The Looped Tank bar wasn’t full, but neither was it quiet. The drinking hole always had something going on if its doors were opened, no matter how small the turnout was. A group of dust raiders had rolled into the city to watch the tournament, and they had filled up one side of the establishment. Thor and Apollo sat at the bar, trying to enjoy their beer as they watched the grainy picture on the television.
Thor gripped the handle of the mug with a furry paw, tilting it back as he gulped it down. Apollo was more focused on the snacks as they listened to the Heavy Metal TV station’s latest broadcast. Their tails hung behind them, waving lazily.
“…The talks have already begun between the Empire of Manfall and Metal City, as the Emperor of Manfall is expected to arrive to sign a peace treaty between our great home and the feral territories seized by the Zoomorphs. Many question whether these mutants can be trusted, but the Sect of Metal has assured us…”
“Buncha zoophobic pricks,” Apollo snarled, a low growl emanating from his throat. He tossed a handful of the nuts he was eating at the screen. Thor just let out a loud belch and a nod in response.
“Yeah, though what do you expect of mankind? They’re slaves to their own gods. And they need to build these walls and machines to protect ‘em.” Thor leaned back in the chair, his long tongue lapping up the dregs of his beer.
“Nothin’ compared to our tank!”
“Nope. Nothing at all!”
Both pilots grinned, pushing their heads together, their foreheads pressing hard against the other as their tails beat faster. They slammed their fists down on the bar, causing it to shake, before letting out a primal howl of pride.
“Hey, who let animals into this place?”
The two turned their heads, snarling warningly as they bared their teeth. One of the dust raiders was standing behind them, brandishing a chair leg in his hand. “Watch your mouth, human!” Thor said, his paw reaching out for his glass again.
“This is a human-only bar. No freaks or mutants allowed.” The raider stepped forward. The others in his pack were closing in as well. All were looking ready for a fight. Knuckles were cracked, pool cues grabbed.
The television continued to play in the background. “…General Steel, one of their most decorated officers, will be competing in the special tournament that will be held for the Emperor’s visit, along with his two pilots…”
“You mutts walked into the wrong city. Dirt Devil’s going to show you all just how strong you really are. Can’t wait to watch it and see you dogs take a beating. In fact, why should we wait, eh?” The leader said, tossing his chair leg to the side. He grabbed a barstool and broke it over his knees, creating a makeshift shield and mace. “This’ll be an easy fight. Teach you mongrels where you belong!”
It didn’t take long before the two zoomorphs were surrounded. They looked at each other. Honestly, what could they expect from such uncivilized barbaric primates like these backwards humans? The two pilots launched themselves forward. This would be an easy fight.
“Fools! I hand picked you for this mission and what do you do?” General Steel paced in front of the two zoomorph pilots. He and the Emperor had arrived in person to the Looped Tank after receiving the reports that a fight had broken out. The pug held the crop beside his side, his eyes hidden beside his shades. Thor and Apollo could tell he was glaring at them from the other side of the mirrored lens.
The two pilots were not in the best of shape. Their fur was matted in places from where blood had started to clot. Apollo’s eye was ringed in black and it looked like someone had torn up part of Thor’s ear. Their uniforms were torn and ripped, in stark contrast to the carefully tailored outfit their general wore.
“Wasn’t our fault, sir!” Apollo offered, standing rigidly at attention. “Those humans were throwing shade at our kind. We couldn’t let them get away with that.”
“Did I give you permission to talk, soldier?”
“No, sir!” Apollo grimaced.
“That’s right. I did not! Now, I have one question for you both!”
It was Thor who spoke up this time. “Yes, sir?”
“Did you win a glorious victory for the Empire of Manfall?”
The two dogs looked at each other, then back at their general. Whatever they had been expecting, it certainly had not been that response.
“Sir?” Thor said.
“I said, soldier, did you show those furless cretins what for! I expect no less from my men, and if I hear you have dishonored the name and image of the Emperor by LOSING to such a foe, then you will have to answer to me! For any slight against the Emperor is a slight against me!”
“Yes, sir!” Apollo said, with a grin. His tail was starting to wag back and forth as he slammed his fist into the palm of his hand. “Thor and I roughed ‘em up good! They’ll have trouble talking down about zoomorphs in the future!”
“Good, excellent.” General Steel barked, smacking the wall with his crop. “You boys are good boys, that’s for certain. We need to keep the humans in their place.”
“General…” The Emperor said in a measured voice. “Do not forget our mission here.”
“Of course not, my liege!” The pug bowed his head, averting his eyes from the white lion that stood in the center of the room. “I look forward to competing in this tournament and winning honor for you and Manfall! My boys are ready to fight as well, as you can see.”
“Very good. When the humans see how we perform in their arena, they will not hesitate to sign the treaty. Now, tell them the plan.”
Apollo and Thor’s ears perked up at that. “Plan?”
“Right, listen up, you rambunctious over-eager pups! The Emperor and I have come up with a plan that will show the people of Metal City just what we can do! By the time the dust settles, they’ll be more than willing to agree to whatever terms we set! Here’s what we’re going to do…”
The day of the tournament had arrived and the arena was filled with fans and citizens of Metal City who came to watch the spectacle. The Emperor of Manfall sat in the top box with the Patrons of the city. Pleasantries were exchanged behind forced smiles. Fita Lord and Ian Miskilter were reclining in their chairs when the Emperor arrived. Mister Moscow was not present yet.
“Ah, Lord Emperor,” Ian Miskilter said, gesturing for the lion to come closer. “We’ve already prepared the treaty. Fita had the most amusing idea. We thought it best to put on a show for the people, before the show.”
“What do you mean?” The Emperor stroked his whiskers. He did not like these patrons very much, from what little he had seen, but he could tell that as little as he cared about them, they cared for each other even less. Humans were so quick to bicker and fight, rather than respecting the natural order of the world.
“It’s nothing, really,” Fita said. She crossed one leg over the other, supporting her head with her hand. “But the people are here for peace, ultimately, are they not? Let’s get them in the spirit by handling the matter of the treaty first.”
“Especially after that little incident at the bar. Tensions are a little high right now, and we would rather them not worry and focus on the games.” Lord Ian’s smile grew as one of his servants brought forth the document. “Take the time to read it over, Mister Moscow is not even here.”
“No, he’s not.” Fita said, frowning, unlike her counterpart. “It’s not like him to be late. The old soldier is always a stickler for being punctual.”
“Though it’s not the first time, either. I’m sure he is on his way up to the box. Most likely he is visiting the pilots on his roster today.”
The Emperor took the treaty from the servant, reading it over carefully with his own eyes to make sure the humans were not attempting to sneak something into the text that had not been agreed upon. All the demands and concessions that they had discussed were present in the document.
As he was signing the treaty, those in the box could hear heavy booted footsteps approaching the door into their cabin. Throwing it open, the third Patron of the city, Mister Moscow, stepped into the box. “Apologies. I was taking care of some last-minute business.”
“Well, you’re just in time,” Fita said, her smile returning, though the Emperor could not help but notice the lady of Metal City was baring her fangs behind the pleasant face. “We were just about to sign the treaty and bring peace between our two nations. As we agreed.”
The last words fell like a dagger. The Emperor could hear the venom hidden beneath them. His eyes turned to Mister Moscow. The third patron did not react, showing no wounds. It was impressive in its way.
“Why the rush? After all, that is too important to hurry. We should take our time and go over it after the tournament.”
“But everything is as we said,” The Emperor pointed out, handing the document to the late arrival. “Down to the last detail.”
“Let’s finish the match first. I want to see what happens. I will sign it right after.”
With that, Mister Moscow stepped to the vacant chair and took his seat. The other two lords and the Emperor turned their attention to the arena down below. Yet the Emperor was a hunter, the apex predator of Manfall. His senses had never failed him yet and something smelled off about this.
Regardless, the time to sign had passed. The announcer was already calling the pilots out onto the field. Whatever trap Moscow had set up, General Steel would overcome. Of that, the Emperor had the utmost confidence.
“Looks like they put the Zoomorph on our team, Jada.” Stingray said, as he looked over the tournament roster.
“So? You sound disappointed about that. Don’t tell me you’d prefer to be on the Sect’s team?”
“No way! I just don’t know if I trust these Zoomorphs, you know? They’re almost like aliens. I don’t know what they’re thinking when I see them.”
“Hiro, you’ve ridden beside a ghost, and you balk at talking animals?” Stargazer couldn’t help it. She started to laugh. “Look, they’re just another piloting team. They likely want to win as badly as you.”
“I don’t care about winning. I just want to pay off this debt already. But alright, alright, I’ll ride with the dogs. They’re probably still better at conversations than Judge!”
“Hello, one and all, do we have a match for you!” General Steel could hear the announcer, Crowley, call their name through the radio as he waited with his tank beneath the arena seating. “Two teams are going head to head in this Championship title! And we have several firsts today among the pilots. Let’s waste no more time…”
The speakers blared as rock music blasted across the stadium, drowning out the cheering of the crowds. “First out the gate, the Lethal Redeemer, the Sheriff of the Wasteland, you know him, you fear him…FULL…METAL…JUDGE!”
The signature gun car pulled out onto the field. Few boos were heard, for who was brave enough to challenge the slayer of heretics? Who really wanted to catch the Sect’s eye? The fire shot out from his exhaust pipes as the barrel of his revolver turned menacingly.
“The Pope of Rock n’ Roll, your savior and mine! We hear his word and the word of the Metal Gods every day on the radio, let’s bring out…METAAAAAL…HERAAAAAALLLLD!”
The ringing bells sounded as the Herald’s limousine emerged amidst a purple fog. He stood, his head above the sunroof as he made the holy signs of the Metal Gods to the audience.
“Recently signed by Mister Moscow and returning this season from a trip to hunt the devil, is the pirate leader from the Sand Sea, the scourge of the Wasted Lands, Dirt Devil!”
As Dirt Devil’s theme began to play, the shouts and praise were replaced by confusion. The doors were opened, but no machine came out. “Hold on, one second folks, I’m getting a last-minute update that Dirt Devil will not be appearing in this match.” As Crowley spoke, the music changed to one that was still familiar to the crowd. “The Ragineer, the master of destruction…RAAAAAMPAGE!”
The bulldozer rolled out slowly, its core glowing with the red energy. Nothing could stand up to the blades on the death dozer or the power it could bring.
“A hunter of the most dangerous prey, he doesn’t stop until he catches his target. The Bounty Hunter, Vulture!”
A large figure rolled out on a bike. His face was hidden in shadow beneath a spiked helmet. The only thing that could be seen were his glowing eyes.
“On the other side of the arena, the most wanted kid in the city, the voice of opposition, the leader behind Free Metal TV…STINGRAY!”
The young celebrity roared into the arena amidst the expected light show. He spun out in doughnuts as he leaned out the side, holding up two fingers towards the crowd. “Hey, Judge, you watching this? Everyone’s going to see me race circles around you today! Catch me if you can!”
“Coming from the stars, the machine that blinks around at the speed of light, give it up for STAAAARGAAAZER!”
As Stingray’s light show finished, Stargazer was immediately behind him, filling the sky with her lasers as a green beam tethered itself to Stingray. “I’ve got your back! Don’t worry about a thing!”
“The child of the greatest pilot the arena has ever seen, the tiny terror with the big machine, it’s…LITTLE…MONSTER!”
Little Monster rolled out, her big wheels crushing the rocks and rubble that littered the stadium field. She was silent, but her engine roared for her.
“And now, from the Empire of Manfall, the first Zoomorph pilot in the arena…” Cheering and jeering both filled the stadium. Many were still unsure of what to make of these Zoomorphs. General Steel let out a disbelieving huff.
“Despicable. They do not even know when it is proper to applause! These humans really are hopeless at times.”
“We’ll show ‘em not to take us lightly!” Apollo said. The two brothers were busy getting everything ready for the match that was about to start. “Missiles and targeting systems are operational.”
“Armor at full integrity. Repulsors “Riot Control” primed and ready for activation.” Thor added.
General Steel thrust his crop forward. “Let the show begin!”
“…Our guest of honor, Peace-“ Crowley didn’t even get to finish before the tank burst through the wall of the arena. Its treads were slow, but it hardly had a scratch as it pushed its way out from the back. The pug sat outside the hatch, looking out with a stoic, confident gaze. He was ready for this battle. For his Emperor.
“Rampage, Moscow? Why the change?” Fita Lord asked, looking over her shoulder at the other Patron.
“Manfall claims their tanks can stand up to anything, do you not, Emperor?” Mister Moscow said, his arms crossed. The treaty still lay on the table, lacking his signature. “That was the whole reason we are coming together. To avoid a costly war. So I thought we should put that to the test.”
“Are you kidding me,” Lord Ian groaned. “That is what you’re after? After all the work we spent in getting this through.”
“My general has nothing to fear from this Rampage of yours, Mister Moscow.” The Emperor said, his voice a low growl. “Though I am not fond of those who play tricks on me.”
“Now, now, boys,” Fita said, turning her attention back to the arena below. “We should really all be thanking Moscow. Despite his boneheaded stubbornness, we might have an interesting battle today. I was starting to get bored with how predictable this was going to be.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Lord Ian said, shaking his head. “These are matters of state, Fita, after all.”
“Coming from someone as fond of clowns as you, I thought you’d welcome a little chaos, Lord Ian! Now let’s see what trick Moscow’s going to pull from under his sleeve.”
The matches had started out in Peacemaker’s favor. The first two had been well-fought, with their team taking the first and only narrowly losing the second. Rampage’s bulldozer had smashed against the hull of the tank many times, sending the warmachine into the sides of the arena but it had taken the beating with only a few dents. Thor assured General Steel that the hull integrity was uncompromised.
The plan to impress the others with a display of force through the strength and power of their cannon had been going well. Entire obstacles were demolished, their treads crushing them into a fine powder beneath them. The military discipline allowed Peacemaker to not only work with the other pilots, but direct them as well.
In the third round, however, the engine of the tank began to stutter and the treads locking. The dogs could not figure out what was causing it. Unable to reliably move, they had been relegated to cover fire for Stingray as he ran the bomb through the enemy goals. Steel’s paw curled into a fist. This was not the glorious victory for which he had planned.
“It has to be sabotage, sir!” Apollo said at the end of the fourth round. They had lost, Peacemaker going dead in the water as Rampage had lined up the perfect angle to pin them to the wall. The tank had survived, of course, but with the way clear, the one called Vulture had scored the final goal needed to steal the match.
“Every time we go dead, it’s right before that bulldozer hits us. The others say he’s an expert machinist. I bet he’s done something to our machine.”
It was now tied, as they headed to the final round. Two to two. General Steel grabbed his hat and coat, tossing them back on as he strode to the tank. “These humans can’t beat us in a fair fight, so they wish to rob us and make us look weak. I want Riot Control as often as we can do it, to keep us clear. We cannot lose. This is for Manfall, boys.”
The final match drew on as the teams raced and battered one another for the bomb. Vulture and Stingray raced with the bomb; Little Monster and Rampage worked to send the others into the walls and clear a path; Metal Herald and Stargazer kept the others running smoothly; which left Full Metal Judge and Peacemaker working to lay down the fire.
“That cheater shuts us down whenever he draws near!” Thor groaned as the treads stopped fully once again.
“Must have put a lock that activates on some sort of proximity trigger.”
“We won’t let this stop us!” General Steel said, standing in his chair and pointing at the screen. “Onward to victory!”
Even as he said that, a loud scream crackled over the team’s communication channel.
“I’m hit! They damaged my teleporter! I’m dead in the water!”
The television focused on Stargazer’s machine. Her core was smoking, electric sparks surging out as the lights flickered their bluish glow. “It’s locked up. Not responding.”
“JADA!” Stingray was racing towards the bomb, but the opposition was tough there. Full Metal Judge and Vulture were right on his tail. “Hold on! I’m coming!”
“General, he won’t be there in time, look!” Apollo said, pointing at the screen.
Rampage was already starting to charge, the dozer lowered and tearing up the arena floor as it chugged. Steam whistled from the sides as it powered through the friction.
“Our treads are locking up again, sir…” Thor said.
They were closer, but they were going to be useless. People would say the Zoomorphs were only out for themselves. That they weren’t to be trusted. Steel couldn’t let that happen.
“Quickly, while we still have power, turn us! I want our gun pointed away from Stargazer.”
With that order, the dogs hurriedly carried out their commander’s desire. They had only seconds.
“Now fire! Put everything into the Supremacy Shot!”
At once, Thor understood and smashed the button to fire. The missile shot out from the barrel, towards the wall of the stadium. The force of it pushed the tank back. What momentum it still had from the turn worked with it, rolling the treads even as the controls began to lock. The tank went rolling backwards as the dogs watched the screen with bated breath. On live television, they could see Peacemaker moving into the path of Rampage, in front of Stargazer.
“Riot Control engaged!” Thor said. “I always wanted to be a hero. I just never knew it would be saving a human.”
The lights in the tank flickered and then went out as the rest of the energy was used to push Stargazer out of the way. It wouldn’t stop Rampage during his charge, not with them sabotaged as they were. The bulldozer crashed into them, the wear and tear from the previous four rounds finally catching up as the blades tore through the hull. They were moving, being pushed and soon they would hit the wall.
“Well, boys,” General Steel said, his voice filled with pride. “We’ve done it. No matter how this ends, we’ve shown these humans just how far Zoomorphs will go to protect their team. They’ll be forced to give us their respect!”
The tank slammed into the wall, shaking the dogs inside. The wall gave before the tank, coming down and burying Peacemaker in the rubble. For a moment, General Steel wondered if the whole stadium had come down on top of them.
The lights began to flicker. Power was starting to return. Apollo looked up in shock at the readings. “Sir, we’re operational but…how…?”
“…LITTLE MONSTER SCORED!” Crowley cried out over the radio, still sputtering and struggling to stay alive. A green light spilled in through the tears in the hull.
“Peacemaker, can you hear us? I’ve got you on life support!” Stargazer’s voice came over the team communication channel.
“That was amazing! You guys saved Jada’s life!” Stingray said. “We’ve shown them just what happens when they mess with a pack like us, huh?”
General Steel grinned as the tank rolled back into the arena, through the rubble that had buried them. “What do you say, boys, shall we roll out the Red Carpet?”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
“What a match! With that goal, Peacemaker has won the game, and their team has taken the championship! The sheer devastation from those missiles will make anyone think twice about riding against these Zoom-“
Fita turned off the speakers, a wide smile on her face. “Now that was fun. I can’t remember a tournament with such ups and downs. Thank you for the entertainment, Moscow!”
“The outcome was never in doubt for me,” The Emperor said confidently, looking over at the war-hungry patron. “Now, Mister Moscow, the game has ended. It is time to sign.”
“Yes, here, you may use my pen,” Lord Ian said, grinning smugly as he pulled an expensive pen from his pocket and handed it to Moscow.
The belligerent patron took it, scowling at his counterpart before turning to the Emperor. “I can’t deny I’m impressed. Your general is something else.” With that, he leaned down to sign his name on the document. How could he not, after a display like that? He could not afford to say no, or else the others might decide to look into just what he had arranged to have placed at the bottom of Peacemaker’s tank.
“May we have peace between our two people for a long time, Emperor.”