The RiseWith Lee finally awake and manning his position, Barry jumped to the starboard turret and waited for the astrofighters to come in closer. He opened fire as soon as one came into range - but pulling the trigger had no effect. Barry cried out in frustration, "PPA! What's going on? These guns out of action?"
"No, Lieutenant. Their energy cells are at full power. There are no malfunctions. I... one moment. Lieutenant Lee, how do your scanners identify the approaching craft?"
Lee frowned. "I'm not sure PPA, now that you ask. They're definitely astrofighters, and their power signatures are close to what I'd expect from Imperial fighters, but something's not right here. The scanner isn't painting them as unknowns - it's painting them as EDF fighters?!"
"My sensors concur. They are emitting IFF codes consistent with EDF craft. So, too, is the K'Lar. Lieutenant Hercules, the X-Bomber's weapons are programmed not to fire on friendly craft. Consequently you were unable to open fire on the approaching fighter. I can override the safety lock outs, but may I suggest that we monitor the situation for the time being rather than opening fire?"
"Sure PPA. I can't see it making our situation any worse. Let's just sit here and get kicked around some more..." Hercules shook his head, but stood down.
The distance between the K'Lar and the Bomber decreased rapidly, but the Bomber took no incoming fire. The K'Tharsis was still on approach from the rear. Lee intercepted several communications from the K'Tharsis to the K'Lar, but the traffic was one way only. The fighters which the K'Lar had launched fell into formation with the Bomber, further increasing the confusion of the Lieutenants on the bridge.
"Lee, what's going on here? You got anything more on those fighters?"
"Some of my sensors are still on the fritz, Hercules, but yeah. Their silhouettes aren't far off EDF fighters but they've definitely got power sources straight out of an Imperial technical manual. Something else odd, though - I can't get a clear reading on what their hull's made of. If I didn't know better I'd say they had some sort of shields, but I don't know of any mass produced EDF ships that pack shields. It's a mystery. But hey, Hercules, they're not trying to blow us into atoms!"
"Not yet, maybe." Hercules disliked ambiguity. So he was almost grateful when the Bomber once again rocked from a laser torpedo impact. "Lee, where'd that come from?"
"The original Imperial fleet. It seems they've made a decision about which side the K'Lar's on... they're also targeting the fighters in formation around us. The K'Lar's responding - accelerating towards us."
"The mystery fighters?"
"They're breaking formation... they're linking up with the K'Lar... and now... they're targeting the Imperial fleet!"
"What?! You sure Lee?! PPA, what's your analysis?"
"I must again concur with Lieutenant Lee. Unless this is some well hidden Imperial strategem it does appear that the K'Lar is engaging the Imperial battlecruiser and her fleet. However, the unidentified forces are heavily outnumbered. It may be necessary for us to enter the battle on their side in order to ensure the defeat of the Imperial forces."
Barry considered the situation for several long moments. The X-Bomber was not in top shape. If he committed the ship to combat and the unidentified force turned out to be unfriendly they'd have no chance to escape. If they were going to break for it, they had to do it now. He remained undecided as the K'Lar passed above the Bomber. "PPA, bring us about. I want to monitor the K'Lar."
As the Bomber swung round to face S'Kirina and the K'Lar as it headed in towards the K'Tharsis, Barry noticed something odd about the rear of the Imperial vessel. Was that... writing? "PPA. Can you enhance the rear section of the K'Lar? What're those markings?"
PPA passed the results of the enhancement to the main view screen. Lee raised his eyebrows and looked at Barry. The fighter made his decision. "Alright PPA. We're going in. Shift configuration and bring the neck lasers on line. I figure the K'Lar can deal with the battlecruiser and its fighters will go toe to toe with their counterparts. That leaves the Imperial carriers for us. Take us in fast, like we're going to try and charge through without fighting and break away, then brake down hard and bring us in behind them. Let's see how the Imperials like a laser torpedo sandwich..."
PPA had once boasted that he could take on any Imperial battlecruiser. Ten minutes into the battle he was proving that, bonded with the X-Bomber, it was no hollow boast. Which was just as well, because Lee and Barry were no longer on board. Only PPA's drones sped around the corridors of the ship, repairing damage as fast as they could. Lee and Barry were elsewhere, aiming to cause some damage of their own.
On the surface of S'Kirina Shiro saw the pinpricks of light created by exploding astrofighters in the night sky, but his immediate concern was still the Heir. The Heir had spent some time tearing apart what was left of the temple, but he had continued to feed off the rampant energies which he had apparently lost control of. As a result he was now a truly monstrous size - and he had just begun to follow Shiro's trail, roaring incoherently and firing random bolts of energy from his hands.
Shiro had hoped to find some cover before the Heir pursued him. But despite his lead, the desolate landscape had offered him no opportunity for concealment. He was hindered by the loss of the enhanced sight the now inert symbiote had given him, and yet also grateful that its influence over him had ended. It seemed that his time had now run out; the Heir's massive strides were eating up the distance between them. He was blown off his feet by the shockwave of one of the Heir's energy bolts hitting the ground just metres away. He came round and realised that the Heir was standing over him. A great roar of triumph cut through the air as a huge metallic foot raised up in readiness. When it came down Shiro would feel no more pain.
The killing blow began but did not end. Shiro felt an intense wave of heat wash over him and was momentarily blinded. As his eyes adjusted he realised that the Heir was lying on his back some distance away. Dazed, he turned to discover what had intervened. It took some moments for him to recognise the massive figure standing before him. The Dai-X. Shiro's bewilderment increased - but the sound of the Heir getting to his feet quickly reminded him that it was unwise to look a gift horse in the mouth. He ran for Dai-X as it stepped forward, raised its arms and opened fire on the enraged Heir with the Super Cannons. The Heir's own energy bolts went wide as the force of Dai-X's weapons sent him crashing to the ground again.
Lee's cockpit canopy in the foot of Dai-X was open. On seeing Shiro up close, with the symbiote still forming part of his helmet, he hesitated momentarily before pulling him on board and shouting out "I've got him! Let's go!"
As Barry transferred power from weapons to propulsion, the Heir got to his feet once more. He wasn't going to let this new enemy get away. As Lee fired Dai-X's thrusters the Heir got to his feet and ran towards the mecha. "Lee, now would be a good time!" shouted Barry, as he watched the Heir close in. Lee cut in the boosters and Dai-X took off - but not fast enough. The Heir grabbed Dai-X's legs as it tried to escape. The result was a stalemate; Dai-X couldn't lift off with the Heir hanging on, but the Heir couldn't bring it down. However, the Heir's grip was immense; even Dai-X's superstructure wouldn't hold out very long.
For once, Lee showed some initiative. He opened fire with LegTrax's main weapon - which was on a level with the Heir's head. Although the laser blast wasn't powerful enough to do any serious damage, it blinded and confused the Heir and he instinctively brought his hands to his face to protect himself - releasing the Dai-X in the process. The mecha roared upwards, the sudden acceleration pressing the crew into their seats. Shiro was uncomfortable in the cramped space behind Lee's command seat, but considering the alternative, he could live with it. The Dai-X spiralled upwards into the night sky, evading wild energy bolts from the blinded Heir.
Last updated 14 December 2013