The Miracle of New Century Zero
. . .
Four huge beams. Bright. Powerful. Deadly.
Ehga had screamed his insane battle cry, the Ultrasaurus' massive Supercannons had pinwheeled forward, and he'd fired a wall of light.
It stretched from his left to his right like a massive scythe, and Bit's stomach flipped.
The Schneider bolted forward and rolled, just barely sliding underneath the wave of energy. As he did, a panel on the Ultrasaurus' chest slid open—a missile pod—and eight of its missiles flew at him. Not even a second to breathe, Bit activated the boosters and fled left. They landed just behind his feet and the smoke blew past him.
Ehga taunted him in a voice mixed with blind joy and battle fury. "Run. Run, coward! It won't save you!"
Another missile pod, this on the leg of the Ultrasaurus, opened and fired. Six missiles launched wildly. Ehga had likely not locked on before releasing them, and because of it they ballooned around Bit, trapping him in a net of incoming fire.
"You're both going to burn."
Bit flicked a blade connected to the Schneider's mane and knocked the closest missile aside. It made the sharp clink of metal hitting metal, and the missile wobbled a few feet away before exploding. It knocked him back, teeth ringing.
"We've got to get out from in front of it," Bit gasped to the Liger Zero. The Schneider stumbled drunkenly, but managed to sprint around the Ultrasaurus' leg until it was hidden beneath its hulking body. Bit's chest was heaving, but he turned his pant into a growl of frustration.
Fuma. Koga. "My team is gone. You think I'm a monster? Look what you have done!"
Bit roared, "Don't put your failures on us! You had plenty of opportunities to choose a different life!"
Ehga lowered the cockpit on the Ultrasaurus' long neck so that it bent between its front legs. He traced the disfigurements on his face and locked eyes with Bit. "'Choice'. You've said that Zoid 'chose' you. It saved you from your miserable life. You'd be a homeless nobody without it. Don't pretend to know what it takes to make it on this soulless planet!"
The joints of the Ultrasaurus screamed, pistons whistling as its bulk thundered towards the ground. From underneath the beast, it was a metal moon that eclipsed the sun.
Bit slammed levers into place, charging the Schneider's blades in a blast of energy and forming the Buster Slash within the glow. "I'm not pretending, Ehga," he snarled.
There were voices yelling at him to move, questioning his sanity. They reached his ears and moved no further. He didn't, couldn't, register them. All of his focus was on the cone of energy surrounding him and the white sky falling down.
Dr. Toros watched the few harried minutes of Bit's fight with Ehga with a blank stare. His arms hung motionlessly at his side and he just sat and wondered. When did life become so tragic? At what point had he become so selfish that he would let Laon, these children, get this far, give this much up?
He couldn't get the image out of his head. Polta. The Gun.
Leon shouted desperately from the radio, "Dad! Stop him!" But Dr. Toros barely heard. His son's voice stirred him to move, at least, and he rotated slowly back to the screen. Many voices joined his son's, shouting through the radio, but it was white noise to him now.
He sifted through the video footage until he found the engineer's room for a Laser Cannon. Red lines marked danger zones, but Oscar had already well stepped the boundaries and had blasted apart paneling while preparing to manually override the system.
Dr. Toros looked for a vid-screen booth, finding one over Oscar's left shoulder. In the time it took to connect, Oscar had absentmindedly moved Polta's gun from the waistband of his pants to the pocket of his jacket.
"Oscar," he said mutedly.
Oscar jumped and looked towards his voice. Realization dawned on his face and he replied sarcastically, "I can figure out how to manually reset a machine. There's probably a big red button."
"Get rid of that gun," Dr. Toros said.
"I know you don't approve—" Oscar started, but Steve cut him off.
"Laon's dead. That's the gun that killed him."
Oscar immediately felt his guts slide within him, and his hand trembled as it gripped the handle. With a jolt of emotion he tossed the weapon away and watched it slide harmlessly into the corner. "What?" He moved with a roar to the booth, gripping it with both hands. "What did you say?"
Dr. Toros felt his tongue swell in his throat. He could only shake his head painfully.
Oscar crumpled to the ground, a sound escaped him that crossed between a sob and a laugh. "That's it then. We didn't make it."
They sat in silence. Oscar looked from his hands to the weapon on the ground. A part of him wanted blood, smoke, anything but that empty chunk of metal that would never offer him an explanation.
"He said something…" Dr. Toros said quietly, "to us…I think." Oscar looked up, and Dr. Toros repeated the last words their friend had said. "'My Whale King is still my greatest work.' Why would he say that?"
Oscar's eyes widened and he pointed at Steve hesitantly, unsure whether to trust his gut.
Dr. Toros jolted and pulled the Great Whale King model out of his pocket. "You think…?" He held the toy in both hands and something compelled him to pull. The Whale's head popped off.
"What is it?" Oscar said.
"A memory stick," Dr. Toros said, and he felt a cold shiver start from his throat and echo through him.
The metal was melting. Or it was energy from the Buster Slash, raining around him like so many falling stars.
A segment of the Ultrasaurus was peeling, but Ehga kept lowering. The Liger Zero had long since been forced to its knees and Bit held the lever that kept the blades in place with both arms locked. "Come on buddy, just a little longer."
Ehga sneered at the Liger below him. "Cloud, you really thought you could fuck me with that little prick?"
Bit and the Liger growled in unison and the Buster Slash brightened with a hum that vibrated through Bit's boots. The Liger forced both legs to shift from knee to claw—the wobble shaking the Buster Slash and almost costing them their life—then found the impossible strength to force itself higher.
Ehga refused to yield, and the pressure finally pierced the layer of Ultrasaurus armor. Bit shouted in success as its breastplate unhinged and tilted down, its cache of missiles rolling out. One triggered and exploded, causing a chain of fire that engulfed Bit and blew the two massive breastplates fifty feet across the field.
No warning bell rang for Ehga, only a silent blip denoting 'Catastrophic Failure'. Computers moved without him, shutting down non-essential systems and trying to contain the fire. Ehga's face pinched in fury. So that was it. He was dead.
He looked down on the Ultimate X lying on its side in the smoke, at its half-ruined armor and cracked blades. He watched Bit release the cockpit as the Liger struggled to stand, manually pushing blades back into their holsters. A blind anger took him. This fool who now invited any stray bullet to kill him, who turned the Fuma team into a laughing stock with stories of their first defeat, who pranced around like the little entitled white knight he was, had stumbled to victory once again.
I'm taking you with me, Ehga thought, I can have this one revenge, if nothing else.
Bit and the Liger staggered out from beneath the behemoth, using the Ultrasaurus' short shutdown to their advantage. Bit tried to vent out the sauna that his cockpit had become as he listened to the crackles of the Schneider's blades failing to snap back into place, his mind going a mile a minute.
He had listened to the Doc go on for weeks while building the Ultrasaurus model, and because of it he knew he'd just destroyed the Capacity 8 Missile Pod. He also knew if the heavily armored breastplates had been blown free, then he may have also revealed the Zoid's core. He'd gotten lucky with Fuma, but he'd have to deal the final blow now, and he wasn't sure if he could stomach destroying so iconic a Zoid.
"Does the hero need a breather?" Ehga snarled.
Bit moved to face the Ultrasaurus again. Round two. "I didn't realize you were so eager to die," Bit replied.
Ehga laughed hysterically. Bit activated the Buster Slash again, but it fizzled out, leaving the blades snapped in front of the Schneider's face like a muzzle. Now Ehga screamed with laughter. "Here…" he choked out between gulps of air, "let me help you."
Something's wrong. Bit thought, not knowing how he knew but knowing just the same. The Ultrasaurus lowered onto its front knees, and he saw what his subconscious had dreaded. The core was still hidden, nearer to the Ultrasaurus' belly, and in its former place was a dense sphere. At a glance it could be a cannonball, but it blurred in front of Bit's eyes, as if its skin stole the light of the core behind it. It looked thick, heavy, and dark—a black heart for the ZBC's guardian angel.
"What are you waiting for? Kill me!" Ehga taunted.
"The Liger says no." And it was true. Though he couldn't hear the words, he could feel the refusal emanating from his friend and partner. That black mass was dangerous, very dangerous his gut told him, and they shouldn't get near it. None of them should.
"What, have baby Bit's balls not dropped yet?" Ehga called, and rose onto his feet, the ground shaking as the beast bore down on Bit again.
The little bit of fear was enough to cool Bit off, so this time Ehga's anger did not blind him. "Doc?" Bit called as the Schneider dodged a newly formed crater. "I need a backup plan."
"I think I have one," Dr. Toros answered calmly. "Laon might have altered its armor." He looked out onto the battlefield through the large glass window in the command center. Here, so high above the field, the Liger Zero could have been a model on his desk. "But whether its wearing that altered set I have no idea," he murmured.
"Just give me something to work with, Doc, anything." Bit leapt forward, weaving his way through the gigantic dinosaur. He yelped as Ehga took a step back to squash him, and he was forced to lunge to and fro to escape the stomping Zoid.
"Check the underside of the feet for a serial code, then read it to me."
Ehga cackling the 'Itsy Bitsy Spider' broke into their frequency, and Bit and the doctor stabbed at their comm-links until they found a clear channel. By this time, Bit was far from pleased, and ground out, "Which foot Doc…this game of Whack-a-Mole won't last much longer."
Bit groaned as he rolled out into range of the tail section's laser and beam guns. "Are you sure this isn't another of Laon's tricks?"
"No, it isn't." Dr. Toros said plainly.
The Ultrasaurus stepped forward to get a better shot at the Liger and Bit shouted. "I caught some letters! O and J. Does that help?"
"Are you sure it wasn't a zero?"
Bit grumbled, backpedaling to avoid the lasers. "Helic, Doc, this is impossible to read. Laon couldn't have painted something blue?"
Bit was too far out to see anything of use now, and just as he tried to pull forward, the Ultrasaurus' tail pulled back and swung. The mighty power in its base uncoiled into a screaming whip, as deadly as a knife. Bit drew back, only barely able to tilt the cockpit out of the way before the tail passed. It went through the Liger's open jaws bullet-quick, and three of the Liger's lower fangs flew after—sliced through like butter. "I'm starting to miss Ehga's taunts."
The tail swung again, and Bit shot forward, using the dodge to get him closer and force Ehga to turn. "R! I got it, OJR, then numbers. Please tell me that's good enough."
"It's good enough." He heard the Doc typing quickly in the background, mumbling dates and serial numbers. "Zoid Eve. Laon installed blasting caps underneath the armor."
"How do I use that to my advantage? I've already lost the Buster Slash for the rest of the battle. And some teeth," Bit frowned.
Doc mused quietly as Bit chipped away at the beast's ankle armor using his remaining two side blades. "You'll have to activate them."
"Me?! You activate them!"
Dr. Toros shook his head. "They have to be triggered from inside."
Bit turned the Liger and sprinted away from the Ultrasaurus, highly conscious of the smell of ozone always prevalent before a Charged Particle Cannon. "Are you kidding? How am I going to get in there? And who is going to keep Ehga occupied in the meantime?"
"Leave that to Oscar—"
"And me!" Leon shouted, and moved the Wild Liger forward to roar its challenge. "Get to the Hover Cargo!"
In that second, Ehga released the Charged Particle Cannon, and instantaneously another beam streamed from the roof of the Crescent and collided with the side of the Ultrasaurus' head. Ehga's beam went wild, carving through the landscape and into the sky.
It attracted the Wild Eagle's attention and he dived; watching as Oscar's shot gave Bit time to slip into the Hover Cargo. He primed two missiles and toggled the intercom between he and Pierce. It would be enough of a warning to her that she would be fighting alone.
Jamie fired into the long yellow neck of his enemy, then corkscrewed away. The other birds would have to handle themselves, for now he was back into a familiar role—giving Leena enough time to launch a barrage of missiles.
She had hit the same ankle Bit had spent a few minutes hacking at. When the smoke cleared, they weren't even rewarded with a spark, but she grinned all the same. "Took me awhile, but I made it. One boss-battle late."
Leon looked alarmed. "Leena, your Zoid isn't nearly mobile enough—"
"Love you too, bro'. Besides, we're here for a distraction right? I'm very good at being distracting." She winked then switched her channel to Bit's. He was busy extracting the Schneider's armor, but he gave her a tired smile. "What crazy plan are you up to now?" She asked with blatant concern in her voice.
"It's your father's," he smiled wanly. "Teleport myself into the Ultrasaurus, activate some of Laon's bombs, and test exactly how flame-retardant these battle-suits are."
"Teleportation armor all this time and you never said anything. I knew you were holding out on us." Try as she did, she couldn't hide the strain in her voice, and she squeezed her eyes tightly shut to stop the wave of emotion.
"I've still got a few secrets. I'll tell them to you to after the battle."
The best she could offer was a wobbly smile, and he called to her softly until she could look at him. "Oh, Bit."
They heard a beep as Brad jumped into the channel. He opened his mouth to speak and then looked confused. "Am I interrupting something?" He asked, a little incredulity in his voice.
"No," Leena said quickly, signing out. Bit grinned.
"I'll be finishing the battle in the Jager, the Schneider is too ruined now. I thought you were fighting with Naomi?"
"She's fine. I couldn't let you and Leon have all the fun."
As the Jager's armor finished clicking into place, the Shadowfox jumped onto the mobilizing platform next to him. Bit raised his eyebrows. "We having a tea party up here?"
Brad gave him his classic uninterested stare until Bit's joking mood left him. Finally he said, "I talked it over with the Doc on the way over here—we're going to launch out of the mobilizer."
"Oh, that again," Bit said with a groan.
"I'm glad you remember so well. Since you're the only one with practice, you'll be going first." The Shadowfox lined up behind the Jager, and Brad called out to Sanders. "We in position?"
"Best we're going to get," Sanders answered.
Bit grinned to himself, a macabre part of himself thinking this may be the last time he'd ever do this. Better make it count. "Mobilizing Liger Zero…Jager!"
The Jager and the Shadowfox accelerated from the ramp, the angle Sanders had titled the Hover Cargo enough to get them a good parabola.
"So, I'm supposed to land inside the cannons or what?"
"There's a landing strip," Sanders said coyly.
As the Jager crested the back of the Ultrasaurus, Bit had a few seconds to look down the Liger's nose and scope out the landing zone. "That's not a landing strip, that's a launch pad!"
"And the magnets are active!" Brad shouted back. Both pilots tried to alter their trajectory, but they couldn't avoid the wide swath of magnetic pathway. The Liger landed first and was immediately whisked backwards, launching back over the battlefield.
Thinking quickly—or rather, not thinking at all—Bit hit the latch on the cockpit and his seat restraints simultaneously, falling out of the safety of the Jager as his Zoid was pulled out from underneath him. He fell a short distance, but grabbed hold of a linear cannon, wrapping his arms all the way around the hot metal.
He saw the Jager skid to a halt in the sand, and Bit watched with his heart in his throat as his Zoid stilled. Then the Liger Zero rose from its crouched position, looked straight at him and snapped the cockpit closed. Bit laughed, relieved and not too surprised, and left his partner to join the battle below.
The SuperCannon began to tilt upward, so Bit let go and jumped, landing hard on his ankles and rolling. He lay on his back and felt the high powered magnets jittering his bones, then flipped in time to see the Shadow Fox descending towards the sand. The split second it had been in range, Brad had launched the electric net towards the doorways behind Bit, and he could hear the pop-pop-pop of circuits breaking.
He scrambled for the base of the strip, pulling the net out of the way. There were two large bay doors in the ground, leading doubtlessly into a hangar. It's shape could only mean it was meant for flying types, which meant he'd be facing an empty space even if he did manage to pry these doors open. He wasn't too eager to fall again.
Glancing to his right, he saw a small hatch. Likely for maintenance—the Hover Cargo had a similar one as well. It was often his escape when the itch to move was in his boots, but the weather was too harsh for the Liger.
By then he'd pried open the door and dropped down into a small hallway near the skin of the Zoid. It was quiet here, the sounds of the battle deadened through the armor, but it was also the eerie quiet of emptiness. An Ultrasaurus should have squadrons running through its rooms and hangars and little tunnels like this—keeping it running and fighting and alive.
Dr. Toros had said he'd need to key the code into one of the two command computers—the cockpit itself, or the backup center in the tail. He looked to his right where the interior of the Ultrasaurus' neck began. Ehga, and the end of this battle, were only fifty steps away. It tempted him.
He moved closer to inspect his options. A small vid-screen, an enclosed fire extinguisher, and a handle were all bolted to the wall. Similar handles were welded along the height of each vertebra. The neck swung and he saw the 'ladder' crunch in a way that would not have been good for his body. "Tail it is."
When the Jager landed on the battlefield he immediately drew his enemy's attention. Missile pods shifted in place as they turned away from the Blade Liger, Gunsniper, and Raynos, and fired on him without thought. The Jager streaked away—able to dodge but not nearly at the speeds he was capable of with Bit.
The Jager dragged out the chase for a few minutes, but it quickly became obvious that he couldn't, or wouldn't, attack. Coupled with the others continuing their own assault, the enemy was forced to turn some attention back to them. The Liger Zero shifted strategy, knowing his presence could still be useful even if physical attacks were not possible.
He fluidly moved past the wild Blade Liger, drawing fire and displacing missiles where he could. His rival directed a short growl at him, essentially telling the Liger Zero to stop insulting him.
"Bit?" Leena asked, but of course received no response from the Jager.
"Bit, what are you doing out here?!" Leon asked, just as confused. His aggravation grew as Bit ignored him; they had a limited time to activate the blast caps before all their Zoids were taken out, and Bit was running around the battlefield just…wait…seriously?
The Jager activated his boosters, the heat of which pulled a barrage of missiles after it and away from Leena. After the missiles were disposed harmlessly into the desert sand, the Jager circled back into Leena's shadow, waiting for the next round. Now I don't know how to feel. I can't exactly be angry that he's protecting my sister, can I?
There wasn't enough time to keep watching them; not when Jamie was giving him openings that were too good to squander. He shut off the ignored comm-link, realizing that he still did trust Bit to finish this battle.
The Liger Zero wasn't wasting so many of his thoughts on emotions like his human counterparts. He had realized that if he took the missiles for the Gunsniper, then the Gunsniper would fire into the opened missile pods.
The Raynos screeched and the Jager looked up. The Ultrasaurus' massive tail had swung upwards, nearly catching the feet of the bird. The Jager clicked his jaws and felt the missing teeth, a new enemy forming in his mind. He turned from the Gunsniper and burnt sand towards the tail; not yet having a battle plan but chasing it all the same.
When in range, he jumped. His front claws scraped along the armor but didn't catch hold. However, on the way down he saw a camera aimed at him and knew his target. The Ultrasaurus stepped back, trying to catch him, but he was already arcing away, aiming for the perfect pivot point on the battlefield.
When he caught it, he turned and roared. Come and get me.
The tail poised to strike, rising high into the air, and then dropped with that whip of acceleration. The Jager crouched, ready for the leap, ready to blind his enemy. A growl rumbled through his teeth and the tail stopped in mid-air and hit the ground with a thump.
Negola watched the dust cloud sweep over the Jager, shocked at the trick that had been pulled on him. He let go of his controls and whirled around. "Cloud!"
"Hi," Bit replied dryly.
Negola looked over his shoulder at the screen that showed the Jager bolting up the tail before blacking out one of his cameras, then back at Bit with wide eyes. "Dark Nyx!"
"If you're insinuating that this is some kind of black magic…"
Negola leapt at him with hands outstretched, and that ended the pleasantries. Bit knocked aside the chokehold but couldn't escape the tackle. On the way to the ground he threw a short jab into Negola's chin and heard the man's teeth clink together.
"You're a fake; I knew you were a fake—" With his head still snapped back, Negola continued groping for Bit's neck. He missed, landing on Bit's face instead, through tried to press his fingers into his eyes.
Bit immediately bit down hard on Negola's thumb and tasted blood. Knowing the taste of his enemy crossed a line, so he spat out the finger and shoved the hand away from him.
This had given Negola enough time to pull a knife from his boot and thrust it down toward Bit's face. Bit caught the man by the wrist, shouting in surprise, and looked from the blade to the half-crazed look in the man's eyes. "That was a close one," Negola said mockingly. "You're used to the Ultimate X fighting your battles for you."
"You're underestimating me again. I thought you'd learn after the first few times." Adrenaline kicked in and darkness descended. Bit knocked Negola off of him with a punch to the side, then they traded elbows and fists and knees in a blur of motion. Lost in the supreme focus of battle, neither noticed the forming bruises or blood dripping from shallow cuts. Negola lunged but Bit caught him in the stomach, paralyzing the man as air left his lungs in a whoosh of air. Bit grabbed blue hair in one hand and struck with the other.
Negola blubbered, folding into the ground as he struggled with sudden dizziness, and Bit hurriedly glanced around for a way to restrain him. With Negola's knife he could rip out cables from the nearby equipment, but that would take time and Negola was already blinking dazedly. Another idea struck him, and Bit removed his red battle jacket and wove it around his enemy's feebly moving arms. He was just tightening the final knot in the makeshift straitjacket when Negola woke enough to struggle.
Bit was panting with the rush, but spared the effort to grin and place a boot on the man's knee. "Now what am I going to do with you?"
"Is this how you win your battles now?" Negola snarled, increasing his struggling. "Underhanded, cheating—"
"Believe what you want. I beat you easily enough." Negola reared his head up and spit. It flew onto the knee of Bit's pants. "Good effort."
He strolled away from the thrashing man, meeting the control panel with a relaxed look on his face. He made his way through the system as Dr. Toros had instructed and keyed in the code where needed. Immediately a counter started, ticking away at eight minutes. A lone violin started up on the overhead speakers; a slow, mournful sound that swelled in the air around him.
"Laon…you always were one for drama."
Bit turned just in time to see a boot heading for his chest. He caught it with two hands, but winced as his body bore most of the force. Negola pulled back, trying to break his foot free.
There was a mild tug-of-war, then Bit tightened his hold on Negola's foot and twisted. Negola's stance wasn't enough to keep him balanced, and he turned with his leg, slipped and fell on his face. His mouth came away bloody, spitting curses.
As Bit gathered the blue-haired man's ankles in his hands, Negola continued his tirade into insane comments about Fuma and other general revenge statements. Honestly, at this point, Bit felt pretty much immune. He dragged him into the corridor and found a crisscross of beams to squeeze the man into. Negola tried to headbutt him but it was wasted, and over time he struggled himself into a more tightly bound position. Bit dusted his hands off. "Good riddance."
The death march played.
It seeped into Ehga's periphery, then snagged his emotions and wrapped tight. It slithered cold despair through his gut.
The ragtag group had thus far evaded him, and Negola had ceased communication. Only the Ultrasaurus' might had given him the advantage, and now it sung the song of sinking ships. Despite his current attack on the Raynos, he was pulled back to the closing scenes of his life—running from the city he grew up in. The armored car to the Shifting Sands prison. The white light that had come before the fire.
"Negola, are you hearing this?"
Negola still did not respond, and so Ehga activated the vid-screen and stared at the unsurprisingly empty tail-unit command center. Koga, Fuma, and now Negola had faded away, slipped back into the shadows they'd appeared from when they first opened his cell door. He stood abandoned, forsaken, friendless in a battle that alone he could not win. But, then again, even when his team had surrounded him with Genosaurs, he had burned alone anyways.
As the violin rose in its closing crescendo, he charged a CPC and a few tears of frustration leaked down his cheeks. They dried before he noticed them.
The Requiem's end mixed with the wail of the blast.
. . .
The Shadowfox landed on the Ultrasaurus' launch pad and Brad felt the magnets grab his Zoid's ankles and yank. The acceleration pushed him into his seat, and he grit his teeth when a blink later he felt that lurch in his stomach that meant he was falling. Somewhere behind him he'd launched his electrified net, and he could only hope he hadn't zapped Bit.
The Jager was off to his left, trailing a wave of missiles. The Ultrasaurus' full attention was on the pilotless Zoid, and it gave Brad the precious few seconds to land and get away. Brad had yet to face the full force of the famous Zoid, but he had already deemed anywhere the tail could land the 'Dead Zone' and had no desire to be in it.
Knowing Bit would need backup, he immediately ran back to the Hover Cargo for a second launch.
"Jumping again?" Sanders asked.
"Not in the Shadowfox." Doing the same thing twice and expecting different results was the definition of insanity, after all. Brad moved quickly, jumping into the jeep and driving over to the lift.
Sanders gave him a troubled look as the platform raised him into position. "Are you sure about this?"
"Nope," Brad replied. He shifted the jeep into neutral and Sanders hit the magnets. It launched with a smell of burnt rubber.
He was halfway there when he realized a seatbelt would have been a good idea. The car started to jitter as they closed in on the magnets, falling faster than gravity while still yards away from the landing strip. By the time the tires hit the ground the jeep was already accelerating backwards. Brad pulled the parking break and let the transmission scream.
The airbag blew, the car titled back, and Brad slid from his seat in a half-jump half-fall just as the launcher took complete control. The brakes counted for nothing as the high-powered magnets grabbed the small vehicle and flipped it, then flipped it again in an escalating spin that crumpled the car like a ball of paper before tossing it into the desert behind him.
Well, there went his escape plan.
A bundle of neon orange had fallen from the jeep onto the landing strip, and he skidded over to it, trying to ignore the feeling of being pulled along by his zippers. Bungee cords made up the bundle, oft left in the trunk of the jeep and used to hold crates during a gear run.
Brad hefted the cords and looked around at the giant yellow plates of armor on the Ultrasaurus, a wild scheme worming its way into his mind. "To the reporter who called the entire Blitz team crazy…touché."
Bit hurried down the slim maintenance corridor listening to the violin's lament. His two choices were hide in the command center (and hope) or make his way to high ground (and hope) Jamie saw him in time to get him out. Since he wanted to be back with the Liger as soon as possible, he now struggled through the maze trying to remember his way back.
Despite his rush and distraction, he could hear footsteps pounding from around a corner. He stilled and held his breath, bending to pull Negola's knife from his boot. He had assumed Negola and Ehga worked alone in the Ultrasaurus, and that Ehga wouldn't dare abandon the cockpit, but he had assumed wrong.
The footstops were nearer now, slowing as they approached the blind corner. Bit waited for an off-beat in the music then whirled to meet the new enemy.
The intruder was Brad, and he was looking amusedly at Bit's attack stance. "What were you planning to do with that?"
Bit shrugged and tossed the weapon on the ground. "We've only got a few minutes. What are you doing here?"
"Saving your sorry butt," Brad answered cheekily. He carried a bundle of bungee cords, and he tossed half to Bit now. "Help me tie these to the plates. This is our ride out."
Bit followed Brad's lead, and they worked in tense silence. When they had finished, Bit hung loosely to his reins and watched Brad brace his feet against the wall and wrap the cords around his wrists. "You're serious about this."
"Hold those tighter," the mercenary said.
Bit did, but hesitantly. "And what—"
The violin ended in a bloody cry and armor blasted from the walls around them in a storm of fire and smoke. Bit felt his shoulder nearly get pulled from its socket and he yelled and cursed like a sailor as he was dragged out after it.
He was Mary Poppins with a lead umbrella. He struggled until his body collided with the metal, then pulled his feet under him, trying to channel the psyche of an insane surfer. He glared daggers at Brad, who had followed similarly. "Pick me up in the Shadowfox next time!"
"Oh, I don't plan on doing this ever again!"
Ehga released a Charged Particle blast, and the two pilots saw the Raynos swivel in midair, rolling upside down in its dodge. Jamie's momentum took the bird over them, and the teammates locked gazes when the cockpit passed overhead. The Wild Eagle's expression was so comically baffled that Bit doubted he'd ever take Jamie's alter ego seriously again.
The Wild Eagle pulled out of his maneuver into a higher altitude, pushing the surprise into the back of his mind to be dealt with later. He had to deal with the new dynamic on the battlefield. The CPC blast faded out and his friends landed on the desert sand below. A third of the dirtied yellow armor dotted the ground, the flat expanse of land suddenly a jagged terrain. It slowed the Blade Liger and the GunSniper, but it provided cover and camouflage.
Now began the race to get Bit and Brad in a Zoid before Ehga riddled them with bullets.
Jamie watched his friends sprint between sets of rubble, putting distance between themselves and the turning Ultrasaurus. The Wild Eagle flew the Raynos straight for Ehga, dropping his last pair of missiles on the Ultrasaurus' nose and hoping it would be enough of a deterrent.
Ehga immediately fired the linear cannons, and they launched with an ear-piercing whine. The Raynos' missiles' smoke had done its job though, and the two beams fired harmlessly into the distance.
Then, the roar of the Jager brought the battle back to where it started—and the Raynos barrel-rolled away while Ehga turned his focus on the Ultimate X.
The Jager stood proud and fearless surrounded by the wreckage of his adversary, and whoever yet didn't dread the Liger and its pilot surely now felt a tremble in their pulse.
Dr. Toros saw the Ultrasaurus launch another attack and cursed. Well, it would have been too easy if Laon's bombs did all the work. That is, if you called breaking into the ZBC headquarters and the myriad of other stunts they all had pulled 'too easy'. Dr. Toros wiped his brow. This had been a long day.
He turned to Oscar on the vid-screen. "We need more firepower. How are you doing over there?"
"Almost done." To Oscar, Dr. Toros' face was a small window in the upper corner of the vid-screen. He had finally made it through the reboot without intruder warnings shutting him out. Behind him ran strings of cables he and Steve had switched and rewired through trial and error, and his hands now flew through the instructions that recalibrated the guns.
He finished, and the screen blinked while a pinwheel spun slowly in the center of the screen. "Got it!" The screen loaded up a small view of the battle, a three-dimensional spherical radar, and input boxes for a target. "It's refusing to auto-target the Ultrasaurus."
"Alright, I'll call out coordinates. Ready?" Oscar reset the screen and nodded. "63 degrees…"
Ehga was almost completely focused on Bit and the Liger Zero Jager, and so Leon had ample time to step back from the battle and search out Brad. He hailed both his sister and the Wild Eagle but they had also lost sight of him.
"Sanders?" Leon called, bringing the Elephander pilot up through his link. "Has Brad been back to the Hover Cargo?"
"Not since he launched with the jeep. I've got my own trouble over here; some Attack Cats have noticed Zoids and jeeps shouldn't be flying out of thin air. They've got me pinned."
Leon narrowed his eyes in thought. He circled once more through the rubble, trying to find Brad, but again at no sign of him turned and ran for Sander's position. He'd hope that Brad had taken cover, but if he hadn't, Leon knew his friend would be making his way to where the Shadowfox was anyway. "Jamie, keep an eye out for Brad."
The Wild Eagle nodded, and Leon got within range of the first Attack Cat. Sanders saw him and deactivated the invisibility, instead switching power to the pink rippling shield. Sanders pushed the Hover Cargo forward towards his attackers, forcing them to part around him as they tried to flank.
With a quick snap of his blades and a Strike Laser Claw, Leon took two Zoids out of the battle before they noticed he'd joined it.
The Attack Cats split to cover both adversaries, and Leon and Sanders traded tactics. Six cats.
Sanders blinked back into invisibility and Leon flipped his blades out and sprinted towards an opposing Attack Cat. It howled and fired, and from Leon's periphery another Cat tried to circle behind him. He put on a burst of speed, the Attack Cat modified, and then ran straight into the hull of the Hover Cargo.
Sanders and Leon laughed. Five.
. . .
Bit and the Jager drove forward, with no artillery at their disposal they relied heavily on the Jager's Strike Laser Claw and maneuverability. Ehga's beam cannons couldn't move fast enough to hit them if Bit accelerated in a straight line, and Bit used that advantage to steadily chip away at the heavy mechanisms in the knee joint. Without the nearly impervious armor, it was only a matter of time before he, Jamie, and Leena downed the Ultrasaurus.
A beam cannon fired from the ZBC base and connected with the Ultrasaurus. The beast groaned and smoke billowed from the wound in its side. It stumbled forward.
"Guys," Leena said as she ran the Gunsniper south. "It's moving right for me and I can't get out of the way fast enough."
"That's because Ehga's retreating," Bit said with a grin.
"You sound so happy. Do you know he could burn me alive any moment with a well-aimed CPC?"
"So dramatic," the Wild Eagle responded. He moved tauntingly close to the cockpit of the Ultrasaurus and soared away as it snapped at him. Ehga launched a barrage of missiles, and Jamie banked right. "Duck, Bit."
The Raynos dived with the pod of missiles trailing him, dangerously turning on his afterburners to keep the missiles pinned on him instead of the Jager's ion boosters. He rolled so he flew vertical with the ground and then yanked on the stick to pull a tight turn under the Ultrasaurus' belly and past its rear legs.
Unfortunately only one missile deviated to hit a leg, but a well-aimed shot from Leena turned the batch into a fiery inferno. The Ultrasaurus stumbled after its next step, its joint partially yielding, and a loud cheer rose from the trio.
Oscar fired the laser cannon again, striking the same joint. It shuddered, then buckled under the weight. The sound of all the broken metal was thunder, and the collision with the ground was an earthquake.
Bit accelerated and leapt for the broken leg. The hair stood up on the back of his neck, and it gave him that split second warning to move before the Charged Particle Cannon hit where he'd been standing. At this range the beam was so powerful it burned half through the Ultrasaurus' rear leg, and Bit gaped from where he hung on its hip. "What does he think he's doing?"
"Getting rid of dead weight," Jamie answered.
Bit splayed the legs of the Jager as the Ultrasaurus trembled. It rocked unsteadily as Ehga tried to stand, but another well-timed laser cannon into its flank destabilized it. Bit felt his world tilt, and yelped as the Ultrasaurus again fell, this time onto its side.
When the dust settled and Bit had shaken the disorientation from his mind, he found Ehga staring at him. The Ultrasaurus' jaw unhinged and another attack charged within its maw.
The Jager scrambled to its feet and Bit sprinted forward. They worked together to leap over gaps and holes in the Zoids body until the blast came at them like a wall of light. He activated the ion boosters but they sputtered out. He had a fraction of a second to think, Of course—No charge, and let the Liger Zero's instinct propel them forward before the beam hit. Its core landed so close that electricity danced along his skin and the wave of heat floored him.
The Liger lost control and tumbled into the crook of the Ultrasaurus' neck. Bit struggled to focus past the anguish as every breath of the superheated air burned through his lungs. With a long mental scream he pushed the controls and willed the Liger into standing. Go! Go before another!
They leapt together onto a single vertebrae, clawing and jumping until their boosters flickered back and they accelerated into an armorless patch of scaffolding. Bit charged and fired the Strike Laser Claw, and the heated claws sunk into the neck.
Ehga swung the Ultrasaurus' neck round, screamed, and fired both Linear Cannons into the sand. The Jager's rear feet flew from beneath it and hung out over empty space, but its front claws held fast.
Together Bit and the Liger Zero grit their teeth and climbed hand over hand, claw over claw, up this final ladder.
The Liger Zero and I created our own ideals along the way
We meld mind and machine and soul and pitch that against others
And Just Live
With a mighty swing, Bit released the Jager's Strike Laser Claw on the cockpit. Glass shattered and he got a clear view into the nearly empty command room. The Liger thrust its head into the opening and snarled.
"Don't!" Ehga yelled, knife pointed at the Liger Zero desperately. Realizing that was a pointless threat he turned to hover it dangerously over a console. His voice became steely. "Don't. Or we both die."
Bit grit his teeth. It felt like a bluff, but he was hesitant to take the gamble. "Explain, Ehga."
"The ZBC has done some terrible things, Cloud."
This was Ehga's last card, there could be nothing left up his sleeve. This was just a stall for time.
But Bit's instincts started to betray him, because he'd heard things over the years, hadn't he? Quiet things. From the other drifters when his life had been a truck, the desert, and junk parts. From the old man in Romeo City who'd put a shotgun in his face and said organoid. From the Liger itself… "Spit it out."
"They want power just as much as me, the Backdraft, or anyone on this wasteland planet does."
Ehga paused, licking his teeth nervously. He didn't continue until Bit released the glass of his cockpit to look him in the eye.
"They've built all of these weapons, you see. These terrible and powerful weapons, like this Angel's heart."
Bit thought of the black void that he and the Liger forced everyone to avoid. "Go on, Ehga. You've got my attention," he growled. "What is it?"
"Eve if I know, but they call it Tellasite and if it's unbalanced, we all die."
No, Bit thought, maybe not a bluff. Then he caught the win in Ehga's eyes—a bright and feverish look. The gun was in his hands in the blink of an eye, and it pointed directly at Bit. In the same second Brad was there, banded arms wrestling Ehga and the weapon to the ground.
No time to find the truth. Ehga meant to kill them all, and he couldn't be given the chance. "Jamie—"
Leena fired, and the sudden barrage of bullets exploded along the Ultrasaurus' chin. Ehga bowed, face whitening in uncharacteristic fear, arms curled protectively around his head. The Raynos swooped out of the sky and wrapped a talon around him.
The scarred man shrieked and made a desperate swipe at Brad, but missed. In fury he twisted against the bird's foot and rammed his knife into the Raynos' leg—tearing circuits until its grip weakened and he could fall, free, at least.
He fell thirty feet onto the flat of his back, kicking up a plume of sand. He screamed in pain but was up in moments, flailing in a rage and throwing fistfuls of sand and pebbles toward the Tellasite.
Leena sprinted towards him, and Jamie dove toward the ground. But it was Brad propelling himself downward that got to their enemy first. He clenched Ehga's shirt in his fist and shook. "What is your fucking problem?! Have some honor!"
Ehga's desperate rage leaked out of him in increments, and he sagged from Brad's grip to fall to his knees, tears leaking from clenched eyes. Brad watched pitilessly as this man, who had helped cause so much horror, tilted his head back to the sky and helplessly sobbed. Brad tried to feel sympathy, but he had never been that altruistic a human being. He slammed a knee into Ehga's jaw and watched that fucker's eyes roll to the back of his head before his body crumpled onto the sand.
The dust settled around them, and there was a quiet calm in the air that Brad hadn't heard for days.
"We got him," Bit said. "It's done."
Leena opened her cockpit, wiping her own tears of relief from her face. She chuckled weakly, "We're the Backdraft Bandits."
Brad looked at her watery smile and followed her eyes to Bit and Jamie. He was overwhelmed with fondness for his teammates—his family if he was honest with himself. "Wrong, Leena." He smiled to himself. "We're quite obviously Brad Hunter and the Bounty Hunters."
Jamie landed in their semicircle giggling. An indescribable feeling ballooned in his chest and spread through him until he was laughing. When he opened his cockpit, he looked into the dirty and exhausted faces of his friends. They all shared the same infectious grin. "Go Blitz."
In a shout, Bit agreed. "Go Blitz!"
And standing there, a blue and white icon on the skull of the Ultrasaurus, the Liger Zero titled back its head and roared.
. . .