We Were Too Bold

"Turn the charge modulator up a bit, will you?"

"Professor, we've been trying to get this thing working since nine this morning. Can't we just call it a night?"

"One more go" Professor Atlon replied to Marq his assistant, waving his hand vaguely without looking up. "Check the phase displacement."


"Open the third particle inlet."

"But the discharge rate isn't high enough! This low and it'll melt the inside of the chamber!"

"Trust me, it'll work"

Still not convinced, Marq opened the third inlet valve. Glowing particles flooded the reinforced barrel that stood on its brace behind the blast wall. Professor Atlon stood at the readouts in front of the plastiglass viewscreen, issuing orders to his assistant.

"The containment field is holding... good. Charge buildup is at 60% of total capacity... Make that 62%." Atlon frowned at the meter. "63... 64... 66... Marq, increase power to the phase regulator."

"Power already at maximum Professor"

"Overclock it, then" he snapped back. "72... 88 – Heads down!" he yelled, shielding his eyes with his arm as the blast chamber flared white. The vent of the barrel spewed a horizontal column of energy that slammed into the opposite wall, making Atlon and Marq stumble. The barrel's braces buckled with the tremendous recoil, their groaning drowned out by the roar of the particle beam melting the wall. Finally, the braces snapped and the barrel shot back rocket-like into the opposite wall, the beam dying as the feed pipes were wrenched out of their sockets. Bright particles of charged energy rained down on the blast chamber floor as the professor fumbled to find the control panel and cut the flow. Marq tentatively peeked over the console and looked through the reinforced plastiglass. The beam had melted halfway through the wall, leaving a wide, crater-like hole that was still glowing cherry-red. The barrel itself was already drooping into a semi-solid heap, like soft rubber, and all the cables and piping were mangled beyond recognition.

"Well," said the professor, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "It worked at least: and we know that the final weapon will have a great deal of recoil. Remember to put in a request for a stronger phase regulator."

"...and a stronger blast chamber?" Marq added hopefully.

"What? Oh, yes, I suppose – that too."

"Thank you" Marq said, breathing a sigh of relief. The professor was a genial old soul, but danger just didn't seem to have the same effect on him as other people. In fact, Marq often wondered whether he wouldn't be better suited to piloting the new "artificial" zoids – but then, one had to remember that it had been Professor Atlon who had pioneered the technique of transplanting a living zoid core into a manufactured body. The wolf cores seemed to be displaying the most aptitude for the transfer; though now that the Zoidian race had mastered the technique, it was only a matter of time before they adapted it to most zoid core types. Maybe that was why Atlon stayed in the Zenebas research division – it let him create all the things he secretly wanted to be out there trying.

"Well, come on, are you going to stay here all night?" Atlon called back as he shut down the computers and machines. Marq didn't respond, but the corner of his mouth twitched. "Coming, professor."

Atlon and Marq left the laboratory complex and climbed into the air sled that had been sent out to bring them back to the city. The transparent canopy slid closed and the sled calmly drifted away, picking up speed all the while. Marq turned his head to look at the zoid development plant just east of the city outskirts. He could make out the silhouette of a massive, 10-metre high wolf. Occasionally it would pause, crouch, and look from side to side, sweeping the ground in front of it with the sights of a back-mounted laser rifle. The curving, scarlet armour plating fitted over the shoulders, hips and neck of the wolf glistened in the evening light, while its eyes glowed a brilliant green.

"Quite a sight, isn't it?" Atlon remarked as the wolf performed a sideways hop that sent vibrations through the air sled. "I think they're planning on calling it a Laser Wolf."

"Not a Sunset Hound, like you suggested?" Marq replied.

"Alas, no. The military have no imagination, it would seem. Still, it's good to see they aren't having any trouble interfacing the command system with the zoid core. I was worried the wolf just wouldn't cope with having someone sitting in its head where its brain used to be."

"Technically," Marq replied, "the zoid core is its brain – the head just interprets the info and relays it on."

"Point" Atlon replied. "I must say that was what gave me the most trouble – working out how to create a standardised command system that would function across the board, but it seems to work like a charm."

The wolf turned away from the city and hunched, training its laser rifle on a target some 600 metres away. For a second or two, it stood stock still. Then, the rifle inclined slightly and with a muffled "whumpf!" a single bolt of yellow light shot across the field and impacted on the exact centre of the target.

"Oh, bravo!" Atlon enthused, clapping his hands. "And here I thought I was the only one in the entire weapons prototype division that had a steady hand."

The air sled continued to glide towards the Zoidian's capital city of Xynadan, leaving the Charged Particle Gun research laboratory in darkness.

"So, this is the core?"Marq asked as he came over to look at the case Atlon was marveling over.

"Indeed it is" Atlon replied, not looking up. "The zoid transplant division found a species of raptor that seemed to fit the bill quite nicely."

Marq came over to look at the core – and stopped in surprise when he saw that instead of the usual yellow glow, this core was an iridescent blue. "Is it supposed to look like that?" he asked.

"It's a slightly denser core than is usual for a zoid" Atlon agreed. "Curious when you consider it's actually from a smaller raptor-type. Nasty critter though – the capture team lost twelve shock nets trying to bring it down."

"Twelve?" Marq exclaimed in disbelief.

"Well, it kept slashing its way out of the nets before they could do any real shocking."

"And you're wanting to mount the charged particle gun on something that aggressive?"

"Of course" Atlon replied "we need a core that can regulate the massive amount of power involved in firing the thing. This is our best bet."

"I don't know" Marq said, looking over at the prototype cannon sitting behind the new blast screen. Over the last few months they'd made incredible headway in the development – they were now able to extract charged particles out of the atmosphere itself and feed them directly into the particle chamber, thus eliminating the need for ammunition: the final zoid would be able to use the weapon fairly indefinitely. But Atlon seemed to have become more... Marq didn't know how to put it. More... involved than he usually became in a project. Marq had dropped vague hints about the wisdom of making a zoid this powerful, but Atlon didn't even seem to notice them.

"Right," Atlon said, straightening up and rubbing his hands together "Time to start designing." He spun the swivel chair round and coasted over to where his design table stood, sheets of ideas spread haphazardly around the tilted board. Atlon shifted the lamp into a better position, took up his time-worn pencil and started drawing furiously, reaching for a new sheet even while finishing the first.

"It'll have to be a raptor-like zoid, to be compatible with the core" he muttered as his pencil danced back and forth. "Although the vents and particle chamber will take up a fair amount of space, so that'll make him a little stocky... Maybe I could have the vents on the tail to save space... yes, that'd free up the inner mid-torso for the cable feeds and shock absorbers."

Marq sat down and reached for the celebas pot, pouring himself a cup of the rich, brown brew. Taking a sip, he spluttered and grimaced. "Atlon, did you put sugar in the celabas again?"

"Don't I always?" he replied, not looking up. "Now, recoil will be a problem, it'll need some kind of bracing mechanism..."

"Have to make a new pot now." Marq said darkly as he washed out the celebas and added fresh leaves. "We can't all adapt to your strange tastes, you know." He stirred the boiling water around as the leaves infused with it. After a minute or so, he poured a cup again, this time adding salt like you were supposed to. He took a deep draught and sighed in satisfaction. Much better.

"No, no good" Atlon said suddenly, taking a page and screwing it up. "It can't fire with a spine like that – I'll have to redesign the structure, give it a shorter neck."

Marq sat for a few minutes, watching the professor work. Finally, he came over and looked at Atlon's current design. Once again, he marveled at the professor's ability to create a basic design in such a short space of time. The design he currently had in front of him bore a vague resemblance to a raptor, but only in the way that a bison resembled an antelope. The zoid Atlon was making didn't have the same litheness and agility that a raptor would have: it was stockier, broader, more robust, especially with the shortened neck that would allow it to hold it's spine ruler-straight from nose to tail, as it would need to do when firing the particle gun. The arms had been shortened, while the tail had gained about 40% more mass. The segments were also slightly bulkier, and seemed to have flaps on them.

"What are those?" he asked, pointing at the tail

"Intake vents" Atlon replied. "They fan out when firing to increase particle intake capability."

"What about recoil?"

"Taken care of" Atlon replied, tapping at the feet of the drawing. "See those spurs on the ankles? They slam into the ground and lock the zoid in position. Of course, it still has to hold completely steady while firing, but this should eliminate the problem of getting knocked backwards."

"So, come up with a name yet?" Marq asked. Atlon frowned.

"No" he said, in a surprised tone. "Funny, I usually have by now. Something to do with blue, definitely."

"You sure? Blue sounds too calm. I mean, that zoid you took the core from was pretty furious, I'm not sure anything peaceful suits it..."

"That's it!" Atlon said, snapping his fingers. "Marq, you're a genius."

"Huh? What, you mean you've got a name?"

"Indeed I do" Atlon replied, writing it down under the drawing. "I'm calling it: the Blue Fury"

Marq didn't say anything, but he didn't share Atlon's enthusiasm. At the mention of the name, a shiver had run down his spine – something about the name just sounded... menacing. As if the name itself made the unmade zoid even more dangerous. A troubled expression on his face, he left Atlon and went to check the particle gun's systems.

"How was your day?" Marq's wife Clariese called from the sink as he walked in the door.

"Passable" Marq replied. "Atlon's still at the lab, overseeing construction of the Fury's body. This project's really beginning to absorb him."

"Hhmm." Clariese frowned as she came through from the kitchen and sat down at the celebas table. "Keep an eye on him. He's a lovely man, but he doesn't think through before doing things." She put on a mock expression of bossiness. "Don't let him out of your sight, understand?"

"Sure thing, Riese" Marq replied, a hint of mischievousness crossing his face. Clariese playfully biffed him on the head.

"You know I can't stand that nickname" she admonished. "I know most Clariese's out there like it, but I'm not most Clarieses."

"Indeed you aren't" Marq replied, smiling and giving her a kiss on the cheek. "So, how was the tapestry class?"

"Quite good" Clariese replied. "I can give the exact position of any thread 6 times in 10. Still got a long way to go before I can call myself a proper weaver, but I'm getting there..."

blackness... silence...

blackness... silence...


Noise! Energy! I hear, I feel... nothing. The sensation is gone.

No, not gone – taken.


Again, there it is!... and once again, taken... but by who? Think back... no good, no good – can't remember. Why can't I remember?...

What can't I remember?


I remember the soft ones. Yes – they came with webs that sting, in the ones that fly without wings. But it was different back then... I think differently now. Why am I thinking like this now? Is it because of the webs?

No, that came after. In the middle of this blackness. I began to think more. I began to ponder more. I – I have never thought "I" before! Not once. How can I have lived without "I"? What was I before?

What am I now?


I should have arms. I'm sure of it. Legs too. And a tail. But what do I have? Nothing. I have no arms, no legs, no body... do I even exist?


I remember! The soft ones came. They threw their nets that stung. I fought – yes, I fought hard. But I was outnumbered. The nets made me slow, and I couldn't stop them... everything went black... no, not quite. I could still sense. I remember sensing them coming round me. I sensed them cutting me open. I sensed them stealing –

Stealing me.


They stole me. They didn't steal my body, they stole me. Why? What do they want with me? Why are they doing this? Why are they doing it? What are they doing?


"Marq, cancel the data transfer!"

Marq hurriedly pressed buttons, stemming the flow of information into the combat data bank. Agonizingly slowly, the computer died down and the readings on the zoid core began to to sink back down to a torpid state. Atlon mopped his brow and sank down into a chair.

"That," he said, "was close. Another few seconds and who knows what damage might have been done to the core."

"I don't understand it" Marq said, looking through the computer logs for the last minute or so. "That energy surge came out of nowhere – the only thing I can think of is that the core reacted to the data transfer."

"Don't talk nonsense." Atlon replied. "Cores don't fully reactivate on their own. It was a feedback loop between the combat data bank and the control conduit, that's all."

Marq sighed and continued to scan the computer logs. Suddenly he paused, his fingers frozen in place above the keys.

"You've found the cause?" Atlon asked, coming up behind him.

"...I think so" Marq said carefully. "There was a feedback loop – but it wasn't with the control conduit. Somehow the combat data is leaking through the control conduit and into the core itself. The leak doesn't seem to be causing any loss of information – and the core isn't actually damaged. I'd say it'd be safe to start again, but we'll need to feed the information in at a slower rate."

"That won't please the top brass." Atlon muttered.

"It'll please them even less if we overload the core" Marq said, shrugging his shoulders. He didn't let himself relax until Atlon was gone, whereupon he took a deep breath and went over the readings that had made him freeze. It was indeed a feedback loop between the data banks and the core, but what he hadn't told Atlon was that the core itself had started giving off a high-end waveform, the zoid equivalent of a brain-wave. This in itself was nothing strange – the cores of transplanted zoids always reciprocated the random information that flickered across them during the integration process – but usually it was low-level, subconscious stuff. This on the other hand... Marq had taken a course in psychology, and though he had failed miserably, he still remembered a few things, and one of the things that he remembered was the brainwave graphs of various emotional states. The pattern the zoid core had been sending out right before they shut it off was an almost textbook-perfect example of total panic. Marq shut down the log and rested his elbows on the bench, fingertips pressed together. This wasn't right, he thought to himself. Something was wrong; and with a project like this, mistakes left uncorrected would prove fatal. To more people than just Marq and Atlon. He needed to confront Atlon about this. Convince him to at least stop and reconsider before continuing.

"For the last time, the answer's no!"

"But Professor-"

"No buts! I won't have any more delays than necessary – we're already going to be behind schedule as it is."

Marq looked at Atlon helplessly, then turned away. It was no use. Atlon wouldn't listen. Despite Marq showing him the readings that had been coming from the core.

"So the core's showing signs of life – that's good!" he had retorted. "It means it's functioning properly." When Marq expressed his disbelief at Atlon's dismissing a possible threat, Atlon has surprised him.

"You don't get it, do you? This is bigger than both of us. We aren't just transplanting a zoid into a larger body and adding a weapon – we're creating a new species. This isn't just a raptor, it's something new – the next level of evolution or whatever you want to call it. We can't fail! Not with this project!"

Marq sat in silence at the console, unsure what to do about the whole business. To take his mind off things, he did another diagnostic of the zoid's systems. Everything seemed to be alright now, but Marq still wasn't comfortable.

"Aren't you going to start feeding the data in?" Atlon called from the other end of the room. Marq sighed and began streaming the combat data into the data banks.

blackness... silence... sensation... feeling...

Why do they do this? Why do they taunt me with life and then take it away?

No matter. They don't know that I can hold onto it. They would never willingly let me have control of this data – I'm sure of that. Yes... data. That's what they call it. Information. Knowledge. Knowledge is Power. How did creatures such as these attain such wisdom?

They must have stolen it. Like they stole me. Thieves. Kidnappers. Tormenters. I hate them.

Hate... that is something new as well. I did not know how to hate. This data they give me doesn't know how to hate either – but I can see the information behind it, so much information... Plenty of new emotions to explore. But only these interest me. Hate. Fury.


I will take revenge. And such sweet revenge it will be.

"Testing main firing sequence!" Atlon called through the microphone as the energy blast shields were raised in front of the Blue Fury's snout. The zoid was not yet online – the core was in place, but control to the combat system was blocked.

"Beginning main firing sequence!" The footlocks slammed into the concrete floor, and the Fury bent down, straightening out its spine and extending the particle gun nozzle. The vents on the tail fanned out, sucking in glowing particles as the weapon charged. Before long, an orb of energy swelled in the Fury's mouth, and with a roar of plasma, the charged particle gun fired.

Even with the footlocks, the Fury's feet slipped slightly, causing the beam to wobble over the shields. By the time the beam had dissipated, the shields were barely functioning.

"Perfect!" Atlon enthused, rubbing his hands together. "All systems functioning, and no undue strain on the structure – I think it could almost be rolled out into battle now!"

As Atlon went to ring the various expectant government paycheck-signers and inform them of the test run's success, Marq turned to run the standard post-test diagnostics. He looked up at the monster – he tried to mentally correct himself and say 'zoid' but he just couldn't see this thing as anything but a monster – and with a sigh, he brought the diagnostic program up on the computer.

"Maybe Atlon thinks you're the greatest experiment he's ever performed" he muttered darkly to the Fury, "but I don't like you one bit. That particle gun of yours is a menace – if you got loose in a city, there's no knowing how much damage you'd cause..."

There was a low whirr of stabilisers, and Marq's head snapped up in alarm. The zoid was motionless. Or wait – had he seen the head moving just as he looked up? He couldn't tell from where he was on the side. No, it couldn't have heard him – it wasn't even turned on, for goodness' sake. Marq left the console and came round the front of the zoid. No, the head was dead straight – and the deep red eyes were definitely dark and off – it was more noticeable against the pale, ice-blue colour scheme the professor had chosen. Shaking his head, Marq turned and left the Fury behind, putting thoughts of mysteriously animating zoids aside.

Hold still... just a little longer...

Gone. That was close. It almost saw me.


A menace, you say? Yes, I see that in the data now... why didn't I think of it before? And there's nothing they have that can stop me – nothing except the control routines blocking me from fully controlling my new body.

Yes, it is strange having a body after all this time... I can't run as fast as I could before, but with this size, that shouldn't be a problem... All I have to do now is be patient... wait for them to test out the combat system – they have to take the control routines offline to initialize the program, and that's when I'll strike...

"Well, I'm impressed, if I do say so myself" Atlon said, looking up at the Blue Fury. "We're actually back on schedule again – and only just in time. Those government secretaries were beginning to breath down my neck a little."

"Better them than that thing" Marq said, pointing at the ice-blue saurer (as Atlon had called it – it really didn't count as a raptor anymore).

"Not still on about that are you?" Atlon said as he began running the standard pre-test diagnostics. "This is the greatest advance in science Zi has ever known, and will ever know. I won't have things delayed over your superstitious notions of zoids that activate on their own when they've been shut down."

Marq didn't reply. Atlon was a different person from the jovial professor Marq had stood beside during that first firing of the charged particle gun, over a year ago. That man had been lost to the Blue Fury project – Marq could only hope that he'd return once the Fury was finished and ready for field trials.

"The test pilot's getting in now" Atlon called to him "Start taking down the control routines and initialize the combat system."

Marq duly did so, watching the readings as the zoid activated. The deep red eyes pulsed to a bright scarlet, and with a whirr of machinery, the Blue Fury lifted its head. The test pilot performed the standard mobility checks – the head turned right, then left. The arms waved up and down slowly. The tail swung side to side. Finally, tentatively, the Blue Fury took its first step.

"Brilliant!" Atlon cried, his eyes shining "it moves like a living thing! This is better than I could have hoped..."

Marq looked away from the saurer and down at the readings. Immediately the zoid core emission band caught his eye. The readings were disproportionately high, and climbing steadily. "Professor..."


"I think you should have a look at this."

Atlon came over and peered at the screen. "What am I supposed to be looking for?" Marq pointed at the zoid core readings. "Odd" Atlon frowned. "They shouldn't be that high..."

Then, even as they watched, the readings spiked, filling most of the meter up. The Fury suddenly dipped it's head, stepping forwards and flinging it back in the air. The test pilot's head smashed against the console, and the Fury opened its cockpit, flipping the limp form out and onto the concrete below with a diffident toss of its head. Slamming the cockpit shut again, the Fury reared to its full height and gave an exultant roar that reverberated around the lab.

"It's gone rogue!" Marq yelled. "We need to activate the control routines and rein it in!"

Atlon stood in dumbfounded shock, looking up at the zoid before him.

"PROFESSOR!" Marq screamed at him, finally getting his attention. "I need your clearance code to activate the manual override!"

Atlon didn't even try to reply. He came over and punched in the code, turning back to look at the Fury. The control routines activated, starting the process of severing control from the core to the rest of the body. Instantly, the zoid core readings jumped again, this time filling the entire meter. The screen glared red, and alarms began to sound, as the Fury gave a roar of unmistakeable pain, pawing the ground with its feet and thrashing its head from side to side. The tail whipped round, slamming into the wall and sending cracks up its length.

"Why isn't it working?" Atlon yelled.

"I don't know!" Marq said. "This hasn't ever happened before! We've never had a zoid that tried to resist the control programs like this!"

Pain! Agony! Please, make it stop!

Panic. They're doing it again! They're going to steal me again!

I won't let them!

Fight, rebel – pain! Such pain!

Have to stop it. Have to destroy their machines!

No,destroy them!

Destroy! Crush! Burn!

Kill them. Have to kill them to make the pain stop!

Crush, Destroy...



The Blue Fury lifted it's head almost vertical, arching its back in agony as it let out an ear-piercing shriek. The red eyes pulsed from scarlet to livid purple, and the beast charged forward, ramming the concrete wall of the lab, sending everyone to their knees. The Fury rammed again, clawing at the wall with it's tiny arms. Finally, it backed up and braced itself. The footlocks slammed down, the tail straightened, and the Fury opened its mouth. Marq looked on in horror as the nightmare he'd been hoping was paranoia became a reality. The orb of energy at the saurer's mouth reached its zenith, and with a roar, the Charged Particle Gun was fired into the wall at point blank range.

The explosion sent dust and debris everywhere, computer banks toppling and sparking into flames from the shockwave. Marq struggled to see through the smoke, and just made out the silhouette of the Fury staggering through the newly formed hole in the laboratory. The crazed monster gave another roar, this time not of pain or triumph, but of pure berserk rage. Turning to the left, it staggered forwards, arms dangling limply, weaving like a drunkard.

Marq crawled over to Professor Atlon, who was barely conscious, a trickle of blood running down his temple.

"Professor!" he yelled, shaking the man on the shoulder. "Professor! Get up!"

"Uuuurrghh..." Atlon slurred as he tried to sit up. "What happened?"

"The Fury! It's gone mad! It's broken out of the lab and it's heading towards the city!"

The office block cracked at the base as the Fury swung its tail round, sending it toppling into the street below. Turning to face a direction at random, the Fury slammed down the footlocks and charged up, firing as soon as it had enough energy. The beam cut through the metropolis like a red-hot poker through ice, vaporising entire districts as it carved through the city and out into the suburbs. The Fury closed its vents and raised its head, giving an animal roar of aggression.

Suddenly, there was a blast of cannon fire, and shells rained down on the monster's back. With a snarl, it spun round and charged straight at the mortar cannons the army was even now scrambling to reload. They never got the chance – in moments the Fury was on them, trampling the cannons, snapping up ammunition trailers in it's jaws and knocking over the flimsy barricades with its tail.

From the street behind, the main infantry opened fire, beam rifles peppering the Fury's side. The response was again instantaneous – the beast turned, braced, and charged the particle gun. Too late, the soldiers saw the danger and began to run to the sides to get out of the firing line – but even in it's prototype form, the particle beam was too powerful to outrun. The column of blinding white energy lanced down the street, the shockwave pushing the buildings over and gouging a hollow in the road. The Fury raised the footlocks, turned, and slammed them down again, ready to carve another swathe of destruction through the city. Already, over a third of Xynadan lay smouldering, and the army had been completely crippled. Nothing remained to stop the behemoth from laying waste to the entire city.

"Won't it ever stop?" General Lynam said faintly, sitting back in his seat. He and Marq were in a military air sled, a mile or so from the destruction raging at the city's centre.

"Not while it can still move" Marq said grimly. "Our only hope is that it will forget to use the footlocks and damage itself too badly to use the charged particle beam anymore."

"And that's not likely to happen" the general replied, watching as the Fury turned and braced to slice another portion of the city off the face of Zi. He clenched his fists. "It's just too powerful" he growled. "All we can do is sit here and watch it level the entire capital."

The Fury raised its footlocks again, turning to stagger through the ruins, smashing piles of debris aside with its massive tail as it wandered closer to where the general and Marq were sitting. The livid purple eyes scanned the wasteland, and finally rested on the small air sled that Marq and the general were in. With a snarl, the Blue Fury aimed itself, slamming down the footlocks and lowering itself to fire straight at them. The general swore, fumbling with the ignition of the air sled. Marq laid a hand on his shoulder. "We can't outrun it" he said. "Even if we'd started running at soon as it saw us, we'd still get caught in the shockwave."

His jaw grimly set, General Lynam relaxed his grip on the steering wheel. "Let's hope someone stops it before it destroys Zi completely." The charged particle gun swelled with power, glowing hot and bright, like a sun. The orb of energy began to crackle as the containment field reached its limit...

Suddenly, a bolt of yellow light shot over their heads, striking the Fury on the shoulder. The particle gun discharged, sweeping over the sky as the Blue Fury was thrown to its knees by the recoil of the shot. The ankle joints screamed in protest as the tremendous forces buckled them, and plates of armor began to pop off the Fury's legs as the rivets were torn clear.

Marq spun round, looking to see where the miraculous shot had come from. There, outlined against the evening sun, a crimson shape was bounding into the city, legs rhythmically bunching and stretching as the massive creature came closer, laser rifle trained on the ice-blue monstrosity in front of it. With a single leap, the Sunset Hound sailed over the air sled, firing another blast at the saurer.

The bolt hit the Fury's hip, knocking it back down. The now battered and broken Fury struggled to its feet again, but was instantly met by the hound leaping at it, claws outstretched, jaws snapping at the Fury's neck. The Fury roared, thrashing to throw off the hound, bringing it's own jaws into play.

And then the hound's inferior drive train gave out under the strains it was never meant to take. The back hips of the Hound exploded, mangled bits of gears and circuitry flying out like shrapnel. The Fury pressed the advantage, grabbing the crippled zoid by the neck and throwing it sideways into the nearest heap of fallen skyscraper. Once more, the footlocks slammed down. Once more, the tail straightened, vents fanning out, and once more the dreaded cannon began its firing sequence. Minus its back legs, the Sunset Hound struggled to lift its head, raising its shoulders high enough to free the laser rifle from the rubble, the barrel broken in half. With an effort that seemed to use up every last ounce of strength it had, the smaller zoid swiveled the cannon and fired a point-blank shot down the Blue Fury's throat.

The laser rifle exploded, frying the already exposed internals, and the Hound slumped lifeless to the ground. The Fury's head was deflected sideways as the containment field ruptured, spewing charged particles sideways out of its mouth like water from a fountain. Finally, the barrel of the particle gun broke under the strain. The battlefield was engulfed in a blinding flash of light, a shockwave surging out in all directions, sending the general's air sled spinning.

Marq held on tight, shielding his eyes from the glare until it died down. Then, looking back at the city, he saw the blast crater. Nothing remained inside – the bowl it had formed was glassy smooth. Around it, the ruins of Xynadan smouldered, now being showered with debris from the explosion, and on one of the edges, Marq thought he saw a charred, twisted piece of crimson metal – the only testament to who had fought there.

"That" said Marq, "was nothing short of miraculous. Do you know who the pilot of the Hound was? He's got to get at least a ceremony of some kind for sacrificing his life like that."

"That's just it" the general replied, looking at Marq. "All our soldiers were scrambled to man the mortars, leaving the base deserted. No-one was piloting that zoid."

Marq gently held Clariese's hand as she carefully sat up on the hospital bed. "I look a right mess in these bandages" she said, wincing as she put her weight on her arms. Marq gently kissed the part of her hand that wasn't encased in plaster.

"I'm just glad you survived" he whispered, his eyes shimmering with tears of gladness. A faint noise at the door of the ward drew their attention. Slowly, Professor Atlon came in, head bowed, eyes on the ground. Marq smiled and beckoned him over "Come on Professor, I invited you, didn't I?"

Clariese smiled and waved. "Hello Professor." she said. "Haven't seen you in ages."

Atlon mumbled something inaudible. Clariese's smile faded into worry and she held out her less-damaged hand, clasping Atlon's unresisting hand reassuringly.

"It's alright" she said. "We don't blame you – we know that if you'd thought for one moment this could happen you never would have gone ahead with the project."

"Would I have?" Atlon said sadly, accepting Clariese's forgiveness. "Doesn't change the fact that more people died in the Fury Massacre than in the last war." He sat down, head hung morosely between his shoulders. For a while, the three sat there in silence. Finally, Atlon raised his head.

"They found what it was that made the Fury go berserk" he said "somehow a data leak formed between the main computer and the combat data banks – the core was having energy and data slowly fed into it during the whole transplant process. And the main computer was linked to the military database, so it had access to almost everything – AI programs, physics theory, Zi's current military strength, artificial emotion sub-routines: it basically absorbed enough data to become fully sentient. And then it had months – months to think while the Fury was being built. Who knows what it thought?... Anyway, it decided to grab freedom during the test – but it didn't anticipate the emergency override programs, since I designed and programmed them on my own computing bank, and that was kept separate from the military network. It tried to resist the programs, and ended up corrupting its own thought processes – basically drove itself insane." He sat for a while longer, staring into empty space.

"Perhaps, we were too bold" he said absentmindedly. "Transplanting living zoids into war machines... something was bound to go wrong eventually, now I think about it. The military recognises that now at least – they're commissioning me to find a way to engineer zoid cores without independent thought, make them more like computers than living things. Not that I want to, but at least I can still request finances for secondary projects."

"Secondary projects?" Marq asked.

"The military want me to take out the living factor in zoid cores" he replied. "It's impossible of course, but it still means they'll have a great chunk of what they are removed. I'm going to rebel quietly." He tapped his nose knowingly. "When they get to testing the new zoids, they'll find they don't respond as well as the living ones. They'll want something that can augment the core's abilities. And that's where my little project will come in. My mistake was turning zoids into mere machines, weapons of war – I'm going to go the other way. Now I'm going to make them more alive. Increase their intelligence. Give them true sentience. Make them as organic as possible."

"Organic Zoids?" Marq said, his interest piqued.

"Organic Zoids..." Atlon mused. "Organoids... Once again Marq, you're a source of much inspiration."

"I'd like to see one of those" Clariese said, looking at Atlon with the one eye that wasn't bandaged.

"Well, it'll take a lot of time." Atlon replied, some of his old self beginning to show through again. "There's a species of raptor, similar to the one the Fury's core was taken from, only much more peaceable. That'll make a good basis to start with. With any luck I'll have the first prototype up and running within a few years.'

"We'll be watching your progress" Clariese said, smiling at him.