Chapter 5: Dion1
No more encouragement was needed. I practically had to push and shove my way to the hanger. When I got there a wounded Haversom and Marci greeted me. Tammis, Eiran, Laian, Aleoi, and Celine were already climbing into their Ottos. Marci yelled, "The elevators are down! There's no way for the others to make it up here!"

I made a movement toward them when Haversom said, "No, Fox, you can't go. Without a mekton, you won't stand a chance out there!"

"Sorry General, not my style. How many of those kids have seen actual combat? I'm going out there like it or not!" I opened my locker and had my armor on by the time the others were ready to launch.

The base was kind enough to offer me a jet pack which could fit over the armor. I checked the air supply (full), my cannon (ready), and the ammo (one full clip in the gun, plus one more in my satchel) before jumping, with a jet pack assist, onto the nearest Otto. It was Eiran's. I pointed with the cannon straight ahead and yelled over the radio, "OK people, let's move out!"

Once we were air(space?)born I ordered the others to spread out. Tammis and Laian on my right and Aleoi and Celine to my left forming a 'V' as we head toward the disturbance. As we passed over the base, I noticed there was a new crater in the Beta Quadrant and the construction equipment was destroyed. As we passed over it, I turned on my audio/video recorder for later reference. I then activated my reflex booster. In a few seconds, my reaction time will be increased considerably.

We didn't need any directions to find the disturbance. Outside the base a rather bizarre mekton had just finished destroying the defense lasers. This was nothing like I have ever seen. It was a dark green, horizontally build but with no legs. There were two sets of jets attached on the back. The intruder did have arms, with two very large hands in the form of claws and a long blade coming out of the elbow. With Face Boys pumping into my ears at full volume I gave out orders, "Laian, do a psi scan on that thing! Tammis, you're right flank! Celine, you're left. Aleoi, you're with me and Eiran! Try to disarm it first and make sure you stay away from it!" It was about ten feet off the ground. When Eiran landed, I jumped off and ran behind a large rock for cover, the familiar feelings of the speedware came over me like a warm blanket.

Laian remained flying and I heard her scream over the radio, "Rage! Such rage and hatred! It cannot be reasoned with!"

"Looks like we have to do this the hard way. Everyone attack! Laian, if you can try to target its rockets to disable it! But before any of us could attack, it threw itself at Celine knocking her down. It pinned her with its left arm and prepared to strike with its right. Hoping I could pull off the same trick I successfully preformed with the Badlander, I raised my cannon and aimed for the arm joint. The forearm was much thinner that the hand and the Mauser blast bore right through it. The dismembered arm fell slowly to the ground in the lighter gravity. When I say disarm it, I mean dis-arm it.

I radioed to her and asked for her condition. She was shaken up a little, but fine. Her mekton was also undamaged, aside from now needing a new paint job. Her voice was a struggle between panic and control. Unfortunately this attracted attention to myself and it charged me. Since I was out of arm's reach, it fired its torso laser batteries. I dodged one, but the second hit me in the chest. I flew back making a long trough in the sand. But surprisingly I was unhurt. Night City steel fully resisted the lasers. Eiran and Aleoi fired their rifles and successfully destroyed the lasers. "Good going guys, but next time please do that BEFORE I get blasted OK?" I said.

"Fox! You're still alive?" Aleoi asked.

"I'm talking to you aren't I? Look out! It's headed for you!"

Just then Celine and Laian attacked. Whether it was luck or planned, they both hit its jets. One exploded and the other looked badly damaged. Confused, the beast made another charge at me. I used the jet pack to fly straight up and fired the Mauser at the remaining arm. It missed me cleanly, but I didn't. Hitting specific areas on mektons was easier than on people because they were bigger, I noted.

As with the first, the arm was blown off and settled on the ground. Then the other jet gave out and it crashed, helpless. A split second later, disarmed and disabled, it exploded. It had skidded far enough away so that the blast didn't affect any of us. I had everyone do a check in before climbing back on Eiran and returning back to base.

"What was that thing, Fox?" Eiran asked. He was really shook up by his first real battle.

"Don't know Kid, but we're going to find out!" I replied. I don't know how much of a comfort it was to him, but at least it was to me.

What had I gotten myself into? I deactivated the recorder when we landed in the hanger. By now a small crowd had gathered. The people cheered at our arrival. "Come on team," I encouraged, "Wave to them, we're heroes now."

I wave broadly to the people before I jumped off Eiran's mekton. The others were waving also as they docked in their respective hangers. I was through the airlock first and when it closed I removed my helmet. The crowd roared, applauding my performance. Haversom was first to great me. "Excellent job you did out there, Fox. We heard the whole thing over radio. Thanks to your leadership skills saved all of us here and brought back Fireflight back unscathed. The debriefing will begin in fifteen minutes. We still need to repair the damage to the generators."

Just then the rest of Fireflight came through the airlock and the crowd roared again. I exchanged a few high fives with them (had to show some of them what a high-five was) and told them about the meeting as I put my armor and cannon in the locker. They didn't seem to talkative except for Tammis who had seen battle before. Tammis was telling everyone on the team how well they fought and how we worked as a team.

I've been in fights for a long time and knew that you go through several stages. Your first few battles leave you shocked, nervous over the fact that you could have been killed. Later you were acting like Tammis, confident and rather full of yourself. I admit there was reason for his enthusiasm since no one was killed or injured. Then the realization hits you that you're now living on borrowed time. By then you have been through too many fights and it has become more like a chore than a life and death struggle. Of course there are a few grand battles that get your juices flowing, but as your fighting career continues such things become more and more scarce. I was at this level. I knew I was taking a big chance out there without a mekton, but I went anyway. Not out of heroism or want of fame, but because I felt I was needed.

These kids, all full of life and enthusiasm. They didn't have a tough life I had. I'm sure all of them had their problems and for some, life was rough. But in some ways, I felt they were innocent. Today there was one less way because they have seen battle where the true test of a person is taken. Next time they will be seasoned warriors ready to face the challenge put forth by those who seek to kill them. They would need my help and experience to be more effective against Axis. By the time everybody removed their space suits it was time for the debriefing. The room had several tables inside it. One, shaped like a semicircle, took up the back half of the room. Seated at it were military personnel and scientists. Near the door was several tables were the remaining members of Firelight. We were welcomed in and invited to take a seat. Marci was there ready to take everything down.

Haversom first congratulated us on a job well done. He then told me that my test was lost in the tremors. My jaw dropped at the thought of retaking it. It was almost as if he read my mind when he said that I didn't have to take it again. I have proved myself to be a skilled leader and for that I was to be promoted to Sergeant! It seemed that fortune has smiled on me this day. He continued, "I congratulate you all on a swift response whether or not you participated in the attack. We have no idea as to what the attack was, but we already have a science team headed out there to study the remains and they are expected to have their report in my morning. The alien seemed to have been buried in the Beta Quadrant for some time. I plan to send our findings to Dr.Tal in Elara. The shuttle departs after the scientists have completed their report. Now if you'll just answer a few questions..."

We were then hit by a barrage of questions related to the alien. We could hardly begin one answer when another question was fired. Frustrated with all this I walked over to one of the viewscreens. There was an access port for independent recorders to be hooked into. I rolled up my right sleeve and opened a small panel in my cyberarm. The sound of gasps of surprise reminded me that I never told anyone that I had a metal arm. Behind the panel was a cord with a universal plug which was connected to my recorder. Frequently I have plugged it into a computer or something to present the tape. Today I learned how universal was universal. The plug fit perfectly into the outlet and the screen flared to life with the battle.

Everyone watched as the short fight unfolded. The low light, thermograph sensor, and teleoptics were included in the show. Through the miracle of cybertech, there were no shadows, overlaying heat display and a box in the lower right hand corner displaying what was seen through the teleoptics. After the tape ended and I jacked out of the screen, one of the scientists spoke up, "Thank you for the recording. Would it be possible for you to do it again so we can record it on our own devices? How can you do that in the first place, especially with all those...effects?"

"First of all, yes I can give you a copy of the battle to study, just say when. As for how, I have an implanted recorder. There is a microphone in my ear for sound and it is hooked up to my mechanical eye for video. The eye is equipped with the effects you have seen in the recording."

The scientists conversed amongst themselves. I hoped that they were discussing the intruder instead of my metal. Haversom asked, "The UAA has no official policy regarding cybernetics. We're still trying to understand what was on the people who came through the portal with you. But I think it is important to tell us whether or not anything dangerous is in you."

"The only thing worth mentioning is this..." I replied. I lifted up my arm and revealed my Pop Up Gun (PUG). "This is a stripped down light submachine gun with a link to aid in aiming. The arm also has enhanced strength. You've seen the deadliest of what I have on me."

I decided not to tell them about the pistol grenade holder/attachment mechanism for the PUG. Old fixer habit I guess. Besides they saw the modification to the PUG's barrel to allow it to use the grenades anyway. The scientists asked a few more questions to Laian about the psychic probe and to the others about how it looked from angles I missed. I took the time to copy the battle on one of their devices. Much later Haversom said, "Now if there are no further questions, I believe there is a dinner prepared in your honor. Dismissed."

All ten of us saluted before leaving. With the stress of battle relieved, everyone was more relaxed. Eiran even smiled and laughed when Tammis slapped him on the back. We were lead down to the city park where less than a day ago a funeral there was now an open air dinner set up. The head table was reserved for us. It was flanked on both sides by more tables. Seated there was the population of the city. We sat down and the mayor gave a speech thanking us for saving Dion City and offered us gifts. Tammis and Cedric received official Dion City flight suits. Laian and Celine both were given a new dresses. Aleoi was presented with the latest romance novel by a popular author. To Karin went a new urban mesh cammo poncho. Tharis, his family coat of arms etched in a shield along side of Dion City crest. A set of mekton tools made of highly durable metal went to Eiran. Larani was granted a sword made of the same material as Eiran's tools. Finally I received a book detailing Algol's history for the past several hundred years. There was only time to flip through it before the dinner was served. Gifts were put aside as we ate.

Eating real food was a rare experience to me. Most of the time there was prepackaged food like military rations or kibble, a dried basic dietary needs meal that looked (and tasted) like dog food. Prime cuts of meat, fresh vegetables, and more soykaf was on the menu. Tammis commented that this seamed to be thrown together on short order. I returned saying that they have done quite a lot for us and that we should be grateful. I think I was more grateful than the others. I was unused to such appreciation for my work, usually a large sum of money from a single person was granted, but never such mass approval.

Marci sat down next to Eiran and started drilling him with questions about the alien mekton. Now I know him well enough to know that he really clams up when women speak to him, especially attractive women. While I would call Marci particularly attractive, she was definitely above normal in the looks department. That was enough for Eiran though as he stammered to answer her questions. I think he should begin learning how to deal with the opposite sex, so I watched him for awhile to let him go through it on his own. However when he made one syllable words into five syllable words, I changed my mind and intervened. "Alestain's been through a lot today D'able. If there's anything you want to know, I'd recommend asking me or Tammis."

She was displeased and left us, but it was of little concern to me. What I was worried about was Eiran's critical shyness. I tried to ask him about it. He seamed at ease with me more than anyone else on the team. It might have been because of the fact I wasn't Algolian, was the eldest, or tried to reach out to him, I didn't know or care. He told me his life story over dessert and well into the mingling after the meal was over. His mother had died when he was a child. They had been very close. Then most of his friends were the children of his mother's friends and when she died, they stopped coming over. Since then he felt uncomfortable around new people and more so around women. I suspected there was a connection between his shyness and his mother's death, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Since then his father had remarried. Since the marriage, Eiran told me that he thought he was overcoming his shyness but that was several years ago. But he has spent much of his time alone fixing machines where any healing his stepmother could do for him was minimized.

It was slowly becoming clear to me, since his mother had made the first step in forming early friendships and died before she could teach him how to make them on his own, he never learned interpersonal relationships. It was up to someone to finish the job and it looks like I'd been elected. As a fixer, it was my job to make friends, friends who would later become clients. Now I have the opportunity to teach the necessary skills to another. Eiran is a techie, but a little fixer inside him could give him an edge in life. The hour had turned late. Marci left Tammis saying that was going to be a busy day tomorrow. Now what did she mean by that? I smelled something wrong here. Old edgerunner instincts crept back into my thoughts and I made a decision to follow her.

I was mildly skilled in shadowing (the VR home learning program was in the bargain bin at the local chip shop) which made this a bit easier. I followed her go into her room and heard the door lock. Lock picking was not a skill of mine. A gun usually sufficed for that. This was not on of those times. By now I have had about a nineteen hour day and I was getting pretty tired. So it was back to my room for a three hour nap with the sleep inducer before going back to work. Using the computer I found that Marci had just left her room. Also the base's scientists (who had probably haven't slept since I came here) have finished their analysis of the intruder. The report for Dr.Tal was complied and was on its way to be put on the shuttle.

I got dressed in my flack pants, armor jacket, shoulder pistol holder, and SMG then went out after her. Since the hanger was next to the target practice area, exercising my weapons skills would make the perfect excuse if I got stopped. When I reached the hanger the shuttle was getting ready to launch. This was something to get on tape, I said to myself giving the mental command to do just that. I scanned the area for heat and found a shape about the same size as Marci at a terminal on the lower level. My hunch had paid off. The shuttles are the only way off this moon. The only question was what she was doing? I sneaked around and got a good look at the computer screen she was at. In addition to her regular uniform she had a strange looking backpack and a pistol. On the screen was the report meant for the doctor. She was at then end so I couldn't read much but it didn't make sense anyway.

When she was done, she switched to a course plotting program. Algol and Dion were on the screen and there was a line connecting the two. The screen changed again and there was some island with a ruined city on it there with the line pointing to the center of the city. A few numbers were scrolled across the bottom. Didn't know what they were but I noticed that she was checking her handgun see if it was loaded. This was big, so I went down to the lower level and followed her onto the shuttle. I noticed that her backpack was missing. When I got there she had her gun at the head of the pilot and telling him to prepare for launch now. "I don't think so, Traitor!" I yelled, my heavy pistol in hand.

She turned toward me and fired. It was a small shuttle and the door was in easy reach. I jumped out to dodge the bullets. The pilot used my distraction to sound the alarm but he was too late. The hanger doors were opening and the shuttle's engines were flaring to life. I tried to fire to the inside of the shuttle but the closing door was proof enough against my attack. But that was a small concern of mine as the air began to rush out the open door. I dropped down and grabbed onto a fixed wheel block as the air pressure plummited. Suddenly there was a small explosion. I turned and the other shuttle had a large hole in the side. The door handle caught my eye, my right eye since I was fading out. It was a lever and looked very solid. With seconds remaining before oblivion I used another trick I kept up my metal sleeve. After my artificial hand was installed, I had the technitions add the grapple option, effectively turning my arm into a half-way-decent grapple gun. With a faint thunk and clatter I latched onto the handle from twenty feet away. But I lacked the strength to pull myself in. I felt myself lifting into the air as the shuttle flew out into space. As the last of the air left the area the emergency forcefield activated and air was being pumped back into the hanger. But it was too little, too late as my world became black.