Chapter 2: Close Encounters of the Female Kind

- Capital City, Taraak –

- April 16, 2887, AD –

In the capital city of Taraak, a momentous occasion was taking place as the male government unveiled its latest weapon to use against their sworn enemies, the women of Majere. As the large batch of newly trained cadets and a crowd of laborers who helped redesign and refit an old colony-era vessel into a military ship watched the latest propaganda film finish playing out on a large screen, an older bald man with a long, thin mustache addressed the assembly.

"Fellow men of Taraak! Today is truly a glorious day for the Empire! Today, we take the first step in taking back what is rightfully ours from the scourge of mankind, the dreaded women of Majere! With the power of the new Ikazuchi, we will finally have the means to crush the vile monsters that plaque the stars!"

A great cheer roared from the assembly as all the men hung on the Prime Minister's words.

"You, the brave cadets who have trained specifically for this task, and you, the workers who toiled night and day to complete the Ikazuchi, demonstrate the pinnacle of the third generation of men! Be proud of your heritage and your duty to Lord Grandpa and your fellow men of Taraak!"

Within the ship, many crewmembers watched the live feed on monitors throughout the vessel, from dockworkers to engineers, everyone watched with smiles on their faces for their achievements.

"Why should we wait for the appointed hour to start our destined journey to the stars? We will go now!"

The bold declaration was met with an intense cheer from the cadets. The crew, on the other hand….

"What?! He wants us to take-off now? It's still two hours before the scheduled lift-off!" One of the crew remarked as he stared at the viewing screen in front of him.

"Well, that's the Prime Minister for you." Another remarked, not all that surprised by this sudden move on behalf of a government official.

"Cut the chatter you two! The Prime Minister has just issued an order! All hands, to your stations!" The crew chief barked out as the men on board the Ikazuchi began to scramble to make the ship ready for take-off as soon as humanly possible. Down in engineering, the men hustled as they manipulated the controls of several stations. Steam and smoke started billowing from various machines and soon the sound of the engines humming filled the compartment.

Down on the docks, men rushed to get the last of the supplies on board while the cadets filed into the ship. After only fifteen minutes, the large ship was secured and ready for lift-off.

"All stations secured. Ready for departure." A crew member onboard the bridge reported as everything on his monitor went green light.

"Then the time has come! Liftoff now!" The Prime Minister ordered.

At the press of a button, the cables and moorings holding the Ikazuchi detached and the booster rockets roared to life. The large ship slowly began to accelerate towards the sky as smoke bellowed from underneath, soon the ship was clear of the superstructure that cradled it and the migration ship turned battleship took to the air once more.

Meanwhile, out in the desolate dunes of Taraak, an old man toiling away at the dry, parched earth looks up as a large ship rocket into space. Gid watches as the very ship he and his fellow men used to arrive on this world took flight once more. He silently wished a certain young man good luck as he went back to his work.

At the same time, deep within the central government building in the capital, a very old man watches the departure of the Ikazuchi on a holographic monitor on his desk, his wrinkled hand shaking slightly.

- Ikazuchi Cargo Bay 21 –

- 2 Minutes After Lift-off –

"Ugh!"

A young man grunted as a sudden jolt stirred him from his slumber. Johnathan Grim, AKA 'Reaper', shook the cobwebs from his head as he looked around the small space he had hidden inside to await the Ikazuchi's take-off. The former Second Lieutenant pushed himself up off the floor and carefully made his way to a nearby porthole to look outside. When he saw the slowly descending landscape of the desert planet giving way to star-studded skies, he flipped open the wristwatch he wore on his left arm.

"Two hours early…guess someone got impatient." It didn't surprise him much as he knew from the short time he stayed on Taraak the majority of men running the government was both impatient and hot-tempered. As he turned away from the porthole, he took stock of his equipment to make sure he was ready to depart into the deep expanse of space.

Gone was the third-class citizen clothing he was forced to wear to stay incognito with the men of Taraak and instead he was back in his marine fatigues and armor; the very same he wore during the Mars City Outbreak that helped him get through that nightmare. Green shirt and pants underneath a heavy green plate armor covering his chest, shoulders, and torso while steel boots and leg guards covered everything below his knees. The armor looked like it had been patched up a few times as sheets of the plate had been affixed to the outer surface. One would believe that the armor was just a patchwork of parts thrown together in its assembly if they didn't know the story behind it.

John sent a mental command to the implants in his body and watched as a window appeared in his vision showing his inventory. Much to his relief when he first arrived on Taraak, the vast majority of his weapons and ammo survived the trip with him inside the Extradimensional Storage Device, or ESD, providing him with an arsenal of guns to use if the need arises. John could honestly say that the ESD had been the single most integral piece of equipment that he had that allowed him to survive Mars City. Without it, he doubted he would have been able to make it through that nightmare without running out of ammo within an hour of the incident. He was very lucky that the armor never took damage where the ESD was stored.

He regretted not being able to thank the scientist who invented it, as he found that poor guy had been decapitated right inside his own office. He had blasted the imp that killed him with a shotgun slug to avenge the guy. It was a real shame that his invention would not see mass production and his would be the only unit ever created. For the docs' sake, he would honor the man and use the device with great respect.

Scrolling through the inventory, he saw that everything, from a pistol to a chain gun, to a plasma rifle, to the ever-over bearing overkill machine known as the 'Bio Force Gun 9000' was present. Even a chainsaw was stored in the device. Out of everything he had acquired back in Mars City, only one thing was missing from his arsenal.

The Soulcube.

The ancient sentient artifact that he had fought through the bowels of Hell for was the only item that was absent upon his awakening. Where it was, he had no idea, and without any clue to its location, there was no chance of retrieving it.

Damn shame. It could have answered a lot of his questions.

Dismissing the inventory screen, John called up his PDA, the same PDA he had received back in Mars City, and made his way to the nearest terminal. Plugging into the central network, he activated the hacking program Gid had given him and accessed the ship's main computer. Quickly going through the sub-systems, he located the ship's star maps and began downloading a copy. Since the ship was formerly migrant, it had access to various star maps that were recorded as the vessel journeyed through space on its voyage. Maps that will come in handy for when he would undertake his journey. He could have done this as soon as he boarded the ship, but he didn't want to leave any sort of evidence that he had hacked into the computer that could have been detected during the system checks performed before take-off. Now though, various crewmembers would be accessing the systems and it would be easier to blend into the general network traffic that was active. As he finished the download, he then accessed another system showing the ships manifest and map. He began searching through it to locate the marked Vanguard he had chosen to use for his journey. He grinned when he found the machine in question and where it was being kept.

"Alright. Time for the next phase of the plan." John said as he disconnected from the terminal and started to sneak his way towards the Vanguard hangers.

- Vanguard Hanger Bay 3 –

- 10 Minutes Later –

"Cheers!"

The assembly of cadets called out as glasses of alcohol were tapped together. The Prime Minister had decided to reward the newest batch of graduates with a party to celebrate their success as well as the unveiling of their newest war machines. The hanger bay had been set up with tables covered in party favors, drinks, and food while a large stage had been set up in front of a large curtain bearing the flag of Taraak and behind a statue of an elderly man. As the festivities continued, several conversations were being held amongst the crowd.

"Oh man, I can't wait to see some action."

"We're going to stick it to those vile women."

"You said it. Say, after this tour, you want to have a kid?"

"Huh? A kid with you? That's not a bad idea."

Amongst the crowd of cadets, one man, in particular, was busy enjoying his drink while listening to the chatter around him.

Duelo McFile was rather tall with a deep tan and long black hair that covered the right side of his face and extended down past his neck on the front while the back extended to his torso. He was garbed in the standard cadet uniform along with the rest of the men in the room. As he silently drank, the men around him were commenting on his achievements in the academy.

"So, I assume you will be assigned directly to headquarters, right Duelo?"

"With a record like yours, you can pretty much do anything you want."

"I heard that he submitted his assignment request form completely blank."

"What?" The men around him asked, completely stunned by this information.

Duelo just continued to drink in silence.

"Hey there, is everyone having a good time?"

The group turned to the source of the voice to find another cadet approaching them.

Bart Garsus was a young man with pale skin and short blonde hair with two fringes hanging down the front of his face above his eyes. Also in a cadet uniform, he wore a tan cap on his head. H was holding up a small box that was opened to reveal a pile of small white and pink pellets inside. Bart gestured to the box as he began to talk.

"This is a sample of our company's newest product; it's our own unique formula special nutrition tablet." The man then leaned forward while looking around to see if anyone else was listening as if he was about to share a conspiracy. "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but the quality of ingredients is far superior to other pellets." Backing away, he then took one and presented it to the group. "I'll let you have a free taste if you like."

"Ah, no thanks. I already ate." One of the men said as he eyed the pellet warily.

"Yeah, same here."

"Me too."

"Oh really? That's a shame. You may never get a chance to eat such high-quality food again." I said matter-of-factly as he put the pellet back in the box. With a shrug, he turned to a couple of cadets walking by and began to try to convince them to try the pellets in his hand.

"Who was that guy?"

"His name is Bart. His father owns Garsus' Foods. Let's just say that his family is the one feeding us."

"Ah man, just thinking about something like that gives me indigestion."

It was rather clear to the group that the blonde did not earn or work his way through the academy. Friends in high places indeed.

Before any more could be said, the lights inside the hanger went out, bringing attention to the only light source in the room, an overhead projector.

"Gentlemen. May we have your attention? A special presentation of our newest war machine is about to begin."

As everyone watched, a film started up on the screen. A countdown showed on the screen starting at ten and working down to one before the screen went dark for a second. Then, the screen lit up with the symbol of Taraak as fanfare began to play and a message appeared on the screen.

'The Tsukumo Version Van-type Fighter'

The screen then depicted a large bipedal humanoid machine painted in full gunmetal grey with a single central lens for an eye posing for the camera.

"Peirce, Stab, and Slay! With a versatile assortment of accessories, the new Tsukumo Van-type Fighter is a weapon in and of itself. It is ready to slam down the fist of justice upon our most sworn enemies. It is the soldier at the front lines of our empire. Be it the skies, the seas, the plains, the mountains, there is no terrain that the pride of the empire cannot brave. The Tsukumo Van-type Fighter! A new day for Taraak will be dawning right before our very eyes!"

As the film played, a showcase of the new mobile weapon's abilities was displayed, the military brass attempting to gain confidence in its new assets' power. The cadets cheered for what was in their minds the ultimate achievement of mankind. The film ended as the screen went dark and the lights came back on. The screen rose into the ceiling while the back curtain slides away, revealing a large gate that separated the two halves of the hanger bay. The gate then opened to reveal two rows of the new machines docked in cradles to keep them secured during travel.

"And now, give a big hand to the new, Tsukumo Van-type Fighters!"

The Vanguards suddenly turned and tilted to the side, as if to make them appear to be looking at the cadets themselves. The crowd of men once more cheered as they beheld the machines for the first time. But soon, the cheering slowly changed to confusion and awe as one by one, the men of Taraak looked down to see…him.

- One Minute Earlier –

John hacked the door leading into the rear of the hangar bay. Carefully peering into the darkness, he carefully made his way into the hanger where his marked Vanguard was stored. Walking through the dark, he could hear something coming from beyond the large gate.

"Peirce, Stab, and Slay! With a versatile assortment of accessories, the new Tsukumo Van-type Fighter is a weapon in and of itself.-"

"Sounds like some kind of presentation," John muttered to himself as he looked around for his mark. Even though it was dark, he was still able to see well enough to find what he was looking for.

"Alright, now where did they put that damn – Ah, There it is," John spoke as he walked along the line of Vanguards until he spotted what he was looking for. Right on the torso of one of the Vanguards was the symbol of the USMC that marked the modified unit. John grinned as he prepared to enact the next phase of his plan. He would board the Vanguard and wait for the Prime Minister to order the start of the planned exhibition match, where he would deploy with other Vanguard pilots and fly with them while waiting for the match to begin. While everyone was busy with the match, he would use the erratic movements of Vanguards to mask his getaway. From there, he would fly beyond the boundaries of the system and head into deep space, searching for a means to return to his home or find a planet suitable enough to settle down on.

However, as he took a step towards the Vanguard, the lights suddenly came on and he spotted the curtain and gate moving aside to reveal a whole room full of men.

"Damn it!" John growled as he dashed behind the legs of the Vanguard he was about to board. Pressing himself up against the machine, he tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible. The last thing he needed was to be spotted.

"Of all the damn times," John said to himself as he tried to figure out a way out of this mess when suddenly the cradle holding the Vanguard spun and tilted outward towards the center of the room, throwing John into the literal and metaphorical spotlight.

"Son of a-"Nearly snapping out a curse, John quickly regained his bearings only to find every eye of the men in the room looking right at him. Realizing the situation he now found himself in, John could only say one thing for himself.

"….Motherfucker."

- Meanwhile –

"Who's that?"

"Where did he come from?"

"Is that a Third-Class Citizen?"

"Never seen one dressed like that."

"What the hell is up with the armor?"

"He's ruining the presentation!"

Duelo McFile carefully observed the man who had just appeared with a critical eye. The man did not look anything like a man of Taraak, and certainly not like a Third Class Citizen. For one thing, the man's body looked far too muscular to be considered one of the lower cast of society, not to mention that armor, despite looking like a patchwork job, was far too complex for something a Third Class could create. But the biggest thing was his eyes. The man had the eyes of a seasoned warrior, someone who had seen intense action in the past and survived long enough to hone his experience into skills needed for battle.

"Well, this ought to be interesting," Duelo muttered to himself as he watches a group of security personnel arrive and surround the unknown individual, and by the way, he was bringing up his fists, he was not going down without a fight.

- With John –

John watched as several men in riot gear arrive and pulled out batons from their belts. The marine quickly got into a stance to utilize his quick reflexes for the fight that was to come. Despite the fact he had been caught, he hoped that he could beat the guards down until he found an opening that would allow him to board the Vanguard and secure himself inside. He would then be able to hack the launch system remotely and launch himself into space then hightail it before the crew could react to his departure.

A shaky plan at best, but I was all he had at this point.

It didn't take long for that action to start, as one of the men lunged at him with his baton held high. John waited until he was in range before blocking the strike with his arm and delivering a strike to the guys' jaw, sending him to the ground. He spun around and sent a sidekick to another guy's sternum, sending him flying back. Another tried to come up from behind and take the intruder out with a blow to the head, but John ducked under the attack and threw his head backward, head-butting the guy and sending him down with a bloody nose. Another tried to come from his side, but john grabbed the outstretched arm, elbowed his chest with his free arm before grabbing the baton, and twisting it over the back of the guy's hand. This effectively pried the grip of the baton out of the man's hand. Now with a non-lethal weapon in hand, he struck the jaw of the man he disarmed, knocking him out of the fight. He then began to eliminate the remaining guards with precise blows from his hands, feet, and baton, thinning out the resistance.

Meanwhile, the cadets started cheering on the fight, some cheering for the guards while a few cheered for the unknown man. Despite being a stowaway, it was entertaining to watch the man fight. Duelo hummed in thought, intrigued by the man's battle prowess while Bart watched in fascination as an unknown guy was making a mockery of the security forces.

Moments later, John finished up with the last of the guards and was about to make a break for the Vanguard when he heard the distinct sound of rounds being chambered. Turning, he found a new batch of guards, only this time they were armed with automatic rifles that they had trained on him.

"Freeze! Drop the weapon and put your hands up!"

John took stock of the situation and quickly figured out that it did not look good for him. His first thought was to bring out his weapons, but that was a sure-fire way of getting killed. He doubted that he would get five shots off before getting riddled with lead. Of course, there was the BFG, but with only three shots in the weapon with no way to reload, that weapon was dedicated to the last resort option. Besides, those cadets didn't deserve to die, and the splash damage from the gun would see to about half of those guys being turned into bloody piles of gore. So, this left him with only one option.

A sigh escaped his lips as he threw the baton in his hand away and raised both in surrender.

"Alright. You got me."

- With Duelo –

The cadet watched as the unknown male was led away by the armed guards; the outlook for the stowaway was not looking too good. The top brass had zero tolerance towards any form of rebellion amongst the men, especially those of the lower class. Yet as his eyes followed the man as he disappeared through a connecting hallway, he had the strange feeling that it would not be the last he would see of the guy.

"Fascinating."

- With John –

The marine grunted as he was thrown into a holding cell that had been packed full of supplies. The leaders of Taraak had decided to use every available space on the ship to carry supplies for the voyage into space. It was also apparent that with all of the space in the brig used for storage, the men of Taraak were not planning on taking any prisoners in their fight with Majere.

"Damn, man. Do you have to be so rough?" John asked the guard as the man activated the energy bars that closed the holding cell.

"Quiet, you third-class trash! You're going to regret interfering with the presentation. The Prime Minister has no tolerance for scum like you. Pray that he will be merciful and grant you a quick death."

"Ah, yes. The king of the blowhards himself. Hey, if you see the man, can you give him a message for me? It's nothing too big, just tell him I said 'Sit-and-Spin'." John spoke as he flipped the bird to the guard.

The man scuffed. "You'll change your tune quickly once the Prime Minister gets through with you." The guard then turned to a small robot that looked like an oversized floating egg with arms, legs, and a computer terminal built into its face. "Hi-type Number 6, watch the prisoner."

*Beep!* "Roger." *Beep!*

As the egg-shaped robot floated in front of the cell, the guard casually walked out of the brig, leaving John alone in his thoughts. Getting caught had thrown a wrench in his plans, but this did not mean he could not salvage it. He knew he could fight his way out if need be. He took on the whole of Hell on his own for crying out loud! A few guys who thought they were 'King Shit' was nothing compared to a horde of demons. The marine was pretty certain that if the two sides over were to meet, the men of Taraak were sure to shit themselves at the first sight of the demons just before they would get ripped apart then chewed into a pulp.

If the demons of hell could not stop John, what hope did these so-called men have against him?

For now, though, he would bide his time and wait for the opportune moment. Till then, he might as well entertain himself.

"So, you get the cable on that thing?"

*Beep!* "Does not compute."

- On the Bridge of the Ikazuchi –

"Secure all stations! Cancel the exhibition match! That third-class reject is going to pay for ruining everything!" The Prime Minister of Taraak ordered as he entered the bridge. The man was quite angry after the presentation he had created to showcase their newest weapon was ruined by the appearance of the third-class citizen who had the audacity to stowaway on the ship.

"Prime Minister, are you sure you want to get rid of that young man? He indeed ruined the presentation, but his combat abilities were quite amazing. Not anyone can fight off an entire security squad with only their bare hands." The captain asked as he thought back to the footage of the fight between the stowaway and the security team.

The Prime Minister thought about it for a moment before conceding to the captain's advice. "That is true; a man with that kind of talent is hard to come by, even if he is a third-class citizen. Very well, I will withhold his execution. But he will undergo severe administrative punishment before we conscript him into our forces. He will learn to respect his betters, and then he will use his talents to fight for Taraak as is his duty to Lord Grandpa!" The man declared as he turned his attention to the bridge crew. "Contact the escort fleet. Tell them to move into position around the Ikazuchi and proceed with the patrol."

"Yes sir." One of the crew responded before pressing a button on his terminal. "Attention all ships. Proceed with formation Alpha. Begin patrol."

As the support ships took their places around the Ikazuchi, they had no idea that their transmissions were being monitored by a certain ship that was waiting for them along their planned route, and they were very eager to meet the men's fleet. Just as the fleet made it out of the staging area, several streaks of light flew out of the darkness of space and converged on the fleet, sending beams of energy into the hulls of the ships and riddling the fleet with explosions.

"What's going on?! I thought I said that the exhibition match was canceled!" The Prime Minister shouted over the sound of the alarm and several explosions.

"It's not us, sir! It's the women! They've launched a surprise attack!"

- With John –

The sound of explosions jolted John out of his thoughts as he heard the alarms begin to blare and the call for general quarters was given. Realizing that the ship was being attacked, he quickly got up and moved to a porthole to look outside. What he saw was a fleet in disarray as cannon fire was flying I all directions while blue and green streaks of light flew nimbly through the chaos.

"So, those are Dreads. Then that means that the women of Majere have launched a surprise attack." John complimented as he caught sight of the silhouette of a Majerene Dread as it flew by. John remembered what he learned about the Dreads form hacking into the central intelligence network back on Taraak when he needed to find out what kind of a world he had been stranded on. The Dreads were fast, highly maneuverable space fighters that could outfly and outgun most of what Taraak could throw at them, which included the new Vanguards that the government seemed to be so proud of. Honestly, John fully believed that the top brass never bothered to run any simulations on the performance of the Vanguards verses the Dreads to see if they could fight them. The men just built the damn things, convinced everyone that they could win with them, and then sent the poor bastards out there without a single clue to what was in store for them.

Stubborn, prideful, and foolish to the core.

"The men sure are getting their collective asses kicked, that's for sure," John commented as he watched several small support ships get knocked out of combat. An explosion then rocked the ship, causing it to list to one side. This made the boxes around the marine fall, nearly burying him in a mountain of junk.

*Beep!-Beep!-Bzzzzzzt!-Squawk!-Blip!*

A flash of light, some sparks and smoke, and the sound of a machine's distress brought his attention to the energy bars that kept him contained. When the ship pitched suddenly, the little egg robot was thrown into the bars and got zapped, which had the effect of shorting out the energy grid that powered them. The cell was now open and the little robot was lying on the floor with a screen full of static.

*Beeep!-Blurp!-Error!-Bzzt!*

"Well…how convenient," John remarked as he suddenly found himself a free man. It seemed that luck was on his side. With a clear path, the ship and complete chaos, and a battle raging outside, he had the perfect opportunity to go, find the marked Vanguard, launch the machine and slip away without anyone the wiser. However, before he enacts his improvised escape plan, John glanced down at the little robot and spent a moment to contemplate.

"You might just be useful to me, and at the rate, this fight is going, you would be more likely to remain intact if you come with me." The marine said as he scooped the bot up. With nothing left to do, John bolted out of the brig and headed straight towards the hangers.

- Out in space –

While the Dreads continued to press the attack, the mother ship that harbored them drifted out from behind some wreckage. The craft was a large vessel painted in red with a sleek profile built for speed, just like the Dreads. Onboard this ship, two females watched on as their plan was proceeding without a hitch.

"Well, Captain, it looks like we got quite the catch." A very smooth and alluring voice spoke from one of the women.

"Hmm, it does appear to be our lucky day." The other, a much older and more wizened voice spoke out in response.

- On the Bridge of the Ikazuchi –

"Escort ship 'Ujiri' is down!"

"So is the 'Maharishi'!"

"The Ikazuchi's new sections have been breached!"

"What deplorable tactics! They're using the wreckage of our ships as cover!" The Prime Minister growled out with anger as he watched his fleet being reduced to scrap.

"Get the Ikazuchi level at once!" The captain ordered as the bridge crew worked to right the ship.

"Launch all of our Vanguards at once to counter-attack!" The Prime Minister then order, getting surprised reactions for the crew.

"But sir, most of the men are just cadets. They don't have any experience in combat. We can't just throw them out into this mess." The captain tried to reason, but the Prime Minister would not have it.

"If we lose this battle while not using our races newest weapon we will bring shame upon our forefathers! Launch all Vanguards now!"

- Vanguard Hanger Bay 3 –

"Attention all Cadets! Proceed to the Vanguard launch area and scramble all available Vanguards! Repel the attacking forces!" The loudspeakers in the hanger shook as the order blared. All the cadets in the room stopped to hear the order before dashing to the lockers to retrieve their flight suits and started suiting up.

"Hey, where is Bart?" One cadet asked as he zipped up his form-fitting suit, noticing that the blonde was not at his locker.

"Don't know, don't care." Another responded as he finished and headed straight towards the Vanguards.

Meanwhile, the turbo gun turrets mounted all across the Ikazuchi's hull tried desperately to lock on to the nimble Dreads that were strafing the ship, but the enemy fighters were too quick for the slow-moving weapons.

"Switching to zero gravity to deploy the Vanguards! Stand by for weightless conditions!" The loudspeakers announced just as everything in the hanger bay started to float away. Under one of the tables set out for the presentation, a certain blonde cadet was hiding, clearly having no interest in fighting the so-called enemy of men. So when the table floated away, so did the cowardly cadet who panicked when he realized that he was no longer bound to the floor.

As the attack continued, several more explosions rocked the ship as damage control tried in vain to mitigate the destruction that the Dreads were creating.

- On the Bridge of the Ikazuchi –

"Several launch mechanisms for the Vanguards have been damaged! Multiple launch platforms are inoperable!" The crew reported to their commanding officers.

"Launch whatever we can! We must stop the women at all costs!" The Prime Minister ordered immediately.

- Vanguard Hanger Bay 3 –

"Launch any Vanguard that is prepped and ready!" The launch crew officer ordered as the cadets floated to the awaiting Vanguards. Several got to their machines and boarded, locking themselves in and activating the systems while the launch crew moved the Vanguards from their cradles to the launch chutes.

"Hey! What the hell is the matter with this thing?" One cadet shouted as he tried to open the cockpit of a certain marked Vanguard.

"Forget it! Just jump into another one!" The crewmember ordered as he re-secured the cradle since it seemed that the Vanguard was malfunctioning, something they had no time to try and fix.

One by one, the Vanguards moved into position on the launch chutes before the magnetic rails inside activated, and the Vanguards were pulled through the chutes and out into space. The now mobile Vanguards wasted no time in fly out and immediately attacking the nearest Dreads flying by. And by attacking, it meant grabbing onto it and simply pounding their fists against the hulls of the much larger Dreads.

"Hey! What are these things? They're getting in my way!" One of the pilots cried out as she saw the Vanguards pound futilely on her ship.

"Don't worry about the Vanguards. Concentrate on the flagship." The leader of the squadron ordered as she briefly used her thrusters to shake off the annoying machines from her craft.

"Roger!" Her squadron mates answered as they converged on the ship. As the lead Dread approached the Ikazuchi, it fired a salvo of small missiles at the hanger bays loading door, blowing a gaping hole in the door big enough for the Dreads to fly through.

"Hull breach in Hanger 3! Atmospheric Containment Measures activated!" Damage control announced as several systems automatically activated to prevent the vital oxygen from being sucked out into the vacuum of space. More Dreads came pouring in through the gap as the large fighters landed in any space large enough to hold them.

"Intruder Alert! The Ikazuchi has been boarded! Combat teams to Hanger Bay 3! Repel the boarders!"

"Gravitation restored in Hanger Bay 3! All personal, prepare to engage the enemy directly!" One of the security forces announced over the intercom just as the cockpits for the Dreads started to open and their pilots began to climb out. Each one of the women appeared to by large, bulky creatures with broad shoulders and horrendous faces, but if one who is clear-minded were to look carefully, they would see that these forms were simply spacesuits designed to appear in the forms that the men feared. It was clear that the women were using the men's' own propaganda of demonizing women to their advantage. The men of Taraak, however, could only see the monsters that they were lead to believe in, as evidence of Bart Garsus, who had been hiding in the base of Grandpa's statue, panicked when he spotted the women after stumbling out of his hiding place.

"Those things are women?!" The cowardly cadet cried out in terror of the appearance of his 'enemy'. His attention was suddenly drawn to another Dread that was flying in, and from the looks of it, was not stopping anytime soon. "Gahh!" The cadet screamed as he scrambled back into the statue to hide. "I don't want to die!"

The Dread passed directly over the statue, taking its head off as it flew by. Bart's head then shot up out of the hole, like a comical jack-in-the-box, and looked around dumbly.

The rest of the crew, however, fought on bravely as they fired their automatic rifles at the invaders while trying to dodge laser fire from the women. A few of the women took a glancing blow, but it appeared that none of them was falling to the men's suppressive fire. The combat paused; however when the roar of a Dread filled the room as all turned to the out-of-control Dread that was barreling through the hanger.

"Whoa! I can't stop!" The pilot cried out as she noticed she was headed straight towards a closed bulkhead. Panicking, the pilot pressed the trigger to her main weapon and a volley of laser fire erupted from her guns.

- Reactor Room –

- Moments Earlier -

John Grimm had just made it into the reactor room for the ship and he marveled at the sheer size of the object that powered the ship. A massive orb made up of stacked blue rings was held suspended in the air by a retention field, its energy output being channeled through collectors jetting out from the room's walls, floor, and ceiling. The orb hummed with power as it floated and John briefly recollected what he had read about the core that powered the ship.

"The Pragma Paxis," John muttered to himself as he stared at the imposing object. After taking a moment to marvel at the reactor, he reminded himself that he needed to keep moving. So he started to make his way across the room, but when he reached the center, the Paxis's glow briefly became more intense. John found himself stopping when a strange feeling came over him and he swore that he heard a slight whisper in his ear.

What's more, it almost sounded…familiar.

"What?" John said as he turned to look at the reactor again. But it was at that moment that he noticed the bulkhead he was standing next to started to glow brightly in the center as if it was heating up at an extremely high rate.

Which it was.

"What the-Oh Shit!" John cried out as he realized what was about to happen. He had just enough time to jump to the side just as the bulkhead exploded.

- On the Bridge of the Ikazuchi –

A small hatch opened up on the main control terminal of the bridge as a lever raised into position and a hand grasped the object firmly.

"You can't, Prime Minister! We can't lose what we worked so hard for!" The captain said as he tried to reason with the man.

"We can't afford to lose the entire ship to the enemy. I must at least save the new section of the ship. Before it can fall into the hands of females, I will separate the old from the new!" The Prime Minister declared as he threw the lever forward.

All across the ship, small explosions rang out as detonation charges blew off connecting pieces of the Ikazuchi as the center section of the ship was freed from the rest. Within the hanger of the ship, the cadets could only look on in horror as their leaders seemingly abandoned them to their fate. The only one who was not surprised by this was Duelo McFile, who knew that despite all their boasting of male superiority, the top brass was filled with cowardly hypocrites.

- Reactor Room –

John groaned as he regained consciousness. The explosion had thrown him across the room and if the ringing in his head was any indication, he had taken a mean blow to his head. Groggily sitting up, he felt something lying on top of him and made to push the object off. But as he did so, his hand made contact with something soft, warm, and squishy.

"Ahhhhn~!"

"Huh? What the-" John asked as he shook the cobwebs from his mind and looked to see what he had grabbed. In his palm was a round and soft 'lump' that was attached to what he was realizing was the chest of a clothed human being, and since males did not have this particular attribute, it only meant one thing…

"Ah, shit. Is this what I think it is?" John muttered as he looked up to see a Roswell-inspired alien mask staring right at him. Since the men of Taraak never bother with making such things, it meant that the person on top of him was, in fact, a woman of Majere.

"Fuck My Life!" John shouted as he pushed the space-suit wearing woman away from him and started crawling back to put some distance from the female.

"Wait!"

He paused when a young feminine voice called out to him from behind the mask as the girl, from her tone, reached out to him. She quickly pulled her helmet off to reveal her face, which was one of the cutest he had ever seen in his life.

The girl had long red hair held back by a tiara and hair bands and the most innocent looking blue eyes that were staring at him in wonder. With her heart-shaped face, small nose, and small pink lips, this girl would have any straight guy on Earth eating out of the palm of her hand if she were to flash those baby-blues.

"Wow! A real-life alien!"

"….wait, what? Alien? Who are you calling an alien?" John replied when he shook off the near hypnotic effect of the girl's eyes that were staring at him.

The girl, Dita Liebely, ignored the question as she leaned forward and giggled as she lifted her right hand and proceeded to make a few simple hand gestures at him.

Perplexed by the strange gesture but seeing she was expecting some kind of response, John repeated the same gesture with a raised eyebrow.

It was the thing she was looking for as she leaped up with hands clasped together as she cried out with joy.

"I did it! I made the first contact!"

'This girl's a few bullets short of a full mag.' John thought to himself, letting out a short chortle before the distant rumble from an explosion reminded him that he needed to be elsewhere. The marine took a second to collect the little robot before turning back to the girl and giving her a quick two-finger salute.

"Gotta jet. Later"

Turning around, John leaped off the small ledge he was on and landed on the catwalk and started running towards the hanger once more.

"Hey, wait, I want to get a picture!" Dita called out as she briefly struggled to get her spacesuit off, revealing her clothing consisting of a black tank top under an open off the shoulder white jacket with pink accents that showed off her midriff, a matching white skirt and calf-hugging boots with a teal green teardrop jewel necklace hanging from her neck. The girl jumped down in pursuit of the male, unaware of the Pragma Paxis glowing behind her.

- Hanger Bay 3 –

A laser beam passed by the head of a cadet, melting a small hole in the metal wall behind him. The cadet slowly raised his hands in surrender as a Majerene Pirate leveled the laser rifle at him.

"Nobody moves! Keep your hands where we can see them! Anyone tries anything and we'll shoot!" One of the pirates announced as several girls aimed their weapons at a large group of male cadets who had been captured. The Majerenes' had either shed their spacesuits or were in the process of doing so. Now, instead of the terrifying costumes, they had arrived in, most of the pirates were now revealing themselves to be a collection of young and beautiful women. This fact, however, was lost on the men of Taraak as the propaganda that they had been taught to them from their births had destroyed such concepts as beauty and sexuality.

Those poor, ignorant fools have no idea what they are missing out on.

Though, the same could be said about the women as well with their upbringings.

I reiterate. Poor fools.

"I know it's a disinfectant, but I don't think I can ever get used to this smell." One of the Dread Pilots said as she pulled off her spacesuit. Jura Basil Elden was what many would call a true beauty. Long flowing blonde hair that went down her back to her thighs, heart-shaped face with green eyes that gave her a seductive look and a buxom form that would drive normal men wild. She wore a long black dress that accentuated her cleavage and toned stomach with an open slit in her dress that ended just below her navel. Another slit started from her left hip allowed her legs to move freely but also let one get a good look at her exposed left leg A pair of metal rings kept her outfit together, one hanging from a choker wrapped around her neck. A pair of small brown boots covered her feet.

Another Dread Pilot and her commanding officer in the pirates, Meia Gisborne, was also removing her suit. The woman had short blue hair that stops just above her neck that fanned out in the back like a skirt. Her green eyes and angular face looked stern but did not detract from her beauty. She wore the Pirates version of a commander uniform. A single piece form-fitting bodysuit with a pair of round shoulder pauldrons and removable sleeved gloves. The general colors were white stripes going down the sides while the center was colored black, though her top area was also white. On the left side of her face was a jewelry piece not much different from a half-crown that covered her left temple and framed half her left eye. "Where is Dita?"

The answer came from another member of the Meia's Dread Squadron, Barnette Orangello. This one had green short hair kept back by a jeweled hairband and purple eyes. Her outfit consisted of a purple corset that covered her bust, stomach, and crotch while her shoulders had more pointed pauldrons with matching detachable gloves. "The last I saw of her, she was blasting her way through a bulkhead. Thanks to that, we were-Ouch!" Barnette cried out as she turned to a young girl who was bandaging her arm. "Paiway, that hurts! My skin is very delicate, you know."

The girl, Paiway Underberg, was bearly in her teen years but was the pirates' primary nurse. She wore a blue uniform the more closely resembled a maid outfit, rather than nurses'. She had rustic brown eyes and raven hair was done up in twin ponytails using two ball hair ties. Her outfit exposed a lot of her legs except where her boots covered her feet and caves. Her arms were covered by elbow-length black gloves. A nurse's hat sat atop her head.

"I'm trying to be gentle. I can't help it."

"That's not something a nurse should be saying."

"Sorry."

Duero was walking by the group and took a moment to pause to study the women.

"Hey! Don't stop! Keep moving!" One of the pirates shouted at him, prompting him to keep walking.

- Ikarzuchi Sub-Bridge –

Three of the pirates in their spacesuits arrived at the wreckage of a sub-bridge inside the old section of the Ikazuchi. After securing the room, they began to discard the suits and started their work.

"Oh my, what is all this. They haven't even touched this room."

The one who spoke was Ezra Vieil, a young woman with long brown hair tied up with a burnt orange ribbon and a pronounced squint, although she can see just fine. She wore a uniform consisting of long green and beige dress with a red tie in the front, a burnt orange sash around her hips, short sleeves tied with red strings at the ends, and brown shoes on her feet.

The woman beside her was Parfet Balblair, an engineer. She had brown hair in twin braided ponytails with pink ribbons tied to the ends. She also wore a pair of thick lens glasses that prevent people from seeing her eyes and a communication headset on top of her head. Her uniform was an orange jumpsuit with black accents.

The final member was Buzam A. Calessa, or better known as B.C. She was the second in command of the pirates. She had dark tan skin, long flowing ashen hair, and green eyes. Her outfit looked reminiscent of Earth's Native American culture. A dark green sleeveless vest with a gold ring and chain wrapped around her exposed midriff. A pair of leather cuffs covered her biceps, gold rings around her wrists, and a pair of baggy teal green pants with brown shoes finished the outfit. She also wore a choker with a large green gem embedded in the center.

"This doesn't look like the main bridge," Buzam noted as she walked towards the terminals, raising a communicator to her ear while doing so. She began to run through the ships' systems quickly. "Captain, this is Buzam. The men have split the ship and withdrawn. We have taken over the sub-bridge."

As the women worked, they began looking over the lines of data that flowed across the screen. Unfortunately, since their society was different then the men's, the language was completely foreign to them.

"Oh my, I can't read any of this. What do we do?" Ezra asked as she tried to make sense of the streaming data.

"Don't worry! I brought this inter-pricko device. I thought this would happen." Parfet said as she held a device up. The machine was designed to decipher and translate foreign languages into their own. Parfet turned to Buzam. "I'll put one on your terminal too, Vice-Captain."

Buzam, however, seemed to not need such a device as her fingers danced across the keyboard. "Meia, what is the status of the prisoners?"

"They've been loaded into the escape pods, ma'am."

"Dump them, then"

"Roger."

"Eh? You can read that?" Parfet asked, clearly surprised that the Vice-Captain could read something so alien to her.

Ezra smiled. "That's the elite for you."

Parfet looked disappointed. "Aw, and I spent so much time making this, too."

- Reactor Room –

John was still navigating the reactor room with the little robot tucked under his arm. He knew he was getting closer to the Vanguard he reprogramed and as soon as he reached it, he would fly out of this whole situation.

"Mr. Alien! Wait up! I just want to talk to you!"

If only he could lose the girl chasing him.

"I told you I don't have time to chat! I gotta go!"

"Just for a moment!"

"Get Lost!"

- Ikazuchi Bridge – New Section –

The men on the bridge of the new section were busy monitoring the situation when one of their radars pinged with a change in the course of one of the contacts.

"The main pirate ship is approaching the old section of the Ikazuchi."

"Data transfer is in progress."

"So, they've accessed the old systems." The Prime Minister growled out as he watched their enemy continue to defile their heritage. The sheer audacity angered him to no end, and he would be damned to Hell if he simply allowed them to get away free. "Prepare the Muramasa Missles for launch!"

"S-Sir! Are you sure about this? That's the Ikazuchi, our heritage!" The Captian pleaded with his superior.

The Prime Minister ground his teeth for a moment before answering with conviction.

"I would rather destroy it with my own two hands then let it fall into the clutches of the women."

- Hanger Bay 3 –

Duero had managed to slip out of the group of prisoners and found his locker. Opening it, he retrieved his coat before putting it on. One of the pirates noticed him and pointed her laser rifle at him.

"Don't get out of line! Get in the capsule!"

Duero ignored the order and finished straightening out his coat. "I'll get in later."

The woman bristled and leveled her rifle. "Don't ignore me! I'll shoot if you don't obey."

"There is no need to worry." The young man said with a grin as he turned to his captors. "I happen to be a Doctor."

The woman was surprised by this admission, but after a moment of consideration, decided to allow him to help, despite the fact he was a male.

Outside the ship, several pods launched themselves from the ship and began to fly towards the new section several thousand meters away.

- Ikazuchi Bridge – New Section –

"Multiple escape pods jettisoned from the old section."

The Prime Minister grunted. "Is this their way of showing pity?"

The captain turned to the man. "Perhaps there is a way to compromise with them."

The Prime Minister ignored the man and looked over to a bridge officer. "What is the status of the Muramasa Missles?"

"Sir. We are calculating coordinates to target."

The bridges' main weapon system began to calculate several vectors and factors until it locked on to the old section.

- Hanger Bay 3 –

"I was looking forward to a big payday, but all we got from this was junk," Jura commented as she inspected the spoils of their raid and was not happy about the quality of the items.

"Jura, I'm going to look for Dita. I want you to come with me." Meia ordered her subordinate as she started climbing through the melted bulkhead her wayward squadron mate blasted open earlier.

Jura sighed. "Shesh, this is why I didn't want to bring along a trainee."

"We're short-handed as it is. If you didn't want to come, then you should have stayed at the base." Meia told the blonde in reproach.

"Alright, already. I'm coming."

- Ikazuchi New Section –

Outside the new section, a large door opened under the hull and two large missiles lowered into firing position. The internal targeting systems locked on to the old section as the computer uncaged them from the new sections weapon system, allowing them to fly independently of the main computer.

- Sub-Bridge – Old Section –

The old sections sensors immediately detected the missile lock and alarms began to ring inside the sub-bridge.

"Oh my! Scanners show that missiles have been locked on to us," Ezra reported as she looked nervously at the display.

Buzam clicked her tongue. It figures the men wouldn't just let them go that easily. "Parfet, can you move the ship?"

"The engines are dead, It's impossible to move the ship."

Realizing they were in serious trouble, Buzam quickly activated her communicator.

"Captain!"

"I know, B.C. We're monitoring it from here. It's a real shame to lose our catch, but, let's get the hell out of here!"

"Roger, That! Meia, do you copy?"

- Reactor Room –

"I've lost Dita, We'll rendezvous with you when we find her so go on ahead," Meia reported to her superior as she and Jura stood on a catwalk overlooking the reactor room.

A sudden commotion brought their attention to the floor below, where they found their wayward pilot…chasing a male.

"Wait! Just stop for a moment."

"What part of 'Leave me alone' do you not understand?!"

"Dita!" Meia shouted in surprise while Jura looked at the scene in amusement.

"Look at that. She's chasing a man."

- Hanger Bay Three –

Duero was finishing apply bandages to Barnette, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere else but in reach of the man. As he completed his first-aid, he took a second to study the female dread pilot up close, something that irritated the woman.

"W-what? Is there something you find interesting?"

Duero smiled. "Yes, I find this very interesting."

The woman huffed. "Don't expect me to give you any thanks."

"I don't expect it. I'll be headed to the pods now."

Paiway watched the whole interaction and jotted more notes down in a notebook she carried.

"He touched a total of five women."

The ship suddenly jolted, bringing everyone's attention to the activities outside. The Majere pirate ship had begun to fire on the old section in an attempt to bye the crew on the old section time to evacuate.

- Ikazuchi Bridge – New Section –

"Starboard control disabled!"

"The pirate ship is approaching the old section!"

The bridge was a flurry of activity as the crew scrambled to deal with the attack on their ship.

"Status on the Muramasa!" The Prime Minister barked out.

"They're still being fueled!"

"They have enough fuel already! Target the old section and fire!"

- Out in Space -

At his order, the two missiles decoupled from their harnesses and launched, rocketing towards the old section and the pirates.

Meanwhile, the pirate vessel had reached the underside of the old section and extended an umbilical tube up to the Ikazuchi's hull, locking on to a hatch on the underside. Once the umbilical was secured and sealed, the pirates began to execute the old section. One of the bridge crew on the pirate vessel reported as the sensors detected the missile launches.

"Crew collection in progress."

"Three hundred seconds to missile impact."

The captain gritted her teeth. "B.C."

- Hanger Bay 3 –

"All crew aside from myself have evacuated. Three in Meia's team have yet to return." Buzam reported as she stood near the three ideal Dreads.

"We'll have them return on their Dreads. Evacuate at once, B.C."

"Roger."

-Reactor Room –

Dita was still chasing John as he scaled some wreckage inside the reactor room when Meria finally caught up with her wayward charge. The squadron leader quickly tackled the young girl to force her to stop her pursuit. When the girl turned to see who had grabbed her and paled when she saw it was her superior.

"Oh, Leader, hello."

Meia growled. "What do you think you are doing? Don't act independently from the group."

Dita pouted, feeling like the proverbial kicked puppy. "I'm sorry."

John climbed up to the top of the wreckage and turned to see the two new women joining the redhead and he had to admit, were both beautiful as well. The blue-haired woman had the tough girl look which was appealing on its own, and the blonde was a bombshell. Sadly, he did not have time to stop and admire the first woman he had seen in half a year. It was time to leave.

Unbeknownst to him, the two had noticed him at also took a moment to study him. Meia noticed that John had a different posture from the men of Taraak that she had interacted with before. While most men of Taraak showed false bravado which quickly dissolved into fear when fighting the women, this man had the posture of someone who had looked death in the face several times.

Jura had to admit that unlike the 'Boyish' men she had seen, this one appeared far more appealing to her. Something about the way he moved with confidence and strength. He also wasn't hard on the eyes either. The dark hair and eyes made him look quite attractive.

'Wait a minute!' Jura shook her head. 'Where did that thought come from? I hate men!'

"Jura, We're leaving!" Meia said as she pulled Dita along past the blonde and towards the hanger.

"Oh! Uh, right!" Jura said as she turned to follow, but glanced back at the man, who was now running out of the room, for a brief second before running to catch up with her team.

- Out in Space –

The two missiles were closing in on their targets as energy beams bounced of their metal hulls. The missiles seemed to have been specifically designed to repel energy-based weaponry so they would not be shot down before hitting their target. The pirate ship withdrew its umbilical tube, having collected the boarding party and was beginning to maneuver away from the old section. Inside, Buzam finished her count of all the crew aside from the three Dread Pilots. She raised the squadron leader on the communicator.

- Hanger Bay 3 –

"Meia, where are you?"

"We've returned reached on Dreads, all accounted for. Evac-ing now." Meia responded as the three Dread pilots began to climb into their crafts. Further away, John also entered the hanger bay and located the mark Vanguard. Wasting no time, he climbed into the cockpit and sealed himself inside.

"Alright, time to blow this joint," John said as he activated the systems and begun working the controls. However, I quickly received a message that the release mechanism for the mooring cradle was malfunctioning, keeping the Vanguard locked in place. "Son-of-a-Bitch! Are You Fucking Kidding Me!"

- Pirate Ship Bridge –

"Twenty-Five seconds to impact. We can't avoid a hit." One of the bridge crew informed as the missiles were drawing closer.

The captain looked on with a resigned expression. "Hit or miss, it is our destiny."

- Hanger Bay 3 –

Meia and Jura activated their Dreads and turned their craft to leave, but halted when they realized Dita was not with them.

Meia activated her comms. "Dita! Where are you?"

Said girl was trying to get her Dread out of the hole in the bulkhead. The spacecraft was solidly wedged in the hole is made.

"Ahh, I can't get it out!"

15 seconds till impact.

The missiles were closing in.

13 seconds.

John cursed as he desperately tried to free the Vanguard.

10 seconds.

"Dita!" Meia called out to her subordinate.

"We can't wait any longer!" Jura informed her superior.

6 seconds.

The men on the bridge stood in salute to the ship that had carried them to their home, tears streaming down their faces.

3 seconds.

The Pragma Paxis began to glow intensely as both John and Dita desperately tried to make their machines move.

"Someone, Please Help!" Dita cried.

"I've Come Too Far To Die Like This!" John shouted.

The reactor suddenly flashed with a blinding light just as the missiles impact the old section. Both the Ikazuchi and the pirate ship were enveloped in the explosion.

- Ikazuchi Bridge – New Section –

"Detonation confirmed! Target is losing mass!" A crew member reported as the contact signal from both the old section and the pirate ship disappeared off the scope.

The Prime Minister watched as the explosion was drawn into a single point before disappearing from existence. He exhaled as he spoke.

"I hope those women enjoy the bitter taste of defeat in Hell for what they have done."

- Uknown Location –

John found himself floating in a sea of light. Looking, he noticed that he was not alone as the three women he saw in the reactor were with him as well. Although, they didn't notice him as they were too busy panicking. As he tried to make sense of the situation, he noticed something forming out of the light. It looked like a giant humanoid machine, not unlike the Vanguard, but with more bulk and several spikes extending off its shoulder and back. It also appeared to be looking at them.

"What is all this?" John asked as he gazed at the thing. His question went unanswered, and he suddenly found himself falling further into the sea of light, along with the three screaming women, Dita, Meia, and Jura.

- To be Continued –

Author's Note: Alright, the first official chapter of Vandread: DOOM. As you can see, it does follow along with the anime, and will for the first season as John becomes a part of the crew. We will see a major divergence later in the second season. In the meantime, though, John's presence will start affecting the crew and others as the story progresses.

I'm sure you noticed a lot of scene shifting going on. A lot was going on at the same time so it could not be helped. Later chapters will be more focused on individual events so it won't be as bad later.

Anyways, the Ikaxuchi and the pirate ship and crew now begin their epic journey from one end of the galaxy to the other. What adventures and culture clashes await?

We'll certainly find out.

As always, kindly read and review.

Peace.