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Tales of the Phoenix:

The Red Dragon

© 1999-2002 Strata Drake of TWZ.

Chapter Eight: The Rematch

(Original Draft)

"All units, evasive action!"

The first salvo of enemy missiles--air-to-ground missiles armed with antitank warheads--flew in and impacted against the Dragon Shield's barrier like flies on a windshield. Despite the detonation, the explosive charges from the missiles sent high-speed debris raining down upon Sheridan's group. Sheridan grabbed the radio communicator.

"Nigel, Falco; get Lionel's group on the line. Tell them to escort the salvage group back to home base; and tell our research team that we need those rail guns! STAT!"

Sheridan looked back up at the sky as the arriving enemy--nothing less than the Nova Sky Dragon itself--hovered closer on its large jet engines, firing off another salvo of antitank missiles. The missiles detonated against their EMF barrier, but the detonations still sent debris and explosives raining down upon the group. Their Dragon Shield may not be protecting Sheridan's group of jeeps and soldiers completely, but it was blocking a good 98 percent of the Sky Dragon's firepower.

Falco radioed back as the groups continued to retreat. The Sky Dragon hovered over them, covering most in its shadow. Opening its bomb bays, it dropped a salvo of sixteen medium-intensity explosive bombs on them. The Dragon Shield protected them from the Sky Dragon's bombs, but debris still rained down upon thegroup. "'ll be a good 15 minutes for Lionel's advance group to make it home. Give another twenty minutes to get back'll take a good 40 minutes, at least, for any help to arrive. Provided that the Sky Dragon doesn't anticipate this and blow them up."

Sheridan sighed before responding. "It'll do no good if we drag the fight home before we can even hope of slaying this Nova Dragon. We need those rail guns...let's buy them as much time as we possibly can!!"

A different communication buzzed over the radio. "So it's you, other fleas would have even thought about attacking my home base...let alone succeeding in the attempt."

Without thinking, Sheridan grabbed the communicator and shouted back. "Shut up, Sky Dragon! We're not here for a fight!" Sheridan watched as the Sky Dragon let off another bomb salvo, before swinging around to get a better look at them. It responded over the radio as well.

"To the contrary, you have picked the fight. And, carrying Sea Dragon's shield generator as well. There is, however, more than one way to skin your cat...."

The Sky Dragon launched a salvo of thermal air-to-ground missiles at them. Although their Dragon Shield disrupted the incoming missiles, the missiles' detonation released their incendiary compounds down upon the group. In effect, the Dragon Shield was not blocking those missiles, but rather, ransforming them into projectiles of high-intensity flamer gel--and the Sky Dragon took note of this. Sheridan's group was quick to avoid the incoming fireballs, and minimal damage was inflicted upon them, but the fire field created by the shots would be a dangerous one nonetheless.

Sheridan shut off the radio and thought to himself. 40 minutes is too much... Sheridan picked up the communicator and radioed Falco. "Falco; where's the nearest canyon, foothills, ...anything that we could hide in??"

Falco responded quickly as the Sky Dragon dropped a pair of plasmite bombs. The Dragon Shield detonated the bombs, and in doing so, released the plasmite gel contained inside, and two large burning fireballs descended upon the group. Sheridan lost two vehicles and three soldiers in that salvo alone.

Falco's response came through. "Five minutes south. No idea how much protection that can offer, though..."

Sheridan nodded. "And we've forty minutes to go for reinforcements..." He gave the travel order. The Sky Dragon continued to fly above them, releasing occasional salvoes of thermal missiles and incendiary bombs. After five minutes of chase, Sheridan's group arrived near the canyon. From appearances, it looked a bit more like 20-foot deep tunnels dug through a large flat open space of ground, forming a labyrinth of sorts--albeit one lacking any dead-ends. Sheridan radioed the group. "Scatter!" Sheridan ordered the EMF generator switched off to conserve its power; and besides, the canyon walls would interfere with its protective barrier anyway.

The Sky Dragon touched down at the entrance to the canyon, switching off its jet engines and unfolding its four mechanized legs. Each one of the Sky Dragon's 'feet' was twice as large as even the largest jeeps in Sheridan's group.

A communications from the Sky Dragon echoed on Sheridan's radio. "So you want to play a game, do you? Very well."

Sheridan radioed the group. "If any of you encounter that Sky Dragon, get a few shots off if you can, but whatever you do, get out of its way!!"

A few artillery missiles flew overhead and impacted one of the canyon's inner walls, causing a minor rock slide that blocked one of the canyon's passages. The Sky Dragon was not far behind, appearing on the top of the canyon. Sheridan took a right turn down another of the passageways, and not a moment too soon, for a hail of cannon shells and thermal missiles tore up the ground behind him, taking out two comrade vehicles and pilots.

Sheridan looked at his radar screen. Falco's maps of the vicinity had provided enough data for the research team to assemble a few top-down tactical radar units, and according to his monitor, the canyon network was one large labyrinth of maze-like passageways. Already, Sheridan's group was scattered across the entire maze in evasive action. And with the Sky Dragon hunting them, as well. A few distant explosions echoed through the walls, and the casualties were confirmed on Sheridan's screen--three vehicles had been lost. Nigel radioed Sheridan. "This strategy won't hold for long..."

Sheridan responded. "I know. According to radar, there's another way out of these canyons. Tell Falco we need to regroup there."

Sheridan took the quickest route to the other entrance to the canyons at the western side, carrying five support vehicles and the Dragon Shield unit with them. From their position, they would be the first to arrive. As the group continued to maneuver around the canyon's passageways with the Sky Dragon in pursuit. As the sounds of a few volleys of cannon shells and missiles echoed across the canyon, Sheridan confirmed that a cluster of vehicles--four, this time--was lost. And not a moment later, two more vehicles were lost. Nigel radioed Sheridan again. "That Sky Dragon just crushed two of our support jeeps under its weight. We need a change of plan, and fast!"

Sheridan responded. "Head in my direction! We've got to buy the home boys more time!"

A few explosions were heard across the radio. "The Sky Dragon just cut off another travel route. It's trying to box us in. See you if we make it; should be about two minutes."

The first vehicles in the group were arriving from the western entrance and linking up with Sheridan's group. Sheridan heard a few more volleys of artillery being fired, and with them, rocks being loosened up and caving down. Within another minute, Nigel's jeep drove quickly out of the canyon; a bit dented and worse for wear, but still in good condition. The Sky Dragon appeared, hovering over the canyon and in their direction. Sheridan relayed an attack-and-retreat order, but with only ten of seventy attack units, damage to the Sky Dragon could only be nothing. It countered with a small volley of thermal missiles, inflicting light heat damage upon the group as Sheridan's group backed around another corner. Sheridan shook his head and grabbed the radio. "We can't afford losses. Falco, where's the nearest base?"

Falco responded. "A few minutes southwest of here. Won't be of too much help, though..."

The Sky Dragon sent a short communication over the radio. "Game's over, commanders!" It took off in a north-by-northwest direction. In a few more minutes, the rest of Sheridan's entire group gradually emerged from the entrance. Seventy vehicles; no more and no less. Sheridan grabbed the radio. "More time or not, we're going to need base defenses, and the sooner, the better."

Falco responded. "That's assuming that home base will still be standing by the time we get back there..."

Sheridan radioed back. "Nonetheless, the Sky Dragon'll be back for us. Where's the nearest scavenger base that we can help?"

"To the north, about eight minutes worth."

Sheridan gave the travel order to the group. If he was thinking properly, Sheridan would have brought a few repair vehicles along in the first place to ease the damages, but that was assuming that Project repair vehicles would be compatible with scavenger technologies. Then again, they were already using quasi-Project-caliber weapons against the Sky Dragon. Still, without rail guns from home base, victory would be improbable at best. As the group travelled northwards, they could identify the black scorches from the Sky Dragon's thermal arsenal. Even with the Dragon Shield in their hands, the Sky Dragon's thermal missiles and incendiary bombs could easily level a scavenger base. As they passed by the Red Dragon's demolished base, Sheridan spotted a few Phantom reconaissance units performing salvage operations, but those tanks quickly retreated when Sheridan's forces drew close. As they continued northwards, the base's remains faded from view.

Everyone was surprised when they arrived at the scavenger base. It had been ruthlessly levelled. There were few survivors and no structures or weapons left intact. As they halted, Falco immediately jumped out to talk to a few of the survivors. Sheridan drove closer for a better look. The local oil resources were burning, releasing black plumes of smoke into the air. Vehicles were overturned and destroyed; structures were levelled, walls shattered, and a few more survivors appearing from inside the dug-in vehicle garages.

One of the survivors met Falco as he walked towards them. Instead off offering him a handshake, he gave him a right cross. Falco took the punch before even trying to greet the man. Even from a distance, Sheridan could tell it was an argument between the two. Nigel hopped out, hopefully to break up the fight, and ran over to them.

The argument heated up and Sheridan watched as the three exchanged heated arguments, verbal attacks, and comebacks. Sheridan picked up his radio communicator to call Falco. Over the radio, he could hear the argument.

Falco was saying to the man, "Lionel should be okay. He wasn't headed in this direction, but towards our base in the west..."

The man responded. "Even if he's still alive, most others were killed in the attack!! We just lost our home and you expect us to--"

Nigel interrupted. "Listen, the Sky Dragon knows we attacked and destroyed its base. It's downright pissed--"

"But still! Falco, if you knew that they would counterattack with the Sky Dragon, why did you--?"

Falco butted in. "I cannot do anything about this base now. Neither can our Project allies, Nigel and Sheridan. But if there's some more time available, the guys back home should be able to get a few dragon-slaying rail guns operational. That will give us a chance."

"Forget about those 'Project' guys! It's because of them--!"

Nigel interrupted the man again. "We merely asked for Falco's help. He gave it--"

Falco responded. "That in no way implies our fault. It wasn't until this morning that they--or we--could even think about combatting the Red Dragon, or any less, the Nova Sky Dragon."

Sheridan caught a glint from the east. "Nigel! Forget about the argument and get back to your vehicles!! We've got company, and it isn't friendly!"

That broke up the argument. Nigel and Falco hurried back to their command jeep as the Nova Sky Dragon approached from the east. Sheridan drove his group to the center of the wrecked base, with the EMF generator active at full power. As it approached, it fired off a few thermal missiles. They were a bit high, and even after hitting their Dragon Shield, the missiles' incendiary compounds burned harmlessly overhead as the Nova Sky Dragon overshot its target; namely, them.

The surviving scavengers from the base rounded up their remaining vehicles and quickly drove over to Sheridan's group for protection. The Sky Dragon closed in and landed on its four mechanized legs and approached slowly, easily surmounting the foothills between it and them.

Sheridan ordered an artillery strike. The howitzer jeeps set up position and fired at the Nova Sky Dragon, hitting it but with shells richochetting off of its outer armor. It gave one radio communication as it approached. "You're late, commanders! And don't bother looking for reinforcements from the east; they won't arrive!"

Sheridan ordered a westwards retreat. Ten more minutes would bring them back to Preybird home base, but there were no other options against the Nova Sky Dragon. It would be a fairly tight passageway through the mountains, but hopefully that would offer them more shelter from the Sky Dragon's arsenal.

Driving in one jeep with five escorts alongside, Lionel appeared from the west and linked up with Sheridan's group. He radioed over. "Here you are..."

Sheridan recognized the rail guns mounted on the five escort jeeps. Immediately, Sheridan grabbed the radio communicator. "It's about time! We're running out of ground to hold on to! Rail gunners, fire at will!"

The rail gun jeeps stopped and let off a small volley of rail shells in the Sky Dragon's direction. Half of the shells impacted the Sky Dragon, but from this distance, no apparent damage was inflicted. The Sky Dragon switched on its engines and took to the air before making a pass in their direction, dropping thermal bombs on its way by. It did not turn around for another run, but instead, kept travelling to the west and soom disappeared behind one of the mountains. Sheridan gave pursuit.

After rounding a few turns, the Sky Dragon appeared out of nowhere behind them, standing on its legged propulsion. Barely inside the Dragon Shield perimeter, it fired off a volley of thermal missiles. Without detonation, the missiles flew overhead and impacted the hillside across from Sheridan's group. Sheridan's group countered with everything they had. Using the radar data from Sheridan's units, the howitzer jeeps fired over the hill and impacted the Sky Dragon from above. From the front, they fired their antitank rockets, medium-caliber cannons, and light-caliber rail guns in the Sky Dragon's direction. All of their weapons caused the Sky Dragon to recoil somewhat, but it was the rail guns that were inflicting actual--although minimal damage--against the Sky Dragon. The Sky Dragon countered with standard cannon fire--light shells, as if toying with them. Several cannonshells impacted several jeeps in Sheridan's group, inflciting moderate damage and nearly flipping a few over. Sheridan ordered the EMF unit to back away slightly. That succeeded, as the Sky Dragon's next salvo of cannon shells and missiles detonated against the retracted energy barrier. The Sky Dragon lifted off into the air and dropped a pair of plasmite bombs from above. The bombs disrupted against the Dragon Shield, but again the plasmite gel rained down, scorching many units and costing Sheridan a dozen jeeps and twenty comrades.

The battle could not rage on like this. Sheridan ordered a quick retreat further westwards, continuing on across the trail. The Sky Dragon flew off in anticipation of their destination--Preybird home base.

Sheridan recognized the situation and ordered full speed. Having taken the least damage (relatively speaking, that is), Sheridan was the first to arrive at Preybird home base. Different from what he expected, it was still intact, and actually, doing quite well against the Sky Dragon's firepower. Several Project-class rail gun bunkers and mounts, ten in total, had been constructed on site and were busy firing at the Sky Dragon automatically. Even more noticeable was a duplicate EMF generator that the research crew had hastily put into its first field test. The Sky Dragon let off a large, widespread carpet-bombing salvo of high explosive bombs as it swung around for another attack run.

Sheridan's group reached the perimeter of their base moments later, and their entire force drove inside. Although somewhat safe inside of the base's EMF generator, Sheridan kept the mobile EMF unit active. The rail gunner jeeps continued firing at the Sky Dragon. Many rail shells were fired into the air, but unfortunately, many were missing the target. Still, the shells that hit the Sky Dragon were damaging it. The Sky Dragon touched down outside of the base's perimeter and targetted the rail gun bunkers and mounts, unleashing two salvos of thermal missiles. As expected, the Dragon Shield detonated the incoming missiles as incendiary thermite gel rained down upon the bunkers and mounts. The mounts were relatively untouched by the flame, but the bunkers all-but burnt to the ground. Even as they spoke, Sheridan spotted several of his Project construction vehicles busy constructing more mounted weapon emplacements--howitzer artillery this time. Using the pre-installed Phantom's sensor tower would give them all the sight range they needed for visually targetting the Sky Dragon.

Sheridan parked his jeep near one of the garages and, almost instinctively, jumped out to retrieve his command tank. Howitzer defenses would not be strong enough to pierce the Sky Dragon's intact outer armor, but they might be enough to keep the Sky Dragon grounded. And if it could still fly, careful targetting by Sheridan's command unit could knock out several of the Sky Dragon's bomb bays and missile launchers if it flew overhead. It took a minute to climb into the command unit, with Drake following him, before closing the hatch and switching its systems on. He drove it out and immediately activated his repair drones, which soon drove outwards for work. A few members of the research crew hopped aboard the repair drones, one to each, as they stopped for a moment to ascertain the situation.

The howitzer mounts complete, Sheridan ordered an artillery strike on the Sky Dragon's launchers. The shells impacted surely, and in their debris, Sheridan could identify one missile launcher knocked off of the Sky Dragon's wings. Immeidately, the Sky Dragon took to the air and fired off several salvoes of thermal missiles, all detonating against the Dragon Shield's barrier and raining their incendiary compounds down upon Preybird structures. Preybird fire-conrol crews were hard put to keep the fires down, and Sheridan quickly routed the railgun mounts under his control. The research crew took command of the repair drones and moved the units around to help ease damages to the scavenger vehicles, while the drivers stopped for a moment.

As the Sky Dragon flew overhead for another bombing, Sheridan kept a visual lock on its engines and fired at it with rail guns, impacting it in one of its wings. It continued its flight towards the base's perimeter and touched down on its four legs. Sheridan kept up the order, lobbing more railgun and artillery shells into the same wing. The Sky Dragon fired off more thermal missiles, this time at the wall defenses and guard towers, setting them on fire and forcing the tower guards to evacuate to safety.

Sheridan continued firing. This time, the Sky Dragon fired at the EMF positioned on the tower. The incendiary compounds on the missiles impacted the tower and set it alight. The construction vehicles were quick on the scene, but that was perhaps a mistake, as the Sky Dragon focused its incendiary salvoes upon the tower. Even with two construction vehicles easing the damage, in a few minutes, the tower burnt to the ground, and the EMF device was gone. Fortunately, Sheridan still had the mobile EMF device functional, and he kept it nearby behind his command vehicle. Unfortunately, the mobile EMF device offered only half as much protection area as the towered EMF device, and the outer edges of Preybird home base--the jetboat docks, the testing facility, the greens, and two perimeter walls--were now completely vulnerable. As if sensing that the shield was now weakened, the Sky Dragon fired at these outer edges and quickly destroyed them. First to go were the boat docks and testing area, followed by the two perimeter walls. Strangely, the Sky Dragon left the greens untouched. It continued firing at the edges of their base, slowly progressing inwards, trying to locate the perimeter barrier of their remaining Dragon Shield unit. It located the barrier, approximately 100 feet away from the Dragon Shield unit.

Sheridan continued firing at its right wing. It walked closer to the base, letting off a volley of thermal missiles and inflicting moderate burn damage upon the jeeps. The rail gun jeeps turned around to counterattack with their rail shells while the other jeeps sprang into action, firing howitzers, mine rockets, and shells in the Sky Dragon's direction. The mine rockets impacted the Sky Dragon and detonated, but like all other concussive weapons, the damage was almost completely ablated against its outer armor. It fired thermal missiles at the rail gun mounts, but fortunately, that damage was minor. Should it have been firing at rail gun bunkers, it would have been another story, but these weren't bunkers.

The jeeps continued their assault on the Sky Dragon, while Sheridan continued his attack against the Sky Dragon's right wing. A few more of its wing launchers broke off and dropped to the ground. Another piercing by rail shells and another pounding by howitzers caused an unexpected result, and the Sky Dragon's right wing broke clean off, shattering into several pieces in the process. The Sky Dragon turned and immediately folded its remaining one wing up to its topside. In the place of its former wings, it unveiled two medium-caliber railgun launchers and a few backup VTOL engines. Using these backup engines, it took to the sky once again and folded up its legs. It fired a few shells from its railguns, shredding two scavenger railgun jeeps. Armor-piercing fire versus armor-piercing fire, Sheridan recognized that this would be one deadly fight.

Sheridan switched his radio communicator to the Preybird frequency. "Get those jeeps and crew under shelter! We've got to take it from here!"

The construction crew put the finishing touches on a few thermal missile launchers near Sheridan's position. As the Sky Dragon flew overhead, it fired a few rail shells at one railgun mount, putting a few dents into the concrete mount, but one large dent in the mounted turret--a small cause for alarm, since one good dent can easily disable a weapon. As the jeeps rolled towards and past Sheridan's position and into the underground garages, Nigel radioed him. "Sheridan! We're less armed than we were last time. We're going to need help!"

Sheridan radioed back. "There is no help but our own, now. Rail guns and Dragon Shield; that's all that stands between us and the Sky Dragon. But it's the safety of our men that I'm concerned about. We've already taken 35 casualties and 30 lost vehicles, not to mention at least one levelled scavenger base. We're the last line of defense. Again..." Sheridan's memory recalled their previous battle with the Nova Sky Dragon. This time, there would be no place to retreat to should a retreat be necessary.

The Sky Dragon attacked another railgun mount, disabling it as well with its rail shells. The construction crew put a final touchings on two pulse laser mounts and began working repairs on the two disabled railgun mounts. At the same time, the Sky Dragon countered with more rail shells onto the mounts. Direct hits this time, and the Sky Dragon quickly shattered the two mounts. Sheridan routed the lasers to his control and targetted the Sky Dragon. Less damage this time, due to less railgun arsenal, and even with Project caliber weapons, damage to the Sky Dragon was minor.

Contrary to orders, some of the scavenger vehicles appeared slightly from the garages for attack. The howitzer vehicles, to be exact, were the ones to surface. The pilots on the vehicles aimed and fired at the Sky Dragon as well. It countered with a few more rail shells, and Sheridan's two repair vehicles took a bit of impact damage, and they were now busy working repairs on each other. Sheridan struck back with his own railguns. Minor damage again--even less, considering that they were hitting the Sky Dragon in its legs, which were a nonvital portion of it. Perforating its leg sections would do no damage to the Sky Dragon's interior structure at best, but given the current firing angle, it was their only option. So they continued firing. The howitzer jeeps continued firing and Sheridan kept up the attack with this rail guns.

The Sky Dragon attacked once again, shredding another rail gun mount. Now down to three rail guns, Sheridan's firepower was diminishing, and he ordered the pulse laser batteries online to strike the Sky Dragon wherever it might be vulnerable--the rail guns. Striking the Sky Dragon's weapons with their own was an uneasy prospect, given the distance, angle, and the Sky Dragon's movement around and above them. It let off another volley of rail shells, shredding one of their howitzer mounts. In another minute, it folded its rail guns back inside of its torso armor and it produced its former wings; now completely re-formed and almost totally repaired, missile / bomb launchers and all.

The evidence was undeniable. Whatever of its own resources the Sky Dragon may have dismantled to fix its main wings, it had done so and performed a bit of in-battle self repair. Sheridan frowned. Automatic repair systems were the last thing Sheridan expected to find aboard the Nova Sky Dragon, and it was an ill omen--in order to destroy it, Sheridan would have to inflict damage faster than it could recover, whatever its recovery rate was. Ten minutes in battle and it had completely reconstructed a missing wing, weapon systems and all. All Sheridan could hope for is to inflict enough damage to deplete its self-repair systems and, eventually, wear it down. Either way, the battle was starting afresh for the Nova Sky Dragon. It circled around and dropped a fresh salvo of incendiary bombs onto the Dragon Shield, and from there, a solid layer of plasmite flame to the ground.

Sheridan radioed Nigel with a sigh. "Nigel, we're in trouble. The Sky Dragon has some sort of auto-repair capability. We may have broken a wing off, but it's just grown another."

Nigel radioed back. "We're not dead yet." With that response, the scavenger vehicles drove out from the garages to attack the Sky Dragon. Apparently having discussed the situation with Falco, the railgunner jeeps targetted the bulk of the Sky Dragon while the other jeeps fired at its weapons launchers. While the Sky Dragon was shaking from howitzer shells, no damage was inflicted.

Sheridan's construction units completed another rail gun mount. Sheridan fired his laser mounts at the Sky Dragon along with the remaining rail gun and howitzer mounts. It was still shaking from the impact, but damage was negligible and easy for the Sky Dragon to recover from.

The Sky Dragon switched its front-mounted weapon from a cannon to a plasmite launcher--the same fireball thrower that had melted several of Sheridan's drone units during their first encounter. Using its plasmite launcher, it sprayed a solid layer of flame down upon the base. While the Project-strength tanks endured it with little damage, the scavenger jeeps were sent driving for cover in the garages, and a few power resources in the base burnt up along with one of their factories. A few of the scavenger power resources were set alight in the flame as Sheridan answered it with a few rail and howitzer shells into its front launcher. Few actually hit the target, but it was enough that the Sky Dragon stowed the launcher and continued by dropping incendiary bombs down upon them. The bombs detonated and sent a small shower of thermite gel down upon the area.

As the construction vehicles finished yet another railgun mount, Sheridan ordered the next strike. The railguns continued to pierce the Sky Dragon's armor for internal damage, while the other weapons did little more than just ding it. It countered with another hail of thermite bombs, all focused on Sheridan's command vehicle. 20 percent damage from the fire, and the repair vehicles were busy fixing that damage. Thanks were due for the high-strength thermal armor on Sheridan's vehicle. Much similar to the damage they were inflicting on the Sky Dragon--it was damage all right, but not enough to outdo its built-in repair systems.

Deciding against attacking Sheridan directly, the Sky Dragon continued its assault on the railgun mounts as they were being constructed. The construction crew refused to give up, and started afresh on another railgun mount--a lighter caliber this time, so it would take less time to build. The strategy worked, at least for awhile, for as the Sky Dragon split up its firepower between varying targets at a time. The construction crew radioed Sheridan with a dire message; with insufficient power being produced by the power facilities, they could not keep up their construction work much longer.

Nonetheless, Sheridan and his units kept attacking the Sky Dragon. Light rail shells did less damage than other rail shells, but if they could keep up the damage rate, they would have a hope of bringing the Sky Dragon out of the air. After several flybys, the Sky Dragon touched down on its four legs outside of the Dragon Shield's barrier. It fired thermal missiles, again, and the detonation of those missiles sent a spray of incendiary gel onto Sheridan and his group. The armored Project tanks were okay, but the scavenger vehicles were not as lucky, and had to run for cover amidst the flames. Sheridan counted his weapons. Three light rail guns (and one more in construction), two laser mounts, and four howitzers. Sheridan targetted the Sky Dragon's wing engines as it took flight once again.

Two direct hits on the wing engines downed the Sky Dragon--at least for now, and it fell to the ground. Although it landed on its four feet like a cat, its massive weight still sent a large wave of force through the earth, kicking up a large cloud of dust and leaving four large, deep, 'footprints' in the ground. The Sky Dragon folded its wings and readied its two rail guns. It fired, disabling and then shredding Sheridan's howitzer mounts and half of one construction vehicle. Luckily there were the repair vehicles around to fix it. Sheridan kept firing and hoped for the best as the construction crew finished their rail gun mount.

Bad news came in, however, when the construction crew radioed Sheridan. "Sheridan. We're almost out of power reserves. We can't keep on building defenses!"

Sheridan shook his head but continued firing. "Any estimate?"

The construction crew quickly began work on one last railgun mount and replied. "This is all the more we can build."

Sheridan looked down at the monitor for a moment. "Dang..." He relayed communications to Falco. "We're running out of defenses--we're going to need your jeeps, fragile or not. Your choice, guys--fight or stay."

The entire group--seventy-five remaining jeeps with assorted light-caliber weaponry--appeared from inside the garages to lend a hand. Falco radioed back. "We've got nowhere to retreat, Sheridan...we hold the line; here, now."

Sheridan nodded. Still, he had no idea how much damage they were inflicting on the Nova Sky Dragon, and more importantly, whether or not they were exhausting the Sky Dragon's rate of self-repair. One communication from the Sky Dragon gave him an idea.

"It's been a fun game, commanders. But playtime's over!!"

The Sky Dragon unveiled the last piece of its arsenal. Sheridan recognized the threat even before the Sky Dragon's two sets of twin wing lasers began firing. When this battle was over, only one would remain standing, and given their progress so far, all bets were on the Sky Dragon . . . .