Author: Connor Clennell | Banner: Andrew Sudomerski

In the shadows at the edge of the solar system, evil resided. A delegation of the one of the great superpowers that had once plagued the galaxy. In decades past, they were at their strongest, but a set of defeats against the protectors of Earth had set the path to their downfall, and their once-wide empire fell apart. Star systems that had once belonged to the conquerors had been lost to the hands of other races or liberated by local resistance. Even their home world was now but a barren, lifeless rock, inhabited by naught but dust and ruins.

The Garogas had lost, fallen into the depths of the galactic hierarchy. But where others would have called it quits, they persevered. With their low status rendering them below the notice of the larger empires, the aliens gathered the remains of their own and disappeared into the shadows, leaving Earth to the mercy of their rivals while they schemed and plotted their revival. While the Xiliens, Vortaak and Cryog threw their might at the blue planet and failed, the Garogas waited. Building up their armies and collecting information in preparation for the new campaign on Sol 3. Let the other races throw their super weapons at it, only to suffer defeat and humiliation at the hands of its primitives. They had no chance because they underestimated its inhabitants and defenders, came in without consideration and filled with arrogance.

The Garogas knew what failure was like. Their pride had rendered them blind to the astounding potential found in Earth’s creatures and paid dearly for it. But now they knew. Now they could predict and adapt to the unforeseen might of these lowly apes and gigantic pests. What the humans thought had been a defeat for the vile spacemen was merely a delay. They could celebrate and sleep soundly for as much as they wanted before eventually, they would realize the truth.

They would come back.

The space station turned slowly in the lifeless vacuum, nestled safety on the dark side of Pluto. Technology far ahead of Earth’s satellites and probes allowed the invaders to monitor the planet despite the five billion miles between the two of them. The station had remained here since the end of the last attempt at invasion decades prior, hiding and waiting for the chance to strike again, and its age was apparent. Its metal structure was corroded and bent, and dust and cobwebs littered many of the interior sections, despite the effort made to maintain and update the base. Inside, Garoga of all ranks and colors tended to their tasks, each one a small cog that made the preparations for conquest run like clockwork. The main operations center was occupied by ancient computer systems, not updated for decades, but open panels and dangling wires indicated that the technology was slowly being replaced. Each terminal was manned by a Silver Garoga, monitoring the status of the space station and the activities on the outside. Activity had been stagnant for months, interest lost after analysis on the last attack by the Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens had finished. The Garogas were cruel and scheming, but thrived on action, and it had been years since any had seen battle. Amongst the crew, patience was running thin…

On one monitor, a reading appeared. It’s bizarre-looking operator took notice as it identified something billions of miles across the solar system, on a path set to collide with the Earth. It was tiny, barely larger than a small meteor, and in normal circumstances, the Garoga would have dismissed the object as just that and ignore it. But with intolerance at a high amongst the ranks, he decided that investigating further would be better than doing nothing. With the tap of a few keys, the Garoga focused the instruments at his disposal on the anomaly, and quickly realized what he had almost missed. It was no meteor.

“General!” the Silver Garoga called, turning his seat as he was approached by his crimson commander, and gestured to the information displayed on the screen. “We’ve found something.”

The Red Garoga shot a brief glare at his lesser before he leaned forward and peered closer at the information surrounding the object, scrutinizing it to determine if the soldier’s findings were accurate. Doubt turned to interest as he continued to read, his permanent smile seeming to gleam and his long drooping antennae quivering with excitement.

“Yes,” the Red Garoga purred with glee. “The baron will like this very much.”

*****

Baron Garoga turned to the door as it slid open, allowing the Red Garoga to enter into his personal office. The bulbous eyes of the base general judged his associate as he leaned back, propping his feet up on the edge of his desk. His action got a brief twitch from his lesser, either due to nerves or irritation, but he stood tall and firm regardless. “Well?”

“Our long range scans monitoring Earth space has found something,” the Red Garoga stated. “It seemed to be a meteor at first, but closer scans determined it to be artificial. Some kind of probe, specifically.”

The golden alien’s head titled, his interest caught by the report, and leaned forward slightly. “Another attack on the humans, no doubt,” he said. “Which empire is it this time?”

“We don’t know, great leader,” his crimson lieutenant admitted. The baron stared at him, taken aback by the unexpected news. “It’s not of any design we know of. And it isn’t a reconnaissance drone,” he continued. “The object is too big, and what limited internal scans we got showed that it’s partly organic.”

‘This isn’t a scouting mission,’ Baron Garoga realized instantly. ‘It’s the vanguard to invasion.’

“How soon?” he demanded.

“Two weeks is the estimate before it reaches the Earth. Perhaps sooner,” the Red Garoga replied.

“Not that!” the baron snapped. His feet slid off the desk and slammed into the metal floor, pushing his back straight in his seat as he eyes burned with anger. “I want to know how long until we can send something to intercept it!”

“Interc—?” The Garoga stopped mid-sentence as the words of his superior sunk in. “At once, great leader, but can we let ourselves be revealed so soon? We are far from ready.”

“It seems our enemies will not give us a choice,” Baron Garoga growled, swinging his chair around to remove himself from his lessor’s line of sight. “I would be more cautious if it were a race we knew, like those damned cockroaches. With an unknown operating, we cannot afford patience.”

His head turned in the direction of the Red Garoga, features hidden in the darkness of the chamber, but his smug smile seemed to shine bright as their eyes met.

“It’s only one probe. We can manage that.”

The Red Garoga stood tall as his own features lit up with the same malicious glee as the baron. “How should the problem be dealt with, my leader?”

“With great prejudice.”

The fiend chuckled darkly. “Then I know just the one…”

*****

It had been two weeks now since the probe had made earthfall. Its arrival had not been missed, but the soldiers and astrologists send to recover the object found nothing at the site of impact. How could they, when the probe was online and fully mobile. Slipping away into the wilderness of Wyoming, it lay low as it collected the necessary information. It took over the local wildlife for its needs, perverting the fauna into drones for which to gather genetic material for the weapon to harness and build a body for itself. All sorts fell victim to the horde of bats that were unfortunate enough to be discovered by the probe and twisted into horrid monstrosities, ripping apart whatever organic tissue they found and fusing it to the machine, slowly creating a new life form from dozens of unrelated genera.

The fresh body of the vanguard made its existence known in a storm of fire and rock, bursting from the mountain that incubated it and ravaging the land. What military presence could be organized was no match, decimated without challenge by the otherworldly nightmare. From first light to nightfall, the beast traveled from town to town, assimilating the populaces in its mission to collect data on the planet; combining brain and brawn to form the ultimate weapon.

The body like that of a big cat, massive wings that sprouted from its back, a reptilian tail, a crown of goat-like horns: this combination of features was associated with an ancient beast of myth and legend, yet the alien object had recreated it in flesh by pure coincidence. Thought it had no name, the media and military dubbed it the Gryphon in reference to the Greek legends, and it wielded the strength and bestial fury to live up to the title. So far, nothing had stopped the chimera, and its rampage seemed far from the end.

The badlands were aglow with the burning remains of the latest stand against the invader. Tanks and transport vehicles lay scattered like broken toys across the dry landscape, warming the frigid night air with their blazing wreckage. The survivors of the massacre weaved through the maze of metal with orders to retreat and regroup, carrying salvaged equipment and the bodies of the wounded. Flashes of gunfire lit up the night further, discharging upon the gigantic shape of the Gryphon as it stepped toward the humans, letting loose a deep growl from its throat. The brave troopers’ weapons had no effect on the giant, but they knew this and continued to fire, splitting away from the main group as they drew the ire of the monster. Emotionless eyes tracked the men, curious about their strategy, before it swung a massive paw out, reducing the soldiers to bloody smears across the dirt.

The Gryphon lifted its paw to its mouth and opened wide, releasing a trio of wild, hissing serpents that were the amalgamation’s tongues. The remains of the troops were picked clean and gulped down, joining the mixture of genetics that had birthed the creature, until the limb was clean of flesh and blood. New information surged into the beast’s mind, filling it with the memories and knowledge of those it had just slain and making its plan of the United States’ defenses a few pieces larger. Soon, it would know all of its enemy’s capabilities and resources and plan against them, allowing it to tear through the might of the world’s largest superpower with ease. Conquest was not its objective – to cripple the governments of the world for the true invasion was the task programmed into its code.

With a loud, ear-ringing roar, it strode forward once more, crushing debris and troopers alike underfoot on its new journey to the next outpost. High above in the clouds, a flicker of silver drew its attention, turning the beast’s head to the cloudy skies. F-7J Jets and F-18 Hornets rocketed overhead, distorting the clouds around them with their sonic booms and began to circle the titanic chimera. Yet something else, higher in the stratosphere, had the Gryphon’s attention.

Piercing the white veil like a sturgeon’s scalpel, a long object with a pointed, cone-shaped tip descended. Its red surface glowed bright with heat, fresh from breaking the atmosphere after its great travel from the outskirts of the solar system. It was a missile of massive size, shooting down from the heavens like a dart, and aimed straight for the unearthly creature. The Gryphon narrowed its eyes, snorting hot steam from its nostrils and snarled at the unidentified object. It was nothing of Earthen make, but neither was it a weapon of its makers, labelling it as a threat all the same. The spikes on the middle of its wings’ forearms crackled with lightning, launching sparks wildly in all directions before an electric bolt shot from the tip of each and collided above the Gryphon’s back. There was a brief flash of purple light, from which a hot, orange beam shot into the sky at the approaching UFO. The fighter jets that flew into its path unknowingly melted like wax within the scorching heat generated and exploded, but did little to affect the stream of energy as it raced upward. Just before it made contact, the missile erupted, transforming into a ball of smoke and flame. The beam disappeared into the smokescreen and struck something unseen, causing another wave of dark smog to disperse and the cloud to grow.

The Gryphon’s lips curled up, baring its teeth as it stared into the night sky, locked on the artificial cloud as it filled the already gloomy atmosphere. It roared out across the landscape, seeking a response from the thing that it was certain still remained. Another cry answered back, just as unearthly as the beast’s but bizarre in its own way. The hybridized thing flinched back, surprised by the unfamiliar sound. Something else was here.

From the black smoke, Jikiro descended. The alien automaton fell slowly toward the ground by means of the enormous parachute secured to its back, leaving it ample time to identify the threat. Its bright optics locked onto the position of its attacker and its right arm lifted, firing a golden bolt of power. It struck the shoulder of the Gryphon, annihilating hair and skin in an instant and blowing off chunks of the abomination’s flesh, driving out a howl of fury. Its wings discharged lightning above its back, generating another energy blast in the Terror-Beast’s direction. But Jikiro was a creature of machinery, not meat, and when the beam struck it square in the chest, all that resulted of it was hot sparks and blackened metal.

Jikiro’s journey to the ground was successful, its chute detaching and blowing away in the wind the moment its feet cracked the dried-up earth. The machine’s eyes never strayed from the form of its commanders’ target, analyzing every aspect with extreme detail and scrutiny. It made no move to intimidate, mock, or provoke its foe, for no such behavior had been programmed into its computer mind. It performed with maximum efficiency, and the creature before it was targeted for termination.

The mechanical monster raised its gun-bearing arm and opened fire, spewing a barrage of miniature light bullets. The Gryphon cried out as the projectiles tore through its body like its flesh was but paper, carving smoking cuts and craters across the form of the myth plagiarizer. It grit its fangs and pressed its paws into the earth, keeping the abomination upright despite its natural urge to fall and submit to the stinging agony, and tensed its powerful legs. With a growl, the alien beast sprang forward into the hail, sprinting through without regard to the damage inflicted upon it, closing the space between it and Jikiro in seconds. The sudden act forced the Terror-Beast to cease firing, but the Gryphon was already on it, wrapping its front limbs around its frame as its jaws clamped the side of its bizarre body. Its fangs failed to get a grip on Jikiro’s metal frame, generating a metallic scraping sound with each attempted bite that made the thing cringe. The machine’s armor was too smooth and thick for the chimera to get a hold on.

In frustration, the Gryphon’s talons scratched at its sides, but did little more than dig faint lines across the automaton’s polished armor. It pressed upon Jikiro’s draconic face with a paw, prompting the Terror-Beast to last out with its clawed left hand, ploughing the limb into the stomach of its attacker. Jolting back and wheezing for air, the Gryphon was assailed further, suffering a blow by the robotic monster’s gun arm to the top of its cranium, flooring the deadly hybrid instantly. Jikiro shuffled closer, casting a shadow over its target in the moonlight, and lifted its foot to bash in the creature’s skull. Through momentarily dazed, the Gryphon recognized the danger it was in and rolled to the side, avoiding the metallic heel as it crashed down where its head once was. The same foot swung forward a second later, catching the side of the chimera and sending it rolling across the ground.

The fog in its mind cleared with remarkable speed, allowing the bioengineered nightmare to stand on its four feet once more as the fatigue from its short conflict began to fade. Jikiro continued to watch, monitoring the enemy of its makers for the results of their skirmish. Before its electronic eyes, the beast’s wounds started to close and heal up, leaving not a single scar on its body. The massive injury it had inflicted on the left shoulder of the Gryphon was disappearing by the second under a slowly moving carpet of new fur and skin, rendering the machine’s greatest achievement so far invalid and pointless. The Gryphon’s eyes turned to meet the orbs of its attacker, burning into them with a mocking gaze as its lips parted in the closest to a smile it could muster. With its incredible healing factor, the Garogan super-weapon should learn to fear it.

Jikiro did not understand fear. It cried out instead and launched another bolt of lightning at the unearthly terror. The earth under the Gryphon erupted into fire, missing the horrid titan as it pounced away before the ray hit. As it landed, Jikiro spun to face it and raised its arm again, but the swifter creature sprang forward like a rapid dog, sailing over on spread wings. Its paws reached out to seize its quarry, but the metal monolith’s arm swung out, catching it on the shoulder and knocking the beast aside. The Gryphon tumbled over the terrain, digging its claws into the dirt to stop and right itself, then lunged again with a bellow of rage. The second attack came so suddenly that Jikiro had no chance to react, pushed to the ground by the augmented feline. Sparks leapt from where the Gryphon’s claws slashed across its metallic skin, igniting the dried grass around the dueling giants as the mutation focused its bestial fury into demolishing the unliving Terror-Beast.

The Gryphon’s jaws clamped the side of the machine’s head, finding a much better grip than before on the uneven surface, but even with every ounce of pressure its jaws could inflict, the armor barely dented. Lost in its urge to penetrate the metal monster, it failed to notice as Jikiro pressed its gun to the beast’s belly and opened fire at point blank. Lightning tore through the flesh and out of the unnatural demon’s back, splitting the spinal cord just before the hips, ripping out a horrible cry of agony from the Gryphon. It fell aside limply, all communication to its lower half lost. Jikiro climbed up from its crater, kicking away its paralyzed foe as the automaton rose to its feet, letting loose its awful cry. The machine brought its foot down on its quarry, stamping it into the ground again and again with tremendous cracking sounds as the beast’s rib buckled and snapped under the force of its blows. All that the Gryphon could do was roar and lash out with its paws, slashing fruitlessly at the mechanical monster’s leg.

The hybrid’s rear moved suddenly. A leg shot out and caught Jikiro’s side as its own foot lifted, forcing the Terror-Beast to stagger backward and fight for balance. As it found its equilibrium, the Garogan marvel scanned the form of the alien chimera as it got up from the bloodied earth. This shouldn’t be possible, the beast’s spine still broken in two. Even from its position, Jikiro could see that the hole bisecting the Gryphon’s back had yet to fully heal, but it was moving like the wound never existed. Jikiro lacked the systems to determine the secrets of its foe’s biology, but it was clear to the machine that the probe’s organic body did not function like a typical organism.

*****

A dozen Garoga of various rank gathered around one of the operation centre’s terminals, observing the battle through the eyes of Jikiro. The bug-like men watched with anticipation as the Gryphon revealed more of its bizarre abilities, almost as strange as the powers of their own Terror-Beasts like Jellar or Shadorah.

“Just what is that monster?” a Silver Garoga asked. “Who could design and create something like that?”

“Perhaps we should take inspiration,” a second interjected, earning grunts and murmurs of agreement from several members of the crowd.

The Gold Garoga that commanded the section nodded his head. “Indeed, a Terror-Beast that could function regardless of physical damage would be a tremendous asset to our army,” said the alien leader. “I shall make sure to pass on the idea to the science division when Jikiro has dispatched the interloper.”

“Assuming it can,” one of his subordinates muttered, just loud enough for the Gold Garoga to hear. The bug-eyed alien grasped one of his own antennae and yanked it from his skull with ease and not a twitch, proceeding to use it as a whip to strike his silver-skinned lesser.

“Watch your tongue!” he snapped, ignoring the Silver Garoga’s cries of pain and continued to beat the poor soldier. “You would dare infer that Jikiro is inferior to that monstrosity? Fool! Blasphemer!”

From the back of the group, the Red Garoga looked on silently, refusing to share his thoughts on the matter despite ranking higher than the golden captain. Unlike him, the commander’s loyalty to the Garoga cause was not as extreme, allowing him to analyses the situation with some level of scrutiny. Yes, Jikiro had the superior weaponry, but if its quarry could ignore any damage that the automaton inflicted, could it be stopped? Could the Terror-Beast blow it to pieces and it would still throw itself at Jikiro until it eventually wore it down through endurance?

It was a bad time to admit his doubts. The morale of the Garogas was low after so long without battle. They needed hope. They needed a victory.

“The beast can try anything it wants. Jikiro cannot be stopped by a mere scout,” the Red Garoga shouted. Cheers and shouts followed his words as the rest of the crew supported his declaration, despite the shaky truth behind it.

“When our Terror-Beast is finished, the earthlings will be reminded just why they should fear us again!”

*****

Bursts of light and fire erupted from the earth as Jikiro fired after the sprinting Gryphon. A trail of flame lit up behind the amalgamation as each light bullet detonated, showing it in smoke and debris. Snarling, it turned and spread its legs wide in a controlled slide, allowing another scorching ray to fire off. Jikiro was bathed in fire, stumbling back, but the mechanical terminator was quick to correct itself. Black smog rose from the blackened earth surrounding it, hindering its luminous optics from locating its unearthly target. Its shrill cry sounded and it unloaded round after round into the black veil, trying to flush out the alien infiltrator.

Breaching the cloud, the Gryphon’s extended paws raked the Terror-Beast’s visage, filling its vision with naught but fur and sparks. The blow pushed Jikiro aside, while the chimera sailed past, beating its enormous wings at a tremendous pace. Although a machine in nature, Jikiro moved with the fluidity of a living being and turned instantly, its telescopic eyes focusing on the Gryphon’s high-flying shape. Slowly, its clawed arm lifted, pointing toward the shrinking form of the beast, while the gun-toting arm began to move in a circular motion.

The Gryphon continued on its flight path, blind to the actions performed by the war machine. Its gaze swept from side-to-side across the landscape, scanning floodplains and mountain ranges as it mapped the terrain for its personal advantage. Whatever force it used to manipulate its paralyzed body began to wane as the puncture neared the end of the healing process, filled with freshly-grown bone, nerves, blood and hair, allowing its biological systems to retake control over muscle and organ functions once again. It would have gloated over the automaton’s inability to cripple it, had it been designed with the ability to produce such emotions. But it lacked the ability to damage Jikiro in return. Its own strength and bestial form literally would not cut it on its own. All things carried a weakness, no matter their function or status, but to determine the identity of the automaton’s would take precious and dangerous time.

It suddenly became aware that it was slowing down. Distracted by its search, the hybrid had failed to notice its wings beat harder and faster in order to keep up its speed. The appendages strained to keep the Gryphon moving forward, but it still found itself losing momentum. It wasn’t just losing momentum; to the beast’s surprise, it was pulled back!

Peering over its shoulder, it discovered the source of its dilemma. Jikiro continued to wave its right arm, as if an invisible line was attached and dragging the flying monster down into its grasp. Both of the Terror-Beast’s limbs released powerful magnetic fields, capturing the remnants of the alien probe’s original shell within the Gryphon’s body to draw in the invading Frankenstein. Although it did not understand the force that had ensnared it, the alien creation recognized a way to utilize it for its own benefit. It twisted around to face Jikiro, allowing gravity and magnetic force to pull it toward the metallic destroyer. Falling at incredible speed, the Gryphon’s paws extended to push down the automated killer and was met with a strike by its thick, stiff tail. Bone cracked and blood sprayed as the limb collided with the side of the amalgamation’s jaw, throwing the beast off its targeted path with a muffled, gurgling whine and bouncing roughly over the terrain. It came to a stop and its head lifted, but the lower jaw of the false myth drooped to the side struck, with broken fangs and shattered bone protruding from the mangled and bruised flesh. Still, it stood on its feet, forming the best intimidating sound that it could make with its crushed jaw.

The blow had not created much distance between the wounded titan and Jikiro, allowing the assailing robot to quickly close the gap. The Gryphon reared up to meet it with scratching claws against its frame, only to be quickly put down by the hammering blows of the Terror-Beast’s metal limbs. Using them like clubs, it battered in the creature’s skull without mercy, each impact producing a dreaded crack and a gargled cry from the wounded chimera. It tried again to rear up and push the terminator back, but Jikiro held its ground. Its arms wrapped tightly around the midsection of its feline body, lifting its rear paws off the ground, and squeezed with bone-crushing strength. Bones crackled and blood vessels burst under the incredible pressure, threatening to snap the beast’s regenerated spine in two once more. At such close range, it could not maneuver its body to unleash its destructive energies. Even if the false fantasy could take the resulting damage, it did nothing to add in overcoming the deadly machine. The Gryphon gritted its teeth and strained its body in an effort to break Jikiro’s hold on it, to no success against the Terror-Beast’s iron grip.

Eventually, the struggles of the destroyer lessened as it accepted defeat, allowing Jikiro’s arms to squeeze even tighter around it. The injuries would be manageable, but the resulting pain was not avoidable. Screaming in agony, the titan’s eyes, gleaming with rage and torment, met the lifeless orbs of Jikiro in defiance.

It clicked there and then. The machine did have a weakness to exploit!

The Gryphon slammed its paw into the face of the Garoga automaton and drove its claws into the left eye. Smoke and embers burst around the limb as it tore out Jikiro’s artificial eye and flung it across the badlands. Although devoid of pain’s stimulation, the war machine recognized the crucial damage with an ear-splitting shriek, stumbling back and relinquishing its target and attacker. Its arms whirred and clanked in a wild frenzy as the internal operating systems struggled to adapt to the loss of half its vision.

While the machine recalibrated, the Gryphon stood tall, flexing its majestic wings on both sides. Its midsection was no longer a tannish-brown, but marred with a ring of purple, blue, and black flesh and heavily disfigured. But as had been proven before, such heinous wounds hardly affected the cruel and calculating killer. Lightning danced over the stretching limbs, coursing up their length to the spiked digit upon each, discharging bolts of power from each tip to generate the abomination’s searing beam. Its white-hot power sent Jikiro crashing upon the earth, kicking up pillars of stone and sand around its metal bulk. With a pounce and great beats of its wings, the Gryphon pinned its unfeeling adversary, holding down the robot and raising a paw above its head. It swung down, slamming its claws into the armor of the Terror-Beast’s side with all of the strength it possessed. Agony shot up the arm of the beast, but it finally managed to penetrate the machine’s metal skin. It was a small victory for the hybridized terror, but it was quick to exploit it, thrashing its impaled talons inside the break and ripping apart whatever lay within that powered the automated killer.

Jikiro writhed under the alien beast, screeching aloud as bright sparks flew from the assaulted point. Without pain to hinder its reactions, it brought its Gatling gun to bear upon the Gryphon’s face. The hybrid turned to face it, snapping out of its focus as it registered the weapon before its features morphed from bestial savagery to upmost terror. Jikiro took notice of the reaction for only a moment before it opened fire, but the monster turned its head at the last moment, avoiding a hail of light bullets through its left eye. In its place, the barrage tore into the neck of the beast, drawing a roar of ire as meat was cooked and fur combusted. Ripping its paw free of the mechanical dragon, it reared up, batting the gun away before slamming the opposite limb into its face.

Pushing its bulky arms outward, Jikiro freed itself from the grasp of the organic bioweapon. Once it was standing again, the automaton turned its sight to the hole in its armor, from which sparks flickered and wiring hung. The mighty weapon of the Garoga no longer appeared invincible, but its objective was unchanged. Turning back to the battlefield, it lit up the night with a volley of energy bullets as the Gryphon lunged with a feral snarl. The alien nightmare leaped into the barrage, taking dozens of blasts to the chest, forelimbs, and cranium that stripped the meat away and blackened the bone underneath. But it couldn’t be stopped, ploughing through the gunfire and into Jikiro, thrusting its paw at the wound on its flank. The momentum it carried and the damage already sustained to the metal allowed the beast to sink its arm into the Terror-Beast’s innards up to the elbow. Jikiro screeched and flailed, its intact eye flashing from the disruption to its inner mechanisms. Smoke wafted from the point of insertion as the Gryphon’s claws shredded the circuits and gears that powered the metal monster. Its paw tightened around a large piece of machinery, its purpose in the terminator’s functioning unknown to it, and pulled, ripping the part free in a shower of hot sparks and torn wires. The hole in Jikiro’s side was worsened by the removal, metal bent and snapped, revealing the inner workings of the robot to the outside world.

Its movements became slow and jerky and sparks flew from the machine’s joints. Its mouth released a distorted cry as the Terror-Beast struggled to function in the wake of its mutilation, its artificial intelligence trying to restore functionally to an acceptable standard. Before Jikiro could recover, burning energy consumed the automaton’s chest-mounted head as the Gryphon fired, washing the malfunctioning killer in waves of fire. It crashed to the earth from the explosive force, implanting a crater into the dust and sand that it itself lay in, sprawled and helpless. Its gun arm whirred and grinded, attempting to rise and point at the robot’s attacker, but its motor systems had seized up in the landing, rendering the Garogan terror immobile and powerless.

The Gryphon approached its helpless foe, moving slowly and methodically like a lion or cougar would stalk its prey. Advanced intelligence was polluted with the natural instincts of its collected genetics, creating a mind fuelled with pride and hunger, a desire to dominant and oppress while feeding its predatory urges. There was no rush to destroy the machine any more. In its damaged state, Jikiro was no longer a threat, but a source of amusement to be dismantled at its own pace. A pleasure that could only be made sweeter if the mechanical dragon had the ability to experience pain. But the Gryphon would show its greatness to the world with the Terror-Beast’s defeat – the ultimate proof that flesh and imagination was superior over metal and logic.

Jikiro’s limbs began to unlock, its systems slowly managing to cope with the added strain. At the same time, its sensors alerted the terminator to the presence closing in that either party had been aware of. Its head turned to the sky to seek out the approaching threat as the Gryphon suddenly stopped and sniffed, craning its neck up to the distant clouds as it, too, sensed the intrusion to its victory.

High above the layer of clouds, dark shapes approached under the darkness’ cover. New squads of F-7J Jets and F-18 Hornets alongside F-16 Fighting Falcons stealthily closed the distance to the clashing giants, functioning as the support for the true fighting force of the operation – three Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, each carrying over a pair of Massive Ordnance Penetrators, the most powerful bunker-busters in the arsenal of the United States military. The trio possessed enough firepower to wipe the titans from the face of the badlands, but lacked the capability to engage in face-to-face combat. And unfortunately, the element of stealth had been lost.

Electricity crackled along the length of the Gryphon’s colossal wings and its searing beam fired into the stratosphere. An entire third of the squadron was taken out by the singular blast, losing the Fighting Falcons, half of the F-7Js and one of the B-2 Spirits in an echoing explosion that consumed the twilight air. Molten debris fell like meteors over the war-torn landscape, bouncing off Jikiro’s metallic frame and sizzling silently in the soil. The rest of the squadron began to separate into smaller groups in an attempt to create smaller targets for the unearthly hybrid and its deadly energy bolts, but the creature’s reserves were quick to recharge and its aim was true. A second shot demolished the second of the bombers, along with the remaining F-7Js and a quarter of the Hornets. Within moments, the proud force of American might was reduced to a shadow of its glory, scrambling to continue the stratagem on track.

Gunfire and missiles peppered the abomination’s hide as the surviving F-18s opened fire, drawing its attention toward the group and away from the bomber as it split away on a new course. Their firepower was ineffective against the beast, as they were completely aware, but it was the only means they had of keeping the Gryphon’s focus away from the larger, easily targeted B-2 Spirit, making the hard choice of sacrificing themselves to ensure at least one of these alien monstrosities would be wiped from American soil. Flames burned in patches across the Gryphon’s fur, but it made no follow-up to the prior attacks. The human weapons could not hope to wound it, it knew from experience; it allowed the assault to continue to give these delusional men the false hope that their deaths would achieve greatness. There was no threat here but a brief chance to gain some amusement out of the human’s pathetic actions. Their destruction was inevitable, in the end.

Jikiro pushed itself to a sitting position, clanking and groaning from dented armor hindering articulation and internal components struggling to keep the emotionless killer online. Its remaining eye blinked, unable to gather a clear image of its surroundings or its targets, but an array of other sensors allowed the machine to gather that its organic foe was distracted with the humans’ air force. Metal groaned and screeched as Jikiro forced its battered body to look up as it located the presence of the stealth bomber high above, which had started to enter its attack run. As it passed over, the craft dropped its payload, drawing the attention of the machine with the sudden movement of the MOPs, moments before the Gryphon’s energy ray found its mark and tore through the bomber. Although the carrier erupted in a violent mass of steel and fire, the bunker-busters continued their descent regardless, watched by Jikiro’s unwavering eye as the artificial intelligence that powered it analyzed the weapons. It ran a system check to determine the state of its weapons systems and found the report satisfactory.

The plan was set.

Jikiro’s magnetic arm pointed up to the approaching MOPs with a terrible screeching sound. The commotion drew the Gryphon’s notice, its head snapping toward the broken machine with a wary growl, and watched as the Terror-Beast extended the stuttering appendage, as if it were reaching out toward the heavens. The beast’s gaze followed the claw’s aim, sighting the rapidly-descending bombs. Before the eyes of the hybrid, the MOPs began to change their trajectory, despite lacking the capability to do so under their own power. They continued to fall without any loss in their momentum, but their course had altered toward Jikiro; specifically, as the Gryphon noted, its outstretched claw.

The mind of the abomination did not falter to understand the terminator’s intentions. Although the exact details were unknown, it recognized that Jikiro’s stratagem could not reach fruition. With a fearsome roar, the beast charged. Its unexpected movement motivated the remains of the escort squadron to attack again, blindsiding the invasive creature with hails of cannon fire and rockets across its repulsive visage, staggering the Gryphon as it suffered from its impaired vision. The unintended distraction allowed Jikiro to finish reeling in the MOPs with its magnetic might and pull the weapons into the grasp of its clawed extremity. The Anti-Missile Might technology that was developed during the run of its predating models allowed the evil automaton to transfer its prizes to the Gatling gun and fire on command.

Bolts of energy fired into the sky without focus, a testament to the Gryphon’s enraged state. Although the majority of its shots missed, the quantity that it could produce in such a short time ensured that every one of the attacking fighters were found and reduced to molten scrap. It was a minor victory to the vanguard, but as it swatted the smoke and flames away from its eyes, it saw Jikiro jerk its gun into position, and realized it was too late. Thinking back, a clean blast of its destructive ray would have destroyed the bombs instantly, but it chose to attack head-on, consumed by the bestial urges of the creatures its form composed of. Logic should have won out, but it had been repressed by foreign, basal instincts that it fought it has control over. The body of the probe was perfect, but its mind had been corrupted by organic urges, and this realization drove a reverberating sound from its throat, venting its rage, terror, and disgust. With these emotions still running through its system, it pounced, claws primed and outstretched as the wings of the maddened thing carried it toward Jikiro without awareness to the situation. Its foe was armed, but still damaged. The innards of the metal dragon still hung from its side- all it would take was a single strike to gut the remaining machinery and—

The barrels of Jikiro’s cannon flashed with light and smoke, denying the Gryphon the final victory as it launched the MOPs directly into the neck of the enraged hybrid. There was no delay to the detonation – the twin weapons activated upon contact with the surface of the beast’s toned frame and blossomed into spheres of rupturing force and enveloping fire. With the combination of the shockwaves and flesh-melting heat, the invader’s neck was torn apart in a shower of gore. The body collapsed like a sack of potatoes, hitting the ground with enough weight to shake the earth, while the head was thrown clear and bounced along until it came to a stop at Jikiro’s foot. Even in death, an expression of utter madness adorned the features.

Jikiro raised its arms and let loose its shrill, scratchy cry. The sound echoed over the empty desert, carrying for miles to places beyond the Terror-Beast’s senses or knowledge, but the message carried was clear. It was victorious. The Garogas were vict—

The severed head of the Gryphon roared with utter rage. Its once limp body suddenly pushed itself up despite its bleeding stump of a neck, alerting the alien war machine. The biotechnology that created the myth-based horror allowed it to function in spite of impairing injuries, but to keep on moving with the head completely severed demonstrated the extent of the probe’s ability. The body of the Gryphon sprang forward, pushing against Jikiro’s bulk as its paw sought the rupture in its frame. The barrel of the metal titan’s gun pressed against the rearing corpse and fired at point blank with electrical energy, pushing the reanimated creature back from its exposed body. It spasmed wildly as smoke wafted from the point of contact, sparks crackling across the beheaded body, yet it still persisted. The fur of the hybrid began to burn and its flesh bubble and melt, but it continued to slash at the air and push against the electric current, regardless of its condition.

Jikiro’s machine mind struggled to answer how the creature could keep on functioning in its condition. It had thrown everything in its arsenal at it, but there had yet to be a permanent result. Like it, the Gryphon was a ruthless killing machine, able to keep on going no matter what. Whatever the creature was, it seemed to function more like a machine than an animal…

It clicked. It was a machine, at least in nature. Underneath the genetic material it had cobbled together, the systems of the original probe were still present, intertwined with the beast’s nervous system. It was functioning wirelessly, controlling the body using its mind and the technology spread throughout it, manipulating the limbs like a puppeteer would use strings to move a puppet. It was focusing on the wrong target.

The Gryphon’s head snarled as Jikiro looked down on it. Its jaws gnashed in the puddle of its own darkening blood. Jikiro’s response was to bring a single foot down on the controller. It didn’t stand a chance.

Bone shards and brain matter splattered the landscape as the force of the robot Terror-Beast’s stomp caved in the indomitable beast’s skull like a watermelon. A final growl died on its lips as bone snapped like twigs and flesh was pulverized, leaving a pile of bruised meat under the automaton’s heel. Again, the body suddenly sagged as the connection was severed and it was lifeless once more, held upright only by the force of Jikiro’s electric bolt. It reared up, standing only on its hind limbs for a moment before gravity pulled the scorched carcass backward to the broken earth. For several seconds, Jikiro continued to pump the body full of electricity. Internal organs roasted and skin blackened and cracked, until only a smoking, carbonized husk remained of the former invader.

Now Jikiro was victorious.

*****

Previously silent in anticipation, the atmosphere of the Garoga Fortress’ command center instantly switched with the Gryphon’s utter destruction. Garogas cheered and saluted regardless of rank and station, reveling in the first victory for their kind in decades.

As the lower ranks prided themselves on an accomplishment that they had no part in, the Red Garoga turned to his station and opened a video link. The grainy image of Baron Garoga flickered into existence on the monitor screen, flashing the ever-present grin of their race. “It is over, my leader.”

“You hid your doubt well, general. But not well enough.”

The baron’s words cause the crimson alien’s cold veins to freeze at the casual revelation. He kept his composure, unwilling to appear weak before the great leader for the sake of his pride. “It had been too long, my liege. The world has adapted in our absence, so forgive me for not having faith-“

“I hold no discontent for your personal feelings,” the baron sneered. “Jikiro was victorious and that is the result that matters. Nothing else.”

The Red Garoga nodded in understanding and gratitude at the mercy of his superior. Any lesser Garoga would be punished severely for their lack of devotion, and he accepted the rare act of charity with delight.

“Find a recollection site for Jikiro, somewhere safe and secluded,” Baron Garoga continued. “I want you to lead the recovery force and retrieve our Terror-Beast for repairs. Oh, and be sure to bring another of our pets with you?”

The Red Garoga’s head tilted, antennae twitching. “It will be done, but I ask why?”

“Fool,” his golden commander patronized, tapping his foot against the console it was propped on in irate. “No wonder your faith is lacking if you have no brains in that skull of yours! We attacked a probe from another invader. Do you think they will not try to retaliate?”

*****

Far, far away, foreign eyes opened. The being’s cranium pulsed as the stream of information from the probe it had dispatched was cut off. Rising from its slumber, it began to process through the data transmitted, converting and analyzing gigabytes of information at a rate far quicker and efficient than any supercomputer developed on Earth in the last century.

“Interesting…”

Cold lips purred the word sensually, intrigued by what the probe has recorded before its demise. The destruction of its vanguard was not what caught the interest of the inhuman being, but the identity of what has slain it. Fleshy digits reached out to the surrounding controls and inserted into specially designed ports, connecting the alien’s consciousness to the vessel’s vast database. Screens flickered to life, illuminating the chamber as files and recordings were opened and examined, images and videos of various bizarre and terrible beasts filling the glowing eyes of the fiend.

It chuckled, a deep and disturbing sound to any that would hear but itself. “Of all the competition I expected, this is a surprise. Your glory days are long past, yet you cling to the hope that you can resurrect your empire and pride once again.”

A slimy tentacle caressed a monitor that displayed the Baron Garoga’s gleaming mug, running it down the image’s cheek with a trail of mucus in its wake.

“Very well, denizens of Garoga Baron. You’ve earned my attention. I think this matter will call for a very special… visitor…”

Winner: Jikiro

Jikiro vs. Gryphon: Winner

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