The Corrosion of War Without End
Eye of the Storm
Sidetrack had rather enjoyed his interim command of Sojourn, he decided,
as the drydocked ship peacefully orbited the silvery world below. If only
it had not come under the present circumstances.
Lexius and Treadmark had not been heard from in weeks, and Sidetrack
was beginning to worry. The mission they were on was shrouded with
secrecy, and even Grotusque -- who, along with the spy Punch, had
gone after them for some reason -- knew little of its nature. Not
a day passed when Sidetrack didn't have some worried thoughts of
his friends. And Starblast, killed two months ago... The stable world
that had been Sojourn had evaporated, leaving his friends scattered
and him in charge.
There had been little to do here, aside from oversee the reconstruction
and the ship's day-to-day operations. Eventually they would recruit some
new crewers and ground troops from Cybertron, to replace those lost in
Sojourn's last battle, some three months before. But Sidetrack knew
Lexius would want to do that himself, so it was on hold till he returned.
In the meantime, Sojourn had more than enough crewers to effect repairs
and maintenance. Sidetrack had not yet allowed himself to consider
the problem of Lexius not returning at all.
The repair process was coming along nicely. Most of the destroyed
internal systems had been replaced -- generators, batteries, and fold
engines. The ship's new outer armor was only partially in place, but the
crew were working day and night on that, and before too long the ship
would be ready for launch.
Quickmix, who had directed the whole project, was especially proud
of his work. Never in his ten years onboard had he had such a chance
to rebuild and improve. The changes to the conduits alone would double
the ship's weapon capabilities. New automatic energy screens
assured that no-one could phase-shift their armor, as happened in
the attack that had landed them in the repair dock. And a pair
of extra generators dedicated to the anti-matter cannons would give
them semi-continuous firing capabilities, without draining the ship's
other power sources. True, not all the systems had worked out
as planned, but Quickmix was still having the time of his life.
Never before had he been able to participate in such a large project,
and leave his own, definitive stamp on it.
For the rest of the crew, it had been a much-needed time to relax
and stand down for a while, as well as to explore Cybertron's reborn
surface. Sidetrack had spent many days down there himself, wandering
the transformed silvered plains. A few crewers had actually asked
to be relieved of duty, to go settle permanently on the silvery-gold
world. Sidetrack had granted it, pending approval from Lexius,
He was considering another trip down there right now, actually.
Things weren't dull on Sojourn, just... slow. A bit too slow
for his tastes, even with his patience. He had been sitting
in the bridge's command seat for a full hour, and nothing more interesting
than space traffic reports had come in on sensors -- at least till
Tuner's console, currently manned by Focus, pinged for attention.
"Sidetrack," Focus called out, after fiddling with his controls for
a moment. The Micromaster looked over to the sensor console. "We've
got a glitch in the subspace sensor array. Probably ought to get
engineering on it."
"What is it?"
"I think the magnitude setting for pre-fold sensing is busted."
"Mmm. What's it doing?"
"I keep raising order of magnitude, but it keeps shooting off the
scale every time. I mean, if there were actually that much pre-defold
activity going on, it'd it have to be at least ten of --"
Then it appeared, a subspace flash of an intensity they'd never seen
before, one that painted everything in view white. Beyond the orbit of
their drydocked ship, immense forms could be made out emerging from the
blinding light. They had all seen them before, and knew what they meant.
"Decepticon ships! Lots of 'em! Primus, there's too many of 'em
Sidetrack didn't hear Focus's clamoring, nor any of the rest of the
awed and panicked murmurs on the bridge. He could only stare, grim-faced,
as twelve twenty-mile warships appeared out of fold and closed on
Cybertron, their weapons primed and poised. Poised to kill.
* * *
"QUIET!" Lexius shouted, in his loudest voice. It seemed to
calm the room down a bit. The dozen heads at the conference
table turned to him.
"We're not going to work this out by shouting all at once.
At least let Starblast finish," Lexius continued. He still
couldn't believe it -- Starblast was alive. Alive!
Though he was facing a potential disaster, one private part of his
mind glowed with joy. His old friend had escaped from death
itself, and reappeared right at his doorstep. But he had to
keep that pushed aside, saved for later. For now, there was
urgent work to be done. "Starblast, do you have any more information?"
"No. The standing orders in case of an attack were to rendezvous
at a pre-selected site to pick up full crews for the ships, then
proceed to Cybertron for an all-out retaliatory assault on the surface.
That is all I know, but I do suspect the orders are being carried
"Alright, so, the longer we stay here, the less there will be of
Cybertron to go back to," Lexius said.
"Hey, don't rush into anything," Nightbeat said to him. "If we can't
really help, there's no point in us going and giving Megatron something
else to shoot at. Look at our ship; it's barely hanging together."
"The ship can't take a full assault," Wheeljack agreed. "It was marginal
before, but now it's in really bad condition. If we go up against
twelve ships, frankly, we probably won't be coming back."
But in the final analysis -- compared to Cybertron -- we're
expendable, Lexius thought. I can't say that to them, though...
Aloud, he asked: "Do we have any chance of beating them?"
"Maybe, if we got in a few lucky first shots, we could take them
out," Wheeljack conceded. "But I wouldn't want to bank on it."
"It seems to me that we have no choice," Treadmark said. "Our attack
on the yards is what made them flee. It falls to us to make
Backscatter, from engineering, answered him. "We were barely
combat-worthy before we came here! You really expect us to go tearing
across the galaxy to Cybertron, just on the word of your friend here,
who's spent the last who-knows-how-long hanging around with a bunch of
"Would you have us just sit here?" Treadmark asked. The slur
towards Starblast bothered him, but the subject at hand was too pressing
to allow distractions. "No-one else has a chance against those ships
-- certainly not Cybertron."
"Without repairs, we don't stand a chance! There's no guarantee
this ship will even make it to Cybertron!"
Punch had stood, silent, in one corner of the room, removed from
the arguments. Now he stepped forward, and raised his hand
for silence. All heads turned to him.
"We know that Megatron was in charge of the shipyard project," he
said quietly. "I know Megatron. I believe Starblast's report, if
for no other reason than it sounds like what Megatron would do. He
has long wanted to conquer Cybertron. If Starblast is right, we are
the only defense Cybertron has. If he is wrong, then we will return to
Cybertron, and no harm will be done. Either way, I feel our course
Wheeljack answered to that. "If the ship makes it that far, and your
friend here is right, we'll be in serious trouble when we get there."
Lexius stared at the table top for a long moment. The last time he
hadn't listened to Punch had nearly been disastrous for them all, and the
same applied to Wheeljack. But this time, they were taking opposite
It's up to you...
* * *
Cybertron was in a panic.
As the Decepticon warships moved in on the planet and prepared to
fire, a wave of chaos and confusion swept through the metallic world's
inhabitants. Thousands of robots, caught completely off-guard by the
attack from space, fled from their cities. The streets, highways, and
skies of the planet filled with Transformers, fleeing in a blind,
scurrying panic. But there was nowhere to run.
High above it all, Megatron beheld the sight and laughed.
So what if we lost the shipyard? The yard was nothing compared
to the slaughter about to come! The deaths of my warriors will be
repayed a thousandfold!
Soundwave stood beside him on the flagship's bridge, waiting his
leader's notice. "Lord Megatron," he said at last. "Ships are positioned
and prepared to fire. Should I issue the order to attack?"
Megatron laughed again. "No, Soundwave. Not yet. I wish to see them
struggle a bit longer."
"Advisement: the longer the attack is withheld, the more we lose
the element of surprise."
"If you are bored, Soundwave, you can amuse yourself by locating
Optimus Prime's headquarters on the surface. I wish to send him my...
Soundwave's face betrayed nothing as he turned back to the ship's
consoles. "As you command, Megatron."
- - -
Amidst the chaos on the surface, an island of calm remained at New
Iacon, the Autobot's military command center. Half a dozen Autobots
working in the central control center - the Sanctum, it was informally
called - bent to their labors, heedless of the pandemonium outside.
Orders and reports were called out calmly, quietly, no louder than necessary.
It was too quiet, Jetfire noted. Nothing extraneous was said;
the usual chatty banter that passed among the regular group day to
day was absent. The surface calm was underlain with a palpable tension.
Jetfire reasoned that was not illogical, since their small group
was preparing to mount the only defense Cybertron had.
They were ready for this attack, because at least one Autobot had
seen it coming from the moment he'd learned such ships existed.
Even Optimus Prime didn't think it would be this soon; their defenses weren't
fully prepared yet. But, though caught unawares, Prime calmly
directed his followers now, assigning tasks and issuing directives.
The Autobot leader's placidity reassured his followers, providing
them with a center, a base to anchor themselves to. Under his direction,
the Autobots began to execute their defense, a plan he'd worked out with
Prowl many weeks ago.
"Blaster," he called out. "Try to hail them."
"Roger, I'm on it," Blaster said. "I don't think we're gonna
be able talk them out of this, though."
"That is not my intention. We've got to do everything we can
to stall them."
Prime knew they were already lucky, in that the Decepticons weren't
firing yet. We are fortunate they did not simply drop out of fold
with their weapons blazing. For whatever reason, they're giving us
a chance, a few, scant seconds to work with, Prime knew. We must
utilize and stretch it to the fullest.
The Autobots were sending out broad-band communiques over all standard
and inter-Autobot frequencies. Amid the confusion on the surface, not all
of the inhabitants heard them. But, soon, only a few minutes after
the ships had arrived, the Sanctum's planet-wide sensor net showed that
the chaos was beginning to change, to take some direction and focus.
The fleeing Transformers began to converge, congregating on a few
areas of the surface. Prime and the others waited, and hoped
against hope that all of them would make it to those places in time.
- - -
Sidetrack stared out the Sojourn's bridge windows, at the twelve
ships encircling the planet. "Get me Quickmix," he directed Pixel.
The communications robot brought up the com system.
"Quickmix," Sidetrack said. "You seen what's happening out there?"
"How could I miss it?" came the response. "We have to launch, we
can't get caught up in their cross-fire. I'm powering up the sublight engines
"We can't just run, Quickmix; we've got to help Cybertron."
"I'm not sure we can help out at this point. The ship's only half-put
together, and --"
"I'm not asking if we can or not. I'm just telling you that we're
going to, so be ready. Sidetrack out."
Quickmix stared blankly at his communicator for a moment, then hurried
off to try to do the impossible.
- - -
"New Iacon target coordinates established, Megatron," Soundwave
"Excellent! Relay them to our wing ships. I want to be
very thorough about this."
"All ships're ready to go," Rumble called out from his station.
"Have them stand by for my order to fire," Megatron said
"Megatron -- hailing signal detected from New Iacon."
Megatron smiled, amused. "Put it through," he said.
- - -
The Sanctum waited, held its collective, proverbial, mechanical breath.
"Prowl, report," Optimus called.
"Most of the population has made it within the designated areas,
about 94 percent. I calculate most of the remainder will be there
in another five minutes."
"Let's just hope to Primus that's enough time. Blaster, status report
on the enemy ships?"
"Still just hangin' out up there, like they're waiting for something
-- uh oh. Prime, they got their dial locked on our station.
We just got hit by a major sensor probe, and three ships're headin'
"Jetfire, stand by for my signal. Blaster, what about our own
"Most of them are clearin' out. A couple tried attacking but
they got shot down pretty quick-like," Blaster said.
"Have you had any luck getting through to them?"
"Not so far -- " Blaster turned his attention to another screen.
"Scratch that, Prime, we're getting a response signal from one of the ships."
"On my screen, Blaster," Prime said. Megatron's face appeared
on a monitor.
"Prime! How pleasant to see you this one last time," the Decepticon
leader said. "Have you anything to say before your timely demise?"
"Megatron -- why? What good will this attack do?"
"Revenge, Prime. For attempting to destroy my property.
You should know better."
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't play the fool to me. Just know that your little attempt
to destroy my new fleet has failed, and you will now pay the price for
daring to tamper with it."
Prime spared an instant for an anguished thought, for Lexius and
his crew, who were surely dead by now. "Megatron... if it's revenge
you want, take me --"
"Oh, there's more to it than revenge, I assure you. When Cybertron's
surface is irridated, it will be mine for the taking, to remake as I please.
I've waited a long time for this moment, Prime. You see, when I'm finished,
Cybertron will be the galactic dreadnaught I've long envisioned it as."
"Megatron, you mustn't! Please listen, we have new information.
The Cybertronians are far more powerful than we'd imagined. If you
"They don't know the meaning of the word 'powerful'," Megatron retorted.
"But they will soon find out. Though not so soon as you." His
next words were directed off-screen. "All ships stand prepared."
"The Decepticon ships are powering up their main weapons," Jetfire
Prime gave him a sharp nod; Jetfire keyed in a sequence. Across Cybertron's
surface, countless robots waited and hoped. Optimus made one last
"Megatron... we've come so far. You cannot end it like this
"Quiet," Megatron said to him.
- - -
Sojourn rumbled as her engines came up to full power.
"Focus, get us out of their fire fields," Sidetrack ordered. The
minibot complied immediately, punching the ship's thrusters to full. The
ship slid roughly through the girders of the repair dock, yanking loose
from its moorings. Sojourn's path curved down and away from the planet,
slipping beneath the cruisers' net. The giant vessel wove through
dozens of smaller ships also fleeing the emminent attack.
"They're ignoring us, thank Primus," Beacon said. "Looks like they're
going to let us go."
"Looks like they're letting everybody go," Focus noted, as he steered
the ship on its escape route.
"They haven't attacked any of the ships?" Sidetrack wondered.
"Only a couple that tried firing on them," answered Rollbar, who
had taken Tuner's empty sensor station as soon as Focus moved back
to his helm station.
"What are they tracking on, then?"
"They're targeting the surface. I think they're concentrating on
Prime's headquarters," Rollbar reported.
Sidetrack grimaced, tightly gripping the arms of the command chair.
They could wipe out the whole planet! "How long till they fire?"
"They're powered up and waiting," Rollbar answered. "For what, Primus
"Our gunners are in position, primary weapons standing by," Pixel
announced. "We can fire any time."
That could be a death warrant, Sidetrack thought. If we wait till
they make their first attack, we might have several minutes before they
notice us. But by then it could be too late for Cybertron.
"Put the tactical up," he ordered at last. The screens switched to
a schematic, with Cybertron in the center, and the enemy ships clustered
around it. Sidetrack pointed to a cluster of them, the group that
had positioned itself above New Iacon.
"Steer us in towards those three," he ordered. "Gunners stand by."
- - -
"Max power," Rumble reported. "Let's fry 'em!"
"All ships await your command," Soundwave reported.
"Yessss," Megatron hissed, savoring the moment to the utmost.
He turned back to the com screen, still active. "Now, Prime, it ends...
Let the slaughter begin! All ships FIRE!"
From twelve points in the black skies above Cybertron, mile-wide
plasma beams descended to the surface. Three converged on New Iacon.
The sky lit up around Autobot Headquarters; a hailstorm of fiery
death descended on Optimus and his followers, turning their vision
to an all-encompassing sun, overloading their viewscreens, their
instruments, their optic sensors. Power enough to melt a city poured
onto the nerve center of Cybertron.
In space, the flagship's crew all grasped their instruments tightly
as the vessel fired. The energies channeled by the Conquest's main
weapons were enough to rattle it stem to stern. Megatron sat calmly
in his throne-like chair, ignoring the tremors, the consternation
of his crew. He smiled slightly as his viewscreen flaired white, then shifted
his attention to the assault below.
Suddenly, the ship shook again, far more violently this time, too
much for Megatron to dismiss. He knew instantly that something was
wrong. Indeed, a glance out the viewports showed that their ship's
wingmate was exploding, wracked stem to stern by gaseous detonations.
"What?!" Megatron exclaimed, watching through the bridge windows
as a series of energy blasts vaporized their companion vessel.
"Autobot ship attacking," Soundwave told him.
"I can see that, you fool," Megatron snapped. "Turn us to attack
"Yes, commander," Frenzy stammered, anxiously relaying the command to
"What of Cybertron?"
"Surface damage to Cybertron, zero percent."
"They got some kinna energy shields!" Rumble said.
"They put 'em up right before we fired. They're coverin' most
of the cities and roads," Frenzy added.
A second Decepticon vessel, their other wingmate, ignited under a
series of shots.
"Forget Cybertron! Destroy that ship!" Megatron ordered. The flagship
turned, ponderously, to face its new foe.
"I told you you were making a mistake," Optimus told him, still on
Megatron glared back at him, livid. "Shut up!!" he sputtered,
and closed the connection.
- - -
Sojourn's bridge crew let out a collective war-whoop as the first
Decepticon ship disappeared beneath their weapons. Sojourn managed to
take out a second one of the ships, before the third turned to the
"Evasive," Sidetrack ordered, as the flagship slowly tracked its
gigantic weapons on them. Beacon brought the ship down and to the right,
juking out of the line of fire. The larger Decepticon vessel followed
"Sidetrack," Rollbar called. "We've got two more forming up ahead
of us. They're trying to hem us in."
"Drop orbit to four hundred kilometers, and head south," Sidetrack
ordered. Sojourn's massive thrusters flared in response to Focus's
touch, spewing energy and propelling the ship around the planet. Behind,
three of the massive destroyers turned in pursuit, falling in behind from
three directions. The Autobot ship dodged and weaved as best as its
ponderous bulk allowed. Fortunately, the pursuing ships were even more
massive, and correspondingly less maneuverable.
"Another one is heading over the north pole to cut us off.
This's getting too close for comfort," Rollbar announced.
"Turn to nine-seven-nine," Sidetrack gritted. Their margins of escape
were becoming very narrow; at maximum thrust they would barely slip by
the new ship before it got them in range.
"We won't get past before they hem us in, chief," Beacon told him,
projecting the course.
"Drop us to three-fifty, and boost thrust to maximum."
A mile-wide energy blast streaked by the viewports. "This is hopeless!
There's too many of 'em," Focus said, his hands flying over the controls.
The ship had barely had a chance to fire a shot since unleashing
its initial attack. "We've got to get out of here or we're history."
"No," Sidetrack said resolutely. "We're Cybertron's only chance."
"Look at the tactical!" Focus said, desparation in his voice. "What
kind of a chance is that?!"
"Sojourn could handle 'em," Rollbar said.
"What?" Sidetrack's head snapped around.
"I said, Sojourn could wallop 'em real good. I say we go to transform
"But the damage..." Pixel said.
"You got a better idea?" Rollbar asked, as the ship lurched under
Sidetrack was good at seeing through the details of a problem to
get the big picture; now was no different. He pondered Rollbar's
suggestion for only a second. "All hands," he sent over the com.
"Stand by for transformation. Say again, stand by for transformation
in thirty seconds."
Not five had passed when Quickmix's voice sounded on Sidetrack's
"We can't transform!" he said urgently. "Sojourn isn't ready."
"Sojourn isn't ready, or the ship isn't ready?"
"Sidetrack, you can't just dichotomize it like that! Sojourn is one.
Her mind's not ready, therefore her body isn't ready. We can't reactivate
her without giving her sufficient forewarning of the damage and repairs
she's received," Quickmix sent. "As far as she's concerned, the last
six months didn't even happen. If she wakes up and finds herself
half taken apart and rebuilt with no warning and no explanation..."
"How long will it take?"
"A couple of hours, to get the right engrams written up --"
"We don't have hours, Quickmix; we don't even have minutes."
"But we can't just --"
"Quickmix, we've got to try. We can't go down without a fight."
"We haven't even given the autosystems enough time to warn her mind
that there have been changes," Quickmix sent. "The shock of reactivation
could overload her neural circuitry." He felt a twinge of guilt --
Sojourn could have been ready by now, if he hadn't tinkered so much.
"I think Sojourn would rather have that than to have us all die without
even trying," Sidetrack replied. Another blast of plasma streaked
by the bridge windows. Without further debate, he keyed in
the restarting sequence, and prayed that Sojourn's psyche was stronger
than Quickmix's readings said it was.
On to the next part