There was a significant force that ruptured the metallic doors of Landing Bay Three, yet as the explosion yielded great tumult inside the military outpost, within the infinity of deep space not a sound was heard or reverberated. The only visible indication of the blast was the flash of fiery light and crumbling debris launching into the emptiness of the universe around Seir's moon.
Ogdan narrowly navigated his spaceship through the opening, and once the vessel triumphantly emerged from the wreckage of the docking bay, a new danger awaited the vigilantes. There were rangers inside the military base that took up defensive assault turrets, which were used to inflict considerable damage to well-armored spaceships, or reap critical devastation upon lesser fortified vehicles; the latter being the category under which Ogdan's was classified.
After the initial rattling and shaking of the spacecraft, the Anupaman steadied his vessel, and with panicked prodding of various buttons he accelerated his engines into a greater velocity. The only hope of survival rested in his ability to dodge the oncoming attack of the turrets, which had instantly commenced opening fire upon the vehicle once it had launched like a practice target through the aperture; they harbored no signs of mercy, and there was no display of want or concern for apprehension any longer. Death seemed the only fitting appeasement.
"We have to get outta their range," Odgan roared, "or we're as good as dead! I'm partial to remaining alive, though if you are the same Blu as I remember you to be, I take it you couldn't care less about the outcome. Any plans, chief?"
Blu's demeanor was as collected as ever. He unstrapped himself from his seat and turned toward Ogdan, "I'll take the controls from here," he said smugly as he prepared to switch to the piloting chair. "Do you have a cannon on this ship?"
"One," Ogdan replied, but a slight hesitation overtook him as he continued, "although...I don't have much for ammunition. My count is less than fifty, if I recall correctly." His mind was deliberating whether he had thirty or forty cannon rounds remaining, but in actuality he only possessed nineteen; a meager amount comparatively, and hardly enough to defend the vessel during the dangerously impossible escape it was about to endeavor.
"You better saddle up on that cannon then, I reckon if we're lucky enough to make it past their turret's range, they won't hesitate pursuing us with ships of their own. It'll be a race from there. This last part is important Ogdan, so pay attention: only aim for their engines. I can't afford to break my promise now." Blu's memory brought him back to the alluring visage of Cadet Renfield, shrouded in that unmistakable mist of reminiscence, and he was freshly reminded not to incur any casualties. His concentration abruptly returned, and he added with a grin, "Oh, and try not to trip the trigger as if you are giving away shells like candy."
"You know me, Blu," the Anupaman retorted with a haughty smile that was followed by a tone of extreme resolution, "spare the shell, spoil the ship. If you wanted moderation, you would have jumped on the cannon yourself."
"If I desired an early grave, I would sit back, relax, and let you pilot until we were eventually shot down by some sullen rangers, or worse. If you're partial to staying alive, do your part and try not to get anyone killed."
"I ought to kill you for getting me dragged into this mess, smooth-brain. My poor ship!" Like so many other galactic pilots, Ogdan possessed a fond adoration for his vehicle, but no matter the incalculable depth of that fondness, his desire and determination to survive was as immense as the voids of outer space.
The moment had come for the vigilantes to act without any further hesitation. Inside the military outpost, the conflagration of the dining facility and West Wing was being quelled, and since the recently raging fires were nearly extinguished, able soldiers were beginning to dawn their suits of armor and mount their vehicles for pursuit. The repetitious command of "go, go, go," echoed in differing alien tongues as a myriad of rangers prepared for launch.
"Very well, I will honor the agreement to aim for their engines, but I will generously express my delight in destruction, sparing no expense to escape and live to eat another day." The decision was affirmed with a confident nod of the head. Ogdan relinquished his post, and Blu seated himself in the pilot's chair, though the Earthian had to avoid a storm of turret blasts before he was completely prepared or properly situated. This exacerbated the relentless pain derived from his freshly burned epidermis, yet he remained unflinching once he was strapped down in front of the dashboard.
The attack startled the vigilantes, but with great fortune the first round of blasts barely missed, though several were hair-raisingly close to accomplishing their lethal impact. The defensive assault turrets unleashed a volley of devastation, and a deadly rain showered around the vehicle, which seemed to dwarf its size considerably. Ogdan's vessel veered and dodged to the left and to the right; sometimes tilting diagonally, or spiraling strategically in whirling spins, and Blu's truest skill of piloting expertise showed. He was unbelievably calm, even when the spaceship rattled or shook from the grazes of turret ammunition.
Time and again his nerves were tested, yet he remained unwaveringly stern. Death was revealing its grim smile in the form of perilous beams of light directed toward, and whizzing passed, the fleeting vessel. The iridescent rays were like fiercely piercing needles, and certain annihilation surrounded the spacecraft, but Blu never gave in to panic.
Meanwhile, the Anupaman had barely strapped himself into his new seat when the vessel turned over on one of its sides, jerking him wildly in place. After the covering of his window was withdrawn into the interior of the spaceship, he peered out of the porthole despairingly. He was afflicted with the dread of watching the entire spectacle unfold, and he grew sickly pale as he tightened his grip upon a striped handle that triggered the cannon. The constant fear of being effortlessly obliterated from a single turret's blast agonized and tormented him; it took every ounce of strength not to fire the weapon with blatant disregard.
Blu's total concentration was focused on piloting, and with an unrivaled smoothness he controlled the spaceship to a safe distance. The storm of the blasts being issued from the ranger's turrets began to cease, and with a miraculous success the pair of vigilantes were nearing the edge of complete escape. Seir's moon became faint, then its image had altogether disappeared as the thrusters of the spacecraft labored to the fringes of their threshold.
Ogdan was elated when the final round of the turrets vanished into the darkened universe, and he shouted out with a joyous tone, "you did it, you bastard! We're alive! I'll wager this was the first time any alien has ever dared something so audacious. This is one for the story books!" He sunk deeper into his seat, breathing a sigh of great relief and grabbing at his harness.
"Don't get too comfortable just yet, Ogdan. We have company." The grim tone of the statement fell heavy upon the jubilation of the moment, dragging it to despairing depths.
On one of the scanners implanted in the dashboard, little yellow blips were appearing on a black screen latticed by a green-lined grid, and they were gravitating toward a central form painted scarlet, which indicated spaceships travelling toward their direction from the rear. The speed of Ogdan's spacecraft could not equal that of the ranger's vehicles, and the soldiers were quickly advancing upon them.
Blu was possessed with the enduring determination to elude his pursuers, so he continued to increase the acceleration of the spaceship, though this action ran the risk of overheating its engines. He perceived that being overtaken was not an option, and that the ranger's were eager to bring the retreating criminals to a swift demise. It was a punishment undeserving of Ogdan's head, maybe, but as for the Earthian, they sought to exact justice upon him; the soldiers fought to avenge their fellow ranger and former hostage, Cadet Renfield, as well as for their beloved and burned down dining facility. The hearts of the rangers were dedicated to the certain victory of this battle.
"Stay on `em," a command issued fuzzily over the audio receivers of every military spacecraft in pursuit. "We have `em now - Alpha Team prepare to engage."
The Earthian's talent for navigation aided in the successful evasion of the second assault upon the vessel. The rangers commenced firing their cannons the moment they were close enough to rend devastation. A rapid torrent of deadly justice was aimed at Ogdan's vehicle, and though the crushing blow of defeat was avoided, the vigilantes held tight to whatever was within their reach as the spacecraft jostled them from side to side; a solitary ranger's cannon shell had made successful impact. The damage was semi-sustainable.
"My turn," Ogdan said to the porthole with a tone of crude delight, "let's see how they enjoy the bruises of battle." He was quick to return fire as nine shells were unleashed from his cannon. The ammunition whisked as silently as a noiseless dream through the vastness of the universe; though no sound could be heard, whether a shell collided with its target or not could be seen by bright flashes of light, glimmering through the darkness of space like the fire of flickering stars.
"Engines! I said aim for their engines, you horn-head," Blu cried out, "what are you aiming at, anyway? Most of your shots missed just now, and according to the monitor you only have ten shells left. Looks like we're in for the worst of it."
"Consider that my practice round. You try hitting something with this cannon when the pilot is navigating like a mindless maniac, and the targets are trained and unpredictable professionals. It's not as easy as you think!" Ogdan readied his weapon for another attack, hoping to suppress the opposition and prolong his survival, if only for a few minutes more.
"Quit focusing on their engines and tend to our own, smooth-brain. At this rate, we'll blow a fuse and be reduced to nothing but target practice for their rookies." Ogdan's words were accurate; his spaceship's engines were at their fullest exertion, and Blu was forcing them to expend all of their energy. The core temperatures were beyond any limit of recommendation, and all four of the engines were about to combust under the pressure. If a fuse did blow it would render them, as the Earthian saying suggests, like sitting ducks.
Many of the fasteners which held the frame of the vessel together were beginning to rip off, and large metal sheets that were once welded together began to wobble and slightly peel away. The pristine paint job that the Anupaman was so proud of appeared seared and scuffed, from the less-than-gentle handling of his spaceship. The vehicle had never been pressed to this extreme, but all was necessary just to maintain the gap between the rangers and the vigilantes; a measurement that dwindled with the passing of each moment of intensity.
"I'll show him who's the horn-head," Ogdan uttered under his own breath, then he patiently waited for an opportunity to sport precision. His pursuers were agile and his pilot was indeed unpredictable, but the Anupaman held on tightly to the handle, then he fired another shell. The picturesque image of successful impact flashed against a black canvas as a single vehicle was damaged. Coincidentally, the shot had knocked the spacecraft severely off course, and in turn it collided with a partnering vessel; both were instantly rendered disabled and incapable of lending any further assistance during the galactic chase.
"Oh-Yeah! How was that for aim, Blu? What is it you Earthians say again - two squalls with one stone?" Odgan shouted with elation while he raised a solitary fist upward; a gesture he instinctively gave when he accomplished a feat that he deemed worthy of praise. His spirits soared higher than ever, but the sudden shift of delight reverted back to tight-gutted uncertainty once a returned volley of blasts from the rangers yielded another successful blow. Their vessel internally shook violently, then the continuous beeping of an alarm sounded from the dashboard.
"No time for celebrations just yet, stay busy on that cannon! I reckon it will be our funeral soon otherwise, and as you Anupamans like to say - the next meal is always better than the last."
The pursuit lasted in this fashion for quite a while, and tensions never once ceased from either side of the battle. Blu navigated through the universe as best he could manage, given his conditions; Ogdan dispensed another round of shells in the direction of his evasive targets; undamaged military spaceships continued to give chase, advancing closer now, producing a greater difficulty in the task of dodging their relentless attacks.
The Earthian, who perceived the inevitable doom they were about to experience, began to devise a plan. The longer he sat strapped into the pilot's chair, jostling back and forth from time to time with each well-connected strike from his opponents, the more he felt that he was nearing the end. A plan of action was the only source of hope, and if there was any distinguishable fact more prevalent in Blu than all others, it was that he always had a plan no matter the circumstance.
He fixed his eyes on the beeping monitor as he witnessed Ogdan generously depleting the last of his ammunition. The cannon shells skirted past a few of the lead vehicles, but three lagging military spaceships were taken out of the pursuit. The remaining rangers showed absolute obstinacy as they continued to target the criminals, burning to deliver vengeance.
"What now, chief? I'm outta shells and they keep coming, one after the other. It doesn't matter how many I hit, there are more that come to replace their ranks. We are doomed!"
"We still have an out," Blu said as he stroked his chin, "but I'd hate to have to use it now - it was tricky obtaining one."
"Blu, we are about to get crushed...blown away. If you have a miracle hiding in that smooth brain of yours, out with it. If we die here, I swear I'll find a way to make you even more dead!" Ogdan roared, anxiety overwhelming his entire being.
He genuinely surprised the Earthian when he spoke, being startlingly closer than expected. Ogdan had undertaken the dangerous task of unstrapping himself then gradually crawling back toward the pilot's chair. There were no harnesses attached to him, and he could only hold onto the back of the chair; his body flung wildly with the spaceship's movements, yet his massive strength kept him from being violently bucked around inside his vessel.
There was a moment of mental deliberation, but at length Blu had decided it was best to remain piloting; he could not afford to rely on Ogdan's skill during such a crisis. "There's a special cannon shell inside my duffle bag. Load it up horn-head, and wait for my signal."
Blu's countenance remained as cool as ever, despite the searing pain of his burns being agitated from each quake of the spaceship. While he continued to navigate, his accomplice began to undertake the treacherous task of moving toward a compartment; the same one in which the Earthian had stowed away his gear. Ogdan was bumped and bruised at every spiral and dodge; more than once his head was the target for humorous assault brought on by the unbound décor of his vessel, yet his thick skull proved to be useful in this instance. He felt little pain. Upon arrival, his panic had given way to irritation, and he tenderly rubbed his sore snout before violently opening the compartment.
The Anupaman did not delay, nor did he for a second hesitate in ravenously rummaging through the duffle bag. It was more than apparent which object was the cannon shell, since it was the largest, heaviest, and most distinct in shape compared to all of the other strange items Blu retained in his possession. Securing the ammunition tightly under one of his arms, Ogdan undertook the same irksome journey back to the seat he was previously occupying, and after he had reached the chair he became quite relieved to be strapped down once more.
He withdrew the cannon shell from under his meaty arm, and a wave of stupor washed over him as he inspected the device scrupulously. The Anupaman had not noticed it before, but as he held the shell in his hands, he perceived that it was unlike any he had ever seen with his own eyes. Suddenly gaze was lit with a flame of envious desire, and he quietly studied the shell with enthusiasm.
Most of the ammunition used by cannons, especially in nonmilitary spacecraft, is comprised of standard material; durable enough to house the lethal contents found within them, and ordinarily colored olive green or yellow gold. The body of these devices are curved in tear-drop fashion, yet their tips are slender and partially pointed on their end to enhance aerodynamic precision. The particular shell which Ogdan firmly grasped was very different, though it still retained the familiar curve of the usual kind, enabling it to be dispensed from almost any cannon. The body of it was transparent, and an incandescent light was glowing inside of it, like the soft light inside of a firefly. It burned a strange cerulean hue that seemed to be nearly hypnotic in appearance, and wherever the alien touched his fingers, the brilliance of the glow gravitated toward that exact spot. The shell also sounded like it was constantly humming with a bizarre vitality.
After brief hesitation, a measure of time long enough to seed surprise mixed with curiosity, the shell was begrudgingly loaded into a round chamber, and the cannon was fed with one more chance for hope of escape or survival. Ogdan had finished his preparations; the beeping of the monitor confirmed, amid its wails of precautionary and hazarded warnings, that the cannon was ready to be fired once more.
"On your mark, chief."
"Get ready, I reckon the engines are done for," and as Blu said this, an explosion promptly rattled the vessel, then two of the four engines attached to Ogdan's spaceship combusted, bursting into fragments of irretrievable debris, randomly spitting in all directions of outer space.
The physical state of Ogdan's spaceship was beyond disrepair, and now its capability to navigate and propel was severely limited. The pair of vigilantes peered through Ogdan's porthole, and they stared on with dread as a convoy of military vehicles readied to swarm them; they were like a wounded animal hunted by a pack of wolves, and the hungering predators wetted their fangs with anticipation for the final bite.
"Bravo Team ready to engage," a ranger relayed to his commander, "awaiting your orders, sir."
"I can't - I just can't hold out any longer, Blu." Ogdan's skin was soaked in perspiration; the usual tones of grey, strong and distinguished, were reduced to a flushed pallor of ghostly whiteness. His entire demeanor was frigid, but not like the same coolness permeated in the Earthian. He was frozen stiff by the sudden mental revelation that this was going to be his last moment. The only apparent vitality the Anupaman possessed was coming from one of his hands, which were wrapped around the striped trigger handle, rapidly trembling.
"Not yet, not yet," Blu kept repeating, and the rhythmic fluctuation of his voice intensified the situation, quickening the beat of Ogdan's heart, which seemed out of place and felt like it had crept up into the back of his throat during the entire pursuit.
"I can't believe I'm spending my last breath with a smooth-brain. I am grief!"
"I think you mean to say 'woe is me,' but rather than embrace this as our last miserable moment together, have a little faith." Blu attempted in all sincerity to reassure his comrade, in hopes to console his spirit, or at the very least to stall his trembling trigger hand.
Ogdan's reply was utter silence, though he swallowed the lump in the back of his throat, which only seemed to stubbornly rise again. The rangers drew nearer still, but they had not fired yet; they were preparing for the final blow, and it was obvious that the fleeting vessel was damaged enough to render escape impossible.
"Bravo Team, you're clear to fire," the commanding soldier said over the audio receiver, "I say again, you're clear to fire."
"Any last words?" Blu inquired with a smug expression as he glanced at his comrade, detecting the insurmountable fear emanating from the alien. There was no reply from Ogdan. He was petrified to the bone, and his mind had begun to reminisce on the memories of his life; glorious victories and sorrowful regrets, past flings and future endeavors.
"No? Well, I have two: PUNCH IT!"
The words rang like a loud gong, and all at once Ogdan's concentration returned. He squeezed the trigger with all of his might. The glowing cannon shell launched forth, quietly sailed through the vacuum of space, and the force of the blast sent the deteriorating vessel spiraling out of control. Blu attempted to navigate as best he could, but any effort to pilot was in vain. The beeping dashboard was flashing several kinds of warnings and erroneous texts, and all they could do in that moment was brace themselves for whatever may come.
When the ammunition was launched from the cannon a blinding light erupted, the signal that it had made successful impact. The radiance was absolutely obscuring, and it seemed as if a shooting star had passed through the gap between the rangers and the vigilantes. Every alien, with the exception of a certain Earthian, was striving to use their sight, but the light swallowed up and fully consumed their vision. Anyone caught looking at the blast was temporarily blinded.
Finally the brightness of the cannon shell subsided, imploding back into its initial point of origin. Ogdan was furiously rubbing his round eyes to readjust his vision; he was completely bewildered and unsure if he had just transcended into some kind of Anupaman afterlife. He patted his body wildly to be certain.
Blu gradually lifted his eye lids open after some brief squinting, then he concluded it was safe enough to survey his surroundings. The first idea in his mind was to examine the spaceship's engines, but his findings proved more than bleak. A third engine had altogether disappeared amid the chaos and confusion, which had been spawned from the blinding blast of the powerful shell. The remaining engine, barely fastened to the vessel as it was, had overheated during the finale of the pursuit; its core had blown a fuse, or so suggested the engine, which meant that endeavoring to propel any longer was as impractical as attaching a screen door to a spaceship. As Blu sat in the stillness of that moment, he perceived that the vessel was still moving; the force of the ammunition being dispensed caused Ogdan's vehicle to be sent drifting, ever so gradually, floating through the infinity of the universe.
Next he turned his attention toward his comrade. Ogdan had finally come to his senses, and after discovering he was still very much alive, a pale terror seized him. He was strapped into the chair, and his gaze was fixated upon his porthole, or rather what transpired beyond it.
There was a company of military spacecraft that appeared to have regained their senses as well. They continued to slowly approach the damaged vessel, which was incapacitated to say the least. Ogdan's eyes stared in disbelief at the sight, but the gloom of such a dreadful situation forced him to believe that the image was all too real, and not some nightmarish recording of his last moments replaying in the afterlife. The pair of vigilantes remained in their respective chairs, their shared silence was interrupted by the lone wails of a beeping dashboard.
It seemed that the military vehicles were coyly approaching them in a mockingly slow fashion.
Misery stirred in the spirit of the Anupaman, and any hope to survive was diminished. Shaking his head with the disapproving acceptance of what was to come, he cried out to Blu, "it didn't work, smooth-brain! We're outta shells, and now they have the perfect opportunity to exact their justice. This is it, this is the end. I've lived many years; some endearing, others as fleeting as this moment. There were opportunities and achievements which had not yet introduced themselves to me, but now it's too late. Why did I ever become acquainted with this ship-wrecker? Why must I suffer this reckless cowboy; this Earthian bastard; this minion of chaos? In vain I waste my last breath cursing the cursed, and attempt beat that which is already dead." He lowered his head and knitted his brow into a sorrowful wrinkle, expressing sincere anguish, then he added in a flawlessly melancholy tone, "I am grief!"
The outcome of the pursuit, as well as the bond shared between vigilantes, is explained in the next installment.