The Corrosion of War Without End
Thousands of programs and systems lay dormant, no power coursing
through them, no decision-making processors handing out thousands of verdicts
per second, no free will at work. Only the slightest trace of energy flowed
into the system, from a minuscule power source designed especially for
emergencies like this. Its output was minimal, but that was all that was
needed for preservation of the system's defining features. If necessary,
the output from the source could last for millions of years, perhaps billions.
No-one knew for sure. Certainly not the system's owner. That being was
unaware of anything.
* * *
Punch entered the station at a run, Grotusque jogging in behind him.
The double spy didn't bother with any of the routine tasks he normally
ran through upon arriving home, running security scans and so forth. Time
was in critically short supply; anyway, he wasn't even supposed to be here.
He'd left a message with the clones that he'd be away, in deep space, for
several weeks. He headed for the communications equipment room. The red
"So this is home, huh? Your ship, why the disguise?" Grotusque asked.
Punch's ship transformed and attached itself incongruously to the station's
exterior, looking like an innocent piece of equipment. Grotusque thought
it looked like an outsized ornament.
"So the Decepticons won't know about it, of course," Punch said,
opening several consoles. He was too tight-lipped to explain that
he never came here in Autobot form, normally, so the presence of an extra
ship might be hard to explain to his Decepticon comrades. Furthermore,
he could never be entirely sure that his Decepticon-issue ship was not
bugged somehow, though he checked it frequently. He kept the extra
ship as a secret so his occasional travels into Autobot territory could
not be traced.
Grotusque was already at work, expertly identifying which com modules
would work with Sojourn's surviving equipment and pulling them out. They
worked quickly, carrying a number of modules and amplifiers out to the
The red Autobot asked too many questions, Punch thought, as he closed
up the panels he'd opened. But Punch needed someone who knew Sojourn's
systems to get the right gear; more to the point, he'd promised the Autobots
on Sojourn he'd help, and it wouldn't really be fair to run off again without
at least one of them coming along. Grotusque had kept up a constant stream
of jokes and light banter on the trip here. He himself had said little
during their days-long journey, and wasn't about to start talking now,
not when he was skating so perilously close to blowing his cover. Even
coming here in his Autobot guise was dangerous, but he didn't wish to show
his other face to Grotusque. They were almost done; the sooner and quicker
they were out of here --
A barrage of laser fire erupted behind them, blasting Grotusque off
his feet. Reacting instantly, Punch yanked his twin-barreled mortar launcher
out of subspace. Instantly was not quick enough, unfortunately; he felt
himself forcibly tackled from behind before he could turn and fire. The
impact knocked him against the panel he'd been working on, stunning him.
The mortar launcher went flying and skittered across the deck. Something
had a four-pronged, painful grip on his back. Acting on instinct, Punch
spun along the wall, smashing his antagonist against it. He ran backwards
into the wall, and succeeded in breaking his opponent's grip. Punch whirled
and swung blindly. His fist struck home; the Decepticon staggered backwards,
and Punch got a look at his attacker.
It was Pounce.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit! best translates the first thought to cross
Punch's mind, as he glanced about quickly. Wingspan, in robot mode, stood
across the room, twin electro-burst rifles at the ready. Behind him, Grotusque
lay face-down on the deck, unmoving. Smoke trailed from wounds on his back.
Punch's weapon was nowhere in sight -- it must be behind me, he realized.
In his puma form, Pounce took a silent, casual step towards him.
Counterpunch had seen that the movement before, knew it was a prelude to
a blindingly fast leap. If Pounce got his jaws to his throat, he was finished.
He took a hesitant step backwards, to bely his own readiness. The leap
came, unbelievably swift, but Punch's reflexes were up to it. He raised
one foot as he dropped onto his back, letting Pounce's momentum carry them
over; the puma-like Decepticon went flying across the room and crashed
into a wall.
Punch finished his backwards roll and was instantly on his feet again;
he spotted his launcher and dove for it. With his brother no longer in
the way, Wingspan opened fire, tracking him across the room, missing by
only a hairs' breadth. Punch scooped up the launcher and fired. Wingspan
took the fireball across the chest; he impacted against the wall and slumped
there, unconscious. The explosion seemed to rouse Grotusque; Punch thought
he saw the Monsterbot move slightly as Wingspan fell. Punch whirled to
finish off Pounce, but the infiltrator had recovered from his own collision
with the wall, and leapt at the same moment Punch fired. The firebomb missed,
obliterating one corner of the room. Punch and Pounce came to grips
and clattered to the deck.
Grotusque rose groggily from the deck, ignoring the searing pains
where he'd been hit in the back, and tried to figure out what was happening.
Across the room from him, Punch was wrestling with a puma-like robot, a
Decepticon. A second robot lay semi-conscious beside him. We were ambushed!
he decided. He stumbled to his feet.
"Go, take my ship and go!" Punch screamed at him. Grotusque was still
for a moment, understandably hesitant to abandon his companion. But at
least one of them had to get back to Sojourn. "Take my ship, that's an
Punch was vaguely aware of Grotusque leaving the room. He was rapidly
loosing control of this struggle; he had lost his weapon again, and keeping
Pounce's jaws away from his neck left him only one free hand. Pounce's
claws slashed at him, selectively disabling. If he could get away from
this wrestling match, he might still have a chance, though...
Grotusque darted out of the room, scooping up the last of the com
modules they needed. He noted that the second Decepticon, the unconscious
one, was no longer sprawled where he'd been a moment before.
He fled down the corridor, clutching the last three com modules,
warily watching for an ambush from the robot who had escaped. He felt rather
like a coward, leaving Punch, but the orange Autobot had made him agree
to follow his instructions to the letter, as a conditional for his help.
So Grotusque swiftly made his way to Punch's ship.
Fire from behind tracked him down the corridor; Grotusque threw himself
against the wall, shielding his precious cargo while he retrieved his own
weapon from subspace. The duel-barreled vaporator materialized in his hand
with a faint flash. Grotusque fired back up the way he'd come. His opponent
and target, he saw, was the robot he'd seen before, the one who'd been
unconscious when he awoke. Good: the Decepticons, both this one and
the other, the puma that Punch had been struggling with, were behind him;
the way to the ship was clear. No need to prolong this, he realized. Shooting
wildly up the hallway to cover himself, he darted towards Punch's ship.
He was only a few steps away from the docking port when he turned
a corner and ran straight into the robot he thought he'd left behind. The
Decepticon fired both his weapons point-blank; Grotusque was thrown backwards
by the impact. The com modules dropped and shattered, spectacularly. Grotusque
brought his weapon around, and was about to fire, when a second shot hit
him -- from behind. The twin blows, on top of his earlier damage, were
too much; he collapsed to the deck.
Barely conscious, he perceived a second robot running in the same
way he'd come. It was -- the same one who'd attacked him in the corridor!
"Good work," the new arrival called to --
His identical companion, Grotusque saw, his faltering mind struggling
to comprehend. "What about the other one?" the companion asked.
"Immobilized," was the answer.
Clones, Grotusque realized, before his vision fell away completely.
* * *
Treadmark leaned back in his seat, as far as it allowed, propping
his feet up on the control panel. The Perigee's interior was not designed
for comfort; certainly no-one was supposed to use the thing as a home for
weeks at a time.
Treadmark's form also did not allow for much leaning back in chairs.
A pair of wing-like projections extended from his back, making it difficult
to settle into most seating. The 'wings' became his side armor in his vehicular
form. It was a common, standard Autobot design, though it had been much
improved over the years. Some of its early bearers had been the legendary
tactician Prowl, and the much-feared warrior Bluestreak, both lost long
ago in a mission to save Cybertron from destruction. Treadmark's version
still retained its original Cybertronian hovercraft form, and was augmented
with three missile launchers; two were long and thin, resting on his outer
shoulders, while the third - a huge, monstrous looking thing - was directly
left of his head. It blocked his vision to the left when in firing position,
but it was a problem he'd learned to deal with in everyday life, just like
not being able to lean back in a chair.
Treadmark relaxed now, pondering this and many other things, and
regarding the vista of stars outside the viewport. Sidetrack was seated
at the console next to him in a chair that was vastly too large, engrossed
in reading some text novel on his screen. Perigee was drifting idly,
powered down, waiting for Lexius and Starblast's return. It was pleasant
to relax for once, not have to anticipate and plan for some mission, not
to think of their failure at the Aryung system, not even to have to worry
about the stupid Decepticons. To just stare at the stars and think of history,
or philosophy, or mathematics, or life, or nothing.
Treadmark often regretted that his form was land-bound on its own,
depending on nonsentient starships to travel between worlds. He was fascinated
by the vast distances between stars, the emptiness, the unlimited space.
He had often contemplated the idea of leaving, just taking a ship from
somewhere and traveling the galaxy, wandering from one system to another,
refueling from stars, imbibing in the wonders of the cosmos, no worries,
no cares... but he knew his conscience would never allow him to do so,
not as long as other members of his species were out there killing, murdering,
conquering, destroying, threatening innocents.
Damn Decepticons. Ahhhh, don't think about that now...
With no warning, a tremendous flash of light and radiation came through
the viewports, nearly blinding him. He threw up a hand to shield his optics
as they fought to compensate, and shot upright in his seat. Beside him,
Sidetrack did the same, hands flying over the consoles to power up the
ship. From behind him, Treadmark heard Sureshot speak, fear in his voice.
"Ahhh... uh... that... that... it's..."
Treadmark looked, and started in horror. He'd seen this ship time
and again, in the nightmares of his shut-down cycles, for the past month.
It was the destroyer, all twenty miles of it.
"Gah! It's another one! Getusouttahere, gettus outta here now!
Sidetrack was scrambling to comply, but both of them knew the Perigee
would likely be dealt its death blow before they could escape into fold
space. Their systems were coming up to power, but the process was agonizingly
slow; Quickmix's jury-rigged system couldn't handle fast starts. They began
to move, but slowly, ever so slowly...
Treadmark realized they'd not been fired on. Perhaps they were being
toyed with? No -- a console said something else. They were being hailed!
Sidetrack and Treadmark exchanged looks, and shrugs. They had nothing to
lose. The Micromaster punched up the hail, as Treadmark looked out the
viewport and realized that not all of the destroyer was there.
"Howdy, guys," the face on the screen said curtly. The occupants
of the Perigee could only stare for a moment, then they doubled over
in the laughter of relief, release, joy, and the satisfaction of
It was Lexius.
- - -
Treadmark stared, shocked, at the blackened thing that had been Starblast,
the joy of reunion he'd felt earlier now a memory. He couldn't think what
to say. Death was not a thing most Transformers contemplated regularly.
Even when he did consider it, Starblast was the last one he thought of
it happening to. The first officer had seemed almost immortal, existing
dispassionately outside the normal flow of life and death. It was hard
to believe that the twisted wreckage before them had once been alive at
all, let alone Starblast. Treadmark forced down a nauseous feeling.
He had to turn away; he couldn't look any longer. That had been a
Quickmix was combing through the body, pulling away bits and pieces
as necessary, an autopsy of sorts. He muttered to himself as he did
so. The others stood in a cluster, a short distance away, trying
not to see. Finally Quickmix stood up.
"It looks like he took several hits right to the fuel lines; then
when he crashed the extra energy or sparks or something just set
it all off at once," he said, his voice a mixture of competent expertise,
"Any chance of a revival?" Lexius asked dully.
Quickmix looked uncertain. "Well... that's kind of hard to answer
right now. Did he run into something before he crashed?" Quickmix asked.
Lexius didn't know what that had to do with it. He didn't see how
the engineer could look at and touch the body so dispassionately, either.
It was all he could do to keep his systems from overloading with nauseous
feedbacks, and his mind from succumbing to overwhelming grief.
"Huh, um, yeah, actually, he did," Lexius answered. "What, why?"
Quickmix stood up, gazed at his commander.
"His head is missing."
- - -
They folded for several days to reach the point in space where Sojourn
drifted. During that time the Perigee's crew scoured the Decepticon destroyer
for Starblast's head module, but found little besides one or two Cybertronians
Lexius had missed in his purge. The Perigee was now docked within the massive
destroyer, to conserve its straining engines, though it would fly ahead
to the Sojourn to give them notice of what was happening. At last they
dropped out of fold a few light years from where they'd left their ship.
Sidetrack took the Perigee on ahead; the rest of the group would follow
in the pilfered destroyer a few hours later. The harrowing mission was
nearly at an end. Treadmark joined his commander, alone
on the destroyer's bridge.
"Lexius, we've searched just about every spot on the ship," he said.
"It's possible we missed somewhere, but I just don't think he's here."
"You're probably right. But the only way he could have left the ship
is if the Decepticons have him," Lexius said.
Treadmark anticipated Lexius's thoughts. "You're not going back
there," he said, anxious not to loose another friend.
"No," Lexius agreed, dully. "There's no way of knowing where he might
be. But we can't just abandon him, if there's some chance he might be alive!"
"War necessitates that sometimes. Remember the first ambush, when
you made me leave behind some of our casualties? Some of them might have
"That was different, we were talking about risking several whole
squadrons..." Lexius trailed off.
"No difference," Treadmark said. "Who knows what it would take
to get Starblast back. The fact is, none of us can do it, no matter
how many of us we risked. None of those squadrons would have gotten
our casualties back, either; you were right to see that, and I was wrong.
That's why war is so horrible. It forces you to give up on the living
sometimes. It forces you to kill, and to make decisions that kill.
Even those you care about the most."
Lexius had the passing thought that he had not considered that issue
in many ages. He was going to have to, he saw. "And all I ever
had to say about it was 'that's war'," Lexius said, wearily.
"It's not your fault," Treadmark continued, gently. "You thought
he was really dead. You had no idea you were leaving him."
Lexius stared at the deck without seeing. "If only I'd known..."
Starblast, I'm sorry... I failed you again.
* * *
There was no time in the stasis, no way of knowing if it had lasted
a minute or a millennia. There was no blackness or light, there was no
there. Only nothingness. One did not even know one had entered stasis;
one simply ceased to be aware.
Until one became aware once more: activation. Power, anew, coursing
through circuits. Engrams restarted, systems came on-line. The consciousness
came into being once more, renewed from its involuntary stasis, returned
A gridwork above him. And below. A computer, then.
How, Starblast wondered, did I come to be in a computer?
*****************END PART THREE***********************************
On to Part Four