The battle that raged in the Nebula's airspace was fast and furious. The more elite rebel pilots cut down swathes of Imperial Vanguards with ease, yelling taunts and insults every time they succeeded in downing a hapless Imperialist.

"Is this what the Empire has to offer?" the Red Leader brayed into his intercom, howling in delight as he locked onto an Imperial Vanguard before opening fire. The humanoid machine's armor splintered as a rain of deadly fire fell upon it before the entire craft shook and burst in a crimson explosion.

"Red Leader, three bogeys approaching from three o' clock!"

The Red Leader spun his Vanguard around before spraying lead upon the encroaching bogeys. Two were quickly torn apart while the third, an obviously more skilled pilot swerved past his line of fire and dashed for him with a gleaming vibro-blade.

"The kid's got guts," he heard the Blue Leader comment caustically. He chuckled darkly and allowed the enemy Vanguard to draw closer before whipping out his Vanguard's melee weapon, a pulse saber.

"We'll see what he has to offer, eh Blue?" he retorted before jamming his gears forward. His Vanguard promptly responded and dashed forward for its intended foe. "Let's see how many guts you have, green," he said contemptuously, his eyes narrowed upon the rapidly approaching Vanguard.

Both sped forward, on a clear collision course till the Red Leader pulled his Vanguard aside at the last possible moment. The Imperialist continued its dash forward, its flanks now ruthlessly exposed. Its pilot gaped as she realized her fatal mistake, watching on in trepidation as the Red Leader brought his saber to bear. The ensuing explosion was suitably climatic.

The Red Leader chuckled again as he watched the battle from overhead. CSO gunships sped towards the main barracks and military facilities of the Nebula, CSO Vanguards were predictably dominating their less-experienced Imperialist counterparts. All in all, the battle was going as planned. Just as the Mastermind had said; the cocky trainees of the Nebula Mark XIII would be easy prey.

'But why would he send us to strike at a bunch of greens I will never understand,' he thought sourly. More experienced prey would have been more satisfying surely and more decisive in the war.

"Sir! Two strange Vanguards have been spotted launching from coordinates 30, 41! They appear to be new models, sir!"

'New models?' he thought with some surprise, 'Secret weapons? A new prototype?' A small smile tugged upon his parched, thin lips. "Did you hear that, Blue Leader?" he said with an ample grin now stretched upon his face.

"Interesting, shall we investigate?"

"Over and out," the Red Leader said before easing his Vanguard towards the aforementioned coordinates. "Red Squadron, cover my back," he barked quickly, "We will engage these new models whose capabilities are unknown, so be on your guard!"

"Roger that, sir!"

--

The Kawasaki's engine throbbed powerfully as it made its way through the war-torn freeway, bearing its two passengers to the main hangars where the Vanguards were located.

A visibly nervous Kirana clung to her silver haired rescuer, the driver of the somewhat ancient Kawasaki. She winced as a heavy gunship swept overhead, its weapons unleashing hell on the defenders below.

"Keep your head down," she heard the silver haired man whisper; "They won't pay so much attention to us considering that we're not a large target nor a potentially dangerous one."

She gulped and nodded her affirmation, heeding his advice instantly. "Why would they attack a training facility such as the Nebula?" she murmured sadly, watching the destruction all around them.

Machine gun nests surrounding the freeway were blasting away freely at the overhead intruders, the men inside heaping curses and their flying tormenters. Dead bodies were strewn everywhere, from the burning remains of convoys to destroyed machine gun nests.

"It is a message," he replied coolly, "They wish to display their ruthlessness and moreover, it is common knowledge that the majority of Imperial aces come from the Nebula Mark XIII. By crushing it, they effectively remove many potential thorns in their flesh."

He added snidely, "Although personally I would not waste time on greens; there are far more important installations than this one…"

Kirana smiled wanly. She suspected that the rebels had garnered knowledge of the Enigma Squadron but was unsure of how much her savior knew, thus she chose not to inform him. 'The less people know the better,' she thought wearily.

"Unless of course there happens to be some sort of secret project going on within the Nebula. That would explain everything."

She stared at his back, her mouth now agape. "How did you know?"

He chuckled and said, "Actually I wasn't entirely sure. But your response has confirmed it; there is a secret project running within the Nebula, am I not right Miss Kirana?"

Kirana opened her mouth to reply but thought better of it. Furious with being trapped so easily, she swore under her breath, "Damn you!"

A missile screamed overhead before smashing into a heavily armored bunker. The explosion was thunderous; Kirana shrieked involuntarily as shrapnel and bloodied flesh splattered upon her even as a CSO gunship sped overhead.

"The assault is intensifying," he observed calmly, clamping down upon the accelerator. There was a loud grumbling from the engine but eventually the old bike's speed spiked up.

"Hang on," he said, glancing at a now pale Kirana, "I will have you flying in the air soon…"

"But the question is: do I want to go out there?" she whispered, trembling now. The deaths of so many had begun to take its toll on her, so long having been sheltered in the comfortable life of a senator's daughter.

"You will do what you have to do," he replied. "Try thinking of your loved ones: would you want them to be ranked among the dead in the inevitable war?"

"No," she whispered grimly.

"The CSO will show no mercy to all Imperialists. Know this, if they are not stopped; millions will die regardless of race, religion and political inclinations."

She stared at him, her eyes widening now.

"Your father might be opposed to Einbrock's policies but he is still supportive of the continuity of the Empire. He is very much a foe to the CSO…"

"You lie!" she said suddenly, her face blanching now.

"Perhaps so," he said without looking back. "I shall never understand the intricacies of politics regretfully," he then added wryly.

Kirana whispered, "Please don't insert such notions in my mind anymore."

"If it had served to motivate you, then I do not see the harm in doing it again," he said amusedly.

"You wouldn't dare," Kirana hissed ominously.

"Try me," he chuckled as he swerved the Kawasaki down the exit leading to the hangars. "I am a soldier, Miss Kirana. I have no time for humanism and the like. My aim is to kill all those who oppose me. What is yours? Why did you join the military?"

Kirana gulped and replied slowly, "In truth, I don't know."

"What?"

"I don't know….I don't remember why I joined the military…."

"That is strange."

Her eyes grew distant as she began reminiscing. 'Why…how did it come to this? How….did I enter the military in the first place considering my father is its fiercest opponent?'

She remembered her childhood, the absence of a mother gnawing deeply at her little heart. From her birth to the brink of teenage-hood, all those she could recall. Yet, something seemed missing. She could recall being on a beach in Neo London, running down the beach with her bodyguard in close pursuit. But after that, nothing. Not a single thing, until her entry into the military, her meeting with Nikita and Apollo two years back and her inception into the Enigma Project a few months later.

'What had happened?' she mused. Her father himself said that it was nothing important, she had merely been so caught up with life in the military that she had come to forget those years. However, when asked about his permitting her into the military, the aged senator had clamped down and refused to answer.

Kirana glanced ahead at the silver haired man she had been hugging, wondering why exactly had she found him so familiar. She did not know why but recently she had been having dreams. Dreams of finding a silver Vanguard down a beach, finding a badly injured pilot within. One with silver hair, much like the man sitting before her.

But according to memory, nothing of the sort had occurred. She had been on the beach but….nothing had happened. It had been a plain boring trip. Nothing to write home about, to tell her frumpy governess.

"This is all so surreal," she whispered.

"Hmm?"

"Just drive, would you?" Kirana snapped at him, irritated by the interruption.

"For one who rescued you and is currently ferrying you to the safety of your Vanguard, you seem to be quite caustic when treating me."

"Would you like me to treat you with kid gloves?" she retorted hotly though a tell-tale flush crept upon her fair face.

"No, I would merely expect more respect and courtesy from you; especially considering your esteemed background."

"Great," she grumbled, "Pick on the senator's daughter who's not supposed to do anything wrong."

"Most do have certain expectations of you, I would have you know."

"And how am I meeting it?" Kirana smiled wanly.

He chuckled again and said, "If one's first impression of you was that you are a spoilt brat, I would say you have pretty much already convinced them. If they think you an elegant young lady, your somewhat crude use of language might have turned them off. If others think you a good lay, that I do not know."

Her eyes flashed as she exclaimed, "What did you say?!"

"I am a soldier. I have dispensed with pretty lies a long time ago."

She sighed and leaned back. "You meant no offense?"

"You cannot deny that some… most men have only one blood supply that is shared by their genitals and their mind."

"True," she smiled in spite of herself. "And when all the blood goes to….never mind."

He laughed even as he swerved the bike to avoid a rain of deadly shrapnel. It then occurred to her that she never knew his name.

"May I ask you something?" she asked tentatively. He nodded in response so she decided to go for broke.

"What is your name?"

He paused for an instant before replying, "Israel."

--

Nikita grimaced as she glared at the two rebel Vanguards before her. Both were strafing at her, reluctant to allow her a clean shot; something which disgruntled her greatly. "Come on you bastards," she spat in annoyance as she continued to aim her phase mortars at her swift assailants.

The aiming mechanism abruptly buzzed. Target locked on. Nikita smirked as she pulled the trigger while yelling triumphantly, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!"

The dual howitzers imbued upon the Aphrodite's shoulders turned a dull red before unleashing a torrent of fiery streaks across the clear sky, making straight for Nikita's targets. She watched with satisfaction as the first streak hit one foe head-on, causing it to disintegrate in an instantaneous explosion while the second caught the second fully upon its jetpack, causing it to plummet to the ground rapidly.

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?" Apollo's amused voice crackled from the intercom system.

"So true, darling," Aalia chuckled, a rare display of humor for one as reserved as her. "Go on then, show the stupid men who's the boss."

Nikita smiled even as the Aphrodite whipped out its three pronged trident, a weapon Nikita had jokingly dubbed 'The Pangs of Love'. "These are no elites," she complained over the intercom. "Where do we find some more worthy foes?"

A clumsy assault on the Aphrodite was quickly met by her trident, the CSO Vanguard in question being impaled upon the three blades before exploding brilliantly. A gunship trying to avoid the massive pink Vanguard was also dealt the same fate: a smooth sweep downwards splitting its flimsy frame into half.

Maddox howled, "Who gives a damn, bitch?! We just gotta crack them CSO skulls; teach them not to mess with the Empire!"

His crimson Ares impaled a CSO Vanguard with its blade mounted fists before smashing another aside with its plasmatron reinforced feet. The black American laughed deliriously, reveling in the destruction before his radar started to beep frantically.

Aalia was the first to speak. "I have visual display. Twelve Vanguards formed into two neat squadrons. They have distinct color patterns painted upon their Vanguards."

Apollo replied shortly, "Aren't these the bastards who were raising havoc at the East Sector earlier?"

A panicked cry of alarm soon confirmed his suspicions. "Red and Blue Squadron spotted approaching 24, 41; main hangars!"

"Those bastards? Shit, everyone pull back; we can't cope with them!"

"You four, you had better retreat for now! The Red and Blue Squadron are…."

"Shut up greens!" Maddox spat into the intercom. "Hang back and watch how it's done!"

Aalia commented wryly, "They must be good for all these pilots to fear them so. It would be unwise to underestimate them, Maddox."

"You shut up too! I don't need cowards for my back-up!" he howled before driving the Ares forward at the incoming bogeys.

Apollo sighed and said, "Why did we get such an idiot for a partner?"

Nikita frowned before swiveling her mortars towards the encroaching enemy Vanguards. "Aalia, you sure you all right?" she asked, noting the long silence assumed by the hovering Artemis.

"The bloody bastard!" Aalia suddenly howled before spurring the Artemis forward, overtaking even the advancing Ares. She then screamed at the stunned Maddox, "I'll show you, you scumbag! No one calls Aalia Matheson a coward!"

Maddox gaped as the sky blue Artemis streaked past him into the wave of red and blue Vanguards. "No shit, bitch; wait up, damn it!" he screamed and revved the Ares up as well.

Nikita and Apollo could only stare as the two duelists charged into the mass of elite CSO Vanguards, wreaking havoc with their superior armament while struggling to cope with the superior numbers of the enemy. Apollo however recovered his composure first and called out to Nikita, "Come on, we can't leave them to fight all of those elites by themselves!"

The German blonde nodded and in turn spat at several nervous greens hovering nearby. "Lay down covering fire, you got that?!"

There was a collective 'Aye!' The greens quickly assumed firing positions, fearful of the strange new units and opened fire on the CSO Vanguards which quickly scattered, allowing the Artemis and the Ares extra space to exploit their superior weaponry. Three Red Vanguards fell in a streak of fire before disintegrating, a Blue exploding after being impaled by the Artemis' shock chains.

"Aphrodite, engaging enemy squadrons!" Nikita reported to base control before moving in, Apollo having already entered combat. Her mortars opened fire on the Red and Blue Vanguards even as she swung her three pronged trident around in anticipation of fierce melee combat.

Ahead, the Red and Blue Vanguards had quickly regrouped. Ignoring the greens laying down covering fire, they focused on the nearest targets; the Artemis and the Ares which soon found themselves to be heavily pressed. The Apollo sped in for the rescue but three Blues swept in to intercept him and forced him to retreat.

"These bastards are good!" Apollo spat, swerving around to dodge a multitude of beam attacks. Nikita frowned and aimed at his oppressors, her finger already reaching for the trigger button.

"I have them in my sights!" she cried at Apollo. "Move, for goodness sake!"

He nodded and jammed his brakes, allowing the startled CSO Vanguards to speed past him and directly into the Aphrodite's withering fire. All were destroyed in quick succession. "Go, go, go!" she screamed, swiveling the Aphrodite around to fire on the grouped CSO Vanguards.

Apollo spat in disgust before charging right into the melee, hacking and slashing his way through the Red and Blue Vanguards to get to Aalia and Maddox, still under heavy fire.

"Artemis, Ares; status report!" ground control demanded; the operators seeming to be on the verge of panic now. The rashness of two of their pilots had done much for increasing their blood pressure levels.

Aalia responded first through gritted teeth, "These monkeys are persistent! Deflector shields down forty percent, armor suffering from twenty percent loss…" She glanced at her power meter and spat angrily, "Batteries optimum durability is currently at twelve minutes maximum!"

Maddox responded by cursing, "Stop screwing around; we're at battle here!" He promptly disengaged all communications before resuming his fierce assault on the CSO elites.

"Vanguard Ares? Vanguard Ares?!"

"He's going to get himself killed at this rate," Nikita said darkly as she flung her trident at the massed Vanguards, watching with satisfaction as the massive weapon impaled two Red Vanguards simultaneously.

"Aphrodite, Apollo; status report!"

"Still operating at maximum level. Battery life at forty minutes," Nikita reported before turning her attention back on the battle.

"Armor suffering from five percent damage. Deflector shields are fully operational; battery durability an estimated thirty four minutes!" Apollo said even as the Apollo's Sunfury gatling cannons unleashed hell upon his CSO adversaries.

"Artemis is operating at emergency levels; pilot Aalia is to remove her Vanguard from the current battle for immediate service. Aphrodite, Apollo; protect her retreat and continue engagement," ground control radioed in, relaying the Brigadier's instructions. "Ares; status report?"

Aalia swore loudly but a beeping from her monitors indicated that she was in no position to argue. "Damn it!" she screamed at Nikita. "You had better make sure they don't get my back!"

Nikita said grimly, "Just go would you?" Her attention was transfixed upon the still battling Ares whose pilot still maintained radio silence. 'That can't be good; he engaged them around the same time as Aalia did and with her damage….. It is plausible that the Ares has suffered similar damage.'

"Apollo?" she said.

The Greek replied instantly, "Yes, what is it?"

"Maddox won't be able to last for long."

"I know," he said, watching the crimson Ares battle three Vanguards by itself.

"How are we going to extract him?"

"No idea," he grunted, focused on the task at hand.

She sighed and muttered, "Men!"

"I heard that!"

"Whatever."

"Quite worrying about him, all right? He can take care of himself."

"Oh just shut up, would you?"

A grunt from his side indicated that he was more than happy to comply with her instructions. Nikita sighed and watched the swarm of Red and Blue Vanguards swamp several greens hovering nearby. "Damn it, Kirana, where are you when we need you?" she muttered under her breath.

--

The Kawasaki screeched to a stop, its tires squealing in protest at the sudden jamming of the brakes. Its driver, the silver-haired Israel glanced overhead as an Imperial Vanguard spun downwards before crashing into a nearby warehouse. The culmination of such an occurrence was easily predictable, an explosion radiating such force that Kirana very nearly toppled off the Kawasaki in surprise.

"Elites," Israel murmured as he continued to stare atop, unperturbed by the explosion earlier and the battle which still raged in the skies above. His attention was solely given to four particularly unique units hovering in the sky, battling waves of CSO Vanguards marked with either red or blue.

"Why are they marked so?" Kirana panted, her eyes searching the sky warily for any unwanted surprises.

Israel replied calmly, "Those markings indicate that they are special assault squadrons, elite pilots granted the honor of striking first at the enemy. They are no average conscripts."

She shuddered as she recognized the Ares, Artemis, Apollo and Aphrodite charge into the ranks of the Red and Blue Vanguards. The Ares and Artemis in particular were quickly overwhelmed, their reckless foray cutting them off from the support of the Aphrodite, Apollo and the greens in close proximity.

"Maddox, Aalia; always so impulsive!" she swore quietly, watching helplessly as the CSO elites dealt massive damage upon the trapped Artemis and Ares.

Eventually the Apollo's great gatling guns cut a swathe through the CSO Vanguards, allowing the Artemis to pull out and to limp back to base. To Kirana's dismay however, the Ares continued to fight despite the massive amount of damage it had taken.

"Your comrade, I presume?" Israel asked, also taking note of the severely damaged Ares.

"He's a stupid arrogant dick!" Kirana spat before turning to him. "I really need to get to the Athena, so please step on it!"

He merely smiled and nodded. As he began to rev up the Kawasaki once more however, there was a thunderous explosion, one which shook the entirety of the Nebula.

Kirana gasped as she gazed overhead. The outer cortex had been breached once more but this time, instead of admitting multiple Vanguards or gunships, a single diamond-like machine was inserted. It boasted no visible weapons, not even possessing a distinctive shape which would ascertain its class.

The gap was quickly shut again by reinforced plates, removing the powerful vortexes out to space as the Nebula's support systems worked overtime to compensate for the extreme gravity loss. In the meantime, the strange CSO craft hurtled towards the battle below, cracks appearing in its outer crust which indicated its imminent activation.

Kirana saw the Aphrodite look upwards and heaved a sigh of relief. Nikita at least was aware of the new danger. "Be careful," she whispered, her instinct telling her that the strange machine would be a potent threat to her friends.

"It appears as if not only the Empire is keeping secrets," Israel noted as he refocused on the road ahead.

"What is it?" she asked to no one in particular, her eyes still glued upon the alien craft, the outer layer of which was being peeled away slowly. Finally, the entire skin came off, revealing a massive Vanguard that was thrice the size of the Athena. Kirana's face grew ashen as she spotted the battleship-size batteries mounted upon its shoulders and the long waving blades it had for arms.

Israel took a deep breath and exhaled noisily. "That can't be good."

Kirana gulped and nodded.

Surrender, Imperialist knaves! Thy wretched hold over Colonist holdings is now relinquished by authority of the Supreme Father of the CSO! Surrender now and forfeit all allegiance to the Empire, and thou will find the CSO to be gracious masters!

A reckless green flew up to challenge the Requiem, guns blazing and vibro-blade drawn. Kirana shuddered as it was swept aside easily with a single stroke of the Requiem's blade arms before exploding brilliantly.

See what befalls all who insult the CSO!

All three of the Enigma Vanguards were now hovering in mid-air, their weapons drawn but not hoisted at the newcomer. It was apparent that they were gauging their ability to down that monster.

The Red and Blue Vanguards had also retreated behind the Requiem, all of them now regrouping in anticipation of a fierce battle. Their numbers were decimated, the Ares and Artemis having succeeded in downing many of them while the Aphrodite's and Apollo's support fire crippled many of the elite squadron, leaving them sitting ducks for the covering greens.

Kirana said, "They will challenge that monstrosity."

Israel nodded in agreement. "It is impossible that the Empire would allow the CSO to score such a victory. It is shameful, losing their secret weapons to their foe so early."

'Yet, their foe seems to have developed secret weapons of their own," Kirana whispered, "One that appears more impressive…"

"Looks are deceiving," Israel replied calmly.

"Perhaps," Kirana afforded a small, wan smile.

What say you, Imperialist dogs?!

"The pilot is eager for battle, it would seem," Israel noted, "He hurls insults and goads us. He has no real interest in surrender."

"Bloodthirsty mongrel!" Kirana spat.

"Nevertheless, such confidence bespeaks a position of power," Israel said slowly, "That could only mean that his Vanguard is of immense capability."

She gulped and whispered, "You speak the truth."

He turned to face her and said, "There is no place for hesitation now, Kirana daughter of Dai. When you take to the skies, you cannot afford indecisiveness. Do you understand?"

Kirana nodded silently before asking, "Who are you that you know so much? That you can speak with such know-how, taking a position of untoward power?"

Israel did not deign to reply but as Kirana moved to repeat herself, he said brusquely, "It is none of your concern. Focus on the task at hand now, you can scarcely allow yourself to be distracted."

The change in his tone, from one of cool recollection to a harsh and brutal one had the desired effect. Kirana shut up, though her mind continued to ponder the true identity of Israel.

'Who can this arrogant bastard be? And why does he appear in my dreams?'

--

A stalemate had been achieved, allowing both sides time to regroup.

The massive Requiem stood proudly ahead of the main CSO assault teams while the Ares, Apollo and Aphrodite hovered before the nervous Imperialist forces. The three squared off with the one, attempting to gauge each other's weaknesses.

Nikita exhaled loudly. "Orders, command center?" she demanded. "Shall we engage?"

"Negative," came the reply. "Continue to observe enemy and search for…"

"Yes, yes, weakness, I know!" she snapped. "But that will allow that monster time to train those cannons of his at us!"

"He's already spoiling for a fight," Apollo spat angrily as the Requiem released another wave of anti-Empire rhetoric. "Why can't we engage?"

"You cannot defeat him without a strategy!" the Brigadier's irritated voice cut in abruptly. "And besides, this delay gives Kirana more time to take to the air and for Aalia to recover as well!"

"That is if she's still alive," Nikita muttered bitterly.

Both sides continued to observe each other warily till finally, the most likely person to blow up did.

"What the hell are we waiting for, fools?!" Maddox bellowed. Without warning, he revved the Ares forward, screaming, "Eat shit, nigger!"

Unbeknownst to him, the pilot of the Requiem smiled cruelly before whispering, "Finally…"

The two main batteries charged up for a deadly assault, unleashing a torrent of fearsome energy at the approaching Ares and its allies behind.

The Ares dodged the pulsing shots easily, as did the Aphrodite and Apollo. Those behind them however were engulfed in that powerful shot before disintegrating in multiple explosions.

"No bitch can catch me with that," Maddox howled triumphantly as he pressed forward towards the Requiem, weapons already charging for a devastating attack…

That was before the Requiem caught him with a swooping blade, one that impaled the Ares right through the cockpit. Maddox stared at the massive blade protruding through him before falling back with an ugly gurgle, blood already spurting freely from the horrendous wound.

Nikita stared at the scene before her with trepidation bordering on absolute horror. "Impossible," she whispered, "It cannot be…"

Apollo's eyes grew wide, his tongue rendered speechless by the shock.

Most of all, Kirana, looking from below shuddered involuntarily before whispering, "No….no!"

The blade emerged cleanly from the Ares, the damaged Vanguard then falling to the ground in a crimson streak before exploding.

Israel then said coldly, "God help us all; the war has now well and truly begun…."


Author's Note: I have finally completed this chapter!!! Well, it was about due and what else can I say? Looking back on my writing, I would say that this chapter may prove to be somewhat confusing. So, if you have any questions concerning this, please do feel free to ask me.

Besides that? Mecha action scenes are bloody hard to write out if compared to 'normal' ones. I just can say that I hope this chapter did not disappoint. Again, constructive criticism is welcomed, flaming no, reviews will be replied (although you may have to remind me, I am not exactly the most gifted in terms of memory) and... I again hope that you will enjoy this chapter. That is all for now... The next story to be updated will be Deathscrye, though it's not as if I have a third story to focus on, lol.

All right, ciaoz.