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Suddenly reality was stripped away from Shiro. He found himself on the astral plane, facing Lamia's aspect of F Zero One. This time there was an air of discomfort about the experience, but he knew that the F Zero One must have been close to defeat when the Heir was stopped. That strain must be making itself felt.

Lamia spoke. "Shiro, we thank you for your efforts. But the danger is not yet passed. We are still weak. If the Heir comes to his senses he could still threaten us, and succeed in freeing the Master. This planet, the source of the energy the Heir was using against us, must be destroyed, as well as the Heir."

Shiro was shocked. "You want us to destroy an entire planet?! Is that really necessary?"

"We are afraid so. S'Kirina harbours great and evil energies, Shiro, that could be harnessed and used against us in the future. We must destroy this place and dissipate its energies. Hurry, Shiro!"

Shiro found himself back in LegTrax's cockpit. He reached past Lee and flicked the comms switch open, relaying F Zero One's request to Barry and Lee. He was surprised to find that a third voice spoke in reply first.

"Are you absolutely sure son? There is no other way?"

"Father?! What are you... where are you?!"

Professor Hagen smiled. "Well, there was an empty seat up here in BrainCom. I've never actually taken her out before, you know; I'm pleased to see the design is sound! As for what I'm doing here - that can wait. I'm more concerned with what we've been asked to do. Destroying an entire planet is not something to be undertaken lightly."

"I realise that father. But if we're to be free of the danger the Master represents, I believe we need to do this. From what the Heir told me, and from what I've seen, the energies down there are the only way the Heir, or anyone else, could force the rebirth of the Master. And if the Master was released, it could also mean the end of F Zero One. We need to act now, father."

There was silence for a moment. "Very well. If we can bring X Impulse on line, and use it in combination with the K'Lar's delta laser, we should be..."

Shiro cut in. "The K'Lar's delta laser?! Did a whole Imperial ship defect while I was down there?!"

Professor Hagen's smile returned. "No, not quite. I realise you all have questions - but for now, let us return to the X-Bomber." He switched to an external communication channel. "PPA, what is your tactical status?"

"Greetings Professor. Damage is significant but damage control systems are operating at maximum efficiency. All Imperial carriers have been eliminated but some fighters remain and are conducting a rear guard action as the K'Tharsis attempts to retreat. I understand that the K'Lar is relatively undamaged and its fighter fleet has suffered 25% losses. What are your orders?"

"We will be docking with you shortly. Have the fighters pursue the K'Tharsis and inflict as much damage as possible. Concentrate your own efforts on bringing X Impulse on-line and have the K'Lar prepare to fire its delta laser. Shiro will require medical attention once we are on board."

Shiro was surprised to hear his father ordering fighters to attack a battlecruiser, but he no longer had the energy for further questions. He recalled the rest of the trip only in fragments. Three hours later he had been released from the X-Bomber's sick bay and stood on the bridge once more. Although physically sound, PPA had not yet replaced his helmet as he wished to conduct more detailed scans prior to its removal.

Professor Hagen turned to face him from the command chair. "Well, Shiro, we're as ready as we can be. I've only ever guessed at what X Impulse might do to a planet; I have no idea if it will actually destroy one outright. However, combined with the Imperial delta laser we are likely to have a significant impact. Should we aim for a particular target?"

Shiro was silent for a moment. "Yes. Use the last known co-ordinates of the shuttle I took down there. The Imperial Heir had based himself in the ruins nearby, presumably because they're a focal point for the energy of the planet. It's also possible he's returned to them. If we fire on that area we may destroy him, even if we don't destroy the planet itself."

The Professor nodded his agreement. The K'Lar retrieved its fighters and moved its delta laser into firing position. The X-Bomber joined formation at a safe distance. Both ships fired at the same time. The Heir was waiting. He had been created to absorb energy. He took in the incredible firepower being rained down onto the planet from orbit until he could no longer contain it - and then released it, at the point where S'Kirina's energies met. The Heir's suicide contributed his stored energy into the resulting maelstrom. Energy flooded back through S'Kirina's mantle, down to its very core. The planet's very nature served as a catalyst for its own annihilation.

Finally the tremendously unstable energies ripped the planet apart from the inside out. The X-Bomber and the K'Lar barely escaped serious damage as shockwaves and debris hurled themselves out into the Thalian Zone. As the X-Bomber raced away from what was left of S'Kirina Shiro once again found himself on the astral plane, but this time the feeling was identical to what he had felt when Lamia had come to him on Moon Base.

"Lamia? We did it. S'Kirina is gone. The danger is over."

"Shiro. We do not understand. Why have you caused this destruction?"

"What? But - you asked me to - you..."

"No, Shiro. While you were close to S'Kirina, the Heir's energies and the planet itself prevented us from contacting you. Thanks to your intervention we were able to seal off the Imperial Master from the Heir; he would never again have been able to aid his Master. So you see, there was no need for the Heir or S'Kirina to be destroyed."

Shiro recalled the feeling of discomfort he had felt when what he had believed to be Lamia had contacted him. "Lamia, if it wasn't you - wasn't F Zero One - who contacted me, then who?"

"The Heir was not entirely insane, Shiro. His one reason for existence was to serve the Master. Some element of that purpose remained in him. Although destroyed, the symbiote which controlled you gave him a route into your mind, your memories. It was he who planted that suggestion in your mind, and that is why you sensed discomfort in us; it was in fact the Heir whose instructions you were given."

"But why did he trick me into having us fire on the planet, when it meant his own destruction?"

"Much of what the Heir told you was true, Shiro. S'Kirina did harbour great energies. Energies great enough to free the Master and do us harm. The Heir knew that the door he had opened was now closed. But there are other doors, and other keys, Shiro. The energies that the Heir drew upon were not the only evil S'Kirina contained. The Heir knew that if he could bring about the destruction of S'Kirina those evils would be released back into the universe. By using the energies of your attack and his own he was able to bring about that destruction at the cost of his own life."

"Then - I've made things worse?"

"No, Shiro. You must not blame yourself. We, too, are greatly at fault for our complacency. We are ancient, yet terribly young, Shiro. Like you, we will learn through experience. Evil attracts evil. Others would have come to S'Kirina in search of power in time. Now, though, that power is scattering to every part of the Thalian Zone, and beyond. We must be vigilant. But take comfort in this, Shiro Hagen - the Master is once again subdued and we will learn to better use our powers to prevent such great burdens being placed on you and your friends. Rest now. The Alliance will not prevent your passage home."

Shiro slept.

He did not dream.

Last updated 14 December 2013

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