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Silver Wings

© 2000-2001 Strata Drake of NEWST.

Chapter Eight: Dragon's Fury

Walker looked back at the wreck of Aegis's suit. "Somewhere else... but where could he be, and more importantly, how?"

Sheridan looked back. "Or why, for that matter. I'd bet that Aegis was piloting it remotely, from the safety of Red Dragon headquarters."

Walker looked back. "Is that even possible?"

Sheridan nodded. "You should know about the synpatic link technology. According to our history files, during the Nexus War, our forces had prevented a large number of human casualties by keeping the cyborg-pilots at base and controlling them remotely. Although it did make the cyborgs a bit vulnerable to electronic interference..."

Walker seemed shocked. "Synaptic link technology? We ditched that accursed thing in favor of the FRB technology and we chose to use drones, instead."

Sheridan was a bit puzzled by Walker's response. "What do you mean?"

"You don't know?" Walker told Sheridan about their history with the synaptic link. "The great Eurasian Military (E.M. for short) put the synpatic link technology through many thorough tests. The technology is a lot more efficient than suits alone or tanks, but according to the records we recovered, it also carried a high price for its overuse.

"Put in the general sense, the longer a pilot remained hooked up to the synaptic link, the tougher--and more dangerous--it became to dis-engage him from the system. You should know how it worked--by intercepting brain signals and sending them to the remote cyborg instead, the pilots could control their mechs like their own bodies. Unfortunately, leaving them connected for too long caused many problems.

"The Eurasian military decided to keep their cyborg pilots hooked up--'integrated' as they called it--to the synaptic links 24-7 rather than try to dis-engage them. That made their situation even worse."

Sheridan thought about it. "I believe our medical department back home always insisted that infantry command rotated cyborg pilots regularly. Yet they never said why. Exactly what could happen to the pilots?"

"If I remember the documents correctly, physical problems ranged from disorientation when leaving the system, to death. Initially, the links gave synpatic feedback to the pilot's brain to help them out on the battlefield. The feedback was dangerous, though; damage to the mech was transmitted as if it were actual physical pain. Heavy damage could literally paralyze a pilot or even throw them into a coma. The military tried reducing the feedback, but even then, their overused pilot's brains compensated for the loss of feedback. The crowning blow came whenever the cyborgs were destroyed in combat. Synaptic feedback or not, long-term pilots literally died with their mechs, despite that they were safely at base."

Sheridan shuddered. "Seriously...?"

Walker nodded. "Post-morta analysis of the pilots confirmed it. The longer a pilot was hooked up the the synaptic links, the greater their risks. Sudden destruction of their suit still caused literal brain death."

Sheridan stopped him. "Okay; I get the picture. Our boys back home had never reported any problems like those...but that could be just because our pilots didn't use the technology as frequently as the Eurasian Military."

Walker nodded. "Alright. Anyway, when our forces recovered the synaptic technology, we recovered all its warnings with it. Our six generals--Arconius included--denounced it as too risky to life and limb, and we destroyed it. We don't miss it, either. The C.I.'s installed in each of our infantry Suits compensate well for the performance, without the danger of synaptic overuse."

Sheridan recalled Walker's refernce to the C.I.'s earlier. "What is a C.I. system?"

"Command Interpretation system," Walker responed. "We developed it quickly after recovering the FRB technology. It's pretty simple, actually. We issue commands like you would with your tank, those commands are passed to the C.I.'s, and the FRB routines within translate the commands into actual machine instructions. With just four grips and voice capability, it's an equal substitute for the synaptic link. It takes a lot more training than, presumably, the synpatic links, but once acquainted to a C.I. system, it's no less efficient than actually being there."

A radio transmission came in from elsewhere. Walker received it, decoded it, and reported back to Sheridan. "Sounds like trouble...according to the transmission, a Red Dragon scout group has spotted our main base. It's only a matter of time before something like this happens, but according to the communique, the Red Dragon is mobilizing for an assault on our end. We'll have to resume this chat later; I'm needed elsewhere."

Sheridan spoke up. "Do you need any help?" Walker responded all-too quickly. "No. Return home, Sheridan; the game is afoot!" Walker left the scene quickly with his cyborg drones following in tandem. Within a minute, they were out of sight.

A small portion of Nigel's group--Shaera's subcommand jet and two cargo jets--flew in. As the pilots landed the cargo jets and began packing up the debris from Aegis's suit, Shaera called Sheridan. "Raiden Leader, Phoenix-2. We're here to inform you--we've spotted Red Dragon superunits in proximity to home base. The Phantom smartboys have built a few drones for combat as well, but we're expecting them at any time. It's time to come home."

Sheridan nodded. "Roger that, Shaera. We'll be on our way. Finish packing..." As Shaera's two comrades finished loading up the debris, Sheridan drove his group around the side of Dead Man's Cup and back towards home, taking the usual precautions of avoiding any Red Dragon silos along the way. Of course, Shaera's group beat him home, but upon arrival, Sheridan picked up the Red Dragon units on radar. Three of them, one each of the Red Dragon's supertank weapons plus one heavy missile launcher--were perched on a hilltop near the base. Nigel's group was on their airpads, ready to strike at a moment's notice. As Sheridan parked his group, Nigel called over. "Shall we?"

Sheridan examined the units. "Negative, Nigel. They haven't attacked yet; they already know where we are and have previously seen enough of our base to assemble a photo album. There's nothing they could learn from us."

Four more Red Dragon supertanks joined the group on the hilltop. Nigel radioed over. "Sheridan--"

Sheridan radioed base HQ. "How many drones have the boys assembled?" The response came in. "Four groups of three tanks apiece. The crews are currently installing some systems on reserve jets."

Nigel paged Sheridan again. "Sheridan; should we engage now?" Sheridan responded back. "Not unless they fire the first shot."

Sure enough, the Red Dragon group did fire their first shot. One of the Scintaros units fired a shell into the center of the base. Fire response crews scrambled into action to alleviate fire damage, as Nigel garnered the Phoenix fleet and led them into the air. Sheridan ordered the fresh drones to be routed under his control. It took a few moments for HQ to acknowledge his request, but after that, the drones drove out from their storage compartments and charged their weapon systems for action. Sheridan switched on his tank's laser communications system and gave the prototype drones an order to attack with discretion.

Analyzing the opponent's positioning, the drones took careful aim with their lasers and fired from long range, before moving around to flank the enemy. Nigel's fleet hit fast and hard upon the same opponent. The fleet's combined firepower shattered the Scintaros turret, disabling the tank. It retreated from the action as Nigel swung his fleet around at another enemy tank.

Sheridan ordered his group into action, and they drove out to inflict more damage on the enemy tanks. They hit another turret pretty hard and disabled it. The Red Dragon units led the way. The drones, strangely in perfect condition, were in the lead, and Sheridan kept up the pursuit; but he ordered Nigel's fleet to return and stay at base. Expectedly, Nigel questioned the order as he told his fleet to park it. "What's up, Sheridan?"

Sheridan stopped his units a thousand feet short of the escaping Red Dragon units. "Don't you notice where they're leading us?"

In a few moments, Sheridan's question was answered. As he had feared, a large nuclear missile exploded near the vicinity of the Red Dragon units, annihilating them. The ground shook and began breaking apart from the area as Sheridan gave the only retreat order he could. The nuclear shockwave had already passed; Sheridan's only hope by outrunning was to avoid falling debris from the nuclear cloud.

Starting from ground zero, the ground began crumbling as dirt and debris began to fall all around. As the crumbles and broken rock grew closer, their rate slowed, and as Sheridan's units retreated back to base, the ground stopped crumbling, coming no closer than 100 feet. Then quickly, it sank into the ground and revealed a massive crater a quarter-mile in diameter and 30 feet deep.

A second explosion, about a mile to the southwest, soon followed. Sheridan's units were well out of its way, but given the size of its smoke cloud, it was about twice the size of the one Sheridan just witnessed.

Nigel radioed to Sheridan. "Sheridan! Respond!"

Sheridan replied. "We're all right...although the research crew is going to have to replace those three drones. As for the Red Dragon units... they're toast. I was right. Dang it, I was right."

Nigel flew his jet over to Sheridan's position. "How did you know?"

Sheridan recalled his battle reports. "They wanted us to get closer. I was watching the drones. We took out two of their tanks, but our drones went untouched by shell or missile. Not to mention the direction they were retreating; something was most definitely wrong."

Nigel nodded. "I see. Then considering how they've left the region, I don't think they'd have left the silos lying around for us to use anyway..."

With a surprise, Walker radioed Sheridan by laser. "They believe that if they can't have it, no one should." Walker flew in in his Suit and with cyborg drones following.

Sheridan looked around. "Walker!? I thought you were headed back home."

Walker responded negatively. "Not exactly. You thought I would believe a radio transmission? Sheesh. You should know better."

"So, what happened out there?"

Walker gave Sheridan the 411. "As I thought, it was a bit of a Red Dragon ploy. A half-truth if you will. One of their scouts did wander within visual range of our base, and it was followed up by a small attack troupe. However, the bulk of their forces are moving further south. According to our scanners, there are a few nuclear silos in that direction, and according to intercepted communique, the Red Dragon is looking for a few Icebreaker-class nuclear missiles."

"What?" Sheridan shuddered at the term 'nuclear missile', thinking back to the vids he had seen of the Nexus Campaign back home. Walker continued. "The silos are located approximately equidistant from each of our bases, about 120 miles due south from here. Given how the Red Dragon is uprooting all their installations along the way, if we travel quickly, we may be able to catch up with them, and stop them."

Sheridan radioed Nigel. "Got that? We'll bring along the reserve trucks for this one. And you guys--"

Nigel interrupted. "Never mind that, Sheridan; we know how to go packing for this mission. We'll also be bringing along our new set of aerial drones."

Sheridan responded. "You mean they've been completed already? That's pretty fast!"

Walker looked back. "Okay then. I have been told that Arconius will be joining us for this mission with his own troupe. Are you all ready?"

Sheridan nodded. "Except for the three lost drones, we're ready."

Walker began to lead the way in his Suit. "Then follow me, and don't be slow!"

Walker led the way southwards at a speed that Sheridan's group could hardly keep up with, and Nigel flew his fleet after them to take up the rear. Falco volunteered to stay at base, considering how his group was built primarily for water and couldn't travel very fast on land. Walker pointed out the two blast areas from the previous silos as they travelled. "It's a pity that we can't recover anything from the two silos now. But that's been their strategy; whatever they can't have, they've destroyed so that no one else can take it." Walker paused so that Sheridan's group could catch up while Nigel's fleet hovered overhead. When Sheridan arrived, Walker continued leading.

After five minutes of travel, Sheridan's group encountered what was left of a remote power resource. Walker pointed it out. "This was one of our reserves. However, they smashed it on their way through. There are a few other reserves of ours along the way. When we detected them being wiped out in linear sequence, basic extrapolation revealed where they're headed. Keep up the pace, Sheridan. There are three more along the way, then we arrive at the silos. At this pace, we'll be lucky if they haven't fortified the area already. Sheridan; can you go any faster?"

Sheridan shook his head. "Negative, Walker. This is as fast as I can go without leaving half my group behind. If time is of the essence, then perhaps Nigel should--"

Nigel interrupted. "I'd be more than happy to scout out the area ahead, except that we don't know exactly how many to expect. A quick scouting could potentially be more dangerous than a full assault, given that they know we're coming. Don't they, Walker?"

Walker sighed. "It'd be naive to think otherwise. They're either still en-ruote, or just setting up their defenses by now. Earlier today, they also tried to destroy our sensor grid. Taken down our stationary sensor towers and posts, especially in the area near the silos. The two silos are surrounded by a small ridge...even under radar stealth, our scout drones can't get close enough for a good view."

"What about your aerial drones?"

Walker sighed. "Our men at base sent but one group of aerial drones; they were shot down on the spot. That's one reason why we need your help now. The drone's belated scans did reveal a forward group for the Red Dragon's main force with a few anti-aircraft weapons in tow. By now, their main force can't be far behind." With Walker leading, and Nigel's fleet trailing, Sheridan's group passed by another former power reserve.

"We should be getting close by now. On land, the Red Dragon prefers its slow, tracked propulsions..." Walker switched his console to something else. "Wait a sec--I've just received a laser update. The bulk of their forces have arrived in the target area. This'll make it this as fast as you can go, Sheridan?"

Sheridan nodded. "Not a single mph faster. Besides, with their lead, they would've arrived first, anyway. What's their plan of action?"

Walker forwarded a copy of the transmission to Sheridan's unit. "According to radio chatter, they're sending a few infantry troops down into the silo to explore the area. As soon as they crack the silo's systems, they'll likely launch."

"Right." Sheridan looked as his group passed a third and final former power resource. "So tell me, Walker. What are 'Icebreaker' class nuclear missiles capable of?"

Walker took a deep breath. "The worst. There are only these two prototypes in existence. High-ceramic plated shell armor, automatic countermeasures...Icebreakers were designed to avoid destruction at the hands of missile defense systems. Armor-plating strong and structured enough to protect it against NASDA's satellites, a payload of missile-like countermeasures to actively destroy radar towers and other means of detection (including the satellites). If it wasn't for the satellite malfunctions--"

"Malfunctions my foot; those satellites were taken over by Nexus." Sheridan remembered what he was taught about the Project Campaign back home; he remembered it as if the year 2100 was a mere last month. Walker countered. "Nexus of the Eurasian Military...?"

"No; it was some sort of intruder program apparently devised--and perhaps controlled--by your Mr. Nexus."

Walker stopped them just after the next bend. Off in the southern distance lay a large ring-shaped ridge. Walker motioned over in that direction. "There they are." A few Red Dragon units were visible moving into the center protected area in the ridge.

Sheridan looked at Walker. "How many?"

Walker looked back. "A lot. We'll hold our position here until Arconius arrives. ...There he is!" A Phantom-class blip appeared on radar from the northwest, and when it came into visible range, Walker identified it as Arconius's strike fighter. Sheridan looked at it in amazement--he had never seen a jet like it before. It hovered to a stop and landed. Five contingents of Phantom aerial drones followed and landed as well. Arconius paged Sheridan. "Commander Sheridan; Admiral Arconius. It's nice to finally meet you."

Sheridan nodded. "Yes...but the salutations will have to wait. How much time do we have?" Arconius shook his head. "It's anyone's guess. They can see us from here, so what we do, we must do quickly. Ground forces lead the way; aerial forces will back you up."

Sheridan nodded and drove his group down closer to the area. As soon as Sheridan was in firing range, he designated a blind spot on radar--directly in the center of the circular ridge--and ordered his artillery troops to fire. His artillery comrades opened fire with their incendiary artillery, and they blanketed the inside of the ridge with fire.

The Red Dragon's forces quickly withdrew from the area into the open. Sheridan ordered and all-out strike as Nigel's fleet sprang into action, flying low--almost at ground level--for a quick focused assault on one Red Dragon unit at a time. The cargo crew hastily set up a small repair facility at the rear as a contingency. Walker ordered his cyborg drones to move in close, and he followed. Arconius lifted off and ordered his aerial drones to attack at full spread.

It took ten seconds for the Red Dragon's forces to move into their firing positions. Walker's group had disappeared in the melee of it; Nigel's fleet had taken out five Red Dragon units already before heading back to their pads, and Arconius prepared his jet for a strike of his own while his aerial drones focused and took out another Red Dragon unit. Sheridan's firepower was for now just peppering the enemy and daring them to get closer. That they did.

When the Red Dragon units rolled into range and began firing, Sheridan split up his group. The cargo crews set up fortifications for their own safety as Sheridan's group began to spread out around the Red Dragon forces. Nigel's fleet flew in again and took our a few opponents in single salvoes. Walker was still nowhere to be seen as Arconius's aerial drones made short work of another opponent.

Sheridan's repair drones somehow managed to escape the enemy fire and perform sufficient repairs to effectively nullify the damage the Red Dragon was inflicting. Somehow, as the enemy tanks fell, Sheridan felt that it was too easy. There were absolutely no supertanks in the area. As the combined Project and Phantom forces cleared a path to the silos with Red Dragon wreckage and entered, Sheridan's question was answered.

A grand total of twenty Red Dragon supertanks--mostly Scintaros cannons but with a few Stratos launchers--were waiting for them. Sheridan nearly lost two of his twelve comrades before he retreated out the door back into the open. The supertanks did not follow, instead staying glued to their post. However, Sheridan had picked up enough radar data to recognize exactly where the Red Dragon's anti-air establishments were located. Sheridan relayed that information to Nigel's fleet and Arconius.

Nigel's fleet was the first to respond. They circled around one side of the ridge, popped up for a moment in view of the area, and fired off a few salvoes, demolishing two SAM missile launchers before the Red Dragon units could react. When they did, Nigel's fleet scattered, and the incoming SAM's similarly scattered about to follow them.

Almost like dancing fireflies, Nigel's fleet managed to lose about half of the SAM's on their tails. The missiles that hit inflicted an unusually high amount of damage on their targets, forcing about half of Nigel's fleet to land for repairs and re-armaments.

Arconius sprang into action next. He flew his jet over the area, targetted several of the reloading SAM sites simultaneously, andwith the armaments on his own jet, spread out his firepower and shattered several more SAM's. Arconius's jet was firing missiles that Sheridan had never seen before, but judging by their effect, they were akin to Nigel's favorite assault weapon, the aerial BB. Arconius had retreated his jet and drones to safety even before the SAM sites were finished reloading.

Walker's troops were momentarily visible on the other side of the ridge, setting up their artillery mounts for use. After a moment, they fired several shells into the ridge at locations corresponding to the SAM sites. By the time Nigel's fleet was partially repaired and fully re-armed, Walker had taken out most of the enemy's AA.

Nigel swung his fleet overhead once more, this time to target the supertanks. As half-expected, the supertanks tried compensating for the lack of AA by firing at Nigel's fleet. The Stratos launchers failed to connect and the Scintaros cannons missed easily. Sheridan took the advantage to move his group into the area once again and engage.

With the Stratos launchers reloading, Sheridan instructed Nigel to help and take out as many weapons as possible. Ordering his biggest guns to target one tank at a time, Sheridan inflicted sinificant damage on one Scintaros tank. Walker armed a plasma-cutting blade from his Suit and lit it up, before ordering his drones into close combat with the supertanks. Arconius flew his aerial drones in again to strike. That they did using railgun-class weaponry, disabling two of the five Stratos tanks. Arconius unleashed his jet's firepower on one Scintaros tank. Sheridan could count about ten high-velocity shells impacting the Scintaros unit and inflicting heavy damage on it. The Scintaros group returned fire, mostly directed at Sheridan's group. Sheridan's tanks took heavy tool from the incendiary shells and were forced to retreat. Nigel swung in again with his fleet and unloaded their shells into another enemy. One of the supertanks seemed to be having some tragetting trouble, until Sheridan identified Walker slowly burning his way through it with the Europa's cutting blade. Walker's drones assisted him in the seeming dissection of the particular enemy unit. As was evident previously, there was hardly an armor in the world that could withstand the energy of a continuous plasma cutter. Like a can opener, Walker finally sliced the entire turret off of the unfortuante enemy, and after that, quickly stepped back as the tank's reactor detonated with Ground Shaker force.

Walker's plasma cutter was now out of energy, and he tossed it aside as he switched to the Europa's rockets. Two careful salvoes completely disabled one of the enemies. Arconius flew in once again, and with his jet's high-velocity armaments, shredded that same opponent. Sheridan re-entered the fray with his group at about half status, concentrating their fire on the next opponent.

The battle seemed pretty grim. The enemy units were still super-powerful, and it was only a few hits that any of Sheridan's or Arconius's forces could survive from them. Nigel's fleet came in for another attack run. As Arconius finished off his opponent, he took aim at another with his jet's missiles and fired. Walker took a back-seat from the action now and began searching for something. The battle continued ferociously; once again, Sheridan's units were forced into a retreat due to heavy damage. One comrade had to abandon his tank entirely and escaped on foot to safety. Somehow, the comrade made it and was picked up by a fellow pilot.

Walker's cyborg drones exploded when one of the supertanks unexpectedly scored a perfect hit. Walker's remaining five drones retaliated against the enemy, drawing close and attacking it with their weaponry. Sheridan decided to add his firepower to theirs. Firing whenever there was a clear shot, Sheridan's group disabled the particular opponent.

Sheridan spotted Walker in the Europa, quickly moving between enemy tanks dropping explosives near them. When he was at a safe distance, he detonated them and inflicted significant damage to the supertank's treads. Nothing more, though. Sheridan put what comrades he could in relative safety behind the abandoned tank and they attacked. As was proven from previous experience, the Scintaros turrets were remarkably slow to aim. But with still ten of them remaining, flanking them would be to little avail.

Walker found what he was looking for--the vehicle entrance to the silos, and withdrawing a second plasma cutter from the Europa, he quickly burned the doors down. He relayed one quick comment to Sheridan. "I found it! Wait here..." Walker switched on the Europa's lights and dove in. Three of his drones jumped down after him. Arconius called for reinforcements as he unloaded and took out another Scintaros tank. Sheridan radioed after Walker. "Keep me informed!"

Wakler responded, and his radio transmission proved that he wasn't far enough inside to be out of communications range. "I will." As the sounds of battle and falling units kept going on outside, Walker began making his way through the silo towards what could be its silo control center.

The inside of the silo was slightly dark. Dark, that is, until Red Dragon combat mechs opened fire on Walker's group. Walker's group hit the walls and floor to avoid the shots before they countered. They must have scored a few hits because the firefight was over quickly. Walker led his troops further into the silo, and they ran into a large fully-lit vehicle storage area immediately adjacent to one of the silos.

There were a contingent of Red Dragon combat mechs waiting in the hangar for Walker's troops. With little room to evade, Walker charged his groups forward and engaged the enemy at close range. The charge proved effective as he took down all of the foes. Except for one foe.

Aegis Dureaux signalled in Walker's direction. "So we meet again. However, this time the battle is on our terms..." In a cyborg-sized suit known as the Demetrix, Aegis stepped into the hangar from one of the vehicle throughways. "You may have destroyed my last Suit, but this time it will be different."

Walker ordered his cyborg drones to stand aside. "What do you want this time? Are you wishing to fight again?" Aegis laughed. "Why not?" Aegis produced a large metal cutter from his Suit's right arm and engaged Walker.

To have two combat Suits engage one another was quite a spectacle. Walker blocked the attack and quickly activated the Europa's command-interpereters before striking back. The storage area was too small for long-range weapons. Walker withdrew his suit's plasma cutter and charged it up. He swung it at the Demetrix and nearly cleaved through one of its shoulder launchers.

Aegis knocked Walker's suit aside. "You're too late, you know." Walker looked back. "Do you realize what you're doing here?"

Aegis responded. "Removing a few thorns from our side. Now that we've located the Icebreakers, what can you do to stop us?"

Walker shook his head. "I don't know..." Walker took another thrust at the Demetrix. Aegis blocked it and countered damaging the Europa in the arm.

"There's no time for this..." Walker fired one of the Europa's laser's at the Demetrix and stunned Aegis for a moment. Using that to buy time, Walker burned through the Demetrix's right arm. Aegis retreated to the other side of the hangar. "This isn't over!" Without another word, Aegis fled the hangar. Walker put away his plasma cutter and radioed to the surface. "Arconius, it's clear for now. There's little time..."

Arconius heard the transmission. By now, only two Scintaros tanks were remaining on the surface. Nigel's fleet had lost two jets and nearly lost one pilot; the two cyborg drones Walker left outside were scrap; Arconius's own drones had taken damage and Sheridan's group was little better, having lost three tanks and one pilot. Sheridan's tanks kept up their fire as Arconius swung around for another shot, unloading standard missiles this time into the tank. The Scintaros tank fell from the impacts, and Nigel's fleet swung around for a last strike at the final Red Dragon tank. They took it down. With no enemies left, Arconius landed his jet near the vehicle entrance to the silos and jumped out as Walker piloted the Europa to the surface. "Did you catch Aegis?"

Sheridan shook his head. "Negative, Walker. That combat suit just appeared and took off. There's no telling where it is now."

Arconius pressed a button on the remote, and two groups of Drake-sized patrol drones jumped out of their compartments inside of Arconius's jet. Walker dis-embarked from his Suit after placing his drones in standby. Drake jumped up on the console of Sheridan's beaten tank with interest in the Phantom drones. Sheridan paged Arconius. "Do you mind if I join?"

Arcoius shook his head. "Negative. We need someone to stay up top. Help redress the wounded and fix up the damages. Walker and I will go in alone. We know what to look for..." Arconius went inside with Walker and the two groups of drones.

Sheridan looked around. "Alright men. They're beaten, but we haven't won yet. There's no telling if--"

The ground began shaking as the silo doors slowly opened. Two fifty-foot-diameter holes opened up in the ground. Sheridan looked inside as he could. As was told, the large tip of a navy-blue nuclear missile was just visible beneath the surface. Sheridan tried radioing Walker and Arconius. "They've opened the silo doors!"

As Walker responded, Sheridan could hear the sounds of a firefight taking place inside. "They've activated a five-minute launch sequence, Sheridan. We're running out of time!"

Sheridan shouted back. "What's happening down there?"

The firefight below was over, as Arconius's mobile drones had neutralized the Red Dragon personnel mechs in the silo's control room by now. Walker ran over to one of the terminals. "How do we stop this?"

Arconius looked at the system and began accessing it. "It's hard to say. According to records, we can shut down the launch sequence. But we need three codes to do that. They're probably encrypted..." Arconius tapped a few keys on the terminal and began looking through the files for an answer.

Walker looked at the monitor and radioed above. "Sheridan! Radar here confirms their targetting--120 miles north by northeast and 120 miles northwest. They're going to strike our bases!"

Sheridan's reply came in loud and clear. With only three minutes remaining before launch, Arconius kept working. "I think I've got them..." Arconius closed a few files from the terminal and accessed the adjacent one. He typed in one sequence of keys--and they were accepted. The phrase "Missile Control sequence A confirmed" appeared on the monitor. Walker looked at Arconius. "What's the next one?" Arconius kept hunting, and after another search through the system, he found it and gave it to Walker. Walker typed it in, and the message "Control sequence B confirmed" appeared on the monitor. "One minute until launch. What's the last one?"

Arconius kept searching. As the time ticked away, Arconius found something. "Try this..." Walker inputted the code sequence on his terminal. T minus thirty seconds. Walker typed it in. However, it didn't work. "What?"

Arconius looked and tried again with his search through the silo's database. "No, it's been changed...wait a second, here's something interesting..." With fifteen seconds left, Arconius scanned through a portion of the silo's database and found something. He typed it up quickly on Walker's terminal. No luck. Ten seconds. Arconius tried again, typing in his code and then Walker's. Still no luck. Five seconds. Arconius typed in Walker's code followed by his own and entered it with only one second remaining until launch.

The words "Missile Control Sequence Authorized" appeared on the screen. However, they were too late. The silo began shaking as the two Icebreaker-class missiles powered up. Arconius looked up. "No..." Walker grabbed the monitor. "It's asking for a command. Quickly!" Arconius ran an inquiry on the missile's targetting systems. Sure enough, both Sheridan's and Arconius's bases were confirmed as targets, one missile per each. The missiles began their ascent out of the silo. Suddenly, the terminals switched off. Walker and Arconius whirled around and located the problem--a Red Dragon infantry cyborg had cut the main power to the control room. Arconius's drones pounced upon and tore apart the mech. Walker looked at Arconius as the now-darkened room was being illuminated by the flares from the launching missiles. "We need a new plan, and fast!" Arconius led the way back to the surface just in time.

Sure enough, the missiles were launching. The codename "Icebreaker-Alpha" was inscribed on one of the missiles; "Icebreaker-Omega" was inscribed upon the other. Arconius loaded his jet as fast as he could as Walker climbed into the Europa. "Sheridan!!! They're targetted straight at our bases. We must do something!"

Sheridan watched the missiles rise higher, their view becoming enshrouded the the missile's trail. "There's no way we can chase these things on land!! Nigel! Get the Phoenix fleet into the sky!!!"

Nigel's fleet was just finishing up their repairs. Nigel looked, fear-stricken, at the missiles as they headed. "They're too big--we can't stop them both!"

Arconius paged Sheridan. "He's right; we can't stop the two of them! Choose one--and quickly, or we might not be able to stop them at all!"

Sheridan shouted back as the missiles launched higher. "Why me?"

Arconius looked at the missiles as he lifted his jet off the ground in preparations for pursuit. "I've already made one mistake too many. Which missile?!?"

The missiles were accelerating at their ascent and beginning their long, sem-ballistic arc towards their target. Sheridan looked up, made his decision, and pointed at one of the missiles. "That one!! Shoot it down!!!"

As the missiles began accelerating to higher velocities, Arconius began pursuit with his remaining three contingents of drones. Nigel's damaged Phoenix fleet took to the sky in chase of the chosen nuke.

Sheridan and Walker watched them take off. "Nigel, old friend, you can do it. You have got to . . ."


(click and drag to reveal answers)

Has officer Walker seen the last of Aegis Dureax?

Not likely. Aegis made it out of the area alive, and if one thing is certain about opponents, he'll be back sometime later.

Good heavens! Any idea which missile are they going to stop now???

Keep reading!! I won't spoil the answer for you just yet. Think about what is at risk, then decide which nuclear missile you think Nigel's team is going to stop. To check your answer, be sure to read the next and final chapter of Silver Wings!