V

It was Brad's dispassion that aided Luke, while Bit went into hysterics at the very thought.

The Zoids's--Command Wolf's--controls were simply logical, though numerous. It showed none of the intellect of Bit's precious Liger Zero, only greater droid-like empathy due to the fluidly animal characteristics. In the ride up the HoverCargo's turbolift Luke centered himself in the Force and the machine's cockpit just as before any space battle.

The Zoids fight was held four enemy units against Blitz Team's four, lasting until all of one team was eliminated as determined by the judge, a droid. Repair for the giant machines came easily with winning credits; much of the sparsely populated (compared to Core worlds, at least) planet's industry was interested in Zoids manufacture and repair. The Jedi had desperately wanted this experience, as he had not wanting something new in quite a while.

The two teams faced each other for a moment; Luke, Bit, Dax, Leena and their opponents with the Zoids two yellow Zaber Fangs, a Redler, and a hulking Gordos. The droids judge shouted its readiness.

Luke's starting position set him across from a Zaber Tiger, and as son as the 'fight' command released them it charged toward him. With lightsaber-combat strategy and reflex he stepped Brad's Zoid unit aside and stitched a line of damage across the enemy's flank with the bulky double laser cannon. (Laser technology seemed to be a single place where the world Zi fell inferior to galactic average, and some Zoids including Leena's used slugthrower projectiles.) The heavy animal-machine stopped in his view as sparks and smoke rained up from it.

Then it burst out again, quicker than physics shoulder permit, and slammed its thick feline head into the Command Wolf's neck. Luke's controls at this proximity switched for close combat tactics, and as he searched the cockpit for the correct sequence the Zaber Fang's weight pressed on his less massive unit, its head maneuvering to bite something essential. Luke found the charged bite of the Command Wolf and activated it--another Zaber Fang stepped out from behind a spire of rock. Leena's Gun Sniper emerged from another rock obstruction beside it, head lowered, and unloaded swarms of missile, slugthrower bullets, and flak at it. It was engulfed in smoke, and Luke's opponent stepped back a few paces from both Blitz team units.

Luke's Command Wolf leapt forward and du its electricity-laced teeth into the Zaber Fang's neck workings just behind the armored headpiece. The Zaber's huge legs collapsed; the cockpit went darker.

Luke pressed their holocomm connection's toggle. "Thanks, Leena."

"No problem!" She laughed wildly, and the Gun Sniper stalked off.

In the sky the two Redlers clattered their small guns at one another and twisted, dove, reversed; dogfighting with each other and gravity. Bit had already taken out some of the reptilian Gordos' systems, and Luke urged his Zoid toward them, glorying in the ground it covered. I could get into this, he thought, and smiled.

In an open area of deserted land the bronze Gordos swung its thick tail toward Bit's crouching Zoid. Liger Zero jumped the tail, skidded to the Gordos' other side, and fired at it from under Liger's roaring mouth. Shots rocked the Gordos but it remained active.

The Command Wolf's subsystems' triumphant howl and roar from elsewhere as Leena fired at the tumbling enemy Redler filled Luke's ears next to the full, lonely awareness of the Force. The Gordos pilot momentarily turned his attention to Luke, rapidly aiming a sputtering shoulder cannon as it also turned to again swipe the Liger with its tail. Luke pumped his cannons toward the front feet and the ground below the cockpit--Liger Zero rose into the air and came down, over the Gordos with its squared claws growing yellow with electricity. It gouged sideways and stumbled on the landing but regained its footing and stood--while the Gordos lay damaged, upraised plates and machinery-viscera of the back lying torn beside Liger Zero and Bit.

Dax's Redler landed securely behind Luke. The droid judge announced the Blitz Team's success.