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PSZAROD Chapter 2: Clash! Team Blitz vs. The Command Wolf of DOOM! – I Hate Titling Things!

PSZAROD Chapter 2: Clash! Team Blitz vs. The Command Wolf of DOOM!


The damage to their Zoids having been mysteriously repaired overnight (Doc insisted it was the Zoid-Repair Fairies, but no one listened to him), Team Blitz was going to fight another battle that very afternoon. Thankfully, Bit didn't consider that worth waking up really early for when he'd be up in plenty of time anyway, and a repeat of yesterday's coffeemaker...incident was avoided.

When the teen finally did wake up (at exactly 10:57:02 AM, for the curious), he wandered out of his room, heading more or less towards the refrigerator.

"Foooood..." He passed Ballad, who sat protecting his new coffeemaker, and waved a sleepy hello with one hand. The other's only response was an icy glare that probably would have kept the proverbial snowball-in-Hell from melting for a while, so Bit decided that now was not a good time to talk to him. Oooh, look, there was a nice pizza in the fridge...aw, only half was left. The fraction was reduced to a fourth by the time he had reached his seat.

"Mmmmm, pizza."

 

The Liger Zero, too, was 'waking' up, its systems switching out of a more regenerative sleep mode and into their active ones. The organoid bonded to its core protested that it had been having a nice dream, but the Liger insisted on being awake to greet Bit, as it knew he would be coming out to see it...them? The organoid-half gave a mental yawn and got up, as it were, the Liger Zero's core glowing a bit brighter as the two became a bit more of one mind and the confusion of pronouns was forgotten. It...or he...was the Liger Zero, and that was good enough.

"Ghhhyyynnn...good morning, Liger."

Speak of the devil...although Bit was the last person the Liger would expect to be referred to as a devil. Perhaps a better figure of speech was in order. Hmmm, search memory banks...

"Ooooiiii! Ligerrrr! Wakey wakey?"

Snapping out of its little reverie, the feline Zoid rumbled a reply.

Bit! Hey, when's the battle?

"You always know when I'm going to tell you about a battle, don't you? It's like some sort of psychic bond...thingie."

Actually, this time I just overheard you guys talking about it, but that too.

"Aah, hehehe." Bit rubbed a hand behind his head. "It's another team we don't know much about. I think they have a pair of souped-up Shield Ligers and a Saber Tiger."

"Grrrrf."

"No, of course it doesn't matter in the end."

"Rrrraaaarrrf."

"What do you mean I've got pizza sauce all over my face?...oh. Why doesn't anyone tell me these things?"

Team Blitz passed the rest of the time until the battle in a 5-board Parcheesi tournament that soon turned into a Parcheesi-piece-slinging battle royale, courtesy of Rinon accusing Bit of having moved some of her pieces when she got up to find the remote. Evidence as to whether he had or not was lost in the ensuing frenzy of flying objects thrown by all four Blitz members, which stopped only after one of the boards ended up lodged in a viewscreen, and, shortly afterwards, on fire. Toros, mad because his pretty viewscreen now had a smoking Parcheesi board where the picture-in-picture feature had been, told the team to take their Parcheesi-war to the hangar. However, the fun was kind of lost, and they instead settled for making last-minute checks on their Zoids...again.

 

Finally, it was battle-time, and off-to-the-Hover-Cargo-time, and oh-no-Doc-can't-find-his-lucky-model-Iguan-and-we're-not-leaving-without-it-time.

"Here Iguan...here boy!" Bit crawled along the floor, peering under various pieces of furniture. "Come onnn, where are you?"

"That's not going to help you find it any faster."

"I—OW!" Bit whacked his head on the underside of the couch as he tried to turn to face Ballad, who sat lounging in a chair as if amused by the whole thing, sipping a cup of coffee and idly tapping his fingers against it. Bit sat up, rubbing his head. "I don't see you helping...you know, if we're late, we might miss the whole battle."

"And the money from it, too." Rinon's voice was muffled—she was currently digging through a cabinet of assorted junk, hoping that the lucky-Iguan had gotten shoved into it by mistake the last time they had cleaned...or rather, shoved most things into one of the 'junk' drawers. "Whaaa? Man, I haven't seen this in years." She held up a plush Redler for a bit and then tossed it over her shoulder, only to pick it back up a few seconds later and set it on top of the cabinet.

"Awww, it's cute." Bit chuckled and reached out for it, only to get it his hand smacked away.

"Hey! That's MINE!" Rinon grabbed the Redler again and patted its head. "Don't worry, I won't let him get you."

"But Iwannaseeiiiiit."

"NO! Leave Fluffy alone! She doesn't like you!"

"Fluffy? Heeee."

"Do you have a PROBLEM with the name Fluffy!?"

Not particularly wanting another fight, Ballad stood up, setting his coffee cup down in the chair—not that there was any coffee left—and cleared his throat. "Fine, I'll help. How about one of you check the kitchen, and the other can help me finish with that...mess over there," he said, gesturing with a turn of his head to the cabinet.

"I'll look in the kitchen!"

"Yeah, you'll probably eat all the food while you're at it!"

"Well, you never know." Bit grinned. "You might find an Iguan hiding in with the leftover pizza. Wait, I ate that already..."

"See?"

"Woooo! I found it!" Doc Toros came running into the room, Iguan held triumphantly aloft in one hand. "Or rather, Jamie did. Anyway, we can go now!" He dashed off again, heading back for the Hover Cargo.

 

"So where was it?" Bit had grown tired of staring at the viewscreen, and decided to talk to Jamie instead. Again.

"Eeeh...it was sitting on the console in here. Doc forgot to bring it back inside after last battle."

"I wish I'd though of looking there. Hey, are you sure we're going to get there in time?"

"...for the fifth time, yes."

They arrived in time, but only just. The other team already stood there, waiting.

 

Another Excerpt From "Vega's Stupid Boring Diary Thingie":

They're still working on that blasted armor. I wish they'd hurry up! I want to fight Bit again!

Fury said that I should be careful not to get to obsessed with beating my rival...something about not wanting to get blown up by a giant scorpion again. I'm kind of worried that he might have gotten hit a bit too hard on the head during the battle with Liger Zero. I hope not.

 

Claws charged—not the sort of charge a Strike Laser Claw uses, mind you, as that'd be silly to use on the Hover Cargo...this was the launch ramp's doing—and with a smooth shukuuu-whoooosh of machinery, the Liger Zero flew onto the battlefield. Landing in a cloud of dust, the white Zoid bounced forward a few excited steps before tilting its head to the sky and roaring.

"Grrrrooooooooaaaaaar!" Wheeeeeeeeee!

"I wish you wouldn't do that."

Ballad's Command Wolf followed the Liger, and Rinon's Gun Sniper after that, the latter nearly tripping and falling before it got its balance.

"Hah, one would think you'd at least want to take some of the guns off that thing so it could stand up properly!"

"Says the person with a custom armor that can't even walk."

"I don't see the Panzer falling over, Rinonnn." The Liger wuffed in amusement and pranced forward again on nimble feet. Hah, let's see that Gun Sniper do this! Rinon's Gun Sniper responded with only a mocking "Wheeeeee!", which went unheard by its pilot, who was busy yelling at Bit...not that its pilot listened to it much anyway. Liger Zero clacked its teeth together with an annoyed snap, stopping its little happy-dance as the Command Wolf barked its own imitation.

 

"Come on, you two, stop that. I'm trying to think over here." Ballad couldn't quite figure out why he kept getting the inkling that this wasn't his Zoid, shouldn't be his Zoid. Something was wrong, but the only thing that came to mind was something about a fox. He blinked. That made no sense. And why the heck was his Command Wolf howling what sounded like "Wheeeeeee!"?

"Hey, Doc." Whatever was bothering him, best to get it out of his system before the battle began.

"Gnnnghhhzzz..."

Great, he was asleep.

"Hey, Doc, there's a guy outside who says he's giving away free Zoid models to people who aren't asleep and IGNORING ME!"

"Ehhh? Models!? Oh, Ballad. What is it?"

"You sure you haven't modified my Command Wolf recently or something? Or traded it in for some new shiny one that looks just like it without telling me?" Ballad leaned forward in his seat.

"Oh, no. It's the same one you've always had...but if you want a new shiny one I'd be more than happy to—"

"No, no, that's fine." Ballad cut the comm link off, ignoring Doc Toros as he went off on some tangent about shiny Command Wolves. He still couldn't shake the feeling that he should be piloting a different Zoid, that there was something wrong with the continuity of the whole thing, for lack of a better word. Whatever it was, it could wait. The judge was setting up the battle, finishing:

"Ready, FIGHT!"

No more time to think about that. Nope. Especially not with a Shield Liger with blades—blades? heading straight for the Command Wolf's head. "These guys aren't wasting any time. Look out!" The Wolf jumped clear, the Liger left to skitter past him. It turned somewhat slowly, again jetting forward, this time with the aid of a pair of Blade Liger-ish boosters. Its charge missed again, its own speed hurting it as the Wolf bounded unpredictably around. To his left, he saw the Liger Zero using a similar strategy...and Rinon's Gun Sniper staring down an equally overgunned Saber Tiger, neither moving. If Zoids could blink, these wouldn't have been.

This time, the Liger jumped with him, boosters turning—blast, they could do that—and Ballad found himself hard-pressed to avoid the thing, several blade swipes coming a bit too close for his liking. He tried outrunning it, knowing that it would probably just catch up with him, which it did, far more quickly than he'd expected. "Stupid pseudo-Blade-Liger...ghhh."

"Actually, we call them high-speed Shield Ligers...but hey, I like that." The other pilot was an older man, who Ballad guessed used to serve in the military, if the uniform was of any indication. "Bob's always saying we should call them "pointy kitties", but that's just silly, don't you think?"

"Gnnnhhh."

"Okay, never mind. Not the talkative type, I see."

Oh, if only his Command Wolf were faster. Ballad could have sworn he remembered it going faster than it now was...and there it was again, that sense that there was something wrong, that sense of screwy continuity.

And that blasted Shield Liger, only a few feet away, pouncing.

The only thing for it was to jump. Which the Wolf did, but not high enough. Its back legs rammed into the Liger's face, the pilot switched his shield on, and Ballad found himself and the wolf flying straight up into the air in a painfully dizzy manner, soon heading back down, for the blade and certain doom—

—or not. Glowing claws hit the blade instead, jolting the Liger to one side, and sending the Shadow Fox bouncing into the dirt. Ballad blinked. What the heck? Why had he forgotten about the Strike Laser Claw system for so long? Gah, it was almost as if he'd been piloting his old Wolf...strange. Maybe he was still getting used to the new coffee. After all, no two coffeemakers ever worked the same, despite some people's insistence that it was just coffee and it all tasted about the same.

"All right, enough running. Let's see how he likes having to dodge sharp pointy things."

The Fox, also momentarily disoriented but recovering, switched the Strike Laser Claw system back on without waiting for the actual command. The Liger, swiveling its blade to make sure it wasn't damaged, recharged the pair of the things as well. With that, the battle switched from a test of speed to one of agility...one which the Shadow Fox was winning. While not as dangerous as blades, Strike Laser Claw had one advantage: mainly, that it's a lot easier to hit things that keep moving.

"Waaak! Come on, Liger, get him, will you?" The Shadow Fox hop-skipped over a forward-swinging blade, swatting at the Liger's head with its right paw and leaving another set of gouges in the sides, only to jump back before the Liger could bite him. The cat Zoid growled. It was used to agile opponents, but it just wasn't built for this sort of thing. Countering another swipe at its shield-fins with its own claws, the Liger finally scored a hit—Strike Claw against Laser—and the Shadow Fox crashed into the dirt once more...only to roll into a bounding leap away from the Liger's attempt to squish it.

"I thought that Liger of yours was supposed to be fast."

"Oh, quiet, you."

"Now who's not talkative?" The Fox sprung for the Liger again, and then CRACK!—it was knocked flying again...although this time, not by the Liger, who suffered a similar fate seconds later. No, that was heavier fire. Where had it come from, then? Wherever it was, it wasn't from the other team. He could hear the judge having a fit about an unauthorized Zoid being on the battlefield, only to have it cut short by another blast.

"Backdraft! Don't tell me they're back already." The Fox and the Liger got to their feet, both pretty much undamaged by the shots.

"Darnit. I'm not getting anything on sensors." The Liger pilot slammed his console. "That fancy Fox of yours showing anything?"

"No...could be a cloak. I swear, that fire seemed to be from a—"

"Hello, boys."

"—Command Wolf?"

A Command Wolf with way too many weapons, at that. Not in an overbalanced way like Rinon's Gun Sniper, mind, but in a more dangerous-looking sort of way. Like Ballad's old Wolf, it wore a CP-04 and was blue, although that was where the similarity ended. After all, his had never worn a Wild Weasel Unit, nor did his have the foldy-body-armor-bits look of something that's hiding a lot of weaponry and not telling you about it, nyah nyah.

"You guys must really be short on funds after the ZBC got to you. Is that all you can send? One Zoid?"

"Bah, Backdraft. A bunch of idiots. I fight my own battles, thank you."

"In a Command Wolf? Hah."

Before Ballad could so much as blink, the Command Wolf was halfway to the Liger. The cat Zoid turned to run, but too late, and the Wolf rammed it with a surprising amount of force. The Liger hit the dirt, hard. The Wolf fired before it could do anything, and the Liger's command system froze...all in a matter of a couple seconds.

Ballad had a feeling that this qualified as not a good sign.

"It's not just a Command Wolf. It's the Command Wolf of DOOM! HYAH!"

"We'll see about the doom part!" It was the Saber Tiger pilot and Rinon...oh, great, he was probably fond of the 'blow everything up' strategy too.

"You guys, watch out, it's—"

"Aaaaah! Not again!" The Gun Sniper was down, its leg neatly sliced off. What the...Strike Laser Claw, on a Command Wolf?

The Saber Tiger fired everything it had at the Wolf, only to watch it bound neatly out of the way...and slice off its head.

"—really, really fast. Crud. Bit, get back to the Hovercargo and get the Jäger armor, now. We've got an insanely-quick-Command Wolf problem out here."

"Heh, no need to tell me. I'm going, I'm going. Jamie and Bob are headed your way, too."

"Must be the other Shield Liger pilot." Ballad debated whether to charge the Wolf or try and take it out from a distance with the gatling. The darn thing was horribly fast, sure, but it might not be as agile.

Going with the distance method for now, he aimed for the Wolf, who was occupied avoiding fire from the Gun Sniper, whose systems had stubbornly refused to freeze, even if it couldn't exactly go anywhere. Firing, he cursed as the Wolf dodged the shots easily. It would appear it was just as agile as it was quick. But how?

The sharp crack of a sniper rifle echoed through the air, and for a second Ballad wondered if Naomi were there, as improbable as that was...and then he remembered that Blade Ligers could carry different guns, and those Ligers probably did too. The Wolf ducked in time, however, too fast for distance attacks to be of much use.

"Hey, uh...Bob? Watch out for that thing, it's quick."

"I see that." Bob—apparently, he was the pointy kitties dude—chucked dryly. "Don't tell me you guys are having this much trouble with an overgunned Command Wolf?

"That's the Command Wolf of DOOM! Get it right!"

"Whatever, lady."

"Don't you 'whatever' me, the Command Wolf of DOOM! is unbeatable!"

"Really, I'm sure it is."

Bob's Shield Liger charged the Wolf, who leapt into the air and onto the Liger's back, slicing the blades before they had a chance to unfold. The Liger was rapidly shredded, followed by the poor Gun Sniper, whose systems finally froze.

Well, if the gatling was no good, he'd take his chances in a close fight. Ballad sent the Fox towards the Wolf in a sprint, his hands gripping the controls so tightly his knuckles turned white...not that he noticed. His entire focus was on taking out that Wolf and not becoming one of the frozen Zoids on the ground in the process.

"Ballad, look out, I'm going to try and hit her."

Ballad stopped the Fox's charge, pulling up in time to avoid rapid fire from overhead as the Raynos attacked the Wolf, flying low to the ground.

"Watch it, she can jump!" For once, Ballad's warning was in time, and the Raynos climbed abruptly upward as the Wolf leapt for its throat—and missed.

Well, that was something, at least. The Wolf returned fire, and Ballad took the opportunity to blast at it...only to have it bounce out of the way once more. But this time, it bounced straight into Jamie's line of fire.

"Kyaaaaah! Darnit, I can't fight two quick things at once like this. Mach!"

Mach? Huh? Probably the code for some other kind of weapon, Ballad figured, although why one would need the external speakers for that...

"Jamie, get her NOW." Both the Raynos and the Shadow Fox opened fire, the Wolf merely standing there and taking it for once...

And then, a flash of blue, looking rather like a cat, sliced through the air. It roared, leaving Jamie wondering how light could roar until it slammed through the right wing joint on the Raynos. Whatever weapon it was, it was strong, and he was in trouble. Well, so much for him being of any use...the poor flying Zoid tried to stay aloft, only to crash skittering into a sand dune, the damaged wing ripping off in the process.

"What the heck was that?" Jamie watched most of the systems go down as the Raynos listed to one side and collapsed, leaving him leaning at a rather uncomfortable angle in the cockpit. Well, at least he was otherwise okay. Restarting what of the sensor system he could get working and causing the rest of the lights in the cockpit to dim, he focused on the Wolf. Had he and Ballad damaged it at all?

Wait, that couldn't be right. There was a second energy signature near its shoulder—like another Zoid. "Great, even the sensors are wonky."

"Oh, your sensors are working just fine...well, assuming you're freaking out over Mach here. You see, he's an organoid. You know, one of those rare thingies? Mini Zoid?"

"Whaaaaa? I thought they all died, or something."

"That's what everyone says. Enough with this. Mach, let's get that Fox...and then the Liger Zero, whenever it shows its face around here."

She sounded almost bored. Ballad blinked again. An organoid, if the pilot's claims were correct, sat on the Wolf's shoulder, lounging coolly like the cat it resembled. Sure, there were tales of Organoids, but whether or not you believed them, they all agreed on one thing—they were long-gone, as Jamie had said.

Well, this one, if it was an organoid, was most certainly still alive. It nodded in response to what the Wolf pilot had said, and, getting to its feet and unfurling wings, it shifted back into the same kind of energy that had taken out the Raynos and plunged into the Wolf's back. The wolf glowed the same blue from within for a few seconds, all the minor damage on it healing instantly as it howled.

"Oh, dear. Ballad, she's probably going to be even stronger now."

"Yeah, yeah, I've heard the same stories." This was just great. Until Bit could get back from the Hover Cargo, he was the only one left. "Well, let's hope this won't be a repeat of what happened with Fury. Let's get her, Fox!"

"My name's Shineryuu, you know." With that, the Command Wolf of DOOM turned to face him, breaking into a run.

 

White armor came off in a series of clacks and whirs, leaving the Liger Zero bare as Bit called for the Jäger armor. The sides of the bay turned, covering the white bits, then exposing the aerodynamic blues of the Jäger. The naked Liger became rapidly un-naked, metallic thuds echoing as its new armor snapped into place.

Liger Zero...Jäger, the computer's voice announced, as if it weren't obvious, CAS completed!

"Go! Jägerrrrrr!" A yell from Bit and a blur of blue, and the Liger rocketed onto the battlefield, hitting the ground and breaking into a sprint without pause.

 

As if its earlier defeat at the hands of a Liger wasn't enough, the poor Shadow Fox was now getting beaten up by a lousy Command Wolf.

Okay, a Command Wolf with five million weapons on it fused to some freaky cat organoid.

But it was still embarrassing, darnit!

Bursts of fire from a CP-04 rocked the ground behind its feet as the Shadow Fox bounded forward, only to be grazed by fire by the Wolf's Wild Weasel Unit as it nearly materialized in front of him. How the heck was it moving so quickly? Ballad charged a Strike Laser Claw and leapt for the Wolf's neck, back, anything he could hit...and snagged empty air. He whirled the Fox around just in time to see the Wolf lunging towards him, its own claws ablaze. The Fox rolled out of the way, one of the claws nicking its left ear. For that matter, how the heck could it have so many weapons, too? The Command Wolf strutted around to face the dazed Fox. It seemed to be grinning. Grinning!

"There's a reason I call it the Command Wolf of DOOM!, you know."

"Ghhh...that..." The Shadow Fox echoed its pilot's anger, giving a jeering bark and hopping to its feet. It was far from dead yet.

Of course, all the inspiring thought in the world is useless without the firepower and speed to back it up, and the Shadow Fox fell again under heavy fire. It dodged for all it was worth in a stunning display of acrobatics, Ballad giving up on aiming and letting loose with the gatling gun every which way, hoping that he would hit the Wolf, perhaps expose some weakness, something about the stupid thing that didn't ooze overpowered perfection.

It evaded every shot with the grace only a giant metal wolf can possess, dancing from paw to paw. "Stop mocking me! Either take me out, or don't!" Ballad pushed the Fox to its max speed, again activating the Strike Laser Claw system. He was determined to at least damage the evil little thing, and he could tell the Fox was too. The Zoid seemed to radiate anger, if such a thing could be true.

"Okay, if you want." Shineryuu's voice came in reply, taking on an almost sing-song quality. Mocking him, mocking the Fox. The Command Wolf of DOOM! howled, Mach roared, and the pair gained speed too, heading straight for Ballad and his Fox.

Crash. Claws sizzling and screeching, the enraged yowling of the Fox, and a triumphant growl from Mach...it was over in a fraction of a second, both canine Zoids skittering into the dust and coming to a stop facing away from each other. The Command Wolf got up. The Fox didn't. Not to say that it didn't try—it lay there screaming Zoid-y curses at the Wolf, its left leg pretty much shot and its shoulder ripped apart. Attempts to struggle to its feet had only caused a stabilizer in its left hind leg to blow too, so it settled for a long string of not-very-nice words. Ballad raised an eyebrow, wondering where it had gotten that one from...certainly not him. The Command Wolf only howled, giving Ballad the distinct impression it was laughing.

Too stubborn to give up and freeze, the Fox crawled towards the Wolf, propping up on one front leg. Laugh at my pilot and me, will you? The targeting system for the gatling gun queeped—for once, it had a nice solid lock.

"Aaaeeeeiiiirroooo!" Take this, fancypants!

The Command Wolf of DOOM! rocked backwards as the first few rounds caught it unaware. "Hey!" With that, Shineryuu activated the Wolf's e-shield—pity, she'd been hoping to save that surprise for the Liger-pilot—effectively dispersing the rest of the Fox's last-ditch efforts.

"I think we're doomed."

"Arrrroooo."

"Hmmm...you're right, that was a bad pun." Blast. Bit talking to the Liger was rubbing off on him.

CP-04 cannons took aim on the Shadow Fox, who could only glare daggers in return. Daggers and swords and other sharp pointy objects. "Bye bye, Shadow Fo—"

"Stop!" Light cannon fire bounced off the Wolf, distracting it from Ballad...and the Jäger slamming into it and sending it flying a few seconds later helped too. "He's down, no need to keep shooting at him!" The Wolf backflipped and landed on its feet, caught off-guard again. Mach mentally kicked himself, but his partner was far happier about the idea. Hey, a challenge!

"Ah, so this is one of the famed Zero's CAS armors. Zero Jäger, is it not?"

"Yep! And I'd like to see your Wolf outrun me now!"

The Shadow Fox hated to admit it, but for once it was glad to have the armor-changing cat around. Liger'd show that Command Wolf a thing or two about being annoyingly strong and quick.

The two speedy Zoids faced each other, sizing each other up while the Liger growled faintly. In some unspoken sort of agreement, they took off at the same moment, the Liger dimly registering the Shadow Fox calling after it, telling it to kick that stupid Command Wolf's tail...well, not in those words, but the Liger Zero had never been the type to repeat such things.

The Jäger pulled up alongside the Wolf, mirroring that long ago battle with Jack Sisco and his Lightning Saix. "Get 'im!" The Jäger rammed the lighter Wolf, jolting it but not sending it out of its stride. The Wolf raised its e-shield and returned the favor, and followed it by increasing its speed even further.

Back in the downed Raynos, Jamie's eyes widened at the blinking figure on the display. "312 kph? How can a Command Wolf run like that?" It had to be the organoid. Oh, how he'd love to study one of those...preferably one that wasn't shredding his team at the moment. "315...317...that has to be wrong...it can't be!"

"Knnhh. Jäger, ion booster on! GO!" The Liger's boosters folded out, and the piercing whine of boosters powerful enough to propel a 100-ton cat at the crazy speed of 330 kph filled the air. The Liger rammed the Wolf again. Hey, if it worked with the Saix...

"Mach, show him where your name comes from." Shineryuu smirked.

The Wolf howled, although this time it sounded like the roar of an organoid too. Dragon wings of glowing blue unfolded from its shoulders, whipping out partway and seemingly fixing in place. They caught ablaze with energy as the Jäger's boosters had, alight in waves of brilliant neon blue along the back edges.

The seemingly impossible speed of the Command Wolf grew even more so, and Jamie's eyes widened along with it. "325...332...347 kph?!? W...what? How? Even with an organoid, it should be tearing itself apart! Command Wolves just aren't built for that kind of speed!"

Shineryuu's Command Wolf, it would seem, had never read that part of the manual.

"I don't...believe it." Bit was squished against the back of his seat. The only ground-based Zoid he'd met yet that could outrun Jäger like this was the Fury, and it was one of the most powerful Zoids built, not a Command Wolf. "Hang on, Liger...come on, you can outrun her."

"Rrrf..." Can't... The Liger's 'voice' was pained. It, too, was being pushed to its limits, several alarms going off on the console that neither of them had noticed.

"Come on...since when do you...say can't?" Blast it all, his left eye was starting to tear from all the G-forces or whatever the console was beeping at him about. No time to wipe it away...he settled for blinking repeatedly instead.

When I know that there is no way that I can. We need a new plan, I can't keep this up for much longer.

"Neither can I." His right eye was bothering him now too, and so was that warning about the boosters nearing some limit in big red text. Big red text usually qualified as Not A Good Thing.

So how do we slow it down?

"You've got guns, don't you? Even if we miss, we might get her to stop." Bit lowered the impact cannon on the Liger's belly, wondering if it would even work at these speeds. Only one way to—

"Bit, wait!"

Jamie's warning came too late, and the Liger fired, shots flying wildly off-target as the recoil sent it enough off-balance to be deadly at these speeds, and the Jäger executed a nice set of ungainly backflips in the dust, ion boosters automatically shutting off, but still enough to send it skidding through a sand dune and into a cliff face with a rather nasty smack.

"Bit? BIT! Are you okay!?"

"...ow."

"What did you think you were DOING? Geh...okay, how many fingers am I holding up?"

"Ten."

"Oh, dear."

"Well, you held up both hands, and they each have five fingers. If you meant the ones pointing up too, there were three."

Jamie sighed. "Biiiit. Guys, he's fine."

The Liger, however, wasn't quite so fine...at least the Jäger bits weren't. One of the boosters was half-sheared off, and many various bits were otherwise damaged. The Liger growled in annoyance, shedding the armor, which fell to the ground with dull whumph-noises. Stretching, it found the rest of its systems to be pretty much intact, and roared a challenge to the Wolf.

I may be naked, darnit, but I'm not done yet! Come and get me! ...wait, that sounded wrong.

"Huh?"

Uh...never mind. Wolf headed our way, and quickly.

"On the count of three. One..."

Silently, the Liger crouched, claws lighting up in readiness for one last shot of its trademark attack, one last chance.

Ni!

The blur of blue that was the Command Wolf of DOOM at full speed streaked for the armorless Liger Zero with the confidence of one who is assured of certain victory, paws alight with Strike Laser Claw-glow too. Still the Liger stood there, waiting to pounce, as its blurred enemy drew closer, closer.

"Threeeeeee!"

And with that, it sprung, the Wolf still some distance away. It wasn't intending to meet it head on, no...and as it came back down, it was with a satisfying crash of metal, its claws snagging the hindquarters of the Wolf, ripping through one side of the Wild Weasel Unit and slicing into its right leg, tearing off the outer armor.

The Wolf bayed furious insults to the sky as the Liger touched down, the remains of a piece of leg armor fairly disintegrating beneath its paw as it landed. Without its armor, the vents for Strike Laser Claw left the sides of its face glowing, taking on the appearance of a flaming ruff as it turned to face the Wolf, not taking the system offline for a second.

"Che...clever pilot, aren't you, Cloud?" The Wolf limped to its feet, having sustained its first real damage in the fight yet. Its huge speed advantage was obviously gone, although it still moved far more smoothly than a Command Wolf with a torn-apart leg should.

The leg...the organoid is holding it together. Look, Bit!

Sure enough, the joints at the top of the thing were shining with the same blue glow as the Wolf's 'wings' had been. That probably meant Mach was focusing more of his efforts on that than on strengthening the Wolf. Even as he watched, though, the leg looked to be slowly healing...or was that a trick of the light?

"Liger, let's go, NOW!" The feline Zoid need no encouragement, and before the words had even left its partner's mouth, it was headed for the temporarily disabled Wolf, still-on Strike Laser Claws two burning points of light by now.

"Surprise." The Wolf's leg collapsed, but in an orderly enough way that it changed the motion into a roll, showing just where the energy had gone. A rather nasty-looking blade of the stuff lanced out from its side—an instant Blade-Liger-in-a-box sort of thing.

"Oh, cr—"

Claw hit blade.

Energy overloaded, and things went boom.

Mainly, the Wolf's side, and almost every system in the Liger's right leg. The cat Zoid hit the ground hard, yowling as sparks crackled along its torso, nearly everything else shutting down to prevent the damage from spreading. The Command Wolf fared no better, combat system going down seconds after its own attack backfired on it, and Mach unfusing from the core to flop tiredly on the ground in a tangle of dark blue limbs.

Ow... The Liger echoed its pilot's earlier sentiments. At least the Wolf was down, Bit and his friends were safe...must...regenerate systems.

"Liger, you okay?" The only response Bit got was a notice on the screen:

Your Zoid is currently under a protective system shutdown. Please contact the nearest Republic base using the emergency comm system backups. Thank you, have a nice day, and remember to buy Celeste brand systems, the most reliable on Zi!

"Ehhh?" He tilted his head to the side and blinked. "Well, so long as you're okay." Bit fumbled for the manual release on the cockpit, only to have it jam with a loud click-snap. "Oh, come onnn." More jiggling, more clicking, no cockpit opening.

The battle over and the adrenaline rush subsiding, Bit now realized that his eyes itched, the harness was making his shoulders hurt...and most importantly, he was really, really hungry. And he was stuck in Liger's cockpit, where the amount of available food was probably limited to the crumbs on the floor from when he'd been eating chips. "Heeelllp! Guys, I'm stuck!"

"It's not like we can get over there, you idiot!"

"I'll get him out. First challenge I've had in years, can't let him stay stuck in a cockpit and not say hello."

So, the pilot of this Command Wolf of DOOM! thing—Shineryuu, whoever that was—was finally going to show her face. Ballad couldn't resist focusing in on the Wolf's cockpit, if only to put a face to someone who could pilot a Command Wolf so insanely well, even if they did seem like something of a jerk.

His dislike for the unknown pilot melted away the second he saw her, however. She had flowing, silky mahogany hair, glistening in the rays of the sun while delicate highlights of cinnamon and bronze cascaded down to her shoulders. She was beautiful, like a delicate rose growing alone in a tangled garden of weeds, or a rainbow after a gentle shower on a hot summer day.

(Oh, look, an author's note in the middle of the story for no reason, disrupting the flow to say something unimportant...mainly, AHH, MY BRAIN, it hurts to write like that! Thank you.)

Bit fiddled idly with the cockpit release, as if poking at it would make it magically work. He hoped the wolf-pilot was serious. He didn't feel like being stuck in here until Liger regenerated enough to let him out or the Hover Cargo could get to them.

Knock, knock. Well, that had to be her. Bit looked to the right and saw a girl...brownish hair, close to his age—hey, woah, the organoid-thingie! It reminded Bit somewhat of a sleek dark blue Lightning Saix. The armor was entirely different and it didn't have a big gun-thing on its back, but the head was kind of like one, with those neat silver teeth.

"I wish people wouldn't stare at me like that."

It could talk? Problems forgotten for the moment, Bit leaned farther over. If not for the harness, he probably would have been pressing his face to the cockpit glass. "Hey, cooool! You speak Japanese!"

"...yes, Mach does. Now, do you want me to get you out of there, or not?"

"Oh! Eh he...yes!"

 

And so it was that the members of Team Blitz now were talking to this young woman—Shineryuu—around the table. Well, at least they were trying to talk...it's kind of hard to strike up a conversation with someone who was only recently shredding your Zoid.

Bit was more interested in Mach, as was Doc, whom Mach had already threatened to bite twice if he didn't stop poking him saying how amazing and shiny and rare he was. Rinon seemed to be only glaring at Shineryuu for now, although anyone who knew her could tell you she was going to explode any minute. Jamie was trying to think of what to say and generally acting nervous, especially after Mach moved to sit next to him to avoid being poked.

What about Ballad, you say? Well, he was a different story altogether...a rather out-of-character one, at that. He merely sat gazing at Shineryuu with anime-ish hearts in his eyes, which Bit finally noticed when Mach moved. "Erm." He waved a hand in front of Ballad's face. The man didn't even blink. Well, that wasn't like him.

"You CHOPPED THE LEG OFF MY GUN SNIPER, and now you want to be our FRIEND? Couldn't you have just said that FROM THE START, YOU IDIOT?"

"I had to test you. See if you were worthy. And I don't just want to be your 'friend', I want to join your team."

"WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN!?"

"My, we have a short temper."

"GRAAAH!"

"Um...Rinon, please don't strangle our guest."

*smack!* *thud*

The rest of Team Blitz stared in shock. Not only had someone gotten the upper hand on Rinon, they had slapped her...and knocked her clean to the floor. She sat there, confused, holding the side of her face and looking as if she were going to cry.

"Hey, you okay?" Bit held out a hand to pull her up, confused by how oddly everyone was acting.

"I guess I am...now." Rinon gave him a look similar to Ballad's vacant stare earlier before turning to glare again at Shineryuu.

Bit tilted his head to one side. Was there some sort of giant-anime-heart-eyes syndrome going around, or something?

Shineryuu went on to explain that she was an orphan—her parents had been killed when she was four, possibly by Backdraft, because they're evil—and she had found her Zoid wandering around in the desert. It had been just a plain Command Wolf at the time, and she'd taught herself how to pilot it while learning to survive in the wilderness, fight off bandits (also evil) and bake apple pie. When she was seven she'd already figured out how to repair and build Zoids using nothing but rocks (special pointy rocks) and tools she'd managed to save from her father's beloved collection of "nifty obscure Zoid-related tools of the ages". She'd run into Mach one day, who had no idea what he was doing here, of all places, and the two had become inseparable friends. Mach had helped her build the Command Wolf of DOOM! as well, evolving it further from the base of her old Command Wolf.

"That's so...inspirational! Waaaaah!" Mach rolled his eyes as Ballad stated going on and on about how amazing the whole story was, and was soon joined by the Doc and Jamie. Raising a paw to his face, he pretended to bash himself on the head...which Bit of course saw and found quite funny.

"You had BETTER not be laughing at her story, Bit!"

"What, you're on her side now? Owowow...hey, I'm just kidding, besides, I was just laughing at Mach."

Rinon looked over at the organoid, who sat perfectly still, his face a mask of shiny blue feline grace. "Uh-huh. Sure."

Bit stuck his tongue out at Mach and then turned to Shineryuu. "Hey, can you make one of those pies you mentioned now? I'm hungry."

"It's a bit late for pie, but I do know how to make 39 different kinds of cookies. Let's see...almond pistachio fudge ripple, cranberry orange supreme..."

"Can you make chocolate chip ones?"

"Yes, but that's so mundan—"

"Oooh! Ooooh! Chocolate chip! I wanna help! Can I eat some of the chocolate chips if I help?"

"Hey, if he gets chocolate, I want to help too!" Rinon insisted, followed by the Doc and everyone else.

"...wouldn't it just be easier to buy some chocolate chips and be done with it?" Mach said, not understanding how being potential cookie-ingredients made them taste any better.

"NO!"

"Fine, fine."

 

"Pass me the chocolate chips, would you? No, you can't eat them, or we won't have enough for a fourth batch."

"We wouldn't be making one if someone didn't keep eating them the minute they came out of the oven."

"Yeah, who knew Doc could do that? I mean, even I don't eat them when they're that hot." Bit sat watching the Doc peel another cookie off the sheet—still steaming. "Do—"

"Shh! This...requires...concentration!" The Doc juggled the cookie from hand to hand for a few seconds as he said this, finally tossing it into the air and catching it in his mouth. "It's like those people who walk on hot coals: you have to do it correctly, or...well, it's painful. I'd be happy to teach you how, if you'd like."

"No, you're not eating any more of these." Shineryuu brandished a mixing spoon, holding it as one might a sword. "Now, are you going to either leave or help, or am I going to have to demonstrate my deadly spoon fighting technique with which I once vanquished 17 bandits and their dog?"

"Erm."

"EEEE-YAGH!"

"What was that?" Jamie said. "It almost sounded like—"

"BALLAD! AH HA HA! Your hair!" Bit nearly collapsed laughing as the source of the scream entered the room...with a hairbrush rather firmly tangled in his hair at a rather odd angle.

"This. Is. Not. FUNNY."

"Yes it is!"

"Grrrrh. It's all your fault, too, mister let's spill a whole bag of flour so it gets in Ballad's hair."

"Hey, I don't see how that got the hairbrush stuck like that."

"Easy. I tried to brush it out."

"Erm." Bit backed up a few steps, not liking how Ballad was slowly walking towards him like some sort of unfriendly animal closing in for the kill.

"Yeah, well, I tried getting the brush wet after that. You know what happens when you mix flour and water?"

"Hey, you're the one that forgo—GAK!"

"Why is everybody trying to strangle each other? Ballad, please, stop that." Jamie, not sure what else to do, moved aside for Shineryuu...who merely shoved a cookie in Ballad's mouth.

"Mmmph." Releasing his hold on Bit's neck and grabbing the cookie before it could fall, Ballad chewed for a few seconds. "Mmm, chocolate." Bit quickly moved out of his reach, lest he remember the hairbrush. "I suppose it was more of my fault."

Ballad apologizing like that? Things sure were getting strange, Bit thought, relaxing a little.

"Peace via chocolate..." Mach remarked idly as he watched flour fall from his paws. Being able to burn things off with energy was a useful skill at times. Too bad he couldn't teach it to humans. Oh, that Doc guy was trying to steal a cookie again. Mach shifted and 'accidentally' stepped on the edge of his coat, and then sat pretending not to notice. That'd show him.

"Come on, Ballad, I'll get that brush out of your hair." Shineryuu said, grabbing the taller man by the arm. "Jamie, you take over. Mach, the Doc's going to fall if you don't stop that." She then left, dragging an again heart-eyed Ballad by the arm. Mach grumbled and lifted his paw.

"How long until they're done? Oh, wait...we have to turn the oven back on, right?"

"Ack, Rinon, you didn't need to turn it off in the first place." Jamie was even more convinced he was the only one here with any common sense.

"Bit, leave the flour ALONE."

"What makes you think I'll drop it again—whoops! AAH!"

 

The chaos that the Team Blitz kitchen had become faded to quiet around midnight, the mess having been left for someone (Jamie, doubtless) to clean up in the morning. Bit, covered in flour, had left a trail of white footprints leading into the bathroom, and was now asleep on a couch, his hair still rather spikey...well, more so than usual. Rinon was sitting in a chair watching TV and throwing magazines from a nearby stack at Bit when he snored. Jamie had been trying to watch the same show, but had passed out in his chair, and was now sleeping half-falling out of it, with Mach's shoulder serving as a pillow. The organoid, being a cat, had not considered it worth moving over, and was now alternating between drowsing and glaring at the more noisy of the commercials. Ballad, hair fixed (if a bit frizzy) sat on the floor along with Shineryuu, who was discussing her joining the team with Doc. It seemed that she was here to stay.

 

Hey, another match with Team Tigers? Haven't they learned they can't beat us? Oh, well. Woah, what's with Rinon? Kyaaa, Bit, she's gone crazy! Run away, run away! Next Zoids New Century Slash Zero, Romance and Neon-Yellow Saber Tigers! Run, Bit! Ready, FIGHT!


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