"Your words"
By KAndrw

Viktor was born to wealthy parents in one of planet Zi's affluent industrial areas. He grew up without hardship, and was the focus of tremendous love and gifts from his family. He spent his copious spare time piloting zoids in races and mock battles. When his parents died in a traffic accident, the life insurance and inheritance guaranteed that he would never, ever, need to work for the rest of his life.

I tell you this not to inspire jealousy, but to make it clear - when Viktor turned to a life of banditry, it was not out of necessity, nor even of greed. It was just a whim. A search for something to alleviate the tedium of his spoiled existence.

With the merest fraction of his wealth, he purchased an Arosaurer and, sparing no expense, outfitted it with an astounding array of offensive and defensive systems. Silver lattice criss-crossed the zoid's frame, a powerful but lightweight form of E-shield. Pulse cannons, discharger blades and missile pods were dotted all over, enabling Viktor to target enemies at any angle. Powerful ion boosters were mounted on the back, giving the zoid not only incredible speed, but also limited flight capabilities. He named the zoid Austerlitz.

Joining with a bandit king named Chartreuse, Viktor and Austerlitz contributed to a sweeping wave of crime that spread further and further from his home district. Chartreuse and his followers were ruthless and greedy, stealing whatever they could and leaving farmers and merchants with nothing. Penniless and starving, many turned to their aggressors for helping, pleading to join Chartreuse's brigade. Others crawled across the burning sands to the nearest towns, begging for aid from communities that were already stricken by poverty. Still others simply gave up, sitting quietly at the location they were robbed, dying alone.

Thanks to the tremendous power of Austerlitz, Viktor quickly rose through the ranks. His cruelty and malevolence developed in leaps and bounds, and he was soon leading raids as Chartreuse's second-in-command. As the brigands grew in power, they began attacking larger and larger targets. More and more, Viktor had opportunity to use Austerlitz' mighty armaments, destroying guard towers, Cannon Tortoises, Command Wolves and even Redhorns. At some point, he stopped differentiating between threats and harmless zoids, and embarked on a policy of targeting even Gustavs and Roadskippers for extermination.

The last battle that Viktor and Austerlitz ever fought as part of Chartreuse's gang was in Fifth Harvest, a small rural village at the edge of the Lowlands desert. As the sun rose, Viktor led a charge out of the desert and into the village. Against all expectation, a garrison of troops was stationed there. Viktor was delighted. He longed to test himself against seasoned soldiers, and to destroy them utterly. Charging Austerlitz' E-shield, he accelerated into the fray, deploying the discharger blades and slicing a swathe through the unsuspecting soldiers' Command Wolves. Gunning the port booster and swinging Austerlitz' tail to the right, Viktor threw the zoid into a leisurely slide, smashing through a storage building and coming to a halt facing back toward the enemy force. He launched a salvo of missiles, waiting a moment, then fired all of the front-facing pulse cannons. Still scrambling to understand what was happening, the Shield Liger pilots were unprepared for the simultaneous missile and cannon round bombardment, and many were immobilised before they could deploy their shields.

As the soldiers adapted to the situation, it looked for a moment as though they might turn the tide. In contrast to Austerlitz and Viktor, the other zoids and pilots in the bandit force were undergunned and untrained. Used to fighting a far weaker enemy, they had never learned tactics. Never learned how to fight together. Many were taken out by the superior maneuvers of the military pilots, and some were felled by panicked friendly fire. The garrison commander, Caralin, rallied his troops. Exploiting the enemy's inexperience and utilising the different strengths of the garrison's zoids, Caralin began systematically disabling the bandits' zoids. From his Command Wolf AT he barked commands, covering the Gunsnipers with Shield Liger barricades, flanking the aggressors with Command Wolves, and even bringing down the occasional enemy himself. Within minutes the outskirts of the town were littered with the carcasses of the bandits' zoids. Broken Molgas and Godoses, smoking Hellcats and Leoblazes.

Viktor watched with amusement. He had been right to hold back after the initial barrage. The other bandits would have spoilt the fight. It was better this way. He could have a lot more fun. With a roar he lit up Austerlitz' ion boosters and leapt into the middle of a group of Gunsnipers, crushing one as he landed, then immediately firing his Plasma Cannons at maximum yield for a full 360 degree kill-zone. The Shield Ligers forming what had been the line of defense for the vulnerable Gunsnipers scrambled to turn and face the lethal Arosaurer. Opening fire with every missile, cannon and beam gun between them, they scored many direct hits on Austerlitz, though several fell soon after to Austerlitz' missiles. As the smoke cleared Austerlitz was only reeling slightly, recovering not from damage, but from the kinetic energy dissipated easily by his shield lattice. Viktor was grinning like a maniac. This was more like it.

Dropping Austerlitz' head, deploying the discharger blades and charging the ion boosters, Viktor punched through the line of Shield Ligers, launching missiles backwards at those not disabled by the ferocious swords. As an afterthought, he sent a stream of cannon rounds off towards the Command Wolf AT circling the battlefield. Sliding sideways to avoid a regular Command Wolf's electron bite attack, Viktor braced himself, then threw Austerlitz in the other direction to bring his weight against the exposed Wolf and smashing its rear mechanics. Launching the remainder of Austerlitz' missiles, Viktor casually immobilised the remaining Command Wolves.

And then a sudden jolt! A smell of ozone in the cabin. A Command Wolf several hundred metres away had scored a lucky shot and slipped a shell through Austerlitz' shield lattice. Oh yeah. This was what it was all about. Viktor was going to make that pilot hurt! He swung his zoid around to face the Command Wolf and started to slowly advance. The Command Wolf was already badly damaged - both left legs were bent in horrible ways, with wiring exposed and slick with hydraulic fluid. The zoid could barely keep itself upright, but the pilot continued to pump rounds into Austerlitz. Of course, those rounds were totally ineffectual, now that Viktor could see where they were coming from.

Viktor drew the game out, slowly and ominously advancing on the Command Wolf as Austerlitz shrugged off the Wolf's shells. At last, scant metres away, he stopped and took careful aim with as many of his pulse cannons as could be brought to bear. He initiated a simultaneous overburst across all cannons, so that the pilot could see the guns charge up. The last thing that man would ever see would be the cannons glowing at full intensity. There was no need to rush.

But just before he was ready to end it, Austerlitz was thrown sideways by a sudden impact. It was Caralin in his Command Wolf AT. The AT cannons had been reduced to dripping slag by Viktor's attack and its jaw was hanging loose, but the Wolf itself was still able to move. With no other weapon available, Caralin had charged the much heavier Arosaurer in an attempt to knock it off balance. Against a less experienced pilot or a less technologically outfitted zoid, it might well have worked. But Viktor simply shifted Austerlitz' weight, recovered, then swung the tail back around into Caralin. The Wolf was so close that Viktor could see Caralin in the cockpit, could see his expression as the impact warped the metal of the cockpit and shattered the bones in his leg, then sent the zoid tumbling through the air. Bouncing and twisting, the Wolf slid down the street before coming to a mangled, burning stop. Viktor turned his attention back to his intended victim.

A distorted, impassioned plea cut through the airwaves:
"Kkkrkrrr - please! - kkrkrrkkr - ..top now bef... - kkrkkrrkrr - ldren!" screamed Caralin.

But Viktor would not so easily be swayed from his play. Finally he released the charge built up in the pulse cannons, and energy burst out towards the crippled Command Wolf. The pilot was killed instantly, of course, and most of the zoid was ripped apart by the titanic forces unleashed. The building behind was also demolished, crashing down into a burning heap of rubble and dead children.

It was a school.

Those men had given themselves to protect children.

Viktor. Had murdered. Children.

Hours later when military backup arrived, Viktor was still in the same place, staring at what he had done. He offered no resistance when he was pulled from the cockpit. He didn't say a word when he was beaten and kicked unconscious. And he entered no defence when he was charged for his crimes.

Viktor was rich enough that he easily could have bought his way free. As it was, even without initiating the corruption, Viktor got off lightly. The judge, keen to establish a rapport with one of the richest men on planet Zi, sentenced him to a mere five years in a medium security prison. Viktor served his time peacefully, every day thinking about what he'd done. After a few years of good behaviour he was released and given back custody of Austerlitz, and he did what he had decided he needed to do. He signed up with the ZDU - the Zi Defense Unit : a volunteer organisation dedicated to the protection of the citizens of planet Zi. In peacetime the ZDU worked in parallel with the planet's armies, but it was understood that if war broke out the ZDU would not be subject to any side, and that its sole responsibility was defend the civilian populace - both from criminals and from any misguided military action.

In Viktor's second week of training, he saw something that stopped him cold. Caralin. The commander had been decorated for his heroism in the battle of Fifth Harvest, but the damage from Austerlitz' tail strike had left him burned and severely crippled. His left leg had been completely replaced, and he had only minimal motor control throughout his left side. Unable to perform field duties and unwilling to take a desk job, Caralin had left the army and was serving as an instructor for the ZDU. He met Viktor's eyes once, but showed no emotion and merely continued taking the recruits through his lesson on tactical combination.

Afterwards Viktor approached the older man. He apologised from the bottom of his heart, explained how he had changed, how he had learned to acknowledge how evil his actions had been, and how he was now committed to atonement.

"Your words." said Caralin curtly. "They mean nothing."

Viktor didn't seen Caralin again for the remainder of training. He found out from other recruit that the former commander had moved to Fifth Harvest after retiring. Thinking about that made Viktor violently ill.

Once again, Viktor's skill as a pilot and Austerlitz' raw power meant quick promotion through the ZDU. Once again, he was soon leading his own platoon, patrolling and scouring the land. But this time he was keeping hope alive for people. The feeling was completely unlike the satisfaction he had drawn from his violent actions as a bandit, but at the same time totally the same. He felt like a monster, pretending to be a hero.

Several months after his promotion to platoon leader, Viktor's unit was patrolling an area of desert that had been the source of many disturbing rumours. A distress call came in that a nearby town was under attack. Viktor's blood froze at the name of the town - Fifth Harvest. Bile rose in his throat at the name of the suspected aggressor - Bandit King Chartreuse. He wasn't sure that he could do this.

But somebody had to! He screamed defiance to the winds and launched himself at full speed towards the town. His platoon, with the exception of the support Storm Sworders, were left way behind. There was no time to wait!

It was like a painting with the colours inverted. Once more Viktor threw Austerlitz into the fray, carving through the enemy with his discharger blades. But this time his cause was righteous, and his enemies were vile. And this time he had to be careful. This time he couldn't afford to smash through buildings to reach the enemy. He had to restrict his maneuvers to open places, and to try to draw the battle out of the town. Time and again, he was forced to break off a sure kill in order to engage an enemy that was threatening to damage the town. He directed the Storm Sworders to hold back, keeping out of range and only engaging opportunistically.

And Chartreuse had not been idle over the years Viktor was in prison. His forces had swollen, and his arsenal had developed considerably. While there were still plenty of Hellcats and Molgas, they were now supported by Elephanders, Saber Tigers and even a mighty Gojulas. From his vantage point in the Gojulas, Chartreuse smiled. Finally a chance to put that little upstart in his place. He'd never liked the little show-off. Stealing for fun? Not even he had ever been so pathetic. Leisurely flicking a switch, he lit up the sky with his zoid's buster cannons, blowing Viktor's support Storm Sworders to pieces. They thought they were out of range. Ha!

Chartreuse directed his troops to split their focus. Half were to attack the Arosaurer directly, and the other half were to focus on attacking the town. Civilian casualties would be the key to destroying Viktor. The townspeople were scrambling to escape, desperately fleeing in Roadskippers, cars or even on foot. Saber Tigers and Hellcats pursued them relentlessly, and were in turn pursued by Austerlitz. As the weapons from the Elephanders and Molgas pounded relentlessly against him, he was forced to ignore them and protect the civilians. He was fighting like he'd never fought before, weaving between the houses at maximum velocity, slicing and biting and shooting with unrivaled accuracy. Austerlitz' shield lattice was at critical risk of failure, but there was no time to strike back. Soaring over the monument standing where the school used to be, Viktor twisted Austerlitz' ion boosters in ways they were never meant to twist, spinning the zoid on multiple axes at impossible speed. Target, fire, re-target, fire, re-target, fire, multi-target, full salvo. He was winning! He was doing it.

The round from the buster cannon punched through the shield lattice, piercing deep into Austerlitz' zoid core, killing the brave zoid instantly. The metal corpse fell heavily to the ground, shattering the cockpit glass so that it rained down around Viktor. Into Viktor. He could taste his own blood and smell the burnt circuits of his dead zoid, and they were as the same. He could feel how broken his body was. There were things injured that could never heal.

Chartreuse stomped up in his Gojulas, indiscriminately destroying the buildings in his path. Opening the cockpit and taking a rifle from a rack behind him, he leaned out and called to Viktor. It was something about Viktor being an animal. It was hard to hear through ringing ears, but it seemed a fair assessment. Viktor looked up at his old boss, and watched as Chartreuse aimed for his head. There was a loud crack, and everything went dark.

And then everything went light again, as Caralin slumped down against Austerlitz' cockpit, a red bloom spreading across his chest. He had come from behind the monument and thrown himself in the way of the bullet. To save Viktor. The former soldier looked deep into Viktor's eyes:

"Your actions. They mean everything."

Anger and sorrow welled up in Viktor, filling every capillary, pushing against his skin. Then overflowing, erupting from his broken body into his dead zoid. Rage and anguish coursed through Austerlitz, welding fractures. Fury and agony arced across the zoid's frame, repairing hydraulics. As cables snaked from the cockpit and entered his body, Viktor knew what he was doing, knew what the cost would be, and accepted it without hesitation. Hope, repentence, love and righteousness cascaded into Austerlitz' shattered core, and the zoid staggered to its feet.

At a command from Chartreuse, the bandit army opened fire, peppering Austerlitz with everything it had. Cordite and ozone filled the air as violent explosions ripped across the Arosaurer, an ominous cloud of black smoke rising from the carnage. A silver glow from within the cloud. As the cloud dissipated, the bandits could not believe their eyes. No longer a lattice, the brilliant silver colour now covered Austerlitz completely, save for the shattered cockpit where Viktor sat burning with a deep red flame, apparently none the worse for the fire licking around his body.

The glowing zoid pounced, lancing through the air on beams of light to charge into an Elephander. The heavier zoid seemed momentarily to resist, then disintegrated as Austerlitz forced his way through. Banking steeply, Austerlitz turned to attack another Elephander, biting its neck and shearing off the head. Flipping over the back of the elephant zoid without releasing his hold on the neck, Austerlitz crashed down on top of a pair of Molgas, then swung the decapitated Elephander over and launched it towards a group of Hellcats. Jumping straight up as multiple rounds slammed into the spot he had been, Austerlitz paused in the air before releasing hundreds of tiny glowing motes from every surface. The tiny lights arced out in every direction before slamming down into the enemy zoids and sending them flying.

Finally, Austerlitz turned on Chartreuse's Gojulas, the only zoid left standing. Chartreuse was backing away nervously, babbling about forgiveness, mercy. For a moment it looked as though Austerlitz might have granted him leave, until the Gojulas' foot came down on a house. A house with a person at the window. A little girl.

Time stopped.

Austerlitz sprung forward towards the Gojulas, reaching the enemy zoid without crossing the intervening distance. He sliced through the Gojulas' torso without effort before turning on nothing and coming back, plunging down the zoid's leg to the house. As Austerlitz moved through the Gojulas leg, the offending matter simply boiled into gas, spraying out in every direction. Austerlitz reached the roof of the house, kicked off it like he weighed nothing and punched back upwards, carving the Gojulas into tiny pieces with his whirring, glowing discharger blades as he rocketed towards the cockpit and the terrified Chartreuse...

Time resumed.

The eviscerated Gojulas tumbled sideways to the ground. The house, while damaged and sporting an enormous footprint in the roof, remained standing. Austerlitz, still silver but no longer glowing, lay in the middle of the square, next to the monument and Caralin's body. Chartreuse, screaming, was held tightly but gently in Austerlitz' blades. Viktor was nowhere - there was just a mess of cables in Austerlitz' cockpit where he used to be.

That's the scene that greeted Viktor's platoon when they rolled into the town. Austerlitz was dormant again, and the people of the town (all present and alive with the exception of Caralin) were pelting Chartreuse with rocks. Chartreuse was taken into custody by the ZDU, and after being judged unfit for prison, institutionalised for the remainder of his life.

The town of Fifth Harvest buried Austerlitz where he had come to rest, next to the monument commemorating the school he had once destroyed. And deep within the silver zoid, inside its silver zoid core, something grew.