[Unmaking] The Siege of Markov

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In earlier days, the pilot had been an enigmatic figure who chose actions over words.

Even as the corruption seethed through every fiber of its being, the Arbiter of Cevanti—its form that of the hero war pilot known as Ember Ramsey—marched toward the desolate installation. For untold ages, this facility had remained concealed, even though it was within a few weeks march of Markov. It was here, buried deep beneath the surface, that some of the final horrors of the End lay in sweet repose. On a world of tombs, this was the only one that should never be opened.

Yet, the entity that approached the hidden gateways was no longer the Arbiter it had once been, and its intentions were no longer amicable or even apathetic. Darkness seethed and even scalded the air around the lithe, spandex-clad figure as she waved a hand and caused the mountain side to quite literally melt out of existence. As it did, it revealed the final resting place of the Fade.

“The time has come,” Ember’s voice was a twisted facsimile of how it should have been. Her eyes, once fierce and unparalleled throughout the kingdom, were now dark pools of boiling corruption. Her mind, once her sharpest asset, was now a fetid pool of nihilism and ill-intentions. “The End is upon us. We must let the cycle begin anew.”

Floating up into the sky, Ember literally melded into the looming, inert machine that had been entombed in the mountain for generations. As she vanished, the Doomsday Mech—the Fade—started to whir and hum to life as its systems started to boot up, one by one. Once rusted servos screeched as they shed the by-products of the machine’s former inertia, and stepping forward, the Fade tore apart its tomb as it stepped out into the sunlight.

From within the towering, mechanoid machine, a single will drove it forward.

The End is here.

Private First-Class Steve Nessing exhaled as he walked the small pathway that connected the two turret nests he was responsible for during his shift. He was in the northwest quadrant of Markov, which placed him in one of the least enjoyable zones to have to ‘turret watch’, because most incursions by wild zoids came from the southern points of the city. Up here, they rarely dealt with anything more ferocious than the occasional storm cloud.

As he finished his eighty sixth lap of his shift, the man heard the radio crackled to life. “Hey, Steve, you around?”

“Oh, great, what now…” the soldier spun on his heels and jogged back to the ‘communications station’ – in reality, it was a handheld radio on a partially rusted end table, but his superiors had a knack for using jargon everywhere they could. “Go for Private Nessing.”

“Have you check out the radar lately?”

“No, why?”

“You’re lighting up like a fucking Christmas tree out there … you need to look ASAP.”

“What the fuck is a Christmas tree?”

“Just verify what we’re seeing here in Central with what’s on your radar and do it on the fucking hop!”

Keeping the headset on, Steve scooped up the rest of the radio and made for the little cabin that stood at the midsection of his two turrets. By the time he was reaching for the handle, he didn’t need to bother, because both of the nearby turrets started to belch out automatic fire, startling him almost enough to send him toppling over the side of the wall.

Steve turned his head slowly.

Probably a clique out, a massive black mass was moving toward the shield wall. Within a few seconds, that force would be in among the outerlying, unprotected bits of the city, and the turrets would lose a lot of their efficiency until it was too late to deal with a force of that scale.

“Private Nessing? Can you confirm? … Private Nessing!”

“Uhh, duhh,” the man’s words were a jumbled, frenetic mess in his mouth. After taking a moment to collect himself, he responded. “We’re under attack.”

“How many, Private?”

“Too many, Sir.”

“We’re reading hundreds of signatures down here.”

Thousands.” The Private lifted his eyes as he saw the enormous shape that stood behind the slow-moving mass of corrupted zoids and akata. The black mech was unlike anything the soldier had ever seen or even read about. “I think this is the end,” he whispered as something flashed on the shoulder of that enormous mech.

A moment later, the shack exploded next to the soldier, and he was flung far back into the city.

The City of Markov is under siege by an army of corrupted feral zoids and akata (details in the Wiki if you need them -- they're like shadow monsters... shadow monsters given even more hideous might by Darksied corruption). At the rear of this invasion force is the Fade, the 'doomsday mech' of the world's Arbiter.

Over the next 4 weeks, people will have an opportunity to take part is the protection of the city, which entails the defense of the shield/energy walls, which are Markov's main defensive fortification. To participate, you will write in this thread. Fighting will take place primarily in the regions of Markov outside the walls, as its protectors try to prevent the horde of corrupted mecha-fauna from crashing against the dome and compromising it. Player characters and NPCs are allowed to post in this thread, partaking in the defense of the city. Feel free to craft your own subplots during the siege, which will spread from the northwest part of the city to encompass most of Markov. Please be aware that posting in this thread means you consent to the possibility that your character, summon, minions, or base might be killed/destroyed/damaged. This falls under the purvey of 'staff event', even if the only prize is likely 'You get to keep writing a little longer on Cevanti'.

Staff will read along and can offer feedback or questions as needed in the Discord (the Unamking AMA or smol-questions, if the AMA goes away at some point over the next few weeks), but otherwise we're letting the interested members craft this story as they please. The Fade will remain near the rear and seems content to watch the carnage, while occasionally shelling a fortified position. You're more than welcome to go commit suicide-by-Arbiter if you would like.

In late September, staff will lock this thread, review it, and determine the fate of Markov. If people fought for its protection, the city might be able to 'check' the forces of the Corrupted Arbiter. If the defense wasn't quite up to the challenge? Well... there are still a few other Worlds you can call home?
 

Roy Mustang

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The dropship landed at the forward command post amid the sound of distant artillery fire. Mustang waved off the doctor who had just finished re-stitching and wrapping his head wound, and exited the vessel with Second Lieutenant Hawkeye behind him. A few soldiers stopped to salute as they went about their duties, but amid the scrambling defense force there was little time for etiquette.

“What do we know about them so far?” He asked as they strode across the makeshift landing dock.

“It’s a larger number of Zoids than any we previously have on record, Sir.” Hawkeye answered, rifling through the reports she had on hand, “And there’s apparently something wrong about them. A few of the reports are saying they seem more aggressive than previous encounters, and two independent units have reported them as seeming twisted and perhaps crazed. They seem to be avoiding a direct charge into our artillery fire, but they’re causing rampant destruction to our forward positions outside of the barrier…” She paused, frowning at the report.

“…They’re apparently leveling whole buildings in some cases”

Mustang glanced back at her, sharing her frown.

“Like the plants in that abandoned sector? Damn, they may be related…” He scratched his head, as they neared the command post’s interior, “What’s our counter been so far?”

“His Majesty is assembling the military but sending our men outside the barrier will likely mean heavy casualties. Apparently the Pilot’s Union has deployed the Red Rhino wing on the western flank to support our artillery batteries there, and Cytokine has a full battalion of Mobile Suits out there, keeping them from rushing the barrier, GM models apparently.”

Mustang raised an eyebrow. “How long has Aria had those?”

“This is the first we’ve been informed of them, Sir.”

“Wonderful, at least Cytokine’s cooperating with us for the moment.” Mustang pushed open the door and approached the holographic map at the center of room.

The ranking officer at the front, Colonel Herrick glanced up from the map. He was a well-regarded officer, known for his iron discipline and forthright valor, even when it had cost him personally. Herrick turned to face them as they approached, his cybernetic eye whirred as it rotated into focus. Mustang and Hawkeye saluted standing at attention.

“Major Mustang, reporting for duty from Eastern Command, Sir!”

Colonel Herrick gave a curt nod, turning back to the holomap. “At ease. We’ll certainly need the help; this is assault is a nightmare!” He pointed to a cluster of red dots on the map, surging towards one of their forward signal bunkers. “Watch that pack of Zoids there, we’ve ordered an artillery bombardment to intercept their approach.”

The swarm of markers charged headlong at the defense position, but then split into three equal groups to flank the position mere seconds before the artillery fire obliterated the remainder of the pack that was on its initial trajectory. The other two portions smashed into the bunker with minimal resistance, and shortly after that the position went dark, replaced with the longer-range scan that showed only moving targets leaving the scene.

“When have you seen Zoids coordinate like that? They’re supposed to be big dumb beasts!” the Colonel clenched his fist, “They’re targeting our signal relays, no doubt about it! And don’t get me started about those damn Akata, we can’t even keep them on our sensors, who knows how close to the barrier they’re getting!”

There was a distant hum of energy that swelled until it momentarily overpowered the sound of the auto turrets. An advance squadron of Cytokine’s GM units switched from active to non-responsive on the holomap. Colonel Herrick grit his teeth, mustache shaking slightly.

“And that’s not to mention the mountain sized Mech at the back of it all! Can’t even send in air support or evacs between that thing and the aerial Zoids…” Herrick glanced back up to Mustang with a desperate eye, “If you’ve got any fancy ideas, this might be a good time for them. For the moment, I’m putting you in command of Batteries seven and eight on the Northern front.” He turned away from them and hollered, “Smithson! Get another pair of headphones and patch these two through to Bakers seven and eight!”

There was vague shouting through out the command post, but Mustang remained focused on the holodisplay. This attack was unlike anything they’d seen before in Markov. Despite their best efforts, the truth was, they weren’t prepared for it. The enemy was defying its conventional tactics and attacking their weak points with a coordinated effort. Markov’s defenses were performing near perfectly, exactly as intended, but the match-up did not look to be in their favor. The Auto-turrets and mechs wouldn’t be enough on their own. The enemy knew to expect those things to be part of Markov’s defensive arsenal. They needed a counter deception to gain the upper hand. He glanced towards Herrick.

“While they’re getting the communications set up, Sir, I need to borrow a connection to the medium.” He asked. The Colonel nodded and jerked a thumb towards one of the doors out of the room. Mustang bowed respectfully and exited the room.

“What’s the plan, sir?” Hawkeye asked as they left the main room.

“We need help, Second Lieutenant. This is an attack that’s designed to beat us at exactly what we do best. When I was on that comet, there were people there with strange powers beyond anything we have here in Markov.” He turned to face Hawkeye, a bit of a nervous grin on his face, “I was never able to get my bearings, there were so many strange skill sets at their disposal, even with that bastard's collars hampering their powers. If we can harness that power, it could turn the tide in our favor out there.”

Hawkeye frowned.

“That’s risky, Sir. If we cast too wide a net, we may get some people who will be more of a detriment to the cause than help.”

“Agreed, we'll need to keep a close eye on them. It’ll be worth it if they can do half of what I saw during that fight. Frankly, if we don’t do something unexpected, I’m not at all sure we’ll be able keep the barrier safe.”
 

Mickey Mouse

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As Major Mustang’s message shot out across the Medium’s airwaves, the walls of Markov continued to face the dark army’s unrelenting power. The Kingdom’s forces converged with Cytokine’s -- truly -- for the first time in what felt like generations. Certainly, no coalescing of this magnitude had happened during the very short lifespan of fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada; so as he emerged from the clouds on the back of his bulbous flying robot, the sight of the city’s combined might sent chills up his spine.

The sight of the enemy’s even more gargantuan force made the hairs on his neck stand on end.

Baymax, down!” he called, and the robot in the racing red armor dove, zipping past the borders of the city and over the heads of the Cytokine mechs already taking the fight to the enemy. Mech after mech fell under the crushing attacks of the wild zoids and akata. Hiro blinked as they zoomed over the action, trying to process what he was seeing as quickly as he could.

Nothing about this attack made sense. The zoids and the akata were wild, servants of no master; out in the Wastes, he and Baymax had squared off with many of them and not only lived to fight another day, but arguably thrived. Now, some force willed the monsters together, undoubtedly stemming from the huge, dark mecha positioned at the back of the horde. It was so far away that Hiro almost couldn’t make it out, but it loomed over the enemy army, and emitted such a vast, fearful aura that the boy genius himself felt his trademark confidence crumbling beneath it.

A blood-curdling scream from meters below reached the boy’s ears, and he glanced down to a wild zoid ripping a man out of the front of a Cytokine mech. “Baymax,” Hiro patted the bot’s shoulder, and immediately their course shifted. He bounced off of the back of the bot and landed on the ground, shooting out one of his purple gauntlet’s magnetic grip ropes. The bright blue cord wrapped around the zoid’s leg and the scrawny boy pulled as hard as he could, trying to sever the beast from its victim.

The zoid, pilot still lodged firmly in its jaw, glanced back at the diminutive form of Hiro Hamada, seeing before a short, violet-armored snack, a nice palate cleanser after its main course. Beneath his helmet, Hiro grinned innocently. “Uh,” he said, waving his cordless hand. “Hey, mind putting that guy down?”

The zoid, as if responding, crunched down on the pilot. Hiro’s face contorted into a scowl as he heard the man’s spine cracking beneath the mechanized monster’s teeth.

“Well, that just won’t do.”

A red, armored fist crashed into the creature’s jaw, knocking the crippled pilot free. Hiro leapt for the man, sliding in front of him to try his best and cushion his impact, as the rocket fist flew back to Baymax and locked back into the robot’s arm. The humongous zoid monster turned its attention to the heavy-set robot, who stared blankly at the creature as it crept towards him. “Hello, I am Baymax.”

The beast roared in response, its eyes flashing shades of blue, purple, and black as darkness began to creep out of its mechanical joints. And not just shadows -- but what seemed to be literal dark matter, or energy, or…

What the hell is this?

Hiro knelt next to the weakened pilot, whose senses were beginning to return to him. The young, broken man looked up at his rescuer, and fought through the blood bubbling up in his throat to scream.

“A child?” he called, reaching as much as he could with one of his limp arms and smacking Hiro away from him. As the zoid crept toward Baymax, shadow energy leaking out of every gap in its mechanized form, Hiro scrambled away from the mangled soldier. “Get outta here, kid,” the man choked on his own blood, “this is no place -- for someone -- like you.”

A limp hand reached out, then fell to the ground. Dust flew up around him, and the soldier, clinging to life, coughed as it mixed with the blood trickling from his lips.

Hiro’s chest heaved up and down as the man’s face began to melt and reform into someone familiar’s. He watched with horror as the defeated soldier started to look like a mutilated Tadashi. The young boy sat frozen as the hallucination took over, until finally, seconds later, Baymax scooped him off the ground and blasted into the air.

Hiro,” the healthcare bot deadpanned, “my sensors are telling me these creatures are different from normal zoids.”

“Yeah, Baymax,” Hiro nodded as he lay cradled in the robot’s arms, watching helplessly as the zoid ripped that pilot limb from limb. His gaze fell again to the mech at the back of the army, shrouded, as it was, in shadow. What’s… happening?

“Hiro,” Baymax droned, “it is not wise for us to continue to engage. We should find a place for you to hide.”

“No,” Hiro scoffed without hesitation, clambering up Baymax’s shoulder and locking in to the magnetic holds on his back again. “We’re going to fight. Where’s the nearest command center?”

“I have tracked the origin point of a recent system-wide communication to a forward command post on the northern front,” the robot explained. “This is the closest destination to our current position.”

“Then that’s where we’re going,” the boy genius decreed.

System-wide, Hiro thought as Baymax transferred the data from the comms to his helmet’s display. So they’re bringing in the big guns. He vaguely remembered stories of warriors -- some here on Cevanti, some throughout the Crossroads -- that had unnaturally, ridiculously powerful abilities, things a fourteen-year-old science brat like himself could only dream of. Certainly, then, if someone was reaching out past the planet’s borders, they were hoping to find allies like that.

Hiro couldn’t fulfill that request. No; he wasn’t special like that, in any way. Shit, he may be a genius, but at the end of the day, all he had was his big brain and his big bot.

Still… someone had to help, right? They couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.

“To the forward command post, Baymax,” he resolved. “Let’s see what this Major Mustang is all about.”

Hiro Hamada and Baymax have joined the party!
 

Ashe-0

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A system-wide communication. A video sent out with a call for aid and assistance. A desperate and risky measure, on the part of the one making it. With this scene unfolding of pure and unfettered chaos, however, it seemed like a risk that needed taking. The situation was hard to get a read on without being present, but it was clearly urgent enough that there was little need to do much in the way of studying or reading up on it. Help was needed, and in such a capacity as Ashe was fully primed and literally built to provide.

Amid the thunder of guns and the endless sound of mechanized warfare, a dim sound of electrical crackling took root. Barely noticeable at first, but building up swiftly to a point that it finally broke loose with a noise like thunder, and something quite literally dropped out of the sky from fifty feet up with a sound like lightning striking bare earth.

The haze of blue-white light faded, to reveal the towering figure of Ashe-0, already in motion to intercept the lumbering form of a charging zoid bearing down on the 'friendly' defensive forces. A decisive one-two blow from both fists on her right side hit like a sledgehammer, first staggering and then completely upending the mechanical beast's onrush to send it awkwardly flipping over into its backside.

"That was the first time I have waking memory of making such a spatial translocation and already I despise it," Ashe muttered. Her internal sensors were still going haywire trying to correct and adjust themselves. The whining about making a jump with 'imperfect coordinates' was going to take hours to clear out, she could already tell, and it was going to do nothing but sour her mood further.

"Holy hell, what in the--" A voice spoke up from nearby, and Ashe slowly swiveled her head about to find herself staring down the gun barrel of a firearm held in the hands of one of the mobile suits deployed in the city's defense.

"I am not a zoid. Nor am I an enemy." Ashe straightened up fully, but made no other sudden moves.

"Then what in the fuck are you?!" the pilot of the suit demanded.

"I am Ashe-0. I am a construct intended for war." One arm slowly lifted up to point out toward the current location of the bulk of the encroaching forces. "There is such a thing brewing here. I intend to assist."

"....damn it all to hell, we don't have the luxury to refuse any help we can get." The gigantic mech turned away, returning focus to the rest of the battle. "Just don't get in the way, or look like a threat!" And with the sound of whining and hissing servos it took off again.

"....affirmative," she responded flatly, turning back around to the zoid she had previously knocked flat to see it already back on its feet. Its eyes glimmered and sparked with something which seemed...out of place, somehow, in a way which she couldn't begin to place. That would require far more time and study than she had available at the moment. "Forgive me for being in a rush, but I do not have abundant time." The only response was a mechanized shriek she supposed was meant to resemble the cry of whatever animal this thing had once been based on, before it pounced.

It was met with no resistance.

Ashe simply stepped back and aside, twisting to let the mechanical beast move right past her...and swiftly brought one knee up into its midsection, her upper two arms rising up to interlock fists and slam both down into its back to catch it in a brutal makeshift pincer, leaving it momentarily stunned. Her remaining two arms proceeded to roughly shove it off of her. "Far more durable than expected...that had been intended to completely demolish its spine equivalent." The fact it had merely dented the armored exterior and left the creature stunned did not bode well.

A quick look at her hands showed superficial damage there as well, and minor notifications of it being not wise to continue with such impacts. Still not back to anywhere near full strength. Regrettable, very regrettable.

Precious little time to waste on that disappointment, however. There was action to be tended to, and a defense to properly organize. "The call for assistance was sent out by a specific individual. It would only be fair to go and answer it personally." She craned her neck around to peer over the surrounding chaos. "I believe it should be...this way, based on coordinates of the message."

And she lumbered off through the war thunder, toward the Major's last known position.
 

Mewtwo

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“Hawkins. Plans have changed, you’re with me now.”

Those were the words that Dasha Halen, Airman of the Pilots Union of Cevanti, got woken up to. They’d been ordered to stand by and be ready for deployment at any time, so she had laid down while decked out in full gear and only needed to slip her boots on, but she’d expected to be woken up by an order via speakers to get on one of the defense batteries. Instead, Lieutenant Nathan Carver held his hand out and tugged her to her feet when she grabbed it.

“Sir, if I may ask - what’s going on?” she asked as she hastily raised her hand to salute, but a dismissive hand wave from Carver shut that down. She then slipped her boots on and stuffed the laces into the top. There’d be time to tie them later. Carver was already putting on a brisk pace leading them through the low-ceiling corridors of the Pilots Union HQ.

“You miss the news, Halen?” Carver asked. He did not slow down, only slightly turn his head.

“Sir, no Sir. I mean, why did plans change?”

“The attack’s more intense than command first thought. Threat level got raised to triple red. We need every available pilot in the air, stat.”

That explains it, Halen thought. Carver was a ACS Mk-IV pilot, in control of manoeuvers while WSOs like Halen took care of the suit’s actual firepower. His partner, whose name eluded her right now, was able to pilot too, but normally was Carver’s WSO for some reason. But today was anything but normal.

“Lieutenant, Sir, if I may?”

Carver grunted. “At ease, Halen. Once we’re in the air ranks won’t matter anyway. You’re my wizzo now, so just call me Carver until we’re on the ground again.” She never had pegged him as being someone who pulled rank in the Union, but this was surprising. Especially considering how many rungs were between them on the ladder. But, she shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Alright… ah, what about mission briefing?”

“DASC will fill us in on the way. Short of it is, we’re providing air support. There’s Zoid bogeys in the sky, assaulting the shields and forcing ground troops into cover.” He stopped and turned around. Only now did Dasha notice that he held her helmet in his hand, which he pushed into her chest. Her hands closed around it. “What’s your track record again, Halen?”

“Tw- three outs, Sir. Two ground support, one aerial engagement.”

“So not a rookie. Good. Well, get your fangs out - we’re hunting big game today.” With that he began to walk again, crossing a large freight corridor and entering the hangar.

The sight amazed Dasha anew every day, even though she’d seen it some thirty times by now. Behind an IFF force-field keeping out unwanted aircraft was a hall three hundred meters across and with a ceiling well over a hundred meters above their heads. The floor was solid metal with Cat Shot rails to deploy aircraft without the need for a long runway, and enormous fans filled the room with a low hum as they cycled fresh air through. What was so breathtaking however were the Pilot Union’s flight units: the smaller, lighter but by no means weaker fighter planes, the Thunderhawk transport aircraft and of course the ACSes - the Aerial Combat Suits, Mk-I through V, the aerial equivalent of the ground-based Titans, bleeding edge Markov technology to ruin the day of anyone that crossed them.

And she’d only ever sat behind the controls of one in the flight sim. So despite what Halen was saying, she was in fact a rookie. But he had to know - WSOs of her level normally sat behind the controls of the lower-grade vehicles. ACSes were handled by a much higher paygrade.

No backing out now. As she followed Carver, she put on her helm and adjusted the strap around her chin, reducing outside noise to muffled humming and thumping. He was already approaching an ACS surrounded by engineers that were just in the process of detaching the fuel pump and closing compartments behind which Halen could see the belt-fed ammunition. A CAS30 Tank Buster and HE-65 Guided Missiles? Yikes. But then again, they were taking on large groups of Zoids and Akata… both heavily resistant creatures, especially the metal Wild Zoids.

The ACS currently looked like a fighter plane, in terms of shape. A bit bigger and with some rotating parts probably being tested right now, but a fighter plane nonetheless. Carver was already climbing into the front seat, and Halen hastily climbed the shorter ladder to get into the WSO seat, diagonally below in front of the pilot’s. As she strapped herself in Carver lowered the canopy, further blocking out the noise around them. Her head was pushed forward a bit as the computer automatically deployed the sync cables and plugged them into her helmet, lighting up her field of vision with a slew of info. Yeah, she’d never get used to that, no matter how often they’d practiced it in class.

“Okay Sirs, I’ll need you to complete pre-flight checks. Pilot, please tap the brakes and engage flaps and stabs…”

Halen paid relatively little attention to those next steps that came over the radio in her helmet. The engies were outside to check everything Carver would take care of, meanwhile she should tighten her shoelaces. Her feet were in a cramped space but if something happened and they needed to bail out fast… yeah.

“WSO, your systems check is next. Please begin with cannon.”

That was her cue. She pressed a button next to the archaic-looking screen to her left and watched as a green light lit up next to it. She tapped the trigger and heard the gun spin up, but nothing fired. Of course not, the security systems were still engaged, they were in the middle of Markov. Without that she’d have shredded that engineer that was just crossing the runway near the forcefield into minced meat faster than the eye could blink. She shuddered at the thought, thankful that the security systems weren’t faulty. She’d known to expect them not to allow the cannon to actually fire, of course, but there was always that nagging doubt - what if the security system failed and she was the one responsible for pulling the trigger on some poor unsuspecting engie that was just doing their job one moment and got so torn apart by anti-tank rounds the next that the cleanup crew would be hard-pressed to find any leftovers to send to their family? She wouldn’t be HELD accountable for the failure, but… well fortunately she was in no position to have to find that out.

“Alright, cannon spun up. Please switch to missiles.”

She tapped a button on the right side. The guided missile, that was a fun one… they had heatseeker mode for air-to-air engagements where they sought out whatever they could lock onto, like say the engine exhausts of Wild Zoids. Of course they had security measures implemented to prevent locking onto allied aircraft by mistake, but again… not something she wanted to test. As she pressed the button, a circle appeared on her visor, marking the area with which she could lock on to enemy air. She also had the option to enable TV mode, to guide the missile personally through a camera. A wonderful way to guide the payload into a big pack of opponents, or into a stationary target.

She hit the trigger. In her mind, the under-wing missile shot out, soared across the room and blew up against the forcefield. In reality, the security systems beeped, lights lit up green and the missile stayed where it belonged.

“Missiles tracking and ready. Please switch to bombs.”

Wait, bombs? She hadn’t seen those being loaded in! But as she checked the monitor before her, she saw it. ‘L015 AM Bombs’, it said. Shakily she pressed the button and nearly yelped as her seat, along with the rest of the cockpit, spun ninety degrees forward, to face her downwards. Only about a meter off the ground, she now had a clear view of the metal floor through the glass canopy, and her visor lit up with new info like the predicted trajectory based on distance to ground and proposed impact zone. She tapped the trigger. The hatch opened and dropped the Antimatter Bomb that was optimized to take out Akata, only for it to detonate a second later as it hit the ground, taking out the ACS, Halen, Carver, the four engineers around them and likely everyone else that was around in this half of the hangar.

Of course it didn’t do that. The security system stopped it again, and the light lit up marking that bombs worked too.

“Alright, weapons are green. Arm and check flares.”

Now for the defensive... Zoids had heatseeker missiles too, after all. She tapped the button above her trigger, and several flares dropped out the back, lighting up bright red, scorching and irreparably blinding the one engie that was just taking away the fuel-pump hose. Or it would’ve, had the security system not thrown a very welcome wrench in for one last time.

“Weapons and countermeasures good to go, all systems green, no outs. Ready down there, Halen?”

“Ready, Sir.” She switched back to cannon and the seat spun back into an upright sitting position.

“Alright, Anvil 3-2, you’re now third in line. Good luck out there.” The engies outside cut the radio and backed off as another of the ACSes was catapulted out through the forcefield and performed a wide arc to get into the sky over Markov. Halen watched as the next one was lined up while the Cat Shot was brought back, then catapulted it out. Then it was their turn. She heard the clunk of the catapult mechanism’s grapple arms locked around the front landing gear of their ACS, and the deep whirr as everything else rolled into place. Then the lone engie, behind the safety of a glass wall, raised their hand, Carver turned up the engines to full thrust and the Cat Shot threw them forward with so much force that Halen was pressed into the back of her seat. From zero to 300 kilometers per hour in two seconds. The force field came closer so fast that she involuntarily tried to press on the foot brake, which of course didn’t exist. The blue semitransparent wall was upon them in but a few seconds. They slipped through.

“Good shot. Good engines… end speed reached, landing gear up.” Carver’s voice was calm in all this. It was all routine to him. She could have relaxed and waited while he flew their suit to the designated battlefield. He was just swerving over Markov at an angle. Their hangar was, after all, north-facing and the north-west of the shield was where the main assault force was.

As they reached cruising altitude and Carver engaged the afterburners Halen could see the aerial Zoids darkening the sky. The briefings hadn’t exaggerated one bit… if anything, they had downplayed the attackers’s numbers.

Her stomach fell, and it wasn’t due to the minor turbulences they were passing. Even if these Zoids were cannon fodder - and they weren’t, she’d seen it first-hand - they were hopelessly outmatched. The Pilots Union might have mobilized every available pilot but they’d have to take out a hundred Zoids each to break even. Probably more.

And that was without taking into account the big black mecha in the back.

“Everything alright back there?” Carver’s voice through the radio tugged her out of her awake nightmare.

“Y-yes Sir. I’m, uh, assessing the situation.”

“... you got a family, Halen?”

“No, Sir... No interest. Rather become an officer than a SAHM..”

“Hah. You’re still young. Got your career ahead of you. Not like me, I’m an old dog. Not climbin’ the ladder any higher before my retirement.” It sounded a bit like he was trying to reassure himself. After a moment, he continued. “When we’re out there, don’t worry ‘bout defending. Focus on eliminating their air forces and mark HVTs if you can and dump the flares when I tell you. I’ll dance with the air they toss at us and get us both out if we’re taking too many hits.”

“Yes sir.”

“All units, this is command”, a broadcast interrupted them. “You are clear to engage at your discretion. The designated area of combat is being uploaded as we speak. Stay within bounds at all times.” Halen noted that the area had a notably wide dead zone around the black mech in the rear. “You are not to engage the mech under any circumstances at this time”, the broadcast added. Understandably, they probably wanted to avoid angering that monstrosity at all costs.


----


Meanwhile, a few thousand feet below at ground level and several dozen kilometers from where Halen and Carver were flying out, the defense forces were frantically setting up defenses to thin the forces that would crash into the barrier as much as they possibly could. The districts of Markov beyond the walls were either evacuated already, or in the process of doing so, and around the areas where the fighting was taking place few people were left alive to get in the way of the defense forces. Pilots in enormous mech suits stomped around setting up barricades and choke points, defense locations to hold off the flood of Wild Zoids just a little bit longer.

In the hustle and bustle, nobody took notice of the group of small yellow creatures that emerged from beneath a bunch of buildings the defense forces had reduced to rubble, in order to open firing lanes against the incoming enemy forces. Those few that noticed them scattering around thought little of the occurrence - after all, they were neither Akata nor Zoid, they were not attacking and they were moving away from the defense forces.

Pikachutwo was annoyed, to say the least. He could not make head nor tail of how he had come here - he had been flying by the power of Mewtwo’s Psychic, flying away to somewhere safe where they could live without fear of being chased down by humans. They had taken a break along the way for Mew and Mewtwo to relax their mental muscles for a short while. He had laid down on Venusaurtwo’s back and allowed himself a little break. He had looked at the evening sky, and found himself unable to turn his eyes away.

He had watched how evening turned to night very quickly, how the twilight became blackness and how the faded stars grew brighter and clearer. He had seen planets, several of them, and when he had finally become able to move he had found himself in a pod, much like the one he had been born in.

Then he had descended and fallen onto the planet like a meteorite. He could not really remember much of it, only that he had impacted into a large city. Or rather, into the defense shield that surrounded it, and which he must’ve slid down. He vaguely remembered his pod shattering and his body falling into a building of some kind, probably an abandoned one.

And when he had woken up, he’d been surrounded by others like him. Other Pikachus, but Pikachus without the markings on their ears that, like him, would’ve marked him as clones. He had first thought himself to be hallucinating, but that thought had quickly been cleared up. You could not touch hallucinations after all, and those Pikachus were very much solid.

The other Pikachus were also not the animalistic ‘normal’ Pikachus one could meet every day in Viridian forest: they looked like regular ones, but they were as intelligent as Pikachutwo. Not as smart, of course, but they had potential. He’d been trying to figure out where they were and how they’d landed in this place, in some abandoned house it seemed, when one of the group happened to to get an old TV to work when he accidentally touched it with their tail and sent a weak electric jolt through it, powering its internal batteries.

“-ty is under siege by a force beyond the scope of anything we have seen before”, the man on the screen spoke. Pikachutwo looked back with a frown. He knew, of course, what a TV was and how it worked, but the words he was speaking were worrying. A machine force? Those had to be Steel-types, but they were of unknown specieses.

Another two Pikachus of the group climbed out of the building and reported back seeing creatures in the sky and on the ground, that were destroying the buildings and making their way towards them. Not that Pikachutwo particularly cared about the destruction of human structures, but he wondered if his Master was somehow involved in this. The energy shield that they said surrounded the big human city could be of Mewtwo’s make, perhaps, but would it truly intend on protecting lowly humans? No, it doubtlessly would not.

“We will inspect these Steel-types more closely”, said Pikachutwo finally. “If they are hostile, we will destroy them. If they are not, we will inquire with them as to our whereabouts and their intentions. If it is merely to level a human city, let them do as they like. We do not take sides in the conflict until Master Mewtwo says otherwise.”

With that they climbed to the surface and ventured outwards. Of course, there were already forces fighting against the flood of Zoids, but they were as rocks against an ocean tide: they stood out, but the Zoids were superior in number, and they just flooded around the single mechas. Pikachutwo’s attention was drawn by something else, however: he perked his ears as he noticed one very peculiar occurrence: a creature, similar in size to the big humanoid mechs that the humans were using, that appeared in a flash of blue-white light. A human? No, it had the shape of one, but it was far larger. And judging by how it engaged in conversation with one of the mechs, it was on the humans’s side.

“You two”, he said and designated two of the Pikachu clones that were with him. “Follow that individual, the tall one with the black hair. Try and get as much information as you can - it may be an ally. Inquire if it is a Pokémon and if it is allied with Master Mewtwo, but do not mention it by name.”

The two Pikachus took a glance, then one said “Yes Sir!” and bounced down the buildings. With Agility they were able to cover ground quite quickly, and their small size would hopefully make them unnoticed by Ashe until they were close enough to grab onto her boots and hitch a ride. Given how she was getting busy with turning a Wild Zoid into scrap metal, they hopefully would get the time to cover the distance before she began to stomp off in some different direction.

“The rest of you”, he said to the seven Pikachus remaining with him, “you’re with me. Begin by charging up with Lightning Rod, then we’re approaching these Steel-types.” He had set his sights on what he presumed to be a lesser leader: a creature reminiscent of Skarmory, that stood atop a demolished skyscraper and periodically screeched something incomprehensible - orders or information for the foot soldiers, most likely. “That one.”

His order was met with a septuple ““Yes Sir!””, then all of them (eight including Pikachutwo himself) crouched down as sparks began to dance over their bodies, loading the air with electric energy. The mech pilots beyond the barrier were too busy to notice, but to an observer on ground level they would be able to see several lightning bolts hitting the roof of an eight-story building, and soon after notice eight tiny shapes jumping out of a window a few stories down, onto the adjacent building and towards the flood of Wild Zoids.
 

Ohm Zui

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“Alright runners, listen up!”

The Guild’s liaison appeared on the dive bar’s cracked TV screen, cutting into the emergency news broadcast. Around the room, the confident smiled and the nervous relaxed, everyone eager to hear what the word from their higher ups would mean for them.

“Markov’s in deep shit right now,” the woman continued, language deeply at odds with the high collared suit she wore and the elegant cigarette holder that dangled limply from her wrist. “Our leaders have finished negotiations with the Kingdom. As of this announcement, the Guild is officially engaged in competition with the PU.”

As the woman drawled the acronym, jeers and cheers rose from the tables and stools. A sharp bark from the bartender silenced them in time for the woman to finish taking a long drag from the cigarette.

“If the Guild kills over twice the number of corrupted zoids and akata than the PU, we get first rights of refusal for ALL Kingdom contracts for the next six months. This is, of course, the golden goose.”

“However!” she drawled, the glow of her eyes piercing through the cracked screen, “The PU get the same chance. So, we've arranged a little in house incentive for our boots on the ground.”

A grid appeared behind her in golden light. Numbers and names danced up and down the board lazily until the liaison snapped her fingers and they dropped from the board.

“As long as this siege lasts, the leaderboard has been repurposed. At the end of the siege, the top 500 surviving members will receive a significant bonus and access to The Deep Armoury. For the more pessimistic of you fuckers, don't think lingering at the back will do you any favours. If Markov falls, the top 500 members have reserved seats on the evacuation shuttles: the rest of you will have to chance it with the civvies.”

She took one long drag on the cigarette again.

“Don't stick around on my account. Go kill some monsters already.”

As the broadcast finished, the bar scrambled into action. Lee was lucky enough to be by the door, misty stepping away before the worst of the melee began. The halfelf hedge mage was already phoning the rest of her crew as she revved the armoured van to life.

“Meet me at Vaultec Avenue in five.”

---

Lee was unsurprised to be the second of their runner group to be at the meeting place. Giorno, the gang's street samurai, was already seated on an overflowing trash can, legs in the seiza position and semiautomagic rifle resting across his lap with his monofilament katana floating lazily above him.

“Oi!” she shouted, leaning out of the window and flashing the troll a rude gesture. “Don’t you know that time’s wasting! We’re already-” she glanced at her wrist watch “-ten minutes out and we don’t have time for your precognitive arse to laze around on ‘meditation’. How long are the others going to be.”

Without opening his eyes, Giorno answered in a deep, seductive Italian accent.

“Filigree is still in bed, but will teleport to us twelve seconds before we cross the energy barrier. Simone is struggling to open their weapons locker, but will be here in three minutes. And Beezlebub-”

“Is here already, calm the fuck down Lee.”

The decker hopped out of a back alley, still tugging on their armoured trousers. The tiefling finished dressing themselves in their armour, glancing up at the crackling dome of energy that crossed the sky. They blinked, their eyes glowing electric blue.

“Oh shit, that’s not good.”

“What?”

“The energy barrier’s at 99%.”

“Um… what?”

“That’s several petajoules of energy gone already.”

“Speak plainly already.”

“If it’s only been half an hour or so, and the barrier’s already beginning to take the strain, it’s got to be hell out there.”

Lee coughed a laugh.

“Weren’t you *born* to charge into hell.”

Beezlebub flashed her a rude gesture. Before they could continue arguing, Simone skated round the corner, the gnome practically invisible beneath the mound of weapons cases she carried. Without even giving the other three a glance, she carefully loaded them into the back of the van and, with a whistle, the drones that followed the rigger deposited yet more.

“I brought all my babies! And Lee, I brought your favourite!”

“Wait, you mean-!”

“Here you go!”

A large box was reverentially placed into the halfelf’s hands, and she opened it up in anticipation. Two latches undone, and the lid lifted to reveal a long tube with runes inscribed along it.

“Fuck yes!” she exclaimed, grabbing the magic missile launcher and loading it into the van next to the driver’s seat. “Alright pussies, get in. We’re going monster hunting.”

---

As they drove towards the nearest gate, Lee checked her smart watch. Already numbers were ticking up on the leaderboard, the early birds of the Guild already going to town. As she glanced again, however, she noticed names already being crossed out and fading as their owners died.

“Shit’s getting hot out there for the frontrunners,” she called back to the others.

“That’s what they get for not bringing a van,” called back Beezlebub, activating his mage armour and unlatching the cupola. “Alright, we’re nearing the energy gate. Giorno, when did you say-”

With a flash of light, Filigree appeared on the van’s roof, magnetic boots already locking to the shell. The andromedan bubbled inside their acid filled armoured suit as their comm’s connected to the others.

“I’m here, I’m here! Ready for action, Li-li!”

Instead of responding, Lee grinned maniacally and hit the boosters as she joined the back of a collection of other Guild vehicles that pelted between the energy gates, flying out into the fray outside. She wound down the window and shouldered the magic missile launcher.

“Alright gang, fire away!”
 

Roy Mustang

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Mustang glanced up from the blood-stained pages as a burst of chatter crackled in his headset. It seemed the Guild was making a defensive play after all, and for the moment, was even cooperating with Central’s directives to an extent. That made all four factions, quite a spectacle to see at the very least. A more blindly patriotic Markovian might have seen today as the city’s finest hour, where rivalries and differences were cast aside to unify against a mutual threat. Mustang knew better. They were all just playing the game, putting on a good face and desperately trying to protect their assets while the city waited to learn if it needed to begin an exodus. Reports had filtered in about Governmorne being utterly overwhelmed almost without warning, Refugees scattering in a panic as the world around them fell to pieces. It was too soon to say if Markov would soon share the same fate.

Artillery batteries seven and eight continued to chew futilely at the seemingly endless numbers that crashed against their forces like a tide of bestial metal. They were removed from the front at the moment, positioned along the northern edge of the energy barrier farther than the Zoid horde had spread yet. If they coordinated their barricades properly, they could keep the enemy’s incursions into the outskirts focused in one area, but they would have to form a solid net. While the Zoids remained outside the cover of the empty sectors, they could clearly target them for bombardment. If they pushed into the streets in too many locations, it would be down to the mechs to turn them back, and failing that, a barrier-side stand by whatever forces they could get to the location in time. They were buying time and hoping that they were able to take down enough zoids that the rest would disperse. That was the current directive, at least. Markov was not ready for this.

“Sir.” Hawkeye spoke up from a nearby chair, shouldering her own headset, “it looks like your message might have reached some people after all.”

Mustang raised an eyebrow as she turned a screen of security cameras towards him. Mustang couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched the red suited robot soar in for a landing outside the forward command center. There was ping as the face-matching software returned with a match from their database.

“Hiro Hamada?” Mustang read off the display, “Isn’t he one of those activists that have been causing trouble down south? He’s got nerve to spare if he’s coming here. I’d wager he’s going…” Mustang trailed off as the static voice of Captain Amedeia of Battery Eight hailed him from the headset. He turned back to his screen, briefly nodding to Hawkeye.

“Show him in, Lieutenant.”

“Sir.”

She left, and Mustang adjusted the mic back into place on his headset.

“This is Mustang, what’s the situation?”

“We’re getting some strange energy signals, Sir. Power surges among the enemy that don’t match Zoid signatures. They’re moving real fast, but we’re not sure where they’re heading yet!”

“Noted, I’ll refer it up. Hold fire for now, they may be friendlies.”

“Roger that, Sir!”

Mustang flipped off his transmit, and turned back to the book, frowning at the Omega iconography that adorned the pages with clear reverence. He closed it carefully and set it to the side. Swiveling his chair around to face the doorway.

Lieutenant Hawkeye returned shortly, with Hiro Hamada and his rotund companion in tow. Mustang steepled his hands together, weighing the young genius as he glanced around the room. He was showing some degree of caution, at least. Hawkeye saluted efficiently, then returned to her seat and slipped her headphones back on. Mustang waited for a moment

“I must say, Hiro. When I sent that message out, I wasn’t expecting a renegade tech brat as the first one to answer the call.” He spoke offhandedly, with a smirk. Hiro bristled at the jab, but controlled himself, instead crossing his arms.

“People needed help. They still do!” the youngster responded, “I figured this fight is important enough people would have to work together!”

“You’re so confident of that you’d willing walk into a command post, knowing you've been causing us problems?” Mustang laughed, leaning back in the chair slightly, “I don’t know whether to be flattered you trust us or disturbed that someone so green can make so much of a ruckus!”

“What? How can you say that?” Hiro looked confused and more than a little concerned. “There’s an army of Zoids attacking the city, and you’re worried that I’m the problem?”

“Yes, I suppose the Zoids are quite a problem. It’s strange some people would try and defend their treatment, when you see what they can do.” He smirked at Hiro, watching the boy’s reaction. Hiro was keeping his composure, but Mustang's words were certainly starting to irritate him. He really was trying to collaborate, how about that?

“These aren’t behaving like normal Zoids!” Hiro said, exasperated, “Most Zoids are analogous to beasts on other worlds. They can be dangerous, sure, but only if you provoke them! This isn’t right. There’s no reason for them to be doing something like this!” Hiro stepped forward, his frustration fueling determination, “Look, I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of this. We have bigger problems right now!”

“Hiro, is everything alright?” Baymax inquired, still standing in place, “You sound distressed.”

“I’m not, this guy just-“

Mustang reached for a pad of paper as he cut Hiro off mid-sentence, “I agree there is something strange about our opponents, actually. They are showing uncommon amounts of coordination. I have a theory, but it’ll need verification. You’re a scientist, right? This could work out, actually.” He flipped through a few pages, then circled something with a pen.

“How do you feel about catching a Zoid for me, Hiro?” Mustang asked bluntly, looking up with expectation. Hiro opened his mouth to reply when a large sound shook the building. Mustang whirled around in alarm, but noticed Hawkeye seemed largely unperturbed. She glanced up at Mustang.

“You’ve got another one outside, Sir.” She said, with a hint of a smile, “I think you may need to meet her out on the landing zone.”

Mustang glanced at the camera feed, and a smile spread across his face.

“Well how about that. Lieutenant, explain the plan to the kid if he’s interested. The safe stuff, at least.”

“Yes sir.”

Mustang got up, leaving the room with a brisk but controlled pace. He moved through the corridors of the command post, weaving between soldiers and officers as he navigated out to the landing pad. He stopped in the entry way, a bit surprised by the sight despite himself. Ashe-0 stood there, alive and healthy, twenty feet tall with all four arms. Her cyclopean eye roamed the command post before it shifted down to focus on him. Mustang chuckled at himself, placing his hands in his pockets as he stepped out onto the landing pad and over to her.

“You’re, uh… taller than the last time I saw you!” he said with a grin, looking up at her.

“Correct. The collar limited my size while on the island. In order to balance the conflict I expect.” She replied.

It was the logical response.
 

Ohm Zui

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As Lee’s van sped through the chaos outside the barrier, the freeway reached the breaches in the outer barricades. Without pause, her crew opened fire at the akata that had survived the frontal charge along the main roads. Lee focused mostly on maintaining position in the V-shape that the Guild vehicles had taken as they ploughed into the crowd of shadow monsters pouring towards a crater gap in the militia’s checkpoints.

She swore as an akata rammed into the front bonnet of the hover van, a crunching that was mostly void beast but a little armour plating scraping her ears. “Beezlebub, hook us up with a replacement that has ramming, I want to take the back streets!”

The decker clicked his tongue in confirmation, splitting his attention from where he was assisting the van’s performance to rattle off some low level coin exchanges with another runner crew.

“Got one! Giving you the path now!”

As Beezlebub spoke, a red line appeared on the van’s heads up display and Lee veered along it as a truck with a mine clearer attachment roared in to take their place. She spun the wheel, dodging narrowly out of the line of fire of a far off red-eyed scorpion zoid, and pelted into a backstreet.

The street they turned into was a tangled mess of combatants and civilians, gunfire from the surrounding blocks pelting down at the pack of akata that were tearing into an overturned truck full of panicking outtowners.

Lee skidded to a halt, turning to allow Giorno to open up from the passenger seat. His semiautomagic rifle spat torrents of thornhail bullets, the custom rounds expanding into a cloud of inch long nails on impact. On the roof, Filigree loaded an acid bomb and launched it off into a neighbouring street, presumably with Beezlebub’s guidance. Simone directed her aerial attack drones to detach from their perches, spreading out ahead of the van to pepper the akata with flashbang rounds and napalm. Lee grimaced as she checked her smartwatch: the gang was steadily clocking kills, but according to the Guild leaderboard they were barely breaking the 600s.

She focused her magic and launched a salvo of arcane missiles that spun through the air and eliminated the damaged opponents she targeted.

“We're falling behind!” she yelled as they finished clearing the street, leaving the akata corpses to lie still besides the unfortunate outtowners they'd felled.

Before the others could make a smart comment in return, Giorno’s sword stabbed right in front of Lee’s nose. She froze, letting him retract the monomoleculer edge, before turning to see a slowly crumpling zombified outtowner, now with a hole through its head.

Around them the akata’s victims began to reanimate, and Simone gave a slightly hysterical giggle.

“Let's prioritise living through this for now, Lee…”

---

Ohm tore through the information they were receiving as they waited for the Nos’talgia bubble teleporter to finish transporting the passengers to Cevanti. Around them, mercenaries of various stripes prepared themselves for combat: a squad of marines from 8-bitain passed an unending canister of ammunition between them, while a couple of grizzled toons were packing a stupidly large amount of ACME brand explosives into a Wondertainment Travel Pack.

The zoombini ignored them all, instead continuing to analyse and use the information coming out of Markov.

They'd already signal boosted the video made by one Roy Mustang, and apparently he was a recent celebrity from some death games so a lot of people were paying attention now. Ohm had left further efforts on rallying support in the Alliance’s court for now, given that the zoombini wanted to focus on the main conflict itself. Now they were locating sources for real time intelligence, ranging from feeds from fighters in the thick of it to news team cameras pointed out from the tallest buildings within the barrier dome.

A lot of the best sources weren't easily obtained. Kingdom figures on energy barrier status were technically classified, but prepaidOnly had slipped them a contact that had tapped into the readings from the energy couplings that linked the Cytokine fission plants and the Kingdom energy projectors, and Ohm extrapolated from that to calculate the value of the barrier’s integrity at at least 95%. They memorised the equation for reference later and turned to combatant statistics.

That was even more of a mess, and not just for legitimate reasons. The Kingdom forces were sharing their IFF frequencies when they could, but entire detachments were much more occupied with the vast army snapping at their outposts than with improving the coordination of their forces with their allies. Cytokine mechs and androids were easily identified, but who was in control was impossible to tell without identifying each remote signal and pilot identifier individually. The Pilots Union were scrambling everything from fighter squadrons to combat suits, and the Guild had incentivised vast numbers of its members to enter the fray, but neither was sharing combat intel outside of their own closed networks for one reason or another. Smaller, independent forces, even lone fighters, were also entering the fray: local yakuza, vigilantes, concerned citizens, outtowners, all battling to give Markov and themselves a fighting chance, but rarely considering or understanding how to link up with the other forces standing alongside them.

Ohm considered their options. They could continue to try and access and compile all this information on their own… but there were a lot of people who couldn't fight sitting scared in the city.

They opened a private message and began to type.

---

exodusAlighted began messaging forumAdmin
exodusAlighted (eA): fA, I need to find a list of all participants in video game tournaments, stock exchange markets and coding competitions in Markov within the last two years.
forumAdmin (fA): Send a message to sayonara.sucker @cytomail.co.cev, she's a useful woman to ask for finding people. She's cutthroat though.
eA: Doesn't matter, thank you.

---

With a bit of quick negotiation, Ohm had the lists needed for only a small cost, and they set to work. Using their exodusAlighted handle, they created chatrooms and mass invited the mailing lists to join and help defend the city. To sell its legitimacy, they slipped a request to flashTorrent and pictures of ‘exodusAlighted’s associate Ohm Zui, plucky refugee from Govermorne, diving back into the fray and trusting in the people of Markov’ made their way onto several local messaging boards: barely a splash in the grand scheme of things, but Ohm only needed a few people to start the ball rolling.

---

Davis sat tight in her room, eyes glued to the light of her phone as she rocked nervously on her bed. Her dad was out there, beyond the barrier, likely frantically joining their artillery crewmates in the midst of the fighting. Her mum had texted her, saying that the whole Cytokine fission plant crew were trying to ramp up energy production and for Davis to stay tight and keep an eye on the news.

She wiped a tear from her face. Their apartment was high enough up that if she opened the curtains, she’d be able to see the teeming masses to the northwest on their approach. She wasn’t going to though. Davis… wasn’t going to look at something she had no control over.

As she switched news sites, her messaging app beeped. Someone had sent an email… exodusAlighted? She didn’t recognise that username. She opened the email, scanning the contents. Whoever it was wanted her to help defend the city? She checked the mailing lists. The email had been sent to over a hundred people, and just scrolling through the names she could see some she recognised from her RTS hangouts, even one or two of her teammates.

Was this legit? She wasn’t sure what she wanted: for it to be fake, for her not to have the fate of Markov resting even a little bit on her shoulders… or for it to be real, for her to actually be able to do something other than sit here and wait.

It had to be a scam, right? Some selfish prick had decided to phish for money when everyone was panicking, surely. Fucking bastards. Davis closed her email and opened her chrper feed to complain. Wait, someone had linked her to something…

A group of pictures of a blue slime ball with eyes and a propeller? Apparently this was a refugee from Govermorne (there were some pictures of them in the fray, and in an escape pod, and apparently dying of heat exhaustion) and they were endorsing exodusAlighted as their assistant.

Davis paused. Was it possible it was true? She messaged a few of her friends, and got equally confused responses. Perhaps… well, she had a separate gaming computer, and it had none of her personal details on it. She let her friends know she’d check it out.

The teenage girl left the bed and crossed to the desk on the opposite wall. The light of her computer nearly blinded her as she started it, but she turned on a desk lamp and logged on to her gaming account. Letter by letter, she copied the link across.

She entered the chat room.

---

Welcome, downtothe2nd.
exodusAlighted: Hello!
downtothe2nd: Hi. You the person wanting help?
exodusAlighted: Yes. Check the incoming feed channels if you want to confirm this is real.
downtothe2nd: OK…
downtothe2nd: Holy shit.
downtothe2nd: That’s a security camera feed
downtothe2nd: and that’s a mech suit signature?
downtothe2nd: WHAT THE FUCK ARE THOSE THINGS?
exodusAlighted: Those are apparently called akata
downtothe2nd: THOSE ARE REAL?!
Welcome, ScriptKitty1337
ScriptKitty1337: So, if this is a scam, I hae, like, ninety viruses to bust in your ass.
downtothe2nd: LOOK AT THE CAMERA FEED
ScriptKitty1337: Not a scam, col, cool. @exodusAlighted, what the fuck?
exodusAlighted: I have assembled a post to help explain to others coming in, but I, and a lot of independent groups, have need of extra hands handling information during this crisis. Coders will be able to turn the data from the feeds into a usable map. Gamers are familiar with threat assessment and high speed analysis of data. Stockbrokers are able to handle high pressure, volatile logistics and number crunching.
downtothe2nd: what the fuck?
ScriptKitty1337: what dtt2 said, but also I’m gonna go tell the others to get their arses in here already.
downtothe2nd: me too I guess?!?!

---

Ohm stayed in the chatrooms for twenty minutes, hammering out a concrete, no-nonsense plan for the participants to follow. This wasn't going to be neat, but already half usable information was available and that saved Ohm a lot of legwork. The teleporter’s arrival sequence broke their concentration, and the zoombini sped out of the teleporter and into the frantic chaos of a city under siege.

As the zoombini flew over the top of traffic, they kept checking in with their DarkNet contacts. One of grimTransport’s contacts had feelers in the Markov traffic department, and gT copied over the data for Ohm to pass onto their budding analysis group. Next, they needed to get a line to someone with access to information from one of the bigger factions out there… a few of the coders had contacts with some people called deckers? That was apparently going to be helpful for getting intel on the Guild’s movements. Also unexpectedly, the Pilot’s Union apparently recruited pilots for certain types of mech direct from the top tiers of the gamer circuit: someone called D.Va was apparently streaming for her fan base, which included some of the intel group. That left Cytokine and the Kingdom.

Ohm paused on a lamppost and took out their device, sending a request to the same user that had posted Mustang’s video. Hopefully they’d be willing to cooperate.
 

Jak

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The adventures of the Resistance pilot Blair Williams hadn’t ended in quite the way she expected. Cevanti was often a pretty peaceful place with its robot citizens, the zoids often being able to think for themselves, Blair was often caught off guard with times past, she had to often go for missions against a sentient AI, named Skynet in the past but here she was left wondering if these zoids really could think for themselves and if they did, why did that scare her? Did the Human Resistance scare her that much that she worried that another Artificial Intelligence even more scary could raise up here?

But she wasn’t paying attention as much to the news as she once thought.

Blair was snapped out of her thoughts by the other two pilots, Dervan, and Auburn who stared up at the news.

“Williams, why are you staring?”

Blair frowned, placing a hand on the table ‘What does it mean to you?”

Auburn sighed “Look, we’ve been sitting here while you think about the past, something.. Something, Skynet.”

Blair clicked her fingers “Don’t mention that name around me.”

The brunette pushed herself up and frowned, annoyed “Any news from the Pilot’s Union?”

Devan itched his head and his face darkened “There was a plea for help earlier coming from a certain direction… northern, i believe right?

Auburn nodded “Yeah. We should try and go that way for now and wait for further instructions.

We should go and take on the Zoids and Akata.”

The tough brunette stood up and sighed “Shit, we might be late this time, guys.”

“Let’s go light them up,boys.”

Blair already had her flight gear on, including the others who were all running toward their A-23 Tomcat Planes from a while ago.

Before checking to make sure everything was ready to go, Blair took the communication device off the dashboard. “This is Pilot Blair Williams. Another comm went off “This is Auburn.” and the next went off “This is Duvan!”

“We are all heading toward your positions to help!”
 

Shinku

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“Are you sure we’re at the right coordinates?” Rocket snarled after having to pilot Milano for hours, simply circling around a couple of asteroid residues, without a certain destination.

“Excuse me. Aren’t we all present at the mission briefing?” Peter responded sarcastically, while holding a spherical gadget that projected what appeared like a 3d holographic map.

“But you’re the one holding the map goddammit!”

“Then why don’t you read it yourself genius!”

“Alright stop! We ain’t going anywhere if you continue to argue like that!” Thor cut in, similarly pissed at what seemed like a perpetual travel.

“Hey! Who told you that you could just boss us around!” Peter grunted, with his attention now shifted to the god of thunder.

“And how was I bossing you around?” Thor responded in a sarcastic laughter.

“I AM GROOT!” Groot interrupted, senselessly adding to the heat of the current argument.

“Well we’ve been seeing the same rocks over and over for hours and yet no sign of that damned base!” Rocket complained, with his hands still tied to the ship controls. “And can someone just give me that damn coordinates!”

Drax and Mantis remained silent at the back seat as they witnessed the chaos that has overrun their fellow guardians.

“That’s what I’ve been giving you. Ugh this map sucks!” Peter tapped the holographic device, causing some interference on its display.

“Yeah so the base is a pile of asteroid chunks!” The raccoon responded, exasperated at their hopeless situation.

“Maybe you should try turning that around.” Thor suggested, now standing right beside the ravager.

“I know how to read a map, thank you!” Peter retorted, followed by a childish act of moving the device away from the god of thunder.

“Uhmmm what is that.” Mantis suddenly interrupted, with her finger pointed at a huge ball of white light that rapidly approached the guardians from their right side.

“Hey get us away from that thing!” Starlord urged, suddenly panicked at the unknown object that was about to collide with Milano.

“You don’t have to tell me that!” Slightly panicked as well, the raccoon grunted, as he tried his best to navigate Milano away from the cosmic object’s collision path. Much to his dismay, the object's speed was just too much for them to simply evade. Within seconds, the rodent’s surroundings were suddenly enveloped in a blinding white light.

As sudden as the bright light enveloped Rocket, so did it disappear. Having recovered his vision, the rodent found himself standing on a concrete road in the middle of a crossfire. He quickly dashed, stooped as low as he could, heading towards an abandoned building for cover.

“Where am I? And where are the others?” Rocket heaved, his back against the concrete wall of an almost ruined building, suddenly caught amidst chaos without any knowledge whatsoever of his current location nor his actual situation.

“HELP! ANYONE!” Amongst the sound of bullets and explosions, Rocket was clearly able to catch the loud cry of a human, clearly desperate for aid. Promptly, he took a peak to witness a man in an almost torn uniform chased by a couple of deranged humanoids, coated in purplish flesh.

Without hesitation, Rocket lighted his oversized gatling blaster and jumped into action. He aimed at the humanoids, firing up a barrage of bullets that tore the humanoids apart.

“Quickly in here!” The raccoon pulled the frightened soldier towards his previous refuge.

“Wwwhat are you!” The soldier implored, still shaking in terror having no strength left to even stand.

“I just saved you goddammit! More importantly, what the hell’s happening and where the f*ck am I!” Rocket grunted, exasperated at the soldier’s ungrateful reaction.

“Ttthhis is the city of Markov. Yyyouu’re on the planet of Cevanti.” The soldier stammered, his bloodshot eyes, fixed at the anthropomorphic mammal that just yelled at him. “This is the end! We have no hope of winning against those monsters!”

“Okay. Will you just calm down. I’m clearly not your enemy here. And sorry for yelling.” Rocket gradually toned himself down, trying to calm the frightened soldier. He sat down and placed his gun on the ground, hoping it would help relax his companion. “Can you just tell me again what is happening and in detail please.”

“There was a call for help. Our unit along with others were dispatched here to stop an attack. There were hundreds of us, no, perhaps thousands. We didn’t know what we were up against until we landed here and saw those akata and zoids and that huge mech tearing through the barrier. The first layer of the barrier did not last long. We held our ground to prevent their advance but were easily wiped out. We didn’t even stand a chance.” The soldier exclaimed, still shaking in horror but later calm down at the end of his speech.

“So where is this base of yours?” Rocket went on with his inquiries, brushing his chin with his fingers.

“It’s far to the north.” The soldier responded, now in a normal yet melancholic tone with his head bowed to the ground.

“Well, we ain’t got a chance if we stay here. Perhaps someone from your higher ups can give me better information. Guide me to your base.” Rocket stood up with a decisive look, urging the soldier to lead the way.

“Bbbut, not with a failed mission. And besides, the others are still fighting out there. I can’t just leave.”

“You already left. And besides, you know it don’t you? You just said it. You don’t stand a chance.”

“I’d rather be dead. They’d kill me anyway once they learn that I deserted my squad!”

“Look. Just guide me at least near this base of yours ok. Leave me once we get a visual of the place.”

“Aaalright, may be that’ll do.” The soldier responded hesitantly, yet somehow approved of the raccoon’s suggestion.

“It’s settled then. Come on show me the way.” Without warning, the raccoon lit the boosters strapped at his back, and grabbed the weary soldier by his armpits.

“Hey!” The soldier exclaimed, surprised by Rocket’s sudden action. Still too weak however, the soldier wasn’t able to resist the raccoon who has then raised him above the ground.

“Relax! I’ve done this a million times. You’re safe in my hands.” Rocket blasted out of the building, flying as low as he can to prevent any unwanted attention from their enemies.

“So uhm...What are you.” The soldier asked timidly, curious of his savior’s form.

“I’m a guardian.” Rocket flew away from the old building, heeding the directions of the soldier that he tagged along.
 

Android XVII

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Private First Class Steve Nessing limped.

Everything has changed…

His body hurt in about a dozen different ways.

Even so, he was a soldier of Cevanti … and he would not yield!

He knew that the fighting had already likely started in earnest, and truth be told, he didn’t know how long he had lost consciousness. All he could distinctly recall was waking up a few blocks from his post and immediately wondering why he hadn’t been trampled or blown to pieces already.

Providence, perhaps?

This was the point in the party where someone would probably poke fun at him for having ‘the smile of the Arbiter’ or some shit, but Steve knew – he didn’t know how, but he did – that there was something that had gone wrong with the Arbiter. Hell, as of yesterday, he was fairly sure that whole concept of Arbiter’s was just some archaic piece of folklore people shared around like stories about ‘the good ole days’. It was supposed to just be a crock of horseshit.

But the migraine he felt told him that he was mistaken. He still felt weird sensations of unease as he tried to recall the uneven dreams he had experienced while drifting in the darkness.

“Focus, boy.” He muttered as he climbed up the fire escape and crawled toward the edge of the roof. He heard chaos all around him, but the sounds didn’t seem nearby. A glance over the ledge told him that the most ‘recent’ plumes of smoke had all moved about a clique to the south. By some virtue of luck, the horde of monsters had opted to smash against the energy shield elsewhere. Had they pressed and broken through here, he would likely be pushing up daises in earnest.

“Need to reconvene with the platoon,” he was talking out loud again, but he was okay with that. After all, dead mother fuckers couldn’t have external monologues, now could they? “Communications…”

Steve scanned the nearby structures, and while his hopes had been mostly dim, he was pleased to recall that an old hardware store was a few buildings removed from his current locus. “Bingo,” the man spoke with a smile as he hopped back down onto the fire escape and descended toward the street. While a lot of Markov’s blocks that bordered the energy shield were mostly devoid of people, that didn’t mean they were empty. The city was large enough that you could still find homes and businesses much like they were when the catastrophe struck. It was perhaps that quality about Markov’s outer lying regions that unnerved Steve the most, but anytime he became unnerved, there were always redheads and titties to nerve him once more.

***​

A few cliques removed from PFC Nessing position; the rest of his platoon frantically swarmed around their barracks. Fighting had broken out along vast sector’s of ‘the Dome, and while the news was that the various factions that jockeyed for prominence in Markov were mostly collaborating, it was still a very tenuous situation.

“Have we heard anything from Nessing or the others posted at our assigned dome outposts?” The voice was that of platoon Lieutenant Sue, who stalked an elevated platform that compromised the barrack’s makeshift ‘communications station.’ Sue, who was a proud woman who had become a soldier late in life, despised failure and any breakdown in efficient operations. Unfortunately for the woman, the whole siege was imposing such a breakdown on the entire city.

“No luck, Lieutenant … everything is dark out there, but our scans show no hostiles outside the dome there.”

Lt. Sue pivoted and glared at the young man in the radio chair with enough ire to make him want to melt into the steel folding chair. “We have missing soldiers and a breakdown in communication. Fix. It. Or I’ll assign you to janitorial duties.”

“Yes, Ma’am!” The private squeaked as he shifted back to the screen and tried to make himself look busier by taping button and adjusting his headset.

On the other side of the barrack’s operations room, Private First Class Axlé Seifert scowled at the scene. “Sue’s on a war path, holy shit.”

“It’s not a normal day,” a voice spoke from behind the man, who pivoted at the sound of his sergeant. “I forgot how average your height is,” she muttered from a few inches above him.

“Sarge,” Axlé said with a feigned smile. “You’re looking … pleasant today,” he added as the blonde-haired mantis woman smirked.

“I eat people your size for breakfast,” she replied without a change in tone as she watched the lieutenant bark at another soldier. “So, your boy’s dead?’

“I mean … he’s in your squad, you remember that? Along with the other people posted out there. You know, the ones you had deliberately reassigned out there because you thought they needed to ‘take a chill pill’?”

Sergeant Swift sneered. “I have a reputation to uphold, you know.”

“I, uh,” the PFC let his hand fall back down to his side. He knew it wasn’t worth it. He’d just wind up triggering one of her tirades about how she was ‘the Man’ and that he was just being ‘a hater’ and needed to go shake it off. Axlé still wasn’t sure if the latter was some sort of metaphor, but he’d avoided turret watch duty for enough months to know now wasn’t the time to start questioning his noncom’s laundry list of insanities. “Is there anything we should be doin’, Sarge?”

Sergeant Swift’s head spun like a swivel as her naturally manic-looking eyeballs narrowed slightly. For a moment, he was afraid she’d just unhinge her jaw and decapitate him like the living snake woman she was. “Wanna go find the body, then?”

Axlé furrowed his brow. “Is… is that legal? Did the Lieutenant give you clearance?”

His sergeant’s eyes widened slightly as her large, red lips (the PFC had no idea how she got lipstick on the barracks) twisted into yet another unstable grin. “No. You might say we have some… bad blood.”

“Won’t we get fired or sent to the brig for insubordination?”

“No?”

“Are… are you sure?”

“No?” Sergeant Swift leaned until she was uncomfortably close to the man’s face. “But something tells me you won’t say,” the woman paused as her head twitched, “a thing to old girl Sue. She’ll be too busy rage-destroying her office to notice.”

***​

PFC Nessing limped out to the storefront. The electronics store had been a total bust, with most of the equipment being too old or lacking the necessary charge to function. His eyes moved to the horizon, where he could faintly see downtown Markov off in the distance. With nothing to rely upon aside from his haphazard memory, he wasn’t sure if he could navigate back to 3rd Platoon’s headquarters. What is they sent someone out here to get him, and he missed them? Would he be AWOL?

KIA?

“Damn, this sucks,” Steve grumbled as he started down the street. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he didn’t need to think for much longer, because he heard the jeep’s engine long before he saw it veer dangerously around the corner of the road and come to a stop just a few inches from his wide-eyed face.

“Well lookie here,” a female voice spoke from the driver’s side window.

PFC Nessing’s shoulders sagged slightly as he made eye contact through the jeep’s windscreen with his squad mate sitting in the flat bed of the vehicle. “Hi, Sarge.”

“You’re not supposed to be sightseeing out here.”

“I’m… I’m not?”

“Get in the jeep, we have places to go.”

“Yes, Ma’am!” PFC Nessing jogged around to the back of the vehicle and was helped up into the bed of the jeep by Axlé.

“…Ready for it?” Their sergeant shouted from the cabin. A beat later, the engine roared as they started back toward the base.

“What’s going on?” Steve asked as he tried to grab the sergeant’s attention. “Isn’t the base that way?” He asked, gesturing in the general direction of downtown.

“You need to calm down,” the angry response came. “New orders. Sit down. Welcome to the End Game, Lovers,” she added with a manic sneer before blowing them a kiss and turning back to the road.

“Just sit down,” Axlé mumbled. “I think … I think she got us reassigned to the active front or something,” the other PFC answered. “She was on the comms with Lt Sue the whole way over.”

“From day one, I knew she was trouble. I’m a solider, but that doesn’t mean I want to go out of my way to die.”

“You mean this lunatic isn’t your wildest dreams?”

“You keep that nonsense up, and I can guarantee that after the fact, you won’t like what you made me do.”

“Hey, man,” PFC Seifert held up his hands. “Why you gotta be so mean? I thought you weren’t this delicate.”

“I hate my life so fucking much.”

With that, the two PFCs resigned themselves to the lunacy that fate had dealt them.

“Don’t cry too much, boys,” Sergeant Swift shouted as they veered a corner a little too sharply and found themselves working to keep down their meals. “You belong with me…” she laughed that insane, mantis woman chuckle. “Let’s go save the planet.”
 

Mickey Mouse

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As soon as Major Mustang was gone, Hiro slid into the chair he’d previously occupied. It took mere moments for his fingers to be tapping away at the commanding officer’s keyboard -- and to ignite the stern ire of Lieutenant Hawkeye.

“Hamada, you don’t have clearance for that,” she spoke tersely, grasping his arm.

He looked up. “Lieutenant,” the boy genius smirked, “how exactly do you expect us to find a wild zoid if you won’t let me take a look at the radar?”

“The Major has already selected an area,” Hawkeye replied. “We’re heading to the northwestern front -- ”

Hiro clicked a key and a radar map of the northwestern front popped up. Red dots swarmed over green ones, signifying an extremely high concentration of zoids, akata, and whatever else completely overwhelming Markov’s forces. Hawkeye’s expression fell as she watched green dot after green dot get buried by the onslaught of racing red speeding all-too-quickly toward the city’s energy dome. So it was true, then. She and Mustang had seen the army from afar, but this type of enemy force was unlike anything she or her commander had ever seen. Hell, it was probably unlike anything Markov had seen since… The End.

“Baymax, tell Lieutenant Hawkeye the odds,” Hiro said.

“Odds of survival on the northwestern front are exactly one million two hundred and seventy-five thousand five hundred -- ”

“Slim to none, I got it,” she scowled. “So where do you suggest we go, Hamada?”

“Surprised to hear you’ll be coming with me, to be honest,” Hiro shrugged, turning back to the computer and continuing to type away. “Kinda figured Major Mustang would use this as an opportunity to off one of the biggest thorns in his side.”

Hawkeye’s face scrunched, and Hiro knew he’d hit a nerve. His experiences with Mustang and Hawkeye had been minimal, but certainly they’d no doubt been keeping their fingers on the pulse of his every move. Most of his ‘criminal’ activity was in their sector, after all, since Tadashi had been one of their soldiers when he’d been killed by wild zoids. Hiro’s eyes narrowed as images of his brother’s face, in one of the Kingdom’s mech suits, flew back into his brain. It had been their policy to act with aggression towards the creatures of Cevanti’s Wastes that had gotten his brother killed in the first place. And now they wanted him to go out and find one and bring it back alive for study? Now? He’d been pushing for a more pacifistic approach to the wildlife for over a year now. Hell, he’d been pushing it to Tadashi when he was alive.

These robots didn’t deserve the reputation they got. They hadn’t been responsible for The End, from what any research could tell, and prior to this extremely out of character attack, they hadn’t ever made any concerted efforts to break through the barrier. The planet had been just as unkind to them as it had been to the citizens of Markov, and the patrols constantly going out and picking off the creatures vilified them in a way Hiro just couldn’t abide.

Still, perhaps his admonishment of Mustang had been unearned. For what it was worth, he’d been running in illegal bot-fighting circles for years before he’d become a vigilante, saving pilots out in the Wastes who ran afoul of wild zoids, years before he’d started squatting in an apartment he certainly didn’t own. In all that time, he hadn’t actually been arrested even once -- a testament to his skill evading the cops or, more likely, an example of some sort of mercy they showed him. Maybe because somewhere, deep down, the establishment felt some sort of shame over his brother’s death, and the situation he’d fallen into afterwards?

He didn’t know. But this was bigger than any of that.

“Baymax,” Hiro glanced over his shoulder and looked at the robot, “if the Lieutenant is coming with me, I think you can head out to do your healthcare robot thing. Fix some people up, okay?” He jumped up, and wrapped his arms around the rotund robot. He didn’t think this would be the last time he’d see him, but in a situation like this, you never really knew.

“I will do so, Hiro,” the healthcare bot replied, hugging his little buddy back, before waddling out of the room and leaving the boy genius alone with the blonde lieutenant to hear an urgent beeping coming from the console.

Hiro and Hawkeye raced for the controls, and despite her military training, Hawkeye lost; Hiro was simply too swift. He slid into the chair and clicked open the dialog box, seeing something altogether… very strange popping up before his eyes. A flurry of messages from a username called ‘exodusAlighted’ flashed on screen. Seeking… coders? And… gamers?

Hiro’s expression brightened. He was both of those, shit!

The dialog boxes disappeared almost as quickly as they’d shown up, and he glanced over to see Lieutenant Hawkeye’s finger smashed onto the escape key. “We don’t work with dark web hackers, Hamada,” she decreed sternly. “You’re already on thin ice. Don’t push it.”

***

Baymax, still clad in his racing red armor, waddled out into the exterior sector of the forward command post, heading immediately for a tent that had been pretty hastily constructed to act as a medical bay. Already, mangled soldiers lie splayed out on gurneys and cots that had been moved from the barracks to here.

The robot looked idly over the display, intestines flowing out of their bodies in ways that his sensors informed him certainly were not healthy. A few beds over, one man groaned.

“Owwwwwwww.”

Baymax’s head snapped towards the sound, and he walked at a decidedly not-fast pace towards the private laid out on the cot. His optics further identified a young woman, perhaps even younger than Hiro, performing some intense surgery on his midsection, trying to remove what the bot identified as some sort of projectile. His databases started rolling, as he didn’t remember zoids having any sort of weapons that utilized bullets. The akata, too, seemed too primitive for that, especially in whatever state they found themselves in now because of this unidentified force. A curious question that, if the robot had feelings, would’ve intrigued him, but one that would have to be sidelined for now in favor of his protocol.

“Hello,” he began, “I am Baymax. I was alerted to your need for medical attention when you said ‘ow.’”

“I thought I said no robots!” the patient immediately shouted.

Baymax plowed on. “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?”

The small surgeon lifted up a hand. “The Doc is in,” she declared. Baymax understood this to mean she did not want his assistance, though it seemed she was handling this patient alone. This was not an advisable way to work.

“I would like to help,” he offered, and for a moment, the Doc paused what she was doing and looked up at the extremely fluffy healthcare robot.

She glanced back down at the patient. “It’s okay,” the dark-skinned girl patted him on the forehead like he was some sort of toy, eliciting an incredulous look from the soldier. “Everyone gets a little scared. Anyone can be a nurse, though. Even robots.” Her eyes shot up to Baymax, suddenly going very intense, and she nodded. Based on his understanding of human physical cues, this meant that he was clear to help, so he ejected his hands from his combat gloves and began to produce tools out of his fingers for the Doc’s use.

“Baymax?” she asked, returning to her work.

“Yes,” the bot replied.

“McStuffins,” she introduced herself in kind. “Thanks for the help.”

***

“This is a terrible idea, Hamada,” Hawkeye spat.

Her foot was fully pressed onto the jeep’s gas pedal, sending the vehicle plowing ahead. Far to their right, the horde of zoids and akata continued to overwhelm the combined forces of Cevanti; one look at the Lieutenant’s expression, and Hiro could tell she felt guilty about not being with them.

To be honest, he did too. He’d been well on his way off this planet -- with Karmi, Chara, Rei, and of course Baymax in his squad, they’d have undoubtedly been able to find a way off the planet and onto a new life. One where he didn’t have to constantly live in fear of being hunted down by the Kingdom’s forces, and one where he might be able to find a real community of people who supported him. But that desire to get out didn’t mean that Cevanti stopped being his home -- he’d been born here. His brother had basically raised him here. He’d lived here his whole goddamn life.

He wasn’t about to let whatever this was destroy all those memories, the good or the bad.

He sure as shit hoped this hypothesis was right, though.

“You’re certain about this, Hamada?” Hawkeye questioned, almost reading his mind.

“Nope,” he shouted over the roaring engine of the jeep, “but it just makes sense, Lieutenant. The big guys are obviously focused up near the front, so that means that they must’ve sent the smaller zoids toward the back of the horde, to work on clean-up after the huge ones totally wreck our forces. It’s the smart thing to do.”

He scowled. Zoids had never really been known for being too smart, but he knew something else was calling the shots here.

Perhaps, he thought to himself, that was part of the reason he’d wanted to go with this plan, too. Everyone could fucking see it: the huge darkness looming at the back of the horde. Yeah, the smaller zoids were undoubtedly gathered around there, but whatever this big ass thing was would be there too, and though he knew he and Hawkeye definitely weren’t the people meant to take it on… he wanted to get a look at it. He wanted to see what they were up against.

“On our left, Hamada!”

Hiro looked to the left and, out of nowhere, a pack of smaller raptor zoids burst into view, crashing into the side of the jeep and sending it toppling. Hiro pressed a button on the inside of his palm and the thrusters on the boots of his purple battle suit lit up. He snatched Riza Hawkeye by the collar and ejected both of them from the top of the vehicle as it flipped over onto its side, at least three raptors digging into it with their metallic teeth.

“Shit,” he muttered as he and the Lieutenant tumbled onto the ground. He pushed himself to his feet, and quickly started to make his way toward the fallen jeep to try and take on the raptors, but found Hawkeye’s left arm blocking his way. She lowered her right, pistol steady, and tugged on the trigger.

The gas tank of the jeep exploded. Hiro’s eyes went wide, impressed with the woman’s insane accuracy. He watched as the raptors found themselves enveloped in the flames of the blast, sent flying backwards. They collided with the dirt around the pair, skidding to a halt, and immediately he and Hawkeye went back-to-back, prepared to fight what remained of the trio of raptors. After a few seconds of stillness, they realized that somehow, they’d managed to take them all out in one go.

Alerted to their safety by a relieved breath from Hawkeye, Hiro rushed for one of the zoids and knelt down next to it, dipping the fingers of his gauntlet into the black -- and, eerily, blue-glowing -- mess that seeped from every nook and cranny in the mechanized dinosaur. The two gauntlet fingers that made contact with the dark energy disintegrated within seconds, leaving only his bare skin below. He blinked as his companion made her way to him.

“What is it?” she asked.

Hiro scowled. “Not good, that’s what.”

Hawkeye didn’t even respond with sarcasm, for her eyes had already fallen upon something else burned into the raptor’s cheek. Hiro’s own gaze followed hers, and he saw it: an Omega symbol burned into the zoid’s face, glowing a dark indigo color. As they stared, chills went up both of their spines. Hiro stood up, and Hawkeye adjusted her bun nervously. They looked at each other for a few moments, and then the compulsion they both felt took hold of them. Their heads snapped toward the great darkness at the end of the horde, and their whole expressions went completely pale.

Perhaps the pair didn’t even know what they were looking on, but the sight of the Doomsday Mech just over a thousand meters away from them, staring at them with its own eyes, struck terror in them to their very core.

Portals opened up before them, and three more raptor zoids crawled out, snarling. So that’s how they got to us before when it looked like there were none to our left.

Hawkeye’s gun flew up. Hiro’s hand went to the communicator attached to his helmet and he shot out a distress signal as fast as he could. Maybe ‘exodusAlighted’ would see it; maybe someone else would, but either way…

Someone has to help us.

The bang of Hawkeye’s pistol brought Hiro Hamada back to reality, and he blasted off the ground, firing off a magnetic cord and wrapping it around one of the raptor’s necks. He tugged, and the mechanized monster slid along the ground, wailing.

In its place, three more raptors charged out of the portal.

Hiro and Riza Hawkeye (Roy Mustang's Summon) are currently about a thousand meters to the west of the back of the horde. Starscream is gonna save them, but Hiro's sent out a distress signal that anyone should be able to pick up on.

Baymax is still at Mustang's forward command post, helping Doc McStuffins with surgery, and is open to use by anyone who is there. If you've got any questions about him, just hmu!
 

Shinku

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Rocket steered left to evade a blast that would have obliterated him and the soldier he carried. “Hey, the enemies don't seem to thin down in this direction. Are you sure we’re going the right way?” The raccoon inquired, skeptic of the path that the soldier had been directing him to.

“Well, I know we should be heading north….” The soldier responded hesitantly, his voice almost thinned down to a whisper. “Look out!”

At the soldier’s warning, Rocket had to sway from his path yet again to keep him from colliding with a couple of missiles. With more dangerous encounters along their way, the raccoon decided to find refuge towards another old building.

“Were you really dispatched from that direction?” After carefully placing the soldier on the ground, Rocket wasted no time to continue with his queries.

“I don’t remember telling you that. You asked for our base of operations, it’s far up north. We were dispatched from our command center south from here.” The soldier timidly remarked, intimidated at his now exasperated companion,

Rocket facepalmed in disbelief, followed by a deep sigh that brought a moment of awkward silence. “Alright. So is this….command center of yours safe to travel to?” The raccoon continued, surprisingly calm after his sudden vexation.

“Well there are no enemies that way so I believe it’s safe.” The soldier responded, a bit more confident this time, though still worried at the raccoon’s current expression.

“Ok next time...Ah forget it. Let’s just get to that SAFE command center of yours.” Impatiently, Rocket lit his boosters and grabbed the soldier as he did earlier. The action still surprised the soldier yet, he has gotten a bit more relaxed this time around.

The raccoon still had to evade a couple of lasers fired at their way but it wasn’t too long when the attacks finally subsided. The view however, of an abandoned and almost ruined city somehow brought Rocket a feeling somewhere between depression and anxiety.

“There! Just a few blocks past that barrier.” The soldier exclaimed, pointing at a translucent dome shaped barrier that covered a gigantic area.

“Ok so how do we get past that? There should be some kind of clearance right?” The raccoon queried, as he started to lower their flight altitude.

“Oh right. Well, l see a couple of jets coming our way. They’d definitely turn the barrier off for a couple of seconds till those jets get off. Quick, you must reach the barrier before they do.”

“I sure will.” Still at low altitude, Rocket accelerated his way towards the barrier, upon the soldier’s mark. He raced like a grand prix contender, aiming to nab the first place from a distant opponent.

Fortunately enough, the raccoon was able to reach the barrier almost at the same time as the planes did. Within the thin window time of the barrier’s deactivation, Rocket was able to get past through the barrier, along with the soldier that led him towards the place.

“Ok now tell me where this command center is.” Rocket ordered the soldier, before they could even land safely at the ground. It wasn't that long however, when the raccoon was able to safely place the soldier down.

“Of course. You see that tall building over there?” With his feet now on the ground, the soldier gladly responded at Rocket, who descended beside him.

“Yes, I see exactly seven tall buildings over that direction. Will you…Oh that one that has that same insignia as your uniform.” Once again the raccoon almost flurried in anger but instantly cooled down upon realizing what the soldier was pointing out.

“You are correct. Head over there and look for Major Roy Mustang. He might give you more information about this mayhem than I could. Now good luck, we part ways here.” The soldier threw Rocket a quick salute before turning his back at the raccoon.

Eagerly, Rocket ignited his boosters again and quickly flew towards the direction of the building as per the soldier’s direction. Luckily enough, he saw two people standing right outside the building.

“Hey! I am looking for a Major Roy Mustang! Would you two be kind enough to save me some time and tell me where he is?” From the sky, Rocket approached the strangers in a somehow arrogant tone as he slowly descended to the ground.
 

Lord Zedd

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Things were not going well for Lord Zedd.

Mere seconds ago he had been in the ruins of a once proud city, one that had been a beacon of hope and resistance. Zedd had torn that beacon to the ground, and was locked in combat with the five brightly colored fools who believed themselves to be saviors of humanity. He had been winning. Yet, before he could finish them off, everything was gone in a flash.

The next thing the maniacal overlord knew he was in a swandiving free fall towards an absolute travesty of a war zone. Mecha and monster clashed all over the ruined environment, and Zedd lamented how mundane such a sight was at this phase in his life. Still, he was absolutely flabbergasted at the sudden change in his environment, having no idea what had brought him to a whole new world so suddenly.

Screaming as loudly and angrily as the day he was born, the lost warlock flailed his limbs the whole way down. Zedd landed upon the ramparts of Markov, to the complete shock of the nearby soldiers. He stood tall as he surveyed the area, growling through his facemask as he did. Four entrenched humans were manning this somewhat fortified position, and doing what they could to support the war below with mounted heavy guns.

“This is the Rangers’ doing,” Zedd deduced aloud to no one in particular.

“What the fu-” one soldier started to ask the obvious.

“Look out!!” another suddenly screamed. “Akata!”

Gunfire erupted around him, and Zedd was simultaneously relieved and offended that it wasn’t directed at him. Putting aside his need for the peons to fear him, Zedd looked to what they were actually shooting at and was quite surprised. Black, demonic lion-hound creatures were rushing their position with silent and deadly determination. The humans immediately switched to their small arms to try and repel them, but the beasts were closing in fast. Zedd marched forward at the sight. A proper slaughter would lift his spirits just fine.

“Out of my way, minions!” Zedd roared as he stormed past them, grabbing the nearest object he could find with any weight. It ended up being a turret that they had been unable to set up.

Zedd hurled the metal object at the approaching horde. The gun struck one of the three hellhounds and hurled it backwards, Meanwhile he watched as another collapsed, gunned down by the soldiers behind him. That still left one closing in fast, which Zedd stopped in its tracks with a powerful punch. The monster fell backwards, which was all the time Zedd needed to grab it and hurl it from the ramparts.

Not a second after he disposed of that trash, the one he’d struck before was already back. It leaped at Zedd with its maw open, but the warlord caught its fangs with both hands. The beast struggled and tried to clamp down, but Zedd’s might was far greater. Mustering up his strength, Zedd ripped the creature’s jaw from its head. The four soldiers watched stunned, while Zedd disposed of that carcass by throwing it over the edge as well.

“Where is this place!?” Zedd demanded as he turned back to his impromptu welcoming crew.

“Uh… Markov, obviously,” one of the soldiers, a red headed female, responded confused.

“No, check it. He’s one of those,” another of the soldiers, a fair skinned man with brown hair, realized. He’d heard of people just arriving out of nowhere, but this sure was a bad place for it to happen. “You’re on Cevanti, in the Crossroads.”

“Crossroads…” Zedd repeated aloud as he looked out at the carnage below.

He was no stranger to the anomalies of space and time. After all, he’d seen much in many millennia of slaughter across the known universe. Yet, accessing these realms never happened so suddenly like today. It mattered not, though. Perhaps this place was where he could regain his former glory.

“…Who are you?” one of them finally asked.

“I am Lord Zedd, emperor of all I see,” the displaced tyrant replied, as he cast his gaze upon a new realm.
 

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"Nice as it is to see you alive and well again, this isn't exactly the most pleasant time for a reunion." The seriousness of the situation impressed itself close behind the major's words, as distantly the rumble and thunder of the ongoing chaos rose to a brief fever pitch, accompanied by a sharp flume of fire-tinged smoke. "You're here to help, I hope?"

"Affirmative," Ashe replied simply. "I caught your transmission requesting assistance. Could you provide further details on the situation at hand?"

"Gladly. Things are..." He was cut off by the sudden arrival of a newcomer, descending from overhead by way of boost-powered flight. "....if you're looking for Major Roy Mustang, you've found him. Who are you?"

"I'm a guardian! Never mind who I am, what in the absolute fuck is going on out there?!" And the raccoon-like entity just swept an arm demandingly out at the general expanse of 'everything' currently going on and exploding in the distance.

The major let a light frown crease at his features. "....luckily for you we're not exactly in a position to turn down help. Pay attention, then." And he turned aside to briskly pace to and fro, while launching into a quick overview of the situation at hand, only stopping to look directly at them again after a his full explanation neared its end. "...and the attack is concentrated in coming from the northwest. We've never seen teamwork or coordination from them like this before. We're managing to hold them back for now, but it's anyone's guess how long we'll last, or before they manage to get to the barrier itself."

"They struck without warning. In far greater numbers and with unexpected coordination. Your usual strategies aren't working." Ashe-0 spoke up to clarify. Not exactly questions, though her tone was as indecipherable as ever.

"Right on the money," Mustang confirmed grimly. "The Zoids would be bad enough on their own, but then we've got the Akata out there with them, and they're making things hell for the ground troops, and weaker parts of our forces."

"Hold up a second, back it up!" The raccoon barked, holding up both arms. "These zoids and akata just all of a sudden started workin' together, you said? Just out of the blue?"

"That's right." Mustang acknowledged with a simple nod. "They've done it before, but only in smaller packs, nothing on this scale."

"Hmm. Don't make any kind of sense to me." He crossed his arms, with a disgruntled scowl on his face.

"Overarching strategies and plans on this scale are above my line of thinking," Ashe spoke up again after a moment. "I am better suited with short-term tactics and goals to reach larger objectives." She turned her head to look back out toward the outskirts of the city, where she judged the bulk of the fighting was taking place. "....we have fought together before, if only briefly, Major. I will trust your judgement on how I may best be of assistance."

From below, a light twitching and flicker of yellow came from behind the war machine's boots, as two small creatures peeked out into view. One of them clutched to the heel of each boot, peering intently and with alarming focus for the otherwise ridiculous mouse-like appearance they sported. Black eyes flicked from one speaker to the next as they listened in, unnoticed for the moment. Consternation was written plainly on their features, as realizations began to settle in that whoever this one they'd hitched a ride with, they were by now clearly not a pokemon, or at the very least it was some strange type they'd never seen before.

"....well, if you're volunteering to go wherever you're needed, I can definitely think of a few places." Mustang lifted his head slightly, with a keen glint in his eyes. "We need someone to help deal with the Akata, and stop them from turning our own backlines into a pincer attack on our own forces. They can...reanimate things they kill into some kind of zombie, and it's making our own fallen turn into reinforcements for them. But I doubt they could bring you down, or even reanimate you if they did. And besides that..."

"I have no attachment to these individuals, and can put them down again even if reanimated," the golem finished bluntly.

"Yeesh, talk about cold," the raccoon bristled at that, with a momentary scowl that cracked almost immediately. "....but given this mess, guess that's what's needed."

Mustang just gave a brief, wry chuckle. "...yeah, exactly."

"Understood. I will attend to the issue as best I can." She rose up to her full height again. "Anything else of import, before I depart?"

"Find out anything you can while you're at it. See if we can come up with anything to try and counter them." His expression turned grim again, as he slowly lowered his gaze. "Much as I trust you to get the job done...you can't be everywhere at once."

"....affirmative. I have established a link to the communications in the area; if there are any changes in the situation, contact me immediately. I will do the same if I discover anything." And without further ado she turned and loped off, quickly breaking into a steady run as she vacated the camp to make way for the actual battle zones again.

"You got interesting allies out here," the guardian raccoon remarked.

"You haven't seen the half of it, yet." Mustang smirked, turning back toward the command post. "Now come on, let's figure out what to do with you."
 

Starscream

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“For the love of Primus,” snapped Starscream, distracted by evading his pursuer with a series of complicated maneuvers in the air and very much not in the mood. “If you do not stop FIDGETING right this instant, I am going to turn around and THROW YOU at the enemy. And use the safety belts!”

The construction bot rattling around inside his cockpit gave a miserable wail in response, but complied, falling blessedly silent. Starscream would have breathed a sigh of relief if he had the energy for it. As it was, he merely refocused his attention on the corrupted seeker in his periphery, a hulking shadow that seemed to echo his every move with frightening precision, stalking him relentlessly across the dark, storm-laden skies.

Fortunately, while the other flier seemed to know how to ride the winds well enough, their construction was far less aerodynamic, the winds buffeting against the other’s spiky and disjointed frame slowing their pursuit. Starscream’s own jet-form was all smooth lines of acceleration, silver-painted speed and grace. This… thing appeared to be the polar opposite— whatever kind of bot it had been before had been forged into something innately wrong, the dark metal twisted and bent at odd angles, the torn edges of shorn plating deliberately shaped into something ugly, aggressive… damaged.

Though he couldn’t find it within himself to feel something as contemptible as pity for the other creature, Starscream shuddered to think of what that particular ordeal must have been like. It was the kind of transformation that looked as if it must have hurt.

Regardless of whatever emotions he might have felt for the enemy, though, Starscream needed to throw the other flier off his trail. He was already tiring from maintaining sustained flight for so long; it seemed that the evasive measures he was attempting to employ were not only not working, they were actively causing his systems to deteriorate. Yet, he was not prepared to throw in the towel just yet, so to speak.

There was a reason he had been Commander of Cybertron’s finest air warriors, a reason for his position as Second-in-Command of the Decepticons. Starscream liked to call it tenacity. His enemies, on the other hand, merely called it talent— natural capabilities granted to the least deserving bot in the universe. In spite of that (or perhaps because of it), Starscream knew that he was more than capable of outmaneuvering the deformed, mangled seeker hunting him. It would take a little effort, his injured state certainly wasn’t doing him any favors, but he would prevail. Any other outcome was unthinkable.

And so Starscream’s jet form shredded through the stormy expanse the corruption had made of Cevanti’s upper airs, a dart of vibrant silver slipping like a bullet across the sky. Hurricane-like winds howled as they tore at his frame, the violent updrafts beating relentlessly at his wings, threatening to knock him off balance with every powerful blow.

Starscream allowed this— welcomed it, even, at times twisting with the wind’s forceful shoves to further befuddle his pursuer, crowing with laughter as the other seeker struggled to imitate every haphazard spin. All the while, the electric dome of Markov’s energy shielding became more visible in the distance, and it wasn’t long before the scene of the battle Major Roy Mustang had spoken of unraveled before him, the charred and cannon-scarred plain writhing with shadows, organics, and machines alike.

Abruptly, a single, static-laced word emerged from the construction bot trapped inside his cockpit, who had heretofore respected Starscream’s wishes and remained totally silent: “Help!”

“Yes, yes,” hissed Starscream, dodging to the side as the corrupted seeker flying at his rear made to crash into him. What, were they utterly insane?! “We will, of course, offer our ‘help’ to these… poor, squishy insects. I hope you are pleased with yourself for stating the obvious.”

A frustrated beep answered him, and before Starscream could really tell what was happening, something had been jammed into one of the communication nodes inside his cockpit. The seeker yelped, wobbling in mid-air, as a rather urgent message was linked directly to his processor. It pinged a location somewhere southwest of Starscream’s current position, a slightly scratchy string of audio reverberating from the WALL-C unit’s speakers.

“I’ve sent out a distress signal,” said a young voice laced with urgency, raised to be heard over the din of gunfire and savage snarling in the background. “It’s a live feed; someone’s bound to get it and send reinforcements.”

“All the way out here, Hamada?” answered another voice, clearly weary. Two clear gunshots rang out, the loud reports absolutely deafening over the comm link, nearly shorting it out. “That’s unlikely and you know it. We’ll have to fight our way out of this one—”

Starscream stopped listening. The seeker’s attention slanted across the battlefield as he circled wide, searching. Swarms of shadowy beasts and living machines flickered in the distance, viciously attacking the city’s military force and crashing against its humming energy barrier; Primus, there had to be thousands of them. And at the back of this horde, casting its long, tainted shadow across a plain peppered with scorch marks and ruined buildings, was an absolutely massive mech.

The seeker veered sharply west to avoid drawing too near to the colossal machine, spark feeling as if it might’ve sunk right down to the very pit of his chassis, such was the intense field of corruption emanating from it. The roar of enemy thrusters in his audials snapped him out of his daze, the other seeker diving after Starscream as his jet form skated along, visual sensors scouring the ground several hundreds of feet below.

There. Sticking out like a pair of beacons against the otherwise blackened landscape, Starscream easily identified the two fleshlings facing off against a pack of sharp-toothed bipedal machines, more of the metallic raptors leaping out from portals that seemed to open up in random locations around the pair, belching out new opponents each time one of their number was cut down.

Starscream slowed abruptly, jet form swerving upward and transforming mid-air. Just as his corrupted pursuer passed under him, Starscream dropped and crashed onto its back, pedes firmly planted between its wings, talon-tipped servos digging savagely into the jet’s frame. Delicate machinery was torn out in a shower of crackling wiring and electric sparks, sending the other seeker careening wildly through the air in a plume of thick black smoke, Starscream still perched precariously on its back.

With a mighty crash and the sound of crunching metal, Starscream and the shadowy seeker smashed into the ground about three yards from the fleshlings and their attackers, the former leaping away at the very last second as his foe exploded in a burst of energy and scorching heat.

Landing knee-first and skidding harshly over the ground, Starscream picked himself up and turned, red optics glaring at the utterly destroyed remnants of his opponent. Their fractured chassis was completely engulfed by tongues of hungry flame, limbs bent at odd angles and dripping liquid metal over the ground.

“Hmph,” Starscream said, turbines purring in satisfaction. “Not bad, for a cheap imitation.”

Wings fanning out proudly, Starscream turned to regard the undoubtedly dazzled fleshlings— and promptly squawked as one of the mechanical raptors lunged for him, little claws latching onto his leg and swiftly attempting to scale the much taller mech’s frame. Denta bared in a snarl, Starscream swiped it away with one talon-tipped servo, sending the wretched thing flying.

It landed with a sharp cry as its limbs buckled painfully beneath its own weight, but roused itself with panther-like grace, whirling around for another lunge—

A well-timed missile lodged in the raptor’s side, erupting in a miniature explosion that was enough to tear its head from its body, several cybernetic limbs wrenched off in the process.

Vermin! Starscream surveyed this smoking pile of once-living machinery with disgust, visibly bristling from the attack. Several identical bodies lay scattered around, a testament to the humans’ combat abilities and the nearly overwhelming numbers they were being bombarded with. And to make matters worse, there were more of the snarling machines emerging from portals all around, seething with menacing intent.

The silver-painted seeker turned burning red optics on the pair of fleshy insects, one missile-laden arm raised and halfway to blowing them sky high, as well. Thankfully, Starscream paused before that could happen, arm lowering in mild disappointment. Ah, yes. He’d come to rescue them, hadn’t he? It didn’t seem like a very good plan, in hindsight.

“I received your distress signal,” Starscream called, attempting to seem… friendly. It might have even worked, too, if his gaze weren’t so harsh and calculating, but there was only so much one could do when dealing with tiny, fearful humans. “Are you in need of transport?”

 

Ohm Zui

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The hover van smashed through the front of the disused store, concrete dust flying as Lee cast shatter at the oncoming wall. To the halfelf’s left, Beezlebub gripped the dashboard with white-knuckled hands in Giorno’s vacated passenger seat, screaming despite having marked this store as the best avenue of escape. Behind the two of them, Giorno and Filigree had wedged themselves in the open doors at the rear of the van, the troll and andromedon sending torrents of bullets, spells and acid projectiles into the pursuing pack. Cackling madly in the centre of it all, Simone continued to pilot her drones around the buildings, now significantly worse for wear.

As the back wall broke into fragments of duracrete from the spell’s shockwave, Lee glanced down at her smart watch. Her eyes went wide, before flickering back to the windscreen, ignoring the debris to focus on precise driving through the narrow alley and the large group of void zombies in their way.

“The stiffs aren’t being counted!” she yelled, part indignant rage, part insensate terror. “We’re falling behind! We’re only 712th!”

A thump from behind them as Simone collapsed the two-storey building on their pursuers with a well aimed micromissile was barely heard over Beezlebub’s screech.

“THAT’S WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT RIGHT NOW?!” he screamed, eyes flashing with the lightning yellow of the decker’s divination. “LEFT!”

Lee span the wheel again, the hover van drifting out of the alley to narrowly miss pieces of corrupted zoid tumbling from the sky and crash into the street. She closed her eyes as metal screamed, the van’s exterior shedding paint to a poorly placed utilities terminal, only for a thump on the bonnet to make her open them again.

The star blue hue of the akata’s slimy mane and dripping fangs directly in front of her prompted a frantic pump of the air brakes, sending the unwanted passenger flying forward.

“Giorno! Roof!”

The street samurai paused their gunfire to acknowledge Filigree’s words and with surprising grace grasped the edge of the van’s roof and somersaulted up, blade flashing. Lee, however, was occupied by other things.

“We’re boxed in again! Bee, give me an exit!”

“Do a donut! I need more time!”

“THAT’S NOT HOW DRIVING WORKS!”

As they bickered, the akata in the street got to its feet, while another pounced from the roof of a nearby building. Giorno gave a grunt as the troll used their blade to redirect the falling beast.

The two akata were joined by a third and a fourth, and the runners took a moment to reload and restock. For a moment, this small street was quiet.

*BAM*

A vault door, marked with the dusty teal to indicate it had been fully disarmed and cleared, thudded open, the outtowners taking shelter there opening fire on the akata from their secure positions. Whilst the small arms fire distracted the beasts, the runners leapt into action.

Lee pulled the throttle back and pressed one of her emergency buttons, forcing the van’s thrusters to overcompensate and force it high into the air. As it arced through the air, Filigree sprayed the akata with a mist of acid that Giorno followed up with a volley of hellfire rounds. The akata’s attention, torn between the unexpected flank and the backflipping van, focused on the combatants they could reach, turning tail and charging at the vault. Beezlebub’s eyes shone, and for a moment their digital data was visible in the material world, just long enough to enhance Simone’s chopper drone as it dove for the kills.

Pieces of akata fell to the streets, only one still upright enough to reach the vault door. For a moment, it looked like the outtowners were ready for melee, two of them drawing axes from their backs, but both of them went down to the beast’s scything claws.

“Shit.”

Lee’s swear corresponded with the hefty crunch the van made as it impacted the street, landing pad’s now broken and warning lights appearing across the dashboard. The runners opened fire, but the akata savaged another five of the vault dwellers before it went down.

“Okay, B, next street.”

“But Lee, the victims are going to come back as void zombies.”

“So what? Leave them for the outtowners to deal with. We need to focus on what’s worth it to us. No point risking our necks for no reward.”

And with that, the halfelf adjusted the stabilisers and drove on into the conflict.
 

Roy Mustang

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“And in short, we’re drastically outnumbered and desperately need any help available to us.” Mustang finished. He crossed his arms looking down at the anthropomorphic rodent. Rocket was sitting on a crate on the edge of the landing zone, picking his teeth with a metal tool of some kind as he sat there.

“Alright.” Rocket nodded to himself, “Now back up to the part about how much reward you would be willing to pay again? Actually, better yet! Just start from the beginning, I wasn’t listening.” The guardian said dismissively, leaning back on the crate he had chosen as a perch.

Mustang clenched his jaw, growing increasingly frustrated with the critter’s lack of attention to details beyond his own economic gains. It wasn’t as though he could expect everyone who came to their aid to be altruistic, but he didn’t have the time to waste on hand holding arrogant mercenaries through the situation. Men were dying out there as they spoke.

“Listen here, you little-“ His temper was spared by the loud wailing of an engine rapidly approaching the landing zone. It was a Pilot Union troop transport, trailing smoke from its left engine as it descended in a barely controlled arc towards the compound. It half landed; half crashed to the ground with a horrible rending noise. Mustang and Rocket dashed across the open space, others nearby not far behind. The transport appeared to be empty save for the pilot who has suffered a nasty looking puncture wound from the crash. She staggered out of vehicle, hand on the wound, trying to keep it as closed as possible.

“They need evac!” she shouted in a voice that she surely intended to be louder than the hoarse whisper that escaped. Mustang grabbed her arm over his shoulder, helping her in the direction of the emergency med bay.

“Focus on your breathing.” He instructed as they walked, “Tell me what’s going on, but only if you have the strength to spare.”

“Red devil squad. They’re cornered outside by the old waterline and need a way out.”

“We can’t establish air superiority that far from the barrier.” Mustang frowned, “The double A batteries can’t reliably target the Zoids at that range.”

“I know Sir…” She responded “That’s what shot me down…” she was clearly getting delirious at this point, words drawling slightly as she struggled to keep her feet moving forward.

“Who the hell sent you out to evacuate them, then?” Mustang demanded. “That’s reckless to the point of negligent sending a transport out that far!”

They reached the medical facility, Mustang barely sparing a glace at the large red armor-clad nurse Hamada had left behind.

“She needs attention. Now!” he shouted at the nearest nurse not clearly in the middle of something. The Mon Calamari nodded reaching to take the pilot’s arm. She locked eyes with Mustang, pained and vacant gaze hardening with momentary clarity.

“It wasn’t an order. I went myself. Please…. My little brother is out there….”

It was an idiotic idea. She must have known there would be no way to make that trip without getting the attention of the Zoids, especially in a transport vehicle. He let go as she was helped over to the intensive care unit, giving Mustang one last pleading look as he stood there, teeth clenched. He looked down, then stormed out of the medical bay and out to the landing pad. Rocket was poking around the cockpit of the vehicle as he approached.

“Can you fly a vehicle like this?” he asked urgently. Rocket laughed out loud, hands on the steering stick.

“One like this? Not a chance! Engines are pretty dead and the hull’s all kinds of crumpled. We won’t get enough lift to get off the ground and a good hit will turn us to scraps in mid-air! But look!” He shook the stick to one side then the other, the wing flaps shifting on the vehicle, “I do have steering!”

Mustang thought for a moment, then gave a short, almost incredulous laugh.

“Get it prepped for takeoff as best you can. We’re going out there.”

Mustang dashed back towards the Med bay, ignoring Rocket’s incredulous remarks about his mental state. He was probably right; this was a stupid plan. The Second Lieutenant would never let him try something like this if she knew about this. Still…

“You!” Mustang burst back into the hospital wing with renewed urgency, rushing over to Baymax as the red robot looked up with a blank expression that would probably amount to surprise.

“We’ve got a job to do, Red!” Mustang grabbed his arm and turned to leave, though his hasty exit was promptly halted by Baymax’s lack of movement.

“I am performing my assigned duty.” Baymax responded with his typical pleasant monotone. He turned back the soldier he was administering a burn treatment to.

“It’ll have to wait. This is a matter of life and death!”

“I cannot leave this patient until he is satisfied with his service.”

“What?” Mustang could swear the robot was being obstinate on purpose. He growled, turning towards the soldier in question. He didn’t look like he was in good shape, but clearly wasn’t in critical condition either. “Tell him you’re satisfied, Corporal. I need this robot!”

The man was clearly in pain still, but to his credit he nodded. “I’m… agh I’m fine!” He spluttered. Baymax’s eyes almost seemed to narrow.

“My assessment of your pain responses indicate that I am not yet finished with the procedure.”

The soldier swallowed hard, speaking again this time more levelly.

“I am satisfied with… your performance.“ He uttered through clenched teeth. Baymax straightened up, turning to face Mustang with the same blank expression as ever. Mustang couldn't stand robots sometimes.

“You requested my assistance, Major? There are many patients here in need of help.”

“They’ll have to wait. I need you to help save some other people first!”

---​

It was anything but stable, but Hamada’s robot proved capable of flight even while supporting the substantial vehicle. Baymax held the transport from behind, providing the thrust to keep them airborne as Rocket jury-rigged what he could to keep them leveled out as they soared away from the command post. The half-sized pilot let out a whoop as the damaged transport crested the energy barrier of Markov. Mustang stood behind him a good distance, one arm holding a hand grip as he waited near the busted open door of the troop hanger. The wind buffeted his jacket as they shot towards the waterline in a wide arc.

Mustang was silent, mentally running over the situation with a desperate certainty. They were going to need to come in hot, get to the target as quickly as possible, grab as many people as they could fit and get out, hopefully before they attracted too much attention from the flying Zoids that were doing battle with the Pilot Union’s Air Corps. He had barely finished the thought before a missile exploded a short distance off the transport’s starboard wing.

“Well, we avoided getting fried like insects on a zapper, so I did my part!” Rocket shouted back somewhere between conversationally and agitated, “So what’s your plan to keep this large, clunky, and did I mention weaponless transport from getting slagged by the millions and millions of Zoids out here?”

“Weaponless?” Mustang responded with a chuckle. He took a deep breath, then leaned out the open door of the troop transport, left arm locked with a death grip on the hand ring above him. The wind whipped past him at feverish speeds tugging at his hair and coat. In a few seconds he caught sight of the pair of Zoids that had noticed their flight.

In a situation like this, the airflow calculations would be virtually impossible to judge, and Mustang would not have anywhere near the kind of control he normally employed. Fortunately, in a situation like this he didn’t need it.

*snap*

A huge and wrathful gout of orange-red flame sprang from his hand, sailing back into the pursuing Zoids far faster than any evasive actions could avoid. At this range he couldn’t focus the heat enough to melt them directly, but all the same his flames seared metal, welding joints and locking limbs. The Zoid’s faltered in the air, unable to adjust their melted appendages well enough to stay airborne.

“Well! That’s sort of a weapon, I guess!” Rocket called back from the cockpit “I had meant more- Incoming!”

The Guardian pilot swung the stick drastically to one side, narrowly evading a third Zoid that came streaking up from below. Mustang was flung off balance, his feet leaving the ground as he clung desperately to the ring suspended from the ceiling. The Zoid arced above them, then dove back down with a horrible and twisted screech. Mustang tried to calculate the air currents as he watched its approach, knowing he wouldn’t be able to stop its descent without damaging their already fragile vessel.

A Red-metal fist rocketed up from the rear of the ship, intercepting the Zoid mid-dive and sending its trajectory spiraling into a nearby skyscraper with a crash.

“Oh nice! Those things are detachable?” Rocket asked as he spotted the limb returning to Baymax in one of the rear cameras. “Hey Big Guy! How much do you charge for the arm?”

“From empty, my arm accounts for approximately 97 minutes of my total charge time. By percentage that comes to-”

“No! No! Cost! How much do I have to pay!”

“Later!” Mustang snapped, “There’s the squadron we’re after.”

There was probably only two dozen of them left. A scout-level walker squadron, judging by the wreckage that had been assembled into makeshift barricades. The Zoids had them cornered in a dead-end alley, but the stretch was long enough that any particularly aggressive Zoid couldn’t withstand the machine gun fire from two of the still active models long enough to reach them.

“Hang on to your lunch!” Rocket shouted, pulling back on the Joystick as they drastically reduced speed to land in the cleared section.

“These shifts in speed and orientation are not advised,” called Baymax’s monotone voice, “There is a strong possibility of disturbing vital internal functions if they…”

His advice was drowned out by groaning metal as the Transport touched down. Baymax and the ship’s landing thrusters flared, cutting momentum as quickly as possible, the transport finally skidding to a stop behind the lines of the started Pilot Union survivors. They were too close to the back of the alleyway… Mustang thought as he struggled back to his feet. How was Rocket going to take off again from here? There was nothing for it. He would have to figure that out himself. Mustang forced away his nausea and hopped off the transport.

“Get everyone on! Now!” He shouted above the screech of gunfire. He strode towards the front of the makeshift barricade, pulling his gloves tight over his hands as he did so. His face a cocky grin to mask the nervousness that the sheer stupidity of this plan hadn’t gotten any of them killed yet.

“I’ll provide the cover fire for this retreat.”
 

Ohm Zui

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To paint a picture, someone needs to craft the canvas.

Joshua Mephistopheles, currently hunkered down in the basement of a repurposed vault to the east side of Markov, was extremely busy. Half an hour ago his associate, known to him by the handle BigFishSmallPond, had messaged him about an intelligence data group that had sprung up in response to the siege. He had joined using his usual alias, zebrahathacker, and had quickly found it to be surprisingly well organised and directed for something that had been thrown together on short notice. Whoever this exodusAlighted was, they knew how to put together a task group.

Joshua had mostly been sitting back, studying the types of data feed and the analysis programs his fellows were volunteering and networking together. It was serviceable, from what he could see: no-one could put together raw code fast enough to build a brand new program, let alone the complex series of checks and displays needed for the gamers and brokers to interface meaningfully with the data, so most of it was entire chunks of code copied verbatim and modified on the fly.

What was needed though, and what no lone coder would likely have, was a suitable map for the overall display. At present someone had cobbled together a minimap style projection with a satellite photo of the area, but Joshua knew it wouldn’t have enough depth to be helpful for long, and that if this whole exercise was going to be useful, they needed a better method that no individual would have.

He had decided, therefore, to ‘go shopping’. His eyes were closed, and his senses were dead to the world, instead the cybernetic jacks in his neck channeling all his non-vital nervous activity into a legally dubious interface. His virtual avatar, code and functions executed with every nervous twitch and careful motion, swam through the outer firewalls of the Dig’n’delve Archaeologist & Excavation Company. The company had formally gone bust less than a week ago, but Cytokine (because of course it was Cytokine who had bought up the carcass) had yet to actually dismantle the company’s electronic database. Without an active observer to monitor the ICE, zebrahathacker had little trouble opening a program to provide themselves admin privileges. Golden key of code in hand, they could access the archives of Dig’n’delve’s database without worrying about ICE, and once they’d done that, it was the work of the moment to plant a small package of code.

They then went to the server host, and span the clock forward to send a synchronisation request early. All archaeological companies were supposed to provide their data freely to a large database secured heavily in some private, Kingdom owned government server. While accessing the data held there would be impossible, what should be possible…

A ping on his wrist.

The company he was parasitising had spent a large amount of academic credit, worthless for anything other than requesting basic geographical information and confirming whether a site had been cleared or not. zebrahathacker opened the file to confirm what the automated systems had sent back: a confirmation that every building selected (selected by an algorithm that chose every building and street within two miles of Markov’s outer walls) was clear. What was also included with that confirmation was exact coordinates and shape of those long assessed buildings.

He cranked the earpiece on his avatar and began to message one of the other coders.

zebrahathacker: I have a full exterior only map of Markov and surroundings. Geocoordinates including height.
ArthiriticTypist: How?!
ArthiriticTypist: Nevermind
ArthiriticTypist: I’ve got the server to run it on.
zebrahathacker: Sending it now.

Once it was sent, he quickly erased his presence in the system. Since academic credit didn’t transfer on when a company was bought, no-one should be any the wiser.

---

To paint a picture, someone needs to craft the brushes.

Talia Saxon was not what someone would picture a stock broker as, preferring to lounge in gorgeous green puffa jackets and red tights that she felt flattered her complexion and were wonderfully comfortable. While most people might consider those colours distinctly festive and not at all suitable for casual wear, let alone business attire, the fact that Talia was a nine foot tall dryad of the cactus variety meant that few people felt the need to correct her.

Talia batted her eyes balefully at her sunroof, which at present was neither sunny nor a roof (the builders who had been replacing the pane of glass had all fled at the start of the siege, and Talia was thankful that the energy barrier meant that her electronics would not be rained on). Her apartment was not the penthouse suite she might pretend it was, but it was her home, and one she had worked hard for. Now, it seemed, she would have to defend it (and her subconscious was looking forward to using this to guilt her mother tree for pooh-poohing her line of work as immoral).

Her fronds and the needles that were attached to them stretched and danced, tapping away at keys and buttons positioned just as she liked it around her workspace. On screen, the feeds she usually used for stock numbers had been replaced with feeds displaying energy values, stocks of ammunition and lists of Markov manufacturers of specific products, and she was creating a sorting system for the lot.

It helped to know the mathematics required, she mused, drafting a spreadsheet (one of the scriptcrunchers would be able to turn it into a program, she supposed, but the fact was that they wouldn’t have a clue what numbers to put in without her). Stocks and bonds and economic values were all so frightfully varied, but with a keen mind and a little bit of learning it was easy for the successful brokers to winnow out whatever values they might want ahead of time: the same principles that suggested a rise in value of mining companies might impact the companies using their products could be equally put to use here. Only the less successful were forced to scream buy and sell on the brokerage floors, and Talia was never anything less than perfect.

With a coy smile, she opened her phone’s messaging service and tapped out a quick comment for the chat.

FlowerInBloom: Do keep up, darlings, I’ve just finished my fourth section assigned.
InDebtor: Fuck off Talia
Bacon(Francis): Ignore her, you’re doing great
FlowerInBloom: Thank you Francis. Be back soon~!

---

To paint a picture, someone needs to craft the paints.

Ohm checked their phonic device again. Still no response from Mustang, and from what their impromptu intel group was pulling together it was likely that the soldier was as preoccupied with combat as the rest of the Kingdom’s troops.

Between the feeds that they had gathered, and the snowballing numbers of civilian volunteers joining the analysis work, Ohm had a rough picture of how the battlefield was playing out, which was pretty much not at all. Even with the spottiness of the information at hand, Ohm could see the lack of cohesion beginning to take its toll on the defenders. Kingdom AA was torn between steering clear of Pilot’s Union aircraft or risking friendly fire to plug the gaps in the aerial combat, Guild fighters were ignoring the plights of both their fellows and infantry to prioritise ‘valuable’ kills, and Cytokine Industries had pretty much deployed their mechs wherever seemed like somewhere half decent. None of these on their own was a fatal problem, but added together there were too many fires for anyone to focus on extinguishing one. The horde of enemies certainly wasn’t helping: according to the geographical model that the coders had assembled, the red dots of enemy sightings were beginning to spread around to the north and the west, stretching the frontline out across a full quarter of the cities perimeter, with no signs of stopping there. With the sheer numbers, if there was a crack to exploit in the defences, there were at least three enemies trying to exploit it, just for lack of space elsewhere.

The biggest problem Ohm faced, however, was getting enough data to start fixing that. Some of the coders either were hackers or had hacker friends, but for now Ohm was fairly firm in preventing them trying to force or sneak access to feeds from the frontlines. An extra distraction was not what they needed right now: ideally, the group would get access to their own source of intelligence, one they could use to leverage access peacefully instead.

“Zoo-ee…” Ohm muttered to themselves, putting their device away again and zipping through the streets. As they did, an electronics storefront caught their eye.

“Oh!”

And inspiration struck.
 

Orion

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Orion flew close to Markov’s pulsing barrier. Normally it didn’t make itself so visible; during times of safety and peace, it was a translucent white, often blurring in with the blue of the sky as to make it indistinguishable. It would only be noticed if the observer stepped outside the barrier and spotted the change in the sky’s hue. Now, as relentless attacks pounded against it, it vibrated and became more opaque, proving it to be more than an optical illusion. Orion wondered if the barrier had ever been tested before like this, or if its integrity was under a trial by fire right then and there.

Orion looked forward, wind whipping his hair about, facing the encroaching force on Markov’s doorstep. A dark miasma hung over the invaders. The saiyan warrior took a deep breath, feeling that crushing sense of despair grow as he approached the north-west area outside the protected city. Mortar shells arced in the sky before plummeting into the barrier, seemingly fired from the back line of the invasion force. It was too far to see with any clarity, but it appeared at least that the invaders had yet to reach the edge of the barrier. There was a large space between the barrier and the skirmishing happening further away, though Orion wondered how long that would last.

The saiyan balled his fists. All of these negative emotions welling in him put him on edge. He wanted to fight something. It was rare that Orion let his species’ battle lust direct his actions but the frustration bottling up within him needed release. Fighting something was the perfect outlet for that. He needed to get into the fray and start destroying zoids.

Yet the tactician in him, the ex-squadron leader of a saiyan team, knew jumping into a battle without any knowledge on his enemies was foolhardy at best. Without understanding his foes or their formations, he could be barrelling into failure. Someone had to be co-ordinating the defence of Markov. He had to speak to them. Plus he had to negotiate his fee with someone that could actually pay it. Mercenary life was dangerous but at least it came with dependable money.

“Tristelle, what do you have?” Orion asked.

Hmm... plenty of radio chatter flying about, Tristelle said. While Orion had previously sorted through communications himself through his NOVA unit, the AI residing there could also do the job, and it meant he was free to focus on other things. Ooo, things aren’t looking too good. Reports say that there is a huge force of zoids. There’s not enough forces to hold them back indefinitely. Seems they’re trying to extend the time they have before they’re overrun. They’re trying to come up with other ideas, or hope other planets offer up enough reinforcements to make a difference.

That wasn’t good. Could it be looking that bleak already?

“We need more information,” Orion said. “We have to do some reconnaissance.”

What, are you talking about flying out into the middle of that throng? Tristelle said.

“Yes, but I won’t be engaging,” Orion said. He had finally reached the edge of Markov’s barrier and began his journey towards the writhing forces. “I can provide intel to whoever’s running this operation. I can get an aerial view without drawing the attention a jet would. Plus I can get a closer look at that behemoth at the back.”

Wouldn’t it be smarter to talk with the brass down there and then work out your mission? Tristelle said.

“I might as well bring news with me when I speak with them,” Orion said. “Besides... I want to see what is happening with that kai.”

Whatever, Tristelle said. Just don’t get yourself killed. Because then I’m stuck in a rotting corpse.

“Always looking out for me,” Orion replied drolly.

The saiyan warrior flew out into the chaos of battle. He surveyed the landscape, watching as robotic mechs engaged with the aggressive zoids. They were fighting a losing battle; most mechs were wading into numbers they couldn’t deal with. He could make out groups of ground troops, loading up rocket launchers and pelting the zoids with gunfire, but their efforts made little impact to the seemingly innumerable mass.

Amongst the robotic creatures that tore at the Markov defence were something else. They moved with unnatural speed and bestial ferocity. Orion had never seen such a creature before and didn’t know what to make of them. Were they physical embodiments of the chaos sown on this planet?

Orion dipped down as he noticed the sky above the engaging armies was filled with flying zoids. Their appearances ranged from giant robotic eagles to twisted fighter jets, and most were looking for targets.

And in the distance loomed a massive, plodding mech.

Orion! Tristelle said. Is that...

“That’s where the screams are coming from,” Orion said, hovering in mid-air, aghast at the sight of the warped, mechanised war machine. Thick puffs of smoke erupted from its metal body as it launched mortar shells at Markov behind him. “I don’t know if... it’s screaming in pain, affected by this void substance and driven mad, or wilfully tearing its own world apart.”

What a terrible sight. Orion clutched his chest at being so close to the deranged kai, its madness and seething hatred penetrating his soul like a blade. Although he hadn’t seriously considered it, Orion had thought that he could simply rush to the god’s aid and save it from whatever malaise or villain held it hostage. It was obvious that such a bold, headstrong plan would only result in his immediate death.

Do you have enough information now? Can we go back to Markov?

“Yes, I-“

Wait!

“What?”

There’s a distress signal coming from nearby. Look! Down there!

Tristelle somehow ‘pinged’ Orion’s sense of direction, as if an inaudible sound came from the ground below. The saiyan looked down. Two humans and a large robot fended off an ever steady stream of zoids as they lunged for their prey. An overturned car sizzled with fire, as did the remains of another chassis. Portals, coloured the same black-purple as the ooze Orion encountered earlier, popped open and disgorged more of the metal beasts when enough of them had been turned away.

“There are plenty of people who need help,” Orion said. “I should start with those who are contributing to the war effort instead of those fools who drove out into the middle of a warzone unprepared.”

But look! That zoid is helping the humans! Tristelle pointed out. Maybe not all of them are fully under control! Maybe some are rebelling!

“So?”

So?! If you can actually confirm that to be the case, you’ve got a huge piece of intel to tell Markov command!

Orion pondered it for a moment. “You have a point. Fine, I’ll help. But no more rescuing idiots after this lot.”

Go!

Dropping like a stone, Orion plummeted towards the ground. A steel wolf sized up the young boy, padding slowly and methodically towards him, calculating its lunge. Orion extended both feet and slammed into the zoid’s unsuspecting skull, landing with enough force to shatter the beast’s head. Electronic fragments showered Orion as he stood from bended knees, kicking away the limp chassis, sparks spluttering from its neck stump.

“What on the World of the Kais are you doing out this far from the barrier?” Orion said, deciding to forgo introductions to get to the root of the matter. “You are not equipped to be wading into an enemy force like this!”

The saiyan turned his attention to the twenty-five foot tall robot by the humans, craning his neck to look at its eyes. “You! Did you defect from the enemy?”

Uh... can’t the interrogation wait until you’re all not in mortal danger? Tristelle said.

Orion looked around as another portal spat out more zoids, all eager to tear them apart.
 
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