Gilvader hunting


The Gilvaders are masters of the northern skies. We leave them alone, or we did—the foreign commander demands flying Zoids worthy of an empire, and Guylos has finally listened.

It's not the commander I blame, not really. We're more alike, him and me, than me and my own emperor. He's lost his home and wants it back; mine is here and overrun. The invaders call themselves a Republic, their actions a preemptive strike to stop Guylos inevitably taking their continent. It's us on Nyx who have to watch the ground taken out from under our feet.

When I was growing up, everyone fought each other. For resources, for a good scrap, for a good scrap about resources...it was our way of finding our worth and our place in the harsh climate. With Guylos, it became for or against the Emperor, and our Zoids grew organized, color-coded. We're efficient now, an army worthy of ruling Nyx and the world. But we're not used to fighting together, and it chafes just like it does for our Zoids.

Mine's a Gul Tiger, one of the great Devil's Maze springcats. Its ambush has become shock warfare, its metal coat orange and yellow instead of tawny-silver blending against rock walls. Today, we're hunting again. We're just doing it a little differently.

I should be glad.

But my hands shake at the controls and my Tiger wriggles in time, a soft rumble holding steady in its throat. Snow squeaks, compacted under its feet, and to my growing paranoia, it's the sound of metal torn under teeth and cores eaten. Gilvaders attack Dark Army Zoids now, driven into the taiga and to desperation by our picking through the wild types. The ones left aren't enough for either of us.

Flares light up, ahead and above, and I catch sight of the Gilvader as it dives, a silver blur accelerating faster than the pursuing Redlers can track with their guns. I hold my breath as it skims the tops of the metal pines for one needle-whipping moment, and hold tight to the yoke as my Tiger's teeth grind in anticipation. (Or is that my teeth?)

Not yet; closer, closer. The Gilvader slams into and through the canopy, spraying wood like magnetized flak behind it with an upstroke of bladed wings. The lead Redler squeals and its pilot screams—and then, I lose sight of them.

The Gilvader twists away and lower, whipping into tight turns through trees. Nets fired its way miss, clattering and wrapping around branches. I hear the cracks as they detonate, and I can smell the burnt metalwood upwind. (Or is that the Redler?)

We wait our turn, us ground pilots, and when it comes my Zoid's away in an eager flash, prey drive overcoming my hesitation until it sees the shape of what I've led it onto. It pulls up, yowling (in fear? in disbelief?), and I find my own reaction time shamefully slow. The Tiger ahead of me fires (and misses), and there's a flash of ruby-edged blades as its head bursts from eye to eye.

Blood and metal and plexiglas shower the forest and my Tiger panics with me, stopping just short of plowing into its blinded companion.

Central Continent naturalists suggest the lines of glowing blades on a Gilvader's wings are not blades at all, but decorative; perhaps a ruff for intimidating rivals, or wild magnesser technology used as communication. To them, our animals are something to sketch in great books detailing their wildest theories, like a scientist's bedtime story. They have never seen a real Gilvader, or they would know why we don't hunt Gilvaders.

The other Tiger flashes claws and swats the air, shaking its head convulsively and keening. The remains of its eyes rattle in its face, and the Gilvader takes a step back, snorting as blood hits its nose. My Tiger arches its back and responds with a low growl, and the Gilvader matches it with a hiss, fluffing its wingblades again like so much bristled hair. A warning, a chance? Leave its territory, forget my duty but remember this.

Our interlude lasts seconds, barely even moments, and then the Gilvader moves to take off and I fire.

The proximity sensors in my netgun were designed by Earth humans. They're as reliable as promised, and the Gilvader comes back to earth screeching and rolling horns over tail into the underbrush. It's a sickening sound, punctuated by electrical humming and metal flesh breaking, cracking apart—you couldn't stop a Gilvader with cord alone. These nets carry enough charge to drop one of our Tigers twice over. You only need the core, Guylos told the engineers, and they can live alone. Don't worry about the body.

We go to tie the thing up by hand, the remaining Redler pilots and I; it's what we've always done, even if here it will take grappling equipment and trailers. Seems right, somehow, to look a beast in the eye before you turn it into machine. To know what you're piloting, you have to face it.

As the Gilvader lies in front of me, forelegs twisted underneath its ribs and tongue lolling as it pants for air, I catch its gaze. It stares back through a haze of pain, and I don't think I could answer the accusations in its eyes even if I spoke some way it would comprehend.

Will the Central Continent commander talk to his Zoid, I wonder, or understand from where it comes?


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