Glenn burst through the infirmity doors. The corpsman at the desk seemed to know why he was here and pointed him toward a curtain. Glenn approached and slung the curtain back.
Glenn's eyes widened. What he had seen shocked him.
"Jace?! What the f-"
Ray entered behind him carrying a glass of water. "Oh, heya Glenn. I see you heard."
"Ray? But you...and he...supposed to be...wha?"
Ray attempted to calm his confused friend. Jace groaned in his rack. There were two strips taped across his swollen nose.
Glenn couldn't seem to ease himself. "Jace? What in the world happened?"
Jace groaned again. "Ugh. I...I coulbn't helb it man. It was too much. It hurts..."
Ray took the liberty to explain. "You remember when we said we were going to the weight room?"
"Well, Ashe happened to already be there. And Jace clearly hasn't been around girls much."
"What's your point?"
"Wise-guy here whistled at her. Thought it was soft enough that she would’t hear."
"A whistle? Why would Ashe have gotten so defensive over a whistle? What does that have to do with anything?"
"Well, my guess is it was either her Soffe's or sport bra."
Glenn relaxed and buried his face in his palm.
A couple days had passed and Ashe was released. And put on probation. She approached Jace on the landing platform. He tensed a bit, but held his ground.
"Hey. How's that nose healing up?"
"I see. I probably reacted before thinking, but don't worry. I won't hold it over your head."
Jace gave a semi smile. "Thanks. I probably acted before thinking myself."
Ashe returned his smile, but Jace knew well enough she meant it as a warning when she said: "Just don't let me catch you thinking about it later."
Ashe put on her helmet and walked toward the Mach Dragonfly. Jace gulped and followed suit. Ashe lifted the ship and they took to the air. Glenn tuned his radio and spoke:
"Everyone know what we are doing?"
Ray spoke in return. "We're heading to the Valkyrie Space Station, right?"
"That's the plan. But be ready for anything."
What seemed like an hour or two passed. The floating station became visible. Miles up into the atmosphere, the team checked the oxygen apparatus in each of their suits while waiting on Ashe to descend. When she spotted a clearing and landed, the team stepped off while Ashe remained inside. Ray took the lead and entered the Space Station. It wasn't long before Ashe's voice buzzed in through the radio.
"The Valkyrie Space Station was used as a public transportation facility. This station specifically was the main one, built on top of a meteor that supposedly contains an ancient vault with what we are looking for. Valkyrie Airlines discontinued use of the station after the Aparus infestation. The vault lies in the facility's center courtroom, where the main lobby is. You'll need to take a right up ahead. But be careful, I'm detecting multiple targets."
Ray led the unit down the first hallway on his right. It was already filled with four speedlings and a scorpion. They noticed, and proceeded to attack their intruders. Glenn, with Jericho already drawn, began to glow with a yellow aura. He dashed forward at near-blinding speed and leapt over the rushing speedlings. The scorpion that hung back fired its stinger, but Glenn easily sidestepped and slashed. An explosion of sparks crackled as his blade made contact with the creature. Where the scorpion stood was now a puddle of blood. The sparks that had flown off from the hit caught and stunned two of the speedlings that had advanced toward Jace and Ray. Jace launched a rocket toward the ground below them, forcing body parts in all directions. Three were no more, but one was only missing a leg and attempted to crawl away without much success. Ray held up his own weapon and fired. The sheer force that exited his gun was more than he remembered, and staggered a bit. What exited the barrel of his NOVA27 was not the usual needle-thin laser, but instead a much thicker beam that resembled a small comet. It struck the crippled alien and it ceased to move. His partners looked at him, but didn't say anything. They kept moving. Moving through more small groups of speedlings and scorpions. Ashe directed them toward a large gate that was shut tight. Even Jace's rockets couldn't damage the bars.
"Now what do we do?"
Glenn looked down. "Not sure. There has to be means to open it. A control switch or something. Ashe, can you find anything?"
"I have actually, but I have bad news." She began. "The panel next to the gate requires an ID card to open. To make matters worse, the security locks are all disabled. Even if you had a card, it wouldn't respond."
Ray kicked the gate. "That's just great."
Beside him, the floor became to crack.
"Jace? I think your RPG is going to bring down this whole building."
"It's not that powerful..."
Glenn squinted at the spreading cracks. "Wait, get back and prepare yourself!"
They obeyed and held their weapons ready. The floor broke and an ugly nightmare crawled out. It had a large, pulsating sac on its back. Jace immediately fired. The shot from his NEO slashed around the strange alien and it exploded. Green liquid spewed around where it stood. Glenn took a piece of metal from the broken floor and dropped in the green residue. It began to smolder.
"It's acidic. Watch out for more of these guys."
"Acid Bombers?" Ray huffed. "What next?"
A familiar roar echoed from down the hallway. Ray knew he'd spoken too soon. An Aparus Bull had begun to walk down the corridor, cornering them. They braced themselves at it charged. As it closed in, Ray, Glenn, and Jace sidestepped at the last minute. The Bull plowed straight through the gate. Jace pulled his R-700 from his pack and took aim. The Bull turned around and prepared to charge again. Jace nailed it between the eyes. It fell over and slid. Glenn waved them on and advanced through the gate. There was a larger hallway that appeared to look more like a large balcony; they were outside. To there right was a large circular room. The ground began to rumble a bit, with more waves of aliens of all kinds moved toward them. Ray and Jace began to fire upon them. As they were getting closer, Jace put away his RPG and drew a large golden Machinegun. The M-27B1. It revved to life and spewed an endless stream of bullets, destroying everything they hit. Glenn and Ray watched behind him, and distracted a Plasma Slug. It lobbed a large plasma sphere at them. They avoided the orb itself, but some of the splash hit. Their guns suffered more than they did; the barrels had melted into a bowed shape, and the end closed off.
Jace's weapon winded down. Ray pounded the butt of his own gun into his hand a few times. "Hey. We can still use them as clubs."
Glenn lightly hit Ray on the back of his head with his shotgun. "Yeah. Great idea." And then tossed the useless weapon aside.
Jace called from afar. Inside the center of the large room was a round floor decoration. But closer look revealed it was a trapdoor. Glenn twisted the ring and pulled up. It didn't budge. Jace also tried. A reddish aura surrounded him and he twisted and heaved. There was a groan, but the door failed to open. All he did was warp the ring. Glenn and Jace huddled in for a gameplan while Ray studied the door a bit more. Ray grabbed the ring, twisted, and the door sprang up. The other two stared in surprise.
Jace frowned through his helmet. "Hey. I loosened it."
Ray laughed. "I think you were twisting the ring the wrong way."
The trio climbed down a long ladderwell. It led them into a short narrow passage, and into another circular room. It was completely closed off, other than a large hole just below the ceiling. Below the hole was a small column-like pedestal, with a large chuck of sparkling diamond. They were more surprised to see another soldier's body. It had worn a Perseus armor.
Glenn spoke into the radio. "Ashe, we think we're in."
"I believe so, too. Did you find anything?"
"Yes. We're taking it and heading back."
"Alright be care-" she stopped.
Ray knew something was wrong. "Ashe? What is it?"
"It's...I'm...not sure. But it's big! Brace yourselves!"
Seeming to know where this "big" foe was going to be coming from, Jace aimed toward the large hole. Glenn and Ray drew their blades. A pair of scythe-like claws emerged from the hole, followed by a pair of red compound eyes. It resembled a large insect; a Mantis. It fluttered out of the hole and landed in front of the pedestal.
Glenn gulped. "Well guys. Nice knowing you."
Ray was a bit taken aback. "What makes you so certain we won't make it?"
"Ask sergeant major over there."
The Mantis lifted itself and charged forward, spinning like a torpedo. Unable to react in time, the trio was bowled over. Jace and Glenn were thrown to the right. Ray landed beside his Perseus friend. The left half of his blade snapped clean in two.
"Hey! I just fixed that! Looks like this guy won't be needing his weapon anymore..."
He grabbed the gun laying beside the dead soldier and opened fire. His strange comet-like lasers erupted from the weapon's barrel and pelted the large insect. It turned angrily toward Ray, and walked forward. He kept up his fire and backpedalled away from Jace and Glenn, allowing them to get on their feet. Jace immediately charged his Machinegun and unleashed his rain of bullets. Glenn ran forward in front and attempted to gain the monster's attention, slashing and poking at its legs and underside. The mantis focused in on Jace and trotted back toward him, ignoring Glenn completely. He packed up his heavy weapon and copied Ray with his Plasma Neo, backpedalling and firing. Ray and Jace weaved in and out of each others' path, confusing the Mantis. It tried to stomp Glenn, but the structure of its legs and lack of visual made it hard to hit him. It took to the air again, clearly angered. Energy gathered in its mouth parts and it swept a continuous beam toward its attackers. Ray and Jace had to stop firing and dive backward. Taking advantage of the cease-fire, the Mantis swept both of its sickle claws downward in Glenn's direction. He was ready; and lit up with his yellow aura and rolled to the side. He ran toward Jace, now on his feet. He knew exactly what to do. Jace cupped his hands and knelt slightly. Mantis launched a 3-way vertical energy blade hoping to catch Glenn. He skirted around them and sped toward Jace. Jace lit up with his own red aura and braced himself. The instant Glenn's foot landed in his hands he threw back with all his might. Glenn soared just above the insect's head and slid down its back, dragging Jericho behind him in the process. The Mantis staggered and fell. Its red eyes flickered. Much to the team's surprise, it spoke.
"...You may have bested me, human. But you've far from won..."
Glenn was the first to retort. "What are you talking about? It's over."
"Over? You don't really think...that's the case...do you? I know what you came for... You can make an effort to collect...all of the other pieces...but it'll only...be the...beginning.........."
The Mantis's red compound eyes extinguished.
".............How is your blade, Ray?"
"It's fine. The rear portion of the blade snapped, but it’s still fully functional."
"Good. You know what to do now."
Ray nodded and proceeded toward the pedestal. He carefully lifted the mithril chunk from its resting place. It was in the shape of a claw, much like the Mantis's was. Ray nearly zoned out again and staggered, but managed to hold his balance. He shook his head and placed the stone in his bag. "We're through here Ashe. We are heading back now."
The team retraced their steps back toward the Mach Dragonfly and boarded. Ashe ascended and shot forward. After only a few minutes, Jace grew nervous.
"Umm...guys? Can aliens fly fightercraft?"
Ray looked at him. "What? Aliens can't operate jet fighters."
To prove his point, Jace pointed out of the side window.
"So operatives have been sent to retrieve the Gem Claw, lying inside the Valkyrie Space Station...I'm not sure that flimsy bug will be a match for them."
"I see. What do you plan to do about the military base's director? It's obvious that it's him sending out units on these missions."
"Yes. But not to worry. The strings are secretly being pulled. As soon as Jasra steps down, we will worry about the rest of the military. But we need the Gem Claw along with the other pieces. Have you come up with a plan? These operatives must be stopped!"
"Not to worry, my lord. I have already taken care of that problem. I had a few of our drones tested and reliability confirmed. They are waiting at the Station in ambush. As soon as the unit departs, they will engage. Not to worry about our little problem..."
"You're going to shoot them down? And cost us the Gem, fool!"
"No. The craft have been fitted with special magnets. The energy signatures from mithril will cause it to attract toward the magnet. It works up to one-hundred feet, but is easily blocked. Unless it's outside of their aircraft it won't work well."
"It better. If you are not successful in getting the Gem, your neck is on the line!"
"Y-yes, my lord."
"I would rather them be left alive. We could use puppets to do our work for us..."
"Understood, I'll send orders to damage their craft without destroying it."
"Good. The others do not bother me. They should prove useful. It's just him. I want HIM killed."