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Lasting Impressions


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#1
Vertigo

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November 17, 2052

Eden Orbit

Battle of Eden

 

Denise sat in her valkyrie as the battle unfolded before her.  Most of the NUSA pilots had remained loyal to the cause despite the revelation of the "civil war's" origins.  Even now the corporate heads had gathered for one last desperate push with the SDF Mariposa against the UN forces.  But with a good half of the colonial captains either striking their colors and surrendering or folding out at the first chance they got things would not go well for the NUSA forces.  Denise had seen a full squadron deploy from a carrier, jettison their ordnance, and surrender to a waiting UN ship.  Those still fighting either did so out of a sense of duty to their beleaguered shipmates or a sense of vengeance unfulfilled against the many legitimate wrongs the UN Government had committed.  Denise certainly sympathized with the latter sentiment.  Spacy still had much to pay for.

 

She had launched with the rest of the Raptors and taken a high position over the plane of battle per Meg's instructions.  Meg she sniffed inwardly.  Meg's obsession had shown up here, as inconvenient as that had been.  Ceding authority to Denise Meg had plunged into the battle after that pilot for one last reckoning.  He'd been kind enough to take the battle far away from Eden or the Mariposa in order to limit the battlefield casualties.  Still, the light show Meg had put on while in transit should give the military historians fits for years to come.  So Denise hung there over Eden and observed, keeping the Raptors safely out of the engagement but not lending aid to Spacy.

 

The Genius scanned the battlefield, drinking in the situational data by the gallon.  Here and there dogfights unfolded, pilots died, ships exploded.  Brutality was the word of the day.  She saw the occasional flash of the gold, grey, and black of Spacy's Skull squadron darting into the thick of things and always emerging victorious.  Still, she held the Raptors back.  They would part on their own terms.  And then...

 

A flicker of movement.  A slight variation of wing form and fuselage, but Helios markings unmistakable despite the smiling skull on the hull.  The one that had gotten away that day...

 

"Roger, take the squadron, go to Eden, surrender to the colonial government.  Do not let the UN take you."

 

"What's going on, Denise?"

 

"I have something to take care of.  I will meet you on planet.  Do it now."

 

The Genius heard the affirmative even as she shifted into fighter and powered into a dive.  Skirting AA fire and several rolling fights she plunged into the heart of the UN line.  Twisting through the debris she acquired her target.  Lining up her shot she pulsed twin laser beams ahead of the Songbird and detonated the remains of a dead variable fighter.  Turning her laser comm on she directed the beam to Dwer's craft.

 

"You.  In the colonial fighter.  What are you doing?  How can you fight for the UN?"  It wasn't so much accusatory as it was matter of fact.  The Genius needed to know.  And then she would put him to the test.  Missiles locked onto the Songbird but the Genius held fire.  She had to know.



#2
Coolhand

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An aggressive shift into Gerwalk mode and a frame wrenching side-slip maneuver ensured Dwer and his Songbird evaded the exploding wreckage ensuring the deminse of the VF-11 he had been tailing. It took only a split second of gunpod fire to turn the unfortunate pilot into a rapidly expanding cloud of debris as the leg mounted missile stored detonated. Rolling he converted the energy from the slip into a wide bank and changed back to fighter, simultaneously he scanned the space around him for the fighter who had fired the warning shots.

 

It did not take long to ID the one he was looking for, the fact it was aiming a laser comm right at him made it rather easy. Apparently the pilot had sharp eyes too, having identified the markings on his hull.

 

“What I'm doing is fighting. As for how, it's better than the alternative.”

 

Much as Dwer might have liked to elaborate he was rapidly picking up tails, three enemy valkyries were apparently hell bent on putting him down. Thinking fast Dwer pointed the nose of the Songbird towards Denise's oncoming fighter and jammed the throttles to full.

 

Distance closed in the blink of an eye and Dwer inverted the Songbird so he could get a look at Denise's valkyrie in the pass. Barely a meter existed between the two as their cockpit canopies passed each other and for a few brief moments time stood still for Dwer. He knew that Valkyire, he'd seen it once before.

 

Still Dwer was an old hand at this and he didn't let the twinge of fear he felt deter him from his original plan. His tails had followed him through the maneuver and were rapidly coming up on Denise. Flipping Songbird over end to end he shifted in to Battroid and let loose with his gunpod and hip mounted lasers.

 

If a lesser pilot had attempted to fire at three targets like this their results would have been much worse. Thankfully Dwer was not a lesser pilot and he scored hits on all three. Two erupted into fireballs, the third lost an engine and went spiralling wildly into space. Denise now had blinding light in her eyes and an out of control fighter to evade.

 

Lesser pilots would have also gone for the kill at this point, Dwer however chose not to. Shifting back to fighter he went vertical gaining virtual altitude on her. She could have pulled the trigger at any time in that head on pass yet she didn't. It was clear she wasn't here for a quick kill and Dwer was curious to why.

 

He re-opened the comm line to her, transmitting a secure colonial frequency to her flight computer.

 

So who are you that can recognise the markings on this fighter? Why do you care which side I'm on?”



#3
Vertigo

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Lesser pilots would have done things differently.  And they would have paid the price for doing so.  Auto-polarization on her helmet's visor dimmed back to normal combat settings as the Genius rolled around the debris of her 'compatriots'.  Most ACM instructors would have yelled at her for yielding the advantage to her opponent.  Perhaps only those that didn't understand the concept of advantage in modern variable fighter setting.

 

She pushed over the last fireball and powered into a 'dive' towards a UN frigate.

 

"I am a killer of aces" the Genius said flatly.  She pulled out of the dive meters from the deck of the ship, corkscrewing towards the bridge.  A burst of laser fire immolated the bridge crew and exposed them to hard vacuum.  "I care because you are one of the few to get away."

 

She juked forward, using the FA/V-1's engines to the utmost to get velocity behind her.  Banking around a swirling furball she pulled back towards Dwer, reconfiguring to Soldier and swinging the gunpod in line.  The first burst passed to his left, coring a UN VF-11.  The second burst went high and hit a corporate fighter in the cockpit, shredding the money warrior inside.  "I care because you left that day, and now I am curious as to why."

 

She let her velocity track take her in a high arc, interposing Dwer between the planet and herself.  Instinctively the Genius flowed around laser blasts and shell shots flying between the two fleets.   She trained her gunpod on the Songbird, but held fire.  "Did you know about this?  Did you allow the rest of us to be dupes so you could have your toy?"  The words fell out almost monotone, only the barest twinge of anger betrayed in the Genius' comments.  "Answer.  Your life depends on it."



#4
Coolhand

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He already knew she was deadly accurate, he'd seen it once before. However he also knew he was skillful enough to evade her fire if it came down to it, still it paid to stack the odds in his favour. Altering his trajectory he intercepted the drifting merc fighter and with a fluid gerwalk transformation he grabbed onto the dead fighter. Taking manual control of the transformation systems he swung both legs back into their fighter configuration but kept the arms deployed. His plan was to use the wreck as a shield from any oncoming fire.

 

Spying a nearby friendly ship he set course and opened comms to Denise.

 

“Last I remember you bugged out well before I did.” he weaved through laser fire almost as a second thought “Rescuing those pilots was my own decision, no government had any play in that.”

 

Abruptly he banked the Songbird towards the Genius, interposing his makeshift shield between her and him. Gunning the throttle he initiated another mad charge towards her swinging all PPBs onto his crafts arms. Missile lock took mere fractions of a second and both leg bays disgorged sending small clusters of missiles out and around towards his foe. He would give her as little time and as many targets as possible to shoot or evade.

 

He could only assume she would open fire. Releasing his shield he reformed into fighter configuration and shot past her mere moments before a potential collision, he threw in some cheeky rear laser shots during the pass. Ramming the throttles as hard as they could possibly go he opened up distance between them. An unfortunate NUSA pilot chose that moment to engage Dwer who retaliated with a fusillade of deadly accurate laser blasts that all but tore the fighter in half.

 

Pieces of metal and debris pinged off Songbird's hull as he passed between the two halves of the deceased Valkyrie and he again vectored in on the friendly warship. He chose this momentary lull to speak.

 

“No I don't know about 'this' whatever 'this' may be.” His irritation was clear even over the battlefield interference “My home was independent long before this 'movement' of yours. As far as I'm concerned they're no better than the Zents.”

 

He kept his flight pattern erratic, knowing she would be in pursuit. An idle check of his six o'clock confirmed as much.

 

Look if you want to talk this out there are better places to do this. If you want to fight then start fighting for fucks sake. You weren't this chatty last time I swear.”

 

With any luck he wouldn't have to fight her, he didn't want to fight her. Frankly he was scared of her, he just wasn't sure if she was actually his enemy at this point. To his front the friendly frigate was growing larger, he didn't expect the ship would affect the outcome of this much but it was better than open space.



#5
Vertigo

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"No, I wasn't" the Genius replied as she deftly maneuvered around Dwer's charge.  Her head lasers swiveled violently and cut the missiles out of space.  Falling backwards she reconfigured into fighter mode and gave chase.  She gave equally contemptuous rolls over the obviously insulting laser shots.  This pilot was good, no doubt.  He might even be above the top 1% of all the pilots she had ever crossed paths with in combat.  Less than that number had actually survived the encounter.

 

She threw the fighter over in a high angle yo yo around another dogfight and blazed away with her lasers.  Dwer's evasive caused the port side beam to barely miss and the second impacted on his PPB.  There was a minimal loss of power.  The shield could stop another attack easily.  The Genius power forward, the massive engines of the F/AV-1 cranking out the acceleration as she passed by the wreck of a NUSA cruiser.  She dropped two missiles onto Dwer and pulled above him.  Switching to her internal bay she lined up the shot on her next target and let loose.

 

A single large missile departed from the right leg of the Phoenix and headed towards the frigate.  Radiological warnings screamed in Dwer's cockpit as his sensors confirmed the launch of a reaction missile.  The angle and high velocity of the missile guaranteed that the frigate would not be able to successfully engage its CIDS before the warhead reached a fatal range.  Dwer might be able to intercept before it armed, but he had seconds to make that decision and he had two deadly pursuers of his own to deal with.

 

The Genius reconfigured to battroid, cut her velocity, and bulls eyed a charging Nightmare as it tried to intervene.  No, this was Dwer's stage alone, and she wanted to see how he would perform, and she would brook no interference from anyone.  Two corporate fighters and a UN Thunderbolt died for the audacity of merely being present in the immediate vicinity.  What will you choose?



#6
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That one action immediately made up his mind as to what she was, she was most certainly his enemy of that there was now no doubt. His counter-action needed no deliberation, he was going after that missile. He'd put the frigate in the line of fire and he was going to remove them from it.

 

Reflecting his namesake Coolhand gunned the throttles trying to eek out every last bit of power from the Songbird's overtaxed engines. He jerked back on the stick kicking the custom Excalibur onto its 'tail' relative to the missiles chasing him. Two deft thumb movements deployed countermeasures as the Songbird accelerated nearly effortlessly through what was essentially a right angle turn.

 

One of the missile took and exploded inside the chaff field, the other overshot and struggled to follow through the turn. Follow it did however although it had lost significant ground. Ground Dwer would sorely need as he angled in on a point ahead of the missile, his combat computer indicating they would intersect there. It was uncomfortably close to the Frigate but there were no other options.

 

Distance closed rapidly, he was going to make it in time but his firing window would be minuscule. Time seemed to slow as his thumb depressed the firing stud for his wing-root lasers, it almost stood still as the two incandescent beams impacted with the missile. One beam punched through the main fuselage of the missile but went clean through without damaging anything important. The second impacted the tail assembly and slagged a good half of it causing the missile to veer wildly off course. While this didnt outright destroy the warhead it gave the frigate crew time enough to bring its CIDS to bear and destroy it.

 

Dwer had no time to celebrate though as the missile from before caught up with him. Reflexively he switched the Songbird into Battroid turning as he did. Head lasers snapped into position and the missile was soon dealt with.

 

Scanning his surroundings he relocated the Genius Valkyrie, he immediately noticed she was essentially immobile. Not wanting to miss the opportunity he swivelled his battroid and fired the wing lasers 'from the hip'. His computer confirmed a hit but Dwer was unable to verify if any damage had been done at this sort of range.

 

Seizing that small advantage Dwer switched back to fight and pointed the nose at her. Pushing the throttles to the stops he once again closed the distance with her, lasers blazing. She would either have to meet him head to head or attempt to run either was fine by Dwer, he wasn't running this time.



#7
Vertigo

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The Genius smiled.  This one did not fail to impress, like so many other Spacy pilots.  Not many people could have made that intercept.  Even less could have sliced that missile up without detonating the very lethal warhead it carried.  The bomb exploded harmlessly away from the frigate.

 

She brought her reinforced PPB up as the initial blasts came in.  The Phoenix class of valkyrie had larger than average reactors even for a mecha as big as it was.  This was in turn fed into the defensive screen, allowing it to deflect beams as large as those carried on capital ships, though the system could not take the strain of a follow up shot from a weapon of that caliber.  Dwer's beams impacted and split harmlessly to either side of the Genius' valkyrie.

 

She fell backwards as her shield absorbed the first of the trailing volley.  Converting into fighter she gunned the engines and took the lead in this race.  Weaving between debris fields and broken ships, she wove a path through the battle, crossing between the NUSA lines and the Spacy lines.  At times she extended the gap, at other times she dipped back, dropping a missile or pulsing a laser blast at Dwer.  The Songbird was an able craft, and with Coolhand at the helm it easily kept pace with the bigger Phoenix.

 

She was about to dive for the planet and see if he could follow her through an atmospheric pursuit when a bright light burst into life far off by the second moon.  Larger and more brilliant than any reaction weapon explosion she had been party, she briefly lost her concentration as the whole canopy strained to polarize itself from the bright new star that had just ignited in the midst of the battlefield.

 

"Meg..." she whispered, barely loud enough for the comm line to pick up and automatically send to Dwer's position.  Thrown from her previous plans, the Genius recovered, switching to battroid and taking a defensive guard towards Dwer's position.  She could have shot, but something kept her from depressing the firing stud.  Instead, she carried on her momentum and ceded control of the fight to her dance partner.



#8
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Dwer furrowed his brow as he gave chase. Her craft clearly had the advantage in a straight line, she could easily have turned the situation around yet she chose to continue the race. His Songbird was slightly underpowered for a VF-19, coupled with her inability to fit the standard booster packs he was at a fairly significant power disadvantage.

 

 

Occasionally the gap between them closed and they exchanged fire, most of which was ineffective. Any shots that did land were simply absorbed by barriers or were mere scrapes and burns.

 

It looked like they were about to go into a dive for the planet when a long dormant instrument panel lit up like fireworks on the cockpits HUD. It took Dwer a moment to realise what the new reading was.

 

“The flying fuck? Here?” he said more than loud enough for the comms to pick up. The Spiritia readings were off the register. Mere moments later space near the second moon erupted into light.

 

Rather than trying to look Dwer rolled the Songbird so the canopy was facing away from the explosion. He'd seen this kind of light before, out on the frontiers of space. But the I'or couldn't be here, nor would they care about some human conflict.

 

“Somebody you know?” Dwer responded to the whisper.

 

Not skipping a beat he zeroed in on The Genius battroid. Missile lock soon followed and the Songbird's leg bays disgorged a small cloud of micro missiles. Kicking in the afterburner he went 'high' in a circle disgorging another pack of missiles before inverting and pulling around behind her, putting himself between her and the planet.

 

Gravity's grasping hands found the Songbird and began to pull Dwer toward the planet. Converting to battroid he levelled his gunpod and let rip, the GU-15 letting out its trademark high pitched whir. Bullets tracked up the left leg of The Genius valkyrie diagonally towards the right shoulder.

 

Barriers absorbed a good deal of the fire but at such short range the system could only keep up with so much. Dwer could clearly see shrapnel fly from the large Phoenix class.

 

Dwer smirked to himself momentarily but didn't let this small victory go to his head. Switching back to fighter mode he angled for re-entry and readied for her to follow.



#9
Vertigo

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Denise sat in rapt attention to the blue white sun that was her commanding officer.  She had read the reports on Megadami, seen the video footage of her training.  She had seen her friend obliterate whole star ships with the flick of a wrist.  These all paled to the reality that now confronted Denise.

 

"Somebody you know?"

 

She hadn't realized she'd sent him a message.  The missile warnings bleeped vaguely in her mind.  Sweeping the the gunpod around she mechanically sighted in and shot the two missile volleys out of space.  Denise dimly saw her target loop around and power down towards Eden.  Fire ripped into her, stitching a gash from hip to shoulder, marring her otherwise pristine mecha.  Fire the Genius should have avoided.

 

Brought back to the here and now, the Genius snarled at her own hesitation.  Reconfiguring to battroid she set herself on a parallel arc to Dwer's own entry path.  The Spacy pilot had been good enough to time his re-entry.  The two mecha would hit the upper atmosphere and be unable to deal with each other.  The Genius set herself to come around at him from a 10 kilometer spacing.  This one would not get the best of her.

 

She watched him fall beside her, leading her down to Eden.  The bright orange spec stood in contrast to the blue world below.  What were they fighting for?  Why had she done this?  Thoughts rolled about her mind as the altimeter ticked off.

 

The fireball of Dwer's path subsided, only her sensors now able to track the fast moving speck.  A few seconds would find her safely through the barrier.  Her hands curled around the HOTAS, the computer outlining the VF-19 as it reacquired a solid lock.

 

Why were they fighting?  Because we must.

Why had she done this?  Because she was the Genius.  No other would contest that.

 

Breaking through, the Genius switched over to atmospheric flight and threw the engines to full.  The intakes greedily sucked down air as the big fighter's thrusters flared bright.  She would turn this into a slashing fight, denying the smaller fighter the turning battle it needed to win.  The computer chimed an optimal shot.  Letting loose, she flung dual laser beams in front of Dwer's nose, just to make sure he was paying attention. 

 

Her Phoenix cut past him, a bare half mile separating the two fighters as she broke from the merge.  The Genius cut more fire his way, pulsing energy ever closer, letting him know his life was hers to take whenever she wanted.  A thought came to her mind, a moment of clarity regarding the entire conflict.  She briefly halted her fire, linking the two valkyries with a laser comm line.

 

"You do know, regardless of the outcome today, we can never go home."



#10
Coolhand

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No sooner had Dwer regained control of his aircraft than dual lances carved through the air in front of the fighter’s nose. He didn’t even flinch; instinct told him he would not be hit if he feathered the rudder just so. It took only a second to get eyes on the larger fighter as it climbed and banked for another pass.

 

He was learning a few things about his opponent as they fought. Firstly she was arrogant beyond all sensible measure, which was not unusual among ace pilots but she was an exemplar even amongst such people. Secondly she liked to, no needed to be in control. Her aggressive piloting now was a result of having control taken away, even if it was only for a moment.

 

However for one so talented her style was very ‘by the book’. Every maneuver, every shot fired was done with utmost precision and calculation. She lacked a certain raw edge Dwer had seen in the truly brilliant pilots, what this equated to he wasn’t yet sure. He’d just have to keep her on the back foot as much as he could.

 

More laser fire arced toward him as Dwer  turned into Denise’s attack, giving her the smallest firing window possible. He pulsed off a volley of his own before the two disengaged. She was toying with him, trying to put fear into him. That arrogance was something Coolhand planned to punish. But first he needed to gain an advantage.

 

Both fighters angled for another pass however their maneuvers differed. Whereas Denise elected to climb Dwer elected to bank as she started her dive. Not only did this provide a tiny window of attack for both pilots it gave Dwer control over where they engaged. Every pass Dwer was bleeding altitude, forcing Denise to come lower to engage him.

 

While this still gave Denise the energy advantage modern performance made this much less of a factor. In a low altitude, low speed engagement  the Songbird had the upper hand and while she was no slouch in the present engagement type Denise had more advantages than he did.

 

After several furious exchanges of fire and high-G maneuvering  a momentary lull settled over the battle, his opponents voice chirping in over the comms.

 

“You know, you assume a lot.” His voice barely strained as he banked, pointing his nose at her craft.

 

“You probably don’t even know my name let alone where I’m from.”

 

No shots were fired in this pass, a sort of unspoken duellists agreement that one does not fight and talk at the same time. Dwer passed underneath Denise’s fighter before inverting and performing a tight Split-S , contrails streaming off his wingtips.

He caught the barest glimpse of her engine fires, but it was enough for a missile lock. Leg mounted bays disgorged a small six missile flight before Dwer rolled the Songbird and pointed her beak towards the surface of Eden, executing a full throttle dive.



#11
Vertigo

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The Genius rocked forward on the stick, pushing down onto the rising Songbird as the pilot shot back his comment.

 

“You know, you assume a lot.  You probably don’t even know my name let alone where I’m from.”

 

He passed underneath her, her finger unclenched despite the kill shot she could have delivered.  It wasn't surprise that stopped her.  It wasn't even a desire to drag things on even longer.

 

It was a sign of respect that she would give him the response to his question.

 

Even as Dwer flipped around and disgorged his missiles, the Genius responded.  "Dwer 'Coolhand' Koolhan, formerly of Helios, now working for UN Intel attached to Skull Squadron.  I know you all too well."  She slipped sideways, decoys fanning in her wake to suck off four of the missiles.  The other two closed in.  "And you assume a lot also."

 

The Genius pushed her fighter downward into the denser atmosphere.  Plowing into the cloud level she pulled her battroid lever and converted form.  Thrusters firing, she kicked up an enormous condensation bubble as she suddenly applied friction to massive flat surface.  The overtechnology field could easily handle the strain, but the physics of the atmosphere could not.  The Phoenix mecha was temporarily obscured by the sudden creation of localized cloud cover as the two missiles streaked in.  The battroid strained to follow the Genius' command as it cartwheeled up and over the missiles.  The proximity sensors on the warheads attempted to detonate, but gravity and speed carried them far beyond any position of doing the NUSA variable fighter any harm.

 

"Do you really think everything will go back to the way it was?"  She converted back to fighter, the distance opening between them as he weapons came to bear.  "Some of those on Helios sided with us.  Many of them fought along side us, against you.   I can tell you, you killed many of them."

 

She got a solid lock on the Songbird.  A single larger missile flew from its berth and streaked down at him.  Not wanting to disappoint, she spun the Phoenix around its axis, loosing missiles from her FAST packs in a blossom of death, limiting his evasive options and preventing him from detonating the entire volley in one action.  The Genius pushed her throttle forward, gaining her power curve back.  "You probably could live on Helios once this is done, but you will have to wonder: who there chose to be a dupe?  What do they think of you?  Even if it was from the other side of opposed barrels, you still willingly took Helian lives.  Did you kill your neighbor's husband?  Sister?  Father?"

 

She ducked the fighter down, screaming for a coastline now coming into view.  Her previous attack should be devastating, but this Coolhand had a propensity to survive.  She hoped he realized that was the gist of the message as he understood it.  "I think that is the difference between us.  I think you might be able to accept a life like that.  I cannot.  I am a killer.  I could never tolerate being judged by cowards that don't understand this."  The Phoenix stood off from the Songbird, diving down, waiting for the inevitable explosion.

 

"Helios may be the planet you protect, but the cockpit is your true home."



#12
Coolhand

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“Helios” he slammed Songbird into the equivalent of an aerial donut, spinning to face the oncoming missile swam “can look after itself!”

 

“I am simply a solider.” Throttles opened up and the Songbird’s ‘feet’ flared “Sworn to uphold the ideals of the original colonists.” Crosshairs cantered on the larger missile and paired beams lanced out from Songbird’s wing roots. The missile was cleaved in twain mid flight and a second pulse incinerated both halves before its payload went critical.

 

Momentarily confused by the death of their brethren Dwer shot past the oncoming missiles in the tiny window before they re-acquired. Missile turned inwards towards him, their exhaust trails forming a flower shape that would have been oddly beautiful if only Dwer wasn’t intent on not dying.

 

Missile closed rapidly and time seemed to slow down as his thumb brushed over the mode shift control. As the change to gerwalk began he yanked back on the stick hard putting his craft into a backwards flip, an incredibly risky maneuver that made the craft very unstable.

 

He raised the left arm pushing the pin-point barrier to full forward, right arm swinging the gunpod to bear with the missile a mere second away from impact. He calmly depressed the firing stud catching the first few missiles and the entire swarm went up causing the flower to bloom spectacularly.

 

Explosions rocked all around Dwer as he desperately tried to retain control. His pin-pint barrier flashed yellow, then red and finally winked out of existence unable to absorb any more. The physical shield on the left started to report damage before a stray missile that had avoided destruction detonated directly to his left slamming Dwer hard into the right side of his cockpit, robbing him of consciousness.

 

He awoke several second later in free fall, Songbird somehow having converted to batrroid. Quickly scanning his instruments revealed that damage was pretty minor all things considered; the left arm shield had absorbed the lion’s share of the damage and the rogue missile had only caused armour damage.

 

Regaining control he jettisoned the now useless lump of metal and assumed fighter mode again. Scanning the horizon he easily found his adversary again. He pointed himself towards the upcoming coastline, but kept his nose down bleeding off altitude.

 

“The cockpit may be where I live, but Helios is my home. That I think is the difference between the two of us.”



#13
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"Finally..."

 

The Genius watched as Dwer dealt with the missile volley.  Admittedly his solution had been rather unorthodox, downright risky in its attempt, but she would have expected nothing less from this pilot.  She even stifled a momentary wince as the last missile skirted around his defenses and exploded.  The valkyrie spun away and down, following her lead.

 

"Finally, someone with conviction.  Never lose that, Dwer.  It is the only thing that is going to see you win."

 

The Genius leveled out at two thousand feet and reconfigured to fighter.  Satellite data fed into her fighter, updating her on the battle.  The last of the corporate ships had fallen, and the remnants of the colonial members of the NUSA were standing down.  Here and there sporadic fights and hopeless holdouts flared and died as the numerically superior Spacy forces quashed all remaining resistance.  One interesting point of data caught her attention as she put the Phoenix into a lazy turn back towards Dwer.

 

The larger variable fighter flared brightly as Denise push the throttle all the way to the stops.  Her gauges indicated just enough fuel to complete this last task, but she wasn't getting back into orbit.  She knew, from the schematics provided by NUSA Intel, that the Songbird couldn't match her acceleration or her top end, but it had the legs to follow her and get back into space.  The Genius grinned to herself, the thought of what this last course of action entailed.

 

She shot a data beam to Dwer's fighter, not really concerned anymore if anyone else picked it up.  It showed her updated flight plan and a coordinate plot, along with the satellite feed and a track on a high energy mark falling from orbit.

 

"Come on, Mr. Coolhand.  Time to show you the end of all this."



#14
Coolhand

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Dwer too had been receiving data on the conflict above, Skull had mopped up it's immediate area and was regrouping for a final push toward the enemy flagship. Incoming comm signals lit up his HUD as his squad tried to reach him, he set his computer to automatically deny those requests. His fight was down here and it was his fight alone.
 
Briefly studying the flight plan sent to him he adjusted course and gave chase, leaving a generous distance between himself and the larger Valkyrie. The Genius seemed to have ceased hostilities for now, more intent on showing him whatever the falling energy signature was it would seem. Songbird still had more than enough fuel in the tank to make the trip, plus he was curious.
 
"I would hear your name before this all ends, seeing as you clearly know mine."


#15
Vertigo

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Denise circled around the falling wreck of a ship.  What thrusters and counter grav units the still functioned in the hulk were slowing down its descent, but that hardly mattered.  The wreck would fall in the outlands, and even the tremendous impact would affect very little of anything.  No, what was more important was what was happening on the deck of the ship.

 

"I would hear your name before this all ends, seeing as you clearly know mine."

 

She smiled childishly to herself.  That question was so simple, yet so loaded with nuance.  This one had not disappointed.  If this was to be the deciding confrontation, she could afford one last request from a worthy opponent.  "Denise.  My name is Denise.  I am the Genius.  I have no need for a last name."  She said it softly and succinctly, a reverent tone to some past sacrifice.  "I am glad to have met you, Dwer.  I am also glad that I could share this with you."

 

She rolled the fighter into a shall arc, coming around but maintaining the distance between her and the Songbird, keeping the wreckage ever between themselves.  "This war was fabricated to widen the bank statements of people who do not understand what we deal with out here.  It is a lie that blinded us and has torn us down when we need to be preparing."

 

As if to punctuate her statement, a blue white flare of a beam burst from the ship, the plasma blast loosed at point blank range at its target.  Dwer could feel an anger following in the wake of attack, but it hadn't been aimed for him or Denise.  A valkyrie leapt back from a rend in the hull.  Fire blackened and half melted, it swung its gunpod up and fired blasts back into the hole from its one good arm.  A second valkyrie, pockmarked and almost evenly as blackened as its opponent emerged.  It shrugged off the fire with some sort of field, colors of the entire spectrum playing wildly across as every fourth shot managed to break the plane.  The latter opponent, Dwer could tell, had the relative size and build of Denise's own Phoenix.  The other one might have at one point been an Excalibur.  The damage was too extensive to tell, and neither was broadcasting a transponder code.  It was a wonder either mecha was still functioning.

 

Denise had grown used to the sensation of her commander in combat, but even she was overwhelmed by the raw emotions rolling out of Megadami and her opponent.  Dwer was getting a taste of the myriad passions burning in the two combatants even as he closed.  Anger, hatred, betrayal, disappointment and righteous fury co-mingled between the two of them and hit him like a fist in his restraints.  Each shot, each blow, each lance, each strike was punctuated as energy boiled between the two.  The larger AVF flung a palm out flat and hurled a lash of plasma at the UN VF.  The VF reacted with almost impossible speed, ducking under the arc and charging in close, its gunpod coming in to club the NUSA mecha.  The blow missed as the AVF hopped back to the rear section of the debris and loosed two missiles.  Both were dead on, and then parted ways, pushed out of their flight paths at hard ninety degree angles.  The Excalibur advanced, its hip lasers pouring fire at its opponent.  Each laser blast seemed almost too big for the emitter they were fired from, reminding Dwer more of ship blasts than anything an VF could manage to fire.

 

"This is the secret that's been buried in this war" Denise started, continuing her circle.  "This is what both sides were willing to hide, to nurture, and to unleash against each other."  She brought the VF level, checked her remain stores, and took a deep sigh.  "There are beings of this immense power here, with us.  Created by a government so scared of loosing control it created living weapons capable of undoing the entire human race, no matter how far we spread.  Do you understand now?  In their hubris, humanity has outdone the Protoculture.  We have created our own extinction, and the end of the entire universe."

 

Denise closed her eyes, listening to the radar tick off the range to the Songbird.  Fuel was becoming even more scarce.  Resolve replacing melancholy, the Genius opened her eyes.  "I refuse to accept that.  I refuse to let anyone else dictate my life, be they UN, Neo-US, or any being.  I will survive, because I will be the best, and I will kill anything or anyone that threatens me.  I can only prove my superiority by encountering the best and defeating them.  Defeating you.  That brings me closer to my commander, my friend" she gestured to the battle scarred AVF "and closer to that monster that has tormented her for so long.  Your friend.  I will end him so that he never hurts either of us ever again." 

 

The Genius angled her fighter back to engage Dwer, her targeting computer already seeking locks for the last of her missiles.  She'd dole them out sparingly.  She was done, one way or another, in a few minutes.  "I will fight to be stronger, and I can only get there by killing YOU."

 

Four missiles sprang from her mecha's bays and raced towards Dwer.



#16
Coolhand

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There it was, the raw edge that had been absent until now. He now understood who he was facing. Reacting almost before his opponent had begun her attack, his fighter lurched forward as if it had a will of its own. Missiles inbound he threw the Songbird into a tight barrel roll spewing countermeasures in his wake, causing them to overshoot. Snap shots from head lasers skewered two but the other pair escaped the resulting explosion, resuming pursuit.

 

“Denise…” he let out a sigh over comms “Disappointing.”

 

She didn’t shy from the head-on pass. Beams lanced out from both mecha as the distance rapidly closed, both did what they could to evade but neither was willing to give ground. Dwer’s shot pierced the larger fighters right intake cowling, Denise’s return shot slagged his left wing. Both pilots felt the effects of the damage instantaneously. A fuel explosion ripped into the larger Phoenix. Denise swiftly shut the effected engine down, there was no damage to the transformation linkage so she kicked the legs out in an attempt to stabilise.

 

Suddenly bereft of a primary control surface the Songbird span violently. Grimacing against intense g-forces Dwer instinctively initiated a battroid conversion. His ears were treated to the screeching sound of metal tearing as the fused wing root connection tore from the fuselage. Thinking fast he rolled the battroid 360 degrees, grabbing the dismembered wing in the right manipulator and gunned the engines toward the Genius’ unstable Valkyrie.Realising what was about to happen Denise opened fire, gunpod and lasers blazing. But the Songbird was moving erratically from the spin. Several shots found their mark, tearing deep gouges into the battroid’s armour in a savage fusillade.

 

It wasn’t enough, the Songbird slammed the broken wing section into the larger VF as if wielding a blade. Denise wrenched the yokes in an attempt to evade, having the sense to throw her cockpit away from the strike. Pin-point barriers pushing forward as the left arm bore the brunt, but they weren’t configured to take such an attack. With a sickening crunch the makeshift club struck home, barriers flared but the arm beneath buckled and twisted as the former wing wrapped itself around the limb like a ribbon.

 

Then the missiles struck home.

 

Both the missiles that Dwer had missed had found him again. Two warheads detonated right on top of the entangled duellists, blowing them apart as both pilots threw themselves away from the blast.

Alarms were blaring in Dwer’s cockpit, one of the missiles had impacted directly on the Songbird’s dorsal thruster unit. Flashing red on his MFD’s indicating the thrusters were non-functional, he couldn’t rely on them for power anymore. Denise had fared better, her heavier mecha had been shielded from most of the blast by Dwer.

 

Dwer checked on his stores, his gunpod was nearly empty and he had only two missiles in the leg bays. FAST packs had long since run dry of both ammunition and fuel, best to jettison them while he had the chance. That last exchange hadn’t been a good, without the dorsal thrusters maintaining altitude in battroid was going to be difficult and without a wing fighter mode would be all but uncontrollable in a dogfight.

 

“Well, at least she’s hurting too. Hold together for me birdie.”

 

In the distance scintillating energy tore through the falling ship, explosions rippling across its surface. Neither pilot had time to watch as they found each other again, the fight began anew.

 

Denise was now in battroid mode, her left arm a tangled mess of scrapped joints and VF-19 wing. Her single engine was insufficient for her to maintain altitude and she was descending toward the coastline below. Dwer pushed his own battroid toward her. Radar warnings blared as a flight of six missiles bloomed out from the Phoenix, the final missiles in her bays. She was clearly firing them defensively, trying to buy her enough time to make landfall. She filled the air with laser fire as she descended.

 

Forced to respond and low options Dwer brought his gunpod to bear and let loose with its last gasp, the distinctive screaming whir of the GU-15 filled his cockpit followed by a loud series of clacks as it ran dry. Blossoms of fire filled his vision as the missiles were swatted from the sky. Opening the throttles the Songbird rushed towards Denise and her Phoenix. Dwer would get one slashing pass at her before she touched down and he was going to make the most of it. Laser fire arced up towards him, Dwer juked to the left and pirouetted right. More and more and more came, each time he evaded by a whisker’s length, the paint on the Songbird’s hull cracked and bubbled as white hot death came within inches.

 

“No gunpod fire. Must be empty.”

 

Lining up his crosshairs he got solid tone and launched his last two missiles, both were quickly vaporised by laser fire. Using the momentary distraction he charged in, pin-point barriers swirling around the Songbird’s fists as he let loose with a Mach 1 punch. Crackling destruction found only air as the Genius cut her engine, rapidly dropping below him.

 

“As expected”

 

Dwer kicked the battroid onto its head as incandescent rage came from below. Dwer pushed both fists out towards the laser blast. Energy clashing with the barriers, a small star erupted between the two mecha. Without hesitating Dwer cranked the engines and set the battroid spinning, pushing down like a 10 ton energy drill. Lasers parting to either side Songbird slammed into Denise. Sparks flying as metal shattered under the thruster assisted corkscrew. Few normal pilots would continue fighting after such a stunt.

 

The Genius was far from normal. Suddenly Dwer felt gravity reverse, his VF-19 changing places with the larger FA/V-1. Her mecha was torn to shit, but somehow she’d gotten hold of the left arm and reversed position. Dwer desperately tried to get his thrusters in line but it was too late, the ground rushed up to meet them. Sky turned to sand as with both feet firmly planted on his back she drove his battroid into the dirt. All he could see was stars as he was smashed around in his seat. His Songbird fared worse, fuselage sections caved in and visor glass shattered. Head lasers bent and his other wing tore off in a hail of sparks.

 

Triumphant, the Genius stood over her crumpled foe. Capacitors charged, her head lasers were to finish the job.

 

“Now Dwer, It ends.” Denise’ voice came crackling over the comm. He almost thought he heard a twang regret in her voice.

 

Her moment was suddenly interrupted by a loud crunching sound and her Phoenix crashing to the ground, her legs swept from under her. Countless rounds on the mat with Olga meant Dwer had spent more than his share of time on the floor. His mecha complained violently as he pushed it to its knees and turned it around.Battered and bruised Dwer drove Songbird’s fist towards the head of the enemy mecha. Metal and glass shattered under the blow as the fist dug deep. He wrenched it back out dragging a tangle of electronics with him before her thrusters flared, carrying her away.Dragging the heavily damaged VF-19 to its feet he tried to bring the left arm up only to find it was gone, torn off somewhere along the beach. Pinpoint barriers were fried and the right legged was twisted. He readied his one good first as his adversary stood herself up.

 

Two metal giants stood, the sun setting behind them and the waves lapping at their feet, in the distance a warship fell. Both bereft of armament and damaged beyond reason they made one last push.

 

He watched as Denise reached over wither her VF’s right arm and ejected the damaged left one into its grasp. She readied her makeshift club and she lunged. Again Olga’s training flashed through his mind.

 

As she swung he stepped, pushing Songbird into the blow, right fist extended. Both strikes connected simultaneously, Songbird’s head was ripped clean off but his strike hit home. Metal fist connected with the hip structure of the Phoenix, crushing the joint assembly and shattering the structure. Unable to stand the FA/V-1 crashed to the ground beside him. It was at that moment the twisted leg on the -19 gave out bringing the Songbird to its knees.

 

***

 

15 minutes must have passed in motionless silence. Sunset silhouetting the falling warship as it finally crashed into the water. Energy lances could still be seen darting across its surface, Meg and Eric were far from done. Dwer idly watched the spritia meter flare with every lance. He never did understand why Summer had put that system into the Songbird.

 

Comm reports were flooding in, the NUSA were in full rout and colonial forces were surrendering en-masse. He smiled at a report of the HMDS Gherkin defecting to the UN side, the old Salan class had somehow made it through this whole debacle. He activated his distress beacon, hopefully Skull would see it

“Denise.” his speech was laboured, he’d probably cracked a rib. “You need a better reason to fly, yours is no good.” He took a deep breath and regretted it instantly “My squad is looking for me, you wanna run I won’t stop you. Wouldn’t blame you either, I’ve been on the bad end of an Intel stitch up.” He got no response, not surprising.

 

Streaks of fire lit up the darkening sky, re-entry trails. Magnification showed a Queadluun- Rhea with Jolly Roger markings, the number 5 was clearly emblazoned on its hull. Looks like Kes had found him.  He relaxed into his seat and closed his eyes.

 

“I’m going home after this. Visit me when you find a good reason to fly. We’ll go another round.”






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