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ARIES 1

By ... Steve Lucky

CHAPTER THREE : THE BATTLE

Troy sounded the alarm and announced that the Ruler was going to attack. In seconds, the base was full of activity as people scurried to and fro trying to get ready to defend themselves. Troy watched them briefly and then set off to find X again.

On his way there, he ran into Shawn and Gary. They looked at him as if he was keeping something from them.

"What's going on?" Shawn demanded.

"I'm on my way to tell X what I saw," Troy replied. "There was thousands of them as far as the eye could see."

Shawn could tell that Troy wasn't in the mood for talking, so he cleared a path through all the chaos to X's quarters. Just like he had expected, X was there waiting for them. He had heard the alarm and was working on a defense plan when they arrived.

"The Ruler is going to attack," warned Troy.

"I have detected a signal being sent to the fleet from somewhere in our own base," interrupted Shawn believing his message to be the more urgent of the two.

X looked at him gravely.

"How stupid of me!" X cried to no one in particular. "We have a spy here. That's how they found out about us."

He turned his attention to Gary. "Try to find out where the signal," he ordered turning his attention to Shawn and Troy. "I want one of you to continue to continue to observe the Ruler's fleet. Let me know about any changes in their flight pattern. The other one will come with me."

Shawn, Troy, and Gary obeyed at once. Gary tried to trace the signal the spies were sending, Troy return to the telescope to continue his observations, and Shawn accompanied X to wherever it was he was going.

"Where are we going?" Shawn asked as they started to run.

"I'm going to declare an emergency meeting," X answered. "The Ruler must be stopped at all costs."

Shawn was starting to pant. X was going at a pace much too fast for him. He looked at X in admiration before dropping back to catch his breath. X didn't seem the slightest bit tired and looked like he could maintain his pace indefinitely. Whatever his secrets were, Shawn was glad he was on their side.

TIME : 7:04 P.M. (19:04)
PLACE : The spy's quarters

Gary found the device that was transmitting signals to the Ruler and destroyed it. He wondered why the spies would be stupid enough to put the device in their own quarters. Then, he found out. They had left the base knowing that their work was done.

Gary pounded his fist against the way in anger and went back to report his findings.

He would have been happier if he knew that the spies had been shot down by their own people. The Ruler's strict instructions were that there were to be no survivors. The spies had done their work and were of no further use to the Ruler. His best alternative, according to him, was to kill them before they decided to betray him.

Such was the way with the Ruler.

TIME : 7:19 P.M. (19:19)
PLACE : The center of the base

Everyone at the base was called together for an emergency meeting. All of them came except for a group of about ten people who thought it was best to flee while they still could. They were hunted down by the Ruler's forces and destroyed.

The others were gathered at the center of the base, the only room large enough for such a meeting to take place. X was at the front of the room, just as he had been before, ready to address the crowd before him.

"As you all know, we are going to be attacked by the Ruler in less than an hour," X stated calmly hoping that the others would calm down too. "The only way we can beat them is if we remain rational and force them to make the mistakes. We are going to have to work as a team."

X gave each of them a specific task to do. Taken separately, the tasks seemed trivial and unimportant, but combined it was an intricate battle strategy that would be far superior to anything the Ruler could come up with. Outnumbered almost ten to one, they needed all the help they could get.

TIME : 7:35 P.M. (19:35)
PLACE : 100,000 km above Mars

The battle between M.W.G.D. and the Ruler commenced. M.W.G.D. struck first catching the Ruler's ships off guard. All the ships in the first wave were destroyed. They started to celebrate, but their celebration was short lived. Wave after wave of ships were approaching without the slightest hesitation.

X tried as hard as he could, but there was no way he could stop all the ships from attacking. He signaled those remaining at the base to give them an early warning. As the later waves came, some of the M.W.G.D. ships and X was forced to order a retreat so they could regroup before attacking again.

TIME : 7:42 P.M. (19:42)
PLACE : The base

One of the Ruler's robot ships flew into the hangar bay with a bomb set to go off on impact. All the fighter ships remaining, as well as the people in the hangar bay, were destroyed. The base would have been practically defenseless if they hadn't have responded to X's warning in time. Fortunately, they had time to prepare.

Some of them had managed to leave the base before the hangar bay was destroyed. They went up to help X defend the base. Others chose to flee on foot. The Ruler tried to hunt them down, but they were able to retreat to a place of temporary safety.

The ships chasing them were shot down by none other than X himself. X was fairly accurate with a phaser on the ground, but in space he was invincible. Many called him the best in the galaxy in aerial combat and he lived up to their claims. He shot two more ships with the greatest of ease. Soon, the human ships could be distinguished from the robot ships because the humans were starting to panic.

Shawn, Troy, and Gary were still at the base. They watched the battle above with diminishing hopes. In spite of X's victories, the Ruler had more ships and they were using their advantage in numbers to turn the tides. The battle looked hopeless.

"How does it look?" asked Troy who was letting Shawn use the telescope.

"Not very good," Shawn replied sadly. "Half of our ships have been destroyed and they still have over ninety percent of theirs."

The whole base was quiet as it sank in that so many of their friends had been killed. There was no way two hundred ships could beat two thousand, even if one of them was the best in the galaxy.

They were so involved with their losses in the air that they almost didn't notice that some of the Ruler's ships were landing.

With the air forces immobilized, they had started their attack with their ground forces.

Shawn spotted them just in time.

"They're coming on foot," he warned. "They're headed straight for the base."

The soldiers on the ground could be easily shot down, but, like the ships in the air, they kept coming. Some of the soldiers managed to place some explosives on the base and detonate them. The base withstood such an explosion, but the structure was obviously weakening.

"We have to do something!" declared Troy.

Shawn and Gary agreed. They put on some spacesuits, grabbed a weapon, and sneaked out of the base in order to take the enemy soldiers by surprise.

TIME : 8:07 P.M.
PLACE : Somewhere in the Asteroid Belt

To everyones surprise, the Ruler withdrew his forces in the air so he could plan a new strategy. Even though they were winning the battle, the Ruler was mad that X hadn't been destroyed yet.

"We've destroyed the hangar bay, but X is more powerful than we thought," reported the same soldier that had reported to the Ruler back on Altair 7.

"More powerful than YOU thought," corrected the Ruler. "I told you X was more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

With that, the Ruler commanded one of his robot ships to destroy him.

"I let him live once," snapped the Ruler. "Twice is too much for anyone to ask for."

"Fighting with ourselves will do no good," Yot, the Ruler's second in command, said boldly. "We'll have to concentrate our forces solely on X."

If it were anyone else, the Ruler would have shot him down too, but the Ruler needed Yot's advice. He was the closest thing to a friend that the Ruler had. The Ruler agreed that X needed to be taken care of and ordered them to concentrate on X as Yot had wanted.

TIME : 8:10 P.M. (20:10)
PLACE : Mars

Shawn, Troy, and Gary crept quietly around the base looking for the enemy. They moved cautiously and carefully knowing that the slightest mistake would be fatal. At last, they came upon a lone soldier with her back turned to them. Before she knew what happened, they had disarmed her.7;_dEach of them had a gun pointed in her direction.

"Tell us where your friends are and we'll let you live!" Shawn demanded fiercely.

"Over there," she told him pointing in the appropriate direction.

Shawn set his phaser to stun and then shot her. If nothing else, he would at least keep his word.

"Thanks for your help," he added even though she couldn't hear him and continued his pursuit of the remaining enemy soldiers with Troy and Gary following close behind.

Sure enough the soldiers were there just as she had told them. They were looking for the M.W.G.D. soldiers that had fled earlier. Shawn, Troy, and Gary hadn't been spotted yet, but they couldn't stay out in the open for long.

"There's no way we can defeat them all," Gary reasoned. "We need reinforcements."

As silently as they had come, the three of them returned to the base to get the reinforcements they needed. On the way back, they ran into three more of the Ruler's soldiers. They fired. All three soldiers went down as each of them hit their target.

"Four down, four thousand to go," sighed Troy as they continued on their way.

TIME : 8:16 P.M. (20:16)
PLACE : The XX1

X was being attacked by several suicide rammers. None of them were successful, but he had had some close calls. He headed out to the outer edge of the solar system drawing most of the Ruler's forces away from the others.

He could have outrun them easily, but that was not his intention. His intention was to keep them away from Mars for as long as possible and let the others fight a more even battle. The Ruler knew what X was doing, but the whole purpose of his attack was to destroy X and if he was going to let them chase him, he was going to follow.

With the numbers around Mars about even, the more experienced M.W.G.D. soldiers were starting to prevail. The Ruler even had to send some of his ships back to Mars so they wouldn't have a chance to rest.

Out of the original 390 that were at the base, only 106 were still alive and most of those were on the ground. However, the few M.W.G.D. fighters that remained in the air had some of the best pilots around inside. It would require an intense effort on the Ruler's part to destroy them.

One of the M.W.G.D. soldiers had gotten herself into a tight spot. She was surrounded by the enemy with no apparent means of escape. She knew she was going down, but she was going to take as many of the Ruler's ships as she could with her.

When they finally got her, her husband in one of the other ships was enraged. Making sure he was a safe distance away from the other M.W.G.D. ships, he fired a rapid series of shots in random directions. They tried to shoot him down, but they could even get near him as his shots continued to penetrate. He was finally destroyed when one of the Ruler's ships ran into him.

Together, the husband and wife team had destroyed over thirty of the Ruler's ships, but the effort seemed almost in vein. The Ruler still had over a thousand ships to attack with and M.W.G.D. was running out of people, rapidly.

X knew that even he couldn't fight a thousand ships in direct combat. He figured that the best thing for him to do was to get them to keep on looking for him. He returned to Mars, hid his ship in a safe place, and ran to the base knowing that they would need his help. All of this was done so quickly that the Ruler didn't have a chance to see where he went.

"I've lost him," cried Yot in disbelief.

"Keep looking," scolded the Ruler. "He didn't leave, so he has to be around here somewhere."

TIME : 8:24 P.M. (20:24)
PLACE : The base

Shawn, Troy, and Gary had gathered a small army together. They were just about to leave the base when Shawn spotted another rammer headed straight for them.

"Everybody down!" he yelled.

Everybody did so. Some of them didn't know why, but they could tell that Shawn meant what he said. No sooner had they done this than a tremendous shock wave hit the base. Part of the base was starting to crumble.

A second rammer hit a different part of the base, but they could still feel the impact.

"We better get out of here while we still can," Shawn advised the others.

They ran out of the base as fast as they could go. No sooner had they left than X came running up to join them. They were surprised to see him, but pleased that he was there. As usual, X had a plan.

"The Ruler's troops have made a costly mistake," X explained. "When they left their ships to hunt for escapees on foot, they left their ships unguarded. They should be fairly easy to steal. I want half of you to come with me. The other half will wait until we distract them by stealing their ship and then attack them from behind."

The M.W.G.D. officers wasted no time splitting into two groups. X had been their commanding officer for years and they were use to his style of military strategy. Shawn, Troy, and Gary were forced to separate. Shawn and Troy wanted to stay with X and Gary wanted to stay on the ground where it was safer and neither of them were going to change their mind.

"Good bye, Gary," Shawn said softly knowing it might be the last time that the three of them were together. "Do what you can."

"Make sure the Ruler can't hurt another living thing," he shouted back.

"We will," predicted Troy with all the confidence in the world. "This will be the Ruler's last battle. There's no place he can run."

"I'm worried about us!" Shawn stated realistically.

"We'll make it," smiled Troy.

Shawn's confidence returned when he saw how confident Troy and Gary were. Slowly, they parted company and set off to do their respective tasks.

Overhead, the few M.W.G.D. ships that remained in the air saw that they had done all they could and fled to another system. The Ruler just let them going figuring they could do no harm. With them out of the way, the Ruler ordered Yot to personally lead a ground attack to kill all who remained.

TIME : 8:49 P.M.
PLACE : 2 km north of the base

Just as X had told them, there was a row of ships easily accessible with no guards posted in the area. They wasted no time in running to the ships and climbing on board. Each of the ships could hold as many as four people, so X asked Rynn, Shawn, and Troy to accompany him.

Rynn saw that Shawn still had his doubts about X's plan.

"Don't worry," he assured him. "X is a really good pilot. In forty-three years of battles he has never been killed."

"We'll neither had the pilot of that ship," griped Shawn pointing to the remains of a ship that had recently been destroyed.

X opened up a hole from the instant he took off so the other ships could escape. Shawn watched with satisfaction as some of the M.W.G.D. soldiers escaped in the ships that they had stolen.

"At least someone will survive," thought Shawn.

"They will send a warning to M.W.G.D. headquarters," Rynn informed Shawn and Troy.

X cut in reminding them that they were still in the middle of the battle.

"We can't get through them!" he yelled. "We're going to have to land."

All of them knew that this was not going to be a typical landing and braced themselves for the impact that was sure to come. It was fairly smooth for an emergency landing, but it wasn't something any of them wanted to go through on a daily basis. They landed on the Martian surface shook up but still in one peace. All of them refused to move as if the slightest sound would betray them even though the Ruler couldn't hear them if they got out of the ship and yelled at the top of their lungs.

After a minute or two, they all gave a sigh of relief. The Ruler hadn't seen where they had landed. X, Shawn, and Rynn made their way out of the ship glad to be alive.

Troy, on the other hand, was searching the back of the ship. He found a bomb in the back of the ship that still hadn't been used. As he felt the cold metal of the bomb, he formulated a plan in his head, one last desperate gamble that he thought was sure to work.

At that moment, the Ruler's voice came on over the ship's communication system.

"Listen well, X," announced the Ruler. "I don't know where you are, but I know you're still on Mars. You wouldn't leave while people are still in danger, but if you don't show yourself I am going to order my troops to start attacking Earth. You have 65 seconds to reply before we start."

X had heard the Ruler's message from where he stood and bowed his head silently.

"I must go," he told the others. "I am not worth an entire planet."

Rynn would hear of no such thing "There are 63,895 planets that M.W.G.D. has been assigned to protect and well over a thousand planets like Earth that will be ready to join in the next millennium. Without you, those planets don't stand a chance."

Troy was only half listening. He was worried about the Earth.

"Well, this is it," he thought to himself.

"Get out!" Troy yelled to the others. Shawn and X hesitated and Rynn showed no sign of leaving."

"GET OUT!" he screamed authoratively at the top of his lungs.

Very slowly, X started to leave. Seeing that X was leaving, Rynn and Shawn decided that it was best to join him.

"What about you?" Shawn inquired as he left.

"I'll find my own way out," he replied as he shut the door and prepared for take off.

"Your time is up," snapped the Ruler. "I have ordered my fleet to attack Earth. You're too late!"

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