With the Sphere on thier tail, the Saint Nazaire is forced to abandon Mahad in a damaged Hyperion.
Mahad jumped into the pilot seat of the Hyperion and fired up the engines. The six Sphere ships that had happened upon the Saint Nazaire whizzed past close, strafing the ship with weapons fire. Seconds later the Hyperion was on their tail.
"Mahad, you'd better not let them do that again!" Cortes' voice came over the radio.
Mahad rolled his eyes. He obviously hadn't gotten to his ship quickly enough for Cortes' liking. "Don't worry, I've got them."
Two of the Sphere ships peeled off from ahead, and pulled back to flank him.
Mahad saw them, but kept the Hyperion on course, firing a few blasts at one of the ships in front of him. The patroller rocked from the impact and swerved. He'd damaged it.
The ship to his left fell back in line with him and then opened fire.
Mahad knew it was coming. He pulled the Hyperion into a spinning dive. "Whooo!!"
The Sphere patroller on his right took the hit in its engine before exploding.
The four undamaged ships turned around, taking advantage of the Hyperion having to pull itself back up to the battle.
They were intercepted by the Mosquitoes. A brief flurry of weapons fire ensued as both sides tried to get the other to back down. Eventually they both peeled off, avoiding a head on collision, but the Sphere ships were forced to move away from the Saint Nazaire.
Mahad pulled back up to their level. It was his turn to play chicken. "Yeah, you can't touch me!" he yelled as he twisted the Hyperion from side to side, dodging the blasts and firing off some of his own. One hit a patroller head on. Its demise wasn't as spectacular as the last; it simply jittered and fell from the sky. Mahad didn't bother to peel off, instead threading the Hyperion between two of the enemy's ships.
The Mosquitoes passed him, chasing the Sphere ships. Mahad looped the Hyperion back around to follow them.
"Yeah! Three ships down, three to go!" said Cheng, bouncing as he watched his screen's readout.
"Good," Cortes growled.
Cheng threw a glance at Lena. Cortes wasn't happy about the Saint Nazaire taking a few hits. It would most likely only need minor repairs, but that didn't stop him being mad about it.
Cheng looked back at his screen. Then frowned. Another blip had appeared on the radar. And it looked big. Really big.
"Someone go back and take that damaged patroller down! You're ignoring it like it..."
Cortes spun around at Cheng's voice. He knew that tone well enough to know Cheng needed his attention, and now. "What?"
"There's a huge ship on the radar and its coming this way. I think it's the Monolith, nothing else is that big!"
"Where the hell did that come from?"
"I don't know!"
"Right, we can't stay here. Dahlia, get the Saint Nazaire ready to move, and quickly."
"Right away, captain..." Dahlia replied from the forward console. She hit a few buttons and the engines started to whine.
Cortes radioed the Mosquitoes and Hyperion. "Everyone finish what you're doing and pull back. We're leaving now!"
He was answered by a few 'yes sir's' and one 'What? Why?'
"Mahad, return to the Saint Nazaire, that's an order."
"We can take these guys!"
"They're not who we're worried about. Dock the Hyperion and quickly."
Mahad sighed. "Yes, sir." Some more Sphere ships had appeared, no doubt. He could understand not wanting to let the Saint Nazaire get too damaged, but he could take care of a couple more Sphere ships. And Cortes knew that, so there had to be something bigger...
The Hyperion rocked from an impact and Mahad's thoughts were dragged back to reality. "Damn!" He'd known where the three remaining Sphere ships were. Knew one had been damaged by the Mosquitoes and couldn't fire anymore. Knew that the other two had been chased off to a safe enough distance for the Mosquitoes to return quickly to the Saint Nazaire and let the bigger ship leave with minimum damage. He'd just been distracted by Cortes, and had forgotten the first ship he'd damaged, the one that sat half a kilometre away, listing slightly to the side, but with still fully functioning weapons.
"Commander Oslo, we have a slight problem."
"What is it, Diwan?" Oslo asked the holographic projection of his second in command. He sounded annoyed, and he was. Earlier, the Monolith had travelled all the way to a remote, abandoned Sphere outpost. An old ship-yard. But it was more than that. There, they had made and tested new ship prototypes. The original rebellion had forced the Sphere to abandon it, and Oslo had hoped that returning to it now, they would have been able to retrieve some of the plans of those ships. Some had been quite impressive. Instead, they had found that all the computer systems had been wiped. All that was left were a couple prototype ship simulators, some broken machinery and a few rusted engines. None of these were of any use. Oslo was not a happy man.
"There was a squadron of our patrollers out here. We've picked them up on our radar, but they are... disappearing. There is also one large unidentified ship. It released some smaller ships a few minutes ago. That's when ours started vanishing."
"Pirates..." Oslo growled.
"I suggest we teach them not to mess with the Sphere."
"Wait... what if they're the ones that have Lena? If she dies, I will be unable to rule Skyland. Not to the full extent I should anyway." Oslo paused for a moment, thinking. "Change our course to intercept them. And have a squadron ready to pursue them should they choose to flee."
Mahad gripped his control stick tightly and tried to wrestle the Hyperion back under control. An alarm on his controls started to blare.
"Come on, I know it's damaged!" he growled, pulling harder on the control stick. The Hyperion rocked to the left and Mahad pulled the other way, managing to steady it a little more. It gave him the chance to look at his console. One of his engines had been hit. He was lucky it hadn't exploded, but it meant he had little control over the ship.
"Mahad, are you alright?" said Cortes over the radio.
"One of my engines is damaged! I've hardly got any control."
"Can you still dock the Hyperion? We have to get out of here."
"I..." the Hyperion pulled hard to the left again. Mahad grabbed the control stick and tried to wrestle control. "Not unless you want a new window in the Saint Nazaire!"
"Is Mahad alright?" Lena asked.
"He's fine, for now..." Cortes answered, trying to think.
"Cortes, all the Mosquitoes are now on board," said Wayan over the radio.
"Good. Get yourself up to the bridge, Wayan. We might need you."
"Cortes!" said Cheng, looking at his screen. "The Monolith, it's picked up speed and it's heading directly for us! It can get here in minutes, we have to leave!"
"We can't leave Mahad!" Lena shouted at him.
Cortes opened a channel to Mahad again. "Mahad, I want you to try and dock the Hyperion."
"It's too damaged! I'll rip up the docking clamps!"
"Just give it a shot. And hurry."
"Okay, I'm coming in..."
Mahad lined up the Hyperion as best he could, then headed down to land. That's when he realised that any attempt to reduce the speed of the Hyperion would send it into an uncontrollable spin.
"Mahad, slow down!"
"I'm slowing down as much as I can!" He cut the engine speed down to almost nothing. The Hyperion was still going too fast. He'd have to risk a small reverse thrust. But surely he could handle that?
He fired the engines and gripped the control stick as the Hyperion tried to pull itself into a spin. He stopped the spin but the Hyperion hit the docking clamps, off by almost forty-five degrees.
Dahlia threw a hand in front of her face as the Hyperion swung in front of her window, only metres away. The Saint Nazaire shuddered from the impact. When she looked again, the Hyperion was spinning away from the ship and the dock was bouncing up and down on its suspension.
"Mahad!" Lena yelled from behind her.
"Damn..." said Cortes. "Cheng, how long until the Monolith gets here?"
"A few minutes, but it can start firing in about thirty seconds."
"Dahlia... start the Saint Nazaire moving."
The screen next to Cortes suddenly came alive.
"Unidentified ship," it was Oslo, "halt and prepare to be boarded."
"Sorry, we're a little busy," he replied, and cut the connection.
Lena at least had the sense to wait until Oslo wouldn't be able to hear her. "Cortes, what about Mahad? We can't leave him! The Sphere will kill him!"
"We're not leaving him. Dahlia, line up the Saint Nazaire with the Hyperion. If it can't slow down, we'll have to speed up."
Wayan arrived on the bridge then. "What's going on?"
"The Hyperion's damaged! Mahad's not on board yet!"
"Wayan," Cortes cut in, "man the rear gun turret. We've got the Monolith and likely quite a few more patrollers on our tail."
"They're sending patrollers after us now!" said Cheng.
"Twelve at least."
"Mahad," Cortes opened a channel again. "We're coming up beside you, try and dock again."
"Okay... I'll give it another shot..."
"Patrollers are opening fire!" shouted Cheng.
"Diwan, I want that pirate ship stopped, but not destroyed, understood?"
"And that other ship looks an awful lot like the Hyperion. Don't destroy that either, just in case Lena's on it. I want it boarded and searched as well."
Cortes couldn't risk another second. "Dahlia, full speed, /now/."
The Saint Nazaire shot forward. The blasts from the Sphere ships passed behind them.
"Cortes, what's going on?" Mahad's voice came over the radio. "You're going too fast! The Hyperion's damaged it can't keep up!"
"Mahad, we can't afford to slow down. I want you to find the closest block that's big enough to land on. Land the Hyperion and then I want you to leave it and hide. Don't go doing anything stupid if the Sphere comes after you. We'll come back and pick you up - when we can. Understood?"
There was a slight pause on the other end. "Yeah, alright I can do that. See you in awhile." The radio clicked off.
"We can't leave him!" protested Lena again.
"He can look after himself," Cortes replied.
"Against that many Brigs and Sphere ships and the Monolith?!"
"Most of those are after us. We can't afford to let them catch this ship."
"They don't want this ship! They want me! If you let them have me, you can go pick up Mahad..."
"That isn't an option!" Cortes growled.
The Saint Nazaire rocked as a blast went past close to port.
"The patrollers are gaining on us..." said Cheng.
"Lena! We don't have time for this. Either stop wasting my time, or get off the bridge!"
Lena was quiet.
"Now, does anybody have any ideas about losing these guys?"
"Um..." said Cheng, half glancing at Lena, and then down at his screen, "well... there's heaps of small blocks floating around about twenty kilometres away. Some are as big as the Saint Nazaire and some larger ones. If we take the Saint Nazaire in there we might be able to confuse the Sphere's radar. If we can get behind a larger block long enough they'll lose visual and won't be able to tell which blip is us."
"Good. Dahlia, take us to those blocks. Wayan, make sure those Sphere patrollers know to keep their distance." Cortes sat down in his captain's chair.
Everyone went about their orders, the silence only broken by a few blasts from Wayan's gun turret, fired at Sphere ships that had dared to creep up too close.
"Ah..." said Cheng after a moment, "Lena just left the bridge..."
"I know," Cortes replied. He'd heard her footsteps as she left. He thought for a moment. "Cheng... lock down the Mosquitoes. I don't want them leaving this ship without my say-so."
"Sure... but why?"
"Just in case."