Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Assault on the Castle of Hell ( Chapter 20 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

CHAPTER 20:

Assault on the

Castle of Hell

(Official disclaimer: This work is entirely a fan fic. I do not own the rights to Gene, Melfina, or any of the themes, concepts, alien races, planets, starships, or other characters that appear in the Outlaw Star, anime or manga. So Bandai, Sunrise, or whoever owns the rights to Outlaw Star, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, DON'T SUE ME!! I'm only doing this to honor your work and to show my respect and appreciation for what has become my favorite anime.)

(Author's notes: To all my readers, I have found a very good story on fanfiction.net for the Zelda games. The title is, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time by Arxane. It's a novelization of the Ocarina of Time game for the old N64, but it's really good. It's almost as if someone made Zelda into an anime. Even if you're not a fan of the Zelda games, if you like my fic, then you'll love this one. You can find it by doing an author search at fanfiction.net for Arxane. Check it out. It's worth it.)

The tension aboard the bridge of the Damocles Sword was thick enough to cut with a knife. At their respective posts, crewmembers maintained a constant vigil over their duties: monitoring ship systems, keeping communications clear, and periodically scanning any ships that might suddenly appear out of sub-ether space. From the command station, Captain Xanax stood tall despite his short build, his eyes locked on the forward view screen. According to Lord Shidowkun, the Outlaw Star had left Blue Heaven roughly 30 hours ago.

They were due to arrive three hours ago.

"Current status of surrounding space," he ordered.

"Still no sign of the Outlaw Star sir," the crewman to his left answered. "Nor is there any sign of the Dragon Clan's ship."

"What about the rest of the fleet?" Due to the importance of the plan, Xanax had obtained permission from Lord Shidowkun to call in the appropriate reinforcements. Surrounding the planet beneath the Damocles Sword was a small armada of Toku grappler ships; eighteen in all. Xanax was taking no chances that the Outlaw Star would slip past them undetected.

"Negative. Nothing has appeared on their sensors either."

"Understood. Maintain scanning of sector 5." Xanax wanted to sigh in frustration, but he knew that any sign of weakness on his part would only lower morality on the bridge even more. He more than any of the Damocles Sword's crew knew just how much Shidowkun hated to be disappointed, and also how he dealt with those who did.

"Sir," the scanner officer to his left called out. "A ship has just appeared out of sub-ether space in sector 12."

"On screen," Xanax ordered. In the upper right corner of the view screen, a window opened showing a spherical shaped vessel making its way towards Shidowkun's planet. Is this poor excuse for a diversion the best strategy that Gene Starwind could think of? Xanax wondered. It's undoubtedly the oldest trick in the book. "Tell the main forces to ignore it. Just send three grapplers to intercept it. But don't destroy them just yet. We'll use it as a bargaining chip when our real prey arrives. In the meantime, enlarge sector 39." In the lower left corner, a second window opened showing the section of space across from sector 12. If Xanax had read Gene Starwind's strategy correctly, that was where he would be coming from. After a brief moment, Xanax's patience was finally rewarded when a bright red ship appeared out of sub-ether space.

"Red alert," he announced. "All remaining ships move in and intercept the Outlaw Star."

As the Outlaw Star exited sub-ether space, Gene felt his body tense in a mixture of apprehension and anticipation. After over a full day of repeated jumping, plus a three-hour break to throw the Toku off their balance, he and the others had finally arrived at the planet where Shidowkun was holding Melfina. Whatever was going to happen, there was no turning back now.

"Okay everyone," he told his crew. "Battle Stations. Where's Mazren?"

"He left to go make sure Slag was locked down in their quarters," Jim answered a moment before Mazren entered through the bridge's hatchway. "Speak of the devil. Say Mazren…

"Yeah yeah I know," Mazren said as he made his way to Melfina's chamber. The hatch opened, and Mazren stood on the platform as he was lowered down into the chamber, his broad shoulders lightly scraping against its sides.

"Gillium will he be allright in there?" Suzuka asked as the hatch closed.

"He will be perfectly fine," Gillium answered as the chamber began to rise above the deck. "Jim and I have calibrated the Outlaw Star's navigation systems to be compatible with Mazren's brain waves. Once he's ready, he should have no problems whatsoever piloting the ship."

"Speaking of which couldn't you do something about that?" Gene asked Jim. Seeing Melfina in the chamber was one thing. Seeing Mazren was another.

"It wouldn't work otherwise," Jim told him. "However I was able to work out something of a compromise." As if on cue, the top front panel opened, revealing Mazren's muscular body floating in the navigation chamber, his face slightly redder than the transmitter liquid around him. Luckily, the lower panel had remained closed leaving only Mazren's top half visible. A good thing since Mazren's frame kept his hands pinned slightly to the chamber sides.

"Hmm," Aisha said as she leaned towards the chamber, an impish grin on her face. "Kind of a snug fit huh."

"Aisha!" Mazren yelled. "You take come one inch closer and I swear I'll punch through the tank and strangle you!"

"Oooh," Aisha teased, "aren't we bashful."

"Suzuka!" Mazren yelled.

"Aisha leave him alone," Suzuka sighed.

"If you'll excuse me everyone," Gillium interrupted. "But I'm detecting several ships nearby. And they're all approaching us rapidly."

"On screen," Gene ordered. On the viewscreen, several windows opened showing over a dozen grappler ships moving towards them.

"Gene it's the Toku!" Jim warned.

"Look's like they've gone all out," Gene remarked. "It's the Leyline all over again."

"Speaking of the Leyline," Aisha said, "look at that!" Behind the ships was what looked like some kind of spherical storm cloud the shape of a medium sized planet.

"No way!" Jim exclaimed. "Don't tell me Shidowkun's base is on the Leyline."

"Negative," Gillium answered. "The Leyline didn't have a gravitational field. That object does. Furthermore, there's a large orbital ring above the planet's equator. However, as with the Leyline, sensors are unable to register any further data on the object."

"So Shidowkun's using the same defenses as the Leyline," Gene said. Well that certainly makes it more interesting, he thought. More than likely there was some kind of safe passageway through the field like the spiral at the Leyline, but without Mel there was practically no hope of finding it. Guess we'll just have to grit our teeth and charge straight through, he decided. "Mazren, where's the Dragon Clan."

"The Toku have intercepted them at a point twelve degrees off the Starboard bow. But it looks like only three ships have it pinned down. The rest are focused on us."

"Gene," Suzuka interrupted. "Are you sure that they'll be alright?"

"Don't worry," Gene assured her. "We're their real target, or at least I am. Chances are they'll try and use them as a hostage to force us to land. Jim, is our little present ready?" Reaching into his jacket, Jim pulled out a data disk and shoved it into the data slot of his console.

"Wrapped and signed Gene," Jim answered with a thumbs up. "The sub-ether radio's online and ready to deliver."

"Great, now let's hope that data was worth holding on to." Looking up, Gene saw that the Toku's armada had surrounded them on all sides. Directly in front of them, a huge T-shaped vessel with a pronged bow took position above the ring of grapplers. Almost a kilometer long, the ship looked like it could take on the entire armada by itself.

"Nya, nya, nya, nya, nya!" Aisha yelled. "What the hell is that monster?"

"It looks like an Armageddon Class Dreadnaught," Suzuka said. "But those were all decommissioned by the Einhorn Empire years ago."

"Looks like someone forgot to tell the Toku that," Mazren remarked. "By the way, they're hailing us."

"Well let's not be rude," Gene said. "Let's patch them through." A window opened in front of them, showing a bridge that rivaled what Gene had seen aboard the Angel Link's flagship. In the middle of the screen stood a small, pudgy man with a red cape over his diminutive frame.

"Attention Outlaw Star," the little man announced, "I am Xanax, captain of the Damocles Sword, flagship of the Toku's paramilitary forces and the personal vessel of Lord Shidowkun. You will surrender immediately and be escorted to planetside."

"Now hold on a minute," Gene said. Tapping his finger on the command station, Gene signaled for Jim to deliver the package. "Just who the hell are you?" Xanax blinked in surprise, not believing that he had just been spoken back to.

"I told you," he said, "I am…

"I heard your name moron!" Gene snapped. "What I meant was where's Shidowkun? He's the one I came here to meet with, not some midget errand boy." Watching the screen, Gene resisted the urge to burst with laughter as Xanax's face paled with shock, then flushed with rage.

"You insolent piece of outlaw trash!" he yelled. "Do you have any idea the situation you're in? If I wanted to, I could blast you into…"

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Gene smirked. "Your boss wants both me and the Sword delivered to him alive. Of course, now that I think about it, what's the deal with that overgrown rustbucket? Are you trying to compensate for something?" On Gene's console, a text message from Mazren read, DON'T OVERDUE IT. Ignoring the warning, Gene tapped the command station again to check on Jim's progress. Casually, Jim scratched his ear, signaling that it was 75% finished.

Grinding his teeth, Xanax briefly considered firing a warning shot across the Outlaw Star's nose. It was then that he noticed the way that Gene Starwind kept tapping his ship's command station. He's planning something, Xanax realized. But what? Xanax decided to play along and see if he could trick Gene Starwind into revealing his plans.

"Enough of this," he said. "We have captured your friends. All it would take is one gesture from me and they'd be destroyed. Unless of course; you cooperate."

"When did I ever say that they're my friends," Gene replied. "In fact, maybe the ship's packed with sub-ether bombs and I want you to blow it up. And another thing, how do I really know that you guys have Melfina? Why don't you bring her here so I can see her? Then we'll talk." This man, Xanax thought, is either very smart or very dumb. Off to the side, Xanax noticed the communication officer attempting to adjust the radio bands. "Excuse me for a moment," he told Gene Starwind as he left to inspect what was going on. "Is there a problem?"

"Sir, I'm picking up some kind of interference coming from the Outlaw Star," the officer told him. "Unfortunately we can't determine the cause." That was all that Xanax needed to know. Shoving the crewmen aside, Xanax slammed his palm onto the radio button.

"Disconnect!" he yelled. "All ships disconnect from the system NOW!"

But by then it was too late.

The virus spread through the Toku's computer system like wildfire. All over the known galaxy: bases, ships, arms factories, and anything else under the Toku's control shut down. Data files, secret accounts, agenda schedules; every aspect of their operations had been erased. It had taken the Toku nearly a century to secure their power base in the galactic underworld, and it had all been torn down in less than a minute.

"It worked Gene," Jim yelled. "The Toku are all dead in the water."

"Remind me to send a thank you note to Crackerjack in prison for giving us that virus," Gene said.

"Hey!" Aisha yelled. "Look at the planet!" Turning back to the viewscreen, Gene saw that the defense field was starting to disperse and disappear. It looked like whatever was generating it had been affected by Crackerjack's virus as well.

"Well that certainly makes it easier," Suzuka observed. "Now we can pinpoint just where Shidowkun's fortress is."

"Don't celebrate yet," Mazren announced. "Some of those ships are rebooting their own computers. They're almost operational again."

"In that case," Gene suggested, "I'd say it's time to get this party started." Mazren angled the engines, and the Outlaw Star blasted past the Toku's blockade. Above them, from the bridge of the Damocles Swords, Xanax watched in horror as his target made its way towards Shidowkun's planet.

"After them!" he shrieked. "All ships go after them and bring them back here now! Get the ship's computer rebooted immediately! Do it now or we'll all have to answer to the Emperor!" Aboard the Outlaw Star, Mazren switched to grappler mode as Jim scattered the camera pods. In the pilot's seat, Gene inserted his arms into the control tubes for the grappler arms as the visor helmet rose up and over his head.

"Here they come," Aisha said as half the Toku's armada appeared on her monitor. "And boy do they look mad."

"Then what are we waiting for?" Gene asked. "Let's rock!" Reversing direction, the Outlaw Star rocketed straight towards the Toku fleet. Underneath, the grappler arms folded out as their weapons were charged and activated. On the left, the tube shaped Vulcan gun slid forward and over the left hand while the handle for the static saber flipped over and into the right. With a snap, the collapsible metal blade sprang out of the handle and glowed a bright blue as the energy began to flow through it. Targeting two grappler ships in the lead, Gene fired the Vulcan, and took them out with one shot each. A third one appeared behind them and was quickly sliced in half by the static saber.

From a safe distance, Keibara watched as the Outlaw Star took on the fleet that had been guarding Shidowkun's planet. After infecting the Toku's computer network with that virus, the grapplers that had been guarding the Clan's ship had taken off in pursuit of Skinny and the others. Though she was too far away to make out any real detail, it wasn't long before Keibara saw the light of several explosions as the Outlaw Star began picking the enemy ships off one-by-one.

"Do you think they'll be al right?" she asked Master Jubei.

"They'll be fine," Jubei assured her. "They have the power of the sword to protect them. Besides, the Toku need to take Gene Starwind alive so they won't risk using any of their more powerful weapons. Now we must move ourselves. The Outlaw Star has become our diversion. It's time for us to become theirs."

"You heard Master Jubei," Keibara ordered. "Head for that planet and prepare to land at the Toku's fortress."

In the comfort of his throne room, Shidowkun stared out the observation window, the only remaining source of light in the entire room. It had been a clever move on Gene Starwind's part. In all the possible scenarios he had envisioned, Shidowkun had never expected Gene Starwind to attack the Toku's central computer station. It would hardly make a difference in the overall plan, but it was a clever move nonetheless. Behind him, Shidowkun heard the doors of his throne room being pried open as someone ran towards him.

"My Lord My Lord!" Hisho yelled. "The system, it's ruined! Everything's been shut down! Communication, defenses, it's all gone! What are we going to do?" Rotating his throne so that he faced Hisho, Shidowkun folded his hands against each other and stared down at his majordomo.

"And your point being?" he asked.

"B…but Lord Shidowkun!" Hisho stammered. "Don't you understand? Without the system, we're cut off from the rest of the guild. Our accounts, our records, nothing exists anymore. If we don't get it back on, we'll be ruined. Forget about Gene Starwind, we have to worry about saving the…" before Hisho finished, a crimson sash flew past him before retreating into the darkness. Hisho had only a second to gurgle in surprise before falling forward, his blood spilling from the cut in his throat. From out of the darkness, the seductive form of Aeslea stepped into view.

"Thank you," Shidowkun told her.

"My pleasure," she replied as the emergency lights went on. Rising off his throne, Shidowkun descended down to the floor where he lifted Hisho's body with one hand and tossed it to the side as Karg entered the throne room.

"Lord Shidowkun," Karg said. "Emergency power systems are now online. Unfortunately, the virus has spread throughout the entire network. As it stands, I fear that the entire guild has been rendered powerless."

"It doesn't matter," Shidowkun replied. "After today, I'll have no further need of the Toku.

Karg, send the Akuma to deal with the Dragon Clan once they land. I doubt that they'll pose much of a threat, but I can't afford to have them running around the fortress this close to fruition. After that, go to the android's cell and bring her here immediately. Whatever happens, don't let her escape."

"Yes Lord."

"Aeslea," Shidowkun ordered as Karg left, "find Naga and bring him here. I might still have a use for him."

"As you wish Lord," Aeslea purred before she turned to leave as well. Alone once again, Shidowkun scanned the pyramid shaped interior of his throne room before his eyes settled on the sarcophagus containing his true body. After a century of planning and waiting, he wasn't about to let a few minor setbacks keep him from obtaining ultimate power. It's time to prepare, he thought. Before that though, I had better play a trump card of my own. Moving over to one of the pillars that ran around the walls of his throne room, Shidowkun pressed a hidden switch, triggering four hidden doorways around his throne room to open. Inside each hidden chamber were five tubes suspending a vaguely man-shaped object in preserving fluid. As the chambers drained off their fluid, the creatures inside came to life and began to struggle against the chambers, eventually breaking through them. As they spilled free and began to move out from their, the creatures' eyes glowed red as they began hissing in rage.

"Go now," Shidowkun told them. "Kill all those who oppose me." The creatures turned to Shidowkun as if challenging him, but didn't attack. They were his children, spawned by his own blood and extensions of his own will. After a brief second, they turned away and ran towards the door, shrieking in anger and ready to slaughter anything that got in their way.

"Is there anything I can do?" Looking over his shoulder, Shidowkun grinned coldly at the figure standing in the shadows.

"Yes," he answered. "I have a very special assignment for you."

Sliding open the panel for his quarter's closet, Naga reached for an overhead shelf on his left and pressed a spot on its underside, opening the secret panel and sliding out the disk it contained. For the past few months, he had been shaving off the top of whatever Guild operations that had fallen under his jurisdiction. By taking only a few thousand wong each time, Naga had slowly and quietly amassed a sizeable fortune. And with the recent departures of Askared, Yama, and Mako; Naga had taken over their domains and increased his holdings tenfold. The disk he now held was the key to his treasure, which Naga had cleverly hidden away in multiple secret accounts unconnected to the Toku's system. And once he laid claim, Naga would have enough capital to rebuild the entire Toku Guild from the ground up.

I can feel them coming, he thought as he pocketed the disk in his robes. Outside the fortress, the Dragon Clan's ship was about to land. It was time to go. Exiting his closet, Naga tapped the floor with his staff as its headpiece began to shine with a red light. After a brief moment of silence, a voice began to sound from the staff.

"Why have you contacted me Tao Master?"

"I have further need of your services," Naga told her. "I need you to transport me off of this planet to Shinju. I know that you have at least enough power for that."

"I'm afraid I can't do that." Shocked by her response, Naga's concentration faltered and the connection almost broke.

"What do you mean you can't do that?" he demanded. "Have you forgotten your contract with me? If you refuse to aid my ascent as the new Emperor then I can snuff out your life in a second."

"You are mistaken Naga," the voice corrected him. "The deal was that I would help you sabotage Shidowkun's scenario if you kept him from noticing me. We have both honored our obligations so the contract is fulfilled and you have no further power over me. However, if you were to use your magic to help Melfina escape with Gene, then…"

"Forget it!" Naga snapped. "I refuse to risk my life for some overdeveloped doll!"

"Fine then," the voice said. "You can find your own way out. And I suggest you do before you're reunited with an old friend." With a burst of light from the staff, she broke the connection, the shock of it knocking Naga onto his back.

"Damn that bitch," he cursed. "She had better hope that I fail to escape. Because if I don't; first I'll hunt down her counterpart, and then I'll go after her and toss them both into hell!" Realizing that time was of the essence, Naga scrambled to his feet before rushing out the door and down the hall. But one thought kept nagging the back of his mind. What did she mean, 'before he was reunited with an old friend?'

As the fight raged on, more of the Toku Grapplers were able to purge CrackerJack's virus from their systems. But with the Outlaw Star's latest improvements, Gene and the others were able to hold their own against the much larger force.

"Bogey coming in at twelve o'clock high," Mazren yelled. Above them, a grappler ship with clawed manipulators was making a dive right for their engines.

"I got 'im," Aisha yelled. Waiting for the ship to come into range, Aisha fired the dorsal machine gun, the bullets driving the ship off to the side where Jim fired a missile from the starboard side port straight into its cockpit. Two more grapplers appeared to the front, firing machine pistols from both hands. Rushing forward, Gene charged the Vulcan and fired at the first, the energized shot tearing through the hull like wet tissue paper. For the second, Gene slashed the static saw across the enemy ships arms, slicing them off at the joints before flying past it, allowing Suzuka to blast the ship's drive systems with the quad blaster.

"These guys aren't so tough," Gene gloated. "Who's next?" As if in answer, a thud sounded throughout the ship's hull as the Outlaw Star slowed to a near stop.

"You just had to ask didn't you?" Jim remarked. From behind them, another grappler had fired its anchors straight into the Outlaw Star's ventral hull and began to reel them in.

"Enemy ship is attempting to access our data files," Gillium announced.

"Mazren!" Gene yelled.

"I'm on it." Rotating the engines that had been transferred from his own ship, Mazren launched the ship into full speed reverse. The resulting change in their momentum caught the enemy ship off guard and was carried back with them. As three more grappler ships appeared around them, Mazren altered direction back to forward as Gene retracted the Vulcan and grasped the anchor line from the ship that snagged them. Cutting through it with the static saber, Gene jerked the line and swung the ship like a lasso, sending it crashing into the oncoming ship and destroying them both. Behind them, the two other ships fired a full volley of missiles at the Outlaw Star's sub-ether-engine. Pointing the ship upwards, Gene arced the ship up and over as Jim fired a counter-missile volley at the ones pursuing them. As the Toku grapplers lost them in the ensuing explosions, Gene took advantage to come down on them from above. Firing a volley of his own; Gene crippled their drive systems before flashing the static saber across their bridges.

"Here comes another one," Suzuka warned. Off from Starboard, a grappler with four rotating arms equipped with razor knives launched itself towards them.

"And here comes his friend," Aisha added. A second grappler with three arms equipped with spiked knuckles began closing in on the Outlaw Star from portside.

"Hey Jim," Gene said, "you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I think so," Jim answered as he typed at his console. "Mazren, at my signal, fire the engines in this direction."

"No problem." Outside, the two grappler ships were closing their distance and were about to enter striking range.

"Now!" Jim yelled. Mazren fired the engines, and the Outlaw Star shot straight up, just as the two Toku grapplers crashed into each other in a fiery explosion.

"Hey Mazren," Gene called out, "any more out there."

"There's three more grapplers behind us," Mazren answered. "But it looks like they're still trying to purge the virus from their computers."

"So does that mean we're done?" Aisha asked.

"I'm afraid not," Gillium suddenly said. "I'm detecting a large object closing in on us rapidly."

"You don't mean…" Jim asked.

"Afraid so," Mazren interrupted. "It's that Dreadnaught. And it looks like it's opening up."

"What do you mean opening up?" Suzuka asked.

"See for yourself," Mazren answered as a window opened on the viewscreen. As Gene and the others watched, the two wing-like extensions of the Damocles Sword began to open along their front sides before spewing forth dozens of smaller ships. Some were cub fighters like the kind used by the Kei, while others were more streamlined with a dagger-like shape to them. "It's a swarm of drone fighters," Mazren announced. "I'm detecting both Cub and Shadowblade class."

"Looks like we're not done yet," Gene sighed. "Jim how's our ammo holding up?"

"The machine gun's still got plenty of ammo," Jim answered. "But almost all our missiles have been used up. All we've got left are the micro-missle pods and the EMP's. And we don't have nearly enough for something like that."

"Don't worry," Gene said. "I'll think of something."

"You'd better think of it quick," Mazren said. "'Cause here they come." With the fighters closing in on them, the Outlaw Star blasted down and under them as the Shadowblade fighters began strafing them with their nose-mounted machine guns. A group of them came close and Jim fired a micro-missile pod from the starboard launcher, the warhead splitting open and firing ten smaller missiles at the pursuing fighters.

As only the emergency power generators were operating, Karg was forced to take the emergency stairs down from Shidowkun's throne room to the android's level. As he made his way down the hall towards her cell, he saw a trio of Akuma guards attempting to restore central power at a console. "Never mind that," he ordered. "Return to your positions and stand guard. We'll handle repairs after Shidowkun has completed his plans."

"Yes sir," the guards said as they ceased their attempts. As Karg watched them leave, he cursed himself for telling a lie to his subordinates. Aside from Naga, he was the only one who knew what would happen after Shidowkun had awakened the Destroyer. And now, he had just committed the one act for which he so hated his former superiors. But I don't have a choice, he told himself. This is the only way I can get revenge on those who took her from me. Continuing on his way, Karg quickly reached the android's cell as another group of Akuma came running towards him.

"Captain sir," one of them called out. "A ship has is about to touch down at landing pad B."

"The Outlaw Star?" Karg asked. It couldn't be. How could Gene Starwind get past Xanax and the armada so quickly?

"No sir. It's another ship. Possible the Dragon Clan you warned us about."

"I see. Take as many guards as you can spare and intercept them. We can't afford to have them interfere in the Emperor's objectives."

"Understood," the guards said. Turning back to the business at hand, Karg typed in the command code and the door opened. Entering the cell, he saw the android girl standing by the wall, her ear pressed to its surface.

"What's going on?" she asked. "The lights went off for a moment, and then I heard all that shouting in the hallways."

"Gene Starwind has arrived," Karg told her. "His ship is currently engaging the armada protecting this planet." The android's eyes widened in surprise and hope and she cautiously stepped towards him.

"Gene's here? He and the others are really here?"

"However," Karg added. "You shouldn't get your hopes up. There's no way he'll be able to defeat all those grappler ships AND the Damocles Sword." Extending his hand, Karg gestured for her to come closer. "Now come with me. It's time for you to fulfill your part in the plan." As she realized what Karg was saying, the android's face paled slightly and she began to back away from him.

"No," she begged. "Don't do this please?" Narrowing his eyes in frustration, Karg slowly began to move towards her.

"Don't cause me any more trouble than you already have. If I have to knock you unconscious I will. There's nothing you can do, just accept it."

"But you don't have to do this," she cried out as her back ran against another wall. "Karg listen to me. One of the guards who brought me my food said something about organic paste and how I should be fed that instead. But you had real food sent to me instead. I know it was you because only a few people here have that kind of authority, and someone like Naga or Aeslea wouldn't be that kind."

"Don't attach any meaning to it," Karg told her. "I was only making sure you would stay alive until it was time for you to be put to use. Now stop…"

"It's not too late," she interrupted. Behind his mask, Karg raised an eyebrow in question.

"What?"

"In the elevator," she continued, "you told me that you had done too much to change and that your past was irrelevant. But that's not true. You're hurting and you're confused and Shidowkun took advantage of that to use you. But no matter what happened to you or what you've done since then, you can still go back to the person you used to be. You're not the same as Shidowkun or any of the others who work for him. You're not a bad person." Melfina slowly moved towards him and Karg saw that her eyes were on the verge of tears. Those eyes, he thought, she has the same eyes…

"Poppa?" He looked down at the little girl who tugged at his sleeve and saw a slight sadness in her eyes.

"What is it Sienna?"

"Could I have some money to buy an ice cream for Leena?"

"Leena?" he asked. "Who's Leena?" The little girl pointed over to the playground and he saw another little girl sitting at its edge. While the other children laughed and played around her, this one little girl sat all alone with her knees pulled up to her face.

"I invited her to play with me, but she said that she didn't want to 'cause her grandma just died. I thought some ice cream would help her feel better." He looked away from the sad little girl back to Sienna and smiled slightly.

"Sure." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out some money and gave it to the little girl. "Here. Get one for yourself too." Sienna smiled at him and threw her arms around his neck.

"Thanks Poppa." She took the money, and he watched as Sienna ran over to buy an ice cream for herself and her friend

She's the same as Sienna, Karg thought. She's just an android, but she's still no different from Sienna.

"Please," she begged. "Don't let Shidowkun force you to be something that you're not." Reaching up, Karg's hand gently brushed the corner of the android's eyes.

"I'm sorry," he told her. "My daughter was a gentle person like you. And that's why I have to do this." Removing his hand from her face, Karg brought it up and prepared to knock her out.

Taking position near the doorway, the Akuma squad pointed their spears forward as the heads opened and slid back.

"Stand ready," the squad leader told them. "The enemy ship has just landed. They'll be coming through that door any second now." Charging their weapons, the Akuma readied themselves as the doorway that lead to the northern landing pad opened. "Fire!" their leader commanded. From the spearheads, a hail of energy bolts raced towards the open doorway, turning the passage behind it into a ball of fire and smoke. "Cease fire," the leader ordered after five minutes of firing. "Cease fire." Something was wrong. From the doorway, the squad leader could pick up the scent of ionized air and carbon scoring, but not the scent of either blood or scorched flesh. Drawing his sword, he and two other guards moved towards the doorway to investigate. They were less than six feet away when a wave of concussive force rushed through the hallway, blasting them and the rest of their squad out the other end. Stepping out of the smoke, Jubei lowered the spirit shield he had raised as another group of Akuma appeared in the hallway and rushed towards him.

"All fighters forward," he ordered. "We must secure this floor before the Swordwielder arrives." Behind the wiseman, Keibara and the rest of the Dragon Clan's party charged towards the Akuma squad and clashed into them head on.

As the Outlaw Star continued to weave and twist through space, it still was unable to fully dodge the fighters that swarmed around it. They were too small and fast to be taken out with the grappler weapons, and whenever a missile was fired they just spread out so that only a few were taken out.

"Damn it hold still!" Aisha yelled as she fired the machine gun against a squad of Shadowblade fighters in hot pursuit.

"Gene we can't keep this up!" Jim yelled. "There's just too many of them."

"Tell me something I don't know!" Gene yelled back as a thud resonated through the hull. A Cub fighter had snuck up from behind them and latched its anchor into the Outlaw Star's starboard hull. Six others suddenly appeared and fired their anchors as well; bringing the Outlaw Star to a dead halt as a squad of Shadowblade fighters began to swarm around them, their machine guns pelting the hull like a hailstorm. "Hands off!" Gene yelled. Reversing the engines, Gene got some slack off the anchor lines and slashed with the static saber; cutting the Outlaw Star free and sending the Cubs flying off into their comrades. Once free, Mazren fired the engines full speed and broke free from the mob of fighters. "Damage report!" Gene yelled as the fighters followed in hot pursuit.

"No significant damage," Mazren said. "But we can't afford to get caught like that again or else they'll cripple the engines."

"The problem is that they're too thinly dispersed," Suzuka said as she fired the quad blaster at the pursuing ships. "We need to find some way to group them together."

"That's it," Gene said. "Hey Mazren you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"One Orca maneuver coming up."

"What's an Orca Manuever?" Suzuka asked.

"You'll see," Gene said. "Jim prep the missile tubes but don't fire them until I say so. Aisha, Suzuka; keep any stragglers off our back."

"If you say so," Jim said. Turning the ship around, Mazren plunged the Outlaw Star under the fighters. A group of them broke off from the main body towards them, but Aisha and Suzuka fired the guns and chased them off. As the Outlaw Star flew past them, Mazren angled the ship upwards and flew up and over the fighters, circling around and around the fighters, and slowly grouping them into one single ball.

"Okay Jim," Gene said. "Let 'er rip."

"You got it." From the front and side missile ports, Jim fired every single missile they had left straight into the swarm. The EMP missiles detonated in shimmering blue shockwaves that sorted out their electrical systems while the micro-missile pods pelted them with a barrage of warheads. In the tight confines of their group, the few fighters that could avoid being hit ended up crashing into each other when they tried to escape. "Gene it worked," Jim said as they blasted through the remains. "But where did you come up with something like that?"

"On the way here," Gene admitted, "Mazren gave me a crash course in Sharkfang grappler ship fighting strategies."

"Not bad for a human," Aisha said. "But what are going to do about that?" Right in front of them, standing between them and Melfina, was the huge Damocles Sword. While they were busy dealing with the fighters, Xanax had his ship maneuver between them and Shidowkun's planet. Aboard bridge, Xanax gripped the rail of the command station with white knuckles. This was his final chance to catch them. If he failed, Shidowkun would be waiting to punish him personally.

"Fire beam cannons," he ordered. "I want that ship dead in the water NOW!" At their stations, the gunners aimed the beam cannons at the Outlaw Star and fired, their energy blasts screaming towards them in a barrage of light.

"Shit!" Gene yelled. "Dodge it now!" Angling the engines, Mazren pulled the Outlaw Star back as the energy blasts flashed around them, but not quick enough. One blast struck the Outlaw Star's dorsal hull and sent them into a tailspin.

"NO!" Xanax shrieked as he saw Gene Starwind's ship spinning out of control. "Target the engines not the main body! Shidowkun wants them alive do you hear me?" As the second beam barrage raced towards them, Mazren regained control of the ship and blasted the engines at full speed, narrowly avoiding them.

"Gene," Gillium said. "The ventral gun has been destroyed and hull integrity has gone down by thirty percent. Another hit like that and the ship will suffer extreme damage."

"Okay I get the point!" Gene yelled as he and Mazren both piloted the Outlaw Star in and out among the beam cannon fire. "Jim, load up some missiles and…"

"Are you crazy?" Jim asked. "They wouldn't work against some thing like that. Besides, you used the last of them on those fighters remember?"

"Damn it. Okay hold on, I'm going to try and go around it." Pointing the Outlaw Star forward, Gene blasted full speed ahead, taking them out of the beam cannon firing range. "That thing might have more firepower, but there's no way it can keep up with us."

"Don't be so sure," Mazren said. "Objects are closing in on us from behind. Looks like a missile barrage!"

"Suzuka!" Gene yelled.

"I'm on it," she replied. Aiming the quad blaster, Suzuka fired at the lead missile and blew up the first three, leaving four others closing in on the Outlaw Star. Reversing the engines, Gene avoided the missiles but ended up right back in the firing range of the beam cannons.

"All right that's it!" he yelled. "Melfina's waiting for me and I don't have time to screw around with you bastards anymore. Gillium, take us out of grappler mode. Mazren turn total control of the ship over to me!"

"Wait a minute," Mazren said. "Just what are you planning to do?"

"No time to explain! Just hold on!" As the grappler arms retracted, Gene turned the ship around and launched full speed towards the Damocles Sword.

"Gene stop!" Jim yelled. "We're gonna crash right into them."

"Exactly," Gene answered. "Now I just hope that I can pull it off."

"Pull what off!" Aisha yelled. "Get out of the pilot's chair you lunatic before you kill us all!" Ignoring her, Gene summoned the sword's power, his body glowing with a blue light as he channeled it into the Outlaw Star.

"What's he doing?" Xanax asked. "Has he gone insane?" Where the Outlaw Star was previously attempting to dodge their attacks, it was now racing straight towards them. "Keep firing!" he ordered. "It's nothing but a bluff!" As the Outlaw Star continued to dive headlong through the energy blasts, its hull began to glow with a blue light. The glow quickly became brighter and cocooned the red grappler ship in an ellipse of pure energy that deflected any shot that struck it. As the Outlaw Star increased its speed, Xanax finally realized what Gene was planning to do.

"Get out of the way!" he shrieked. "Move us out of the way now!"

"Gene," Gillium said. "I must protest this. I don't think this is a particularly smart idea."

"Gene look out!" Jim screamed. The energy shots from the Damocles Sword were impacting all around then, bouncing off the energy field that surrounded the Outlaw Star. But Gene remained oblivious to everything around him.

"Let me off I don't wanna die!" Aisha screamed.

"Mazren do something!" Suzuka demanded.

"I can't!" Mazren yelled back. "He locked me out of the system!" Ahead of them, the pronged bow of the Damocles Sword filled the entire view screen.

"GENE!" everyone screamed.

"Up yours!" Gene yelled as the Outlaw Star slammed into the bow of the Damocles Sword, ripping and tearing through the full length of its body. Aboard the bridge, chaos erupted all around as warning lights flashed on the consoles.

"Abandon ship!" a crewman yelled. "Sound the alert for all hands to abandon ship."

"Don't bother," Xanax said. As the bridge exploded in a fireball, Xanax's last thought was in relief that at least his soul was still his own.

Blasting out the Damocles Sword's aft end, Gene brought the Outlaw Star to a halt as multiple explosions burst out to the huge ship's hull when with a final flash of light, the monstrous dreadnaught exploded in massive fireball.

"Woo-hoo!" Gene cheered. "Now that was fun!" In front of him, Jim lurched out of his chair and grabbed Gene by the collar of his shirt.

"YOU MANIAC!" Jim screamed. "YOU ALMOST GOT US KILLED! DON'T YOU EVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN!"

"I think I'm gonna be sick!" Aisha groaned as she slumped against her console.

"Is it too late to reconsider joining this crew?" Mazren asked.

"Exactly what I was wondering," Suzuka gasped as she leaned her head back over her seat.

"Come one guys have a little faith in me," Gene laughed. "It worked didn't it? And now there's nothing standing between us and Melfina. So let's get going. Jim find Shidowkun's fortress and give me a landing route to follow."

"Absolutely not," Gillium remarked. "After that last stunt you pulled, I refuse to let you pilot this ship until after we get Melfina back. I will handle the landing thank you very much."

"Man you've got to complain about everything don't you?" Gene said. "Fine then, let's just get down there and fast." As the Outlaw Star's bow dipped towards Shidowkun's planet, Gene's hand reached into his pocket and clasped over Melfina's pendant. Melfina I'm almost there, he thought. Just hold on a little while longer.

"Excuse me," Mazren called out. "Does this mean I can get out of this thing now? I'm starting to get a cramp in here."

Off in the distance, the last remaining Toku grappler ships had finally purged the virus from their systems. But no sooner were they ready to join the battle when the explosion of the Damocles Sword lit up surrounding space like a supernova. Unable to look away, they watched as the Outlaw Star continued on its way down to Lord Shidowkun's planet, seemingly unfazed by what should have been a suicide move.

"Did you see that?" Hyo asked.

"That guy's a monster," Shin said. "How the hell did he do that?"

"You know," Kai suggested, "I heard that the Ban are looking for qualified grappler pilots. You guys wanna come?"

"Are you crazy?" Hyo asked. "Do you know what Shidowkun will do to once he finds out?"

"Then let's put it this way," Kai added. "Who are you really more scared of; Shidowkun, or the guy who just did that?"

"Good point," Shin agreed. "Let's get out of here while we still can." Reversing direction, the survivors of Xanax's armada retreated from the system and vanished into sub-ether space.

Closing her eyes, Melfina braced herself for the blow that was about to come from Karg when she heard him yell in pain. Opening her eyes, she saw Karg's body spasm wildly before falling to the floor.

"Karg!" Melfina cried out. Kneeling by his side, Melfina checked his neck and was relieved to find a pulse. It looked like he was only stunned.

"Come on. We don't have much time." That voice, Melfina realized. It couldn't be. Looking up, Melfina received the shock of her life when she saw Ron MacDougal standing above her, a stun knuckler in his hand. "What the hell are you waiting for?" he asked. "Do you want to get out of here or not?" Melfina didn't know what was going on, but she decided not to question it any further.

"Alright; just wait a moment." Sliding her hands under Karg, Melfina slowly pulled his massive frame over towards the bed.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Ron demanded. "We don't have time for this."

"I can't just leave him like this," she pleaded. "It won't take long I promise." Cursing under his breath, Ron rushed over to her cell's doorway to scan the hallway.

"Fine," he growled, "just hurry up." Reaching the bed, Melfina hefted Karg's body and laid him down on the mattress. Placing his head on the pillow, Melfina looked down at Karg for a second before leaning forward.

"Thank you Karg," she said as her lips brushed against the forehead of his mask. "I'll never forget you and everything you've done." Standing up, Melfina hurried over to where Ron was waiting for her. "Okay let's go."

"About time," he muttered. Taking her hand, Ron pulled her after him as he led her down the halls. "Gene Starwind and his friends are about to land," he told her. "We have to get down to the bottom levels before then." Reaching an intersection, Ron checked to see if it was clear. "Problem is all the elevators are out so we'll have to take the stairs. Most of them only go down one floor, but there is an emergency stairway somewhere that goes all the way down." Pulling back into the hallway, Ron pushed Melfina back against the wall as he drew a gun from his coat.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Shut up or they'll hear us." Backing them further into the hallway, Ron cocked back his gun's hammer as two Akuma guards passed through the intersection. Luckily, they seemed preoccupied with other business and didn't notice them. "Okay let's go."

"Wait," Melfina suddenly said.

"What now?" he asked. Ron turned to face her and Melfina smiled up at him.

"Thank you," she told him. "I really appreciate what you're doing." Glaring down at her, Ron took his finger and shook it in her face.

"Now you listen to me," he snarled. "I'm not doing this because I'm a nice guy. The Toku played me for a chump and nobody does that to me. Got it!" he yelled as Melfina leaned back from him slightly.

"I…I understand," Melfina answered. Looking away from her, Ron surveyed the hall one more time.

"And after I help you escape," he added, "you'd better be willing to fulfill you're half of the deal." Melfina was about to ask what he meant when she suddenly remembered what she and Ron had talked about a few days ago.

"I will," she said. "I promise I'll do everything I can to undo the damage Shidowkun did to Harry."

"What damage?" With a gasp, Melfina turned around and saw Harry standing behind them, his violet eyes a mixture of fury and betrayal. "What are you doing Ron? Shidowkun told me you'd try and take Melfina. Why Ron? Why are you betraying me? I thought you wanted her dead after what she and Gene Starwind did to us." Pushing Melfina behind him, Ron slowly made his way towards Harry.

"Harry listen to me," he said. "Shidowkun, the Toku, they're the ones who did it. Not Gene Starwind. They're our enemies."

"What are talking about Ron?" Harry asked. "The Toku are our friends. They gave me a new body, and they healed you. We'd still be stuck in the Shangri La if it wasn't for them. How could you betray them like this?"

"Because they betrayed us," Ron exclaimed. Opening his arms, he began to move towards his little brother. "Harry they used us. We were nothing but pawns in a game to them. They set up everything that happened to us because they knew of our involvement with Gene Starwind." As Ron reached him, he placed his hands on Harry's thin shoulders. "They may have given you a new body, but they didn't give you yourself. They only transferred the parts of you that they could use. Your real personality is still in the Shangri La's black box. It's not too late to change it. If we help Melfina escape, she'll help us by restoring what Toku took from you. Harry please." As he listened to his brother's plea, Harry's shoulders slumped in realization.

"You're right Ron," he agreed. "You're absolutely right."

"Harry," Ron said. Behind them, Melfina breathed a sigh of relief; only to feel her heart skip a beat when the sound of a gunshot echoed throughout the hallway.

"Except I don't care," Harry smirked. Ron stood for a second longer, he face frozen in shock before he slid down to the floor, a huge patch of blood forming on his stomach. Paralyzed with shock and fear of her own, Melfina watched as Harry looked up from his brother to her, a cold grin on his face. Coming to her senses, Melfina turned and tried to run away. But she hadn't taken two steps before Harry grabbed her wrist and slammed her against the wall, his arm pinning her across her throat. "We need to talk," he told her.

As he was only twelve years old, Jim didn't know if hell really existed or not. But if it did, he imagined it would look something like this.

The Outlaw Star had just touched down on a landing pad on the southern side of Shidowkun's fortress. From what the scanners had picked up; Jubei, Keibara and the rest of their group had landed on the opposite side. As far as the eye could see, the planet was covered with dead soil and volcanic ash. Nearby, the skeletal remains of what used to be trees stood blackened and dead with rot while volcanic pits occasionally erupted with jets of flaming gas. Off in the distance, black spires could be seen spread thinly out among the surrounding area. Looking at then, Jim theorized that the spires had been what generated the defensive field around the planet. But with them deactivated by the virus, the field had vanished, allowing a crystal clear view of the sea of stars above them. And in the center, Shidowkun's towering fortress stood dominant and foreboding over the barren landscape.

"Well then," Gene said. "Are you guys ready?" Jim looked up to his aniki and nodded. The aura he had felt Gene radiate on the Sword's planet had returned and was as strong as ever.

"Let's do it," he said. Behind them, the others announced their readiness as well.

"I was born ready," Aisha boasted as she stretched her muscles.

"Same here," Mazren added as he unslung the heavy shotgun on his back. "Let's go to work." Down by his side, Slag whined in agreement.

"Remember," Suzuka told them, "the plan is to get Melfina and get out. We have to remain unnoticed so don't fight unless necessary. And most importantly, keep away from Shidowkun no matter what."

"Someone should tell that to him," Gene said as he drew his pistol and shotgun. "Gillium, you take care of yourself until we get back. And if anyone tries any funny business, blast them with the quad gun."

"I will," Gillium replied. "Good luck everyone. And please be careful." Turning back to the fortress, Gene slowly began to make his way towards the nearby entrance.

"Let's go," he told his crew. Jim and the others followed after him as Gene's walk turned into a stride, and then a run. Passing through the doorway, they rushed down a corridor that led into the fortress's interior. Once inside, they found themselves in a large circular room. At the room's opposite end was another passageway as well as two sets of stairs that winded up and around the room's sides to a balcony above them.

"Jim," Gene said. "Which way should we go?" Pulling out his PA, Jim pulled up the map he had downloaded from the Toku's system just before they arrived.

"We need to go up those stairs," he said. "Then we'll need to…"

"Look out!" Suzuka suddenly said. Springing forward, her bokuto flashed in front of Jim's eyes and deflected an energy bolt that was about to strike him in his chest. Once he had recovered from the shock, Jim looked up to the balcony and saw a man wearing red and black trimmed armor aiming what looked like a spear with the head split right down the middle. The guy was joined by three others who pointed their spears at them as the walls opened up around them and even more of the armored guards spilled through to surround them.

"So much for remaining unnoticed," Mazren commented as he and the other drew their weapons. Around them, some of the guards pointed their spears and advanced while other triggered their spearheads to open, sparks jumping from between the blades.

"Kill the others," one of the guards above them ordered. "But take Gene Starwind alive." But before any of the guards could fire, a golden disk launched out from the entranceway between the stairs, flying around Jim and the others and knocking the guards off their feet. The disk was followed by a trio of shurikens that struck the balcony guards in the chest as the golden disk returned to the figure who had just appeared in the doorway.

"I am sorry," Jubei said as he caught his staff. "But I can not allow that." Behind Jubei, Keibara and the rest of the Clan fighters appeared as they launched into battle against Shidowkun's guards.

"Sorry for the wait," Keibara told them as she locked her sais with a guard's spear. "But we had a little more trouble than we expected." Twisting her arms, Keibara sent the guard spinning off his feet and slashed his chest just in time to deliver a back hook kick to another that appeared behind her. "We'll handle these guys. You go find Mel."

"Do as Keibara says," Jubei added. Whipping his staff through the air, Jubei cleared a path for them to follow. "This is our mission. You have you own."

"No problem," Gene said. "Come on guys lets go." Ignoring the chaos around them, Jim and the others followed Gene as he took the left side stairway up to the balcony. Once there, they entered another passageway and found themselves at an intersection of three more stairways. "Jim, which one leads to Mel?"

"According to what I downloaded," Jim said as he checked his PA, "she's somewhere on the 35th floor. But none of these stairs go up to it. The left only goes to floor twenty, the middle to floor 18, and the right to floor 26. There are some other stairs on those levels, but they only go up a few more. To make it worse, the layout for each floor has so many twists and turns it's impossible to get an idea of where each stairway is."

"I don't believe this!" Aisha yelled. "They built this place like a funhouse."

"We'll just have to split up then," Mazren suggested. "Slag and I will take the middle."

"That does sound like the best course of action for now," Suzuka agreed. "Aisha and I will take the left."

"And that leaves the right for me and Jim," Gene said. "We'll meet on the 35th floor. Good luck everyone."

"Right," they all agreed. Going their separate ways, the crew of the Outlaw Star began to make their way up to the 35th floor. I don't care how long it takes, Jim decided. We'll find Mel even if we have to tear this whole building apart.

(Gene and the others have invaded Shidowkun's fortress. As the Dragon Clan fights the Akuma, the crew of the Outlaw Star are racing to find Melfina. But will they reach her before Harry MacDougal does anything to hurt her? Will Karg be able to overcome the hatred that has bound him in service to Shidowkun? Or will he finally have to answer for everything he has done. And what about Shidowkun's "children?" What sort of monster has he unleashed upon Gene and the others this time. Be here next time. Same outlaw-time. Same outlaw-website. Don't forget to review.)

Chapter 19
Chapter 21

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