The Corrosion of War Without End
Lexius's optical visor was directed at his knees; the sensors there
received the input of photons reflecting off his olive-green armor.
The sensors transmitted that input to the mass of microchips that was his
brain, where the information was processed into a coherent image. Normally,
that image would be passed on to higher level processors, to be dealt with
as part of his ordinary decision-making processes.
All was not normal, however, within Lexius's mind.
The conscious part of his mind was completely unaware of the monitoring
chair he sat in, or of anything else in the med bay where he had remained,
motionless, for almost two days. Lexius no longer realized that he was
on Cybertron; he neither knew nor cared how he had gotten there. He did
not see the multiple medics and officers who entered the secluded subchamber
of the med bay and left again; he heard nothing of his friends and
comrades from the Sojourn who came to try and revive him from his catatonia.
What he saw was fire, a raging wall of fire, pools of fire, an all-consuming
fire. What he heard were screams, death-screams, screams he was responsible
for. They were the screams of beings whose lives he had extinguished.
There were many, many, many of these screams. Too many for him to
number. But for the past two days, his conscience had vengefully taken
him past each one, each time he had pulled a trigger or pressed a firing
button, each order he'd given to take lives, every subordinate who'd fallen
while following him, every enemy he'd crushed bare handed. Swords, laser-rods,
rifles, laser pistols, blasters, his bare fists... From the helpless, unconscious
Decepticon warriors he'd cold-bloodedly murdered only a few weeks before
-- murdered, he acknowledged that now -- to the countless assaults from
space, back through a thousand campaigns stretching across the galaxy,
a thousand battles that he had survived because someone else had fallen,
felled by his own hand. The killing smothered him, enough killing to account
for a dozen lifetimes.
His life was over. He could not carry the weight of this endless
killing, the untold slayings he had committed. His mind would take him
back to the very beginning, the first killing, his first murder. And then,
he knew, he would die, destroyed by his own vengeful conscience, its revenge
for being smothered for too long.
He stared at the fires; he heard the screams; he waited for his death.
- - -
"I am truly sorry, Treadmark," Optimus Prime said gravely. The two
Autobots stared at the immobile form of Treadmark's commander. "Every
medic I've been able to summon has given the same diagnosis: psychologically
induced catatonic shock. He will have to come out of it on
his own; there is nothing we can do for him. In the mean time, if you are
able, we must continue the debriefing."
Treadmark -- now the de facto commander of Sojourn's crew -- nodded
in his slow, solemn way. They had tried for two days to figure out what
had happened to Sojourn's commander, how it might be remedied. Their efforts
had been fruitless. Prime was right; Lexius's information had been invaluable
to the Cybertron Autobots, and must be relayed. "Where did he leave off?"
Treadmark asked quietly.
"We got past little more than preliminaries, I fear," Prime answered.
"Lexius said you can tell us the extent of Decepticon territory, both
that of the Liege Maximo and of Megatron's Decepticons."
"Yes, of course. I'll need a galaxy holomap, and..." Treadmark trailed
off for a moment. "Optimus Prime, could we proceed with this elsewhere?
I am... I mean..."
"Of course," Prime answered. "My apologies." They rose and exited
the medical bay, leaving behind Lexius's still-immobile form. The door
shut behind them, a shadow falling across the catatonic starship commander.
- - -
Half an hour later, a small, black and grey Autobot entered the conference
room where Treadmark and Prime waited. "Thank-you for coming so quickly,"
Optimus Prime welcomed him, gesturing to one of the other two Autobots
in the conference room. "This is Treadmark, current commander of the Sojourn.
Treadmark, meet Rewind, the Autobots' archival expert."
"Pleased," Treadmark nodded. Beside him, Prowl, Prime's top
strategic advisor, remained silent.
Rewind took his seat. "You know of the security level of this
meeting, correct?" Prime asked him.
"Top priority, most secret, as ordered by Optimus Prime, commander,
Autobot Army, Cybertronian-based Forces," Rewind recited without hesitation.
"Good. I want you here so that none of this data is lost.
Treadmark... please, proceed."
Treadmark began his report. For the next two hours, he took
the Cybertron-based Autobots on a dizzying ride through four million years
of Transformer history: the growth of the Decepticons, the great Exodus
from Cybertron, the Autobots' secretive pursuit, the exponential growth
of the Cybertronian forces, the more restrained expansion of Autobot numbers
through the process known as Joining.
"Even now the Cybertronians remain uncertain of our numbers," Treadmark
said. "And that is our greatest advantage. They know little
of our true strength. If they did, they would doubtless mobilize
every resource they have against us, which would spell doom for our fleets."
"Indeed... Jhiaxus recalled every battalion at his command in an
effort to destroy a force of only a few hundred of us on Earth."
"The Cybertronians think nothing of mobilizing such numbers against
a percieved threat. Brute force is their way," Treadmark said
quietly. He arose and walked to a console equipped to project memory
bank images. "Which brings me to my next and most important topic..."
* * *
The ship yards, Starblast thought, incredulously. I still cannot
believe they kept me here. A construction site seemed an odd place to
hold and interrogate a prisoner.
Or perhaps not, he realized, considering the magnitude of the sight
before him. A project this size would require all manner of resources.
Through the viewports he could see many of the three dozen ships, in varying
degrees of completion, which spread in all directions from the command
hub, over a distance of more than a hundred miles. There were more workers
in his range of vision than he could count, scurrying insects rushing to
fulfill the designs of their masters.
++Notice, approaching 17:00++ his internal chronometer reminded him.
He turned away from the imposing sight, and walked off towards the
interrogation center. It was time for another "interrogation" session.
So far he had encounterd little trouble convincing the Decepticons
around him that their comrade Dredge had undergone no change. He had set
up a file set in the system where his consciousness had been held, to convince
any casual inspectors that his mind was still trapped within. The only
difficult part was continuing the illusion of "interrogation". Starblast
had to decide how to answer the questions he was given.
He entered the computer-filled interrogation room, carefully avoiding
the ghastly sight of his shattered head module sitting by the door. The
two assistants assigned to the place never seemed to notice, fortunately.
They were a raucous pair, but he'd quickly learned how to deal with them.
"Rumble," Starblast snapped. "Activate the prisoner, and set modules
two and five on-line. And do it right this time! I'll tear
your head off and flatten it for a wall hanging if I have to come back
up and fix the settings again! Frenzy, clear the active pathways,
and call up the last session."
The two cassette robots grumbled, but set to their tasks. Starblast
would have smiled, if Dredge's face had a mouth. The robot's latent engrams
had hinted at a volatile temper; and it had only taken a few instances
of physical coercion to get the cassettes to cooperate readily with his
commands. That was fortunate, since violence was supposed to be anathema
to his Autobot sensibilities. However, he had found that he did not
really seem to mind using force on the two all that much. Starblast suspected
it was the remnants of his host's mind affecting his own thought patterns.
The idea was alarming, and gave him all the more incentive to hasten his
"Awright, the prisoner's awake," Rumble told him. "You can go rough
him up now." Starblast's program was loaded into memory, sending back readings
designed to emulate those of a Transformer mind, trapped in the computer.
"Dredge" nodded, and inserted a device from his arm into the computer's
cassette reader. Starblast didn't bother with any sort of interrogation,
of course. The cassette robots had no way of knowing where he was in the
computer, with their level of interface; he therefore used these "sessions"
to cull up information on this place and the Decepticons at large.
He went first to a file he'd started through last time, one pertaining
to the commander of this place, one Megatron. The Cybertronians had started
the construction project, but the Decepticons had procured it somehow,
replacing the operation's commanders with their own, about the time the
prototype ship had launched. Megatron had needed a vessel to replace
his last command ship, the Warworld, damaged beyond repair in a battle
at the Sol system. So much the better, apparently, if he got thirty-five
more ships with it, and an army of cannon-fodder troops to crew them.
Under his direction, the construction was proceeding apace and --
aside from Lexius making off with one of the ships -- without incident.
The first complete ship would leave dock within a month.
Starblast read further about Megatron's rise to power these last
few years, after his seeming return from the dead a decade or so back.
Megatron -- along with several dozen other Transformers presumed lost eons
ago -- had first reappeared on Earth, then disappeared again, only to pop
up briefly on Cybertron before fading away yet again. Finally, back
on Earth, he'd rematerialized a third time and at last resumed command
of the Decepticons, who had been united after the Unicron war by the warrior-chief
Starblast could have downloaded the file to himself, but felt that
it was too risky, too likely to be detected by the cassettes. He knew he
had some power over the two, but it would be foolish to squander
it explaining away suspicious actions. Starblast had also learnt
that the two feared any of their misconduct being reported to a robot named
Soundwave. Starblast had resolved to look the Decepticon up in the computer
files, when he got the chance, and see just what it was that worried them
After some twenty-five minutes of sifting through info files, Starblast
decided the "interrogation" facade had gone on long enough, and returned
his mind to Dredge's body. He unplugged from the computer, and prepared
to deliver another report of false data, from a "prisoner" who, in a sense,
no longer existed.
* * *
"Thirty-five?" Prime repeated.
"Yes. Astounding, isn't it, and frightening as well," Treadmark nodded,
as the vid-scan concluded. "We dispatched a courier ship to the fleets
to notify them, but they're not much better equipped than we are to deal
with it. Lexius agreed with me that this was the biggest strategic threat
the Autobots face right now, and that destroying their shipyards should
be a top priority."
"You're certain the fleets will not deal with them?"
"Prime, you just saw my memories of the things. And I saw vid-scans
from Lexius of the place they're being built. They're on a completely
different scale than the ships of our fleet. Our very biggest ships are
maybe five miles in length -- and we don't have many of those. These cruisers
are four times that length, and a lot bigger in girth and volume -- and
who knows how much stronger in firepower. Our ships would be slaughtered.
Sojourn survived -- barely -- because she's built to be virtually indestructable.
But most of our ships are nowhere near that degree of durability.
And with the current beurocratic mentality of the fleet commanders, it
could be months before action is taken. If we're to have a chance
against them, we must come up with more resources than we already have.
And we've got to act on our own."
"You're suggesting we fight brute force with an equal brute force?"
"Yes, if there was a way," Treadmark supported his head on one arm,
wearily, "but I don't see how it could be done. The first of the ones from
the shipyards could likely be finished in a few months or weeks.
I don't know how long it would take to build a counter-force, but I'm certain
it could not be ready in that span of time."
"Constructing a force on the scale of those ships would indeed take
years," Rewind said helpfully. He seemed completely nonplussed by the vids
Treadmark had shown them. "During the Starship Wars, the typical construction
time for a four-mile cruiser was three-point-seven-two years. Of course
that was before the debut of the Bravo-Two construction drone, which cut
construction times by a margin of thirty-seven percent for the purely mechanical
systems, and twenty-two point four percent for computer, power, and electrical
systems, yielding a combined decrease --"
"Let's not dwell on what we can't do. So, they will lauch
within a few months," Prime said. "Like it or not, we may have to
resort to constructing a counter-force. Rewind, do you think you
could help us locate an appropriate system?"
"I believe so, yes," Rewind answered. "Our best bet would be
to put it in deep space somewhere, and there's plenty of that out there.
There are several attractive areas currently around Cybertron. Then
there is the Frankall tract, a region of empty space historically void
because of --"
"It needs to be near a star," Prowl managed to cut in. "It's going
to take a lot of energy."
"Also," Treadmark threw in, "It will need a ready supply of raw material."
"Ah, that's true. Hmm. Empty star systems with raw materials
lying about... Say, if time is of such importance, why build new ships,
when we have old ones lying around out there?"
The others stared at him for a moment. "Explain," Prime asked.
"Many of the vessels from the old starship wars still exist," Rewind
said. "Some crashed on planets; others were abandoned for various
reasons. If we could find some of those ships..."
"It would be much faster than building new ones," Prowl murmurred.
"Where do we look?" Treadmark asked. "If these ships were so easy
to find, someone would have dug them up a long time ago."
Prime's answer was a name. "Nightbeat," he said. "Rewind, if you
can provide enough information on some of these ships, I'd bank that
Nightbeat can find one of them for us."
Rewind considered for a moment, consulting the vast data storage
matrix in his chest, assimilating what he'd pulled up. "Sounds reasonable.
Based on Nightbeat's past accomplishments, I'd say he could probably
work something up from the data I have. He's pulled off more arcane
miracles before, like the time he single-handedly kept the technology
of the space-bridge out of Decepticon hands, delaying their possession
of it until quite recently. Then of course under your command he
was instrumental in locating both Ratch--"
"I will call him in at once," Prime cut off Rewind's discourse for
reasons of urgency, and reasons of his own.
- - -
The fires were thinner. Lexius's tormented mind had nearly traveled
beyond them, had nearly reached their beginning, the beginning of his legacy
of death. His mind drove him onwards through his past, heading for an oblivion
which his conscience demanded, which his troubled soul craved, the only
concievable route to peace. It would not be long, now. He approached
the place where the fires, the murders and deaths, had begun. He saw the
site of the first battle he had ever witnessed. He skimmed past his own
roll in it, a neophyte to the art of war, hesitantly stumbling across the
battlefield, firing. He went back, back, ever further back...
Time seemed to slow and suspend itself. The greatest agony of all,
now. The first killing. The first life he had ever taken, the deed
he could never undo. The drama, so long forgotten, so long suppressed and
buried, unfolded before his mind.
- - -
Nightbeat was an average-sized blue Autobot with yellow trim, who
specialized in detective work. At the moment, he was bored out of
his senses. "Demarkator," he read off a list.
"Demarkator," Rewind echoed. He paused for a moment, accessing
the crystalline data storage matrix in his chest, a system which, Nightbeat
had observed, had an inexhaustable capacity to record useless information.
"Commissioned 444.238.009. Length fourteen miles, five main guns.
Crew size thirteen hundred. First combat service was at --"
"What happened to it?" Nightbeat said.
"Right. Lost at the battle of B'n-ye. She took several
direct hits, and crashed on a planet whose energon levels were so high
she had to be abandoned. Most of the crew ejected in orbital pods
and were rescued."
"Add it to the salvage list," Nighbeat said. "Desacrator."
"Desacrator. AOL class, length nineteen miles, seven main guns.
Lost in S-Stinbr'kahr cluster, where there's virtually no light since most
of the stars have been destroyed by black holes. Despite numerous
and repeated warnings, and despite the fact that the area is well-documented,
the ship passed too close to one of the black holes and erupted in flames
before being sucked in and destroyed. No-one had any clue what
the captain was thinking."
Nightbeat marked a list of his own, and read off the next ship.
"Destructor. Length twelve miles, four main guns. Destroyed
in battle in the Dugdellin system, while defending the archives of alien
technology located there. The archives are amazing, by the way, the
largest collection of obscure --"
"Detente," Nightbeat cut him off.
"Detente. Length two miles --"
"Forget it. Deterent."
"Deterent. Length seventeen miles, three main guns. Natives
of the R'kcha nebulas helped the Decepticons board and capture the ship
during the Syr Pynt incident."
"Huh. They actually helped the Decepticons capture the ship?"
"Yes. The R'kchae are very adamant in their support of the
"Hmph. So did we get it back?"
"No. The ship was finally destroyed by Autobot ships after
a prolonged and tactically brilliant battle."
Yet another mark on Nightbeat's list. "Detonator."
"Detonator... length fourteen miles, eight main guns. Crew
size three thousand, four hundred --"
"What happened to it?"
"Right. Destroyed at the battle of D V'nd'm, where it
had been assigned to test out new equipment designs. One of the stranger
batttles I've heard of, actually."
"Ugg. Five in a row. This is not very encouraging."
"Don't worry, we still have several thousand ships to sort through."
Nightbeat didn't say anything for a long, long moment; it was fortunate
that Optimus Prime entered just then. Treadmark followed behind him.
"How goes the search?" Prime asked.
"Excellently," Rewind said. "We have analyzed data for over
a thousand ships so far, and marked several dozen for possible salvage,
and eliminated the remainder as destroyed."
"He means terribly," Nightbeat said, recovering. "We've got
a list of a few ships that we might get some spare parts from, if we can
find them. Otherwise, nothing."
"Don't give up yet. Even salvage is a help."
"But it's not what I was hoping for," Nightbeat sighed.
"I know you're giving it your all. Keep it up. Is there
anything we can get for you?"
"Not a thing, thanks," Rewind said. Nightbeat simply shook
his head 'no', obviously restraining himself from saying more.
"Very well. Carry on... and good luck." Prime exited
"He is distinctly unhappy," Treadmark commented as the doors shut
"Nightbeat prefers working on his own," Prime explained. "Working
so long with a partner on such a tedious job is bound to be weighing heavily
on him. But he's the best investigator on Cybertron, and our best
bet for turning up something."
"You do not sound optimistic," Treadmark said, leadingly.
"No, it's just that... I am worried. It is possible they will
come up empty-handed, and I am uncertain where that leaves us," Prime said,
surprised to find how much he was opening up to this Autobot. "We
have no defenses against firepower of that magnitude. If they choose to
attack Cybertron..." he shuddered at the thought.
"Cybertron? Optimus, they are going to attack somewhere.
It doesn't matter where; it doesn't matter if it's Cybertron or some organic
planet we've never heard of. Lives will be lost! We cannot
sit back and wait for them to come to us. If this tact fails, we'll
have think of another. Somehow we have to find a way to stop them
before they can strike," Treadmark insisted.
Prime stared for a moment, startled by Treadmark's passion. He thought
back to his argument with Lexius, the argument that had ended with
Lexius's mental collapse. He had accused Lexius's generation of being
unconcerned with life, of having lost sight of the Autobots' principles.
Yet here was a close friend of Lexius, of the same generation, more concerned
with the safety and protection of lives he'd never seen, than with that
of his own home world.
"You feel strongly about this," Prime observed at last.
Treadmark nodded. "Of course. Wouldn't any Autobot?"
"I thought Lexius was typical of your breed: lost, amoral, as unfeeling
as the Cybertronians, and seeking only one battle after another,"
Prime said. "I thought that this 'Joining' process had done to your
generation of Autobots the same thing that 'budding' has done to the Cybertronians,
deprived them of all emotional response."
"Optimus, Joining is done out of mutual affection and feeling between
the participants," Treadmark said. "If anything it engenders stronger
emotional feeling in its creations, not weaker."
"I see... Yes, I am beginning to believe that I was wrong.
Though in that case, I don't know why Primus made us forget it as well.
To constrain our numbers, perhaps?"
"Perhaps because the process can go violently astray," Treadmark
said. "Decepticons have been created by Autobots before, when particular,
random negative thoughts surfaced at the moment the Joined minds were replicated."
Prime nodded. "Then what I have long suspected and hoped is
true... we are truly one race."
"Or... maybe it is because it was simply forgotten. There are
no females on Cybertron today, correct?"
"Indeed. It has been that way for as long as I know."
"No it hasn't. Female Autobots were ruthlessly hunted before
the Exodus, almost to the point of extinction. Only those that got
off-planet survived. Maybe, in time, with no femmes around, the Autobots
on Cybertron simply and quite literally forgot."
"Perhaps. But in truth, the why matters little at this point.
What matters is, I owe you -- and Lexius -- an apology. I think I
may know why he has collapsed as he has. It isn't his generation that is
lost -- it is him..."
# # # # # # # # #####***---...
In jet mode, Terminus swooped low, twisting and spinning madly, racing
only a few feet above the ground. Lexius was right behind him, matching
"You're gonna have to do better than that, bro'!" he shouted mirthfully.
"Wrong. You're gonna have to do better," Terminus shouted
back. He suddenly dropped his feet out from below his jet form, thrusters
blasting, and skidded to an abrupt halt on the ground.
But Lexius was just as fast, transforming to robot mode as he shot
past, whirling around till he was sailing backwards. The two Autobots
drew an imaginary bead on each other at virtually the same time.
"Bang," Lexius said, grinning. "You're dead."
"Take off. You're just as dead as I am."
"Nope. You didn't think to shoot till I said something," Lexius
grinned triumphantly, setting down.
"I think you both should be dead," a third Autobot, Windmill, teased
as he cruised up and landed at a far safer speed. "The way you two
"Oh, get out! We gotta figure out what we can do," Terminus
explained with a smile.
"Yeah," Lexius jerked a thumb towards his brother. "And I've
gotta figure out how to do it better than him." He and Terminus had
only been functioning for a week, and they were still learning the capabilities
of their jet forms, still taking insane risks to learn just how far they
could push their bodies. Terminus mainly did it for the thrills;
he had proven willing to take any dare that was put up to him. For
Lexius, the motivation was different. In his one week of existence,
he had discovered one thing above all else: he loved to fly. And
he was very good at it.
"You should come for a chase run with us some time," he said to Windmill.
"They're fun. Great way to learn, too. Did you know that if
you switch to robot form at top speed, you have almost a whole second to
get turned around and get the drop on the other guy, before you really
start to fall?"
Terminus wore a look of triumph. "Ha! Lex here found
that out the hard way this morning. I hosed him."
"That's crazy. Why not just pull a tight loop and come in behind
him?" Windmill asked.
"Come on, that's so passe," Terminus said with exaggerated boredom.
"We were doing that two days ago." That not withstanding, it wasn't
meant to be a fair challenge. Windmill was built to turn in almost
no space at all -- it was his specialty.
"Anyway, we've got all this weaponry in robot mode," Lexius said.
"We're supposed to know how to use it." He made a face that let them
know what he thought of that. Lexius had no use for weapons; he
wanted nothing that didn't let him fly faster and better.
"Well, at the risk of sounding indoctrinated, just what do you think
we're here for?" Windmill asked, still smiling.
"Oh, to party, definately," Terminus said immediately.
"To have as much fun as much of the time as possible," Lexius added.
"To scale the greatest heights! To conquer the unconquerable!"
Terminus pronouced with exaggerated mellowdrama.
"To live the dream! To fulfill the vision! To uphold
the code! Blah blah blah!" Lexius continued in the same vein, as
Windmill barely contained his laughter.
Terminus's face suddenly fell. He looked with mock seriousness
at Lexius. "Nah... forget it, let's just stick with partying."
"Yeah, partying. And the fun bit, that sounds good. But
scratch the vision and stuff," Lexius said.
"Fun and partying, that's why we're here," Terminus pronouced with
"And blah blah blah."
Windmill shook his head and chuckled. "You two goofs, if they
actually let you graduate from the war college, you'll never --"
And then, with no warning at all, Windmill was dead. A barrage
of plasma beams seared through him from behind, tearing him to pieces.
His body collapsed into smoking, flaming rubble. It was over in less
than five seconds.
Five hunter-seeker airships streaked overhead, howling a mix of laughter
and war-cries. Lexius and Terminus stared in horror. The skies above
were suddenly filled with Decepticons.
No-one had considered the possibility of a Decepticon attack. The
Autobot War College had always been well-hidden, and moved frequently.
But somehow, a lost, retreating contingent of Decepticons, looking
for something to take their anger out on, had stumbled upon the secretive
They swept in from the skies, firing, preceded by a hail of missiles
and photon fire, cutting down student and teacher alike. A dozen Autobots
died in the first seconds alone. The survivors scrambled for shelter
in confusion, or took to the skies for a disorderly counterattack.
Lexius found himself in a kind of shocked, stunned pause as the firing
began, a state which slowly succumbed to horror. He wasn't afraid,
but rather paralyzed; he could do nothing but stare uncomprehendingly at
the ashes that had been Windmill. Terminus shook off his own shock,
charged up his weapons, and was about to leap into the sky when he noticed
that Lexius wasn't following.
"Lex, come on, eh, let's move!" Terminus called.
"Ah -- ah -- Wi -- Windmill --"
"Lexius, come on, we've got to go!" Terminus shouted at him.
He bounded over beside his brother, and shook his arm for emphasis, but
Lexius remained stock-still. "Come on! We can't help him!"
Another group of seekers was heading for them, already firing their deadly
"I -- I -- I --"
"Lexius --" Terminus stopped, and turned to the approaching enemy.
"Hey you slagheads! Thisaway, eh!" Terminus fired his concussion
blasters at the seekers and launched. The group soared after him,
ignoring the immobile Lexius.
What are you doing?! Lexius screamed at himself. Autobots
were dying -- Terminus was up there, risking his life for him -- Windmill
was dead, there wasn't a thing he could do for him. He had to do
something, but... what? He knew the answer.
I can't do it! I can't just shoot at a total stranger and
try to kill them! I can't do what they just did! Lexius
hesitated, unable to join in the slaughter. The thought of doing
to someone else what had just been done to Windmill was simply too much
Terminus swung past just then, half of the squad still on his tail;
in less than a minute he'd lost or shot down the others. He was agile
and quick, but it was clear that the numbers were against him -- he'd also
taken a lot of hits, and no-one was around to help him. As Lexius
watched, he switched to robot form, spun and trap-shot one of the Decepticons,
and transformed back to jet mode. But he'd pulled the same trick
one too many times. The others fired and nailed him in the thrusters
as he swung back onto his flight path. Terminus yelped in pain as
he spiraled out of control, and crashed to the ground in flames.
Terminus transformed and tried to rise to his feet, but the blasts
had disabled his legs. He collapsed in a heap. "Lex... help,"
Terminus radioed to him, weakly.
"Terminus!" Lexius shouted, finally spurred to action. "Hang
on, I'm --"
Whatever action his mind planned, however, was too slow to keep the
four remaining seekers from blasting Terminus with their powerful
cannons. The barrage left nothing but flames -- no doubts, no life.
The seekers soared past without even a pause, moving on to another target.
Lexius gaped at what had been his brother, certain his systems would
explode from rage if he moved an inch.
Another student soared overhead, with the same group of hunter-seekers
on his tail. Lexius recognized the Autobot. It was an
older student, one who'd been there nearly the full two months, nearly
ready for his first assignment with the vast Autobot armies. Aside
from Terminus, he was easily the finest flier Lexius had trained with.
His name was Starblast.
Starblast dodged and swerved amazingly, then turned and climbed,
streaking straight upwards. At the top of his climb he let a trio
of missiles go; he came to a stop in mid-air and fell backwards with them,
towards the following Decepticons. Starblast pealed off an instant
before there was a collision; the missiles stayed the course and plowed
into one of the seekers, knocking him from the sky. But the other
three split in different directions, and converged on Starblast from all
sides. One of the Decepticons caught him with a plasma burst.
The Autobot came crashing down, trailing smoke and flame.
Starblast survived his landing and transformed to robot form before
collapsing on the ground, his gun in his hand. He opened fire as
the Decepticons tried to strafe him as they'd done Terminus. The
Decepticons scattered, then assumed their own ground forms and landed nearby,
their weapons at the ready.
"UH-uh. Not this time," Lexius snarled quietly.
He looked down at his inconspicuous wrist-mounted concussion blasters,
the potentially lethal wrist blades... no, they would not do. He reached
into the tiny portion of subspace that was his alone, and withdrew
an object, a long, heavy particle beam cannon, his most powerful weapon.
He'd not used it before. He hefted it, feeling its weight, then charged
it up and moved in.
Starblast had actually taken down one of the Decepticons with his
chain-gun, but the others had him pinned, and were toying with him, laughing
at him, slowly blasting him to pieces. Lexius was aghast. Did they always
laugh? Did they laugh at those they killed, too? Had they laughed at Terminus,
and Windmill, and all the others he'd seen die these past minutes?
Let them laugh at this, Lexius thought grimly. He stopped, took careful
aim at the back of one of the Decepticon's heads.
Was it right? To kill someone from behind? To murder a fellow living
being at all? The doubts flooded up again. Perhaps he should warn them
first. That was only fair...
The Decepticon raised his rifle butt, and swung it towards Starblast's
face. It would smash through the optic visor, and the Decepticon would
fire, and Starblast's brain would be destroyed, and he would die. Unless...
NO! Lexius fired without a doubt, without hesitation, without
The shot passed completely through the Decepticon's head, vaporizing
the brain module that had held the robot's personality and will. The Decepticon's
life was irretrievably over, destroyed in a second by Lexius's single action.
It was that easy: pull a trigger, end a life. The lifeless, mindless body
-- an empty shell, now -- collapsed in a heap on the ground. The
Decepticon was dead. But Starblast was alive.
Lexius barely remembered the rest of the battle, what had happened...
he or Starblast, one, had disposed of the third Decepticon. They had fought
on; the attackers had, at cost, been driven off. Lexius had killed several
more times. But the first, the first had been the One, the threshold
Later, he'd grieved at length for Terminus, and Windmill, and the
others he'd known that had died that day. It had been his first taste
of death. Lexius devoted the rest of his time in the War College
to doggedly absorbing everything he could about the business of war, resolving
that the Decepticons would be stopped, and that no one would ever again
go through what he had just experienced because of them.
He had not long thought about how or why he killed, from then onward.
He remembered one lesson from that battle, above all: hesitation equaled
death, the death of friends and comrades or potentially himself.
If the Decepticons were there, they had to be killed -- or else.
That was the way of things.
But he saw now, that was not the way of things. He saw something
completely different. He had come full circle.
Don't you remember?! You fight, and you kill, to save other lives!
THAT is why you do it, that's the ONLY possible justification for it! Any
other reason, and you are lost, the thing that makes you what you are,
Lexius had expected to die at the end of this journey through the
past, to be killed by the same conscience that had tormented him
with the entire experience. But instead, he was being born anew.
He was remembering now.
Life, LIFE is what matters...
- - -
Alone in his tiny med cubicle, Lexius stirred for the first time
in two days (the motion eliciting an excited beeping from the monitoring
chair), and moaned from his mental torment. He was alone in the darkness,
but he had his life. He had much more, in fact, than he had ever expected.
He rose slowly, and silently renewed a vow he'd taken long ago. A
vow he'd long forgotten. A vow whose neglect would burden him the rest
of his existence.
Lexius solemnly vowed to protect life, always.
********************* END PART FOUR****************************
On to Part 5