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Tales of the Phoenix:

The Red Dragon

© 1999-2002 Strata Drake of TWZ.

Chapter Four: Enter The Sky Dragon

(Original Draft)

Sheridan froze when Aireus identified the approaching enemy as the Nova Sky Dragon. It was a large VTOL-class aircraft, perhaps the size of a fortress (much like the other two Nova Dragons before it). It had two dual missile launchers underneath its nose, four assorted bomb bays underneath each wing, two large anti-air missile launchers flanking the topside of its fuselage, a twin Flak launcher on top of it, and eight multi-warhead missile launchers positioned on the outside of each bomb bay. Multi-warhead missile launchers were just that--missile launchers capable of arming different warheads on their missiles. Anti-tank warheads, incendiary warheads, anti-air warheads, and most fearsomely, anti-structure warheads. There were no apparent sensors on the Sky Dragon, nor did it have a communications jammer like the Land Dragon. Aireus confirmed that it also lacked the energy barrier that the Sea Dragon had. As it approached, it let off a volley of air-to-ground antitank missiles in the distance. All exploded distantly (presumably, as though the Sky Dragon was attacking the retreating white tanks).

Sheridan gave a retreat order and Nigel followed suit. All of them were on the move back through the mountains towards the eventual safety of their base. The route would, however, be a long one; longer still, if the Sky Dragon engaged them. Sheridan recalled the visual feed from their former island base, and remembered the large aircraft that mopped up their island home (and the sensor tower). That must have been the Nova Sky Dragon. Sheridan could not judge from experience what the Sky Dragon was capable of, but judging from appearances, the Sky Dragon was more heavily armed than the other two Nova Dragons, and since it was an airborne vehicle, it was less vulnerable than the other two put together--even more, given its outer layer of "dragon-plated" armor. The Sky Dragon meandered over towards their cliffside outpost and began assaulting it with air-to-ground missiles. Sheridan watched as much as he could before a hill blocked his view. Even though he could not see the actual missile impacts, Sheridan could judge the destruction by the large quantity of debris and dust being thrown up into the air. The outpost's debris was flying everywhere like a cow pie hitting the proverbial fan, or like how a child happily splashes through a mudpuddle, or like a frog-filled blender put on "liquefy" without its lid. When the destruction was finished, the Sky Dragon slowly followed in their direction.

Upon arrival at the first of their en-route resources, Sheridan phoned home to base. Aireus had told him how the Sky Dragon's engines were (somewhat) vulnerable to EMP warheads, so he gave instructions to arm Avenger-class missiles with small EMP devices. He gave quick orders to the construction units for massive anti-aircraft defenses. Many Cyclone and Whirlwind Flak turrets were constructed quickly, with several Vindicator and Avenger defenses mixed in. Scourge defenses were next to be constructed, and they were. Ten re-arming pads were constructed for Team Fenix--they would need them. Sheridan ordered several sensor towers constructed, and they quickly were.

However, nothing surprised him more than when the Sky Dragon appeared overhead without alerting their sensors. At least the defenses activated with a genuine line of sight. Flak shells filled the sky, but all richochetting off of the Sky Dragon's armor. The surface-to-air missiles fired off, but to little avail with no apparent damage to the Sky Dragon. Team Fenix had their hands full as the Sky Dragon started its assault. It dropped a hail of incendiary bombs upon Sheridan and their site. Team Fenix's re-arming pads burnt up in the foray within seconds, and the construction crew quickly began work dousing fires for new pads. Sheridan's tanks were receiving burn damage (except for his own, thanks to superdense thermal shielding), but it was nothing that the Mantis-class repair drones couldn't handle. Sheridan fixed a visual lock on one of the Sky Dragon's bomb bays and his Scourge drones started firing at it. Team Fenix lost two drone jets when the Sky Dragon fired its fierce air-to-air missiles, and several more were taking damage from its airborne Flak launchers. Team Fenix's jets returned for rearming as the Flak and missile defenses took their place. The Sky Dragon kept up its good endurance of their shells before firing some of its own. Two cannon shells devastated their repair facility and one construction unit. The pilot of that unit had survived, fortunately, and was being picked up by one other member the other construction crew. Sheridan relayed more orders back to base for the larger construction crew. They needed defenses, and fast! There were three more remote power resources en route to their base, offering six chances to slow or stop the Sky Dragon's assault entirely.

The Sky Dragon's next round of missiles was far more ruthless. Armed with thermal warheads, the Sky Dragon instantly shattered 8 of their 16 anti-air defensive emplacements. Sheridan's weapons were having no apparent effect, and Team Fenix wasn't doing much better. Sheridan ordered another retreat, but kept his visual lock on the Sky Dragon as they left so that their weapons would continue firing. However, Sheridan had no sooner proceeded 100 feet away but the Sky Dragon had destroyed what was left of their remote resource. Nigel and three other Team Fenix jets were following Sheridan at full speed, and continued their retreat all the way back to base.

At least the mountains provided some cover. The Sky Dragon kept chasing them, and took out a good five drones and one comrade before Sheridan arrived at the next defended resource, but the hills alone had saved them from perhaps 75 percent of its firepower. Sheridan looked at the defenses. Sheridan ordered one of the construction units back to base with all the salvaged parts they had recovered. At least that truck escaped without being attacked--Sheridan's forces weren't as lucky. The Sky Dragon let off a similar hail of incendiary bombs--a wider spread this time--and in addition to the heat damage upon their outpost, it started a forest fire as well.

Sheridan looked at Aireus. "Any advice?!?" Aireus looked down at Drake, who, instead of resting through the combat, was watching out the side portholes with full interest and a sense of fear. Aireus sadly admitted. "I was not present at the Sky Dragon's testing. All I know about it, you have already seen."

Sheridan was surprised to see Team Fenix back so quickly, and even more surprised to see them using the new Hawk-class jets. Nigel radioed Sheridan. "Good thing you uploaded those chassis schematics earlier. We may need them. From our previous runs, it seems that the Sky Dragon has no thermal air-to-air weapons."

Sheridan replied as his tanks let off another volley of missiles, "Keep your fingers crossed. You might need it."

The Sky Dragon began circling around their oupost. Sheridan lost his visual lock on the Sky Dragon as it ducked behind a hill, and he noticed something unusual--the missiles that Sheridan had launched from his tanks and defenses were failing to compensate for the Sky Dragon's movement. They were missing their target. Sheridan reasoned that because the Sky Dragon was invisible to radar, it was also invisible to missiles. Even if the EMP-armed missiles back at base could be built in time, Sheridan would have a difficult time actually hitting the Sky Dragon's engines with them, for a constant visual lock would be required for the missile warheads to work.

The Sky Dragon appeared from the hillside and let off a volley of explosive-armed missiles into the nearby hillside. The explosions started a landslide. Sheridan quickly evacuated along the mountain trail, followed by two comrades and a few drones. The rest of their outpost--and group--were buried underneath the landslide. The Sky Dragon approached the former outpost and dropped two incendiary bombs--plasmite strength this time--and melted the rock on top of the units. Team Fenix circled around again and made an attack run at the Sky Dragon. The Hawk-class armor protected them from several of the Sky Dragon's attacks, and one Hawk drone even survived a direct hit from the Sky Dragon's anti-air missiles (although, later, it was quickly shot down by Sky Dragon flak). The rest of Team Fenix unloaded their volleys into the Sky Dragon, focusing on its air-to-air weapons systems. They knocked out one Flak launcher but nothing else before they had to re-arm.

Sheridan regrouped with Team Fenix and a fresh batch of drones at the next remote outpost, which included five repair drones. Given the widespread damage being inflicted upon them, the repair drones were a downright necessity. He quickly routed them to his control as the Sky Dragon flew overhead and circled about for attack. This time, it let out a volley of antitank missiles and scrapped half of Sheridan's reinforcements in one salvo. Flak and SAM defenses were active, and Sheridan directed them to the Sky Dragon's bomb bays. The Flak shells and missiles hit the Sky Dragon right on target and disabled one bomb bay and air-to-ground launcher. Sheridan was making some progress, but there was a long way to go. One thought ran through his head--"two down, forty to go..." Sheridan may have been overestimating the Sky Dragon's weapon systems with that thought, but it didn't make his situation any easier, either.

Another hail of bombs--standard VTOL cluster bombs, this time--rained down from the Sky Dragon and impacted their outpost, causing widespread (albeit light) damage. The construction crew was overwhelmed and decided to retreat further to fortify the next--and last--remote outpost before their base itself. Team Fenix's jets quickly returned from re-arming to engage the Sky Dragon once more. Lasers and anti-air weapons flew back and forth as the Sky Dragon tried to focus on them and Sheridan's ground forces, and unlike the Sea Dragon's attempt to focus on two moving targets simultaneously, the Sky Dragon was succeeding, dropping bombs upon the ground forces with its six remaining bomb bays while fighting Team Fenix with Flak and missiles.

Sheridan received a warning on his monitor. His command tank's armor strength had fallen below the 60 percent threshhold, and he immediately retreated for his own safety. His comrades and drones followed while Team Fenix continued to engage the Sky Dragon. Sheridan made it to the last remote outpost without attack.

Upon arrival at the last outpost, he noticed something different. The EMP-class aurface-to-air defenses had been constructed here, rather than at base in safety. At least the Sky Dragon would be in range of their artillery defenses, namely Hellstorm, but this was the last line before their base would be in danger. Team Fenix cruised across the sky, back to base, for re-arming. They had lost a few drone jets, and were now down to a scant 6 jets including Nigel's. Hopefully, their factories at home base would be busy replacing the lost Hawk-class drones. The Sky Dragon appeared over the ridge. Aireus sprang an idea and stood up. "Open the top hatch."

Sheridan gained a visual lock on the Sky Dragon and ordered artillery strikes. Ground Shakers may not be designed for aerial targets, but if Sheridan relayed the visual coordinates, they could fire at the Sky Dragon as easily as if it were a ground target. The Sky Dragon shook from the recoil, but was taking no apparent damage. If they were indeed injuring it, they had no way to tell.

Sheridan recalled Aireus' request. "Negative. We'll try the EMP missiles..." Aerius sat back down. "Okay...." Sheridan refined his visual lock on the Sky Dragon to target one of its engines. "Nigel. Target the other engine. It's time to field-test the EMP missiles." Nigel did so as Team Fenix swung around for their attack run. The Sky Dragon itself was busy concentrating on their previous power resource. It was distracted, and this would be their only easy chance. Nigel gained a visual lock and transferred the target coordinates. Sheridan gave the attack order.

The EMP missiles fired skywards at the Sky Dragon. One missile hit it square in the right wing engine, and the other one curved around and struck it in the left wing engine. The two missiles struck about 1/2 a second apart, but within moments the result was clear. The Sky Dragon's engines shut off and it tumbled down into the ground below, sending and earth-shaking wave of force through the ground and a huge cloud of dust into the air. It was silent.

One small construction team unit volunteered to inspect the fallen Sky Dragon. The pilot moved his truck around the hillside and up the path as Sheridan watched. Nigel safely returned to base once more for re-arming and reinforcements. Sheridan looked in the Sky Dragon's direction in utter disbelief. "It... it can't be this easy!"

Aireus looked back at Sheridan. "You're right." No sooner had Aireus finished his sentence than an explosion rocked ths hillside and the scrapped remains of the construction unit flew overhead in Sheridan's direction, impacting nearby. The Sky Dragon emerged from behind the hillside, and Sheridan could not believe his eyes. It was walking.

Aireus turned to Sheridan. "If you knew that your most valuable air unit could be shot down, wouldn't you provide it with an alternate propulsion system?" Sheridan stared at the Sky Dragon. Its lower fuselage had somehow unfolded into four heavily armored mech-like legs. Its two wings and engines were folded upwards and its missiles launchers were armed. The cockpit itself was elevated slightly for a more aerial view of the ground. Sheridan looked at the Sky Dragon, and then glanced at Drake. Drake was a pet mech, but there was an uncanny resemblance between him and the Sky Dragon--no wonder Bruno, back at the city of Renaissance, took fear upon seeing Drake for the first time. So it would seem that Nexus' most powerful Pre-Collapse creation should resemble the most powerful creature to ever exist in legend--the dragon.

Sheridan gave an attack order. "FIRE!!!" Hellstorm batteries engaged and struck the Sky Dragon. It countered by launching a few of its air-to-ground missiles in counterbattery fashion and levelling the Hellstorm batteries. It approached closer, using its four mechanized legs to traverse quickly around and over the chokepoints near the outpost.

Sheridan recognized the inevitable and retreated back to base. The line was not holding, and this time, it could not be drawn back any further without pushing the base into the very waters it was situated next to. Team Fenix engaged the grounded Sky Dragon once more, disabling two of its missile launchers but little else. They lost two Hawk-class jets in the assault.

Sheridan's drone tanks engaged the Sky Dragon at close range, but to no effect. As if it were Godzilla and them mere New York taxicabs, the Sky Dragon crushed them into the ground underneath its four legs. Sheridan's systems confirmed that he was losing drones, and fast. The factories were hard-put to replace the drones, and if they kept losing units, the base's power reserves would not be enough to sustain much more reinforcements.

The Sky Dragon neared within range of the Fortress defenses sidelining the Project base. The fortresses activated and fired off cannonshells and missiles in its direction, and they seemed to be making an effect. Even if the damage was minimal, the Sky Dragon was recoiling from the blows. Team Fenix took off, once again, to engage the Sky Dragon. It kept a vigiliant weapons lock on them and activated its VTOL engines, lifting itself skywards once again and folded its mechanized legs upwards to form a solid layer of armor on its underside while its nose lowered into flight position and secured itself in place. The simple fact that its underside contained four large mechanized legs would easily explain why all of the Sky Dragon's weapon systems were located either on the nose, wings, or topside (and not on the underside). It flew forwards at a faster speed and engaged Team Fenix. A transmission crackled over Sheridan's com systems. Sheridan answered it and was surprised at what he heard:

"You clipped my wings--allow me to clip yours." Once the transmission was finished, the Sky Dragon fired off a volley of light anti-air missiles from its wings and downed several Team Fenix jets. Without stopping, it flew over their base and dropped bombs specifically on the VTOL pads and factories, destroying the pads and severely damaging the factories. Team Fenix engaged the Sky Dragon again, but lost a few more jets from Sky Dragon flak and heavy anti-air missiles. Nigel's jet itself was hit by one of the missiles, but unlike the other jets, it remained airborne.

Sheridan looked at Aireus in alarm. "Is that thing piloted?!?" Aireus responded negatively. "Shouldn't be. That would take much training. It would have been easier to either control it remotely, or--" Aireus stopped as the Sky Dragon let off another volley of bombs and destroyed the VTOL factories.

Sheridan turned to Aireus again. "Then ... what type of machine refers to itself in the first person?!?"

"Why are you asking me?"

Sheridan shook his head. Aireus had answered, albeit indirectly. For the Nova Sky Dragon to refer to itself as such, it had to have a technology similar to Aireus'. In other words, it had a human brain controlling it--it could think. "Did you know that this thing can 'think' on its own?"

Aireus shook his head once again. "No. But since its project was headed by Mr. Nexus, I would not be surprised."

Not surprised. Aireus had never been surprised by anything (other than the current year) ever since they had met him. A thought flickered in Sheridan's mind. Nigel!

Nigel's jet was still airborne, but badly damged, and his two remaining drones would not last much longer up against the Sky Dragon's arsenal. Sheridan relayed Nigel. "Nigel! Come in!"

Nigel responded quickly. "I've taken substantial damage. I think we've injured it, and believe me, it's pissed! I've got an idea. Be ready to pick me up on the ground!"

Nigel maneuvered his jet far above the Sky Dragon and cut his engines. Sheridan could identify Nigel ejecting from the cockpit as his jet sailed down under the influence of gravity and smacked the Sky Dragon right in the nose with a large explosion. Nigel fell halfway down to the ground before his chute activated. Paratroopers are easy targets, and Nigel was taking an extraoirdinary risk to himself to avoid attracting fire. His parachute opened late and slowed his descent just in time for him to hit the ground. At least Nigel was still alive and relatively uninjured.

Sheridan cringed slightly, and noticed Drake. Drake had turned his attention away from the action and was glazing over his right foreleg, as if searching for a flea. Aireus noticed too. "Sheridan. Open the top hatch. There's one attack we haven't tried."

Sheridan looked at Aireus in surprise. Aireus twisted his right arm slightly and revealed a built-in pod of eight minirockets. He withdrew a jagged metal blade from a shoulder compartment and held it in his left hand. Even in the cockpit light, Sheridan could see--and almost smell--a few bloodstains on the blade. "You never told us you can fight."

Aireus looked back. "You never asked. I was never placed on the front lines, but I did see--and perform--some combat. Our base was invaded by Western Continental soldiers. I stopped them. Now ... I hope there is enough fuel left in my jump pack--"

Sheridan interrupted. "Jump pack? You can fly? ... Aireus, this is no time to be a hero! The Sky Dragon can nuke a drone in a single shot. What do you think it will do to YOU?!?"

Aireus responded. "Let come what may. I cannot be of any service to you here. Open the top hatch. Now!"

Sheridan shook his head and complied. Aireus climbed out, but not before mentioning "I'll see you around," to Sheridan. Drake almost followed him, had Sheridan not quickly closed the hatch again. Sheridan heard Aireus activate some sort of jump pack and lift off. He was quickly lost in the action as Sheridan turned his attention to the Sky Dragon again.

The Sky Dragon circled around and performed a carpet-bombing of their base, inflicting moderate damage upon everything and shaving the top radar dish from the Command Relay Center as well. The Flak sites locked-on to the Sky Dragon's visual signature and started firing again. Still no signs of damage from the Sky Dragon. A repair vehicle drove up to Sheridan's tank and he could identify Nigel riding on top. Nigel quickly hopped aboard and climbed in. He turned to Sheridan. "We've got to stop this thing. I think my jet blew a piece of its armor off, but I cannot tell.... Hey, where's Aireus?"

Sheridan looked down. "He'll . . . . . he'll be in touch." Nigel was puzzled, but after a quick glance at Drake, asked. "Aireus didn't want to attack the Sky Dragon alone, did he?"

Sheridan didn't have time to answer. As if they had EMP'd one of its wing engines, the Sky Dragon seemed to reel out of control. It performed several barrel-rolls and circles, flying about their base as if to get rid of a small intruder. Sheridan looked up. "That's got to be Aireus...."

The base defenses continued to assault the Sky Dragon. It careened onto one side and flew by at low altitude, dismantling a line of defensive structures and cleaving a combat tank clean in half like a French Revolution guillotine decapitates its victims. Miraculously, the tank's pilot had survived, and was now being picked up by a comrade. The Sky Dragon continued its frenzious flight and crashed into one of the hills surrounding the path up the mountains. It quickly came to, folding its wings up and activating its leg propulsion, clambering back up onto four metal-armored legs as it turned around to approach the base. The fortresses targetted it again and fired cannonshells and missiles in its direction, producing little more than recoil.

The tank factories produced what would be their last batch of drones. Sheridan noticed that the drones were armed with rail gun turrets. The research team had pulled off a quick miracle--now it was time to test the rail guns, possibly the only advantage they might have against the Sky Dragon. Sheridan routed the new drones to his command as the Sky Dragon marched closer and trampled the fortresses. The rail guns were within range now, and Sheridan gave the order to attack. They fired off a volley of rail shells into the Sky Dragon, hitting it square in one of its legs. Sheridan looked at the legs, and noticed several small apparent holes in its armor. Nigel identified them as armor gaps. If they were mere burn marks, they could easily be wiped out by a subsequent explosion or detonation, but these marks were remaining. They definitely were gaps in its outer armor, and this was confirmed when the Sky Dragon examined its damaged leg with its sensors, and then took to the sky once more, shifting into its VTOL-like configuration as it ascended to an attack altitude, under a hailstorm of Flak shells and Vindicator-class missiles.

Sheridan breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, they had the one weapon that could pierce a Nova Dragon's outer layer of armor. The Sky Dragon headed for their base, but this time, instead of dropping a hail of bombs, it began firing anti-structure missiles into the base in a rotary manner. Missile after missile impacted and quickly levelled the research and repair facilities as if the Sky Dragon was using a machine-gun like Bunker Buster on them. Sheridan fired another round of rail shells into one of the Sky Dragon's missile launchers and disabled it. It turned towards them and, switching to antitank warheads, let off another--albeit smaller--volley of missiles. Sheridan's group took heavy damage. The remaining two repair vehicles were busy at work while the rail gun drones reloaded. They fired a third volley, impacting it again. It backed off, then approached at high velocity. It swung around and flew above the clifside ridge, laying a carpet of thermal bombs down along one layer of Flak defenses.

Sheridan looked at Nigel. "This is it. It's just you, me, our tanks, and the Sky Dragon now...." The Sky Dragon swung around and dropped another layer of thermal bombs on their other row of Flak defenses.

Sheridan designated the nose of the Sky Dragon this time, right in the cockpit, and fired off some rail shells and missiles. They hit the Sky Dragon squarely in the eyes. The Sky Dragon retaliated with a salvo of four anti-tank missiles, scrapping one of the four railgun drones. It was most definitely mad.

Nigel looked around for some defensive structures of any sort. He spotted them. "Sheridan. The EMP missiles!" Sheridan blinked. The Sky Dragon had not attacked the actual EMP missile defenses, probably because Sheridan had used them so sparingly.

Sheridan nodded. He relayed an attack order to a visual lock on the Sky Dragon's wing engine. They fired. The Sky Dragon evaded the lock, but Nigel compensated for Sheridan, locking onto the other engine, which was successfully hit. For a third time, the Sky Dragon was down on the ground, as it crashed into the ground and kicked up a layer of dust and a cloud of debris.

No sooner had the Sky Dragon stood up on its four mech legs than Sheridan launched a second pair of EMP missiles, hitting it dead on. The Sky Dragon recoiled, and apparently shut down. Sheridan instantly relayed a railgun attack order, but they had only let off one volley of rail shells when the Sky Dragon recovered from the effect and began appraoching. Except for its wings, the Sky Dragon was heavily EMP-shielded, and when hit, recovered in two seconds flat. It marched in their direction and fired off a few volleys of anti-structure missiles, thoroughly devastating the two EMP missile defenses and burning their remains into the ground.

Sheridan noticed that it seemed to be 'limping' slightly as it marched. Apparently, the rail shells must have had an effect on one of its internal systems. Sheridan ordered another volley, this time targetted at the Sky Dragon's upfolded wings. The volley hit, disabling two bomb bays, but the Sky Dragon continued towards them. Sheridan backed his group uphill, behind one of the blind corners, and was surprised to see a few defenses remaining there. He prepared, mentally, for the moment that the Sky Dragon would arrive. It came soon, as the Sky Dragon stood up on top of the cliff wall surrounding the corner and targetted them. Its wings were not in alignment to aim, but its nose turret--a dual heavy cannon--was. It fired off a few shells in Sheridan's direction. He successfully evaded them with no damage. His railgun tanks countered with rail shells and damaged the Sky Dragon. It withdrew, momentarily, then switched its nose weapon to something else--a plasmite launcher. Like the Land Dragon, it had a few hidden weapon systems, and this was one of them. It fired a blue-white plasmite fireball in their direction. Sheridan lost one of the remaining three railgun drones and two other comrades in the heat as he backed further away. The Sky Dragon surmounted the cliffside and landed on the pathway. Sheridan looked up. He knew what type of dangers close-range combat against the Sky Dragon included--namely, getting squashed underneath its massive legs, so he backed around another corner.

Sheridan must have chosen the wrong corner, for he found his group travelling back towards the base. The Sky Dragon intercepted them, activating its wings once more and taking to the air. As it flew overhead, it dropped a small salvo of low-intensity thermal bombs upon Sheridan's group. Sheridan retaliated with his two railgun drones, hitting the Sky Dragon in the tailfin but no more. It swung around and let off a volley of anti-tank missiles. Sheridan's command vehicle took damage, but at least there were a few repair drones still functional to soften the blow. Another volley of rail shells, targetted at the Sky Dragon's wing. Damage, but no effect, as the Sky Dragon zoomed overhead and dropped a plasmite fireball in their direction, damaging all. Sheridan frowned and drove around the corner again as the Sky Dragon circled around. He fired off another small volley of rail shells, hitting the Sky Dragon in one of its engines and causing it to crashland into the ground for a fourth time. The Sky Dragon seemed to anticipate this crashlanding and activated its legged propulsion, landing on four feet with no damage as if it were a cat thrown out of a tree. It turned in their direction and fired off a salvo of antitank missiles again.

The damage warning alarm on Sheridan's console blinked again, indicating 60 percent damage. Sheridan retreated with his group as they endured another harsh salvo of anti-tank missiles. The Sky Dragon kept firing, but as Sheridan evaded, the missiles exploded in vain up against the hillsides that soon got in the way. Sheridan looked at Drake. Drake was looking back with at him with a truly fearstruck expression. Drake wasn't programmed to understand the exact situation, but even for a pet mech, he knew something was wrong and was afraid. Sheridan looked at Nigel, whose head was buried in his arms upon the console and was repeatedly muttering something like "this can't be happening..." Sheridan looked back. The Sky Dragon would soon be upon them, and even if they had truly disabled one of its engines, they were still outmatched.

Sheridan gave a distressed sigh. He looked at Drake and Nigel again. Then, slowly picking up the transmitter and holding it in his hand for a few moments, Sheridan closed his eyes and issued the one command that he was afraid of . . . .