Retribution: Part Two
They crested the last hill like birds taking flight from
a lake, everything spreading out before them in horrific glory. Danner recognized
this place, it was a minor settlement of the Grundos, a quiet place that the inhabitants
of the base sometimes frequented on their off-time. They were utterly harmless,
staying out of the war as best they could. Kreludor had seen enough grief without
having Sloth add on more.
"They… no…" someone whispered over the comm.
It was in ruins. The orange glow they had seen
over the horizon was fire from the decimated houses, gray bubbles that seemed
to be part of the terrain, winding passageways snaking through the jagged rocks
of the moon's surface. The firelight reflected in Danner's orbed eyes and he
gagged softly, thinking that he could smell the smoke even within his sealed
"Watch out!" their captain shouted and Danner
forced himself to snap back to reality.
There was nothing they could do now, they had
come too late. Sloth's fighters had wreaked a horrible vengeance upon innocent
civilians and now the Gallions were about to take a revenge of their own.
There was a patchwork of blips on his radar
and Danner veered his ship up and left, scanning quickly to find a target. There.
One of Sloth's ships, a bulky thing of red and yellow metal with the Virtupets
emblem on the wing, just pulling out of a pass on the largest of the domes.
The fire danced off the belly of the monstrosity, a fire that had been set seconds
earlier by the green of its blasters, lit within the depths of the ruined building,
the top reeking smoke.
"Cowards," Danner growled to himself as the
green crosshair locked onto the back of the ship, "Attacking those that can't
fight back - and for what?"
His finger closed on the trigger and his control
panel lit up as the blasters fired, bolts of pure energy concentrated directly
on the engine of the ship. They hit and the fighter spiraled to the side, flames
erupting from the back before finally exploding in a burst of fire and metal.
Danner let out a whoop and pulled up, his control panel indicating that an enemy
was trying to get behind him.
"I'm on him Danner!"
The Kougra grinned savagely and turned sharply,
dipping the wing of his plane vertical and sending the horizon line careening
around him. There was a flash of light from another explosion and another green
blip vanished from his radar.
"Not a proble - Aih!"
With a gasp, Danner spun in his seat, trying
to see back behind him to Rya's ship. It wobbled in the air, trailing smoke
from one wing.
"Two of them! No -"
"Hang on Rya," Danner growled, pulling straight
up and back over his friend to get behind the attackers.
One peeled off to the side, barrel-rolling to
avoid being in front of the Kougra's guns. His eye caught the kill markings
painted on the hull. Danner let it go, concentrating instead on the one that
was tearing up on Rya's ship.
"Bail out!" someone ordered, "Rya, get out of
Danner growled, his tail lashing in agitation,
and fired. The shots danced across the wing and body of the ship, scoring minor
damage but not enough to send the enemy scurrying for cover.
"Terry, cover me!" Nina cried, "I'm getting
them out of trouble."
The ship was suddenly thrown violently to the
side, explosions ringing in Danner's ears. Red lights lit up all across his
control panel and he desperately glanced at the status indicator of his ship.
One engine down. Right wing half-destroyed, blaster down. Possible hull breach.
"No no no no," he whispered, frantically pulling
away and diving low to the ground.
Behind him, the fighter that had been dogging
Rya finally scored the fatal hit. His friend's ship evaporated in fire and was
"Hang on Danner!"
He let out a cry of anguish and a tear trickled
down his cheek, mingling into his fur. Breathing hard, he glanced down at the
indicator that showed his enemy's position behind him. He had to shake him or
he too would be in the same position as Rya.
"Can't… bring me down…" he growled, and dove
lower, skimming inches off the ground, weaving in and out of hostile terrain.
"Nina, pull back!" their captain ordered. "You
have three headed your way."
She let out a sharp cry and then the shrill
alarm of a missile lock burst into Danner's hearing.
"Get outta here!" Danner cried frantically,
spiraling up and into open space, searching for an obstacle that could obstruct
the lock, "He's got a lock on me."
"Gallions, pull out," the captain ordered. "Too
many of them."
"Danner - don't leave me," Nina whispered.
"I might not have a choice," he replied, his
eyes sliding up to the stars.
As a child, he had watched them wheel over his
head, counting the constellations and wasting away the hours until the sun would
rise and again regain dominance over Neopia. They said the stars were in his
soul and that he would never fit in as long as his paws were touching the solid
earth. When he was grown he left at the first possible opportunity and had never
looked back. The stars were his home, this unending void of stark and cold beauty.
If he were to die here, it would be a fitting end.
The ship shuddered once more and more damage
indicators lit up. Danner grit his teeth, seeing the silver forms of the Gallions
tailing away in defeat, a couple fighters giving chase after them. The missile
had been fired and even now it was closing on him, the enemy ship following
to ensure that it met its mark. There was a horrible feeling in that - the knowledge
that someone had bested him and had him running. Shame would be the correct
"You're not bringing me down," Danner stated,
and dove his ship towards the ground, to a small canyon that was etched into
the surface of the moon.
The walls were far too close together for his
ship. There was a jolt as his wing scrapped the side and Danner's paws tightened
on the controls, fighting to hold the ship steady. Then, as it twisted from
the continued impact against the sides, he put it in a straight dive and braced
himself. There was a horrible tearing of metal and then an incredible impact.
The smell of fire met his nose and for a moment he swam out of consciousness.
He'd met Nina by stepping on her tail. The Kougra
had just gotten done with one of his cargo runs and was checking in for his
next assignment. She was there as well, talking with someone who would join
up with Sloth at the start of this war. There was something in her eyes that
struck him, like little galaxies caught up in the pupil. She was born of the
stars as well and her speech slowed and halted as she saw him and realized that
there was another like her. Then he ducked his head, muttered something and
hurried away, only to brush past her and step on her tail in the process.
She'd shrieked and hit him, sending him flying
to the ground to stare up at the ceiling in disbelief. They'd been friends and
rivals ever since then.
With a jolt, he sucked in breath and coughed,
the acrid taste of it burning his lungs. There were shadows all around him,
the looming sides of the canyon on either side of his vision. Rocks were still
trailing down, bouncing off the ruined wreck of his hull from the dramatic crash.
He gasped and peered at the control screen. It was entirely blank, the lights
gone. His ship was dead.
He unbuckled himself from his harness and hit
the emergency canopy trigger, pushing up on the cockpit until it swung open
and freed him from the lifeless shell it had become. Overhead he heard engines,
the shrill scream of fighters. They would be searching for him. A downed ship
wasn't downed until it was destroyed and so he had to move - fast.
Behind the seat was a blaster and he grabbed
this, swinging it onto his back and hooking the strap over his shoulder. Hopefully
it wouldn't be needed. Hopefully they'd destroy his ship and be gone. With an
agile spring that ended in a graceless stagger, he jumped from the ship to the
gritty canyon bottom. The ships were getting closer and so he broke into a run,
hoping the black of his suit would help hide him in the shadows. They mustn't
know he escaped.
Three ships passed over his head and he cringed
involuntarily for a moment, then threw himself against the side of the canyon,
still running to get away from the ship. One dived low into the canyon itself,
still high to avoid crashing as he did. The hiss of blasters and super-heated
air, and then the explosion.
Danner screamed in spite of himself as the force
of it lifted him off the ground, throwing him through the air to crash into
the rock walls. Heat rushed past him, searing heat that sucked all the air from
his lungs and left him dry and gasping. Something hit him and bore him to the
ground like a broken doll, something heavy that pinned his legs down in unbearable
pressure. Danner was panting for breath, struggling to make some sense of things,
to get free, to hide, anything. His fingers closed on nothing but dirt and with
one strangled cry he surrendered, muscles falling limp as his mind fled to the
safety of darkness.
To be continued...