiar voice echoed across the tactical network.

"MAX!"Yuuya shouted, as he turned his Black Widow's head in order to peer into the darkened tunnel that led to the Reactor Hall. The black Raptor that Max piloted was barely visible, as were its two Marine Super Hornet escorts.

"Colonel, we've already activated the bombs." Max continued, heedless of his comrade's surprise. "You have about five minutes to get out of here! Go, get out! This place is gonna blow!"

Heimroth willed himself into action. "All remaining missile units! Empty the bins! Scratch that alien filth! After that, all everyone goes Full Boost and doesn't stop until we run out of fuel!"

Yuuya's head spun as the situation rapidly changed, but he couldn't waste any more time. "All Comets, this is Comet 1-3! Get the wounded! We're leaving!"

In front of them, the missiles pilled in on the advancing BETA, smiting them as if the hand of God itself. The explosions cleared way forward, towards the collapsed ceiling.

No-one even waited for any order. The TSF engines roared to life , their pilots pushing them beyond the limits in this one last run. With brilliant white-blue tails, like those of Comets, the TSFs rocketed out of the entryway, above the minced remains of the alien assault, as even more BETA swarmed in to take the place of their dead fellows.

It was only then, just as Yuuya was about to lift off, the last of the Comets to leave, that he noticed that his friend was not going to follow.

A communication window opened, and Yuuya for the first time since battle's beginning saw his friends face. It was bruised, with a small stream of blood seeping from the lip.

"Forgot to mention... that our machines were too damaged to take off, heh." Max winced in pain. "Listen Yuuya." He heard his friend rapidly type on keyboard, as their laser communications link opened for the last time, and a progress bar appeared, receiving data transmitted from Max's Raptor. "Get this data to central command. They will...know what to do with it. And please..." He smiled weakly. "Live for us. Make sure that the next Comets...will do better than us."

Yuuya's eyes begun to involuntarily moisten. He opened his mouth to speak, and for the last time, Max cut him off.

"Go on, Yuuya! Get the hell outta here! Live on and live well!"

"It's been an honor, Max," said Yuuya, saluting his friend. "I'm glad to-"

"Just fucking go already!" yelled Max. "I don't wanna die with some guy, I want to die in the bed of a hot chick! With a tits in both hands and a cigar in my mouth! You do that for me, okay? And keep my lighter! Get lost already!"

Swallowing, tears running down his cheeks, Yuuya fed power to his engines and boosted away, as behind him, Max's transponder went silent.

"Why? Why is this happening? Why must we suffer like this!?"

Maximillian Jeremiah Grey smiled as he saw the rest of the allied force take off.

There was nothing more left to do.

The two Super Hornets remained at their station, laying down fire into the BETA. Their pilots were long-since dead, but as long as the machines were functional, their piloting computers could be put into slave mode and set to autonomous attack. Crude... but necessary. Even in death, they still served.

As the countdown neared zero, Max smiled. It was a positively malicious smile, while his eyes gleamed with predatory fury The Raptor crouched down, as the whine of gas turbine engines became louder, as he brought his engines beyond full power, holding at 100, 110, 120, 130 percent power…even more as he brought the F-22 to the limits of its abilities. Blood colored the air, and the BETA were momentarily forced to step back.

As the countdown on the bombs reached zero, he said only one thing:

"Game's over, Bitch. And you lose."


The explosion ripped the Hive from inside out. The ground first expanded, then buckled, and finally erupted, before settling down from the shockwave. The crystal spire wobbled and then shattered piece-by-piece, its stabs falling down as if it was a diamond like rainfall.

But the roar of the explosion was soon dwarfed as the troops outside the Hive gave out a monumental cheer. The officers in the Forward Operating Base shook their hands and clapped; service personnel spontaneously hugged each other. Radio nets were filled with whoops and laughter. They had won. The largest battle ever fought in American history, a battle that could have easily been lost, had finally ended in victory. Operation Crucible was over.

In the midst of their jubilation, no one paid any attention to the fleeing remnants of the United States Space Force's Orbital Diver Corps.


One week later

The cold breeze whipped about Yuuya as he stood solemnly before the impromptu monument. The twisted remains of an anonymous Strike Eagle were left where they fell, at the entrance to the Hive, and as the Army moved in to clean-up the site, the soldiers opted to leave these pieces alone, in the memory of those who died in the diversionary attack, and those who paid equal price for seeing the Hive destroyed. He closed his eyes, and in his mind he could see the faces and recall the names of the 114th Orbital Drop Regiment's fallen heroes.

Alex Widrow. Micheal Olinsky. Andrea Jethry. Anna Irina Solvia. Helena Valcrux. Albert Franks. Jebediah Hummingway. Jason Isway. Thomas Jethro Walts. Amelia Hannah Walts. Micheal Straits. Helen Parker. Vita Sali. Patricia Cheng. Edward Saint-Germain. Samuel Frank Neyer. Rick Sven. Francis Lane. Kenneth Jones. Patrick O'Manney. James Timothy Kristiansen. Jessica Edwards. Miguel Jesus Martinez.

Maximillian Jeremy Grey.

He knew all of them. And he had personally seen more than half of them die.

Out of all Comets sent into the Maryland Hive, only 8 returned. A single understrength squadron, out of four.

And of those eight, three would need prolonged, painful rehabilitation. And three would never sit inside a TSF's cockpit, or hold flight sticks ever again.

Like Colonel Bishop.

The advanced systems of the Reinforced Suit, meant to preserve human life in most adverse conditions, and the immediate medical help after, had saved her life. But they could not save her body completely. Both of her legs had to be amputated below the knee.

That, in itself, was not horrible news. The sheer level of maimed survivors in the first clashes against the BETA had, as a matter of necessity, facilitated rapid development of highly advanced, highly responsive prosthetics. Without major medical barriers, it was relatively easy to receive them as a soldier, and return to active duty in some way.

But not Bishop.

Out of 108 pieces of titanium, steel, ceramics and various polymers, less than half were removed from Bishop's back – mostly those that were still large enough that they could have been grabbed by surgical tools. The rest – mostly slivers and shards - remained lodged in Bishop's body, mostly within her spine, too deep for surgical removal.

The sheer damage to her nerves and spine was nigh-incalculable. That she retained moderate control over her arms and control over her neck was, to put it quite plainly, a complete miracle, backed by a 48 hour non-stop operation, and emergency implantations of servos and conductors across the most damaged areas of her spine.

But she would still never walk again, much less climb into a TSF cockpit. Perhaps it might have been better if her legs had been lost altogether, instead of being attached uselessly to her body, as if mocking her.

No amount of prizes, medals or alcohol would ever make Yuuya forget that empty, haunted look in her eyes when the doctor told her the truth.

It was the first time, since his mother's death, that another woman had openly wept against his shoulder.

But Yuuya steeled his mind. This is just one more tragedy that the BETA will have to answer for.

Yes. He couldn't give up. He couldn't go back. Not anymore. He had now the greatest duty, and burden, that were ever assigned to him.

To Live.

His mind turned to Alice, who, in all honesty, barely did any better. The full removal of her mildly melted Reinforced Suit took about 72-hour non-stop surgical operation. Even though Alice's weakened heart stopped several times during it, in the end, she pulled through. No, he thought. She willed herself through it. The change that came over the young woman was staggering. Gone was the shyness for which she was once teased. Gone was that soft shine in her eyes. Yuuya remembered vividly how she saluted him; despite all that pain that the action would cause for her bare muscles, and the steel tone with which she spoke to him:

"I will return to duty as soon as I'm able, sir. I will make sure that their deaths count...counted."

Perhaps it would have been better if she had wept. Yuuya didn't know.

But it reminded him that he was now responsible for her, and all the other remaining Comets – what was left of them.

The silver bars of a United States Space Force Captain on his shoulders, and the Distinguished Service Cross on his left breast weighed down of him. He didn't deserve it. Any of it. Not like Max, who'd been posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. All he did was to stand back and chop lowly BETA to pieces while his friends died around him. That was nothing special, especially compared to Max, who'd been the last man out of the Reactor hall, who'd given his life to arm the bombs.

He could still hear it. Sven's voice as he begged him to finish him off. That last glace at the F-15E halfway down the barricade, enveloped in greedy stream of red.

He didn't deserve that. None of them, both the dead and the living, deserved what they'd gotten,.

But he had to move. Step-by-step. He had survived, and so he had to carry their dreams. As long as he remembered them and honored them, they would never be truly gone. That was the other survivors said. It was what the bloodied Colonel Heimroth said, as he smoked his cigarette atop his ruined Strike Eagle.

It was what Bishop begged him to do yesterday, holding onto his hands as if they'd disappear in an instant, as he held her in his arms,.

But most of all...

Most of all, he wanted to give others a chance.

With his position, his experience, he would give guidance to those that would come to follow him and his surviving comrades. He would make sure that the next time they'd face these inhuman monsters, the payback would be even. And that one day, when his turn would inevitably come, he would be able to stand proud in front of his best friend, and tell him that he did as he asked.

The soft footsteps broke him from his reverie. The dark-haired man stopped next to him, kneeling to lay down a bouquet of white lillies. Over the last few days, after President Anderson's impassioned speech at this memorial, where he had honored those who had served in Operation Crucible, civilians and soldiers alike would come to visit to lay down gifts and flowers to the heroes who perished in their defense.

"I didn't know how you do it." The man begun to speak to Yuuya. "And I still don't know." Leon Kuze looked ahead, overlooking the makeshift monument. "When you showed up again, I thought you were still the same asshole, only with even more ego. That there was still nothing important to you." He sighed. "But I was wrong, and it was wrong of me to dismiss everything what you said out of hand, just because of our history. And looking back now..." Leon breathed out, before continuing. "I don't know if I could have changed as much as you did...change enough to do what you had to do. What your comrades did."

Yuuya merely nodded, not looking at him.

"Shit," Leon quietly cursed. "Look, we both aren't good with this goody stuff. I just...I wanted to tell you that I...I respect you. A little bit." He huffed. "And that by the next time we meet, we will be able to do so as comrades at arms."

Perhaps it was the shock of baptism of blood. Perhaps this was some sort of a resolution that simply need something to kick it off. Or perhaps it was always there, just Yuuya didn't notice it before. Fate worked in mysterious ways. This was one way to bury this hatchet, if only by a little bit.

"...Thanks." Yuuya finally spoke, after a brief deliberation. "I'll keep that in mind." He smiled softly, as he turned and begun to walk back. Leon just smirked.

"Good luck!" He suddenly shouted. "Sir."

Yuuya's face broke into a grin. It was too bitter and sad to be smile...but too determined and upbeat to be a frown. It was simply, a grin.

He pulled out a cigar out of his breast pocket, and lit it up with an old Zippo lighter that was given to him, a part of the possessions that Max entrusted to him in his will.

He now walked back in unflinching walk, the prowling military men and woman stepping back from his as some invisible force flowed out of this man.

Yuuya Bridges took a puff out of his cigar. It was the time to seriously pick up the slack. After all, he had troops to train and a war to win.


Same time, unknown place.

It was dark.

Well, for what it was worth, the room didn't really "exist" for them. It was simply a black, holographic nothingness, in which they could meet in complete anonymity from the outside world.

Three points lit up, showing people comfortably sitting at what were desks of light. The soft, but seemingly lifeless glow illuminated their features: One was a Caucasian, red-headed man of young age, another was an Arabic-looking young woman with luscious black hair and azure eyes, while the last was an old man with swept-back gray hair.

Unlike them, the agent stood on his own feet, wrapped in complete darkness. His above-average length silver hair floated freely in the shadows.

"It has been some time... Harbinger," The elder man finally began, his accent being of unmistakable British quality that bore more than a passing resemblance to Peter Cushing. "It would appear that Operation Cerberus was a success."

"Yes."The younger man impatiently cut in. "A risky success." The woman scoffed, flicking her hair.

"You are the one that insists on aggressive approached, and now you're complaining?"

"I," the red-haired man pointed to himself, "Didn't blow up Washington!"

"You would have, given the chance."

"Enough!" The older man raised his voice, just above youngsters, and shot them a cold glare that immediately shut them up. "Regardless of whatever disagreements you two may have, the plan was a resounding success. And in addition, Agent Harbinger's...amendments... to the plan have given us a surprising windfall in the form of the posts that were assigned to our agents in the temporary US government, furthering our influence on that nation. The information we have acquired on the ATSF Project and the USSF strategies has also been...enlightening."

The man in shadows suppressed his grin, and instead nodded politely, acknowledging the older British. "You have no idea whose those agents really are, do you? No, you probably suspect something, but as long as they do their jobs, you have no excuse to remove me.

"I am however concerned about the... Core information that was recovered by the American Authorities." The elder man now carefully eyed his supposed agent.

"It couldn't have been helped," the agent finally spoke, as he slouched even more, raising his hands a little defensively. "There was always the chance that Reactor Assault Team would survive and report back on what they'd found, and even if we could have censored that information in any way, then either Harper or someone left in military chain of command would have realized our continued involvement." The man paused a bit, as he let his hands fall to his sides. "Besides, in my opinion, the sooner the US knows the real stakes, the sooner they will become useful. There are other ways we can manipulate people, besides withholding information."

"I agree," The younger red-headed man suddenly said. While his voice was neutral, his eyes were still glinting as if annoyed. "At very least, we can use it manipulate some of the fringe groups. Perhaps, we can even make leak a little bit outside, if only to spur the panic within the UN..."

"What about the operational security?" The Arab woman swiftly interjected, changing the topic. "Is there any chance of blowback?"

The agent shrugged. "There's always a chance, but right now the risk is low. Most of those who we managed to involve on a deeper level were killed when we destroyed Washington, including the President's staff and most of the CIA 's senior officials, though their middle and lower-level staff and their Langley headquarters remain mostly intact. Harper suspects something, naturally, but he won't be able to expose us without incriminating himself in the process, and getting the entire CIA dismantled for treason."

The woman nodded before continuing. "And the military?"

"Anderson might be blind for all we care. Most of the military brass is dead anyway...Well, I suspect that O'Neill might suspect this and that, but our closure of Operation Cerberus should give him enough plausible answers to get him off our scent. And now that Operation Crucible is finished, O'Neil is now de facto Acting Army Chief of Staff. He'll have his hands full reorganizing the Army; he'll be too busy to be a problem. The rest of the surviving brass are convinced that this was Harper's doing, and most of them will be purged when Cerberus is terminated. I foresee many promotions for promising young officers." The man grinned sadistically, as woman leaned back on her chair. The older man however, seemed unsatisfied.

"What about Colonel Bishop? You mentioned that she was actively trying to track you."

The man laughed softly. "Bishop is a wreck. She'll be busy enough trying to just recover and put her mind back together...that, and most of her suspects are dead anyway...some of which were legitimate agents, if only for the CIA-backed task-force that was Cerberus. And even if she insists..." The man shrugged his shoulders as if in indifference. "Depressed people tend to do a lot of stupid stuff. Bishop's a closet alcoholic. Do the math."

The elder man finally nodded, satisfied with the answers, before speaking up again.

"Thorough planning, as always, Harbinger. But that's not why we called you in person." The other two nodded, as the atmosphere in the room begun to rapidly shift.

"The Soviets are beginning to make noise. Total Eclipse is still ongoing." The woman spoke next, and the agent's face momentarily froze, before recovering.

"...and I was not told of this because...?"

"Because it would have put your ability to manage Cerberus into question," The elder mastermind spoke frankly. "We all know how much you had...invested...into dismantling that twisted remnant of Alternative III."

"Where?" The man shot his demand, his voice unnaturally cold.

"It seems that they're cowering in Yukon. It took us some time to find this through Soviet channels, but once we knew where, it was easy enough to verify. Those two girls are...hard to mistake," The red-haired man spoke again. This time, his voice was somewhat arrogant, recovering his confidence from earlier blunders.

"I'm sure that you're aware that Soviet completion of the Total Eclipse plan will be disastrous for us. You have to shut it down, immediately." The elder finally conspirator instructed.

"You will be in charge of its recovery operation," The younger man swiftly continued. "We'd prefer if you could recover them and the project data unharmed, but...if there's no other way..."

"Then eliminate it," The woman finished it for him.

The agents deliberated that only for seconds, before nodding, in his own manner of acknowledgment. "When do I go?"

"As soon as you can." The older man once again regained control of the conversation, his voice level. "We will authorize you to use all available measures, including the use of that unit..."

"As long as you don't fail us." The younger pointedly eyed him.

"I understand. I shall fulfill my mission with all available strength." The agent straightened his back in acknowledgement, as his superiors nodded in agreement.

"Then this will be all." The eldest one concluded. "This meeting is adjourned."

Their images flickered away, one by one, until only the young woman remained. She eyed the shadow wrapped spy, before breaking into a polite bow.

"I apologize for their behavior, your Excellency. The Master is becoming more and more difficult to control...I fear he may have an ulterior motive. He was the one that recommended you for this job to the Sovereign after all."

The agent, titled "Harbinger" simply shrugged as he "walked" closer to the image of his double-agent. "That was to be expected, although he is nowhere near a serious threat as Sovereign himself. Still...giving me all those resources...he is aware that the Phantasms are eating out of my hand, right?"

The lady chuckled. "You sell yourself short, your Excellency. You're doing much better than you'd think."

The man chuckled as the room begun to light up. "I wonder. Who do you think will stand at the end of this? These men from the First Alternative, that crazed Professor from the East, the useless nations of Earth, or perhaps..."

The man's silver hair gleamed in the suddenly generated light.

"...Myself!"

And the eldest Barchenow gave out a hearty grin as his subordinate gave him her answer.

Author's Note:

Move aside Kouki, a challenger has appeared!

Hahahaha, I wish that was true though.

Well. What can I say? I was planning to get this out sooner, but life got in the way. Nothing more, nothing less. Don't worry though, I manhandled it, and put it back in the place. Hopefully.

Also, you seriously didn't think that I wouldn't put a Harbinger reference when I started making all those Mass Effect shoutouts, did you?

Meanwhile, Yuuya has reached Big Boss level of charisma! And probably just as many medals. I don't know what he'd actually get (Wild Goose is, again, the man behind all the proper applications of military protocol), but he did save United States of A and became world-wide hero overnight. Plus, you know you want to have a Total Eclipse opening to the theme of Snake Eater.

And now, we're out of the woodwork, and onto the real part of the story! The actual Yukon!

Yui~Hime!, Cryska! Inia! Cryska's malevolent elder brother!

Wait, one of those is not like the others!

Also, everyone is welcomed to try to hang out at AnimeSuki's forums' Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse section, and Fanfic thread specifically, where I'm known to dwell. Also, as we now have a local Muv-Luv forum, a Comet thread is up and running! We're also live on

See you soon Surface Pilots~

BETA's notes: Yeah, despair indeed. You're lucky I'm working on Muv-Luv:DYRL as well, or I'd go find a gun to eat, AMT. :p This was the longest I've ever taken to BETA a fic, due to IRL issues, getting sick twice, and the middle being such a slog. It also didn't help that AMT and sasahara17 were busy chopping off parts of my body as sacrifices to Khorne and Tzenteech.