The Corrosion of War Without End
The command station's main cargo dock was cavernous, scaled to the
titanic project for which it received materials. Huge metal crates and
piles of raw materials were stacked all around, in long, high rows that
formed a series of artificial canyons. Cargo workers on hoverpads
pulled off various materials to send to processing stations across
the yard, or directly to the ships themselves, stockpiling them in
anticipation of their eminent launch. Amid the vast piles of
materials, a lone figure lurked in the shadows. Starblast had
no trouble slipping unnoticed from one stack of metal and raw sythetics
to the next, dodging the occasional worker or pilot or guard
that passed by.
He was closing in on his objective -- a personnel transport, designed
to carry small groups of troops between star systems. He had
seen it from across the bay, sitting near the dock's exit.
It looked capable of getting him back to Cybertron. And more
importantly, it looked empty and unguarded.
He lingered for a bit, watching the movements of the guards and workers,
timing them, judging their states of readiness. After a moment, he
walked quickly and quietly across the last remaining open space to the
waiting transport. Without hesitation, he jacked the door open and
"Hey! Who the shock are you?" a voice called out from
the inside of the ship to him, before he could even shut the door
behind him. A pair of guns aimed at him from the shadows of
the ship's rear, where a massive Decepticon -- even bigger than Dredge
-- had apparently been about to settle in for a rest cycle.
The robot strode forwards, stepping out of the shadows. "This is
my ship, buddy, and nobody flies it but me." He gestured
to the door with one of the guns. "Out."
Starblast saw he had no choice but to fight it out. He rushed
the imposing form, swinging a fist. He connected solidly with
the side of the Decepticon's jaw, throwing his whole weight into
The Decepticon didn't move. Quite simply, he did not rock a
single inch. Starblast rebounded away, falling to the deck.
The Decepticon chuckled, stepping forward and holstering one of his
guns. He picked up the unfortunate Autobot by the neck.
Lifting him like a ragdoll, the Decepticon threw Starblast out the ship's
door. Starblast skidded noisily across the deck of the cargo bay.
Every optic sensor in the place turned to stare at him as he ground to
a halt. Not my wisest tactical decision, he thought.
From the entrance of the cargo ship, the Decepticon pointed to him.
"He tried to steal my ship," he announced to everyone within earshot,
"and then he attacked me."
Several guards made their way forward. Starblast soon found
himself surrounded by five guns at point blank range. Meekly,
he surrendered. He might still be able to talk his way free,
he figured, if no-one had found Dredge yet; or, maybe an opportunity
would come up somewhere along the way. At any rate, he had
no chance against such numbers.
As it happened, the opportunity came sooner than he could have hoped.
Through the open docking bay came several flashes of light; the guards
-- along with everyone else -- turned to see a series of explosions
erupting from across the yard, over a hundred miles away. An attack.
"Hey, stop him!" cried out the brute whose ship Starblast had tried
to steal. But both he and the guards were too slow. Starblast
had transformed and launched before any of the guards had time to
look back. In a second he was gone, fleeing back into the command
* * *
Outside the Vengeance's viewports, the stars snapped into focus,
and stood still as the ship dropped out of warp. Before the Autobots
loomed a nightmare, the ship yard they had come here to destroy.
Nightbeat, who had made the bridge his unofficial home, stared intently
at the enormous constructs; everyone else simply bent to their work: the
destruction of this place.
"Gunners select targets and fire!" Lexius sent over the ship-wide
com. The basic strategy was simple: the Vengeance would cut straight
through the long axis of the yard, weapons firing in all directions,
and hopefully inflict sufficient damage in the first strike to allow
a leisurely mop-up operation.
But the Vengeance had not fired yet fired a single shot when she
found herself under attack -- from her target. Dozens of bright
flashes ignited from each of the construction platforms. Drive
trails homed in on the ship.
"Targets are launching missiles!" Tuner cried out.
They were waiting for us, Lexius thought grimly. "Evasive! Gunners,
track on missile launches!" The ship's four surviving heavy guns swiveled
and fired, enormous lances of energy swallowing up the incoming artillery
like mosquitoes in a blast furnace. The stars slowly wheeled past
the viewports, as the ship pulled out of its curving dive into the
yard and vectored away before more guns could track them.
This is going to be harder than we thought, Lexius realized.
- - -
Counterpunch watched as the shipyard's artillery launched against
the Vengeance. Though most of the first round dissolved in the inferno
of the ship's main guns, enough made it through to rattle the ship.
And there would be more, much more. Megatron had seen to that.
I could have stopped this, if only I'd taken a few risks! Punch
cursed silently as a second salvo of artillery went out from the
I still can stop it, he thought. Clutching his rifle, Counterpunch
strode determinedly into the station's depths.
- - -
Vengeance spun and arced, evading some salvoes, absorbing others,
and blasting some out of existence. The bridge crew braced
themselves as the ship took another round of hits.
"Concentrate on evasives, and keeping our damage to a minimum, "
Lexius ordered. The already battered ship didn't need more
damage on top of what it had sustained in its last battle. "Steer
for nine-oh-seven. Tuner, how we doin'? "
"Five targets hit," Tuner reported. "Damage to all others negligible."
"Lex, the gunners want better lines of sight," Grotusque
reported. The ship's twisting path left little opportunity for the
gunners to line up their targets.
"No can do; we've got to stay clear of their batteries. Treadmark,
have you found any openings in their defenses?"
"Negative. Fire fields are evenly scattered everywhere we've tried."
No weaknesses. Do I dare go with a direct assault? Aloud, he asked,
"What about our damage? "
"Minimal, for the hits we've taken. Damage control is on it."
Minimal? They had us dead to rights! We should be hurt
bad... Lexius thought for a moment. "Tuner, calculate damage
if we'd taken all hits. "
"You heard me. Project it and report."
Tuner entered a few quick commands into one of his consoles. A display
of the ship came up on the main screen. Large area were painted light
green -- moderate to light damage, non-threatening.
Apparently, the shipyard's defenses were just that -- defenses.
Designed to repel, drive away, and annoy. Nothing more. The
missiles were light and small; the cannons, not powerful enough to
penetrate the ship's hull. The defenses were a gigantic bluff.
"Take us straight through the yard, on heading seven-seven-zero.
Ignore their defenses and proceed with the original attack plan, "
Lexius ordered. He grinned. "Let's get 'em."
"NO!" Nightbeat's voice rang from the back of the bridge. Lexius
had almost forgotten he was there. "It's a trap!"
Lexius stared at him. For an instant, he considered ignoring
him... but he had seen Nightbeat make such calls before. So
far he'd been right every time. "Belay that order," Lexius said to
the bridge. To Nightbeat, he added: "Make it quick."
Nightbeat worked fast, motioning Tuner aside from his console and
calling up a tactical display of the yard, hastily drawn up by the ship's
computers since they had arrived. "The force of their attacks have come
from here, here, and here," he said, pointing, "when it would be just as
easy to fire at us from these gunpoints here and here, on the near axis.
You said their fire fields are evenly distributed," he nodded to
Treadmark, "yet they're firing selectively. Basically, they've been
trying really hard to get us where we are, to the north pole of the
Nightbeat pointed to the schematics of the construction docks and
the vessels within them. "Look how the ships and their main guns
are oriented. If at about this time we wise up to the 'weakness'
of their defenses, we logically make our attack run this way, about seven-seven-oh
like you said. And, how convenient, we run right through the sights
of six of their heavies before we're even half way through our pass
-- they don't even have to aim. Bet you two cans of lube those
ships' main guns are prepared to fire the second we're in the crosshairs."
"Tuner? Can you confirm that?"
"I can, " Splice announced. "Look at the relative positions of the
central docks. They've all shifted slightly since we first arrived.
And if you project the how the fire patterns of the main guns have
changed as a result..." Graphics played across his screen;
a line sprang out from ten of the construction docks, the fire fields
of the destroyers' main guns. They were randomly oriented at the
attack's beginning, but as Splice played back the battle thus far, they
intersected neatly near the center as the docks shifted -- right across
their would-be path.
A fire web. And I nearly fell for it, Lexius saw. "Swing
around the equatorial axis of the yard. We'll try and blast
in from the outside," he ordered aloud. The yard was spatially
arranged in two roughly parallel planes; sailing outside and between
them might offer some protection while allowing them to strike. "And
stay clear of those main guns! Focus on giving our gunners clear
shots, and don't worry about their missile strikes."
"Yes sir," Splice said, betraying some uncertainty.
"The faster we can finish them off, the fewer hits we'll take," Lexius
explained his tactics. Normally he wouldn't have felt the obligation,
but the crew had suffered enough setbacks and difficulties on this
mission already. "Splice, very good work. Nightbeat... I owe you
two cans of lube."
- - -
Counterpunch stalked through the station's interior, thinking hard
and fast. He couldn't use the main com facility; there was
too great a chance of someone seeing what he was doing. But
there were smaller control stations, with fewer operators -- sometimes
as few as one. The right operator could get him on-line to
the Vengeance, if properly persuaded.
He turned down one of the lesser-used corridors, hoping luck would
be with him.
- - -
Starblast was back to running again. He was skimming through
the corridors of the station in guardian mode, trying just to keep
moving, not certain of where he was heading. He didn't think
any of the guards from the cargo bay had managed to pursue him, but
the whole security network was probably alerted to his presence by
now. His only hope was that the attack was occupying everyone
on the command station.
The security network? Why am I afraid of the security network?
he wondered. He knew the system backwards and forwards; he
could send it crashing with ease. And he could make things
easier for whoever was attacking, as well.
A few turns down corridors brought him to an unmanned auxiliary control
room. Landing and transforming, he booted up one of the consoles
and plugged himself in.
Once before, he had temporarily shut down the ship yard's security.
That time, he had only had remote access to the computer systems.
Now, though, he had a direct hard-wired link to the central defense systems,
and several months experience with the system. He began systematically
reprogramming all the automated defenses, internal and otherwise.
- - -
The Vengeance shook mightily, as it absorbed another artillery hit.
"That last hit breached decks 34 to 38 in sector M," Tuner called
"Engineering needs more damage control teams, they're having fires
and overloads all over --"
"Enemy fire at two-four and three-five --"
"Secondary gunners lock in on defense systems at two-seven,
three-eleven, and eight-one. Helm, evasive gamma delta," Lexius called,
as another spread of missiles honed in on his ship. He was growing
desperate. The intensity of the strikes had gone up greatly, and
with each new hit the already-damaged ship lost more and more of
Splice could already tell the evasive was futile. "Yessir," he
acknowledged, "but we will not have time to -- " Splice stopped in
mid-sentence. His metallic jaw dropped as he re-checked his screen.
Unbelieving, he ran a visual confirmation -- he looked out the windows.
Sure enough, the missiles were altering their course, veering off
and heading for the nearest construction dock.
"Sir," he reported. "Enemy defensive systems have just suffered a
massive systematic command anomaly."
"If you mean they're screwed up, I agree," Lexius muttered, as the
missiles impacted spectacularly against one of the Decepticon ships. His
voice changed abruptly. "That's our chance, folks, let's take it! Helm,
take us straight between the two main clusters of ships, speed fourteen
thousand. Gunners, fire at will!"
Turning directly into the space it had only skirted till now, Vengeance
surged forward, into the very heart of the lion's den.
- - -
Starblast sent one command after another into the defensive systems,
reprogramming them top to bottom:
###Remove targets X T-1, T-2, T-3
###Missilelock: non-targets Type C Type D
###Cancel Status:alert Status:normal
###RUN endless_loop.exe @ endrun
Missiles were reassigned to fire on the construction docks; the laser
cannons, on each other. The defensive firing programs were erased; the
defense system was frozen up, unable to receive any new commands, as soon
as he left it.
I've done all I can do, Starblast thought, as he directed his mind
back to his body. Now I must make good my escape, and rejoin the
Autobots, before --
He completed his re-interface with the body, his optics coming back
on-line. What he saw cut the thought of escape off completely. For
the fourth time today, he was staring down the barrel of a gun.
"Cooperate," said the dark blue Decepticon, "and you will not be
- - -
Guns five and two, with Sureshot and Lash at the respective helms,
raked across a pair of docks as Vengeance passed between them. The
enormous ship shrugged off the twin explosions.
"Two more targets down," Tuner grinned. Beside him, Splice worked
furiously to keep the ship's trajectory on the best strategic path, while
monitoring all the new data from the other controllers.
"Incoming transmission from the shipyard, it's on Punch's frequency!"
Lexius's pumps nearly froze. "Put it up," he ordered.
A static-filled, streaked image of Punch filled the screen. "I have
data on the yard's defenses," he said without preamble. The voice
was heavily distorted. "I'm transmitting now, please acknowledge
A second later, Tuner nodded to Lexius. "We got it," Lexius said
to the screen. "Good work. Get out of there."
"Understood." Punch moved aside and broke the connection. As he moved
out of the screen's field, Lexius thought he saw something move behind
him, another robot - but he had no further time to deal with it; Punch
could take care of himself. Grotusque and Treadmark were already at
Tuner's station, poring over the new information. Grotusque called out
new target coordinates for Fanblade to relay to the gunners.
"That's their central control complex," he said. "Take that out,
you'll cut the head off the petrosnake."
"Take us into firing range," Lexius ordered.
Vengeance spun and accelerated, a stake driving relentlessly into
the heart of the enemy camp.
- - -
"Well done," Punch said, as Starblast shut down the com connection
and withdrew from the system. "Come on, I'm nearly done with you,
Decepticon. Keep behaving and you'll be fine."
"You --" Starblast stared at his captor. "You are an Autobot!" He
couldn't help a smile from forming on his face. He had been sure
he had been captured by the Decepticons; this was a stroke of luck
that defied credibility.
Punch transformed back to his Decepticon mode, panels and components
shifting all over his body, a purple Decepticon symbol prominent on each
of his shoulders. The form rendered him virtually unrecognizable
to anyone only familiar with his Autobot mode. He grasped Starblast
roughly by the neck, and dragged him down the corridor. "My,
don't you learn quickly," he hissed at his captive. "Don't
worry, you won't be around long enough to tell anyone."
"But -- please, you must listen to me. I am an Autobot.
I --" Starblast already knew it was futile; his momentary elation
evaporated. After two months in the enemy camp, I encounter
an Autobot, and he wishes me dead.
"Yep," Counterpunch said. "And I'm Lord Straxus." Punch was
very highly placed in the Autobots' spy network. If this guy were
an undercover agent, Punch would already know.
He is an Autobot; appeal to his Autobot sensibilities, Starblast
thought. "You promised I would not be harmed if I cooperated. Now
you threaten to kill me. If you are an Autobot, killing would be
anathma to your most basic principles."
"Don't worry, guy, I'm not going to kill you. The Autobots'll do
that for me."
"Take me with you. I know this complex; if I am truly a Decepticon,
then I know things about this yard that you would not --"
Counterpunch turned and stuck the gun in Starblast's face again.
"There is nothing you could know about this yard's design that
I don't," he said. "I only needed someone to get me past the computer
protocols. You've served that purpose, and I'm done with you
now." He opened up a small outside-locked maintenance closet
and nodded to it. "In here. If you can get out before the Autobots
destroy the command station, you're free to go. If not, well,
tough luck." He grabbed Starblast roughly, to throw him in
The careless move was a mistake. Starblast willingly led into
the closet, running and jumping before Counterpunch could stop him.
He rebounded off the rear wall, fired his foot thrusters, and rocketed
back out into the corridor. His chest impacted hard against
Counterpunch's head. They both went down.
Starblast tried to thrust back on his feet before he'd stopped moving,
but Counterpunch was ready and had already grabbed on to his feet.
Starblast dragged them both down the corridor a few yards before falling
to the deck again.
They wrestled in a heap. Counterpunch threw a left cross which
momentarily stunned Starblast, enabling him get on top of the smaller
Autobot. He wrenched one of Starblast's arms behind his back, but
Starblast kicked at him from behind, knocking him to the ground.
With his free arm he stretched towards Counterpunch's fallen gun.
His fingertips nudged the barrel; it spun around on the floor, its
end falling neatly into Starblast's grip. He scooted it down
his arm, till the firing mechanisms were in his hand. He yanked
it up off the deck --
And stopped, as he caught sight of five other guns pointed at him.
"Drop the gun, Autobot," one of the guards told him. It was
the same group who captured him in the hangar bay. Helplessly,
he obeyed, the gun clanking noisily to the deck. The guard
nodded to Counterpunch. "You can let him up, we've got him this time.
Nice work, sir."
Counterpunch was too surprised to answer for a moment. Finally
he drew himself up, walking over to the circle of guards and picking
up his gun. "Get up, Autobot," he ordered Starblast.
The battered Autobot jet obeyed him. Counterpunch slipped him
a look, a very subtle lightening of his almost-unreadable countenance,
but Starblast missed it completely.
"This Autobot has been eluding us all day," Counterpunch said to
the guards. "I thank you for helping me capture him." He paused,
his eyes narrowing as he looked around at the circle of guards. "I
don't think we need a prisoner on top of everything else, do you?"
he asked them, holstering his gun.
The Decepticons smiled and chuckled at that. Counterpunch pointed
to one of them. "You, your weapon," he said.
"Why my weapon?" the robot asked.
"Mine isn't powerful enough for this job," Counterpunch explained.
"But yours --" he hefted it, "might do... " He fired a shot
into the deck, nearly punching through the plating. "Mm... you, your
weapon, " he said, pointing to another of the five. The guard
obeyed, handing him the gun. It blew clear through the deck
and damaged the floor on the next level down.
"Excellent!" Counterpunch said, walking to stand right behind
Starblast. He pointed the gun at Starblast's head. "Now, observe..."
The first guard never knew what happened. Counterpunch fired
the first gun just past Starblast's head at the nearest Decepticon.
The shot caught the guard in the face, shattering his optics, probably
killing him outright. In less than a second Counterpunch shoved
the second gun into Starblast's hand and pushed him aside. Starblast,
caught unawares, tumbled into another one of the guards; they fell
into a heap.
Counterpunch whirled and fired, blasting the remaining three Decepticons
off their feet. Only two of the survivors still had weapons; he focused
on hitting them first. By the time he was done with them, Starblast
had recovered and finished off the one he'd landed on. Start
to finish, the entire fight lasted fewer than ten seconds.
Counterpunch stood in the center of a circle of crumpled and smoldering
He glared at Starblast as the Autobot picked himself up off the deck.
"Come on," he said. "Autobots are attacking. We have to get out of
here. I know where a docking bay is."
"It might be wise for me to avoid docking bays, if you do not mind.
But if you can gain us access to an airlock, I can carry us both
"Being unprotected in space in a battle of this scale would be foolish."
"You would prefer, then, that we attempt to reach the Autobots in
a Decepticon ship?"
"You may have a point," Counterpunch conceeded. "Come."
- - -
Megatron watched the raging battle from a hundred miles away, in
the relative safety of the yard's the central control facility.
He would not be safe for long, though; the rampaging Autobot ship
was swinging around and heading towards them. In a few more
minutes the control station would be in targeting range. His
own safety, however, was not his concern. Defending what belonged
to him was.
"Central defense computer compromised," Soundwave told him, looking
up from a central screen. "Automated defenses malfunctioning.
The Autobots have detected the crossfire trap." He did not
mention the Autobot who had escaped out from under him earlier that
day, feeling it would do nothing to help the yard's situation, or
Megatron turned away from the conflict in the distance, absorbing
all the bad news calmly. "The crossfire trap doesn't matter," he
said, voice betraying coldly smothered anger. "With the defense computer
down we can't remotely fire the ships anyway. Give the order
for general scramble, Soundwave. And ready the Conquest for
- - -
Starblast and his companion, now transformed back to his Autobot
mode, had little difficulty finding an airlock. They were about
to make their escape from the platform, when an odd alert signal
hooted through the air.
"That isn't the 'cons' usual alert signal," Punch commented.
Starblast looked grim. "That is the general scramble order," he explained.
"What does it mean?" Punch asked.
"It means our problems have just magnified tenfold."
- - -
"Status," Lexius called with a grin.
"Sixteen ships destroyed, five more damaged. Seventeen to go."
Fanblade paused. "We could pull this off yet."
"Intensify forward firepower. Maintain course."
Vengeance slowly wheeled as it continued its run into the yard's
interior, its guns firing in all directions. Ahead, the central control
complex loomed, coming into range of their small guns. They could
see specks leaving it, the crew abandoning their posts and running
for it. For a few moments longer, it seemed as though they
might indeed complete their mission here. But then, something
changed. Treadmark saw it first.
"Lexius -- the ships --"
"They're launching! All of them!"
Across the yard, ships were breaking free of their moorings, powering
up their enormous thrusters and tearing loose from the construction
docks. Lexius stared in awed dismay as one of the ships disappeared
into foldspace, then another.
He tried not to panic; he had to think fast, act decisively - but
there wasn't really much he could do. "Gunners fire!" he shouted
into the com. "Launch all missiles! We can't let them get away."
An enormous fusillade of missiles sped away from the Vengeance in
all directions, the ship firing off its remaining ordinance at a
terrific rate. One round of fire reached a destroyer just as
its engines were powering up to fold it away; the impact disrupted
the engines long enough for another salvo to hit it, destroying the
engines for good. Trapped in realspace, the vessel was quickly ripped
apart by the follow-up hits, erupting into fire and dust. Not far
away, a second ship made its escape into fold only seconds before
the missiles reached it. Hundreds of explosions blossomed in empty
space, as the weapons destroyed one another instead of their vanished
"Bring us to heading two-forty," Lexius ordered. "Gunners stand by
to follow up on missile attacks, and --"
A bright swath of energy outside the viewports interrupted him. A
power beam incinerated three salvoes of their missiles in flight.
"Enemy ship, comin' in on our nine," Tuner yelped.
"It is the same one which destroyed our missiles," Splice added.
A cover ship for the others, Lexius thought. "Turn us to engage!
Main guns, track on enemy ship bearing eight-four-eigh--"
Vengeance jolted hard, cutting him off, and throwing the entire crew
to the deck. Three of the bridge crewers clambered back to their
stations and began reading off status reports from all across the
ship. Lexius didn't need to hear the reports to know they'd sustained
a direct hit. "Get our weapons tracking on that ship ASAP," he ordered.
"Forget the others right now."
He watched the scanner panels, which showed the enemy's head-on assault.
Whoever was flying that ship had some serious nerves.
- - -
"Continue firing until our ships are clear," Megatron ordered, as
his flagship, the Conquest, dove at the intruders.
"What of the enemy ship?" Soundwave asked from across the ship's
"Disable them. Immobilize them. But do not destroy them... yet,"
"I thought we were gonna get to smash 'em up!" Rumble said.
"Time for that later, Rumble," Megatron said with a smile. "For now...I
want them alive."
"No disintegrations?" Frenzy asked, disappointed.
"Do as I wish," Megatron ordered. "I have my reasons."
- - -
"Main guns are down," Grotusque announced. "They've damaged the power
routings. I'm tryin' to find a new route but it's like trying to
push smoke into--"
"Just do it," Lexius ordered. "Give me full damage display." Around
him, the bridge's controllers were frantically directing repair crews,
rerouting power connections, and trying to keep the ship running.
A schematic of the ship came up on one of Lexius's screens; a large
area of the ship's mid-section was painted red, a scarlet arc across
the upper decks. Conquest's initial attack had caught Vengeance broadside
open, presenting the Decepticon ship with a very large target area.
They had not wasted the opportunity.
We have to get rid of this guy, Lexius thought. Turning to retreat
would give the enemy an even bigger target. Lexius felt there was only
one other chance. The Decepticons, still on a head-on approach, were
probably waiting for them to turn and run. With luck they wouldn't
be ready for an exchange of close broadsides.
"Turn us directly toward them," he ordered. "Full speed. And make
sure we stay directly in front of their ship. Minimize our cross
section. Do it quickly, we won't have much time to make this
Splice grimaced, but acknowledged the order and carried it out.
"Secondary weapons stand by for close-range assault," Lexius ordered.
- - -
"They're comin' right at us!" Frenzy said.
Megatron chuckled. "The fools. Destroy them!"
Soundwave shook his head urgently. "Autobots have entered no-fire
cone." Conquest's two main guns could swivel and traverse to hit almost
any target, but directly in front of the ship was a narrow zone neither
could reach. Vengeance just barely fit within the safe space.
"Then maneuver them out of it!" Megatron's voice was filled with
sudden alarm. "If we stay in their main guns'... fire... cone..."
Megatron's words trailed away with a realization. "Report on their
power systems. Do their main guns have power?"
Rumble entered commands, studied the readouts. "Hey, they don't.
How'dya know that?"
Megatron's alarm had turned to anger. "Because if they could fire
on us, they already would have. Therefore they can't.
Turn us broadside and target them with the main guns!"
- - -
The two gargantuan ships lumbered towards each other on a collision
course, their secondary guns blasting away at each other. With only
a few hundred miles left, the Conquest began to change course.
"They're turnin' away," Tuner noted with concern.
"Are we in range?" Lexius asked urgently. The Conquest's maneuver
would bring them back into its firing zone.
"Yes, gunners have commenced firing."
"I think I've got a power route for the main guns," Grotusque reported.
"Their top main gun is traversing towards us --"
"All gunners target the upper main gun!"
The order came a second too late. One of Conquest's two primary weapons
fired point-blank into Vengeance's mid-section. An instant later, the
gigantic laser disappeared in a rain of concentrated fire from its
enemy's secondary guns, but the Vengeance had already been dealt a
The two ships slid past one another, trading lasers. Both were
rocked by the exchange, but as they drifted apart and away from each
other, the winner of the contest was clear. Vengeance's third
quarter was split open, leaking fire and debris along its length.
On the Conquest, Soundwave gave the order for the gunnery command
to cease fire as the Vengeance drifted out of range. Behind him,
Megatron looked on the sensor screens in approval. The Autobot ship
drifted, its back nearly broken, its power systems wavering erratically.
"Enemy immobilized," Soundwave told him.
"Bring us back, and prepare for the kill," Megatron ordered.
The mighty vessel swung around, a predator homing in on its wounded
- - -
On the Autobot ship's bridge, the approaching vessel filled the main
screen. Tuner tore his optics away from the awesome sight, to his
own range finder. "We're in their line-of-sight," he reported.
"They are powering up weapons..."
Grotusque was still working frantically. His alternate power
route hadn't been affected by the damage, fortunately. "Main guns
can fire," he announced at last.
"Charge 'em! Fire at will!"
Lexius's com buzzed. "Wheeljack here, the generators are gonna
blow if you start firing the main guns!"
Lexius didn't answer; he just looked at the ceiling for a long moment
and muttered a Cybertronian curse.
"They overloaded during the power routing problem," Wheeljack explained.
"Discharging that much power at once will cause a core breach. We've
got to shut them down, and soon."
"Okay, stand by to shut 'em down," Lexius ordered. "But don't do
"If we shut them down now they'll know we're helpless. But
we can still try a bluff."
- - -
"Power build-up in enemy vessel's weaponry," Soundwave reported.
"Impossible! Their power systems are destroyed --"
"Power restored to enemy main guns. Vessel preparing to fire,"
the monochrome voice continued.
"Break off the attack! Get us clear," Megatron ordered. He'd been
so certain of his victory that he'd flown directly into Vengeance's
line of fire.
- - -
"They're pulling up!" Tuner exclaimed.
"Gunners, track on them, stand by to fire if they so much as--"
"Bridge, Wheeljack! How much longer?"
"Hang on Wheeljack... Tuner?"
"Powering their engines..."
"The generators are well in the red, the containment fields are flaring
"Pre-fold emanations --"
"We can't hold them any longer! I'm shutting down ---"
"Shut 'em down, Wheeljack!"
The Conquest leapt into fold and disappeared from the space outside
the bridge windows; the sound of dynamos going off-line resounded
through the Vengeance. The lights on the bridge died, then flickered
feebly back on as the ship's emergency batteries cut in. The Vengeance
floated alone in space, surrounded only by wreckage that had been
a shipyard, and the abandoned command station in the distance.
They were triumphant, but Lexius could only reproach himself. The
shipyards were destroyed, true, and they had survived the attack.
But sixteen of the enemy cruisers had escaped. And their own
ship was nearly blown in half, barely mobile, its power systems a
"We've got crewers working on shoring up the central structure of
the ship," Wheeljack called in to the bridge, half an hour after
the last Decepticon vessel had gone into fold. "It's going to take
a few hours before we can move again."
"Put every 'bot you have on the job. Do whatever it takes to get
us moving. We have to get out of here, quick. What about
"They're cooling down nicely. I think they'll be good to go
by the time the ship can move again."
"Good. Nice work, Wheeljack."
"Thanks. Wheeljack out."
Lexius had no sooner shut his communicator, than one of the bridge
crew turned to him.
"Commander, one of our search units wishes to speak with you."
The Vengeance had several dozen scout ships out, searching for raw
materials and components to use in the repair effort.
"They found Punch."
"Was he hurt? Is he all right?"
"Well, he was drifting around without a ship when they picked up
his transmission, but he's fine. He wasn't alone, though.
He was with an Autobot that's not from our crew."
"Bring 'em on in, then. The more the merrier. What's
"The Autobot wants to speak with you; he says he knows you and it
really can't wait. Sir Blase or something like that."
"Okay, put 'em through," Lexius said, not really listening.
He had too much concern with getting the ship moving again to pay
much attention to --
Lexius's screen activated, and warbled in static for a second. An
outlined materialized, then filled in with a familiar image. Starblast's
long-gone face stared out at him.
Lexius could only stare for a very long, unbelieving moment.
When he found his voice, it was still only a whisper. "Starblast...
You're -- I thought -- how --" He lost his voice, his words,
very nearly his mind in those first few seconds. Starblast
Starblast spoke, quick and to the point. He was pleased by
the reunion -- more than he would admit, really -- but he had expected
it and was more prepared for it. "Lexius, I am sorry, but we have
no time for sentiment now. Twelve of the ships had orders to
attack when they left."
"What? What are -- Starblast... Attack? Attack where?"
On to the next part