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Heart Of Madness
Part Two


Atomic Heartbreaker

We had hoped that in the seven years since the apparent destruction of the Outrider Homeworld that the New Frontier would flourish without further conflict.  The attack on New Reno proved how false our hopes had been.  From the footage of the attack it was clear that Outrider technology had advanced at an alarming rate.  Scientists from Cavalry Command and Jarr analyze and reanalyze the information available.  These new Outrider crafts were dubbed Hedoraus Units.  Whatever information they could gleam went directly to the refit team working on Ramrod.

Unfortunately, the work could not be done fast enough.  Several ships traveling between settlement were attacked and completely destroyed.  The shredded wreckage so saturated with radiation that it could not be safely recovered for examination.

--Excerpt from Saber Rider's journal
*  *  *  *
"What do you mean I shouldn't be part of Ramrod's command team?" April demanded, "I designed Ramrod, I built him, I've overseen each refit and every overhaul, and I've gone into battle on board Ramrod before...Or don't you remember, Father?"

"April, I'm not questioning your abilities, but you have more responsibilities now, then you did then," Commander Eagle winced, 'She only calls me Father when she angry with me.'

"I know what my responsibilities are, and how to cope with them," April insisted, frustrated with each roadblock her father or some other commander tried to throw up in front of her.

"Do you want Charles to lose his mother as well as his father?" Eagle final spelled it out.

April slapped her father, "How dare you!  I know what I'm doing.  I'm not going to do Charles any good if I stay behind," she felt tears fill her eyes, "Try to understand, Daddy, I have be there.  For Fireball, and because I can't sit here and pretend to be  protecting Charles.  I have to be out there, actively protecting him from the Outriders.  I have to drive them away.  I can't just sit here by the sidelines."

"April, honey, I do understand, but I know how hard it was for you when your mother died.  Now think of what Charles would feel if he not only had to deal with his father's death but his mother's as well."

"Dad," April sighed, "Don't you think I've thought that?  But I can't stay with him right now.  Not when I'm needed to out there defending the New Frontier.  How can I be a good Mother to him, if I compromise myself and what I believe in?  Dad, if Fireball were here, I know he'd agree with me; we'd argue about it first, but he would agree with me."

Commander Eagle shook his head, "yes, he would, wouldn't he."

"I know you're also worried that I'll do something crazy, something like flying straight into an explosion to join him.  But Charles is here, and I have a reason to live.  I'm not going to do anything stupid," April saw that she was winning this battle, "Now Robin's agreed with that it would be best if he went and stayed with her and the girls while I'm away.  Robin's asked that you come and visit as often as you can, not only for Charles' sake, but for Laura, Cathy, and Kelly's sakes too.  After all their father's going to be gone too."

"April," Commander Eagle regarded his daughter with a mixture of fear and pride, "If I had ordered you to stay put..."

"I would have resigned and joined a settlement militia."

Commander gave a gentle bark of laughter, "I thought so."

*  *  *  *

He wanted to imprint everything he could into his memory.  The way her corn silk hair shifted against his cheek.  The delicate scent of fading lilacs.  The sound of her breathing in the early morning quiet of their small bedroom.  The gentle weight at his side.  Colt want to ensure that even when he was light years away from Robin, she was with him all the time.

"Penny for your thought," Robin's sleepy voice murmured in his ear.

"They're worth more than that," Colt replied, his arms unconsciously tighten around his wife.

"What could you be thinking of that's worth more than a penny?" Robin playfully scoffed.

"You, the girls, how lucky I am," Colt suddenly found his eyes suspiciously moist, "You know I really don't want to do this, right honey?"

Robin was quiet for a moment, then she slowly started, "I know that I don't want you to be mixed up in fighting again.  But I know that if anyone can stop the Outriders, and restore the peace, it's you.  If you didn't do this Colt, you wouldn't be the man I married, the man I love.  I don't like it, but it's what has to be.  Just promise..."

"Promise?"

"Just promise me you'll come back?  Whenever I see April, I think that could be me..."

Colt rolled over on to his side so he could see Robin's face, "Nothing, nothing will stop me from coming home you.  Those creeps can throw me into a black hole, I'll claw my way out to come back to you."

Robin sniffled, "Oh Colt!"

*  *  *  *

Saber Rider stood on the control deck of Ramrod and gazed out the main view port at the early morning cityscape.  He marveled as the light from Yuma's sun slid over the sleepy city, bathing it in tone of blue, rose, and pale yellow.  Somewhere in the city his team was saying good-bye to their loved ones, perhaps for the last time. The overwhelming emptiness of the command deck echoed with soundless whispers.

' 'We will grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind;'  No one could have said better,' Saber reflected soberly as he glanced around the refitted saddle units.  There were still four, but April had redesigned the entire system to work smoothly even if only one sheriff remained to pilot Ramrod no matter what shape the equalizer unit was in, 'I should request another sheriff to join the team.'

The comm-unit chimed, and Saber hit the accept button, "General Whitehawk," he acknowledged.

"Saber Rider, I thought I might find you there,"  the Cavalry General began, "the Command Council wishes to know when Ramrod will take-off."

"As soon as April and Colt are settled in and ready, Sir," Saber replied.

"Very good," the transmission should have ended then, but Whitehawk continued, "You could not have foreseen that attack, Saber."

"Sir?"

Deep pain was etched in Whitehawk's eyes, "I've known you too long, you're trying to take the responsibility for Fireball's death.  No one could have known the Outriders were going to attack New Reno.  You could not have gotten there in time to save them, save Fireball."

"Yes, sir," Saber agreed atonally.

"I see," the general shook his head, "Saber, I'm paraphrasing from a very old television series: one of the truths of war is that people die, and no matter how much we wish otherwise we cannot change that."

"Permission to speak freely, sir," Saber suddenly request.

"Granted."

"General Whitehawk, this is not the first a member of one of my teams has died.  I've felt saddened by each loss, and Fireball was no longer a Star Sheriff, no longer under my command, yet I feel there should have been something I should have done.  That I failed him somehow," Saber struggled with his words, emotions and logic,  "I'm not certain if I'm fit to command Ramrod, if I keep having these doubts, Sir."

The General remained silent for a moment. He studied Cavalry Command's youngest commander carefully. When he finally spoke it was with deep conviction, "You are fit for command."

"Thank you, Sir."

"Whitehawk out," and screen blanked to dark grey.

*  *  *  *

Whitehawk sat back in his chair, not willing to admit that his communication with the distressed Commander had unnerved him.  He picked up the picture of his wife and stepdaughter, held it close to his heart, and prayed.

'Let this done with quickly.'

*  *  *  *

On Planet Mihara there is a small park.  It's squeezed between two immense city blocks.  Yet within its confines there were trees, flowers, a small petting zoo, even a duck pond.  It is the perfect place to hold a little girl's birthday party.

On this warm afternoon, Murasaki was turning six.  She was dressed in a frilly purple dress, and was giving her mother fits because she kept picking up the awful, dirty, smelly rabbits in the petting zoo.  Her friends were slightly better behaved, but only because they knew it Murasaki's party, and they wouldn't be able to get away with what she was doing; maybe on their birthdays.

"Okay, girls," Murasaki's mother called out, "It's time for cake!  Go wash your hands, while I set it up."

The gaggle of little girls ran giggling over to the public convinience.  After much splashing and laughter, they determined that their hands were clean enough to eat cake and ice-cream.  They were running back to the picnic tables when Natsumi stopped and pointed up to the sky.

"What's that?!?"

A dark shadow swooped through the sky, then another, and another.  From these shadows fell a fine mist of black rain, staining their party dresses.   It burned.  Streaks of light flashed down from the sky incinerating everything in their path.  Deafening thunder roared from the buildings lining either side of the park.

"Girls!  Girls!  Get over here!  Get over here!" Murasaki's mother frantically screamed from the relative shelter of the trees surrounding the tables.

Before the little girls could move a building collapse, and a giant figure stood at the edge of the park.  A monstrous figure rising above the still standing buildings on either side.  It dimly reminded Murasaki of a picture she once saw in her older brother's history book.  Bristling with hair-fine metal wires that writhed and crackled with energy.  Its head, its mouth opened revealing a vortex of glowing, swirling power.  It focused in on Murasaki's wailing mother.  A beam of pure and solid fire crashed down.

As her mother and most of the park melted from existence, cataracts clouded over Murasaki's eyes.  Her bones pulped within her, and the sponge remaining could not hold even her fragile weight.  Her soft curls turned brittle and fell like broken straw.  And last sound that she heard was the high pitched whining scream of the Outrider Hedoraus.

*  *  *  *

"Well, I never thought I'd be quartered here again," April said to herself as she reacquainted herself with her old room aboard Ramrod.  It was no longer the room of the young girl she had been, so filled with hope and dreams.  She was older now, and knew better.  Still, she could remember how oddly carefree she had been, even during the worst of the Outriders' assault.  She could remember laughing even as her Father was being held prisoner.

She heaved a sighed and set what had become her most prized possession down on the table by her bed.  It was the last and most recent photograph she had her family all together. April smiled sadly as she traced her finger-tips over the glass covering Fireball's lips.  They were ringed with chocolate ice-cream, the same as what covered most of Charles' grinning face.

The klaxons blared to life, and Saber Rider's voice came over Ramrod's internal radio.

"The Outriders are attacking Mihara.  We are launching immediately."

With that Ramrod's idling engines roared to life.

"Damn them!" April cursed as she fitted her armor on, then ran to the Control Deck.

*  *  *  *

Ramrod arrived in Mihara's orbit roughly two hours later.  Miraculously enough Mihara's armed forces were still holding back the Outrider forces, although their efforts were now primarily focused on providing cover for the evacuation.  It was both a pitiful and awe-inspiring show doomed bravery on the part of the planet's defenders, as row after row of the tiny Miharan fighter-craft flew directly between the Outrider Ghidoraus Battlecruisers and the escaping arc-crafts, shielding the human cargo with their lives.

"Top Sword?" Colt asked softly.

"Fire plasma cannons," came the dark reply.

"Firing plasma cannons."

Twin bolts of green erupted from Ramrod's bow gutting two of the Ghidoraus.  The remaining Ghidoraus refocused their assault on this new interloper.

While engaging the Outrider Cruisers, Ramrod's team received a single message from the remaining Miharan fighter-craft who were now forming a protective escort around the arc-crafts:
"Thank you, and gods bless."

But from the now murky atmosphere rose a new threat.  A massive seemingly hirsute Renegade turning its attention on the fleeing ships.  From its mouth emerged a vortex cannon.

"No!" April screamed, as she watched a blast that simply disintegrated a third of the Miharan vessels.

"Challenge phase now!" Saber's eyes blazed with blue fire as his fist crashed up against the red button now installed over his saddle unit.

Nothing happened.

"April, what's going on?" He demanded as he maneuvered Ramrod between the remaining ships and the Renegade.

"I think one of the blasts from the Outriders was an EMPulse, it scrambled part of Ramrod's controls," She shouted back, "I'll try from here."

Again nothing happened.

"It's not responding to me either," April fumed.

Colt reached for the button above his saddle unit, not really believing it would work...

Then voice of Ramrod's AI boomed through the control center, "Order Acknowledged, Ramrod Challenge Phase One."

As their ship changed around them, the Star Sheriffs never noticed the button above the empty saddle unit was depressed flat against its console.

"We've got the knock out that cannon somehow," Saber mused angrily.

"I got an idea!" Colt said, and without explanation he aimed one of Ramrod's heat-intensive lasers at the Renegades gaping maw.  He fired at full power.  His intention was not to destroy the beam, but melt the armor around it over it into a gag.

"Good job, Colt," Saber said, "Now it tries fire it will probably blow itself up.  Now power up maverick quick-dra...what in bloody hell is that?"

The fine wires bristling over the Renegade's body began to weave and melt together, forming a glistening black shell.  Small red domes emerged to cover the hands and shoulders; they began to pulse ominously.

"Fire now, Colt!"

Ramrod let loose with everything it had.

It knocked the Renegade back, but did virtually no damage.  The Renegade fired its beams, and shook Ramrod and the sheriffs darn near silly.  Then it turns its attentions back to the Mihara's survivors.  The red domes pulsed again, and fired.

Only to be deflected be an another blast of plasma from out of nowhere.

Through the darkness glided a dark ship.  Like a shark, it was grace, beautiful and deadly.  The Star Sheriffs recognized it instantly.

"I'll get him," Colt growled, targeting the Badlander.

"No, wait," Saber ordered, his eyes narrowed, "This may be a trap."

The Badlander flew straight towards the Renegade a series of missiles launching, aimed at the pulsing ruby domes.  Saber would have sworn there was grimace of anger on the Renegade's blank metal face as the missiles impacted and destroyed its weapon.  The Renegade reached and backhanded the the small ship.

"What is he doing?" April asked herself as she watched the Badlander recover from the blow dealt it by the Renegade Unit.

The small craft was placing itself directly between Ramrod and the Outrider behemoth.  A single cannon rose from the Badlander's surface.

"I'm going to take care of Gojira here.  Be ready to move,"  Jesse's voice crackled over the comm-unit.

Saber looked down at his sensors.  He raised an eyebrow at the readings, but merely replied, "Understood."

"Saber?" April asked.

"Look at your sensors, April," Saber requested, "Is he using a gauss cannon?"

"Yes, but we've all ready tried that.  The mortars simply aren't powerful enough to effect that monster," April's eyes widened as she scanned the Badlander,  "The readings coming off that missile are odd..."

In Ramrod's Control Center, the Sheriffs waited anxiously for Jesse to fire.

The projectile flashed towards the Renegade unit.  It pierced its armor as if it were tissue.  For a moment it seemed that the missile had done nothing.  Then Ramrod's sensor readings spiked hot.

"Hold on now," Saber ordered as he brought Ramrod hard around and pushed the equalizer unit's engines to the max.  Saber spared a moment to glance at an external view screen and that the Badlander was also pressing itself to the limits; it was leading Ramrod by a good twenty kilometers.

The Renegade unit exploded in near super-nova proportion.  Ramrod's automatic screening filters dimmed the control center's view screen/window.  If one didn't know it was an act of mass destruction one would have thought one was bearing witness to the birth of a star.  It took out the remaining Outrider ships, Ghidoraus and Hedoraus alike.

"Darn, what do you reckon that was, Top Sword?" Colt exclaimed.

"I'm not certain, but I think the Renegade's power core experienced an meltdown,"  Saber theorized.

The comm-unit cracked to life again.

"Sheriffs, I request permission to come aboard," a cold, tired voice called.

Time in Ramrod's control center held its breathe.

"Permission granted."

*  *  *  *

The Star Sheriffs waited silently as the Badlander slowly came to rest of the floor of Ramrod's landing bay.  They had their weapons drawn, but not aimed.  They held their collective breathes as the battered ship's hatch opened.

A tall familiar armored figure emerged.  It turned to look at the Sheriffs.

"I surrender."

****
End Part Two.

Note:  Saber Rider's little quote is from Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations Of Immortality  which is considerably longer...