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Silver Wings

© 2000-2001 Strata Drake of NEWST.


Chapter Seven: Trial and Air

As Sheridan began preparing his group for their next mission, he wondered to himself about the Red Dragon's superweapons. Given the widespread firepower of those weapons, not to mention that Sheridan was now trying to captrue one of them intact, it definitely wasn't going to be easy. Walker had phoned home to Phantom HQ and talked with his superior, General Arconius, about their plans and the research teams' progress so far, but even with the notion of drone-controlled units and Phantom reinforcements, Sheridan didn't like the prospect of chasing down a Red Dragon army just to capture one weapons system.

Nigel volunteered to help out in any way he could. Sheridan told him to wait for a call, in the situation that things would go badly and Sheridan need additional help. On Walker's request, Falco took his sea group out over the waves once again in a second attempt at recovering anything else from the nuclear missile's blast area.

Drake happily sat down in his copilotís seat as Sheridan boarded his command tank and powered up its systems. All his comrades were ready to go--30 men and 5 repair drones in total--and after a quick briefing, Sheridan led his group out of their base into the Asian mountain ranges. Walker had pinpointed the Red Dragon's last known location and direction; and with his tracking systems, Sheridan had a good idea of where the Red Dragon's forces were migrating to.

For ten minutes, Sheridan led his group southwest along the mountain pathways with no sightings of any Red Dragon contingents. After that, another twenty miles and no sightings except for a few native fauna and a larger density of evergreens. At the end of thirty miles, Sheridan's group rounded a bend and ventured into an open plain next to a swamp which the scavengers called "Dead Man's Cup", with the Red Dragon's forces visible far on the other side.

Dead Man's Cup was an eternal graveyard for units. Radioactivity had broken the ground and reduced much of it to an oatmeal-like consistency. Driving across it was impossible; there was no telling how deep the ground could sink. It could half-bury a tank easily, or if it was deep enough, tanks could be stacked like cordwood beneath it before reaching from bedrock to the surface.

Sheridan advised the group to be careful as he directed them around the outside of the swamp. Nothing could grow in the destabilized mud, so wherever there were grass and other plants growing, there was safety. Travel was understandably slow, and the Red Dragon was gone by the time Sheridan's entire group--minus one tank, which sank six feet deep into a pocket of mire and whose pilot had been rescued by another--had crossed the area.

Sheridan found a surprise waiting for him as he rounded the next bend; a Scintaros supertank had apparently been stationed at the end of the swamp as a look-out. It opened fire right as Sheridan's group came into its view.

"Evasive action!" The Scintaros' napalm cannon quickly melted the snow in the area in preparation for catching fire. Sheridan retreated his group back around the corner in surprise. Sure enough, one more shot from the Scintaros' cannon set the entire area alight as it quickly burst into flame for a short time.

Once the napalm subsided, Sheridan routed a set of tacking coordinates to his artillery group. They fired three salvoes of rocket-mines above the side and around the bend, aiming at the Scintaros's tracked position. Obviously, the Scintaros should not wait underneath the hailstorm but rather move, preferably in Sheridan's direction.

Sheridan's prediction held true as the Scintaros moved into view, setting off many of the embedded rocketmines as it travelled. Its tracks endured the damage as it prepared for close-range attack. Sheridan ordered his EMP pilot to disable the tank. His comrade's EMP cannon charged up, ready to fire as soon as Sheridan's own units move out of the way.

Sheridan did not wait for the Scintaros to fire the first shot this time. He ordered his laser comrades to strike the Scintaros in any strategic area. They did so, picking its turret linkages as their first target.

Sheridan moved his frontline tanks, himself included, aside and his EMP comrade moved into position. The Scintaros fired another shot, hitting Sheridan's tank directly and inflicting considerable armor damage. Sheridan's tank shook from the impact, and his viiew was obstructed as the napalm compounds alighted and caused more damage. Sheridan's repair drones reacted instinctively to remove the incendiary compounds and douse the fires as Sheridan's EMP comrade fired his charged EMP.

Surely enough, his EMP tactic worked, and the Scintaros suddenly shut down. Sheridan gave an "all clear" order to his entire group, and they opened fire en masse. Multirockets, cannon shells, and laser bursts struck the Scintaros's armor, punching clear holes in it.

Well, more accurately, they were punching holes in the Scintaros's paint job. The armor was a bit thicker than Sheridan had anticipated, and in five seconds, the Scintaros powered back up to strike back. Sheridan strafed his tank around the side for a better angle of view. The Scintaros tracked his tank, but was to no avail as Sheridan's EMP comrade fired another EMP burst and shut down the Scintaros again.

Sheridan gave the order to continue past the Scintaros. They weren't hunting for the Scintaros tank, they were hunting for its counterpart, the Stratos, and with each minute of duelling against the Scintaros, the Red Dragon was taking more lead. As the Scintaros came back on-line, Sheridan's EMP comrade fired a third wave through the Scintaros, keeping it out of commission. After that, Sheridan's group disappeared around another turn to continue their pursuit of the Red Dragon. The Scintaros unit did not follow.

Sheridan took alarm when his group caught up with the Red Dragon contingent. Instead of the 30+ units that Walker reported to him earlier, there were only a scant ten Red Dragon units in the area. However, they were in luck...there were two Stratos units in the group.

Luck may be the only thing they had, as Sheridan gave the order to attack. Whatever damage they inflicted, they must inflict as little damage upon the Stratos's launcher as is possible. Every unit in Sheridan's group took evasive action to avoid the electrical fury of the Stratos launchers as they humemd up for action.

The Red Dragon units countered and engaged. Sheridan assigned his repair drones for auto duty, and they split up among his group for automatic repairs. The Stratos tanks aimed in unision in Sheridan's direction. His EMP comrade disabled one on the spot as their two groups crossed fire.

The second Stratos tank fired its metal spikes in a spread pattern. Only two of the spikes hit any of Sheridan's group, but as previous experience dictated, that's all the Stratos would need. Sheridan instructed his EMP comrade to disable the other Stratos tank before it could discharge. The answer, however, was negative--the comrade's Emp cannon had expended its four shots and needed a full, two-minute solar recharge before it could be used again.

Sheridan's group continued circling and firing as the Stratos tank discharged. Fortunately, due to the widespread placement of its electrical spikes, so too was its electrical burst spread out upon the area. The total damage inflicted was but minor.

Sheridan's tanks scored their first kill as a Red Dragon unit, damaged beyond hope, collapsed into the ground, and Sheridan's comrades switched to another. Sheridan took command and targetted one of the Stratos tanks--lower section only as to reduce damage dealt to the turret--and his comrades obeyed the order and hit the Stratos's treads with everything they had.

It became clear that the propulsion segments of that Stratos supertank were significantly weaker than the other, as Sheridan's fire completely shredded the Stratos's righthand propulsion mechanisms. Sheridan designated the other side and maneuvered around to the side.

The Red Dragon units struck at and destroyed one of Sheridan's repair drones. Quickly, Sheridan retreated the four remaining drones to the rear of his group for their own protection against attack, and gave orders to attack all the Red Dragon units except the two Stratos units.

Another Red Dragon unit fell, but three of Sheridan's comrades had to retreat from the front lines for repair. Sheridan sent the signal for Nigel's fleet to come in and lend a wing, even though they were five minutes distant by air. Sheridan's EMP comrade reported that his cannon was fully-charged once again, and Sheridan ordered him to disable as many enemies as possible. His comrade charged for a wide spread wave, and when he fired, the pulse disabled 8 of the nine Red Dragon units. Seizing the opportunity, Sheridan focused his group's firepower on one Red Dragon unit after another. They had taken down three Red Dragon tanks even as the other six came back on-line and prepared to counter.

The second of the Stratos tanks fired its salvo of electrical spikes upon Sheridan's group in a wide spread pattern. Every member of Sheridan's group was hit by at least one spike. For safety, Sheridan ordered everyone to spread out and engage the Red Dragon units at point-blank range. It was a gamble, but it paid off when both Stratos tanks discharged their bursts. At close range, their discharges affected both Sheridan's group and the Red Dragon units alike. Another Red Dragon unit crumpled from damage, but two more of Sheridan's comrades were forced to retreat to the rear lines for infield repairs--and only one of his comrades was returning to the front. Where was Nigel?

In another salvo of shels and missiles, Sheridan's group took down another two Red Dragon units. The two Stratos tanks had recharged by now, and they fired another burst into Sheridan's group, inflicting moderate damage but destroying the last of their own comrades.

Help arrived, but not from Nigel. A small group of Phantom cyborg drones appeared from the ridge to the southwest with Walker in command, and they opened fire on the damaged Stratos with portable howitzer artillery. The damaged Stratos chipped at many locations from their shells. After five salvoes, it was disabled--but so was its launcher.

Sheridan paged Walker's group. "What are you doing? We want that weapon system intact!"

Walker responded back. "There's still one more in the area. We won't be taking that one out so quickly..." Walker's drones targetted around the remaining Stratos tank in order to damage or disable its propulsion mechanisms. Sheridan added his firepower to theirs as he ordered his group to attack its lower segments.

The results were visible; under both direct fire and artillery support, Sheridan's forces quickly de-tracked the Stratos. The Stratos's main weakness became apparent--its turret was affixed to the chassis and could not rotate. Without funcional propulsion segments, the Stratos could no longer target them as Sheridan moved his group around to its side.

Walker instructed his cyborg drones to approach the Stratos and start dissecting it. As a safety, Sheridan instructed his EMP comrade to put the Stratos under, and he did. The cyborg drones stowed their howitzers on shoulder mounts, and approached the Stratos from its side while Sheridan's repair drones began removing the electrical spikes from his group and the surrounding area.

It was interesting to watch Walker's drones dispatch the Stratos, detaching its launcher from the chassis and hauling the excess pieces away. Walker had six drones, each operating in groups of three (as modelled by their FRB technology). Sheridan looked at his radar screen for a moment. Where was Nigel?

Sheridan paged Walker. "What happened to Nigel?" Walker responded. "He's a minute northeast of here. By now, his group should be finished cleaning up."

"Cleaning up??? Wait a sec, wasn't there a...?" Sheridan paused. "We ran into a supertank a few miles back. You don't suppose he took it on?"

Walker responded back. "He didn't just take it on, he took it out, too. He figured that if you were going to try recovering something intact, he should try as well. Last I saw of his group, they were busy dissecting that Scintaros unit who was guarding the path leading here. Considering that you already softened it up for him, he should be done by now. As for me...the guys back home shipped my patrol units off a few hours ago, and we found them waiting for me en route. Shaved quite a bit of time that way..."

"Scintaros...?"

Walker nodded. "We've intercepted quite a few Red Dragon transmissions in the past referring to these units. That was its code name."

Sheridan took a look at Walker's unit. It was quite versatile in both appearance and functionality. It looked a bit like a mix between Aireus and standard cyborg tech. Not like the remote-controlled cyborg infantry which Project commanders had toyed with during the Nexus War, Walker's command unit was actually a large combat suit, standing twenty feet high, and Walker piloted it from a small cockpit inside. Its weight was probably in the neighborhood of a half ton, yet judging by the wings on its shoulders, it must have been air-worthy to fly, or at least to glide. With two small VTOL engines, it actually did not need the wings to fly and hover, but the wings did offer it more room for accessories. And even from a glance, Sheridan could identify the types of combat Walker's command suit was capable of. Sheridan could identify at least two types of rocket launchers mounted on the suit's wings, a long-range sniper gun mounted on one shoulder, and a high-cliber assault gun mounted on the other shoulder. A combination laser designator/laser cannon was built directly onto each of the suit's arms, allowing for quicker targetting and laser attacks than tanks are capable of. It had a few weapon pods mounted on leg compartments, but at this distance they were impossible to discern.

Sheridan picked up the link. "Walker... what type of technology is that unit of yours, anyway?" Walker gave a quick response as his cyborg drones continued their work. "Mobile Suit adaptation of cyborg drone technology. It's a bit more direct than remote cyborgs and a lot more effective than tanks. Identification MS-P104 Europa." Walker's cyborg drones finally separated the Stratos's rocket launcher from its now-defunct chassis and were hauling it back to Walker for further orders. As if on cue, Nigel's fleet flew in from overhill, complete with two cargo jets. Before Walker could answer, Nigel hailed them. "Dragonbreath, this is Firefly. How are things?"

Sheridan probed. "What are you two talking about--?"

Walker answered with a smile. "That was my code name back in our own ranks. Helps to keep the enemies off-guard. I could be an absolute monster before breakfast."

Sheridan shook his head. "We'll talk about this later, back at home. Just get everything loaded up and we'll head back."

Walker affirmed the order and instructed his drones to load the Stratos launcher into one of the two cargo jets. Nigel called to Sheridan. "You'll be glad to know, we recovered their other type of weapon...think of it as a bonus from the mission."

Walker rasponded. "That Scintaros napalm cannon may be pretty useful. As far as our main objective, taking out the Red Dragon..."

Sheridan interrupted. "Which reminds me. Where are the rest of them? This was only a small group..."

Nigel looked at his radar. "It'd be hard to say; since they're using their stealth devices right now, they aren't showing up at all. They could be anywhere."

Walker's drones finished loading the Stratos launcher's remains in the cargo jet. "You both are correct. This was just a contingent; the real bulk of their forces are still elsewhere. The last time we spotted them, they were heading south as if for the winter."

Nigel paged back one more time. "I'll be taking these back home for our boys to check out. Catch you later." With that, Nigel's group lifted off and flew back northeast in the direction of home base.

Sheridan looked at Walker's group. "We found them waiting for us here. Any idea why?"

Walker tapped the ground. "I imagine the fireworks should begin any time now. This is... or more accurately, was... a nuclear silo."

Sheridan was shocked. "What?"

Walker looked back. "Not to worry, this site was never a missile silo. Just a small network of hangars and labs, mostly. However, it made perfect space for the Red Dragon. They were probably waiting to bring reinforcments to the surface."

The ground began shaking. Sheridan glanced back at Walker. "Is this what I think it is?" A large door revealed itself on one of the ridges and opened. A second layer of door, and a third layer, opened after it. Behind the door, a large group of Red Dragon forces approached to the surface; mostly tanks, but with a fair number of combat-armored cyborgs. The Red Dragon's combat cyborgs were roughly the size of Walker's own cyborg drones, but with larger caliber weapons, making them more comparable to the standard Project cyborgs used in 2100.

Sheridan looked at the group. "We'll take the tanks. Walker, you take the..." Walker and his group were nowhere to be seen. "Walker...?"

This time, the Red Dragon's reinforcements fired off their first volleys. Sheridan ordered his group's placement--heavy armors up front, repair drones and light armors in back for protection. Sheridan's group took their damage and returned fire, focusing on one enemy tank at a time. In two salvoes, they had destroyed one Red Dragon tank. However, there were quite a bit more Red Dragon reinforcements behind them.

Walker's group appeared on the ridge as his drones prepared their howitzer batteries and fired. As the six drones rained howitzer shells down upon the Red Dragon cyborgs, they took heavy damage and retreated quickly into the shelter. Strangely, they left the doors open. Walker signalled to Sheridan. "They want us to follow them in..."

Sheridan agreed. "No deal...that's quite obvious. We won't fight a battle on their territory."

Walker brought his group down from the ridge into the field. "That isn't the only door to this base. They'll be back up, and from all sides if possible. Besides, they have a lot more reinforcements they could possibly call in from elsewhere. We should return to observation; let's let them make their moves before we try to counter."

Sheridan agreed and ordered all his comrades on a strategic advance toward home base (smoother words than "retreat"), and as far as scanners could tell, the Red Dragon's units remained silent. But of course, silent is a relative term, given the Red Dragon's stealth systems.

As they rounded the last hill and approached Dead Man's Cup, they found a new contingent of Red Dragon units waiting for them. A total of five heavily-armored Red Dragon tanks and one "super"-sized cyborg mech approached them. Sheridan received a communications from the mech.

"This is Red Dragon squad leader Aegis Dureaux. You have stolen some things valuable from our forces. Now, return them at once or prepare for the consequences."

Sheridan radioed Walker. "Do you know this guy?" Walker responded. "Previously. He was--'was' being past tense--one of my superior officers. A seasoned soldier in the art of cyborg and suit warfare. Believe me when I say that he was one formiddable warrior."

Aegis repeated his warning. "You have one minute to return our stolen property or we will open fire. Do not force us to engage you in combat."

Sheridan gave a response to Aegis's threat. "And exactly why not? We don't have the parts; we sent them back to home base for analysis. If you're going to open fire, go right ahead--"

Sheridan's comment would later be referred to as a bad choice of words, as Aegis's troupe opened fire. All five of the Red Dragon tanks were armed with heavy Lancer-class missiles, and Sheridan's group took a surprising amount of damage from the volley before he could return fire. Three of Sheridan's comrades fell back for repairs as Sheridan's group sprang alive. Walker ordered his drones to back up and opend fire with artillery. It took them a moment to set up, but after that they rained down a few volleys of howitzer shells, focused on Sheridan's target.

As more of Sheridan's comrades retreated back to the repair drones for fixing up, Aegis radioed Walker. "Officer Walker, correct? It's been quite some time."

Walker did not respond, but rather drew the Europa's sniper rifle and took aim at Aegis, ready to fire.

Sheridan's units took another beating as the Red Dragon tanks fired off a salvo of anti-tank missiles. Aegis called to Walker again. "Your friends are a bad match for my group. What do you think that we settle this ourselves?"

Sheridan radioed to Walker. "Whatever you do, Walker, do something quickly! Their missiles are fortress strength! My repair drones can't keep up with them." Walker sighed. "All right, Aegis, what are you proposing?"

Aegis ordered his units to cease firing. Sheridan's comrades were currently too damaged to return fire as Walker ordered his drones to stand down as well. Aegis looked at Walker, and drew his Suit's weapons--a sizable shouldercannon and a shield plated with shards of Novadragon armor. "I propose a duel, for old time's sake. I've seen you on the battlefield, and you assuredly remember me. Let's see which of us is the better."

Walker ordered his drones to follow Sheridan. "If it's the only way...right, but on one condition: The loser's allies must retreat from the battlefield." Walker switched on the Europa's command interpreters in preparation for one on one combat.

Sheridan watched with interest as Aegis began the duel by opening fire with his Suit's cannon. Sheridan had never seen anything like what was unfolding between the two pilots.

Walker returned fire with the Europa's sniper cannon. However, Aegis blocked it with his Suit's shield. Walker activated the Europa's flight engines and shot into the air, evading another few rounds from Aegis's Suit in the process. Aegis marched over to Walker's takeoff point for a better view as Walker touched down on the other side, whirled around, and hit Aegis's Suit in the back with the Europa's lasers. Aegis whirled around and fired off a shell, catching the Europa in the arm. Aegis responded with the Europa's wing-mounted rockets, firing off a salvo of eight rockets, ballistically, in Aegis's direction. The rockets set the shrubbery on fire upon impact, although only one actually hit Aegis's suit. Aegis rushed the Europa and slammed into it, knocking both to the ground. Walker rolled the Europa with the impact and shook Aegis off of him. Aegis's Suit landed near the edge of the mire.

Aegis changed his tactics, stowing away his Suit's shouldercannon and producing its other weapon--a plasma blade. A elongated version of the standard factory-issue cutting torch, the blade had a long ferrule from which it spouted high-energy but short-range plasma energy. Aegis charged in preparation of attack, but Walker saw it coming and took to the air.

From the air, Walker fired off another salvo of the Europa's wingrockets down upon Aegis. This time, they fell like bombs and nearly every one hit its mark. Walker complemented the salvoes with a few laser bursts at Aegis before touching down neatly upon the ground.

Aegis's suit had taken a bit of damage already from Walker's attack. Aegis lunged in Walker's direction, and in a single attack, sliced the Europa's right arm clean off when Walker tried to evade. Walker stood the Europa back up after a sideways roll, drew its assault MG, and showered Aegis's suit in a storm of bullets. It took Aegis a few moments before he put up his Suit's shield to block the rest. As Walker depleted his first clip of MG rounds, he chose not to reload, but instead chucked the Europa's assault MG in Aegis's direction, knocking his Suit down, almost into the mire.

Aegis radioed to Walker. "I must salute you...you're better than I expected." Walker drew a grenade from one of he Europa's clips and chucked it at Aegis. Aegis blocked the attack with his Suit's shield as Walker made a quick response. "Don't flatter me; you're still as skillful as I remembered. You should have remained on our side..."

Aegis charged at Walker again, but this time he missed. Walker let off a laser blast from the Europa's one remaining arm and knocked the plasma blade out of Aegis's grip. The blade fell at the Europa's feet as its safety mecahsnism switched it off. Walker picked upthe blade, holding it in the Europa's left arm, and activated it. Aegis radioed back. "Same here; we could have used a combatant like yourself...."

With plasma-blade in hand, Walker went on the offensive. Aegis prepared his shouldercannon, but not soon enough as Walker seared through his opponent's plated shield. Even with plasma energy, Walker was only able to make a small cut in the shield before Aegis knocked Walker's suit aside with a cannon shot.

Sheridan, watching from the sidelines as Walker's drones assisted Sheridan's own repair drones with his comrade's tanks, could do little but watch. "Friends shouldn't be fighting each other..." But no, Aegis was no friend of Walker's. Although he was once a superior combatant to Walker, Aegis's allegiance with the Red Dragon was unmistakable. Walker hit Aegis's suit again with the plasma blade, scoring another deep cut in its shield and inflicting some damage on the Suit's secondary layer of armor.

Aegis picked off another shot at the Europa, but Walker evaded it. Walker fired a laser burst into the sensors on Aegis's suit and disabled it--momentarily. That was all Walker needed; with another slice from the plasma blade, Walker cleaved Aegis's shield--and one of its arms--in two. Walker dismembered Aegis's shouldercannon and damaged his Suit's legs, knocking Aegis to the ground. Walker held the plasma blade a few feet away from Aegis's suit. "You are defeated. Now, call off your units."

Aegis responded, and ordered his five supporting units to retreat. However, Aegis's suit still had a weapon or two remaining, as Aegis withdrew an arm rifle to take a point-blank shot at Walker. The Europa's systems detected it, however, and Walker counterattacked reflexively, without any time for thought. With the plasma blade, he carved up Aegis's suit in a trio of slices. Aside from the Europa's missing arm, Walker had taken very little damage during the duel. He stood the Europa back up, shut off the plasma blade, and tossed it into the mire before calling back his cyborg drones to re-attach the Europa's severed arm and switching off its command interpreter systems.

Sheridan looked back at Walker as he began scanning the wreckage from Aegis's suit. Walker responded back, "Dumb C.I.'s... if they hadn't picked up that last action, I wouldn't have killed him."

Sheridan was a bit troubled as he scanned the Suit's wreckage. Sheridan radioed back to home base, requesting that Nigel send a cargo jet or two his way to pick up some more debris. There was something missing from his scans. The possibility dawned upon Sheridan when he glanced at Walker's cyborg drones. "Walker!"

Walker looked back. "What is it now?" Sheridan continued. "There's something not right...my scanners aren't picking up any organic anythings from the enemy Suit..."

Walker checked his own scanners. "What the...? Something is definitely wrong in the state of Denmark here; according to these scans, this isn't a piloted Suit at all. Just a pile of armor, weapons, and systems."

Sheridan shook his head. "Which means... Aegis must have been somewhere else!"

Walker was a bit puzzled. "But how...?"


Questions:

(click and drag to reveal answers)

Aegis was also mentioned in Chapter Five. Could there be some connection?

Possibly...but I will leave the answer to this question for another time and another date.

How is this duel with Aegis similar to previous fights with the Red Dragon?

Lack of casualties. As with the zero-death-toll at the two final Red Dragon bases from that saga, Aegis Dureaux may have been controlling his combat Suit remotely, from a safe location elsewhere.