|Chaotic Age Zero
Author: ChaoticAgeZero PM
Before Bit Cloud defeated Vega Obscura at the Royal Cup, one flag flew over Zi. Three years have passed since that battle, and the second Chaotic Century has dawned. Where one nation stood, now six claim the right to rule - war has returned to Planet Zi.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 3 - Words: 41,763 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 11-21-09 - Published: 02-11-08 - id: 4068060
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
First and foremost, I am obligated to renew the disclaimer I stated in the prologue. In no way is Zoids the property of Zoids: Chaotic Age Zero.
Now, for an explanation. Several months have now passed since I first published the prologue of Chaotic Age Zero, and I'm sure that some might have thought that the story was simply started and would never be finished. In reality, there was a series of rather annoying or unfortunate setbacks which led me to take so very long to publish this next chapter. Firstly, I wrote 13 pages of this chapter (which I originally intended to make the entire chapter) and was about to upload it when I accidentally erased my hard drive. That discouraged me, and put me off from writing more for a while. Next, I also learned a new way of typing, which took more than a month, and I wasn't really in any state to type until I'd finished figuring this out. Lastly, I've been much busier and laden down with work than I ever would have expected, a situation which will probably not abate for another few months.
The upside of this is that I've written a lot for this single chapter. The chapter itself is 23 pages long (though broken up into 4 slightly more palatable subchapters), excluding the author's comments, so beware trying to read it in one sitting. The reason for the length is that eventually, after losing the first 13 pages I wrote, I started writing a new chapter. Then, I managed to recover the pages that I originally lost, which led me to combine the two into one giant super-chapter. Casual readers beware – I wouldn't try reading the whole thing in one sitting.
Anyway, chapter length notwithstanding, Chapter 1: Under One Flag is very much here and ready to be read. As a reminder, the story is rated as it is for violence, mild profanity, and realistic depiction of war – if any of these offend you, you have been warned. Meanwhile, if you happen to like the story, you are more than welcome to visit the CAZ forums and website (see the author's profile for a link). Anyway, I'll stop writing and let you get to reading. Enjoy!
Chaotic Age Zero
Chapter 1: Under One Flag
(Transmission Source Unknown)
Second Year of the Chaotic Age
Learned anything yet? There were parts of this story so far that probably everyone on Zi has seen. How many times did you see Bit Cloud's victory on every news channel, played over again and again and again? The media took the last battle of the Royal Cup and ran with it, making Bit Cloud and the Blitz Team de facto symbols of patriotism, celebrities, and the spitting image of the quintessential Zoid warrior. Even today, in the midst of all of this conflict and bloodshed, the name "Bit Cloud" is whispered more with awe and respect than the name of any world leader. More than any other name, in fact, with the possible exception of "Van Flyheit".
Speaking of the world leaders and that greatest symbol of unity, Flyheit himself, we probably ought to take a moment to look at the six factions that govern Zi. Now, I realize that any school child can name them, but bear with me. I plan to look a little deeper at these. There are three major factions and three minor.
First and greatest of all factions is the Zoid Battle Commission, which has lost a great deal of its former preeminence to internal conflict. Many say that its a dying superpower with an autocratic corporate-political complex at its helm, too unwieldy, belligerent, and bureaucratic to survive for much longer, still grasping at the deluded memories of its own former glory. The Neo Backdraft Group are rebels against the Commission and everything it stands for. However, while preaching democracy and equality, the NBD is still ruled by a military governor. The New Helic Republic seems like the perfect choice for a faction, overseas, protected by a strong navy, democratic, and neutral in the conflict between the two other great powers. But truth be told, while the NHR maintains its diplomatic poker face, it's become increasingly slanted against the ZBC as time has gone on, to the point where Helic neutrality is a synonym for bias and oxymoron.
The three minor factions of Zi might be simpler. The most troubled of three is the Eastern Continental Alliance, which grapples with a mistrust of authority and a weak central government. The Alliance has no federal executive branch and no power to tax or recruit soldiers, relying instead on contributions from each of its member city-states – and while they have considerable manpower at their disposal, years under Commission mercantilism have resulted in a nation poorly equipped to fight a war. The Zi International Coalition, resurrected in purpose shortly after the rise of the NBD, wields the most political and diplomatic power of any nation on Zi. Unfortunately, the ZIC has no actual power to impress its will on any nation of the world, as it is a conglomerate of vested faith of other nations, has sworn off war as a solution, and acts only on the advice of deadlocked general assembly where the other factions, major and minor, vote only in favor of their own interests. As for the last minor power of Zi, the Blackdust Mercenary Group, my people... well, we're a different beast all together.
I don't mean to sound pessimistic here – just point out the flaws of each faction in turn and why each claim to rule Zi is equally flawed. Still, with these six troubled powers to choose from, it's hard to remember a time with one much greater, much more troubled nation. When all of Zi was united under one flag...
Subchapter 1.1: Don't Know Jack
Three Years Ago
Jack Sisco leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, trying to ignore everyone else in the bar and trying to shut out the television, which was the millionth now annoying replay of Bit Cloud's stunning victory at the Royal Cup. Personally, Jack hadn't really lost much of anything. Yes, his team had lost to the Blitz Team, and that was a pity, but there was no shame in losing to the best Zoid pilot in the world. Also, because he was a mercenary, he personally would not have been able to share in team's glory of seizing that ultimate of prizes – the Cup itself. The Royal Cup had two main prizes, other than the money, the fame, and the promotion to class S. The first prize of the Royal Cup came from the "Cup" part – there was a physical cup that would be gifted to the winning team. The other prize was the "Royal" part – there was a crown. More than a century ago, during the reign old Neo Zenebas Empire, the Emperor himself gave the winning team's captain or leader a physical laurel-like crown in addition to the Cup, which was considered the highest prize of the tournament. However, when the ZBC came to power and the Zenebas monarchy was a chapter in the history books, the Commission had disregarded the Royal Cup practice of actually crowning a winner the King of Zoid Battling. Despite that, the champion of the competition – the most valuable participant on the winning team – was still said to have a figurative "crown."
The most famous mercenary in the world leaned back even more and maneuvered his head into a comfortable position. Though the MVP of the winning team of Royal Cup was now called "the ultimate Zoid warrior" or "the champion" or some such title, some still referred to the "King of Zoid Battling." A slight grin crossed Jack's face as he remembered the fabulously wealthy, somewhat lucky, and overconfident Harry Champ, who kept proclaiming that he was "destined to be King." A less comical and far more real contender for the Royal Cup crown was the infamous Vega Obscura, almost frighteningly powerful inside his Berserk Führer (named Fury by its pilot). The Backdraft had planned to seize that crown and show to the world how they had shot their way through a heavily guarded and regulated ZBC event with little trouble, wiped aside the best pilots in the world like so many flies, then flaunt their most powerful weapon and best pilot as the pair became champions. Had planned. But Bit Cloud and his Liger Zero had come charging in like a knight on a white horse (or Liger) and fought to the utmost, ultimately defeating the Fury. And however many times they ran the clip on the news, and however annoying it became, it was no mean feat and Jack was forced to respect Bit for that.
Was Jack bitter? There was no reason to be. As a mercenary, hired by a team rather than a member of one, he wouldn't have been given the honor of holding the Royal Cup or been given the symbolic crown. His reputation wouldn't suffer either. He had merely lost to the best pilot in the world. And advancing to Class S had nothing to do with anything either. Jack Sisco could fluidly move between the classes and work for whoever was willing to employ him, and there were many such Class S teams. The money would have been nice, but Jack had made the fortune of a lifetime many times over without winning a Royal Cup. There had been nothing practically wrong with losing to Bit Cloud. But there was still something gnawing at him, or burning in the back of his mind. His pride had taken a blow when he had been forced out of the Royal Cup. But Jack kept his poker face. He'd always told himself that a wounded ego was better than a wounded body.
Bit Cloud was now the ultimate warrior. Congratulations to him. The rest of the Blitz Team wasn't half bad either. Jack knew Brad Hunter as another well-known mercenary, and he had plenty of skill and experience to back up his claim to fame. Leena Tauros was hot-headed and rash during battle and maybe didn't deserve an honor like the Royal Cup, and the one called Jamie or "Wild Eagle", Jack knew little about. As the Commissioner had said, the Blitz Team had fought hard and shown unsurpassed camaraderie, and they probably deserved the award they got. And on the subject of Vega Obscura? The only time Jack had met Vega on the field of battle, it had been a virtual field. It was hard to believe that a small boy could be a champion among champions, and harder to believe still that a cocky former junk dealer turned hero could have beaten him down over the finish line of the Royal Cup just a few hours earlier.
Interestingly, the Zoid Battle Commission had not yet announced that they had captured Vega Obscura. Without calling one of his contacts within the Commission, Jack could already tell that this meant that Vega Obscura had escaped the Commission, and would fight another day. But he also knew that the Backdraft at East Vedere were being slaughtered left and right, and that the Commission had probably already instituted a media blackout so no one would hear about the meat grinder in the Verdis region. The Backdraft had gone up against the Commission, and they'd lost. Now, they were paying the price.
Jack Sisco opened his eyes and straightened his shoulders. There was no reason for him to stay here. Maybe there wasn't much of a reason for him to go, either, but maybe he could find a more productive use of his time. Maybe he could devise some new tactic to defeat the Liger Zero or further modify his prized Lightning Saix and fight even more fiercely next season. He hadn't drunk a drop of the shot of whiskey in front of him, but Jack slapped down an amount of money he knew was several times the price of the drink. They could keep the change. Without waiting for a waiter, he stood to leave. As he left, he took a slight detour from his path to take once last glance at the television. They were playing some kind of a statement from the Commissioner. Jack shook his head, and left the bar through the back door.
Just as the door swung closed and then creaked open again behind him, Jack knew he was being followed. As he'd stood up, he'd seen, out of the corner of his eye, another dark figure stand to match him. The figure had followed him to the television, and then again out the back door. To be sure, Jack quickly turned towards the street, in the opposite direction of the parking lot. The figure turned with him, following him.
Jack's hand casually reached down under his jacket and gripped the handle of the semiautomatic pistol in his shoulder holster.
"Relax, Mr. Sisco. That's not wise." A voice, somewhat deep but with an intangible menacing quality caused Jack's soldier sense to raise goosebumps on the back of his neck and send adrenaline rushing through his blood.
Jack spun around to face the figure who had addressed him. "Really? And what makes you say that?" Jack's eyes darted wildly, taking in every aspect of the person he was addressing. It was clearly a man, tall and heavily muscled, but dressed in black trousers and a matching black overcoat. The man's hands were gloved and an excessive hat was also concealing his face. The man was the spitting image of the shady type. This unknown pursuer pulled back one edge of his coat, to reveal a black tactical vest – and more shocking – the gleaming hilt of an obsidian submachinegun.
"Mr. Sisco, if I had come here to kill you, you'd probably already be dead."
"Don't bet on it."
"Maybe not, they say that you're a crafty and experienced soldier. Regardless, either of our defeats or deaths would be a serious error. I come here in peace and as a friend, not as an assassin or an enemy."
"I don't believe you."
"Really? Because it was you who contacted us." The figure reached into an inner pocket in his coat with one gloved hand. It came out with a gold coin. The man flipped the coin to Jack Sisco, who watched the coin shine in winter sun for a moment before catching it neatly. Jack examined it closely, and he knew exactly what it was.
"I'm sorry," apologized the Saix pilot. "I didn't recognize you."
"You weren't supposed to."
"Are you here to talk things over with me?"
The darkened figure raised his head ever so slightly. For a moment, the shade over the man's hard features seemed to lift and Jack could make out a smirk.
"Not quite. I'm here to take you to meet our mutual friend."
"Alright... give me an hour and I'll get some things together. I need -"
"You don't have an hour. You have to come now."
"I just got out of the Royal Cup! I made a very large contribution to your organization and I believe that I deserve more courtesy than this. Surely you don't believe that -"
"There is a Salamander equipped for long-range travel idling in private traffic runway at Guygalos International Airport with a seat to take you north, to meet the man you've invested faith and wealth in. Your... intriguing message and generous investment has bought you this much. However, that Salamander leaves in fifteen minutes, with or without you."
Jack sighed. He had never been very good at playing the irate investor anyway. "Very well. Let's go."
Subchapter 1.2: Blow For Blow
Backdraft High Command, East Vedere
1/5/-01 (Before the Chaotic Age)
The Battle of East Vedere, Four Days Later
"Come on..." breathed Colonel Altail as he watched the video flickering over the monitor. Every pair of eyes in the command bunker was glued to the exact same screen. Commission-red Blade Ligers darted around beneath the camera, assaulting a Backdraft-black Dark Horn. The resolution of the images was low, but Altail was all but back in the cockpit. He could feel the controls beneath his hands, the trigger he pulled back, the roar of the Hybrid Vulcan Cannons and buzzing of the bullets in the air around him... But Altail was not in the cockpit of the Dark Horn -- he was in a command bunker half of a klick away -- and he could no less influence the outcome of the battle than he could clap his hands and spirit away the entire Commission force in East Vedere.
Altail took a moment to glance at the topographical map of the city, covered by transparent plastic marked with all kinds of note. This map detailed the tactical situation in East Vedere. For the past three days, the Commission forces had stayed out of the city and simply allowed orbital bombardment after bombardment to pound the city into dust. Every day, the corpses of humans and Zoids alike had piled higher in the city streets and made it more and more impossible to escape the death trap that was now East Vedere. Early this morning, the Commission had decided to make a direct assault on the Backdraft defenses, rather than just wait them out, as they could have easily done.
It was amazing how fiercely you could fight when your life depended on it. Rubble, rocks and dirt, Zoid corpses – anything that could block bullets could be a barricade. The Backdraft had somehow managed to set up multiple hardpoints along all of the remaining usuable streets in the city as the Commission bore down on them from all sides. The Backdraft forces were fighting tooth and nail, but the Commissioners came in superior numbers, with better training and equipment, and using overwhelming force. For the past six hours, the Backdraft had been forced to give, inch by inch, in an ever-shrinking circle around the command bunker. But they couldn't surrender. The Commission wouldn't accept it and would kill them all anyway. They simply had to win the battle or die trying. But dying they were – and even Altail had to admit that in even the best scenario, the bunker would be taken and he would be dead by sundown.
Still, that wasn't fast enough for the troops of the Zoid Battle Commission. They had the advantage of air superiority with limited resistance from ground-based missile batteries. They'd been using this advantage all day to wipe out Backdraft units and barricades, and it was the primary reason they were advancing as quickly as they were. With their own radar jamming in effect, the ZBC was limited in their targeting options for air strikes, but those strikes had been effective nonetheless. Several Commission Hammer Kaisers – large combat transports, roughly the size of a Whale King and capable of carrying 25 Zoids – coordinated these strikes from above the city, just out of range of Backdraft IR guided missiles. About ten minutes ago, the ZBC had formulated a new strategy for quick victory. Eight Blade Ligers, carried by Dragonfly Stingers deployed from the Hammer Kaisers, had been inserted behind Backdraft lines and nearly on top of the command bunker.
One Blade Liger had stumbled on to a land mine, but the rest continued to advance. The Dark Horn, which Altail now watched on the monitor, was badly outnumbered by the remaining seven but staunchly dedicated to stopping the Commission advance. As the 'Ligers ran beside several collapsed structures, the Dark Horn had burst out of a wall and unloaded a hundred rounds or so, at point-blank from its Hybrid Vulcan, straight into one of the felines. That had cut the odds down to six-to-one.
The image Altail watched was from a low-flying Backdraft unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV): the only kind of aircraft that the Backdraft could deploy without a runway. UAVs were not Zoids and were unarmed, but they were useful scouts nonetheless. Radio contact was only intermittent, because of Commission jamming, but the UAVs were useful nonetheless. They were showing the battle – a Dark Horn now outnumbered by six enemies.
The battle continued with absolutely no heed to Altail's thoughts or musings. One Blade Liger surged forward in front of the others. Its shield wasn't raised, but its blades snapped forward and glowed, and an odd crackling electricity seemed to form around those blades... Altail knew what it was immediately. The 'Liger was going in with its Hyper Blade Attack – the most powerful finishing move in the Blade Liger's arsenal. It took only two seconds to charge. There was very little time for the Dark Horn pilot to react.
But react he did. The guns cut out, and four missiles blossomed from the Dark Horn, ramming into the 'Liger. While an Iron Kong's ballistics would have stopped a Blade Liger dead in its tracks, these were standard missiles and payloads, and less potent. Armor plates had been blown off the Liger's front, structure bent and scorched, but it wasn't enough to stop the advance. An instant later, the guns of the Dark Horn kicked back in, and bullets began to slam into the Liger's face. Armor splintered and flew off the region in chips and flecks, the Dark Horn's continuous laser burning through the remaining plates, but the Blade Liger still advanced. The blades grew brighter, the crackling sparks became more numerous. Only a fraction of a second was left before the 'Liger ended the battle. The two Zoids were nearly face to face...
The Liger's cockpit armor buckled and collapsed beneath the onslaught of 60mm bullets from the Dark Horn's Hybrid Vulcan. For a moment, Altail saw the glint of the pink-purple, transparent coating that insulated the pilot from the outside. Simultaneously, the 'Liger's Hyper Blade Attack seemed just about to raise, and the Liger was only a heartbeat from the Dark Horn. Time seemed to stand still for just a moment. Then, Altail watched as another set of 60mm rounds slammed through the Blade Liger's cockpit, killing the pilot. The 'Liger stumbled, and the Dark Horn stepped deftly to the side, allowing the crippled Zoid to charge blindly past its enemy and fall to its knees.
There was a sudden roar – which Altail could hear even through the poor audio of the UAV -- as the Dark Horn pilot won another victory. Altail swung his eyes back and then realized: there was another Blade Liger behind the first. He had been so concentrated on the impending Hyper Blade Attack, he had failed to notice the other enemies advancing. This second 'Liger leaped into air, diving towards the Dark Horn, claw raised and blades oriented forward, glowing with laser charge...
The Dark Horn suddenly surged forward to meet the attack and caught the Blade Liger on its way down. The claws never met their target, as the Dark Horn threw its Crasher Horn forward into the Liger's head, smashing through its cockpit in a display of brute force and brutality. Armor plates and grated metal flew in every direction as the Dark Horn shook the now-immobile Blade Liger off its horn. But Altail realized that the Dark Horn hadn't escaped unscathed as two of the Backdraft Zoid's armor plates, damaged by the 'Liger's blades, fell mutely to the ground.
The odds were now four to one. Destroying three was a considerable achievement, but four to one odds were still insurmountable. Furthermore, the four Commission Blade Ligers were wary now. They'd lost one comrade to surprise, but two more to recklessness. They wouldn't make the same mistake. The Blade Ligers charged in to a close range using their shields to block the onslaught from the Dark Horn's back guns, then quickly but carefully formed a 100-meter radius semicircle around their foe. Then, each Liger instantly dropped its shield and started firing its Dual Impact Cannon. The Dark Horn spun its vulcan left to right, putting out an enormous volume of shells and damaging all of its enemies, but it wasn't enough. After little more than six seconds, the Ligers had blown off both of its front legs with their fire, and CSFing the Zoid. Perhaps unnecessarily, one of the four Ligers charged in with a Hyper Blade Attack, demolishing the Dark Horn and ending the battle.
Altail turned off the video feed from his own console, bringing the rest of the command staff back to their senses.
"If he had survived that battle, I'd have given that Dark Horn pilot a medal. What did you say his name was, Major?"
"Eh... Master Sergeant Jacob Spinner, sir," came back the answer.
"Well, if we survive this, I'll be sure to give him some kind of a medal. Now, to the more pressing matter of our own defense, we've somehow managed to cut down the enemy force to four Blade Ligers."
"What do we have between them and us?"
"Captain Spanner is moving in with his unit from the east to cut off the Commission advance before they reach the command structures. Spanner has Zoid destroyers with him, so taking out the remaining Blade Ligers will be no problem. He'll intercept them in -"
"Sir!" The Communications Officer yelled from the other side of the Bunker, as Altail poured over the map. "Captain Spanner reports that his path to the East entrance has been blocked by debris of a fallen building. Be advised that he will not be able to reach the command structure before the Commission troops do."
Altail looked at the Major. "So much for that idea. What else do we have?"
The Major's face had suddenly gone very white. "Nothing, sir."
Altail's eyes immediately flicked from the map to the officer. "What?"
"Nothing, sir. There are no Zoids of any kind that will reach the command bunker before the Commission. There is nothing between them and us."
There was a dumbstruck silence in the bunker for a moment as Altail grappled with this realization. Finally, he said, "Pull the infantry guard from around the bunker and tell them to set up fortifications on the west perimeter of the command structures. Give those orders now!" He barked the last words at the communications officer, who scrambled to the console, talking very quickly into a headset.
"What Anti-Zoid weaponry do those troops have?"
"Uh..." the major pulled a blue binder from a nearby pile and flipped through it. "A number of rocket launchers and shaped explosives. There are the AZ rifles from the civilian militia, but they'll be useless against armor that thick. We have a pair of AZ mortars for the infantry, as well."
"The west perimeter also has some AZ mines, sir!" shouted someone from across the room.
"Okay," said Altail. "Then that's the best bet we have to defend the compound. Get those troops moving! Get them dug in. You – check with nearby units to see if anyone has artillery or ballistics available to help defend the base. And bring the UAV around so I can see what's going on."
A "Yes, sir!" came back from somewhere in the Bunker, as everyone seemed to spring into action at once.
Altail returned his focus to the screen, where the view from on high shifted and the camera swung around, showing the advancing Blade Ligers trudging through meters-deep debris. At full speed, a Blade Liger could close the 500-meter gap to the complex in less than ten seconds. Fortunately for everyone, full speed was a distant fantasy in the shattered East Vedere, and the powerful melee Zoids were creeping rather than running through the wreckage-strewn street. That bought the Backdraft minutes instead of seconds.
The Backdraft's eye in the sky could avoid all that, and drifted seemingly lazily over the scene below and over the crumbling west wall of the former headquarters building of the Group. Instead of Blade Ligers, Altail could now see allied soldiers scrambling to find cover, setting up machine guns and rocket launchers, digging their trenches just a little bit deeper before their wreck of a perimeter collapsed into warfare.
"Bring the UAV around again," Altail barked. Instantly, the camera came around yet again, and Altail now had a view of the west wall.
"How's Captain Spanner doing?" asked Altail.
The communications officer responded. "Unfortunately, Captain Spanner's path is still blocked, sir. They're working to get through as fast as they can. Also, the Captain reports that his unit's Iron Kong has already expended its ballistics, so we're not getting any support from that quadrant. However, I have some good news."
"Which is?" Altail immediately looked up at the sign of good news.
"I have a Lieutenant Taches on the line who says that she and her unit have managed to reach the main doors to one of our underground Zoid hangars which we initially thought was lost. She has just had pilots man the battle-ready Zoids she found there. Among those Zoids are Cannon Tortoises Echo through Romeo."
"Echo through Romeo? That's fourteen Zoids!"
"Yes, sir. Unfortunately, those Cannon Tortoises have no line of sight, but they're only one klick away. We'll need to call in strikes against a set of coordinates."
"Tell Lieutenant Tachels to get those Tortoises ready to shell the enemy. Have her tell me the moment they are ready. And tell the troops that artillery support is becoming available."
As Altail heard the words leave his own lips, he saw the damaged perimeter wall shake. Then again, and again, and suddenly a huge chunk of the wall came loose. The UAV camera panned out, and Altail saw that the Blade Ligers were firing their Dual Impact Cannons into the wall. It would only take a few volleys for them to breach that defense. The troops undoubtedly saw and heard the attack. They had to be ready.
Several more shots punched holes in the wall big enough for a man to walk through. Then, one of the Blade Ligers launched itself at the wall. The reinforced concrete – or what was left of it – crumbled beneath the weight of the Zoid, and in the blink of an eye, the four Blade Ligers poured through the gap. The Backdraft soldiers opened fire immediately, machine gun rounds and AZ rifles firing wildly, though neither weapon could really damage the massive and heavily armored Ligers. One zealous pilot charged forward, toward the Backdraft fortifications.
There were only about a fifty meters between the Backdraft troops and the Blade Ligers, which was nothing to the one charging forward. However, the great Zoid only got a few bounds before a massive explosion wracked the Zoid, blowing off its front legs, kicking up tremendous dust, and causing the Blade Liger to fall into CSF. It took Altail a moment to realize that an AZ land mine had destroyed the first of the four enemy Zoids. The remaining three Ligers wouldn't dare approach the now. That didn't mean they couldn't do damage, though.
The Blade Liger was strongest in melee, but the three pilots left standing didn't seem to feel any need to play to their strengths – not if they risked running into a mine, anyway. The three fanned out, and stood opposite the field of battle from the Backdraft fortifications. They started firing their Dual Impact Cannons indiscriminately, and brought the blade-mounted pulse laser cannons to bear, as well. They didn't seem to hit much, but it kicked up tremendous dust and smoke and began to obscure even Altail's bird's eye view of the battle. The Ligers didn't move a muscle, despite the desperate attacks of the opposing troops. Even a direct hit from an AZ rocket didn't rattle the phalanx of Ligers.
Even through the dust, Altail could see something changing on the bodies of the Blade Ligers. He could see the shifting of metal and firing of pneumatics, and saw armor plates moving back to reveal something... At first the Colonel thought they were mines or probes, but then realized that the moving black dots were people – Commission troops who wouldn't trip AZ mines -- jumping out of hidden pods to blitz the impromptu bolt-holes and barriers set up by the Backdraft defenders.
The UAV camera was low resolution, but Altail could see the dangerous black glint of obsidian body armor – the hallmark of the elite Commission Special Forces – the Eisian Dragoons. The Dragoons were a unit that had been founded by the traitor Admiral Günther Prozen centuries ago. The Dragoons had survived the fall of two imperial dynasties and the rise of the Zoid Battle Commission. The unit was founded by Prozen with one ideal in mind: absolute loyalty. The Dragoons had retained that principle over the long ages, but had also become an increasingly sharp and refined fighting force. Now, they were the pride of the Commission military and the right hand of Coulston himself, ready to fight and die for their country at a moment's notice. It was these fearsome troops who were used in the bloody suppression of the Eastern Rebellions, and these troops who were now facing the Backdraft on the streets of East Vedere.
Though many special forces units traditionally wore black to blend with the night, the Dragoons' coloration was unique. They alone among all the units of the Commission military were issued enhanced body armor, a product of many years of hard work and study of Zian nano-technology. The armor was an integrated powered exoskeleton that gave the soldier within a substantial boost to speed and strength, but was most notable because it was many times more effective than normal class IV body armor at stopping bullets.
What Altail saw on the UAV was just an image – not real, seemingly distant through the foggy, magnified picture, even if the battle was uncomfortably close in reality. He therefore could only appreciate, but not experience, the sheer terror that Eisian Dragoons inspired on the field of battle. It was to the credit of the Backdraft defenders, who were faced with enemy armor and superior troops, that not one of them seemed to give up or to run or to escape. Then again, there was no escape, not really. Altail was sure that the Commission had declared that there was to be no quarter for the Backdraft after they had not surrendered in the initial holocaust.
The Backdraft fired into the great clouds of dust and haze that the Commission Ligers had kicked up... Altail could again imagine the desperate and deafening rat-tat-tat of his troops' machine guns, the roar of their mortars, the whoosh of their rockets as they fired at a deadly enemy they could not see. But Altail, with his view from on high, could see the Commissioners, blitzing the Backdraft nests with unnatural speed and arrogant overconfidence. The latter was their undoing.
The Commissioners broke the screen of dust, and the first few leading the charge were cut down mercilessly by Backdraft gunfire. The next wave met with no better a fate, as rockets began to swin into the staggered Commission lines and down the next line of zealous chargers. Altail smiled grimly. Each new generation of weapons of war brought a new series of problems. For example, machine guns were often mistaken by troops for laser beams, ultimately depleting ammunition and leading to defeat as the weapon's barrel overheated, rendering it useless. Enhanced body armor had the same problem as the Zoid or the now-obsolete tank – the fighter thought himself to be invincible and unstoppable, with powered armor surrounding him. Little did these Commissioners know (or if they knew intellectually, they had not made the connection instinctually) that enhanced body armor fell to one or two heavy machine gun rounds, even if smaller calibers bounced off of it ineffectually, and a rocket would do the same thing rockets always did to a person...
A kind of twisted natural selection occurred on the battlefield, as the more idiotic Commissioners died in the first charges, while the veteran ones found cover. As the Blade Ligers and fellow soldiers provided covering fire, more Commission advances began. They waited for a full minute as Backdraft gunfire died away, as the majority of the machine guns overheated... the very flaw Altail had just thought about. Then the real charge started.
For one heart-wrenching second, Altail thought that the Commissioners would surely storm the lines and the foxholes and take the field of battle, but Altail immediately knew that he had been wrong. The Colonel watched as the Backdraft gunners revealed that they clearly weren't as weak as they'd let on. A barrage of fire cut down swathes of soldiers, complemented by rockets, grenades, assault rifle fire, and mortars. With pride swelling in his chest, Altail noticed that not a single Backdraft position had fallen. Unfortunately, many of their soldiers had... the Commission had used the Blade Ligers as great troop carriers, and literally hundreds of soldiers swarmed the field. This was battle of attrition the Backdraft would not win...
"Sir! Artillery reports – ready to fire!"
Altail spun around. "Fire on the coordinates of those Blade Ligers!"
"Yes, sir. Artillery is moving into base-line position... shot over!"
Altail turned back to the screen, counting the seconds as they passed. The Commissioners formed up for another charge... larger, as a hundred or more black, glinting suits lept from behind cover and ran. Had something gone wrong? Was the artillery strike not coming? Time slowed to a crawl as the Dragoons ran. The Backdraft wouldn't win this one... there were too many, too well armed, too fast, too strong...
And then, the shells came down from the heavens, like a line of cleansing fire and deliverance sent from a greater power. The explosions rocked the battlefield, and Altail realized he could hear it... not because the UAV could suddenly pick up the sound, but because the sound was so loud that it had carried all these meters beneath the ground. When the dust cleared, the field was all but magically free of Commissioners, enemy Ligers in CSF. The remaining Commission troops were fleeing or had surrendered. There was whooping from all around the Colonel, and Altail almost felt like cheering himself.
Suddenly, there was a loud, blaring alarm. It stopped abruptly, and a gruff voice said, "Internal security alarm. Look."
Altail did look, and his throat went suddenly dry. The battlefield scene had disappeared, and it was replaced with a black-and-white security camera image of the elevator shaft, leading into the subterranean Backdraft command bunker. A dozen or more figures, all clad in an eerie obsidian black, were rappelling down the shaft.
"They must have come around the other side during the fighting, taking advantage of the distraction. They've cut power to the shaft, so its going to be hard to get reinforcements in from the surface." The gruff voice, which Altail realized belonged to the sergeant of the guard, continued. "I estimate the enemy strength to be two squads. Orders, sir?"
The Sergeant now looked at Altail.
"Yes," said the Colonel, regaining his composure. "Sergeant, take your squad and whoever else you need to help you, and take up a defensive positions at the end of the hall. We are going to close and jam the blast doors leading into the command center. I'm coming with you." Altail was surprised to hear those words coming out of his mouth, but he immediately agreed with them. He hadn't slept or eaten much in more than three days, and suddenly, through the bleary haze, it seemed perfectly natural to him to take up arms in defense of the bunker.
At the Colonel's last statement, the Sergeant did a double take. For the briefest of moments, Altail again regretted never taking the time to learn even a single name from among the members of the staff in this very room. But the past days had just been putting out fire after fire, never a second to spare for personal well-being or social niceties.
"You heard me, Sergeant. There's no time to waste. Get your group together and meet me in the hall. Major, you are in charge." The Major opened his mouth to say something, but Altail stifled the objection with a raised hand. "Those are my orders. You are in charge until I return. Which I will. Move quickly. They are coming." There were no further comments, as the room sprung into action before Altail.
As Altail walked out into the hall, he wondered if this was a mistake. There was no way out of the bunker, now that enemy troops had entered the facility – they had undoubtedly made sure that there was no escape through the elevator. Friendly troops couldn't get here, as the Commissioners had also cut power to the elevator before rappelling down, and given the current crisis situation throughout East Vedere, it was safe to say that none of the troops topside would have rappelling gear – or, if they did, they couldn't get down before the Commissioners shot them all to shreds anyway. Hence, this option.
Altail knew that if he were fatally wounded in this battle but the firefight was won by the Backdraft, he might die fairly needlessly and leave the Backdraft in a tricky leadership position. But Altail had no intention of dying. He drew his sidearm. Normally, the Colonel didn't carry a gun, but somewhere along the way in these last panicky, hectic days, he had picked one up. Most of the rifles were topside with the troops, so there wasn't much a chance that he could have picked up a better weapon anyway. Horrible, brutal, personal. That's what this was going to be like. Altail far preferred Zoid battles.
More then a dozen men, most in body armor and carrying the remaining rifles, spilled out of the door behind Altail. One man rushed forward, carrying an anti-personnel mine, hurriedly wiring the deadly explosive and linking it to a trip wire across the doorway – so that when the closed door opened at the end of the hallway, the shaped explosive charge would detonate. The other soldiers dragged boxes, crates, and every other sizable item they could find to create cover. A trio behind one barricade had mounted a small machine gun. Altail quickly positioned his own barricade and ducked behind it. Of all of the defenders present, he was furtherest from the doorway. The last line of defense.
With a crackle, the bunker's internal loudspeaker came to life and the voice of the major echoed through the hall. "Internal security cameras show that the intruders are coming down the B1 stairwell. We are sealing the command center." Somewhere behind him, Altail heard a mechanical click and then a loud clunk. There was no going back now – and there was no hiding place down here. A few stacked boxes and crates and a semiautomatic pistol were little solace.
"Twenty seconds to contact!" barked the sergeant, and everyone suddenly ducked.
A third of a minute passed in the blink of an eye. There was no handle on the door, but when the electronic keycard pad changed from red to green, Altail knew what must happen next. The door swung open ever so slightly, and a black-gloved hand with a green grenade, pin gone, peaked around the crack in the door...
But the door had opened enough, and with a deafening bang and flash of brightest light, the door was blown off of its hinges. The antipersonnel mine had detonated. A fraction of a second later, there was a second loud bang as the grenade, which the hand had never tossed and had been knocked back by the explosion, detonated as well. There was a moment of deadly silence, and then an eternity of deadlier noise. Bullets started flying.
Commission troops started pouring through the narrow doorway, somehow squeezing through two men at a time. Bullets and grenades poured at the advancing enemy, and like their zealous counter-parts in the battle above, the first few fell after only a few steps. The Colonel himself opened up on the enemy with his pistol, for the good it did, but he knew he was scoring hits. With explosions and bullets chipping away at the walls of the corridor, some Commissioner found room to lob in a grenade of his own. A few seconds later, not an explosion, but a cloud of smoke engulfed the room. Now, Altail could only see muzzle flashes and dark shapes. Unable to tell friend from foe, he reloaded his weapon and peered into the haze, trying to see the enemy...
There was a loud explosion as the barricade directly in front of Altail was wiped away by a rifle grenade. A moment later, a grunting and gasping figure appeared directly next to Altail. The figure pressed himself against the wall of crates. Altail recognized him immediately as a the Sergeant, though he had now lost his helmet, and a thin trickle of blood oozed down his cheek. There was no time to pass words though, as the crates making up their defense splintered and buckled from a spread of bullets from some unseen shooter.
A moment later, a huge black figure, clad head to toe in the enhanced body armor of an elite Commission soldier hurdled around the blockade, interposing himself between Altail and the Sergeant. Altail's heart seemed to stop in his chest, though the Colonel became aware that the enemy was not facing him. With a cry like a demon, the Sergeant brought up the butt of his rifle and whipped the Commissioner across the face. Though the black-clad cheek did turn, it came back with remarkable speed, and Altail imaging a perverse smile on the enemy's unseen features.
The Commissioner whipped the Sergeant with his own rifle, and the blow sent the Backdraft soldier staggering. Then, the Dragoon released one hand from his weapon and grabbed the Sergeant by the throat, lifting him with unnatural strength...
Up until this moment, Altail had all but forgotten that he was fighting, that he held a weapon. But all of a sudden, with a battle cry of his own, the Colonel lifted his pistol and fired once, twice, three times at the back of the Commissioner's helmet. The first and second shot seemed useless, but the third cracked the helmet along some unseen seam. The enemy began to turn, but Altail squeezed off a fourth and then a fifth shot, the first breaking the helmet entirely and the second killing the man beneath. The dead Commissioner slumped to his knees, releasing the Sergeant, but his dead hand's trigger finger tightened.
Altail's world was suddenly aflame with sound and assault rifle fire. The trail from the Commissioner's weapon, now unguided in a corpse's hand, streaked lazily backwards as the body slumped and crushed the rifle backwards. It drew closer to Altail, and suddenly, there was a stabbing pain in his calf, a pain like none he had ever felt before.
The Colonel knew that he didn't black out, and even remembered clumsily reloading his pistol and helping the Sergeant back to his feet. The latter immediately picked up his fallen assault rifle and fired into the smoke, but Altail could not stand. All he knew was that all shooting ceased a moment later, and soon men were yelling names and numbers.
"That's everyone! And the Colonel in here too. Get a medic over here, the Colonel is wounded." The Sergeant's voice echoed through the hall. A man who Altail had never seen up close before with a red plus-sign on his helmet ran up to him and pulled out a syringe, sticking Altail in the arm with it and pushing the plunger. The pain stopped immediately.
As the medic bent to check his leg, Altail heard himself saying, "I'm fine, its just a flesh wound. Tend to the others."
The medic persisted nonetheless, and the Sergeant said, "We were very lucky, Colonel. Not a single man dead, though all of us casualties in one way or the other. No one is too badly wounded, though. Donovan got her face chopped up pretty badly, but she's still walking and talking, and Cern won't loose the arm." The medic removed the bullet from Altail's leg with a pair of forceps, then swabbed the wound with something that Altail was sure would have stung were it not for the morphine.
"That's good to hear," Altail said, though he had no idea who either individual mentioned was. "Check the internal security cameras and see..."
"I already have, sir. Interal security shows all clear."
"Alright, then. Radio our forces topside and tell them to send a team down sweep the whole bunker and make sure there are no Commissioners left in here. Don't use the security cameras – eyeballs. Cameras can be tampered with."
As the Sergeant raised a radio to his mouth and began to relay the order, the medic said, "You can stand, sir. Here lean on me." Staggering only a little, Altail allowed himself to be helped to his feet. Just as he gained his footing, Altail heard a whooshing behind him, and slowly turned around.
The Major was standing beside the open command center door. "We saw the whole battle via the security camera, sir. Unfortunately, we don't have time to dwell on that right now, because we've just gotten a radio message from another Backdraft unit."
"Another unit? You mean from outside the city?"
"Yes, sir. Requesting to speak to Command actual."
"But the jamming..."
"The jamming is down, sir. And it looks like the Hammer Kaisers may have been destroyed. The radio message, though... You won't believe who's on the other end of the line."
And even before Altail was offered a communicator, even before he heard the voice, he knew who it must be, and he knew he was about to surrender command and be called to task for his attempted murder.
Subchapter 1.3: Turning the Tide
20 Kilometers West of East Vedere
1/5/-01 (Before the Chaotic Age)
The Battle of East Vedere, Concurrently
"Ready to mobilize Berserk Fury." Vega Obscura spoke as he flipped the last few switches to complete the pre-combat launching procedure.
"Vega, please be careful." Sarah's voice was crackling over the loudspeaker.
"Don't worry, Sarah. I'll be okay." Vega spoke confidently as the hangar doors opened before him. With a roar, the Fury charged out of the mouth of the Whale King and into the open.
They had set down 20 kilometers west of East Vedere – the closest they could find a suitable landing spot. They were about halfway between the twin cities – East and West Vedere. However, the Zoids would have to cross the last stretch to the city on foot. After almost 5000 kilometer's travel the Whale King was out of fuel as was and had to set down anyway. It had taken them almost four days to reach the city via their extremely circuitous route, but they'd managed to dodge trouble. They reached East Vedere unharmed and without engagement.
It had taken the Whale King's repair bay almost two days to fix the Berserk Fury, mainly because Vega Obscura insisted on doing most of the work himself. The majority of the damage to the 'Fury was mercifully in its neck, armor the area of the Zoid Control Conduit – crippling to damage but easy to fix. The ship's machine shop had produced and mounted new armor for the damaged sections, mainly around the neck and head, but the crews aboard Vega's ship had definitely seen worse.
The real challenge had been the Geno Saurers. Having been hit by a charged particle gun, the trio of predator Zoids might well have been blown to pieces. Fortunately for the Zoids but unfortunately for the pilots, Vega had purposefully aimed high, destroying the heads and cockpits of the Geno Saurers and dealing significant damage with the shockwave of his attack – but leaving the Zoid Cores intact. The three CPG-wielding attack Zoids were equipped with Backdraft IFF devices and stamped with Backdraft symbols, but no one had asked why they had attacked Vega. The repair crews simply did as they were told and got to work immediately, and after three grueling days, they had managed to assemble three cockpits and necks from spare parts and mount the new hardware. A little elbow grease, spit-shine and polish, and the Geno Saurers looked good as new.
Now, there was a full complement of fourty Zoids aboard Vega Obscura's Whale King. Six were aerial Storm Sworders, which left thirty-four terrestrial Zoids – the Fury itself, the three Geno Saurers, and thirty other Zoids, most of which were Molgas and the like. The Geno Saurers and the Berserk Fury were the only high-end Zoids onboard, and Vega meant to lead the lot of them into battle. Sarah had been concerned every step of the way, of course, but what good is a general who sits in his tent?
Vega had insisted. Bit Cloud was the only man ever to have defeated him. No one else could. Vega was now charging out of the Whale King's mouth-bay doors, three Geno Saurers tailing him closely as a kind of a vanguard. Lagging a dozen or so meters more behind him, Molgas began to roll into action and out of the hangar. They were mobilizing all fourty Zoids (the Storm Sworders were already in flight) – leaving nothing to secure the Whale King or "hold down the fort". If East Vedere fell, there would be no fort to hold down.
"General?" The voice of the Whale King communications officer crackled over the radio. "I've cycled through all of the normal Backdraft frequencies and they're all being jammed by the Commission. This is just a random, unused channel. If the one we're using right now also becomes inoperative, we have several backups. However, we won't be able to contact Backdraft command directly."
"Thank you. Keep me posted if anything changes, please." Vega's voice sounded odd and high as he gave orders – not the voice of a general. The voice of an almost carefree child, who was supremely confident in his own abilities. This would be the first time that Vega was actually leading a force into battle – he normally just fought on his own against so many opponents in the unsanctioned Zoid Battling circuit. Would it be much different? There would be a lot more participants, but otherwise the same. No rules and dangerous.
The terrain around East Vedere was green with trees, underbrush, and all manner of flora and fauna, which gave the Verdis region its name. When traced to its ancient roots, Verdis and Vedere referred to something regarding greenness, quite appropriate given the amount of plant life. However, the landscape here was also very hilly, preventing the Whale King from landing any nearer than twenty kilometers. The force would have to cover the rest of the distance on their own.
Fury could do the walking by himself, so Vega turned to take a good look at everyone he was leading. The Geno Saurers right behind him were dangerous in close and ranged combat and could easily take care of themselves, so he cast his attention even further backwards. Mostly, he saw Molgas, maybe a dozen or more. As he focused on the closest one, Vega noticed that there were several armed Backdraft soldiers riding on the back of the Molga. There was another element to war, too – out of the cockpit, infantry battling. He'd always known this, but this concept had always been alien to Vega. Perhaps he would become better acquainted with it over the course of the fight.
He was being distracted from the Zoid complement, though. Maybe a dozen Molgas. No Rev Raptors – odd, given how common of a Zoid it was. They did, however, have a small complement of Helcats and a matching group of Command Wolves, a pair of Black Rhimos and another pair of Shield Ligers, a trio of Zaber Fangs, and right in the center of this battalion, a single modified Dark Horn, lumbering powerfully along the uneven ground with the best of them. Providing support for the unit was a single Gustav, using its combination of 3D Doppler Radar and infrared sensory package to give some advanced warning if enemies approached.
As the group trudged on the through the forest, the silence was interrupted by the beeping of Vega's communications console. Suddenly, the screen flickered to life – it was the Gustav crew.
"General, IR sensors show a Rev Raptor about a hundred meters in front of us."
Vega immediately stopped marching, and the battalion halted behind him. Almost without thinking, Vega had the Fury's Buster Arms deploy into the AZ185mm Beam Cannons that gave the Fury all of its conventional ranged prowess. His eyes scanned the thick foliage, and everything was quiet. Then, suddenly, a glint of steel through the leaves that so fleeting and so small, a lesser pilot would have surely missed it. But he was Vega Obscura. As one, Vega and the Fury fired the ranged weapons through the Vedere forest to strike an unseen Rev Raptor some hundred meters away.
The battalion did not stop to bask in the skill of their leader for long. The Molgas directly behind Vega's line of Geno Saurers leaped into action, rocketing at highway speeds – reckless in a forest – towards the fallen scout. Vega charged after them at a safer rate, and the Rev Raptor soon came into view. A Molga, laden with half a dozen Backdraft infantry, approached first. As the men hopped off of the Zoid and charged, weapons leveled, towards the smoking target, the Raptor's cockpit popped open. The Commission pilot who emerged reached for his sidearm – but the reports of several assault rifles told Vega that the Backdraft soldiers had been faster. As the pilot fell dead, the Commission co-pilot slowly exited the cockpit, hands reaching towards the sky. After clearing the wreck, the unknown co-pilot, now a prisoner, sank to his knees and placed his hands behind his head.
Infantry flooded the cockpit of the downed Rev Raptor, and it wasn't long before Vega received incoming communications. An infantryman, standing on the ground in front of the Gustav, appeared on the monitor.
"General, I have some good news. We've captured an enemy Zoid and co-pilot. The POW has been hauled back to the Gustav. We haven't formally debriefed him yet, but we've already extracted some useful information from him."
"Well, he wasn't in the forest looking for us. His orders were to attempt to find Backdraft forces fleeing the city that slipped past the initial blockade and then radio back for support. Commission radio is working, of course, but they've jammed most of our standard frequencies. Radar is out, too."
"That means that there's still a battle going on. How many Commission soldiers are here?"
"Prisoner reported two Hammer Kaisers transported a hundred Zoids into the city, General. There are two enemy brigades here, according to him, so that could well be 10,000 soldiers, sir. They don't really have an estimate on Backdraft forces still alive, but they started moving into the city as of the this morning and have encountered heavy but inferior resistance. The good news is that we have the element of surprise. We checked his radio logs, and there's no mention of us anywhere."
"Good. Leave this wreck here and we'll keep moving." They could only hope that the Commission was too busy with other kinds of fighting to notice a little gunfire and a single missing Rev Raptor. They were less than a kilometer from the edge of the forest as was. After that, the treeline would break into a view of the city. Vega lived here and he had trained here. He'd seen it a million times before.
It was only a few short minutes, dodging around some rough terrain, before that clearing that Vega knew so well approached. The tree branches above, in the startling beauty of the Vedere forest, began to thin and tremendous light cracked through the canopy to the ground below. Moments later, the fleet-footed Fury had broken through the trees entirely, and was standing in a massive clearing overlooking East Vedere. The Fury came to a halt at the edge of a steep hill, and stopped completely. Not because that great Ultimate X couldn't foot the descent, but because Vega had stopped. The child-general didn't even notice as his forces pulled in behind him.
Vega had never seen a warzone before. He had imagined them, watched films about them in the Chaotic Century of antiquity, but he had never seen one before. There were no wars on Zi – until now. Every building in East Vedere that Vega could see, including his skyscraper of a home, had been razed to the ground. That he had been expecting – it wasn't what caused the change over his young face. While most couldn't resolve more than multicolored blob at this distance, Vega's keen eyes could see them – the hundreds upon hundreds of charred corpses and bodies, simply littering the street. Vega gulped to himself, feeling sorrow and internal fury raising towards the Commission. Fury... there was no better Zoid to be in for Fury.
There were troops fighting on the ground, but from here Vega couldn't tell if they were friend or foe. Besides, there might be more civilians trapped or hiding in the rubble and ruins of the city. However, Vega turned his neck skyward to the Commission-dominated skies, and there he found targets. He shouted something into his radio – he couldn't hear himself – but it became clear that his message got across. His Berserk Fury and the three Geno Saurers each craned towards the heavens, and an instant later, six Charged Particle beams lanced through the sky and towards a pair of barely visible Hammer Kaisers. One of the Geno Saurer's beams clipped one of the great flying transports, wracking it with internal explosions and sending it plummeting from its place in the sun. Vega's aim, on the other hand, could be said to be truer. All three of the Fury's beams pierced the other on its underbelly and broadside, and within seconds had gutted the ship.
As two burning meteors, symbols of enemies vanquished, fell back to Zi, half a dozen Backdraft Storm Sworders rocketed overhead, heading towards an equal number of black specks – Commission aircraft, no doubt. The battle was beyond even Vega's eyes, but the radio chatter gave all the details.
"We've engaged the enemy. Break into three finger-four pairs and get in close enough for IR guided missile lock. Remember, you don't have radar so don't get cocky!"
Several "Roger"s came back over the radio.
"This Alpha One, starting my run with Alpha Two. Visual contact, there are four Redlers here... Fox two! Hit! Got two and I-- Bandit on my six!"
"I see him."
"Damnit, get him off me."
"Lock! Got him!"
"Thanks, but those two Redlers just pulled up-"
"This is Five. Six and I have got 'em, don't worry. Fox two – got 'em!"
"Good – don't get cocky..."
"This is Four – Bandit on my six. I-"
"We lost Four! Three, pull up! Damn it – can't get an IR lock."
"This is Three - I'm up but I've taken damage. That boogie that tagged Four was a Battle Cougar!."
"This is One. Three, your right engine is on fire. Return to base immediately."
"Willco, One but I -"
"Leave the 'Cougar to Two and me."
"This is One. Moving in against the Battle Cougar. Almost got a lock. Almo- damn! He pulled up, I'm going after him."
"They're in a Rolling Scissors!"
All Vega could see was two black dots, presumably one Commission Battle Cougar and one Backdraft Storm Sworder, rolling around each other ever higher and higher in the sky. Suddenly, one plummeted away from the other at an acceleration too regular to be a controlled dive. Vega held his breath. Then, there was a whooping over the radio.
"This is one – chalk up one Commission Battle Cougar for the kill board. Got him with a blade attack."
Vega Obscura hadn't been listening to the transcript very intently. His focus had been elsewhere, as he brought the Berserk Fury at full speed towards the nearest Commission emplacement. Though he had no radar or IFF signals, he'd spotted the enemy from afar. Now, he was going to crush them. Vega could feel anger for crushing his home, and for destroying the Backdraft, and for killing so many. A large part of his brain seemed unaffected, though, simply having sunk into the rhythm of battle.
The general had left the unit far behind, perhaps staring at the aerial furball or the fiery rain of the Hammer Kaiser wrecks. After only a moment, yells came over the radio – Vega calmed ordered that they follow him as fast as they could. Then, he switched off his communication system. He would do this alone.
The Fury reached the first barricade in a matter of moments. It was a poorly constructed line of sandbags and an impromptu wall and trench, blocking the road into the remains of the city. Backing that line was a multitude of Rev Raptors, Molgas, Aro Saurers, and several Gorhecks. Towering above the rest was a single Gojulas, equipped with the distinctive barrels of a pair of Republican Super Cannons. That mighty Zoid was in turn flanked by two Red Horns – walking weapons platforms and armed to the teeth.
Vega glanced down at a dial. His Charged Particle weapons were still recharging – the mighty Ultimate X still recouping the power it had lost during the last attack. He'd have to fight them with conventional weapons. Vega could almost feel sorry for them.
Somehow, they didn't seem to have noticed him yet. Vega threw the element of surprise to the wind and simply started pulling back on the trigger. Bolt after bolt emitted from his AZ185mm Beam Cannons, tearing through the armor of Zoids like so much rice paper. Several Molgas and Rev Raptors were laying flat by the time the dug-in unit came about face. Now, for the real challenge.
The Fury roared in defiance as it raced towards its enemies – the Ultimate X swerving side to side almost faster than the eye could follow, returning fire and dropping enemies like so many flies. Despite this, the pilot of the Gojulas was both quick and unfazed. He swung his mighty Zoid around, the Republican Super Cannons flailing from inertia, probably one of the most fearsome and incredible sights that Vega had ever seen. However, even the Fury was finite in speed and power – it was impossible to reach or destroy from a range so powerful a machine before it got the shell off. The Super Cannon had incredible splash and power, so much so that it might even seriously damage the Berserk Fury. Nonetheless, Vega brave onwards. The Gojulas turned, waited for its cannons to settle down... and at the last moment, Vega threw the crucial switch.
An almighty bang resounded through the Vedere woods and city – the report of one of the most powerful production weapons ever created. Two 360mm HEAZ (High Explosive Anti-Zoid) rounds hit the Fury straight on, kicking up local dust and asphalt into a opaque cloud. As one, the Molgas all fired off their missiles, the Gorhecks saturated the area with mortars, the Dark Horns brought their mighty Hybrid Vulcans around and fired. It seemed there was no way that even an Ultimate X could survive such a barrage from so many Zoids.
A second later, the dust cleared – and the Berserk Fury was safe and untouched by the barrage, behind its scarlet E-Shield. Vega took advantage of the momentary stun and shock of his opponents, and rocketed forwards. Before anyone could react, Vega had crossed the gap between the parties and slammed a Buster Claw through so-many centimeters of armor in the Gojulas' neck, severing the Zoid Control Conduit (ZCC) from cockpit to Zoid before the Super Cannons could reload. The Commission Zoids began to come around to oppose him – the Dark Horns quickly swinging their Hybrid Vulcans to shoot him into oblivion. However, Vega mustered whatever unholy force powered the Fury, and swung the Gojulas at the Dark Horns with a mighty heave. The falling colossus trounced the first of the two Horns, crushing one and blocking the path of the other.
The second's hesitation of the remaining Dark Horn was all Vega needed, and then the Fury was on top of it. The Buster Arms rose and fell twice, pinpointing weak points on the heavily armored behemoth, and then the Fury pulled back. The last Dark Horn fell motionless on the ground. Vega turned on the remaining Zoids of the Commission blockade and rocketed in – Gorhecks, Aro Saurers, Molgas, and Rev Raptor fell left and right. Vega, young though he was, had seen the markings on these Zoids dozens of times. They were Eisen Dragoons, the elite Special Forces of the Zoid Battle Commission. Whenever Loramere rebelled, it was the Dragoons who quashed the disturbance. Now, these soldiers had been sent against the Backdraft. The Dragoons were fearsome. Elite, absolutely loyal, and willing to die for the sovereignty of the Commission at the drop of a hat. They never betrayed or deserted their caused, never retreated or surrendered.
And yet, it seemed that Vega Obscura was a man who could break all the rules. A boy who walked the line between human and legend – and was bound by the laws of neither. It seemed to Vega that he struck fear even into the hard hearts of the Eisen Dragoons. When the Fury pounced into the thick of them, all of the Zoids scattered and scampered, breaking into a hard retreat. Ironically, there was no where to run. They couldn't advance through their own barricade, nor could they advance through the sheer walls on either side of the street, so those that Vega didn't catch immediately instead turned tail and ran – fleeing to the forest. Unfortunately for them, it was just as futile an effort as charging into their own blockade. After only a second or two, Vega's forces broke from inside the treeline and opened fire, slaughtering the routed troops.
Less than a minute later, when the last Commission Zoid submitted to the Backdraft onslaught, Vega took a quick headcount. Thirty Dragoons' Zoids (though about twenty were Rev Raptors, Molgas, or Aro Saurers) had fallen in battle, at the cost of not even a single Backdraft soldier. Another minute passed, and Backdraft footsoldiers flooded the Zoid wreckages and a small section of a barricade. The fighting was very quick. The Eisen soldiers that Vega saw emerge from their cockpits, waving and firing their weapons wildly, were mowed down. None surrendered, like the pilot they encountered earlier had. After a few more rifle reports indoors, Vega got a radio message.
"We've found what looks like a Command Center for this barricade, general. Unfortunately, it also looks like there's nothing of value here. The Commissioner burned pretty much every document, I'd guess. They also put more than a few bullets into most pieces of electronics equipment here. There's still a few functioning machines, but they're password protected and likely have all essential data encrypted, so they're unfortunately useless."
"What do they need equipment inside a barricade for?" asked Vega. A pause followed.
"I don't know, General. This looks like information warfare equipment – maybe a radar system - I can't tell."
"Hm..." A thought struck Vega.
The general scanned the top of the barricade for something looking like a radar dish, and saw a pair on part of the roof of the impromptu installation. Vega maneuvered the Fury a bit around the compound for a clearly shot, then switched to his long-ranged beam cannons. Vega's trigger fell back twice, and two sets of bursts erupted from the Fury, neatly annihilating both dishes.
Immediately, Vega heard a crackling over his radio.
"General Obscura! We've regained contact with High Command!"
"Put me through if you can – tell them I want to speak to Command actual."
There was only about a minute's pause, before a authoritative man's voice burst over the speaker.
"This is Command actual."
"This is General Vega Obscura. I and my unit are reporting for duty."
There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the connection. "No, sir, we're reporting to you. This is Colonel Altail, and it is my duty to inform you, sir, that you are the highest ranking officer who is not currently dead or incapacitated."
It was Vega's turn to inhale sharply. He recovered quickly from the shock – he knew Colonel Altail. It was Altail who had sent the Geno Saurers to assassinate Vega – but that would have to be dealt with later, if ever.
"Very well, Colonel. Situation report?"
"I'd love to give it to you in detail, General Obscura, but in short, we have to evacuate the city. However, there's a problem: Endurance Station will back in firing arc of the city in just a few minutes. The Commission will just pound all of our forces on the surface into dust and we won't be able to evacuate with that thing overhead.
"I may just be able to fix that Colonel."
Vega turned his neck skyward. Above him was kilometers of clear sky, and no mere human, however good his or her eyesight, could ever hope to see a station in orbit high above. Still, when Vega turned the Fury skyward, it and he knew exactly where to shoot. As the Charge Particle Guns from the Fury powered up, the head of the great tyrannosaurus made the slightest adjustments, tracking the target through the noon sky.
And then a brilliant blue and white beam of sheer destruction lanced up at nearly the speed of light through so many kilometers of bare air and atmosphere, charging up through the heavens until it reached the target above... the beam struck the station's underside and the station was gutted in a glorious explosion, visible to even Vega's poor human eyes a world below.
After a moment lost in pride at the sheer beauty of the destruction, Vega gave an order. "Begin the evacuation. We're abandoning the city."
Subchapter 1.4: The War Begins
Blitz Team Headquarters
1/5/-01 (Before the Chaotic Age)
Later That Day
"Well, that's over and done with Bit. You've payed me what you owe me. We're totally even. And, moreover, I doubt we'll have to worry about skimping on maintenance or repairs anymore. I should get all the Zoids an overhaul." Dr. Steven Tauros rubbed his hands together with glee as he looked at the new balance of his account. "And, I can pay off all our old debts with plenty still left over. Think of all the new parts we can buy..." Dr. Tauros' grin of anticipation became so wide, Bit might have mistaken him for a Cheshire cat.
Bit ran his fingers through his blond hair with dismay as glanced at his own bank statement. "Gee, thanks Doc. Leave some for me, why don't you?"
"Oh, come now Bit, it's not that bad. I know that you've still got quite a bit left over even after paying me off. And look on the bright side -- you've won the Royal Cup! You hold the Cup crown. All kinds of people are going to be challenging you now that you're a Class S pilot, and that means more wins and money for the Blitz Team. And besides, you're a celebrity now. You're famous, all over Zi! You'll probably get some kind of endorsement contract and you won't ever have to worry about money again. You can probably just relax and have fun for most of the off season."
"Ugh... but Doc, I don't want to be famous. I mean, I like the money and all, and I like fighting Zoid battles with Liger, but I really don't want to be famous. It's not all its cracked up to be."
"By the way, Bit, that reminds me – while you were out, four more news stations called and asked to schedule interviews with you."
Bit slapped his hand to his forehead and groaned, then lay back in his chair and stared upwards, as though he could find solace in the ceiling.
"Huh. Yep, you're a celebrity alright. You're so bogged down with interviews that you don't know what to do with them all." Brad Hunter had entered the room without Bit noticing. The mercenary pilot pushed some of his unruly hair out of his eyes and continued. "I guess a lot of people are impressed with you winning the Royal Cup like that. I even heard that some people are calling you a modern-day Van Flyheit. But don't let it go to your head."
"Van Flyheit," Bit echoed. He continued to stare straight up at the ceiling, but his green eyes had lost focus and seemed far away.
"Bit, are you alright? Hey, Bit!" Leena shouted at him. She stood from her seat and waved her hand in front of his eyes, which didn't track the motion. "Yeah, I think he let it go to his head."
Bit seemed to come back to the real world at those words. "Nah, I'm fine. It's just that..." Bit trailed off and ran his hand through his hair again. "...I remember when I was a kid, I used to hear stories about Van Flyheit. He started out as a Zoid pilot when he was really young, and he fought in the Great War during the Chaotic Century and during the Hiltzian War, and he defeated the Death Saurer twice. He was friends with the Emperor and the President and he mediated the Great Armistice. He's the most famous pilot who ever lived."
Bit fell silent for a while again. Then, he said, "I'm no Van Flyheit. I could never do all that. I could never be a great diplomat or negotiator, and I could never be a soldier because I could never kill people."
"Well," said Brad, "remember that Van Flyheit wasn't only a soldier – he was a Guardian Force fighter. He kept the peace in time of peace, too, and he's probably just as well remembered for that as he is for his victories in war. Guardians don't kill people."
"Yeah, well... maybe I can see myself as a Guardian Force fighter, but I'm not. Before I won the Royal Cup, no one ever really interviewed me or thought I was great. All I did was win one battle and suddenly I'm really famous. Van Flyheit did all kinds of things, not just one --"
"Doctor! Hey, Doctor Tauros!" Jamie came running into the room, panting hard. "Got... to... tell... you..." he uttered words between gasps.
"What is it Jamie? Now, have a seat and catch your breath."
Jamie slumped down into a chair and spent several seconds breathing hard before he managed to spit out, "The Zoid Battle Commission is on the line, Doctor Tauros. They say its really, really urgent and they want to speak to us."
"How long ago did they call?"
"Just a minute ago."
"Well, let's not keep them waiting. Here, put it on the main screen in here."
Jamie punched a few buttons.
Bit saw the Commission Crest appear on the screen, but only for a second. It soon gave way to the picture of a man – formally dressed and gruff. Bit Cloud would recognize him anywhere.
"Commissioner Coulston!" exclaimed Doctor Tauros in surprise. "What an honor it is to see you, sir. I hope that we didn't keep you waiting for very long."
"Oh, just a minute or so. It's no trouble at all – I can't expect everyone to conform to my schedule." Bit Cloud somehow had a feeling that if he had been talking to another group, the Commissioner would have been hopping mad about the delay.
"Anyway," continued Coulston, "onto business. As you know, the Blitz Team has worked with the highest echelons of the Commission before, and I hope we can again cooperate to bring a great public enemy to justice."
"You mean the Backdraft Group?" asked Dr. Tauros.
"But why do you need our help again?" Bit objected. "I defeated Vega at the Royal Cup a few days ago, and it looked like the Commission had everything under control."
"To be honest with you, Mr. Cloud, I thought we did too. I thought it would be a simple matter to get rid of the Backdraft presence on Zi once and for all. Unfortunately, things didn't work out that smoothly. By the time our people got to the site of Vega's defeat, near that old Ultrasaurus wreck, they'd already hauled off the Zoid and the pilot both, and somehow managed to dodge around our air defense."
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Mr. Commissioner," interjected Brad, "but that seems like a military problem to me. What do have to do with it?"
"A very good question. Well, the battle in East Vedere, the headquarters of the Backdraft Group, has been going on for three days now. We were steadily gaining ground right up until today, when Vega Obscura and his troops arrived at the city. We've managed to take over the city itself, but the Berserk Fury cut a line of retreat through our blockades and back out into the Vedere forests. I've even heard an initial report that the Fury took out the better part of an armored battalion all on its own. The fact of the matter is that we could take down the Fury, but it would be a major operation with lots of casualties. The Fury could also easily overpower any patrol we could reasonably set up, and could hide in the forests for years. The other problem is that that rebel Obscura and his Ultimate X have a Charged Particle Gun powerful enough to shoot satellites out of orbit, so orbital bombardment is out of the question. Along with most kinds of heavy guns. The easiest way to this, Bit, is with your help. You see, we know you've beaten him before. This time, with our support, there's no question you'll beat him again."
Bit gulped. "Well, thanks Mr. Commissioner... but, I'm not really a soldier. I'm not big on killing people."
"I guessed as much. Don't worry about it, Bit – all you have to do is take down the Fury with our help so we can apprehend Obscura. You won't have to do any of the normal fighting or soldier work."
"Well, then, I guess that Liger and I can help you take down Vega."
"Excellent! There was another reason I was calling, though. Mr. Hunter," the Commissioner looked at Brad, "we could also use your help in this matter. You see, the Backdraft are at home in these woods. We've got all kinds of sensors set up, but your Shadow Fox was designed and built by the Backdraft for forest combat. We think that its multisensor was designed to detect incoming authorities and dodge them. We can use it the other way 'round. The thing is, while we're trying to work out how to build them ourselves, yours remains the only one in Commission hands."
"I don't know, Mr. Commissioner," said the mercenary cooly. "I'm putting myself and my 'Fox at risk --"
"Of course, you'll be payed handsomely."
"Then when can we start?"
"One thing, first. I'm going to announce tonight that the Berserk Fury and a small group of Backdraft rebels are still at large in the Vedere forests, but I'm not going to give the public the whole picture. The Backdraft force is actually relatively large. It's nothing to worry about, but I don't want to cause a panic. This whole problem should be wrapped up in a few days with the Blitz Team's help. Still, I'm going to trust your discretion in this matter. Don't tell anyone what you're up to. No need to draw more attention to this then there already is. Hysteria spreads easily."
"You can count on us, Mr. Commissioner," said Dr. Tauros.
"Pack up whatever you need for a week or two's stay in the Verdis region. I'll send some people down to pick you up. The whole Blitz Team should come along. There's no reason not too. Anyway, I guess my people will get to your base in about an hour, so you should be ready to go by then. Short notice, I know, but if we want to get this taken care of quickly, we have to move quickly. Thank you for your cooperation."
"It was no problem," said Dr. Tauros.
"Well, thanks again. I'll be going, anyway. I have a planet to run, after all." With that, the screen switched back to the Commission crest.
"Wasn't that exciting, kids? The Commissioner of Zoid Battling personally asked us for our help."
"Yeah," said Jamie, "but I wonder how they're going to be picking us up. If they have a Gustav or a Hover Cargo or something, our Hover Cargo would be just as fast."
"They might be sending a plane or something," suggested Leena.
"Nah," said Brad. "We don't have a runway, and our Zoids are way over the weight limit for a Dragonfly Stinger or anything like that. I bet the military is sending a Hover Cargo or something, for protocol's sake."
"Don't worry about it. They might be sending us ahead and sending the Zoids after us. You need to concentrate on packing up. You might have a long trip ahead of you, and you need to be ready. There's not much time." With that, Dr. Tauros shooed them out of the room.
Bit went through the motions of packing mechanically. He'd done it a million times before. Before he joined the Blitz Team, he'd been a kind of a wanderer, and he'd been used to being on the move. He could fit all of his worldly possessions, other than his truck and the Liger, in a single duffle bag. Bit took a moment to glance at the clock. He'd packed in less than ten minutes.
Instead of waiting around for everyone else, Bit wandered out into the Hover Cargo's lower Zoid cargo. There, waiting motionless between the obsidian Shadow Fox and the azure blue Gun Sniper, was the Liger Zero. It looked odd, still glistening white in the dim light of the hangar deck.
The Liger turned its head, red eyes shining with untold power behind them.
"We're going to go down with some friends to the Verdis region, to help to try to find a beat Vega Obscura and Berserk Fury again."
The Liger growled gently.
"I had a feeling that you'd want to go. That was one heck of a battle, wasn't it? I'm looking forward to another one."
"Yeah. I don't know about all this about capturing Vega Obscura, though. I mean, he was a really good pilot and I can see why the Commission would want our help, but he didn't seem like a bad person. I know the Backdraft sole and cheated, but he didn't really do any of the stealing. He's just a kid! Still, a Berserk Führer is a legendary Zoid. He could really hurt people if it was used irresponsibly. All the same, I hope they're not too hard on him. After all, he's got no hope of winning now that we're on his tail. Right, buddy!"
The Liger roared, full force. Bit was sure that the entirety of the rest of the Blitz Team would just be wondering what was wrong in the hangar bay.
After a few minutes, no one came running down, though the Zoid's roar had left a ring in Bit's ears that had yet to subside. Maybe everyone had just gotten used to the Liger's erratic activities in the lower Zoid hangar.
Bit said nothing more. He didn't need to. He just leaned against one ivory white legplate of the Liger's armor and rested. He looked up, imagining stars that he couldn't see through the metal roof of the Hover Cargo or the bright afternoon sky. It was hard to imagine that he, Bit Cloud, held the Royal Cup crown. How could he be the ultimate Zoid warrior? The best pilot in the world? There were, of course, other Class S pilots, but none held the Cup crown, supposedly the highest honor that a Zoid pilot could achieve. Furthermore, rather than his entire team being declared victors, Bit Cloud had been singled out from the Blitz Team and focused on as the single champion.
In the past three days he'd held the crown, Bit had gone through countless interviews and received congratulations from every person he'd ever known. Three months ago, Bit Cloud had been the name of a cocky, second-rate junk dealer who liked Zoids and who scavenged shot-up parts from Zoid battlefields. Then, he'd met the Liger Zero and the Blitz Team and his life had changed in an instant.
Bit felt his pocket vibrate, and jumped just a little. It was his phone. He rarely ever got calls on his personal phone. A few relatives knew his number, but they had already called him. He'd somehow managed to keep his contact information away from the scourge that was the media, so he considered this to be a private line. Who could be calling now?
Bit stood, walked over to a video console, and set his phone into the slot. He hit a button to accept the call, and the screen flickered to life. Jack Sisco appeared in the monitor.
Bit was startled. "How did you get this number?"
"I know a guy. He has all the numbers. This is a secure transmission, by the way."
"Er... is that important?"
"No, I guess not. I've just always been one for security." With that, Jack peered around him, as though making sure no one was watching.
"Eh, did you call about anything in particular, Jack?"
"The same thing everyone calls about, I guess. I wanted to congratulate you on your performance at the Royal Cup. That was one hell of a stunt you pulled. You beat me, but I say it was a fluke. You're just lucky that I was out of commission for the end of the Cup or I would have taken down that Obscura kid myself."
"A fluke? Care to come over here and find out?"
"I'd love to show you what real pros are made of, kid, but the Commission strictly prohibits battles during the off season. They're dangerous and require full ZBC supervision – which the ZBC doesn't provide until the season starts up again."
"How about when the season starts again, then? You can come down to the Blitz Team base and we'll have a battle. I'll even give you the very first battle for the Royal Cup crown."
"Sorry, Bit, but I'm registered as a mercenary and any battle we have has to be a team battle. And even if I wasn't, I was partly calling to tell you that I'm moving out of the profession Zoid battling circuit for a while. I'm working on some projects right now, so I might skip a season. So, too bad, but you'll have to cool your guns there. Still, I know there are plenty of pilots in Class S who could pulverize you."
"Really, Jack? Sounds to me like you're just chickening out. I bet I've got you so scared you're shaking from your boots to your headband."
Jack Sisco chuckled when Bit uttered this taunt. "Not sure I've heard you talk like that before, kid. I won't tell you exactly what I'm up to, but let me tell you this: Where I'm going, a hundred of you and your Liger Zeros would be the least of my worries."
"I doubt it."
"Well, I'm not here to convince you that I'm all cavalier. Unlike you, that is. I hear that you're shipping out to Vedere to help the military catch Vega Obscura."
It took a moment to register with Bit that this was something that Jack Sisco definitely shouldn't know.
"How did you know --"
"Again, I know a guy. Let's just say that I have friends in very, very high places. There's not much secret that goes on around Zi that I don't know about. But don't worry, Liger Man. Your secret is safe with me. I know Coulston's afraid he'll cause a panic if word gets out that they had to ship you out east to contain the threat. But anyway, good luck tackling the Fury. We all saw you do it once. No problem doing it again, right?"
"Yeah! Liger and I are going to take care of the Backdraft Group and Vega, no problem!"
"You just keep telling yourself that. I think you'll find that fighting against a bunch of guerillas in the Vedere forests is a little tougher than your bargained for. But I should save my words: I've got a hellhole of my own to look forward too. Anyway, congratulations again. Enjoy the Royal Cup crown – while you can."
With that, Jack Sisco hit a button on the console before him, breaking the connection.
Bit picked his phone out of the slot in the viewer and slipped it back into his pocket. The Royal Cup crown... There was no physical crown, as there might have been. It was an abstract idea. A title. Something that signified that he, Bit Cloud, now stood alone. But his legs were getting tired and he'd rather be sitting.
Bit was about sit back down next to the Liger, when he heard his name.
"Bit! Hey, Bit, are you down here?" It was Jamie's voice.
"Yeah. I'm right here, Jamie."
Jamie's young face appeared around the corner, serious, with a touch a shyness and concern... so different from his Wild Eagle persona.
"What's up, Jamie?"
"Oh... well... I just wanted to talk to you about strategy in the Vedere forests. I was just thinking, it might not be so smart to use the Jager Armor. The speed won't be much of an advantage with all of those trees. You'll end up hurting yourself more than anything else. The Schneider Armor would probably be the best choice, though the Panzer and Zero Armors would work fine too. I'm guessing that we can't take more than a few of them, since we're probably going to Vedere in a Gustav or something, I'd recommend we leave the Jager Armor at home."
There was something about Jamie's face that betrayed his real motives.
"Jamie, you didn't really come down here to tell me that."
"Eh... oh... sorry, Bit. It's just that... about the Jager Armor..."
"What about the Jager Armor? Spit it out."
"It's just that when Doctor Tauros finished packing up... he had an idea."
"What kind of an idea?"
"I don't know. I think he wanted to rework the armor."
"Not if he's going to charge me for it, he's not!"
"Well, you see, Doctor Tauros --"
Suddenly, Jamie's voice was drowned out by an incredibly loud roaring sound. Bit's hands automatically snapped to his ears, as did Jamie's. The Liger immediately was alert and roaring, but even its mighty voice was drowned out. The noise lasted for about a minute, then started to get softer, then abruptly stopped. Still, the ringing in Bit's ears was incredible.
Dr. Tauros appeared from nowhere. "What was that? I was just taking a look at the Jager armor and I heard an incredible racket? Was that coming from in here?"
"Nope, sorry Doc. I kinda guessed that you were making it at first."
"It was probably coming from outside, then. We should go out and check..."
Then, there was a loud ring, heard throughout the entire building via the intercom.
"That's the doorbell!" said Jamie.
"It's just one thing after another today," said Bit.
Dr. Tauros said nothing, but raced off to the front door. Bit and Jamie followed him closely.
About fifteen seconds later, they'd reached the main entrance to the Blitz Team's base. Dr. Tauros checked the video camera, which showed a uniformed man standing right outside the door.
"It's a man from the military. That was prompt!"
Dr. Tauros opened the door.
"Hello," said Dr. Tauros.
"Hello. You're Dr. Tauros, I presume. I know that we've arrived about twenty minutes early, but I hope that's no problem."
"Oh, no problem at all. But, if I may ask, who are you?"
"I'm sorry, how rude of me. I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Colonel Michael Carrihanh, Commission Air Force, Captain of the carrier Karl Schubaltz. My orders are to pick up the Blitz Team and escort them to the combat zone in Vedere."
"The carrier... Karl Schubaltz?" Jamie said with more than a little awe. Bit looked behind the Colonel and to the vessel behind him – something he hadn't noticed before. It was enormous, mainly black with the many red stripes of a Commission war ship. Bit recognized it as a Hammer Kaiser: not quite as large as a Whale King but a tyrant of the skies nonetheless, and armed to the teeth. They had pulled one of these titans out of its normal duties, just to pick up the little old Blitz Team.
Meanwhile, the Colonel seemed to mistake Jamie's awe at the Commission sending a Hammer Kaiser – any Hammer Kaiser – for awe at sending the specific vessel.
"Yes, quite correct. The ZBCS Karl Schubaltz is the second ship of that name, the first having been a cruiser on the high seas." Carrihanh puffed out his chest, making the commendations on his uniform catch the light. "We've seen action in the three populated continents of Zi and in two oceans, and have been integral in suppressing the Lorameran rebels in the east. Now all I can say is that I hope we can do our part in putting down this Backdraft Group. Speaking of which, time is of the essence. Move your Hover Cargo aboard ship and we can lift off."
"Aboard... ship?" repeated Jamie. "You want to take the whole Hover Cargo?"
"Certainly. Don't worry, it's nothing we haven't done before. There's not much clearance and you have to go through the mouth bay, but your Hover Cargo will fit alright."
Dr. Tauros recovered from the shock quickly. "Alright, I'll go bring out the Hover Cargo. Jamie, why don't you check on Brad and Leena?"
Dr. Tauros and Jamie walked off, leaving Bit alone with the Colonel.
"Mr. Cloud, I presume?" The Colonel extended his hand.
Bit took it, though still somewhat bewildered.
"Mr. Cloud, I just wanted to say how much of an honor it is to be working with yourself and the rest of the Blitz Team."
"Oh, no, Colonel. The honor is all ours."
"Well, regardless, I'm still very glad to have had a chance to meet all of you. I'd like to stay and chat, but I have to go through our pre-flight checklist." The Colonel saluted and left.
As Bit watched the Blitz Team Hover Cargo roll out of the base hangar and towards the Hammer Kaiser, he was left wondering about all of the odd things that had happened to him today. Maybe tomorrow, on his way to -- or in Vedere, would yield some explanations for why the Commissioner of Zoid Battling had personally called, why he'd sent a Hammer Kaiser to pick them up, how Jack Sisco knew about it, or maybe just why all the damned reporters wouldn't leave him alone.
Well, that's the chapter 1, the second installment of the story of the Chaotic Age. You've run quite a gauntlet to have read that much, but I hope that means that you appreciate the work put into writing it! I greatly appreciate any reviews or feedback – questions, comments, concerns, and even criticism of any kind are all welcome. Again, feel free to visit our website (see the author's profile) if you'd like. I hope you've enjoyed the story so far, so until next time...