The Corrosion of War Without End
The winds of the desert world howled in endless monotony, an eternal
chorus of fury. That fury had leveled whatever land forms might have once
towered over this world, till all that remained was an endless vista of
low, rolling, wind-blown sand dunes.
In the midst of the ceaseless dunes, a single monolith resisted the
leveling force of the winds. The sheer metal walls of the starship Vengeance
had endured the battering storms for thousands of years, silently, uncaringly.
No sound had issued forth from the ancient vessel; its dormant crew
had made no effort to challenge the forces of nature which held the ship
captive... till now. The winds, for their efforts, finally received an
answer of sorts from the immobile vessel.
A deep rumble voiced itself from somewhere within the ship, low at
first, then rising till it drowned out the howling of the winds. Torrents
of air and sand blew out from beneath the ship, blasted by its thrusters,
till the natural winds paled by comparison. The rumble shook the ground,
as twenty miles of starship attempted to free itself from the land.
On the bridge, everyone tensed, as the ship rattled ferociously.
The ship lurched to the side, then jolted upwards. The horizon, visible
through the bridge's viewports, began to rise imperceptibly. "We are
airborne," Tuner reported at last.
Lexius cast his gaze down for a moment, then looked up again. It
was all him, now. His decisions. The ship wasn't crashing back to the ground,
or breaking in two, or exploding, or any of the other thousand things the
engineers had said could go wrong. Their survival, then, was entirely on
his shoulders. Yet he still found himself distracted, unfocused. Visions
came to him unbidden: the enemy ships, their crews, lives that it was his
duty to snuff out. He had seen those ships before, seen their size. He
could scarcely imagine how many living beings it took to crew them...
"Your orders, commander," called Treadmark, breaking his reverie.
"Tactical report," he answered immediately. What am I doing?!
Focus! Pay attention! he chastised himself.
"Three targets, bearings oh-oh-point eight, oh-five-point one, oh-eight
point four. All closing at seventeen thousand." Fanblade's screen showed
the three enemy ships, closing from the far side of the planet.
A pincer formation. They're trying to hem us in from all directions.
His next thought came mechanically, reflexively. We'll have to fight our
"Take us forward, towards target one," he ordered at last. The ship
rumbled as its secondary thrusters came up to power; the landscape outside
the bridge viewports began to slide past them. "Time to line-of-sight?"
"Six minutes on target one, seven for targets two and three."
"Time to full power?"
Lexius grimaced. Perhaps it wouldn't be in his hands, after all.
They had to try, though. "All batteries stand prepared to fire."
- - -
Wheeljack dashed from one panel to the next, trying to stay on top
of the surge of readings and feedbacks coming from the power generators,
the vertical and secondary thruster engines, the antigravity pods. "Wheeljack
to bridge," he sent, as he moved.
"Anti-gravity is going critical. The pods aren't going to hold out
very long when we reach full power." Already, his sensors could see
the pods' systems overloading with energy, as they strained to keep
the ship aloft.
"We'll leave the planet as soon as we have full power, then. Stand
by to transfer power to the primary rear thrusters."
As if I don't have enough to do, Wheeljack thought, his mind racing.
"Understood." He turned to his assistant. "Backscatter," he addressed
the dark grey robot. "Form teams and begin manually bleeding off
excess power from the gravity pods. Have the power section bring down
some energon converters, and drain the excess energy into energon cubes."
Backscatter nodded and went to carry out the order. Wheeljack noticed
with a faint pride that he didn't even bring up the hazards involved with
the plan: it would bring the crews inches away from gravity pods that
were likely to explode at any second.
Wheeljack had his own problem to deal with: the primary rear thrusters
had never been re-energized. Someone had to reestablish the power links
from the generators to the rear thrusters before they could be powered
up. The job was usually done before the generators were even activated;
it was never done with the generators running at full tilt. Wheeljack
was unwilling to risk any of his crewers on the job, other than himself.
Unhesitatingly he transformed to his car form and raced to the back of
the engineering section, to carry out the complicated task.
- - -
Sureshot tensed himself briefly when the ship's rattling began, then
relaxed, sat back into his chair, and tried to meld with the mechanisms
around him. The ship was shaking alarmingly, but he coolly ignored it,
for the benefit of those around him.
He was seated within the control chamber of the number five battery,
one of six mile-long guns mounted on the ship's hull, one of four
that could traverse. Hand grips allowed him to swivel the gargantuan
weapon; a grip shifter adjusted the focus of the weapon's beam. Assorted
other variables, energy output and duration of burst and the like,
were determined by other operators and the bridge. A large screen
with a set of cross hairs filled his forward vision: his targeting
scope. Right now, it showed only desert sand, rolling off to the
haze-obscured horizon. To his left, three smaller screens showed
the other gunners and displayed tactical data and situations for
the other five main guns. He glanced at his counterpart on the opposite
side of the ship, the number two battery; Lash's face filled the
screen. She caught his brief smile and returned it.
The order came through: "All batteries stand by to fire." Sureshot
tightened his grip on the weapon stick, and turned his attention to the
viewscreen, intently studying the distant horizon. He called for
magnification, and multi-spectral scanning. Still nothing...
- - -
"Power status?" Lexius asked.
"Is that enough for a shot through the atmosphere?"
"Insufficient data to -- um, I don't know, Lex," Fanblade said. Splice
glanced sidelong at his old friend.
Lexius stared for a moment, as well. None of the old crew would have
answered like that three weeks ago. They were, he saw, becoming his crew.
I will not fail my crew, my comrades, he vowed. "We'll try it then,"
he said aloud. "Power to the main guns. Helm, stand by for a full thruster
climb, heading oh-oh-point eight."
"One minute to line-of-sight."
"Increase speed to full. All batteries stand by..."
Lexius stood by, as well, to see if he could give the order, to kill
- - -
"Stand by for full thruster climb..." the voice from the bridge echoed
through engineering. Wheeljack tried to block it out as he transformed
to his robot mode and leapt into the main conduits of the thruster systems.
He didn't wish to consider what would happen if the ship's rear thrusters
weren't working when Lexius needed them. Operating a small panel, he set
the thrusters to come on-line with sufficient power. Then he turned to
address the real problem.
Before they could be fired, the thruster systems had to be 'primed',
a small amount of power bled into them, allowing magnetic and force containment
fields to initialize themselves before the force of full power entered
them. With the generators running at full, Wheeljack would never get a
sufficiently small amount of power in: the thruster systems would overload
and melt before the containment systems had a chance to power themselves
up. To make matters worse, if he was still standing on the conduits when
full power came through to the thrusters, he would be melted as well.
Wheeljack retracted one hand, replacing it with a feeder tube. He
plugged it into a port on the power links leading from the generators to
the thruster systems, and hoped there was enough power in his own body
to initialize the containment fields.
- - -
Silence gripped the bridge for a long moment, as the ship powered
itself forwards, towards the first of its enemies. Tuner was bent over
his instruments, his face only inches away from the screen, searching,
waiting. Everyone else silently attended to their tasks, and waited for
his word. Lexius stared forwards intently, his mind locked in conflict
with itself. Us or them, he repeated silently. Us or them. At last,
the word came.
"Line of sight on target one." Somewhere ahead of them, the first
of the enemy vessels slipped over the horizon. Lexius's response was instant.
"All batteries fire."
- - -
"There!" one of Sureshot's operators cried, at a minuscule infrared
signature. Sureshot had already seen it, though, seen it and locked on
to it. His trigger finger was already moving before the end of the
firing order from the bridge reached his brain.
No-one had any idea if firing the main guns in the atmosphere would
scatter the rays in a thousand directions, or blow the ship to kingdom
come, or simply not work. There had been no time to consider it. But everything
held together as Sureshot squeezed the firing buttons, and a fantastic
ray of power lanced out from battery five. A tremendous BOOM echoed across
the landscape, as untold amounts of atmosphere were superheated. Sureshot
carefully tracked the target with his weapon, extrapolating its path from
the brief instant he'd seen it. He could no longer see the image of the
enemy vessel -- his vision was overloaded by the light of his weapon. But
he continued to track, working from memory. Peripherally he noticed the
other five batteries firing, as well. He wondered if they would all score
- - -
Lexius tried not to gape at the prodigious amounts of power unleashed
by the firing of their main guns. Wheeljack had assured him that,
with the generators running, power supplies were the least of their
problems. Indeed, a glance at the tactical showed that.
"Target one is firing!"
"Evas--" The ship rattled violently. "Damage!" Lexius cried.
Primus, that was only a near-miss!
"Target one has taken a direct hit from battery five..."
"Gunners, continue firing."
"They're losing power, commander. They're goin' down." Cheers erupted
across the bridge. Lexius remained silent, trying to keep focused. How
many lives have I taken?! his mind raged. Somewhere, beyond their sight,
a ship was falling from the sky, a crew was dying. Lexius resolutely blocked
out the image.
"Cease fire. Power status?"
"Down to ninety-two percent after that shot."
Perhaps now we can escape, and this can end... "Helm, full thruster
climb, heading oh-oh-point eight. Take us up!"
- - -
Wheeljack's sensors were set to detect high-frequency radiation that
would be channeled once the containment fields were up. He felt faint;
he knew he could not continue bleeding off his own energon much longer.
Something would give soon. The voice came from the bridge: "Full thruster
Wheeljack willed his systems to pump out his lifeblood faster. His
optics began to dim; he felt as though he were sliding off of his perch,
falling into an abyss of failure...
A swath of blinding light rushed towards him from the conduits.
Simultaneously, he saw the lines of force from the containment fields
spring into existence. The fields pressed outwards, throwing Wheeljack
back and away as a flood of power rushed through the conduits. The fall
yanked his connection to the power system out. He hit the floor as the
thruster systems were suddenly flooded with power. He crouched and
covered his head instinctively, but after a moment he realized that he
was not, as he'd expected, being melted or blown to bits.
The containment systems were holding. Wheeljack watched in awe as
Vengeance's primary thrusters roared to life, propelling the ship into
- - -
With the ship at red alert, and trying to get off the ground, common
sense dictated that moving about the vessel was rather dangerous.
Nightbeat knew, however, that remaining still might prove to be even more
Explosions rocked the ship, rattling its corridors. Nightbeat lost
his footing and fell, stumbling headfirst into the deck. He was dazed,
but scrambled up again without waiting for his sensors to clear themselves.
The urgency of his mission outweighed concerns of personal comfort or safety.
He resumed his sprint-pace run to the bridge.
He rounded a corner, and came across a sight which stopped him cold
-- the body of a crew member, sliced completely in half. Nightbeat gaped
for a moment, then forced down his nausea. He bent to inspect the wounds
closely. He examined them at several wavelengths of light and other spectra,
comparing them to images in his memory banks. They were clean, cauterized,
unidirectional -- a laser sword, just as he'd seen on the bridge.
He must have gotten in the way somehow, he thought. That was it,
then: the saboteur was committed; any opposition would be quickly
eliminated. He grimaced angrily, his professional cool competing with his
anger and sadness over the death of a fellow Autobot. Two can play at
that game, though.
Nightbeat pushed his feelings aside; transforming to his automotive
form, he raced towards the bridge at his maximum speed. His personal reactions
could wait. His top priority was to stop the saboteur.
* * *
"He was a plant," Punch said, as the vessel hurtled through warp
space, nearing the end of a three week journey. "We got him on board Vengeance
after we'd placed a tracer on it, and sent ships to destroy it. The last
report from those ships said he'd made it aboard. His mission was to destroy
the ship through any means possible, assuming the fleets failed to."
"You really think he survived?" Grotusque asked.
"He most likely went down with the ship, since we never heard from
him again. But if they revive the ship's crew, they'll revive him along
with it. And he'll destroy the ship again."
"How's one guy going to wreck a whole ship?"
"Kill the bridge crew, and crash the ship into a planet. It's how
he did it before."
Grotusque grimaced at that thought. "How come no-one knew about this
ship until now?"
"There were few survivors from our last attack, and they were eliminated
before they could tell anyone else." Punch spoke of the killings as easily
as if discussing his favorite brand of energon. "I told the Autobots
on Cybertron what happpened, but they never put all the pieces together
A flashing on the console announced their approach to their destination.
"Fifteen minutes to defold," Punch muttered. He wondered if they were too
* * *
"The anti-grav pods are giving out left and right. They can't sustain
this load," Wheeljack shouted into his com. A half-consumed energon cube
sat on the panel next to him. Wheeljack leaned heavily on the console,
still weak from exertion. His systems would require several more minutes
to absorb the energon, replacing what they had lost re-powering the thrusters.
Around him, engineering was a barely-controlled chaos, as crewers struggled
to keep everything working. The entire scene was eerily lit by the
flames of exploded anti-grav pods.
"Shut down anti-grav, transfer all available power to the thrusters,"
Lexius's voice ordered. "Maybe with full thrusters we can skim out of the
atmosphere like a rocket."
"That's risky, commander," Wheeljack advised, casting a nervous optic
scanner towards the overloading pods. He had already lost four of them,
and several dozen of his crew with them. "But I gotta admit, right now
I don't have any better ideas." Dozens of his crewers were stationed around
the pods, and he would be thankful to get them away. He turned away from
the console for a moment, to a general com system. "This is Wheeljack,"
he called, his voice resonating through the chamber. "Shut down the
anti-grav pods and --"
A massive explosion cut him off, marking the demise of yet another
antigrav generator. The team that had been trying to drain off the pod's
excess energies disappeared in the orange-white conflagration. Wheeljack
grasped the console for support as the shock wave hit him, and cursed himself
for his slowness. Crewmen dashed past him, racing to find survivors and
contain the fires.
"Shut down the anti-grav, and shunt all available power to the
thrusters," Wheeljack finished his order, his voice subdued. He shut down
the com and turned back to the bridge comlink. ''It's done," he said.
"Good. Can you give us warp drive?" Lexius asked.
"The warp drive's about to blow through the roof, commander. I can't
give you much," Wheeljack said, quietly.
"What do you mean? How much is 'not much'?"
"A few seconds, four or five max, no more."
Lexius was silent for several long seconds. "All right," he said
quietly. "We'll make do with that, then."
"Sorry I can't give you more," the engineer responded. Across the
chamber, the ship's enormous warp drive chambers glowed a sickly bright
yellow, nothing like the dull red they should have been. They had
been fighting with the testy units since the repairs had begun three weeks
ago, and had finally gotten them close to fully operative -- but not quite.
Wheeljack was trying everything he could think of to keep them properly
balanced and intermixed, but it was patchwork at best. Soon they
would have to be shut down. If the warp drive overloaded, it would make
the detonating antigrav pods look like firecrackers.
- - -
"There!" Punch exclaimed, spotting the blip on the sensors. Vengeance
was rising from the atmosphere of the innermost world. Punch set
course and punched in the full sublight engines of their tiny craft.
"Hail them," he ordered Grotusque. "We have to warn the bridge crew
Grotusque operated the com panel for several seconds, frustration
screwing up his features. "They're not responding," he finally reported.
"Why?! Dammit!" Punch exclaimed.
Grotusque looked at the spy in alarm. The iron-clad control was slipping,
the tensions were becoming too much for Punch to handle. Grotusque knew
his next words wouldn't help any. "If Lex is in charge, the com will be
one of the last things to get fixed," he explained. "Lexius doesn't give
much priority to non-military items. The com probably isn't even working."
"Then we must get aboard the ship."
Grotusque glanced at the tactical, which showed two enormous destroyers
closing on the Vengeance, then back at his companion. Was it guts, he
wondered, or was Punch really going crazy?
- - -
Vengeance climbed higher into the atmosphere, its fully-powered thrusters
rattling the ship from stem to stern. Ahead, the deceptive freedom of space
beckoned; behind, the two Decepticon ships closed in.
"Fifteen seconds to warp envelope," Splice reported.
"Target three is building power --"
Lexius didn't wait. "Evasive zeta-three!" Vengeance lurched to one
side, and shook as another near-miss blasted through the atmosphere.
"We are off-course to warp envelope."
"Reestablish," Lexius ordered.
"Commander, we cannot exit the atmosphere without presenting them
with a clear target," Treadmark said.
He's right, Lexius realized. They could keep us trapped in the
atmosphere all day like this. But we have to get clear if we're going to
have a chance to fight them...
"On-course to warp envelope, ten seconds."
"Target two is building power..."
Lexius remained silent.
"Commander!!" Splice's voice was livid.
"They're firing --" The ship rocked under a deafening blast, a direct
hit. The crew clung tightly to their stations as the bridge rattled.
"Massive damage to sections seventeen through twenty-nine! Batteries
two, five and six are down."
"Good work, Commander, I hope you're satisfied..." Splice's words
cut through Lexius like a knife. He let nothing show, however.
"Losing secondary thrusters..."
"Activate warp drive. Navigator, attend to your duties. Com, continue
"Upper decks of twenty-two to twenty-eight are not responding..."
"Warp drive, aye."
"Heavy casualties in sections nineteen, twenty, and twenty-four..."
"Send out damage control teams to all relevant sections." And Primus
watch over them.
The stars became blurs, as the ship leapt away from its pursuers,
a momentary reprieve from the storm.
- - -
The Vengeance was barely a hundred miles away from Punch and Grotusque's
ship, just beyond the planet's outer atmosphere. Then, without warning,
it blurred and disappeared out from under them, warping away from the planet.
"No!" Punch exclaimed, leaning forwards toward where the ship had
been. Beside him, Grotusque simply gaped in silence.
Punch slumped back into his seat, muttering a terrible oath. "We
failed," he concluded. "I failed."
"No!" Grotusque exclaimed suddenly, jabbing at the scanners with
one finger. "Look, they're behind us! Oh-oh-nine seven."
Punch violently wrenched the ship around and roared at full throttle
towards his quarry. They risked getting caught in a cross-fire, he knew,
and any one of the antagonists' weapons would burn his ship from existence
in an instant. But it was a risk they had to take: Punch refused to let
more Autobots die for his mistakes.
- - -
The spot was perfect for an ambush, a pair of sharp turns in the
corridor, poorly lit. Nightbeat barely had time to see it; purely by instinct
he slammed on his brakes. His tired form skidded across the metal deck,
as something flashed through the air where he would have been, a second
Nightbeat transformed, leaping back and calling one of his pistols
from subspace. He turned, and saw his opponent: a small, black robot, wielding
a laser sword, which in missing Nightbeat had imbedded itself in the deck.
The Decepticon pulled the sword from the floor, and leapt towards him again.
The Autobot fired blindly and ducked, feeling a whoosh of air as
the sword cleaved by inches above him. He smashed the assassin in
the gut, and stepped back to fire again, only to have both his gun
and his hand sliced in two as the Decepticon struck again. Nightbeat
gasped in sudden pain.
He quickly backed away, and tried to clear his head, tried to force
down the dizzying pain. I can't beat him this way, he thought, pushing
the agony to the back of his mind. He's trained for this stuff. He'll
cut me to pieces. I gotta stop panicking, and think!
An idea hit him. He knew the ship well, after weeks of clambering
about in it. He knew where he was; he knew that the corridor was
in fact a sheltered catwalk, beyond which...
Nightbeat flattened himself against a wall, as the Decepticon leapt
again, sword raised for a killing blow. Ready as he was, the Autobot couldn't
keep from taking a second chop to the arm as he dodged the blow.
But Nightbeat's strategy was sound: the sword went on, and imbedded itself
in the wall as it had with the deck.
Nightbeat whirled and swung downwards; his blow forced the assassin's
sword to cut a long gash in the wall. Nightbeat followed up with a full
body check, forcing his opponent through the slit. With a sound of rent
metal, the Decepticon fell through. It was a good eight hundred feet to
the bottom of the chamber on the other side of that wall, Nightbeat knew.
Very few Transformers could survive such a fall. Squeezing his damaged
arm against his side, he leaned out into the opening, to witness the assassin's
There was no warning: the light-blade slashed at him from the darkness,
driving towards his head. He ducked; it clipped past him, and cut
through the wall section he clung to. Nightbeat flailed for purchase as
the walls around him collapsed. He caught hold of another wall section
with his damaged arm, but white-hot pain shot through his sensors. He lost
his grip. He fell.
Something caught him after only a few feet, something shaky and
insubstantial. Pipes, he saw, pipes and conduits, a whole network of
them, suspended close to the ceiling of the enormous chamber. A few feet
away, the assassin stalked towards him.
Nightbeat grimaced. This definitely hadn't been part of the plan.
- - -
Sureshot didn't have a clue what was happening; the entire room simply
flashed white, then suddenly he was surrounded by fire and screams. He
crouched in the firing control seat and covered his head instinctively.
When he looked up again, the control room around him was in chaos. Flames
licked across the chamber, and smoke filled the air. A half-dozen voices
shouted at once. Autobots lay scattered across the floor. Those still
functional were desperately trying to carry out their jobs. Half the
control panels were slag; the lighting had gone out, and fire provided
the only visible light.
We must've taken a direct hit, Sureshot realized. He glanced around
for the gunnery commander, and saw him lying unmoving on the deck. A
further look over the room showed him that he was now in charge. Wonder
if we're still operable. He glanced over his status panels.
Power: 0 %.
Standby: 0 %.
Time to firing status: indefinite.
Great. He called up the damage control screen for the gun's firing
mechanisms. Vast areas of the weapon's schematic were painted red,
indicating severe damage. Sureshot knew instinctively that the weapon
would not fire again in this battle.
"Get a damage control team out here," he yelled at one of the
controllers. "Everybody else, let's get out of here." Set apart from the
ship's superstructure, the main guns were obvious targets; there was no
reason to be in them unless they were operable. The crew dragged
themselves and their fallen comrades out of the charred operating
chamber. Sureshot was preparing to go himself, when he realized that the
status display from gun number two had gone off-line. It took him only
a second to call up the data: the malfunction was at the sender's
end. Gun two had been hit.
Lash, he thought, pushing his way past the crewers, and racing
for the far side of the ship.
- - -
"We are secured from warp," Fanblade called.
"Bring us to bearing two-seven-two oh." Lexius was in full command
now. These enemies had taken lives under his command. They would
"Coming to bearing two-seven-two oh." The vessel slowly swung itself
around, to face the planet it had just fled.
"Engineering reports warp drive is down; estimate twenty-five minutes
"Targets are scanning for us, and powering up their fold engines."
"Commander our bearing is two-seven-two oh."
"Target two has folded... target three is holding station."
"Bring us to bearing ten-oh-oh."
"What are you doing?!" Splice exclaimed. The new bearing would point
the ship -- and its weapons -- away from the planet, and the incoming
"Bring us to bearing ten-oh-oh," Lexius repeated, simply.
"Commander, that is --"
"Navigator, you are out of line," Lexius interrupted Splice. "Helm,
you have your order."
"Yessir..." Vengeance came about once more.
"All batteries stand by to fire..."
"Target two on bearing nine-nine-eight!"
The gargantuan Decepticon vessel filled the viewports as it dropped
out of fold. Lexius smiled grimly. In trying to defold behind his vessel,
target two had walked right into his sights. "Fire."
The three surviving batteries unleashed an enormous fusillade of
energy, which lanced through the Decepticon vessel before it could fire
a shot. Untold amounts of metal were instantly vaporized; the vessel
disappeared in a gargantuan cloud of fire. Debris showered Vengeance, bouncing
harmlessly off the hull. Lexius noticed that Splice's fury seemed to have
"Target two destroyed," Tuner reported. "Target three has just folded..."
Lexius did not savor his triumph; he felt a gut-wrenching pain as
he saw the Decepticon ship atomized. So many lives...
He blocked it out. The third ship was still out there, hunting for
them. In a moment, they could all be dead. And if his concentration kept
lapsing, they would be.
- - -
Punch juked his vessel downwards and swung behind the superstructure
of the Vengeance, as the Decepticon vessel erupted, only miles away. The
shock wave alone would have smashed his unprotected vessel to dust, to
say nothing of the hailstorm of debris that followed it. Punch cursed as
he searched for a docking bay; Grotusque simply hung on tight.
Punch spotted a bay not far from the bridge. "Perfect," he said.
He brought the ship in, only to discover an enormous blast door blocking
his way. When their hails and radio calls went unanswered, Punch didn't
hesitate to open up with the ship's weapons. A storm of laser fire poured
into the blast doors, to no effect. Punch smashed one fist into the control
panel in frustration.
"Whoa there!" Grotusque said, restraining his comrade's hand. "Just
hang on a second, we'll get you in." He stood up, and blew the ship's canopy.
Grotusque let the ship's escaping atmosphere carry him out into the vacuum;
he transformed as he landed on the cargo door. His tusks sank into
the metal hull, pealing back a layer of armor; in short order he had created
an Autobot-sized opening. Turning back towards Punch, he gestured expansively
to the hole.
Air from the ship howled out into the vacuum, but Punch pushed himself
to the opening and clambered inside. Peeking through the opening, Grotusque
saw him transform and race off into the ship.
- - -
"Target three has defolded."
Lexius heaved a sigh of relief. The enemy commander had granted him
a moment's reprieve, a few seconds to think. Such seconds made the difference
between life and death in a battle like this. "Status," Lexius demanded.
"They defolded sixteen thousand below us. Looks like they're
trying to line us up before they come in," came Tuner's analysis.
They won't repeat the other ship's mistake, Lexius thought. They'll
have us in their sights when they come out of fold again. His mind raced,
searching for a way to get the enemy ship into their own line of fire.
But the Vengeance was practically immobile: warp was down, the main and
auxiliary thrusters were down. Target three was undamaged. And any moment
"They're powering up fold engines again."
"Commander," called Splice. "We still have retro thrusters..."
"Target three has folded. Last bearing was straight towards us, commander."
"Bring us perpendicular to their inbound vector, and full reverse
thrust!" Lexius gave silent thanks to Splice, and hoped his idea
would be enough. It was their only chance.
- - -
Punch raced towards the bridge at top speed, full-well knowing he
might be too late already. He did not stop to look at the remains of the
Autobot crewman in corridor -- he knew Deathgrip's work quite well. He
drove onwards, taking a corner on two wheels. He almost didn't see the
slash in the deck, the hole in the wall. But it registered peripherally,
and he came to a tire-squealing halt. Transforming, Punch leapt to the
opening and gazed down.
Deathgrip was pursuing a wounded blue Autobot across a series of
suspended pipe works. Punch didn't care to consider the depth of the drop
beneath them. As he watched, the assassin grasped a support from the roof,
and sliced towards the Autobot. Nightbeat dodged the swing, but the sword
cut the conduits beneath him. Unsupported from one end, the conduits bent
rapidly under the Autobot's weight. Nightbeat scrambled, grabbing on with
his one good arm, until he hung as if from a rope, swaying over the dizzying
Above the combatants, Punch steeled himself for action, and reached
into subspace for his dual firebomb launcher.
It wasn't there. He groaned as he realized he'd never gotten it back
from the clones. He was weaponless. Below, Deathgrip crawled closer to
Nightbeat, to cut him free, send him falling. Punch had no choice but to
act on instinct.
He leapt down onto the conduits, landing as lightly as he could.
But it wasn't lightly enough; the instant he hit the pipes the Decepticon
whirled to face him. "Back off or he falls!" Deathgrip announced, brandishing
"Don't do it!" Nightbeat cried out from below. "You can't let this
guy get out of here!"
Punch made no answer, but he had no intention of backing off. He
leapt and dove toward the Decepticon, tackling him, trying to push or carry
him over the edge. But Deathgrip responded in time, shifting his weight
to keep them both on the conduits. The sword de-ignited and disappeared
into subspace. They grappled briefly, prostrate on the teetering pipes.
Punch landed a solid blow on the Decepticon's head, and was about to follow
up when Deathgrip planted his feet in Punch's midsection. The Autobot found
himself knocked back and away. Deathgrip scrambled back, reactivated his
weapon, and sliced through the conduits in front of him before Punch could
regain his feet. Punch's support gave way, much as Nightbeat's had a moment
earlier; the spy clung desperately to the flimsy piping as it bent downwards.
He dangled over the open space.
Above the two hanging Autobots, Deathgrip leered down, safely out
of their reach. Punch could almost feel the assassin smile, beneath that
mouthless visage, as he adjusted his sword and prepared himself for two
- - -
Smoke filled the corridors leading to gun unit two. Sureshot picked
a path through the fallen debris and the retreating, damaged Autobots.
Someone had set up an energy-screen airlock in the hallway; the hull had
been breached. Sureshot passed through the airlock into vacuum.
The entranceway to the gun's firing systems were crowded with wounded
and damage-control teams trying to evacuate them. Sureshot forced his
way in. The damage here was worse than in his own area. Much of the
fire-control system room had been smashed to rubble; through a large
opening he could see the blackness of space. Damaged Autobots were
everywhere. He stepped past a medic working over... He realized after
a second that the Autobot's body had been completely melted into
the deck. Somehow the robot had survived, though, and the medic was
extricating his brain module for later rebuilding. Sureshot turned
away, vowing not to look any more at the horrors around him. He made
his way through flames and slag, to the remains of the control sphere.
The sphere had collapsed on itself, burying whatever was inside.
"Gimme a hand!" Sureshot called to some of the damage control robots.
Two Autobots joined him; together they wrenched the top half of the
sphere off, and flung it to one side. Waves of smoke boiled out of the
chamber. Through the haze, Sureshot thought he could see...
"Stand back, we'll get her out of there," one of the damage team
said to him. Three Autobots dove into the smoke, and began extricating
Lash's crushed form from the control seat. Sureshot just stared,
oblivious to everything around him.
Damn these big ships, and their freaking big guns! He'd known it
all along; individuals were what counted, not huge guns and gigantic ships.
They belonged elsewhere in the war, not here in the midst of all this unliving
machinery, where they were anonymous, faceless operators, nameless rank
and file at the mercy of distant commander's whims, with no control over
their own fate...
Lash was missing an arm and both legs when the damage controllers
finally freed her from her seat. Sureshot could see how much pain she was
in; yet her face lit up when she saw him. Lash extended her one barely-functional
arm towards him, as the damage controlbots set her down and hurried
off to other jobs. "You came," she said, weakly.
Sureshot gently forced her arm back down. "Hang in there," he said.
"We're going to get you through this." He turned, and grabbed a medic by
the arm. "This Autobot needs help," he said.
The medic turned, and appraised Lash's broken body quickly. She had
already lost consciousness. "She's dying. She'll need extensive and immediate
treatment to survive," he said. He turned wordlessly and started to walk
"Hey!" Sureshot cried. "What're you doing?!"
"Triage, friend. We don't have time to treat all the injuries. I'm
sorry." The medic disappeared through the smoke.
Sureshot stared after him. "No," he whispered. "No, I'm not giving
up that easily." He looked down at Lash. If she was dying, it was because
her damaged body was no longer regulating her brain functions properly,
or her brain itself had been damaged. Sureshot guessed it was at least
partially the former. Thanks to Lash, he knew a way he could solve that
problem himself, regulate her brain functions for her. He grabbed another
passing medic, and pointed to Lash.
"Medic," he said. "This'll only take a minute, and it might save
her life. I need you to hardwire us for a full Joining..."
- - -
Punch clambered up the dangling pipes, trying to reach the support
above him, a strut hanging from the ceiling which held the pipes and tubing
up close to the ceiling. He had nearly made it when Deathgrip swung his
arm, sending the laser sword flying in an arc towards Punch. The Autobot
jerked himself forwards with every erg of his strength, caught the support,
and jerked his legs up. The sword passed inches below them and cleaved
off the pipes he'd been holding on to. The conduits disappeared into
the abyssal darkness below. A long moment later, they clanged against the
Deathgrip's sword arced back through the air, returning to his outstretched
arm. He caught it and immediately set up for another throw. Punch
looked around desperately for anything he could use as a weapon or
an escape route. There was nothing.
Nightbeat watched the battle from his own stretch of dangling pipe
works. The assassin had turned away from him for the moment, but he could
not move or help due to his mangled arm. He still had one of his laser
pistols in subspace, but to fire that he would have to release his grip
on the pipes. He watched helplessly as the assassin prepared throw his
sword against the other Autobot.
What is he doing? Nightbeat wondered. If I were him I'd just shoot
the guy. Unless... he has no weapons! "Hey, you! Autobot! Here!" he shouted.
Nightbeat teleported his remaining weapon out of subspace. Instead of appearing
in Nightbeat's hand, however, it materialized in Punch's grip.
The sword flew again, the shimmering blade vectoring towards Punch's
waist. Punch dodged, swinging from his hand-hold, but still took part of
it through the midsection. Trailing wires and spilt fuel poured from the
wound. He ignored the pain, however, shut it out as he'd shut out so many
other pains of late. He raised Nightbeat's pistol, tracking the sword as
it arced around to return to its owner. Punch did not notice as Deathgrip
stretched one arm out to receive the light-blade; he saw only the weapon
itself. It was nearly in Deathgrip's hand when Punch fired.
The shot hit the sword in the hilt; it immediately went into an uncontrolled
spin. Deathgrip was directly in its path.
The sword cleaved without pausing through the Decepticon's chest,
cutting his head and free arm from the rest of him. The severed upper torso
slid down, and tumbled into the darkness. The rest of the body lost its
grip, and followed, spiraling off to the deck far below. After a moment,
a pair of clangs marked the passing of Deathgrip.
Punch and Nightbeat hung, silent, stunned, exhausted. "Nice
shot," Nightbeat finally thought to say, after a moment.
A voice called out to them from above. "You guys okay down there?"
Punch looked up to see Grotusque's form filling the hole above them.
"Yeah," he answered, feeling better than he had for weeks. "Everything's
- - -
Vengeance slowly backed through space. The seconds stretched into
hours for her commander. Silence gripped the bridge...
Where are they?! Lexius wondered. Target three had disappeared...
was it only five seconds ago? Primus, have I failed?!
"Defold --" A blinding flash of light poured into the bridge windows.
"--activity, target three on bearing four-four--" the words were
lost as the ship's surviving batteries opened up, pouring a hellstorm of
fire into the enemy ship, which had materialized right in front of them,
in that sector of space that had been behind them just seconds earlier.
The guns traversed, tearing through the enemy ship, igniting its systems.
"Sensors show a massive power build-up in target three..."
Treadmark took a single look at the sensors and responded. "That's
a self-destruct, get us out of here!"
"Continue on full reverse thrust. Sound collision and brace for impact!"
Splice looked up from his console in panic. "The guide computers
"They were damaged in the last explosion --"
"It doesn't matter," Lexius said quickly. "Just punch in full reverse
"With no course?! That's --"
"Splice! Do it!" Fanblade shouted.
Splice looked from Fanblade, to Lexius, and then to his panel. He
set the reverse thrusters to full, and hoped he'd been fast enough.
Thirty seconds later, the half-destroyed Decepticon ship erupted
- - -
Sureshot?! There was anger in that voice. What are you doing here?
I didn't give permission...
I'm sorry, Lash, I'm sorry! I had no choice; it was the only --
Yes, I see. I apologize.
You see?! But I didn't...
Sureshot realized that he could see, as well. Every thought Lash
had, every emotion, every impulse, every memory, coursed through
him as though it were his own. He was overloaded, his own identity
in danger of being smothered, buried beneath Lash's. And yet he could
tell he was doing the same to her, or at least it felt that way.
He fought to control it, to stem the tide...
Sureshot!! No! Stop! It hurts, you're killing me --
He calmed himself, let himself listen to her. She showed him how
to cope. He tried to relax, to stop, not to think, not to react. To be
calm, to let the alien thoughts wash over him without interfering; to simply
Better, Lash sent. Sureshot tried not to resist.
We weren't ready for this, you know, Lash sent to him. I wasn't
ready. Maybe I never would have been. The combinations of two robots who
are suitable for a full Joining are rare. We're lucky we haven't both
gone over the edge already.
I did it to save you.
I know. We're still here, though. Maybe this means we're suited
for each other. Who knows.
We'll see, if the meds ever get around to repairing your body...
Even if we weren't ready for this...
There were no further words, but the wave of thanks and love that
washed over him from Lash's mind was purer and more direct than anything
words could have expressed.
- - -
Grotusque had already gotten Punch out of the conduit chamber, and
was working on extracting Nightbeat, when the collision alarm sounded.
"Hurry!" rasped Punch, from where he lay on the deck, weak from fuel
loss. Grotusque swiftly pulled in the line to which Nightbeat clung; the
detective nearly had a grip on the deck. But there was no time: with no
further warning, a tremendous shock wave slammed through the Autobot ship.
Grotusque went flying across the corridor. The line escaped from
his grasp and snaked away, dropping through the hole and disappearing.
Nightbeat scrabbled for purchase, ignoring the agony in his damaged right
arm, but slid inexorably towards the opening again.
Grotusque regained his feet, and dove across the deck. His hand closed
on Nightbeat's wrist just before Nightbeat completely lost hold of the
deck. Nightbeat swung precariously over the abyss; Grotusque felt
himself slowly sliding across the deck... until a barely-conscious
Punch slowly, wearily, hauled them both back to safety. Nightbeat
stumbled onto solid deck, and collapsed, exhausted. Punch fell beside
him, clutching his wounded midsection. Grotusque grinned at Punch.
"I'm losin' count of how many times you've save my hide," he said.
Punch answered him only with an odd look.
Nightbeat turned his head to the spy beside him. He had a lot
of questions to ask this guy... but only one really mattered right now.
"Is it over?" Nightbeat asked.
"Yeah," Punch said. "It's over.
- - -
There was no need to say it, but Tuner had to anyway. "Target three
destroyed," he announced to the bridge. There was muted adulation, relief.
But no cheers.
"Damage from the self-destruct was minimal. No casualties."
"Wheeljack," Lexius called to engineering. "How soon can you have
warp drive for us?"
"Another fifteen minutes, commander."
"Good. Helm, as soon as we have warp, get us out of here. Navigator..."
Splice looked up in terror, then slowly turned in his seat to face
his commander. He had erred, not once but three times: he had failed in
his duty, he had panicked under pressure, and he had questioned his commander
in mid-battle. His inaction had nearly killed them all. He knew he was
well due for severe punishment.
"...You may indulge yourself. Good work remembering the reverse
thrusters, Splice, you saved us."
Splice gaped for a long moment.
"Splice," Fanblade called cheerfully. "Aren't you going to thank
Splice looked at Fanblade, and nodded dumbly. "Thank you, um, Lexius,"
Lexius smiled and nodded; Splice turned back to his station. Almost
out of habit, Lexius turned to another com button, one for general
address of the ship.
He hesitated a moment. Did he really mean what he was about to say?
He thought of the three ships they'd just destroyed, the lives they'd taken.
He knew he could never forgive himself for those lives. He never could,
again. Not if he wished to keep his soul intact. That would forever be
the burden of his warrior soul.
But did even bearing that burden justify killing, make it permissible?
It was us or them, he told himself. No. More than that. There are lives
on this ship, and the attackers were committed to destroying those lives.
That's what we just stopped: the destruction of life. Lexius reached and
hit the com, and spoke with confidence, assurance.
"Good work, Autobots."
Inside, though, he retained his doubts. Their work was destroying
life. And there was a great deal more work on the horizon.
***************END PART FIVE************************
On to Part 6