by R. Frink
An epic tale of 5 soldiers involved in a war between humanity and a powerful alien race.
Chapter XI: Lost in Space
Hero’s Legend – Common Room
June 12, 2107 – 1038
Several days went by in a monotonous manner, training in the morning for several hours, a private training session, and then free time for the remainder of the day. It was during this downtime that Phoenix found himself in a pleasant state of relaxation. His muscles still ached from the day’s training session, but his mood remained content.
Phoenix sat on the couch that was centered in the common room that many of the ship’s crew retreated during breaks. Beside him, laid Meri, who was curled up against an arm of the couch reading something on her tablet. Behind the couch, stood a table where Fiammetta, the twins and Karna had congregated to play a game of poker.
The pilots continued their activities until a voice speaking through the com instructed them to suit up and remain on standby. The spark of excitement rushed through Phoenix’s body as he stood by the couch. They were finally reaching their destination. He would face Ice again and win.
Hero’s Legend – Bridge
“Lieutenant Browns, slow down the Hero’s Legend. We’re approaching our destination,” Alverdine ordered from her chair.
“Yes, ma’am!” A young man sitting in the front panel replied. His fingers flew over his console, and the entire crew felt a sudden shift as the battleship decreased in speed. The view outside the ship became clearer as the ship slowed to its normal speed.
Alverdine gazed at the new environment until she felt the familiar tingle at the back of her head. With a short gasp, she suddenly stood from her seat. "Evasive maneuvers! Bring the ship to the right!"
"Y-yes, ma'am," Lieutenant Browns stuttered, startled at the sudden command.
Upon the general's command, the young man navigated the ship to the right. The ship shook as something brushed past its left side. A bright stream of energy soon came into view until it dissipated into the darkness of space. Before anyone could comment on Alverdine's uncanny foresight, Ensign Miller from the front panel spoke.
"Purgatory is approaching us from behind!"
Purgatory – Bridge
Elteo turned to Ice with an annoyed look on his face. "Quite a lucky move."
Ice nodded before standing from his chair. "Time to make ours, keep the other pilots busy and I'll dispatch the customized one."
Elteo nodded slowly, "Yes, Commander." The doubt from before returned as he wondered about his commander's true intentions in the upcoming battle.
"Commander, our instruments are encountering some interference. I believe the source is coming from an asteroid field up ahead," one of the crew members informed.
"That must have been their intention, to lure us into the field," Ice commented. "Keep Purgatory away from that field at all costs."
Hero’s Legend – Bridge
“Ma’am, Purgatory has stopped its pursuit,” Ensign Meller reported.
Alverdine narrowed her eyes and turned to her partner. “They must have figured out our intentions.”
Kyros nodded and patted her hand in comfort. She smiled and let a look of concentration wash over her face.
“I have another idea.” Alverdine pushed the button on her armrest, and a holographic image of Phoenix appeared. “Phoenix.”
“Remember the unidentified mech from the last battle?” Phoenix gave a sharp nod. “You are to distract that pilot. Keep him busy and keep him away from Purgatory and the Hero’s Legend.”
“Understood,” Phoenix replied with a large grin.
Sector 1 – Zone 3
Leviathan, as usual, was easy to spot among the darkness of space. Phoenix used his machine's incredible speed to circle him once before speeding away from the battle that was starting between the ships. He slowed down just enough for Ice to close a little distance but not enough for Ice to catch him. He made a show of it, looping around, executing twirls until the battle behind them was nothing but glimmering lights in space. His opponent mirrored his every move a step behind him, and Phoenix liked to think that Ice was enjoying himself. Phoenix made one final loop before brandishing twin daggers and turning to speed towards Ice. When he was close enough, he brought the blades down towards Leviathan's shoulder joints. Kedalion's blades clashed with the hard metal of Leviathan's sword.
Ice rotated his mech quickly, causing Kedalion to be flung to the side. Phoenix recovered his bearings and managed to dodge a vertical swipe of his opponent's sword. Without missing a beat, Phoenix thrust a dagger towards Leviathan's head but was blocked once again. Quickly, he used the moment to jab his second dagger towards the hip joint of Ice's machine. Leviathan caught Kedalion's arm in its powerful grip. Phoenix held his breath as his mind raced to find an escape. The spark of an idea entered his mind, and Phoenix found his breath again. His eyes scanned the console of his cockpit; to his left was a line of buttons underneath a protective case corresponding to each of the machine's four limbs. He flicked open the case and pressed the button matching the left arm. With his boasters at full speed, Phoenix put some distance between himself and Ice, leaving Kedalion's left arm in his departure. A communication link opened, and Phoenix could hear Ice's laughter. A smile crept onto the young man's face as he listened to the sweet sound.
"It would seem you have few new tricks up your sleeve," Ice commented. He released the severed arm and let it float away, dagger still in its grip.
"Well," Phoenix began with a wily smile. "I certainly have to in order to keep up."
Hero’s Legend – Bridge
"General Alverdine, Unit 3 and Unit 5 are nearly within range of Purgatory," Ensign Meller stated.
"Excellent," Alverdine replied. "What is the status of Units 1, 2, and 4?"
"They're-" Before the young woman could finish, the screen on her panel flickered and status for all six pilots when offline. The other screens followed suit, flickering and losing connections, until a warning in red, angry text appeared on all the screens.
Warning: Security Breach.
"What on Earth?" Alverdine muttered, puzzled as the entire crew erupted into a frenzy to remedy the problem.
"An outside source is trying to access our systems," a young man sitting on one of the side panels exclaimed.
"No, at least I don't think so. They're disabling our access to our own systems."
"Can you stop it, Ensign Harwell?" Alverdine asked.
"I don't know," Ensign Harwell replied. "But I will try."
Sector 1 – Zone 3
"Lieutenant Elteo." Elteo briefly turned his attention to a pop-up of a crewmember. Before he could respond, the Unit 1 fired at him causing him to zigzag through space, narrowly missing the shots.
"Yes, what is it?" Elteo managed as he protected one of his sorties from a blow of Unit 2's sword.
"Purgatory is experiencing an unauthorized breach in its systems."
Elteo cursed, but kept his focus on the battle. "Is the Hero's Legend behind this?"
"No, we can't identify the source."
"Have you told the Commander?" Elteo asked, wondering why he wasn't hearing the information from Ice.
"We tried, but..."
"We've lost contact with him."
With that, pop-up went blank with a No Signal message overlaying it, and Elteo knew he had lost contact with Purgatory as well. It was at this point he noticed his opponents had grown more halfhearted in their attacks. Perhaps, they're experiencing the same issue, Elteo thought.
Not wanting the opportunity to go to waste, Elteo used the moment for him and his team to begin a retreat. As he made his way back to Purgatory, he attempted to contact Ice.
"Commander? Come in, Commander?" When no response came, Elteo realized with the system compromised, his only means of communication was through the local system, which meant that Ice was probably out of range. Elteo cursed in his native tongue and focused on getting back to the ship.
As he approached Purgatory, he spotted Units 3 and 5 preparing to fire with their heavy artillery. With an annoyed sigh, he fired at them, not intending to damage them much but enough to get their attention.
"You have bigger problems right now than engaging, Purgatory," Elteo said in a sharp voice as he positioned his Specter between them and the ship.
"Why? What's going on?" A female voice asked.
"Something is affecting the systems of the ships in the area or did you not lose communications with your own ship?"
Their silence was all the answer he needed and after a short moment, the two Dragoon mechs turned around to return to the Hero's Legend. With the threat leaving, Elteo continued his way to Purgatory.
Sector 1 – Zone 3
Phoenix matched him hit for hit and while Ice was not fighting at his full potential, the amount of progress made by Phoenix impressed him. A sense of foreboding washed over him. He was procrastinating, and he knew it had to end soon. He had to kill Phoenix.
But he wasn’t going to.
Ice blocked Phoenix's moves as they increased in fervor. The older pilot could sense his opponent’s frustration by the sloppiness of his moves.
"Fight me!" He heard Phoenix yell through the com. "Stop holding back!"
Ice sighed. "As you wish." He waited until Phoenix charged him. A smile crept upon his lips. The younger pilot relied on his speed too much. When Kedalion grew close, Ice twirled Leviathan to the side and brought his blade down against Kedalion’s remaining arm. Before Phoenix could react, Ice swung his sword horizontally reducing Kedalion to nothing more than a floating torso. Ice approached the crippled machine, not to administer the final blow but to capture it.
Phoenix watched as Leviathan approached him. His heart pounded within his chest, frantically thinking of an escape, but he knew it was futile. He lost completely and was now at the mercy of his opponent. His eyes wavered at the sourness of his own failure. Suddenly, Leviathan went limp and began to float listlessly towards him. The glow from the mech's ocular devices grew dim as if all life had left it.
Without warning, the same fate befell Kedalion, and Phoenix watched helplessly as his machine powered down, system by system, until he was left in the darkness and silence of space. A fear gripped his heart, as he searched for a light, any light. He attempted to move Kedalion, but the controls were locked in their powered down state. He felt his resolve leave him and the panic set in, so he called out to the only person who could possibly hear him.
"Ice!" Phoenix called out. His voice shook far more than he thought it would. "Are you there?"
A moment of silence went by, and it was only after Ice confirmed his presence that Phoenix allowed himself to breathe. "I'm here."
"What happened?" The younger pilot asked.
"I don't know," Ice replied. "But there seems to be a third party in our midst."
Hero's Legend – Bridge
Alverdine watched her crew with bated breath as they worked tirelessly to regain control over the ship. She sighed as the hopelessness emanating from her crew tugged at her heart and mind. She cursed her own helplessness and looked to her partner and love who placed a hand over her own. Their fingers instinctively entwined and Alverdine drew comfort from it.
Ensign Meller turned to her generals with a forlorn expression on her young face. "I'm afraid to report...that we're completely locked out and..."
"And...?" Alverdine sighed, fearing what was to come.
"The intruders, they shut down the mechs as well. The Dragoons are sitting ducks out there."
Alverdine's eyes narrowed as her mind calculated her next move. "Are we still able to open the hanger?"
"We should be able to manually."
"Good, get Tech and her crew on it," Alverdine commanded. "Our pilots won't survive very long out there, but I have a plan to get them back." She rose from her chair and motioned Kyros to follow her to the exit. "Everyone, work on getting me rough coordinates of the Dragoon's locations. Start with Units 1, 2, and 4; they should be fairly close to the ship."
Hero's Legend – Hangar
By the time Alverdine and Kyros arrived at the ship's hangar, Tech was already working with her crew for a manual open of the hangar. As she waited for Tech to finish explaining the procedure they were to use, Alverdine whispered her plan into Kyros' ear.
"Can you do it?" Alverdine asked, but Kyros knew her true question. Can you do it without hurting yourself?
"Yes," Kyros replied confidently. "With Leksi's amplification, there will be no problem."
Alverdine eyed him as if searching for truth behind his words, but both knew he couldn't lie to her. She turned her gaze towards Tech and called for her attention.
"Yes, ma'am?" The stocky woman responded.
"Will they be able open the hangar without the system?"
"Easy, just tell us when," Tech replied with an accomplished grin.
Alverdine mirrored her smile. "Good, ready Leksi but keep it offline from the system. The last thing we need right now is for that machine to get jacked."
Tech's eyes widened with excitement but tried to keep her professionalism. "But Leksi needs the system to-"
Alverdine shook her head. "General Kyros won't be launching with it. He just needs its amplification abilities."
The light of understanding shone in Tech's blue eyes. "I get you know, follow me, sir; I'll get you set up."
Purgatory – Bridge
“What is our status?” Elteo asked, wasting no time taking command in Ice’s absence.
“We’re completely removed from our system,” one of the crewmembers replied.
Elteo groaned, rubbing his temples. “And Commander Ice, any word from him?”
The crew fell silent with a few shaking their heads.
Elteo sighed. Ice could take of himself, Elteo rationalized as pushed back his concerns. He could be of no use if they didn’t have a functioning ship. ”Keep trying to take back control! There must be a way.”
Hero's Legend – Hangar
"Good luck, General Kyros," Tech said as she saluted. The woman slowly disappeared from sight as the hatch closed over Kyros' body. He waited for the machine to boot up without worry as Tech had preemptively disabled Leksi from connecting with the Hero's Legend's system. At the end of startup, an apparatus lowered a metallic circlet onto his head. Leksi took a moment to calibrate the readings from the device before finally signaling it was ready to use. It was at that moment Kyros felt his consciousness expand exponentially. A small gasp escaped his lips at the almost overwhelming sensation. He could feel every object, every person, for miles and miles from where he sat. He could reach out and touch Alverdine, who had just returned to her seat on the bridge, as if she was right in front of him. He fought the temptation for there was work to be done.
He opened a local communication with the bridge. "Do you have some coordinates for me?"
"We're sending them to you now," Alverdine replied. A small window containing the information appeared on the left side of Leksi's main panel. "They're rough but should get the job done. Start with the pilots’ closest to ship, it's already in order."
Kyros nodded but inwardly despaired to see Phoenix's name on the bottom of the list. After studying the first few coordinates, he closed his eyes and concentrated. He found the Units 1, 2, and 4 floating fairly close to the Hero's Legend. He pushed against the Unit 1, testing his ability, and it moved through the emptiness of space without much resistance. Satisfied, he moved all three at the same time without much mental strain. He signaled to Tech through her com device in her ear to open the hangar. The machines became harder to move within the ship's artificial gravity, but one by one he placed them in their proper place inside the hangar. The maintenance crew returned after sealing the hangar to help the pilots out of their suits.
Kyros returned to his work and sought for Units 3 and 5. After a tense few minutes, he found them closer to the Hero's Legend than he anticipated. They must have tried to return to the ship after losing contact, Kyros mused. He felt it, as he was collecting them, an enormous force that situated itself above them. He could not tell what the object was, but it was huge, perhaps even bigger than Vinci I.
When Units 3 and 5 were safe inside the Hero's Legend, he began his search for Phoenix.
Hero's Legend – Bridge
Only one more to go, Alverdine thought to herself, feeling some relief about the situation they were in. A sudden jerk of the ship cut her relief short. Then, she felt the ship slowly turn.
"Lieutenant Browns?" Alverdine inquired.
"Whoever's got control of the ship is moving it. I have no control over it," he replied, hands in the air to illustrate his point.
Beyond the clear pane of the bridge's window, a large object came to the center as the ship finished turning. The boosters fired, propelling the ship forward. Alverdine could not make out the object and decided she did not want to get acquainted. "Kyros," she called through the communication link.
"I need you to try to move the ship in the opposite direction," she explained.
"But Phoenix -"
"It won't do him or us any good if the Hero's Legend is destroyed." Kyros fell silent, knowing she was right. "Phoenix will be okay for a little while; I promise you we'll get him back."
A short moment passed before Alverdine could feel the effects of Kyros' ability and the ship started to slow down. However, before the ship reached to a stop, the boosters doubled in power, and the Hero's Legend picked up speed.
As the ship drew closer, Alverdine could finally make out the enormous object. It was a colony, the size of Vinci I, perhaps bigger. Its large port was held open to allow the Hero's Legend entry. Space debris floated around its ruined frame, and Alverdine wondered how such a project winded up so far from Earth.
Without the danger of colliding into the massive colony, Alverdine issued new orders to Kyros. "Cease what you're doing and return to the bridge. We're being taken inside a port of a colony."
"Aph- er Alverdine, give me more time, I can reverse the ship," Kyros pleaded.
Alverdine shook her head. "I get the feeling the source of whatever has taken control of the ship is inside that colony. Save your strength, we'll probably need it later."
"Phoenix?" Kyros whispered.
"He'll probably get collected as well. We'll get him back when we sort our situation out."
Kyros nodded slowly, and the communication ended.
Sector 1 – Zone 3
Phoenix sat in silence and darkness, pondering a way to start his machine. His mind desperately tried to remember his training in search for anything about blackouts but his mind returned with nothing. So he grew still in his seat to conserve oxygen, not knowing when he'll be rescued, if at all.
"Ice?" He called out, growing bored and uneasy with the silence.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Of course, but I might not answer."
Phoenix let out a short laugh. "If we weren't stranded, if the fight had continued...would you have killed me?"
There was a long pause, and Phoenix thought Ice might not answer at all. Then, he heard his answer in a soft, telling voice. "No."
Something inside Phoenix fluttered, and large smirk took over his face. "What would you have done to me?"
"Captured you and dissected your suit to see if there was some technology that was worth reverse engineering," Ice replied rather matter-of-factly.
Phoenix heard his companion sigh. "I would have kept you safe."
The thought comforted him, knowing he had an ally among the enemy he faced, but he couldn't help but wonder why. "Thanks," Phoenix said, not knowing what else to say.
"Don't, being a prisoner of war is not a grand fate," Ice replied.
"Beats being dead."
"There are some fates worse than death." The bitterness in Ice's voice did not escape Phoenix.
Phoenix's lips moved to form his reply, but Kedalion's sudden jolt forward erased the words from his head. The mech remained powered down, but he was moving. "Ice! Do you feel it?"
"Yes, we're moving."
Phoenix sighed in relief. He didn't know what force moved his machine, but it was an upgrade to waiting for his air to run out. They moved slowly for about a half hour until Phoenix felt his body become heavier. Their journey ended with a sudden drop, colliding with some sort of hard surface. Phoenix grimaced, sore from the impact. Wherever they were had gravity. Phoenix waited for a moment and when Kedalion was left still, he took a chance and manually opened the hatch.