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Silver Wings

© 2000-2001 Strata Drake of NEWST.

Chapter Six: Negotiations

Looking over Aireus's remains, Sheridan was speechless. It was one thing to lose a friend in combat, but quite another to imagnie yourself at their funeral. Sheridan looked back to the research team. "This is it?" They nodded. Sheridan looked down at the bin. "Aireus...why on earth would you..." As the crew kept sorting through all the salvage that Falco's group had brought in, Sheridan was suddenly at a loss for words. Even Drake knew that something was wrong. A breath of fresh air might lift Sheridan's spirits. "If anyone needs me, give me a call. I'm taking a walk." The crews nodded as Sheridan left with Drake following.

Once outside, Sheridan followed the passageway leading to the perimeter guard wall. Drake, as always, followed along behind as Sheridan walked down the perimeter. Snow was falling again, helping to erase the scars from yesterday's battles. All scars except two--the underwater crater that had once housed a Pre-Collapse base, and the loss of Aireus. Sheridan walked over to the NW perimeter gate which overlooked Seadrake's docks. Sheridan knelt down by the railing to look at Drake. "I'm sure you've figured out what's happened by now."

Drake may not be the best at translating speech, but given that the name "Aireus" was mentioned quite often back in the salvage room, and that Aireus's energy signature was absent at the time, Drake had pieced together that Aireus was KIA'd. At least Drake wasn't programmed for emotions; although he knew something was wrong, that knowledge alone would not affect his performance.

Sheridan took out a pair of binoculars and scanned the skyline. Nothing at first, so Sheridan scanned again. And a third time. Officer Walker of Phantom Recon Unit #7 had indicated that he "would call", but he gave no indication of when. Drake motioned southwards. Sheridan looked that direction, but spotted nothing. Nor did radar pick anything up from that direction. Not that it would anyway, given the Phantom's perennial use of stealth technology.

Drake still insisted that something was out there, and in a minute, it was answered when a troupe of three Phantom jets descended from the cloud cover. Although still invisible to radar, they transmitted a communiqué to HQ, and HQ radioed Sheridan. Sheridan responded and quickly ran to Phoenix's airpads while Nigel's team made room for the guests. Although Sheridan was supposed to meet them at HQ, it would be far better courtesy to meet them right as they disembarked from their jets. He arrived just in time to greet Officer Walker and his two guards as they climbed down from their command jet. The two Phantom drone jets landed perfectly aside Walker's jet. Walker greeted Sheridan, Nigel and Shaera, and even Drake.

Sheridan looked at Walker. "We didn't expect you so soon. If you hadn't been using your stealth-tech, we'd have laid out the door-mat. Shouldn't you have called?"

Walker shook his head. "Not this time. There has been a change of plans. I'll tell you at the briefing--but not before. Which way is it to your HQ?"

Sheridan pointed to the HQ. "We'll accompany you there."

Walker smiled. "Lead the way."

Sheridan led Walker and his two guards through the base and towards the HQ. Drake kept circling around Walker and his guards as they walked until Sheridan called Drake to his own side. Sheridan would have given their guests a full scenic tour of their base, but he decided against it on the grounds that they still did not know what the Phantom's forces were capable of. It took five minutes to walk across the base towards HQ, and once there Sheridan escorted their guests to the conference room on the 3rd floor. Nigel and Falco took their chairs next to the research crew's spot. Although Drake quickly settled into his favorite spot next to Sheridan's chair, Sheridan himself remained standing--and so did their three guests. Walker looked at Sheridan. "Do your systems have a map of this area?"

Sheridan nodded. He accessed his chair console and pressed a few buttons. In a moment, a hologram-image of the mountaineous vicinity appeared on the conference table. Sheridan looked back to Walker. "So, where do we begin?"

Walker pointed to a spot on the map, approximately 50 miles east of Sheridan's own base. "It began--" Walker looked down at a console next to his chair, with a mini-map displayed on a small screen, and touched one section of the map. The hologram-map highlighted at the corresponding location. "There..." Walker pointed at the highlighted area of the holomap. "It began here. Ten years after the Collapse, our forces surfaced from this nuclear shelter. We knew the world needed rebuilding. So, presumably like your forces, we started exploring the immediate area for clues to help us rebuild from the past."

Sheridan nodded and switched the display to a map of Post-America and pointed to the northwestern sector. "We were a similar case. Our predecessors surfaced from a military base in that sector of the continent. After establishing several small bases, they formed three main exploration groups to go out and investigate the continent on a large scale. Groups Alpha, Beta, and Gamma." Sheridan highlighted an area in the Western Sector. "In the desert sector, group Alpha discovered a hostile military group known as the 'New Paradigm'. Group Beta encountered stiffer resistance in the post-urban sector at the east." Sheridan highlighted some areas of the Eastern sector on the holo-map. "In that sector, a different group known as the Collective was harassing scavenger civilians and searching for Pre-Collapse satellite technology. Both hostile groups were being controlled by a force known as 'Nexus', and based in the far Northern sector where group Gamma was assigned--"

Walker interrupted. "You say, 'Nexus'. Our historical records indicate a scientist of that name being funded by the Eurasian army for his cybernetics experiments."

Nigel stepped in. "Yes. Historical records from our country indicated that a scientist known as 'Dr. Reed', our developer of cyborg technologies, had sworn revenge when the American military cut off his funding and rode him out of town on a rail. The resemblance between him and the Intruder Program known as 'Nexus' was too uncanny to ignore."

Walker thought. "Dr. Reed....according to recovered customs record, a scientist named Reed immigrated to Eurasia sometime near 2080 and registered the name 'Alfred Nexus'. He was funded by the Eurasian military...until the Collapse."

Sheridan nodded. "Anyway, group Alpha clashed with and defeated the New Paradigm in the west, group Beta fought against the Collective in the east, and group Gamma nearly fell to Nexus itself in the mountains." Sheridan proceeded to explain the details of the Project Campaign to officer Walker; how group Alpha destroyed the New Paradigm and was called in to assist Group Beta, how both bases were eradicated by Nexus-launched nuclear missiles, how the remnants of Group Beta fled to the mountain sector to fight Nexus itself, and how they won the battle. "...And only a few months ago, we received word of the Red Dragon on this continent by a scavenger group that Falco here knew. That's when we arrived."

Officer Walker pressed a button on his console and the holo-map switched back to the Eurasian vicinity. "We had simpler, but tougher, luck in our past. We began recovery expeditions starting with the immediate vicinity. Some of our groups were reported as harassing the scavengers who survived the Collapse on the surface. We frowned upon this, but our commanders did nothing to stop them. Ten years after surfacing, we stumbled upon the legacy of Dr. Nexus--we located the three Novadragon weapons in one Pre-Collapse storage facility."

Walker highlighted another point--approximately located where the Red Dragon's main base was--on the holo-map. "That was where we found them. A mere glance at them told how much power was contained in each each Novadragon vehicle, so we left them there. We couldn't use them, we didn't know how to destroy them, so we just left them."

Walker highlighted a location approximately 100 miles south of their base on the holo-map. "It was in the year 2120 that we discovered a large research facility that previously belonged to the old FRB Robotics Corporation. We recovered the FRB intelligence technology from that installment. However, during the night, three of our more-militant officers sabotaged our power generators. During the ensuing blackout, they stole off into the night with the FRB drone technology. In the morning, we also discovered a terrible thing: they had activated the Novadragon vehicles and stolen them too. Although we only lost 5 percent of our total forces, that..." Walker sighed. "That is where the Red Dragon was born."

Sheridan shuddered. "Then what of your drone technology?"

"The Red Dragon's generals could not delete the technology from our systems, so they triple-encrypted it, supposedly to keep us from ever using it again as they took off with the originals. It took our computer teams two months to break the encryption and recover the technology. By that time, the Red Dragon had began its military campaign for Pre-Collapse power. They attacked and destroyed our main base, and we escaped only by cover of freshly-recovered stealth technology. You experienced the wrath of the Nova Sky Dragon by itself during the last war. Let me tell you this. That was nothing compared to when the Red Dragon struck us--they attacked us with the full force of all three!"

It was as if a cold wind had suddenly blown through the room when Walker mentioned that portion of their history. Nigel looked at Walker. "That's inconceivable!"

Walker shook his head. "It was an ambush. Our defenses were wiped out even before they had heated up to begin firing. Nova Sea Dragon led the attack and diverted most of our fire while the other two Novadragons did the pillaging. Nova Land Dragon didn't need to attack--it could simply roll over our units to smash us. Nova Sky Dragon bombed our structures from above. It was a total nightmare..."

Sheridan looked back. "And since then?"

Walker looked at the holo-map. "The Red Dragon wanted us out of the way, so we had to hide. Stealth and radio silence became our motto. We discovered a more secure--and unbreakable--method of communication: laser transmission. We picked it up from a Pre-Collapse installment and immediately replaced all of our radio communication systems with it. When snow began falling, the Red Dragon changed its colors from silver to red. They knew it would make them easy to spot in the snow, but they weren't taking the risk of shooting their own in a battle with us."

Nigel spoke up. "Laser transmission--is that why we could never intercept any of your transmissions?"

Sheridan looked back. "And what of your drones, once you recovered the FRB technology?"

Walker kept talking. "We replaced many of our piloted units with drones after a few drone test-runs on the battlefield. Our computer teams specifically programmed the drones to run silent."

Nigel responded. "During our dig, I saw some of the Red Dragon's security drones. They were operating in groups of three, and believe me when I say this, they had all the ferocity and ingenuity of a true hunter."

Walker looked at Nigel. "Indeed. Our computer teams noticed that the FRB drones seemed to work best in groups of three. Orders could be given to the group only by line-of-sight laser transmission, and even then, only if it also had the proper authorization codes."

Sheridan glanced at Drake for a moment. "Did the Red Dragon ever try to crack your drones' programming?"

Walker nodded. "Hundreds of times. Our drones never communicate by radio programming, which was the #1 thing befuddling all the Red Dragon's attempts to crack them. Even when they finally did discover our means of laser transmission, they could not crack the codes."

Sheridan interrupted. "But, sooner or later, won't they eventually crack the drone's programming?"

Walker sighed. "It's possible, but only by a slim chance. When a drone receives a genuine order, it broadcasts that order within its group, and the order is followed. But to maintain silence, unauthorized orders are still broadcast throughout their group. The only difference is that unauthorized orders are never obeyed. Nor are they answered; they are shoved into a separate queue for later analysis at base."

Falco broke his silence with a short comment. "After all, it's hard to locate an echo if you don't shout out for it."

Walker nodded. "True statement. Each drone knows their correct authorization code. Should anything disastrous happen to the drones--electromagnetic pulse, enemy capture, or terminal damage--they eradicate that code from their systems and refuse all further orders."

Falco responded again. "Sounds as though if your drones forget who to obey, at least they remember who not to obey."

Sheridan interrupted. "It's all very nice, but... why are you telling us this?"

Walker smiled. "My commanding officer, General Arconius, proposed the idea of an alliance with your forces, so that together we can take down the Red Dragon once and for all. In that respect, he authorized that information for dispersal." Walker glanced at Drake. "Your teams have recovered similar FRB technology, I presume?" Sheridan nodded.

Walker continued. "When I gave him my report, he took particular interest in the fact that you, Sheridan, have a pet drone. He suggested that, as an allied force, that we 'share' drone technology with your teams. You have already noticed the Red Dragon's wide use of drones in combat. He suggested that, logically, drones be fought with drones."

Sheridan looked back. "An alliance...?"

Walker nodded. "Yes. Given your track record with fighting the Red Dragon and the three Novadragons, Arconius believes you may have the firepower we need to finish the Red Dragon for good.

"There, however, is one condition of this alliance. Your soldier, 'Aireus'...."

Sheridan blinked. "Aireus?"

"Yes. Arconius posed one requirement of this alliance: that you hand over all that remains of your soldier, Aireus."

Everyone was shocked at this. Sheridan looked back aghasted. "Why?!?"

Walker was concise. "I'm sorry, Sheridan. Arconius specified that this matter be settled on the QT, no questions asked."

Nigel looked back at Sheridan. "It's a high price to pay for trust, even if Aireus is exchanged for drone technology...."

Sheridan nodded. "As much as I hate to. . .

"Aireus proved one thing. We don't have enough man-power to take out the Red Dragon's underground bases." Sheridan closed his eyes and thought for a moment, before looking back at Walker and responding. ". . . Granted."

Nigel and Falco were both disturbed by Sheridan's agreement; even Drake looked at Sheridan for confirmation. Sheridan looked out the window across the base. "Tell you what. Let's get out of this stuffy room and talk on the way, shall we?"

The meeting was adjourned. The research crew sped off to the salvage labs to finish up their reclamation so that they could accomodate Walker's request. Falco left to go talk to his Seadrake comrades. Sheridan and Nigel escorted Walker back into the open air and to the salvage labs. When they arrived, they discovered one Phantom cargo vehicle waiting for them.

The research crew loaded up the bin containing Aireus's parts into the Phantom cargo vehicle. True to Walker's speech, even the cargo vehicle was a drone with FRB technology as a pilot. Walker looked carefully at the bin as the research crew loaded it. "There isn't much. Is this everything?"

Sheridan looked back. "Falco's the best. If he can't fish up anything more, there simply is nothing more to fish up."

Walker looked over the pieces once more. He hopped off and signalled to his guards, one of which was in his jet. They relayed a laser order to the contruction drone and it travelled off, activating its stealth device as soon as it left the base. Sheridan, Nigel, and Drake watched the truck travel as it drove around a corner and out of sight.

Sheridan looked back at Walker. "Tell me again why your general, Arconius, made this a condition of an alliance...."

Walker sighed. "Actually, he never told me why. He just told me to ask you. He only gives his reasons when he sees fit to do so."

Sheridan shook his head. "I was afraid of that."

Walker looked back. "Aireus was part of Dr. Nexus's legacy, right next to his Novadragons and the Intruder Program you told us about..."

Sheridan replied. "From what Aireus told us about, Nexus proposed some idea of 'cybernetic fusion', and that's where Aireus was drafted. And later, Nexus helped develop the three Novadragons."

Walker affirmed that. "Indeed. He oversaw the construction of the Nova Sea and Land Dragons. However, he died before the completion of the Nova Sky Dragon."

Sheridan looked back. "Died...Or was he killed?"

Walker nodded. "Died; one year before the Collapse. Ironically, he was the lucky one...."

"Now, if we're going to form an alliance, what's our first order of business?"

"Once our cargo drone arrives at home base, Arconius will acknowledge the payment. He'll send over a branch of our computer crew to work help your crew install laser transmitter systems. Then you'll be able to call us."

Sheridan looked up at the clouds. "Weather permitting, we'd be able to call you."

"If your crew permits, they're also authorized to help build a few prototype drones." Walker pointed at Drake. "I assume your crew has had some experience with drone programming already?" At mention of the word "drone", Drake stood up and looked at Walker with interest.

Sheridan nodded. "Right. Of our current research crew, eight of them were around when we first took off from our homeland. Three of them actually helped build Drake--four if you include myself. They know Drake's systems pretty well. We could almost build our own combat drones right now, had we allocated time and resources for the task." Drake took more interest in the conversation when he heard his name mentioned.

Walker looked off in the distance. "Then, that will be of much help for both our crews. And, in speaking of combat...we've spotted the Red Dragon. They're on the move again."

Sheridan looked back. "Really...then this should be discussed back at HQ." He turned to Nigel. "Nigel, keep an eye out for a division of the Phantom's research crew, by land or air. Walker says they should arrive sometime later today. Be sure to tell us when they arrive." As Sheridan escorted Walker and his guards back to HQ for another briefing, Nigel delegated that task to Falco and Shaera.

Once back at HQ, Sheridan switched on the holo-map with a display of the vicinity. He turned to Walker. "What now?"

Walker pointed at the two missile silos nearest the base--one placed three miles southwest, the other five miles west. "Our scout drones have sighted a large mass of Red Dragon forces in those two areas. Their blood-red color gave them dead away. Aside from their numerous security drones and other automated units, they have two super-tanks in their arsenal and several command units to lead the groups. They're travelling due southwest. It's almost as if they're performing a large-scale evacuation."

Sheridan looked at the map. "Really...what are they up to?"

Walker shook his head. "I wish I knew. Their current heading will miss our base by 20 miles. It's anyone's guess. Perhaps they realized that they can't build bases using nuclear silos."

Sheridan glanced at the northern portion of the holo-map, where a submerged crater depited the location of the Red Dragon's former base. "Perhaps they've realized that they can't live inside of a bomb." Sheridan sighed mournfully. "Destroying an entire base just to rid themselves of Aireus. Even they must realize that that action is pointless...."

Walker nodded. "Which makes it all the more plausible that they didn't destroy their own base. Stop blaming yourself, Sheridan. The other possibility is that Aireus set the missile to detonate, but failed to escape in time."

Sheridan shook his head. "He escaped---albeit not soon enough to survive the blast. If he was still inside when the missiles detonated, even Falco wouldn't be able to find his remains.

"But even so, if Aireus did set those missiles to detonate, couldn't the Red Dragon have aborted the process?"

Walker thought for a moment. "Negative, Sheridan. The Eurasian Army used a special type of missile warhead for their nuclear arsenals. Each warhead was essentially a miniature atmoic reactor--usable both for destruction and for power-generation. Warhead detonation is achieved by initiating a cascading reaction. Normally, a nuclear explosion follows that reaction in a mere two seconds. However, if I remember the schematics correctly, the cooling rods normally used to control power output from the missile can be used to change the speed of the detonating reaction, thus creating a desirable countdown sequence."

Sheridan was a bit mystified. "Do you study those things back at base, or what?"

Walker nodded, a slight smile visible on his face. "We have one nuclear silo ten miles southeast from our base acting as a silent power generator. Not even the Red Dragon has dared attack it, for fear that we could detonate it & wipe them out."

Sheridan glanced back. "Wouldn't that cause a blackout at your base?"

Wakler shook his head. "Light brownout, if any brownouts at all. All of our essential base functions are operated using standard power generators; the nuclear missile is just there to build up an emergency power reserve."

Walker looked at the holo-map. "And speaking of nuclear detonation, you should avoid the area to the west of your base, just in case the Red Dragon decides to detonate their remaining missiles. Now that they're above-ground again, they can--and just might--detonate their nukes at their own discretion. You could say that the Red Dragon now has two King Kong -sized landmines in their arsenal, both of which are placed to the west of your base."

Sheridan frowned. "That's a potential threat for our base as well..."

Walker shook his head. "Not likely. Most Eurasian nuclear missiles have an effective radius of five miles. In our case, they're also considerably underground, and stored inside reinforced silos, reducing their effective blast area by 75 percent. Their blasts wouldn't reach your base, but a detonation would literally break its surrounding area to pieces, scrapping just about anything within a half-mile from the silo."

Sheridan looked at the map. "Therefore, we've got two one-mile-wide land mines in our backyard. Not exactly a pleasant thought."

Nigel radioed in. "Sheridan. The Phantom's research guys have arrived. Shall I send them up?"

Sheridan grabbed his radiolink. "Roger that. Send them up." He glanced back at Walker. "Time sure flew."

Walker nodded. In a few minutes, the doors opened and Nigel escorted three Phantom research scientists into the room. Sheridan and Walker were about to greet them, except that the Phantom research crew was busy conversing with Sheridan's research crew about drone technology. Drake noticed them enter, hopped down from his seat, and trotted over to their direction for a good look. The Phantom research members took their first good look at Drake while Sheridan's crew kept talking with them about drones.

Nigel walked over to Sheridan. "It's hopeless--only a full-scale war could break their conversation. We'll just have to let them finish." The two research crews kept talking about drone technology. Drake soon lost interest in their conversation and walked back to Sheridan. Walker looked in Sheridan's direction and sighed.

The two research crews continued talking for ten minutes before one of the Phantom scientists broke from the conversation to talk to Walker. Walker listened to the scientist before speaking to Sheridan. "It seems there has been an unexpected development..."

Sheridan shook his head. "Why do I not want to hear this?"

Walker continued. "The cargo drone carrying Aireus' remains was attacked and destroyed by a Red Dragon stealth unit."

Sheridan was aghast. "WHAT!?" All commotion in the room--even the chatting research teams--stopped suddenly. Sheridan kicked the table's console and then stormed out through the side door for a walk outside. Everyone remained in the room as Sheridan left--even Drake refused to follow Sheridan; Drake instead took refuge by Nigel.

Nigel looked back at Walker. "You know how much Sheridan valued Aireus?"

Walker nodded. "As a Nexus legacy goes, I would guess he was top-class. I'm sorry...."

Nigel accessed Aireus' map of the Red Dragon's underground base, displaying it on the center console. Nigel pointed at one of the silo bays on the console projection. "This is where we met our first security drakes. Aireus knew practically everything about them--their operating modes, their weapons, and their abilities. A few more floors down, we discovered a few production rooms in the base, operated y cyborg drones. Aireus shut down the machines himself with his own weaponry. And one more floor down--" Nigel pointed to the large production garage in the base's projection. "In that room, we discovered the remains of their Nova Sea Dragon before getting captured. Aireus was still inside of the base; I don't know exactly when he disappeared, but he did manage to vanish before we were captured.

"In addition, when our research crew proposed the idea of re-building our cyborg division, we were planning to make Aireus their direct commander. Even Aireus himself wanted to have a command position--he kept telling Sheridan how much he wanted to be of help in battle. He knew virtually everything about Nova Sea Dragon, warned us about Nova Land Dragon's radio jammer, and told us to use EMP's against Nova Sky Dragon.

"Even you should be able to tell how much Sheridan is distraught at Aireus's death. He wanted to do something for Aireus--perhaps a ceremonial burial or incineration--to show his respect. It was only grudgingly that he agreed to this alliance. And--"

Walker interrupted. "Stop. I get the picture. Unfortunately, the only thing we can count on the Red Dragon for is their un-predictability. Honestly, it's the last thing I'd have expected from them--especially since we're constantly under stealth cover."

Nigel eyed Walker carefully. "Even shouldn't have told him. Not now...."

Walker folded his arms. "We can't start an alliance on false pretenses--we must be up-front with each other regarding important news like this."

The Phantom research crew finished talking with Sheridan's researchers. One of the Phantom scientists began chatting with Walker about authorization and drone technology. Walker agreed, saying that it was a term of their alliance. The scientist returned to the two groups and they left in a moment and headed towards the research buildings near the airpads.

Sheridan entered the HQ from the opposite door, after walking one lap around the base's perimeter. He sat back down in his chair at the conference table, holding his head in his hands. "Okay....tell me some good news for once."

Walker did just that. "Our research crew has talked with yours about installing laser communication systems for your base and constructing some drones for battle. As soon as they un-pack their gear from their vehicle, they'll get started. I'm sure Drake would take some interest in their work...."

Drake hopped up onto the conference table and nudged Sheridan. Sheridan put his hand on Drake's metallic head; Drake responded with another nudge. Sheridan looked at Drake for a moment, then at Nigel. "Fine."

Nigel looked at Walker. "So, are you staying for dinner?"

Walker looked at his two guards. "You two can return to base. I'll stay here with our research crew. As soon as they finish the lasercom system, we'll phone home." Walker's two guards nodded, and Nigel escorted them back to the airfield.

Sheridan looked at Wslker. "Okay; tell me again what happened about Aireus...."

Walker sighed. "As far as our crew told me, a Red Dragon stealth unit ambushed the cargo drone halfway to our base. The drone sent a distress signal to base moments indicating it was under attack. But when we arrived upon scene, we were already too late."

Sheridan sighed. "Was there anything you could have recovered from the attack...?"

Walker shook his head. "Negative. The only evidence we found was a large 50-ft by 50-ft burn mark in the ground. There was nothing we could recover at all."

Sheridan looked distraught. "On the flip side, I suppose Aireus would've wanted to be incinerated after his death."

Walker withdrew a photogram from his uniform and handed it to Sheridan. "However, the drone did transmit an image of the attacker to our base before it was destroyed. This was the attacker."

Sheridan blinked. Although he did not know its code name, Sheridan was staring at the Scintaros supertank. "That... We've met that unit before.... It's armed with some sort of high-velocity napalm cannon.... Although, being tracked, I don't see how it could have survived the missile detonation....

"It isn't the only Red Dragon vehicle of that size, either. It has a twin, armed with some sort of electrostatic multi-rocket launcher. It took out one of our medium-strength tanks in a single salvo. From what I could tell, that tank's weapon operates by burying some two dozen mini-rockets into its target, then it eliminates the target in a super-powerful electrostatic burst. However...this unit is tracked."

Walker was puzzled. "Tracked?"

Sheridan nodded. "Affirmative. We encountered one of each supertank on the island. The napalm supertank was fitted with hover propulsion, and the other supertank was tracked." Sheridan examined the image closer. "Wait a sec, this uses the napalm cannon, but it's tracked, not a hovertank like the one we met. Do you suppose...?" Sheridan activated the console systems and projected a computer image of each super-tank above the conference table. "Could these be design elements for Red Dragon vehicles?"

Walker looked at Sheridan in surprise. "A mix-and-match scheme? It's definitely possible..."

Sheridan pointed at the image of the Stratos supertank. "If that's the case, then perhaps we should capture one of these vehicles so we can analyze its weapon system?"

Walker nodded. "If either of their systems are as powerful as you say, it may give us an upper hand against the other supertanks."

Sheridan stood up. "Maybe. But the electro-static rocket system would be a better pick. We've already had success implementing Nova Land Dragon's mine-rocket launcher in our arsenals. All we'd need to do is build an electro-static emitter to--

An idea lit up in Sheridan's head. "Wait a second! Their electro-static cannon pierces the target with two dozen metal spikes before it discharges. How much more explosive would it be to impale the target with two dozen explosive mines?"

Walker looked at Sheridan in surprise. "And then detonating them simultaneously with the electric discharge?"

Sheridan's spirits were lifted. "Absolutely! Have you ever seen a Nova Sea Dragon missile explode while still attached to its launcher?" Sheridan accessed a video recording of their fight with the Nova Sea Dragon; specifically, the portion where their continuous laser fire set off one of its side-mounted missiles. Walker watched the vid as the Novadragon missile exploded, chipping a major portion of the Nova Sea Dragon's armor completely off.

Walker looked right back at Sheridan. "Is that how you beat the Nova Sea Dragon...?"

Sheridan nodded. "It'll be like cracking an egg . . . ."


(click and drag to reveal answers)

During the Red Dragon's War, was the Phantom army affected by the Nova Land Dragon's communications jammer?

Most likely not. Since the Phantom army relies on focused laser communication and not radio, the Nova Land Dragon would have had little opportunity to intercept transmissions, let alone to decode and jam them.

Any idea where the Red Dragon forces are evacuating?

Whatever their destination, this sudden movement was precipitated by Aireus exploding a nuclear missile and one of their underground bases with it. I will reveal the true answer to this question in the next few chapters.