The Corrosion of War Without End
A week had passed since the attack that had nearly destroyed the
Autobot vessel Sojourn. The starship drifted in deep space, light-years
from the nearest star system, powerless, unable to move, unable to communicate,
most of her surviving crew forced into stasis by the dwindling power supply.
A handful remained operative, laboring to complete what repairs were possible
to the ship and their damaged comrades, while a small team worked to finish
what was hoped to be their eventual salvation: transferring the remains
of Sojourn's fold engines to the gunship Perigee.
"I can't believe this actually might work," Lexius commented to Treadmark
and Starblast, as they took a short break from the frenzied work that occupied
the ship's crew.
"Why not? Flexibility is the purpose of modular engine design,"
Starblast said. Though the engines were designed to move a starship
that was over half a mile long, and many times the size of the Perigee,
a single module would fit within the engine space of the gunship, and would
be enough to propel it in and out of foldspace. That was fortunate, since
one module was all they'd been able salvage from Sojourn. If it worked,
they would have a means of interstellar travel, and could summon help.
"Yeah. Lucky break for me," Lexius muttered, staring at the
"You still feel guilty over the attack," Treadmark observed.
"Of course I feel guilty! It shouldn't have even happened in
the first place!"
"'Should' is a highly subjective term, Lexius," Starblast said.
"You're too hard on yourself," Treadmark agreed. "You couldn't
possibly have --"
"The warning signs were there. I just didn't see them.
Or worse, I chose to ignore them."
"You did not ignore them, though. You were on the verge of
pulling us out of the mission," Starblast said.
"But I didn't do it. I didn't pull us out. I didn't demand
better assignments. I didn't learn enough about our information source
to make a good call about it. I didn't react fast enough during the
"I seem to recall that yours were the pivitol actions during the
battle. In retrospect, your judgements were thorougly sound."
"Then how come we're stuck out here?"
"We're not stuck," Treadmark said. "You said it yourself --
we're going to get out of this."
"Maybe, but... even if we do, the point is, I failed my crew.
Think about the new troops. How are they going to take this?
Three battles, then it's off to the stasis chambers. And no promise
that there'll ever be a wake-up call."
"The circumstances of the battle have been explained to them.
Surely they understand the reasoning behind your decisions."
Treadmark turned to Starblast. "It's not just logic and decisions,
Starblast, there's trust, too. Although," he turned back to
Lexius, "I don't think they're as upset with you as they think they
"Huh. May be, but if I were in their boots, I'd feel really
let down right now. And maybe what's worse is, I violated our
trust with Sojourn."
"Sojourn understands the risks of combat as well as anyone.
You did everything that could be done under the circumstances, and she'll
see that when she examines the tactical records."
"Yeah, yeah... But, it's the same thing, like you just said!
She put her trust in us -- in me -- and I let her down. I mean, the
damage is so bad we can't even wake her up to tell her what's happened
to her!" Lexius shook his head. "Primus, I just hope I get
the chance to apologize to her."
"You will. Trust me. And trust yourself more. We're
going to need all the wits we can muster to get out of this, yours most
- - -
The gunship Perigee was little more than a large, flying planetary
assault weapon, almost a thousand feet long; most of that length consisted
of the main gun's barrel. The crew and engine space were a large
flattened disk; the Perigee was shaped like nothing so much as a gigantic
lolipop, or a cross with a circle in the middle. The vessel was nearly
ready for departure.
"It'll take us about one hundred light years," Quickmix said,
gazing at his handiwork, the spliced-together fold engine now housed in
Perigee. The ship's officers clustered around him in the gunship's cramped
engine room. "Beyond that, it'll probably need some replacement parts,
superconductors and so forth."
"One hundred light years is still Decepticon territory any way we
go," Starblast said.
"Yeah," Lexius agreed, "but it gives us a lot of resources."
"Have you decided on a crew yet?" Quickmix asked Lexius.
"Mm hmm," Lexius said. He faced the group around him.
"Starblast, Treadmark, and I will be in charge of the mission. Quickmix,
you're coming too, to keep the ship running. Sidetrack, I want you,
so Treadmark won't be the only one with a lot of experience piloting the
Perigee. Bring along a couple of your troops for extra firepower.
Lash would be good, and one other besides."
"Gotcha. Lash, and one other... hmmm, whooooo would that be,"
Sidetrack smiled to himself knowingly, the decision already made.
"Seven total," Treadmark said. "Are you sure it's wise to go
with such a small crew?" Treadmark asked.
"I'm pretty sure that it's dumb. But we don't really have room
for anybody else," Lexius answered wryly. "Head on down to storage
and pull a hoversled for yourself, Sidetrack, Lash, and whoever else we
take." He turned to Grotusque next. "You're the boss till we
"Top notch! Am I authorized to throw a ship-wide party?"
Lexius grinned. "You're authorized to finish whatever repairs
you can, and get yourselves into stasis ASAP. Leave a couple of crewers
standing by in the Apogee, just in case."
"Got it. Ship-wide party as soon as you guys leave, and when
you come back, act like we've been in stasis the whole time."
"Glad you understand." Lexius didn't feel the need to elaborate;
he trusted Grotusque implicitly, despite his flippant attitude. "Oh,
and set yourselves to come on-line if the ship is boarded." Though
that probably just means an attacking force will destroy the ship instead
of trying to capture it, he thought grimly.
The Perigee launched a few hours later, arcing away from the ship
and around its front. Lexius tried not to look at the damage to his
vessel, the huge gash along the lower side of the ship, the smaller hole
ripped through the upper decks. He didn't want to look, didn't want to
be reminded. Then they were past, and the stars came undone as the
gunship went into foldspace. Lexius turned his mind to the future,
to undoing his mistakes.
As he had surmised, they had many resources at their disposal. They
had to learn what those resources were, though. And so the seven Autobots
were on their way to what they hoped was a low-security star system.
* * *
Phalanx and Counterpunch were rarely easy in each other's company.
Counterpunch found Phalanx to be too open; Phalanx regarded Counterpunch
as far too guarded. But Phalanx insisted that this was a special
occasion, a cause for some celebration. Counterpunch wondered what news
the military liaison had for him. Punch didn't imagine it could be good.
The two strolled into a lounge area on the warship that Phalanx called
home. An autoserver produced two high-concentration energon cubes
at Phalanx's command, and the two robots sat down before the lounge's panoramic
window. They had a sweeping view of the quadruple star system the fleet
was orbiting. The fleet, the same one which dispatched the three standard
warships Sojourn had faced, was on a swing through the outer reaches of
Decepticon territory when Counterpunch rendezvoused with it, shortly after
his failed attempt to intercept and warn the Autobots.
Counterpunch ran a small feeder tube from his wrist into the cube,
relishing the flow of fuel into his systems. He sat back. "To business.
I know you were planning something; the clones have stopped sending out
the false data drops. Tell me what's happened." The information had more
personal importance to Counterpunch than Phalanx could ever know.
"The news is not entirely good... but you'll be pleased to know your
objective of the last several months seems to have been accomplished."
Phalanx completely misread the anxious look which crossed his companion's
features; he could not possibly have guessed at its true meaning. "One
week ago we sent four ships after the Autobot starship responsible for
"Numbers are not everything in this sort of affair... What matters
more is that these ships were prepared to deal with the Autobots."
"Thanks to your information on the ship's hull structure, our researchers
came up with a method to alter it - specifically to temporarily undo its
molecular structure. Three of the ships were modified to act as molecular
phase shifters; the fourth was a special high-firepower prototype from
the Cybertronian empire."
Punch was aghast. He'd not heard a thing about any hull data; the
clones must have skipped past him. That would explain how they'd
moved so much faster than he had expected. He'd not even had the chance
to warn the Autobots. "And their success?" Counterpunch asked, trying hard
to sound disinterested. Punch filed the "special prototype" bit away for
"Hnn. Mixed, I'm afraid. None of our ships returned from their mission.
But, we have word... through our 'data link' with the Autobots... that
the ship has disappeared."
"Can't you find any wreckage? Don't you know where your own ships
went?" Punch knew, of course. He'd been to the site. But he wasn't about
to reveal that.
"No," Phalanx said, some embarrassment evident in his voice. "The
coordinates for the ambush were part of a hard-copied data package we passed
straight on to the ship commanders, without looking at it ourselves.
Time was of the essence... and, anyway, I've learned that starship captains
generally work better when they don't feel like the higher-ups are staring
over their shoulders. In this case... it seems to have backfired."
"Contact the clones. The package originated with them; they
should have a copy of the information."
"Thanks, but we already tried that. They say their systems
suffered a massive crash a day after they sent the package, and it was
erased. Neither of them recalled the coordinates that were given;
they were simply picked off of a pre-selected list of thousands of
such sites and downloaded without even being looked at."
"Another phantom ship debacle. Congratulations," Counterpunch sneered.
Punch was relieved to know that an innocuous microbug he'd planted long
ago, and activated recently, had done its work. The Autobot half
of his mind turned to other matters, working furiously. Four ships
missing, he thought, trying to sort out what had happened. The debris
I saw wasn't enough for four ships.
"Phantom ship...? You mentioned that at the start of this whole affair,
didn't you? You never did explain what it was," Phalanx said.
Counterpunch grimaced, deciding that now was as good a time as any
to indulge Phalanx's curiosity. It would give him a few moments to think.
There was a battle at that site; several ships were destroyed, but not
all of them, Punch continued to put pieces together.
"This all happened about 200 vorns ago," Counterpunch began. "Our
deep space fleets, and many of our planetary bases, simply started disappearing.
When we got to the last position of one of the missing fleets, there was
nothing left but debris. We lost hundreds of ships, and control of twenty-four
star systems, before we even knew anything was happening."
The battle must have continued somewhere else, because none of those
ships returned, Punch thought.
"The Autobots had constructed an enormous starship, with armament
to match. It would drop out of warp -- we were still using warp drives
back then. It would drop out of warp on top of our fleets, and take
out multiple targets with single shots -- pretty much what we just dealt
with. Before anyone could react, there was no-one left to react. We didn't
know this, of course. All we knew is that we were finding craters where
our bases had been, debris clouds instead of fleets."
So there's a fight, some of the ships are destroyed, and the Autobots
"Dealing with it was a catastrophe. It was decided to double the
size of the fleets, on the reasoning that at least a few ships would escape
one of the attacks and report back. That was only one of several recommendations
I made, and one I strongly advised against. My immediate superiors at the
time, however, were not prone to taking advice. They always favored brute
force over subtlety."
But the fight must have resumed, because none of our ships came
back. So our ships must have tracked the Autobots somehow. The Autobots
must not have gone far before defolding again, or else they couldn't have
Counterpunch almost seemed to smile through his mouthless faceplate.
"Eventually they were executed for incompetence. But... After losing
two more fleets, we managed to get a tracer on the Autobot ship. Over two
dozen warships were sent to pursue it. None of them returned. But neither,"
Counterpunch finished with a look of satisfaction, "did the Autobots."
If they didn't go far from the battle sight, I could have found
them! If I'd just gone to active scanning!
Phalanx stared, aghast that such incompetence could exist in the
chain of command, worried that it still existed today. "I don't understand
-- do our commanders know nothing of the past? Is no-one from that time
left in charge?" he wondered. The exasperation he felt was quite evident
in his voice. Counterpunch felt a slight twinge of sympathy for the robot.
Vastly more intelligent than those he served under, he was nevertheless
in a subordinate position due to his relative youth.
There were leaders left from the days of the phantom ship incident,
but they were mostly imbeciles. Punch had killed off the smart ones,
the few who implemented the plan that had destroyed the phantom ship.
That done, he had tried - too late - to warn the Autobots. But at
least no-one left alive except him had any idea what had really happened
to the ship. It was all he'd been able to do for the Autobots on board
I've failed again, Punch thought. This time, he would probably
never even learn how many Autobots had died because of his failure, or
if any had survived. His only comfort was that in his failure, he hadn't
pointed the finger for the information leak at himself. His position was
still secure... assuming the clones didn't track him down as the source
of the leak.
That was still a possibility, he realized. The clones had taken up
the job of tracking the leak as a personal mission, but he didn't think
his trail was traceable. He was no longer transmitting data drops; the
destruction of the Autobot ship seemed sufficient excuse to stop -- surely
any Autobot agent would have learned of it, one way or another. He
knew he had not left enough of a trail for the clones to follow.
The bug in the clones' computer system was foolproof and could not be traced;
indeed, as things stood, only the most random of chances could really lead
them back to him as the leak -- a variable no spy could ever fully eliminate.
With all that in mind, he still had a choice to make: should he
risk another trip to the drop site, to scan and try to find the missing
* * *
Perigee defolded on the outermost limits of the Fiiry system. Treadmark,
at the helm, cut all power to a minimum as they scanned over the situation.
From passive sensors they could see a number of ships orbiting the system's
three inhabited planets.
"The fourth world looks like the big one," Treadmark read off the
console. "The other two look more like outposts, lightly populated."
"The outposts would probably be easier to hit. Will they have what
we need?" Lexius wondered.
"We cannot assume the outposts will be less secure," Starblast said.
"It is possible they possess higher security standards, for any of a number
reasons. Research, detention, intelligence..."
"But what are the odds?" Treadmark asked. "More than likely they're
mining colonies. Sounds much easier."
"And if they're mines, they probably won't have complete data files,"
Sidetrack sighed, slouched in a chair much too big for his eight-foot
height. "Jeez, why not just try another system, where there's only one
planet and we don't have to choose?"'
"And then we'd be hitting the main planet anyway," Lexius said with
a slight grin. "Alright, we'll go with the main planet."
* * *
The latest interrogation session was going quite satisfactorily,
Pounce thought. The prisoner - one of the couriers who'd carried data from
the source on its way to the Autobots - was missing a couple of limbs from
Beastbox's thrashings, but he could still talk, and was doing so quite
readily. Pounce and Wingspan now had a time and date for every one of the
data transmissions the leak had beamed out. Those transmissions had eventually
become the data drops which the Autobot ship had picked up in deep space,
and used to launch its attacks. Soon they would begin cross-checking the
timing and the information of the drops with various other data from the
last few months. With time and luck, they stood a fair chance of locating
Pounce smiled with pleasure at the agonies he would inflict on that
* * *
"How long are we going to sit here and watch the ground-pounders
pack up?" Syntho asked, clearly aggravated with boredom. Her twin,
Syncro, nodded silent agreement with the sentiment.
There were seven of them; their leader, to whom the question was
directed, was known as Proto, and their group name was the Quanticons.
Who comes up with these ridiculous team names? Iso wondered. Virtually
every combiner team she'd heard of had some sort of -con name, and there
seemed no limit to the creativity of the programmers who designated the
groups. Her own group consisted of seven robots who all transformed to
spacecraft forms; combined, the team became capable of faster-than-light
speeds. When they'd been created, "Astrocons", "Cosmicons", "Stellicons",
and even "Ethercons" had already been taken. For some reason "Aerialcons"
had been ruled out. Whatever the case, their current assignment had them
nowhere near the cosmos, or even the air, and it was beginning to grate
on their sensors.
"Our guard duty here continues until the base is completely closed
up," Proto answered flatly, seemingly missing his compatriots' ire. Proto
was just like that, never reacting to others' emotions, and never really
showing any of his own, even in the heat of battle. It made for a good
tactician and strategist, though not much of an inspiring leader. Iso wondered
if he even cared that they'd been pulled off of their normal orbital duties
to supervise the closing of a military base on the surface.
The base's forces, like many these days, were being recalled to
the heart of the Empire, to fight off the increasingly strong Autobot threat
there. With the return of the older-generation Decepticons to prominence
under Megatron's leadership, the Cybertronian empire was splitting down
the middle, as the loyalties of its armies wavered one way or the other.
Iso could see things building to a massive conflict, far greater than the
skirmishes that arose when Megatron's forces first resurfaced a few years
back. For the moment, however, the split left openings in the empire's
defenses that the Autobots were deftly exploiting.
Iso supported the old-style Decepticons; she found them to posess
a fire that was distinctly lacking in the typical Cybertronian rank and
file. She would gladly have lead the team on a defection to Megatron's
army if she were in charge. But Proto was a loyalist, doggedly devoted
to the heirarchy of the Leiges. So they were stuck here, in the middle
The Fiiry system was enough of a backwater that Iso couldn't imagine
the Autobots bothering with it any time soon. It was a trading center,
but a trading center for a very thinly populated region of the cosmos.
Even the two mining worlds didn't produce all that great of a yield. Overall,
in Iso's opinion, it was the butt end of the Empire, and she was bothered
that a specialized team like the Quanticons was stuck guarding it. Well,
maybe we'll get to pack out ourselves before long, she thought. Because
it sure doesn't look like there'll be any action around here anytime soon.
- - -
Starblast and Lexius flew across the surface of the Fiiry system's
primary world, skimming low. They'd gone to great lengths to get here undetected,
coasting for hours from the outer limits of the system, then hiding on
the hull of an incoming ship. Now they'd flown overland for several hours,
finally approaching a major city.
The two Autobots fell into the traffic lane patterns, as the sky
around them became thick with other craft: Seekers, hoversleds, small transports,
the occasional flying creature, and the ubiquitous green, white, and grey
clone-warriors whose presence marked this as a Cybertronian-held world.
Lexius found it odd to be in the midst of so many Decepticons and not be
firing on any of them. We are supposed to be one race, he thought. Aren't
we? We don't look particularly different from one another. The differences
are internal, mental and emotional. He dropped the train of thought. Transformer
theologians had been debating such issues for millennia: Were the Autobots
and Decepticon separate races, or subdivisions of the same race? Had Primus
really created them all? Was there a "Primus" at all? Lexius found only
passing interest in such questions; he was more concerned with his race's
future than its past.
They eventually dropped out of the sky, landing and transforming,
and strode out into a street as busy as the skyways above them.
"A rather cosmopolitan outpost for being so far from the galactic
hub," Starblast commented. Fiiry was a hub for the Cybertronian empire's
outer fringes -- small, but large for its location.
Lexius looked at the chaos around them, and wondered aloud where
they were going to find what they were here for: information. The place
wasn't exactly tourist-friendly, even though there were a surprising number
of organics doing business on the world. Though the official Cybertronian
policy was that non-Transformer life was unfit to exist, official policy
was often bent when organics had something to offer the empire, especially
out on the frontier.
We would've atomized this place from space, Lexius thought.
We'd never leave a population center this big intact. Surely we were never
sent after a place with this many organics...
"I think a covert attempt at pulling a data dump may be our best
chance. We are less likely to incur unwanted suspicion," Starblast
said, bringing Lexius back to the problem at hand.
"Right. So let's get off the main streets," he replied.
- - -
They crouched in a tunnel entranceway, which had numerous conduits
following its path. They'd located it near the city's industrial sector.
Starblast had carefully removed some wiring covers, and was reading the
data transmissions flowing through the wires. He was motionless for several
minutes, his mind focused on searching for useful information. Lexius
waited impatiently. Finally his companion stirred.
"We may obtain remote access to a central data bank at a military
base near here," he reported.
"A military base?! Starblast, that's the last place I want to go
on this planet," Lexius said.
"Your concern is misplaced. The location in question is sparsely
inhabited, a reserve of some sort. There is a server connection, at a storage
depot on the outer fringes of the base. Infiltration should not be
"That's the best you could get?"
"Correct. All other servers that I could locate were considerably
"Guess that's it, then. Let's not waste time."
- - -
They flew out far from the city, peeling off from the traffic lanes
after a while. Lexius felt relieved to be away from all those 'cons. They
circumnavigated the military instillation, which was far from the nearest
population center, and flew in as Guardians, hovering only a few feet above
the ground, moving among the vegetation to maintain some cover. The base's
perimeter was marked by an energy fence, which they easily flew over after
scanning for detection devices.
Only a moment later they arrived at a small building, which was surrounded
by bunkers and storage sheds. A single robot came out, bearing a nasty-looking
rifle, aiming for them. Lexius didn't waste time with questions, but simply
launched four missiles into the Decepticon. He went down without a word,
without firing a shot. And hopefully without sending any transmissions,
Lexius thought, as they put down by the robot's immobile form.
- - -
Exo stopped in mid-step, pausing. "Proto," he called. "I just received
what sounded like part of an alert signal. The signal seems to have been
cut off." The communications robot replayed the signal for his teammates.
"An alert, indeed. You have the coordinates from which it originated?"
"Yes. On the far end of the base, out by the bulk storage facility."
"Let us investigate, then. Quanticons, transform."
- - -
Inside the small guard shack, Starblast stood immobile, plugged into
the computer console, downloading data. Lexius anxiously waited beside
him, unable to aid or speed up the process. A tone sounded; at the signal,
Lexius pulled a full data card out of the computer, and inserted another.
Waiting. He hated waiting. It made him edgy and nervous, left him feeling
vulnerable, chained down. Another tone. He inserted another data card,
and wondered how much longer this would take. He waited, scanning the horizon,
reaching out with all his sensors ---
There, just over the horizon. Several air vehicles, flying low, and
closing very fast. They were coming straight for them. He switched data
cards again, silently pleading that this would be the last one.
- - -
Exo got no response from the guard that was supposed to be on duty,
as the seven Decepticons closed in on the source of the transmission. His
sensors revealed something else, though. "Commander, we have just been
scanned, from the guard housing," he announced.
Proto, as always, was in a no-nonsense mood. "Iso, destroy the source
of the probe."
The sleekest ship of the group, and best designed for atmospheric
flight, Iso was in the lead. She grinned to herself, and charged up her
twin firebomb launchers. She dearly loved a good explosion, particularly
if an enemy was in the middle of it.
- - -
Lexius looked around, assessing their tactical situation. Earthen
mounds were scattered here and there, in addition to various small buildings,
storage bunkers and the like. Plenty of cover for both sides. Perfect for
stalling them long enough for even more 'cons to arrive.
Starblast abruptly came to, disengaging from the computer and taking
the data cards up. "We should depart immedi--"
His words were cut short as a fireball engulfed the building.
- - -
Iso flew so close to the conflagration her weapons had started that
she singed her wingtips. Pleased with the results of her attack,
she swung around for another pass, as several of the Quanticons transformed
and landed. They were firing on two robots who'd survived the explosions,
she saw. A drab-green one, and a grey one with blue trim. The two were
crouched behind some dirt mounds, and were unleashing a furious assault
on her teammates. The green one shifted into some kind of tank form and,
in a single blast, destroyed the barricade behind which Proto, Exo, and
Synchro were sheltered, flinging them through the air. She targeted the
green one and was about to flame him, when his grey companion whirled and
fired, his chain gun ripping through her wings and destroying one of her
launchers. Iso spiraled out of control, and barely managed to land without
a severe crash.
Proto observed his teammate's landing, and understood that his opponents
were formidable though few in number. He decided to end it, quickly and
- - -
Lexius counted seven of them, total. They had good cover, but Lexius's
Gladiator mode, a bent-over-backwards configuration which allowed him simultaneous
access to all his weapons, was making quick work of that. He was beginning
to think they might escape after all, when the seven drew together, shifting,
folding, merging into a seventy-foot colossus.
Lexius grimaced. He'd not considered the possibility of this being
a gestalt team. They were rare in the central regions of the Decepticon
empire, where cannon-fodder troops were easy to find. Here on the
fringes, where brute force by numbers was hard to come by, gestalts
were fairly common.
The gestalt strode forward without a word, ignoring the full force
of Lexius's firepower, and reached out to crush them with a single enormous
fist. Lexius frantically reverted to his robot form and leapt between the
giant's feet, as its fist pounded the spot where he'd stood. Starblast
launched off in another direction, firing, searching for a weak spot. His
slugs bounced away in a harmless show of sparks.
This is hopeless, Lexius realized, as more of his shots bounced
off the superwarrior's back. We're just going to have to run for it.
The monster turned towards him, ignoring the airborne Starblast. Lexius
decided airborne was the way to go, and shot off into the sky, narrowly
avoiding being swatted to the ground as he launched. "Starblast! Let's
go!" he ordered. But with a flash, the gestalt materialized a large cannon
from subspace, and fired.
The pain sensors in a Transformer serve much the same purpose as
the nerves in an organic do; they are the body's way of alerting the mind
that something is wrong. If the pain is too great, systems shut down as
auto-repair systems take over; in extreme cases, unconsciousness results.
In Lexius's case, the pain that resulted as the gestalt's shots ripped
into his lower leg was not enough to make him black out, but the random
feedbacks from severed sensor wires and the loose electricity from damaged
power conduits made the world go white for him. The abrupt disruption of
his systems caused an involuntarily reaction from his vocal apparatus:
he screamed. The thruster in his lower leg, its link with both his mind
and its power supply abruptly severed, simply shut down. With this loss
of support, and the momentary disorientation of his pain, Lexius quickly
lost his balance and plummeted towards the ground.
- - -
Quanticus was so lacking in emotion that it was beyond him to be
pleased or displeased with how the battle was going. He was simply aware
that there were two robots to be destroyed, and that this task had not
yet been accomplished. As a septacombiner, he would normally suffer from
the severe mental impediments that often resulted when seven disparate
minds were forcibly melded into one. His design canceled out that problem,
however, by simply ignoring the input from four of his component robots,
the ones that formed the limbs. Only the torso members of the team -- Iso,
Proto, and Nucleo -- had input into what the combined team would do.
The other four hated it, but accepted it as a necessity of war.
At the moment, Iso noted, it didn't seem to be doing much good: even
the improved reflexes of the gestalt hadn't enabled them to destroy the
two annoying Autobots. That's about to change, Nucleo thought back, as
their minds received the input of the falling green robot. The Autobot
managed to right himself, and even slow his fall with his undamaged leg,
but he still hit the ground hard, his movements slow and confused as he
struggled to his feet. Quanticus noted this, and dispassionately strode
forward to dispatch the injured foe.
- - -
Lexius could feel the ground shake with each step the gestalt took,
as he struggled groggily to his feet, determined to go down fighting. But
Starblast was there suddenly, hovering directly before the Decepticon's
featureless face, firing point-blank into his optic visor as Lexius regained
his feet and hobbled off. The distraction worked; the gestalt swatted at
Starblast, but he was far too quick for the giant, zipping around to the
robot's backside and firing again.
"Starblast, get out of here, you have the data. Go!" Lexius shouted,
as he frantically sent mental directives out to shut down the area around
his wound. The severed connections and short circuits were causing flashes
of light and static to appear before his optics; he felt dizzy as the feedback
malfunctions interfered with his inertia systems.
"I decline the order" -- Starblast fired again, and thrust himself
in another direction -- "since I have already sent for back-up."
- - -
Treadmark gazed impatiently out the viewport into space, waiting.
Beside him, at the sensor console, Sidetrack switched from one form of
passive scanning to another, to keep busy, though nothing of interest showed
up in any form. Quickmix was fiddling with something in Perigee's engines,
oblivious to the tension in the control cabin. Spoilsport was asleep somewhere.
Sureshot and Lash sat, both drumming their fingers, both bored senseless.
They were drifting idly on the outer fringes of the Fiiry system,
with little to do except wait for Lexius and Starblast to return or signal
for pick-up. It was bad enough when the ship got blown up, Sureshot thought.
He'd been relaxing in his quarters, a modest affair shared with three other
warriors, when the assault had happened. There'd been no warning, just
a red alert from out of the ether, and then all hell had broken loose.
He and his roommates had found themselves thrown violently across the room
several times, and then the power had given out. They'd been left floating
in their darkened room. Eventually someone came down and told them to report
to the ship's stasis chambers. At the last minute, though, Sidetrack had
ordered him onto this mission. This mission, he thought, wins the prize:
the queen-mother of all wash-outs of missions.
Treadmark finally spoke up. "They've taken too long. They couldn't
be having this much trouble pulling the dump; I'd wager that they're IN
"They would have signaled if they were in trouble," Sidetrack said,
patiently, not looking up from his sensor display. Sureshot looked up,
anxious for an argument between the two officers, anything to break the
monotony of nothingness.
"It's conceivable they were unable to signal. What if they're captured?"
"They'd still manage to signal, I'd wager. Lexius or Starblast would
find a way."
"Not necessarily. What if the transmitter were destroyed?" Treadmark
"And then what are we going to do? Without the transmitter we haven't
got any way of finding them."
Treadmark didn't answer, seeming accept the logic of Sidetrack's
argument. After all, the transmitter - Starblast's - was locked into
sub-space, which was about as safe as anything could get. Sureshot was
disappointed that Treadmark was settling in to stare out at the stars
again. But just then a signal came from the com panel.
"That's the pick-up signal... they are in trouble," Treadmark said,
his voice tense. He was too worried to bother with 'I told you so.' Sureshot
had to restrain himself from expressing pleasure at the thought of some
action, though from Lash's countenance he could tell she felt the same
Perigee powered up its engines and thrust itself forward.
- - -
"Dammit, Starblast! You're going to get us both killed!" Lexius
shouted angrily. Though his left leg was non-functional below the knee,
he'd nearly made it to some cover, a row of buildings that had been demolished
by stray shots from the fight. Behind him, Starblast was keeping the septacombiner
distracted by a constant barrage of hit-and-run attacks from all sides.
More Decepticons were sure to arrive before long; they might hold
their own against this single combiner team for a while, but with reinforcements
joining the fight there'd be no escape. Lexius dove behind a ruined
building front, though he didn't expect it to do much good against the
"I expect we may hold out long enough for our companions to arrive
and enable us both to escape," Starblast sent to him, as he continued his
aerial dance around the gestalt. "Additionally, you are my comrade-in-arms,
and as a point of honor I would find it distasteful to abandon you in the
Only him, Lexius thought, with a mix of warmth and exhasparation.
He was trying to think how he could assist his friend without drawing fatal
attention to himself, when a trio of jets soared into the field, firing.
Starblast evaded, but let his guard down in doing so; the gestalt nearly
caught him in one giant hand.
Lexius steeled himself. Here's my big chance to help out! He fired
on one of the jets, punching holes in its wing. Almost immediately the
three flyers turned to strafe his position. Lexius's barricades stopped
their shots, but were virtually destroyed in doing so. They wouldn't do
any good against a second run, he realized, as the jets swung around to
hit him again.
A sudden stream of lasers from above scattered the three Decepticon
flyers. Lexius looked up in surprise, to see Sureshot, riding a hoversled,
blast one of the 'cons in the engines. The damaged Decepticon glided to
a crash landing; Lexius followed up Sureshot's attack, ensuring that the
Seeker didn't rise again. Over his head, Treadmark and Lash also soared
into the battle zone on hoversleds.
Treadmark aimed his three missile launchers at the gestalt and fired,
the blasts hitting it broadside across the back. The giant reeled under
the unexpected force of the explosion, the force-fields between its components
briefly flashing in the visible. Guess all of Starblast's hits did some
good after all, Lexius thought. He decided to take a chance and, in Gladiator
form, fired several times on the thing, full force, synchronizing the blasts
with Lash and Treamark -- sure enough, the fields dissolved, and the combiner
split apart. The seven Decepticons tumbled to the ground in confusion.
Lash put down and transformed, her tri-cannon taking out one of the gestalt
robots in a single shot, before he could regain his feet. The others scattered;
some transformed to aircraft and took to the sky, only to be greeted by
slugs from Starblast's cannon or pinpoint blasts from Sureshot.
Lexius hobbled over to where Lash was unleashing a merciless assault
on the grounded gestalt robots; she transformed to her bulky robot mode
as he approached, and helped him onto her hoversled. Covered by Treadmark,
they lifted off. Starblast kept the remaining Decepticon flyers busy as
the three sleds cleared out, then turned himself and shot towards space
at top speed.
- - -
Iso watched angrily as the Autobots disapeared into the blue -- All
of them! she realized -- and waited for an order to pursue. With Exo down,
they couldn't recombine, but the others could still give chase. But Proto
simply stood there, unruffled, not even bothered by the fact that their
gestalt form had just been beaten, nor by the severe damage Exo had taken.
He simply looked around briefly, and made a short transmission to the ships
overhead, notifying them of incoming hostiles. Iso fumed as she and Endo
did their best to patch up Exo; there was nothing else she could do.
Under the Cybertronian rankings, combiner group leadership was fixed and
immutable, and she was not the leader.
But who says we're staying under the Cybertronians forever? she
thought, fixing Proto with a venemous stare.
- - -
Sidetrack and Quickmix guided the Perigee through an obstacle course
of ships, most of which -- fortunately -- were unarmed. Behind them, three
mid-sized battleships were doing their best to pound them into oblivion.
The Autobots' main advantage was that Perigee's hull was nearly as tough
as that of Sojourn, that is, virtually impenetrable. However, their main
weapon only pointed forwards, so they could not eliminate threats from
behind. A horde of ships had attacked them as soon as they'd approached
the planet; the three hoversleds had barely been able to launch. Since
dropping off Treadmark's team, they had made a near-complete orbit of the
planet, fighting the whole way.
Sidetrack brought the gunship under an unarmed transport, as Quickmix
fired their main weapon at a gunboat on the other side. The blast cut the
enemy warship in half, the rear part exploding and peppering the front
half with shrapnel. Perigee soared straight through the fireball and gained
some distance on its pursuers, as they altered course to avoid the conflagration.
"Nice timing, we're almost to the pick-up point," Sidetrack said.
He was impressed with Quickmix's combat prowess; he'd always thought of
the engineer as strictly an academic type. Apparently he'd seen a fair
bit of action somewhere. Quickmix turned to the sensors, looking for their
"I have them," he reported calmly. "Head for two nine seven dash
"Roger." Sidetrack gritted. "This isn't going to be easy..."
The gunship dove into the planet's upper atmosphere, toward an intercept.
Above them, the cruiser began firing into the atmosphere, trying to pick
off Lexius's group. Starblast and the three sleds juked and swerved, trying
not to present a stationary target. Sidetrack did his best to get the Perigee
between the cruisers and his friends, offering the gunship as a shield.
Perigee rocked under several direct hits, which were only slightly diminished
by the thin atmosphere.
"There!" Quickmix pointed at four airborne specs, and opened the
ship's ventral bay. The ship rocked again under another hit. Sidetrack
struggled to stabilize the ship, as the hoversleds drew close. He finally
got the ship back under control seconds before the sleds shot into the
bay, braking thrusters blaring. Starblast followed a moment later, having
delayed to stall several Seekers that had been pursuing them.
"I am in," he called by radio, before he had even touched the deck.
The bay door slid shut as Sidetrack punched in all of the ship's thrusters,
heading for the freedom of space. The three cruisers converged in front
of them, blocking their path. Perigee jolted suddenly.
"Gahh! What..." Sidetrack growled. The ship strained against his
"Tractor beam," Quickmix said, not even checking the scanners. "From
that one." He pointed to one of the cruisers. The ship was becoming very
large as they were drawn into it.
Sidetrack cut forward thrust and brought the ship left and right,
to no avail. "I can't get us out of it!"
"Give me helm control," Quickmix ordered calmly. Sidetrack obeyed,
switching the ships' controls to the engineer's side of the panel. Quickmix
wasted no time in orienting the vessel directly towards their opponents.
He punched the ship's thrusters back to full.
"Have you lost your -- ahh!"
Perigee accelerated towards the ship that was drawing it in. The
ship's crew had only an instant to realize their error; then Perigee's
main gun fired, destroying the tractor beam and a large portion of the
vessel. Perigee raced through the explosion, rattling from the shock wave,
then shot away into fold.
On to Chapter 2