Where Dreams Reside

Chapter 2

by jlewis42

What do you do to fit in? Do you wear a mask that you hope others will find acceptable, and hope that this mask will help you be accepted by them? Or are you simply yourself? Few people can accept themselves, so they put on their mask, and put mask on other people, trying to shape them to the image they want to see. Sometimes... sometimes the masks, whether put in place by you or by others, are cast aside, and the true person is revealed.

Kitsumi knew that Ryo would think of something because he always did, that's just who he was. The time she had almost failed seventh grade Spanish, he had been there. When she'd wrecked a corvette at the age of fifteen with not even so much as learner's permit, he had been there. When she'd destroyed a third of the small town they lived in with the tornado machine, he'd been there. Ryo would think of a way out of this too, because that's who he was. He would always know what to do. "So what are we gonna do, Ryo?"

"We are going to get our butts kicked."

Kitsumi felt like her entire world had just shattered. HE DOESN'T KNOW! She sobbed inside her mind. HE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO! He's supposed to know what to do, then we do it and everything would be ok! That's how it was supposed to work! How could he- Kitsumi looked at Ryo and saw the slightest twinkle in the very deepest depths of his steel gray eyes. Only because Kitsumi had been with him so long could she tell that he was joking. "You're not helping."

Ryo rolled his eyes. The two were on their way back to their battle suits, the ever-helpful Petty Officer Inez not following them for the first time since their introduction.

"Seriously, Ryo, what are we going to do?'

"Something will present itself."

"We can't go thru this just hoping for something to pop up!"

"I am not hoping, I am expecting."

"Ryooo..." Kitsumi hissed out his name. She hated it when he did this. She knew he already had something in mind, but he just couldn't resist yanking her chain. "Can't you at least use a contraction now and then?"

"No."

A set of doors slid away, revealing the hangar where Redwolf and Belle were located. The room was exceptionally loud considering that it was devoid of all life except for two men standing near the center of it. One was a tall man, taller than even Ryo, apparently an odd trait in this time judging from the rest of the crew. And yet, as tall as he was, there was not an ounce of fat on him. His skin was leather tan, a sight Ryo had not expected to see in someone who lived in space. Though it was obvious he was very strong, he was so thin that Kitsumi figured she could pick him up with one arm. The identification badge on his chest listed him as Lt. Cmdr. Pershing. While he wasn't yelling, Ryo and Kitsumi could hear him from the other side of the very large, relatively noisy room. His words were clipped and precise, the other man taking them down.

The other man was something else entirely. He was short, easily less than five feet tall. He was thin, though not as thin as Pershing, and had long delicate fingers. His nose was long and pointed, twitching as he glanced between the notes he was taking and Pershing. That added to his close set, small eyes gave him a vaguely rat like appearance.

"These guys are more than twice the size of the battle suits we use." Pershing waved his hands at the two new suits. He'd completely missed the entrance of the two companions, though the smaller rodent-like man kept glancing back at them, at Kit specifically. "Just look at the armor plating! It has a different molecular density from anything I've ever seen. It has half the weight but twice the durability, and these suits have four times the layers of armor as ours! Just look at how they're put together! There's not a seam on them! These beauties weren't built, they were poured!"

Kitsumi glanced at Ryo, who gave a nod.

"Yeah," Kitsumi strode across the room to the taller man. "Die cast molding is really a lost art."

"Tell me about it," the Lt. Cmdr. growled, keeping his eyes focused on the suits. "But the things are a bear to fix unless you have ready made parts."

"Better a bear than a jigsaw puzzle." Kitsumi glanced at the smaller battle suits across the hangar.

"Oh those things are dirt simple once I refitted them. I swear, the monkeys who designed those things thought they'd last forever because the damn things certainly weren't designed to be repaired."

"Mmhmmm..." Kitsumi nodded appreciatively, noting Ryo finally walking over after observing Kitsumi and Pershing's interaction from afar. "These two were designed to last forever though," Kit reassured Pershing.

"You can say that again. No wonder we've been beaten so badly if this is what those Kimera bastards have been using."

Ryo's eyebrow twitched. "Actually, I got the feeling these two models were new to them too."

"Hmmm... could be right. The extras they came with are a little odd."

"Extras?" Kitsumi asked. "Do they come with AC and cup holders?"

"Well, I don't know about those missy, but if you guys are who I think you are-"

"The pilots." Ryo confirmed.

"Then I need to tell you about the thrusters. The horse with wings was built for flying, through air or space it doesn't matter. Now the dog here, he was built for land fighting. His feet were designed with grippers so he can fight flat, even in zero-g as long as there's a surface to stand on."

"That does not make sense."

"What do you mean?" Pershing asked Ryo.

"Why would a space fairing people, like the Kimera, build something that was meant for two dimensional fighting? Further, why would they build something that could work in a planetary atmosphere?"

"Hey, I fix them, you fly them. We're not a paid to think." With that, Pershing and the other man left. Ryo didn't even spare them a second glance, just started up the catwalk to the suits' cockpits.

It took little more than a moment or two and Ryo was sliding into the comfortable seat of the Redwolf. For a moment he enjoyed the silence, the complete lack of other people.

"Getting close to your limit, huh?" Ryo smiled at the sound of Kitsumi's voice. The superior communication systems in this time made it almost sound like she was there, with him, without the burden of her presence.

"Actually, I passed it a while back."

"Kinda figured. You were more cold and antisocial than usual with the captain."

Ryo sighed.

"Why are we here anyway?"

"We walked and this is where we stopped."

"That's not what I meant, Ryo. What are we doing here?"

"Only place we can talk privately."

"I mean why are we helping these people? Shouldn't we be out finding that guy who gave us these things? Shouldn't we be finding a way back home?"

"One stupid thing at a time."

"Okay..." Kitsumi knew she'd hit her own limit with him today. "So... Come up with any ideas? On how to fight them, I mean?"

"They are looking to do an ambush with superior numbers on their side. All we really have to do is change those two factors."

"Well..." Kitsumi sounded thoughtful, a rare thing she only shared with Ryo and occasionally The Doc. "If we divided them up into manageable numbers, and fought each one individually, we could do it. But I don't see how we could with it being their ambush."

"A hunt."

"A what?"

"If we changed the ambush to a hunt-"

"Great!" Sarcasm dripped from Kitsumi's voice like honey. "Instead of them killing us quickly, we can change it to long and drawn out! That's soooo much better."

"No. We hide in something. Somewhere that there are a lot of different places to hide. That way, they split up, hunting us."

"Only we turn it around and take on each 'hunting' party individually. Kewlness!" Kitsumi squeaked.

"Too bad there are not that many places to hide in space."

"I really hate it when you shoot down your own ideas, Ryo."

"And why is that?"

"Just annoys me." Kitsumi snapped out. And makes me worry about your self-confidence, she added silently. "Ah ha!"

"What is it now, oh blonde one?"

"Well, Mr. Antisocial, I just found us a place to hide. Sending you the details now."

Ryo brought up the file and zoomed in on the highlighted area.

"Well, will it work?"

"Indeed."

"Most excellent!" Kitsumi smiled. As Ryo looked over the information, Kit fidgeted in her seat. "There's something else..."

"What is it?"

She could just ask him now. Just say it and have it out of the way. "A message kept popping up when I was fighting the drones. 'Core containment failure detected'." She couldn't ask her real question, too afraid of what his answer might be.

"I noticed that too. It came up before the drones exploded. Think it's in reference to their power source?"

"Well, if I was going to power something without any concern for life, I'd use the most powerful thing I could lay my hands on, even if it's unstable. In our time, it was nuclear reactors."

"In this time it's something else, perhaps something that needs to be contained or it explodes."

"Blow the containment and boom goes the bot." Kit brought up the records from the battle. "Fluctuations in energy readings. It's possible that it's an energy shield. Hey, remember the watch stoppers I made in high school?"

"The little things that Daley used to wipe out the school's server?"

"... Why do you always bring that up? It's not my fault he got a hold of them!"

"You are so easy to tease, Kit." Ryo let the smallest of smiles tug at the corner of his mouth. "Besides, you already knew all this. You walked me through it just to show off, didn't you?"

"Oh shut up!"

"Yes, I remember your little anti-tech bombs." Ryo touched the index finger of his left hand to his nose, rubbing the bridge. He'd broken it in kindergarten, and even though everyone had assured him for years that there wasn't a bump, and even he said there was nothing there, he still rubbed the spot. After several years, it'd become more of a physical habit, one of his few. "Thought they only had an effective radius of about a meter. Wouldn't be of much use against the drones."

"They had an effective range of one point five meters, Mr. Memory, and the effect was cumulative."

"Than this could be useful..."

"Exactly. Give me a minute and I'll write up the blueprints." For the moment, an uncomfortable silence settled between the two. "Ryo?"

"Yes?"

"I need to ask you something." She fidgeted for a moment, and then poured it all out at once. "What are we doing here?"

Ryo had known the question had been coming for some time. Shaking his head, he pretended not to understand. "What do you mean, Kitsumi?"

"I mean, why are we here?"

"Well, you see, a long time ago your father met you mother. Your mother was dancing on a table at the time and-"

"Damnit Ryo! You know what I mean!" Though her voice was harsh and brimming with anger, he could sense the tears waiting to fall from Kitsumi's eyes.

"Sorry." Ryo sighed and closed his eyes, slumping a little in his seat. "I'm sorry, Kitsumi."

"No, you're not." Kit sniffled, offering a half smile. "You enjoy it, jerk." The half smile made it to her voice.

"I know."

"So... what are we doing?"

"Right now, just surviving." Ryo rubbed the bridge of his nose again. "I don't have enough information yet to work out a possible plan or even know what our viable options are."

"Oh..." While she expected that answer from him, she was a tad disappointed anyway. "Ryo?"

"Yes?"

"You're talking funny again."

"... I don't talk funny." Ryo glared at Kitsumi. "My speech patters and accentual use are identical to yours."

"Yeah, but you pick weird words."

"Kit."

"Yeah?"

"Shut up." Coming from anyone else, it would have been an insult. "Kit, could you do something for me?"

"Sure. Name it." Kit flashed him a brilliant smile. "Just remember you'll owe me."

"Keep 'Ensign Eager' out of my hair for about two hours."

"No problem." Kitsumi stretched in her cramped cockpit as best she could. "So what's the plan once we enter the playground?"

"I go hunting, the ship is yours."

"Ryo, we can't play this that loosely. If we don't have a-"

"Queen to C3." Ryo interrupted.

"Queen takes pawn." Kit instantly responded. "Rook to G8."

"Knight takes Rook."

"... Fine, play it that way." Kitsumi tapped the corner of the holographic display she'd been creating. "Here, you give this to the grunts. I'm going to go actually enjoy myself before the main event."

"Just keep Inez out of my hair."

"Whatever."

()()()

"I'm sure this is the way to the bridge." Kitsumi confidently strode down the corridor.

"Actually it's-" Inez started.

"QUIET FOOL! I must learn this myself!"

Inez moaned. They'd been wandering around for thirty minutes. Inez had tried several times to explain to Kitsumi that they weren't going to find the bridge this way; they were on the wrong deck. Kitsumi had thus far rejected all help. As an added annoyance, she seemed to have lost her mind along with the way.

"AH HA! I see that God has sent us a sign that we are on the correct path!"

"What?" Inez snapped. Her mask of friendliness was beginning to crack in the face of Kitsumi's horrible navigation skills.

"God has sent forth a good omen on our holiest of quest! A vehicle by which we might traverse this maze and reach our destination!"

"Huh?" Inez followed Kitsumi's pointed finger to the grav lifts. In desperation, she tried once again to explain how the ship worked to Kit. "But it's just a-"

"Come! We must make use of this strange vehicle!"

()()()

"And that is the plan." Ryo concluded. The space marines cautiously looked at one another, trying to gauge each other's thoughts.

"You're banking almost entirely on your own fighting abilities." One cautiously pointed out.

"I am covering my bets. Kit will be flying the Lafayette with a squad of... volunteers."

"Volunteers? Yeah right! That's a suicide job!" Another marine did his best to sneer and look down his nose, though the effect was hardly impressing. Ryo was almost a foot taller than the man, causing the obstinate marine to tilt his head back way too far. Word of the two pilots overwhelming victory had of course reached the ears of the marines as well, and all present held Ryo with a certain amount of awe. Still, the smaller man tried to sound dangerous. "You just want us killed off. Major Cole is gone and you want to tie up the lose ends."

"Unless you do something exceptionally stupid, you're in no danger of dieing." Ryo turned to leave the room, purposely showing his unprotected back to the group. "But, you'll have to have faith in us to survive, one way or another."

()()()

"At last! We have completed our quest!"

Inez sagged against a nearby console. It'd been over an hour since they'd discovered the grav lifts, or as Kitsumi liked to call them, "gleaming chariots of the gods." They'd wandered nearly every deck on the ship, searching for a place that only should have taken a few moments to reach. Worse, Inez had made the mistake of asking Kitsumi to "hurry it along." Instead of walking deck after deck, Kitsumi had run them at full speed. Inez had been hard pressed to keep up with the hyperactive girl.

"Noble master of this vessel, I have a request to make of you!"

Captain Rice blinked at the young woman. He'd been getting the feeling she was more than slightly out there, but her current actions put her into the outer orbit of Pluto. "What can I do for you?"

"I, your noble and worthy ally, have need of knowledge which you alone may impart unto my lacking mind."

"Oh... ok. What can I tell you?"

"It is not of spoken words that I wish to consume, but action that my mind must devour!"

"Uhhh..."

In an instant Kit's entire demeanor changed. She went from the noble warrior to an overly cute younger woman. Her eyes seemed larger and shown with an inner light, an innocence that her physical age denied. "Captain... TEACH ME HOW TO FLY THE SHIP! PLLLEEEEEEEAAASSSSEEEEE!"

()()()

Ryo took a puff from the green cigarette and passed it to Lt. Cmdr. Pershing, the Chief Mechanic as Ryo had discovered.

"A weapon, huh?" Pershing took a deep breath, pulling the smoke into his lungs. "I might have to cannibalize a few of the battle suits' staffs. I have an idea for a cannon as well, but none of our battle suits could have lifted it. I suppose that these two could-"

"Indulge yourself." Ryo waved away the offered cigarette. "I need something to mask it's energy readings as well. Something to render me invisible to their sensors."

"That is easy enough to do, but it'll drain our reserves of thermal sheaths."

"Don't worry about the reserves."

"I don't follow you."

"You heard the Captain's announcement about the expected attack, correct?"

"Along with the follow up announcement from the blonde about her liking peanut butter and pixie sticks."

Ryo blinked a few times. "Must have missed that."

"How could you of?"

"I'm a firm believer in the theory that nothing unreal exists." As Pershing tried to grasp what Ryo meant, Ryo made a mental note to make an announcement to the crew not to teach Amy anything else about the ship. "Either way the coming battle goes, what we have in reserve won't matter."

"Come again?"

"We win and we can completely restock the reserves and even get some much needed upgrades. We lose and it won't matter anymore. Nothing will matter. We will all be dead."

"Point taken." Pershing scratched under his chin. "I think I can have something made up. How soon will you be needing it?"

"About five seconds before the attack will be fine." Ryo pulled out the disc he'd copied Kit's blueprints onto. He glanced at it briefly, making sure it was the right one, and passed it to Pershing. "Here, have one of your grunts make as many of these as they can before the battle. Encourage him as best you can, these might be necessary."

"Sure, I'll just..." Pershing trailed off and looked over Ryo's shoulder. Ryo didn't need to look, he already knew who it was.

"YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE!" The purpled haired Inez stomped across the deck.

"Did what?" Ryo calmly faced her, trying for an innocent smile. He failed miserably, but then he could barely do normal smiles anyway.

"Left me with that psycho!"

Ryo sighed and brushed past her. "What's wrong? Had a problem keeping up?"

"No! I just..." The doors shut behind her as she followed him out into the hallway. "I mean... She took me across every deck!"

"Yes, Kit does have a problem with her sense of direction." Ryo glanced left and right, trying to decide which way to go. With a shrug, he closed his eyes and turned left. Inez again found herself almost dashing to keep up with a mercenary. While Ryo wasn't running like Kitsumi had, his longer legs kept him moving almost as fast.

"Why do you hang around with her anyway?" Inez pushed herself so that she was keeping pace with him and could watch his face. She was surprised to find that his eyes were screwed shut. "She's a total ditz!"

"She's serious when she needs to be." Ryo stepped into the grav lift, somehow knowing to hesitating for the doors to open even with his eyes closed. "Besides, she has her own 'unique' skills."

"What kind of skills?"

"You're about to get a demonstration." Ryo stepped out into the hallway, the door for the bridge only a few strides away.

()()()

"Woo hoo!" Kit put the ship into a barrel roll. Though the gravity originated within the ship and not from some outside body, the G's generated by the roll knocked most of the crew to the floor. Everyone on the bridge hit the deck except for Kit, who had been expecting it and Ryo, who had just stepped onto the bridge.

"I assume that means you have learned to pilot the ship."

"Was there ever a doubt?" Kitsumi tipped her head backwards, leaning her chair back as far as she could so she could look at him upside down.

"How about closed quarters?"

"The controls are a bit sluggish, but I've got a feel for them now."

"Excellent."

"Have you done this before?" Captain Rice, having been the last to get up, pulled himself into the command chair.

"Nope! If I had done it before, I wouldn't have asked you to teach me!" Kitsumi used her bare feet to fly the ship, her socks stuck on either side of her head like long ears. Her shoes were hanging around her neck, the shoelaces tied together.

"But how did you learn so quickly?" Inez had left the moment she'd realized that Ryo wasn't with them, but she hadn't been gone that long. "It takes pilots months of training to be taught what you learned in thirty minutes."

"Actually, it was closer to forty five and it's just a gift I have." Kit gave Inez a vacant, happy smile.

There was a sudden beeping at the starboard console, the one directly opposite of the pilot's console. Inez slid into the seat and began typing.

"What's going on, Inez?" Rice did his best to look like he was in command of the situation. He failed miserably, the look of worry seeping into his voice.

"Three Kimera battle suit carriers incoming. Judging from the mass and energy signatures, there are three piloted suits. The rest are unmanned."

"About how many drones does one of those carriers hold?" Ryo asked from his spot near the captain's chair.

"Standard is about three hundred."

"Nine hundred drones..." Kit breathed out in awe.

"Impressive." Ryo raised his eyebrows slightly.

"Yes, nearly a thousand battle suits to take down just two is quite impressive." Inez took in Ryo's expression, instinctually knowing that it was a rare thing to see him impressed by anything.

"Actually I find that rather disappointing, I expected twice that. I was impressed Kit could add them up that fast."

"Hey!" Kitsumi bolted to her feet, entirely forgetting the fact that she was supposed to be piloting the ship. "I did great in math class!"

"You cheated off of Billy Greenwood." Ryo rolled his eyes and continued on. "How long until they reach us?"

"About thirty minutes." Inez dutifully answered.

"How long until we reach our little playground?" Ryo asked Kit

"About twenty five minutes." Kitsumi supplied.

"That'll be cutting it close, won't it?" Rice asked Ryo, a hint of panic creeping into the Captain's voice.

"Not at all," Ryo folded his arms across his chest. "But just to be sure, a few tacks along the road should serve to slow them down."

()()()

On board tango three, Tamaero tried to stay calm. He was a small skunk-like Kimera, barely old enough to pilot a Draug, let alone command a unit of Revel troops. He had never been in an actual battle before, and was rather apprehensive about his first.

"Hey, little bro', chill out already. You're starting to make me nervous." Yasterdei's face appeared in front of Tamaero. Yasterdei was Tamaero's older brother and personal hero, along with being one of the more decorated Kutaw's in the whole fleet. "Don't worry, little brother, with me here, you're as good as immortal."

"Oh, and just how does you being here change anything?" Toudai, a fox Kutaw and "adopted cousin" of the skunk brothers, popped up his screen beside Yasterdei's. "Did you find some way to have your ego power your weapons?"

"Give me a break, Toady!"

"TOUDAI!"

"No, you're Toudai."

"I know I'm Toudai."

"But you just said-"

"I said, 'It's Toudai'!"

"Listen, I don't care what you call it, just don't let Tamaero hear you talking to it."

"Oh yeah? Maybe we should tell him what you do with your-"

Tamaero couldn't take it anymore and cracked up. Toudai smiled warmly and nodded, closing his communication link. A yellow bar appeared around Yasterdei's comm. box, signifying that it was a secure channel, not even Toudai could listen in.

"Don't worry, little bro.' Everything's going to be fine. The only way you could get into any trouble is if all your Revel troops were destroyed, and that's almost impossible."

()()()

Ryo slid into the battle suit's cockpit. He would have preferred Redwolf, but Pershing had shooed him away.

"You're not allowed to see it until I'm done!"

"You will give it to me when I require it, or you will not be allowed to work on it in the future."

"Yeah, whatever. You don't need it now so just take one of our battle suits. Hell, take Cole's. He won't be using it anyway."

"Agreed." Ryo had said. He now admitted, if only to himself in the silence of the cockpit, that he should learn how to pilot a battle suit anyway.

Holding the robot's legs on their "stoop" command, Ryo pushed a series of buttons and pushed forward on the two control handles. The machine reached down and lifted up three massive containers.

"No wonder the humans are losing." Ryo commented as he righted the battle suit. "Only those of considerable skill and experience could control one of these machines." Walking the battle suit over to the main doors, Ryo opened a comm. box to the ensign in the control room. "Open the main doors."

"Certainly Sir, if you'll hold on for a moment, I can cycle through the vacum check and-"

"Open the doors now."

"I'm sorry, Sir, but the protocols must be followed and-"

"Open them now, or I'm shooting them off."

"Sir, I can't-"

()()()

On the bridge, the explosion nearly shook everyone to the deck.

"What the hell was that?" Rice demanded.

"That was Ryo." Kit calmly replied, steering the ship only by using her nose to push the myriad of buttons on her control panel. "Probably teaching someone that making him wait is not a good thing. You should see him with the pizza delivery guy is late."

Rice stared at Kit, silently wondering just what he'd gotten himself into.

()()()

Pershing burst into the cargo bay control room. "Report!"

"He- he- he-" A small, skinny man with pimples stuttered through an explanation. "He said- then I- BOOM!"

"Let me guess, you were trying to do it by the book and he got impatient and shot the doors off?"

"I- he- yes."

Pershing leaned his hip against the control panel and watched as Ryo individually tossed each of the three containers out the gaping hole into space. Pershing smiled and gave a snort of laughter. "Guess our mercenary isn't the kind of person you say 'no' to." He straightened up, tugging at his shirt's hem. "From now on, you have my permission to rush any system checks should our new friend start sounding impatient. Might save us a few doors. Carry on."

"Ye- yes sir."

()()()

"Hey Tamaero." Yasterdei's face appeared. "Did you just register an explosion on the target?"

"I- um... I shut off my censors since we were so far away from them."

"Never blind yourself to the enemy, little brother."

Tamaero flipped the censors on, the outside of the ship filling his vision. Sure enough, some debris was floating away from the target. As they approached it, Yasterdei and Toudai veered away from it, going around the pieces of debris.

"What are they doing? It's just space junk. We can-"

"Tamaero, get out of there!" Toudai's fox-like face appeared.

"It's just junk. It can't-"

The container with the anti-tech bombs went off directly in front of the young Kutaw. At first there was no real response, just a dispersing sphere of electricity. Tamaero was mildly surprised when the outer edge of the sphere penetrated his ship. He'd never seen anything like the crackling wall of lighting, watching in wonder as a streak of lightning touched a Revel closest to the front.

"Get out! Get out now!" Tamaero couldn't tell who yelled it, but it didn't' matter, he didn't move. He stood and watched in wonder as the first drone exploded, then the next and the next. One after another, the explosions coming faster and faster, the Revel troops mechanical hearts exploded, fueling the fire wall that rapidly approached soul occupant of the ship. "Damnit, Tamaero, MOVE!"

Somehow the emergency release was pulled, the back door exploding off. Tamaero simply fell out of the back of his ship, watching in horrified awe as it was consumed by it's own death flame. His entire future was swallowed up in the flames as his brother's words replayed in his mind.

"...if all your troops are destroyed..."

()()()

"Is it done yet?"

Coming from any other person in the universe, especially the Captain, Pershing would have found that the height of annoyance. The way it rolled off their tongue and bit him in the back of the neck, the spoiled brat tone mixed with the slight whine, the sheer audacity to ask when they knew they would be told as soon as the task was completed, all of it mixed together to make it the most annoying thing Pershing had ever heard. However, it had been a long time since Pershing had been scared about what would happen if he answered no.

It had been an even longer time since he'd been afraid that when he said yes, the person would find the job a failure. This is how he felt, acid churning in his stomach like out of date milk as he turned to Ryo and nodded.

"She's all done. I'll take you to-"

"It is a robot and thus does not have a gender."

"Ya know," Pershing scratched the back of his neck and tried to calm the butterflies as best he could, "That correcting people is a bad habit."

"Stay around Kit for a while and you will do it too." Ryo glanced at the large cargo bay doors then back at Pershing. "Should I shoot these doors open too?"

"Oh!" Pershing swiped his hand nervously over the pad to the right of the door, having to repeat the motion because he'd moved too fast the first time. "I ain't been this nervous since prom."

"More like a fifteen year old girl about to show her baby to her unaware parents."

"What?"

"Shall we step through? Time is of the essence."

"Yes, inside."

The two stepped across the threshold and into the nearly empty cargo bay. To Pershing, the only thing by the catwalk designated for the mercenary battle suits was Belle. Pershing carefully watched Ryo's face, smiling broadly at the slightly startled look of surprise on Ryo's face.

"Pershing..."

"Yes?" Pershing was on the verge of dancing. He's going to ask where Redwolf is! This is great!

"Why is Redwolf covered in a techno-colored coat?"

"Huh?"

"It looks like an anthropomorphic disco ball."

Pershing desperately jerked his eyes over to where he knew Redwolf stood. There was nothing, not one flicker of light or even a shadow to hint that there might be anything ehre. "You shouldn't be able to see it. The Absolute Thermal cloak bends light around it and minimizes energy missions. You can't see it! It's impossible!"

Ryo stared at Pershing from the corner of his eye, trying to judge if Pershing was joking.

"You are unable to detect it?"

"Yes."

"And the Kimeria, they will be unable to detct it as well?"

"They haven't been able to see through an AT cloak in the past. It's only downfall is that it eats energy like you wouldn't believe."

"Fine." Ryo's eye focused back on the apparently empty space. "I am to assume you have completed the weapons as well?"

"Yes. They are-"

"I was beginning to wonder what those bulges were."

Pershing tired to calm the nervous tic under his left eye. It hadn't acted up in years and now threatened to push his eye out.

"Yes... let me just pull the AT cloak out of the way. It'd normally just fit around it like a hooded cape, but I put it on backwards." Pershing stomped over to where he knew Redwolf should be, feeling the oddly smooth invisible cloth with his fingertips before he gathered it up. His entire big unveiling was completely ruined by Ryo's apparent ability to see through the invisible cloak. With a sigh, Pershing tugged the cloak away and turned, expecting to find another critical look from Ryo. "Well?"

"...Oh hell yes!"

()()()

"Now entering Kit's Playground." Inez reported.

"Kit's Playground?" Captain Rice cocked an eyebrow. He knew he was of next to no use at this point, the entire game now belonging to the two mercenaries.

"I..." Inez blushed, embarrassed that she'd said it out loud. "I didn't mean to-"

"That's quite al right."

"Ryo's Playground might be a better name." Kit had changed the moment Inez had spoken up. Now the strawberry blonde was setting straight up, her usually bright expressive eyes were now focused and intelligent. Inez was startled by the sudden change. "Ryo loves to hunt, and this space junk gives him room to roam and let's us hide this whole ship and still be a hundred feet from a drone squad."

A communication box opened up near Inez, though it faced towards the whole bridge. "I will be departing now." Ryo was still using the smooth, measured tone that could send a chill down an average person's spine, but now there was a slight undercurrent to it. A repressed growl or perhaps just a metallic hum, like a machine grinding it's teeth.

"Ryo?" Kitsumi had the fingers of her right hand wrapped around her left elbow.

"..."

"Ryo! Don't you dare-"

"Keep everything together until I get back."

"Ryo." Captain Rice spoke up finally. They were about to enter a battle and Rice intended to exercise his control of the mercenaries. "I want you to-"

"I'm taking out our three marines." Ryo interrupted. "Establish as secure a communication link as you can with them."

"Doing so now," Inez responded, her "eager to please" mask sliding into place.

"I want you to-" Rice tried asserting his command again.

"Captain." Ryo again interrupted.

"Ye-yes?" Though his face wasn't there, Rice could feel the younger man's eyes boring into him.

"Stay out of Kit's way, and keep away from Inez, she'll be busy enough as it is."

"I... Yes."

"Redwolf out."

"Damnit!" Kit slammed her palm down on the edge of the navigation console. "Bastard."

Inez stared at the strawberry blonde, trying to make the image in front of her fit the memory of the female jester she'd been gallivanting around the ship with for the last few hours.

()()()

Tamaero sat in the cockpit of his scorched Draug. In the giant war machine's hands was the head from one of his Revel troops. It was the only thing his brother and Toudai had been able to salvage from his group of three hundred Revel troops. Each and every single one had been destroyed without so much as a shot fired.

"Alas, poor Revel. I never got to know him, Yasterdei."

"Would you cut it out?" Yasterdei watched his little brother giggle over the misquote of Shakespeare. "This is serious, you know!" This only served to send Tamaero deeper into his giggle fit. Yasterdei suppressed a growl and opened a secure channel to Toudai.

"What is it?" The loss of a third of their troops added to the loss of time collecting Tamaero had put Toudai in a bad mood. He'd already altered his mind set from the "Caring Cousin" to the "Killer Kimerian." With his battle mask on, he couldn't see what the loss had emotionally done to his inexperienced friend.

"I don't think Tamaero's going to pull himself together in time."

"So? We were just going to stick him in a corner with a few dozen troops and hope he didn't get himself killed anyway." The fox man shrugged his shoulders. "This doesn't change anything besides the amount of troops at our disposal."

"The kids crushed!"

"Better that than dead. We're entering the area they disappeared into, you know the plan, divide and conquer. Toudai out." Before Yasterdei could say anything more, the fox closed the communication link.

()()()

"Here they come." Inez announced.

"Good." Kitsumi flipped a few switches and pushed a slider forward a minute amount. Ineze waited for the joke or pun, something along the lines of "I was starting to wonder if they were going to show up." Nothing came.

"There's only twelve of them." Inez added, hoping this would prompt the expected response.

"And?" When Inez didn't reply, Kit turned and glared at her, the bright smile she had been using to illuminate the bridge was no where to be found.

"And what?"

Kit gave an exasperated sound and rolled her eyes. "If I wanted this, I'd have had Rice take the console."

"Hey!" The captain jerked up, glaring around the bridge. He'd fallen asleep as Kit and Inez had pretty much taken over everything for the moment. Inez gave him only a glance, the image of a fat old tom cat that had been sprayed with water during its afternoon nap in a sun spot being enough to make her look away before she laughed aloud.

Kit's supposed to be the funny one, not Rice. She thought to herself. "What do you want to know?"

"I need to know if there are any piloted suits among the drones. I'm not fighting any real people today, just the toy soldiers."

"Just drones," Inez informed. "So why only the robots?"

"Because..." Kit began to carefully move the ship so it had a clean shot at the squad of drones before they even detected the Lafayette. "Ryo likes to hunt live game."

()()()

"The left me behind."

It was a simple thought, but as anyone knows who has had to truthfully utter the statement, its one of the worst feelings in existence. In Tamaero's mind he had betrayed his brother's trust, lost his troops, which was a complete and utter humiliation in his cousin's eyes (or so Tamaero thought), and he would probably never again be put in combat again, a failure as a person in the eyes of his race. He had a sinking feeling that the few Draug he'd been left were there to keep him there rather than for him to command. With these thoughts and emotions swirling through his mind, Tamaero looked into the one open area of space available to him, space junk from some long forgotten battle occupying ever other line of sight to the sparkling stars. His eyes teared up as he gazed at the twinkling points that had once meant hope to him. Brushing the tears away, Tamaero was a bit perplexed when the single spot of visible stars remained distorted.

()()()

"...Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of cruel fate..." Kit shook her head, her eyes running over the keys, her hands flashing like a snake's tongue to command the ship's movements. "Shakespeare was out of his mind."

"Who-spear?"

"Shakespeare." Kit didn't look at Inez, barely acknowledged the purple hair woman. If it hadn't been that she had repeated the name, Inez would have thought that Kit was simply talking to herself, going over old facts. "Greatest English author of all time, a playwright of the Globe Theatre." To Kit they were just common facts, something that had been beaten into her so many times over the years that not even the river Lethe could erase it.

"Globe Theatre? Is that the place where they project an image on the inside of a dome?"

()()()

"Something stinks in the state of Denmark."

"What are you talking about?" Toudai's smooth and even voice carried the slight edge of annoyance.

"You know, Hamlet, Act One, Scene One."

"You'd have never learned any of it if it wasn't for Souma."

"She had a nice tail..."

"She was a Persian cat."

"Well she was tiger when it came to-"

"This channel is for discussing the battle, not our past conquest of the females that have unfortunately crossed your path."

"Whatever, man." Yasterdei rolled his eyes. "I'm tellin' ya that something isn't right?"

"Bad vibes?" Toudai was a skeptic as always about Yasterdei's bad feelings. "You're just worried about Tamaero, he'll be fine."

"That's not what's bugging me. In under an hour we've lost contact with over half our squads." Yasterdei fidgeted in his seat. "Ok so I want to go check on him!"

"He doesn't need you." The fox was loosing his patience. "It's better if you just leave the boy alone."

"Toudai, he already lost a hundred and fifty Revel troops, do you really think that the handful we left him will keep him safe?"

()()()

Nothing is there.

"But I saw something."

No energy readings present. No matter readings present. Conclusion: Nothing is there.

"I don't care what you say, I saw something. I'm still seeing something."

The available data would indicate that nothing is there. Pilot sees something. Conclusion: Pilot error.

"Are you telling me I'm stressed so I'm starting to see things that aren't there?"

Correct.

Tamaero sighed and leaned back in his seat. He'd been caught in a circular argument with the computer since he'd first seen the shimmering patch of stars. He was mostly just talking to prove to himself that he was still there, a habit his brother also had. He knew he could out think the computer if he could just keep his mind off the fact that this was the last time he'd ever talk to a computer. "Ok."

Command?

"Analyze data to follow, and give a hypothesis for an explanation."

Command accepted. Input data.

"One, a visible distortion that is detectable only by the organic eye. Two, inability to register anything in that region, even using the transports sensors. Three, hostile forces in the area with experimental Draug created by a rogue scientist that is almost entirely a mystery. Four, Murphy's Law, anything that can go wrong probably will. Possible answers?"

Though improbable, it is possible that a Draug has had something installed that blocks almost all sensors.

"Clever, clever for a little tinker toy. Tell me, boy, do you always have a calculator do your thinking for you?"

"Who, who is this?!"

"You know, boy, you should really learn to keep your communications closed when in a combat situation."

"Oh no..." The patch of sparkling space suddenly rippled away, the cape of stars flung back and over Redwolf's shoulder as he brought a massive energy cannon attached to his left forearm to bare.

"Say goodbye... to everything."

()()()

"Damnit!"

"What is it, now?"

"Our communications link with Tamaero's carrier just went down!"

"The kid probably pushed the wrong button and turned it off." Toudai negligently flipped a hand, as if shooing a fly away. Maybe we got lucky and he blew himself up. He thought, his eyes watching as drone after drone squad went offline. Somebody, was picking them off.

"That's not possible!" Yasterdei's hands clenched and unclenched on the orbs. "Damnit, I'm going after them."

"Go ahead. I don't think I need you here anymore, Yasterdei."

"See ya later, Toudai. Meet back at The Flaming Pit."

"Whatever. Go." Toudai gritted his teeth. Imagine, one of the great heroes of the Kimerian Empire distracted by a little brother. Soldiers shouldn't have family.

()()()

"You ruined everything for me!" Tamaero swung his right fist around, aiming at Ryo's head. Ryo negligently blocked the attack and shoved Tamaero away.

"So you're the one who walked into my trap. Tell me, how does it feel to lose so easily?" Ryo snickered over the open line. "So what are you going to tell them when back home? 'Sorry, they broke.'?"

"Damn you!" Tamaero lunged towards Redwolf again, his left arm cocked to deliver a blow that should have punched straight through the cockpit, a dagger clutched in his fist to make sure.

Suddenly, Redwolf was behind Tamaero, facing away as if they'd already passed each other. Tamaero's left arm floated lazily away from both of them, sparks still coming from the severed shoulder. Inside the cockpit, Tamaero screamed and clutched his own shoulder, his pilot's suit making it feel like his arm really had been cut off. As the damaged Draug listed in space, he found himself looking up into Redwolf's glowing eyes. A long staff like weapon, a curved blade at each end, had it's tip carefully placed in the groove down the center of Tamaero's chest plate. A simple push being all that was necessary to pierce the armor and the cockpit, cutting Tamaero neatly in half in his own Draug.

"Perhaps I should just kill you now, and save you the embarrassment of having to explain your earlier loss." Ryo's voice lacked the mocking tone from earlier, a colder tone replacing it. "I'm sure they'd give you a hero's... a martyr's funeral if I did."

"THE ONLY ONE DIEING TODAY IS YOU, BASTARD!" A new voice screamed out. "I won't let you hurt my little brother!" Yasterdei's Draug came rocketing out of the space wreckage, a spear held at the ready.

"Brother!" Yasterdei came back for me! To Tamaero, this meant nothing more than that his brother still loved him, despite the horrible mistake Tamaero had made earlier. "I'm sorry! I-"

It happened so quickly that Tamaero didn't actually see it occur. His brother's Draug had been flying forward his spear held just so it would impale Redwolf through the back, and then Yasterdei was suddenly veering to the right. Tamaero saw his brother eject just before the Draug exploded. Redwolf settled his double-ended staff back into place and smoothly snatched the ejected pilot with his free hand.

"So this one is your big brother, huh? Not much to look at without his Draug.

"I... LET HIM GO!" Killing a pilot outside their Draug was unthinkable to Tamaero. Dieing like this was how a martyr died, not a hero like Yasterdei. "Let him go, NOW!"

"How about you turn around and go home, and I let him go?"

Tamaero looked at his brother, Yasterdei appearing frail and small as compared to the giant metal paw wrapped around him. Tamaero couldn't even make out his brother's face, Yasterdei's rappid, panicked breathing having fogged up his own mask. "Do you promise?"

"There are no promises in war." That same cold tone from Redwolf's pilot. "Except that, in the end, everyone dies."

"My pride-"

"Is nothing in comparison to your brother's life." Redwolf held out Yasterdei, the giant robot's thumb still pinning him down. "Tell me, how will you face your family when your brother died because you couldn't walk away from a fight you would lose anyway?"

Tamaero desperately wanted to talk to his brother. If he could just say "Go ahead and walk away." or "Fight to the death!", anything to lead Tamaero so he wouldn't have to make the decision on his own.

"Hurry up and decide before I just kill you both." Redwolf pushed a little bit with the end of his weapon, penetrating the first layer of Tamaero's chest plate. Sirens and lights were going off like crazy inside Tamaero's cockpit.

"ALL RIGHT! I surrender! I'll leave."

Redwolf spun the double bladed ended weapon around and locked it into place behind his back, his cloak unfurling. Tamaero fired the small maneuvering thrusters on his feet, slowly floating away from Redwolf. Redwolf's cape continued to fall about his shoulders until only his head and left hand were visible.

"There! I'm away. Give me back my brother."

"Tamaero..."

"What?!"

"Did this one never..." Redwolf again held out Yasterdei as his right hand again appeared to reach up to his hood. "Tell you to never trust an enemy?"

As the hood fell about Redwolf's canine like head, and his right hand slipped back into his cape, Tamaero began to realize he wouldn't be getting his brother back today. Even as this realization dawned on him, the next epiphany came even faster. The apparently disembodied wolf-hand held Yasterdei out to Tamaero, as if offering him to come collect his brother. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, Redwolf's fingers closed around the much smaller Kimerian. For a moment he just held onto Yasterdei, as if the giant robot could feel the Draug-less pilot's fear. And then... and then the hand simply squeezed.

If sound could travel through the emptiness of space, the sound of Yasterdei's bones not just breaking, but shattering and being crushed, would have been heard on Earth.

When the hand let go and vanished from sight, what was left of Yasterdei was barely and inch thick.

Tamaero would have sworn that he had heard his brother scream just before, but Ryo knew it was his own laugh as he snuffed out the bright star of life that had been Yasterdei. In the battle's to come, Ryo's laugh would accompany many people's final moments, and Ryo was not done laughing today.

()()()

Despite her anger at her life long best friend, and the serious "game face" she wore now, Kit was having the time of her life. To her, this was the greatest game ever. She enjoyed the giant robot, arena style fighting, but this was her favorite. Hiding in a maze with shifting walls, hunting and being hunted by drones of varying degree of skill and fighting ability, controlling an entire ship with just a few touches at the keys at her fingertips and commanding three marines while keeping the balance of allowing them enough freewill to be effective. While there was a lot of things she'd love to do, and a lot of places she'd like to be, right now there was nothing she'd rather be doing. Inez was in awe of Kitsumi in her element.

Inez was also in pain. Trying to keep up with the strawberry blonde, Inez was sure she'd already sprained one finger and her head was getting a pounding right between her temples. Inez could play speed chess with the best, and devour entire books in a matter of hours but she was now reaching her limit. Whenever there was a lull, she found herself staring at Kitsumi. Kit was entirely different from before, and Inez couldn't figure out why. This wasn't the perky girl from earlier.

"What's our count?"

"Excuse me?" Inez sat up straighter, trying to pretend that she hadn't been staring at Kitsumi.

"How many badies have we bagged?"

"Two hundred and twenty-seven drones destroyed."

"Seventy three left."

"Wouldn't Ryo have negated a few?"

"Negated. Cute." Kit snorted and rolled her eyes. "Ryo doesn't negate, he annihilates."

"So wouldn't he have taken care of a few of them?"

Kit didn't respond, her eyes searching the screen for the slightest hint of drones. "Scan B8."

"Nothing there." Inez responded.

"Switch to active scanning."

"But that would give away our position!"

"They know we're here, Inez. The missing troops we've left littered around have told them where they are. We've got an open spot right now, run the scan."

Inez switched over to active scans, instantly registering what Kit already knew was there. "It's one of the carriers. Twenty three drones."

"Fifty..." Kit leaned back in her chair, her eyes closed. "He got fifty of them."

"How do you know they aren't holding some back?"

"They've found us. Now they're going to go through with their plan."

"Swarm us with their remaining troops?"

"No. One or more of their piloted suits is behind us. They want us to engage these drones, draw out our troops, and then the one behind us will attack the ship itself. Wit no support base and now way for us to get home, their remaining forces will just crush what's left of us."

"So we turn around and attack the one behind us?"

Kitsumi just stared at Inez.

"What?"

"Can't believe he thinks that highly of you."

"Huh?" Inez blinked. Who is she talking about? Who thinks highly of me? Ryo?

"Gators! Back in the ship, now!"

"What are you doing?" Inez stood up, surprise written all over her face. "Without them, we're defensless!"

"All of our marines, fully outfitted, wouldn't be enough to take on one Kimera Draug. Besides..." Kit smiled hitting the Lafayette's main boosters. "It's more fun this way."

The Lafayette exploded forward, moving like a giant spear some galactic colossus had flung through space at the Kimerian carrier. The other ship sluggishly turned left, trying to get out of the way, the AI controlling the ship's movements coming the realization that Kitsumi intended to ram it. Kit waited as long as she could then pulled the ship to her own left.

"Surgical strikes, Inez. I want it in one piece but with its drones trapped inside."

"On it." Inez shot the doors on the side and on top, with medium strength burst, crumpling them without destroying them. The two ships passed each other and pivoted around so they were once again facing each other. "What the hell are we doing?"

"The one that was behind us." Kit bit her bottom lip, her hands poised over the controls and her eyes focused on the other ship. "He was right there, all powered up and ready to attack and we didn't see him. Only through the process of elimination did I know he was there."

"I'm still not picking him up and how does this dog fight between and underpowered carrier and an outdated alien transport take care of him?"

"He powered down the moment we brought the trio in. That was my signal to him that I knew he was there."

"And this staring contest?"

"Just showing off for our audience. Target their weapons this time." Kit's fingers rained down on the controls, the ship moving forward. "And no more questions. Now I know why Ryo blows me off."

The two ships rumbled past each other, shots creating a web of light between them.

"Their weapons are offline. Targeting propulsion."

"NO!" Kitsumi snapped. "This is their last ship."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"We've done our little dance, and now they can't even so much as sneeze at us, leave it alone."

"Why?"

"Because Ryo's back."

()()()

"He's dead."

The pilot of the Redwolf had opened a direct channel to Toudai, showing that not only did he know where Toudai was, but could see him as well. "Who's dead?"

"I believe he was called... Yasterdei."

Toudai didn't move. He stared at the stars, the floating pieces of junk randomly obscuring his view of the twinkling diamonds. "You're lieing..." He has to be, Yasterdei couldn't be dead. No Kimerian pilot has ever died in this war. That it was him... the hero of the Kimerian people... my friend... It's unthinkable! To die in such a minor skirmish... "Who are you?"

"Go... away..." Something about Ryo's voice shook Toudai to the core. There was something barely restrained about it, like someone keeping a hull breach sealed with their bare hands. "Go! Take the... child, and leave. NOW!"

"Oh Maker..." He's holding himself back from killing me... he killed Yasterdei... What kind of devil is this?

Screaming suddenly filled his ears as Tamaero came roaring out of the debris, Yasterdei's spear clutched in both hands. Redwolf flipped his cape off, appearing in front of Toudai. Redwolf drove the end of his weapon into the stomach area of Toudai's Draug, Toudai coughing blood as his sensory suit simulated the feel of the body damage a little too well. Redwolf side stepped Tamaero's spear thrust and smashed a fist into the already damaged chest plate, the cockpit groaning around Tamaero. Redwolf spun around and kicked Tamaero in the back, driving Tamaero towards Toudai and forcing Tamaero onto the other end of the double bladed weapon, the spear tumbling away into space. The force of Tamaero's impaling himself was enough to nearly cut Toudai's Draug in half, the two Kimerian pilots screaming in unison. Even before they were done screaming, Redwolf was between them, a hand on the staff, another on Tamaero's shoulder and a foot on Toudai's hip. Before the two could even fully realize what Ryo was doing, he'd already ripped the blades out of both their bodies. Very little of Tamaero's Draug remained operation, only one arm and the head. Toudai's power core was flickering, causing the upper half of his body to randomly spasm as his almost severed legs twitched. For a moment, Redwolf simply hung in space, admiring his work.

()()()

"Ryo..."

"He's... incredible!" Inez's eyes were glued to the screen.

"That's not the word I'd use." Kit hugged herself, trying to keep from shivering. "He's insane."

"He's completely disabled two Kimerian battle suits in less time than it takes to tell, and also a third if that transmission is to be believed."

"That's not what bothers me so much, Inez."

"Then what's wrong?"

"He has no intention of stopping yet. Not till he's satisfied."

()()()

"Please... please no." Tamaero's tears flowed freely, mixing with the blood that covered his face. His whole body was racked with pain, and the escaping oxygen from his space suit was making him light headed.

"Tamaero."

"Please... Please let me die."

"We're not done yet!" Toudai's flickering image appeared. "The auto-repairs are almost done, but I need someone to weld the rest shut so that it'll activate."

"Go away..."

"Tamaero, wakeup, it's me. My thrusters won't work, you have to come to me."

"The Wolf."

"He's not moving. He's just hanging in space. I think he's waiting for us to retreat or something."

()()()

"Heh, how pathetic." Ryo watched Tamaero reach Toudai's legs. "One more hit is all it would take, and I can't even lift a finger." The orbs at the end of the armrest were empty and dark. "Pathetic."

Toudai's battle suit sparked to life. He looked around, trying to find the short sword he'd lost at some point in the battle.

"The damage I did was more extensive than the child repaired. A self-repair system... Interesting." Ryo shifted his attention to Tamaero. "I removed an arm and both legs, along with damaging the back of the main torso and the chest. His wounds should have been the more extreme, yet he seems the more mobile. Why?" Toudai collected his weapon as Ryo brought up and replayed the battle. "The cut into the stomach... of course. It was lower on the boy. The power system... In the drones it's in the chest area, but that's where the cockpits are on these piloted models. The smallest of hits in the stomach area nearly incapacitated the fox." Ryo smiled and leaned back in the cockpit, folding his hands behind his head. "And that information does me so much good, since the fox is about to kill me and I can't even open a channel back to Kit to tell her I can't move. Hilarious." Ryo watched Toudai point the short sword at him, and assumed Toudai was trying to say something. Ryo couldn't care less, as his immediate future was completely out of his hands. "Just kill me already."

Toudai apparently put together that Ryo had run out of power, rather than allowing the two Kimera to lick their wounds. Toudai hit his main boosters, charging forward with his short sword ready to pierce Ryo's cockpit.

"Attacking an enemy that can't fight back. Are you really that honor-less, or is this just vengeance for the one I killed earlier?" Ryo opened his arms, as if inviting Toudai's attack, or perhaps he was simply accepting it.

There was a flash of silver and gold and Toudai was suddenly moving sideways instead of forward.

"Kit..."

She'd completely broadside Toudai, slamming her shoulder into his unprotected ribs.

"No..."

Toudai recovered quickly, backhanding Kit away from him. Before she could respond in kind, Toudai drove a fist into her face. Even as damaged as his suit was, Toudai been born and raised a fighter, and was way too much for Kitsumi. He pummeled her over and over again, sparks flying from the impacts.

Inside Redwolf's cockpit, Ryo's pupils shrunk to pinpoints. A line he had said over and over in the past, a mantra in his memory, slipped pass his lips again as lighting danced across his finger.

"You will not harm her."

()()()

Ryo sat in the mess hall, watching the starlight become a rainbow as it passed through the glass of ice water. He absently stared at the hand holding the glass, the ice cooling the odd burns on his skin.

"What was that?" An image flashed through his mind, his body racked with electricity, his muscles spasming, He could feel the crazed smile threatening to tear the skin on his face as he pounded his fist into-

"Who are you?" Kitsumi's voice interrupted his thoughts. She was setting across from him, her left arm in a sling. "That fight... at the end... you were gone, now power left, and then you just..."

"Just what?" His teeth gritted together, his words just barely intelligible.

"Came back, all powered up and recharged... And the way you fought... Ryo, I've never seen anyone outside of the Armoury fight like that." She shuddered, unable to look at him. "Who are you?"

Ryo slammed his hands down on the tabletop and stood up in one fluid motion. "I am your friend. That is how I define myself. How do you?"

Knocking his chair over, he stomped out of the room. Kit rested her elbows on the table top, catching her chin with the undamaged hand's palm. "What was your first thought?" Kit didn't look at Inez, but the purple haired woman knew the question was directed at her. "When you first saw him, I mean."

"I..." Inez wasn't sure what to do. A lie would be seen through quickly, but a truthful answer might reveal too much. Mentally sighing, she surrendered. "I kept looking at his hands, the way he clasped them behind his back when he walked. I wondered if he would kill me with those hands."

Kitsumi gave a sad little laugh. "Yeah. That's what everyone says."

"What was your first impression?"

"I thought he looked lonely." Kit rolled her eyes and leaned back in the chair, crossing her arms as best she could. "He looked like he needed a friend. It's probably the first unselfish thought I ever had. Heh, probably last one too."

Inez watched Kit carefully, trying to guess what was going through Kit's mind.

"I get used to him, ya know. After a while I stop seeing him as he is, and only see him as he is in my mind. To you and everybody else here, he's just a hired mercenary."

"A very good one, as he proved today."

"Yeah, Ryo the Killer. I still see him as the closed off little boy who shared his crayon with me."

"Excuse me?"

"That's a different story." Kit stood and stretched. "Well, it's been a long day, and I feel like I haven't slept in centuries."

"I think I'm going to stay up a while longer."

Kit hesitated in the doorway, turning to look back at Inez. "With Ryo and I here, your life just became much more interesting. Enjoy your quiet moments while you can, they're going to get few and far between."

()()()

Inez interlaced her fingers and propped her chin up on the bridge her arm had formed. Her mind churned over the last day's events, trying to slip it all in some order. "Computer, begin log for Inez. Triple encrypt and send to the same as the last log." A computer screen popped up. Printed on the screen was as acknowledgment of the command followed by "now recording."

"The two mercenaries have again proven that their abilities are beyond original estimations. The female, Kitsumi, that she is just as effective, if not more so, at piloting the ship over a battle suit. The upgraded weapon and stealth enhancements to Redwolf that Pershing added at Ryo's request seems to have greatly enhanced Ryo's fighting ability. However, Ryo utilized neither of these during the main battle, video attached. However, there was an odd occurrence towards the end of the battle. The Redwolf suffered a power failure, probably a combination of the cloaking device along with the use of the arm cannon. He should have been out of commission until such time as the battery recharging required, which theoretically should have taken a day. Sensors registered a sudden massive energy build up. While it is possible that the Kimerian technology is that much farther advanced, the reaction of the remaining Kimerian pilots would indicate that hey were just as surprised by the sudden return to activity by the Redwolf. Ryo himself has altered his reactions and responses. He seems to be preoccupied with the battle, and replies in an agitated manner if questioned about it.

"I have come to the realize that the two are much more than they first appeared. Kitsumi's altered personality and piloting skills are far from the ditzy, hyperactive girl I initially believed her to be. Ryo has also greatly altered in my mind, the sheer thirst for battle and blood having been absent before. It is as if these two are wearing two mask." At this, Inez hesitated, the battle playing over again on her screen, the screams of the Kimerian pilots filling the room. "No, three mask. Whenever one or the other is in danger, a great change comes over the other. It is as if... as if they tapped some dark part of themselves in order to save the light..." Inez stopped and glared at the screen. "Computer, erase that last sentence and send along with all pertinent materials. I sound like a damn poet." She leaned back in her chair and allowed the anger at herself to wash away. "Who are these people? And what other secrets are they hiding? What..." The last moments of the battle replayed once more in her mind. "What have we allied ourselves with?"

()()()

Next time, on "Where Dreams Reside":

Did you think Ryo's battles were incredible this time around? No? Well tune in next episode when he fights a little more than just three Kimerian pilots, but the arsenal of an entire planet with Kit and Redwolf's help! Not enough? Then how about facing off against the best hand to hand fighters that the Kimerian can dish out, and Ryo takes them all on... WITHOUT REDWOLF! Can he survive the pummeling to come, or is the next episode destined to be the last? Tune in next time for "Kitsumi's Whimsical Wish!"

(off camera) My god, John didn't really name the next chapter that, did he? What the hell is wrong with this guy? Huh? What do you mean the mic's still on? OH CRAP! I need this job! Oh who cares. It'll be months before he updates anyway.