Chapter 20 - Now There Are Two

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The two pilots trained to use the Bedivere suits snapped to attention when he entered the room.

"Lieutenants, you know our mission. Prepare to launch."

The pilots climbed to their suits, and once they were secured for takeoff, Rex ordered their deployment.

When he returned to the bridge, he hovered behind the sonar technician to track their movements.

One by one, the blips marking the Lancelot suits flickered out.

Rex leaned closer. "What's going on?"

The sonar technician shook his head in confusion. "I don't know, sir."

"Sir," his communication's officer cried out in a panicked voice, "it's Capt. Esteban again."

Before he gave the command to put the call through, the captain's angry face filled the screen. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Me?" Although his voice sounded calm and nonthreatening, Rex inwardly bristled from the accusation.

"There's something down there destroying my Lancelot units."

His blood chilled, yet sweat prickled the base of his neck. Impossible. There's no way the pilot survived.

Two more Lancelot suits disappeared from the sonar screen.

"That's it!" the captain shouted to someone behind him. "Fire torpedoes."

As soon as the captain gave the order, two new blips appeared on the screen, racing toward the others.

Rex opened the com link to the Bedivere suits. "Incoming," he warned.

He dug his fingers into his palms as he watched the torpedoes zoom past the Bedivere suits and suddenly stop where the Lancelot suits had been. He braced for the shock waves from the explosion, but they never came.

Half a second later, they reversed their course.

His breaths quickened, sucking in the hot, humid air inside the submarine. What's going on down there?

Before he could ask his pilots, a loud boom echoed through the bridge. At first, Rex feared his submarine had been hit, but as he whipped around to the communications screen with the call from Capt. Esteban, he discovered it was the carrier instead.

Everything played out like a scene from a disaster movie. The captain of the aircraft carrier barked out orders that no one heard. His crew ran around with fear in their eyes. Smoke clouded the cameras and blurred the images.

"Sir, should we surface and offer assistance?" his communications officer asked.

Every bit of his training told him he should, but the order remained lodged in his throat. Something held him back. He refused to call it fear. Rather, it was the jolt to the center of his gut that cautioned him to stay back.

And half a minute later, he knew why.

The face of a rebel mobile attack suit appeared in the window of the carrier's bridge. It appeared to be the same size and build as the one Rex had engaged, but it was all black with a grinning skull on top. And instead of a laser cannon, a glowing plasma blade in the shape of a scythe rested on its shoulder.

"La Santa Muerte," the sonar tech murmured, making the sign of the cross.

Years of religious memories from his childhood surfaced, and Rex fought his own urge to make the same protective gesture. If he gave into the terror, his ship—his crew—could be next. Instead of allowing fear to control him, he turned to logic and focused on what the appearance of the suit revealed.

I've just confirmed the existence of a second Valkyrie suit.

The new suit sliced its scythe through the center of the bridge.

The call ended in a blinding fireball.

His sonar technician turned around, his eyes wide with fear. "Please, sir, I beg you to turn around."

"Why should I fear a mobile suit?" Rex snapped, even though his fingers tingled. He switched back to com link for the Bedivere suits. "Get out of there now. A rebel suit just sank an Alliance carrier."

"Yes, sir," one of the pilots replied. "We're on our—"

A scream cut the pilot off, and the two blips indicating the Bedivere suits vanished.

This time, Rex didn't try to hide his fear. His voice shook as he ordered the retreat, and he prayed the stealth capabilities of the submarine would allow them to escape the detection of the new suit.

And as they sped away, he finally understood why the new alloy developed by the rebel colonists was called Valkyrian. Like the Valkyries of ancient Norse legend, these suits were the bringers of death on the battlefield, and he wondered how many times he'd come face to face with one and live to tell the tale.

Theo wanted that suit, but self-preservation told him he could retrieve it later, especially now that the Alliance Navy's interference had been eliminated. He sank into his chair and wiped the thin sheen of sweat from his brow, his fingers cold against this forehead. The simple gesture restored his composure. "Did you manage to record a visual of the Valkyrie suit that destroyed the carrier?"

"I—I did," the communications officer stammered.

I see I'm not the only affected by our near brush with death. But as the officer in charge, he had to be a symbol of confidence in front of his men. "Then please contact Col. Alexandrov and have it ready to send when I give my report."

***********

Delia's heart pounded as she scanned the surrounding ocean for any more Alliance vessels from the safety of her Valkyrie suit's cockpit. The last two mobile suits had surprised her.  As far as she knew, the rebellion had no knowledge of any such underwater suits, but the markings designated they were part of the Special Forces.

Maybe that's why she'd felt compelled to destroy them while she had the chance.

Once she'd assured herself the coast was clear, she maneuvered her suit back to where she'd discovered the other Valkyrie suit. She still had a mission to complete. The Lancelot suits had tripped the self-detonation button when they'd started to retrieve it. The flashing light just below the door to the cockpit on the suit's chest indicated she had less than a minute left.

Please be like mine. She searched for the button on side of the suit's neck. If this suit was anything like La Santa Muerte, the same button could be used to stop the self-destruct sequence. She held her breath and pressed it with the bottom of her scythe.

The countdown stopped.

Gracias a Dios. Delia wiped the sweat from her brow. The only thing she feared in her Valkyrie suit was another suit built like it, especially when the explosion could've destroyed her suit as well.

But until a few minutes ago, she'd believed she had the only suit in existence.

How long had La Cerebra known about it? And why didn't she tell me? What other secrets is she hiding?

"Hey, Tita," Howie said through her com link, interrupting her growing doubt. "Find it?"

"Yeah, but I had to slice and dice a few Alliance suits to get it, though."

"Not to mention wiping out that carrier," he replied, his voice filled with the same awe she'd expect if he'd been complimenting her hoverboard skills.  "What's its condition?"

"Looks pretty intact." Of course, they would know more about it once they brought it to the surface. That was her mission. Retrieve and repair. Until she'd spotted the suit, she'd had no idea what Dr. G wanted her to find. "Sending the coordinates now, although we might be wise to lie low for a day or two before bringing this to the surface."

As she waited for Howie to acknowledge them, she studied the red and blue suit. Granted, it didn't have her flair for style, but the construction appeared to be almost identical.

Which meant there was another pilot like her.

Apilot Dr. G hadn't told her about.

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