Rob's Pile of Transformers: "The Lurkers"

10/01/98

I guess you could say this fanfic is set in the same universe as Rob Jung's "Conversations and Confrontations", which sort-of inspired it; that also means it's in the cartoon universe. It's a somewhat silly story, told in a rather unfunny and serious manner, but what the heck, I had fun writing it. Enjoy!

The Lurkers


   By the year 1998, computer technology had become so widespread that a
large number of people took it for granted.  The technology had
experienced a boom during the previous decade, to the point where the
personal computer was as much a fixture in the average home of the
industrial nations as most kitchen appliances.  And increasingly, one of
the most common uses for those computers was communication. 

   Millions of messages passed back and forth from computer to computer,
across a vast global network of wires and cables, processors and modems --
an intricate, chaotic conglomeration known collectively as the Internet.
Patterns of electrons carried information on everything from cutting-edge
scientific research to cooking recipes, all at the speed of light.  The very
pulse of human thought was transmitted across this network - the best and
brightest... and all too frequently, the worst and dimmest.

   As access to this network became easier and more common, more and more
users overlooked or conveniently forgot the implications of their on-line
actions.  After all, what was the possible harm of some words on a screen? 
Some lost sight of the fact that there were real beings at the end of those 
wires, people with feelings and thoughts.  And there were worse still, people 
who simply didn't care.  Again, it was nothing but some words, typed anonymously,
from hidden users in unknown locations.  How could they possibly have any
consequence? This group percieved the Internet to be safely anonymous, and
were certain the only repercussions from their conduct would be some angry
messages on their computer screen -- nothing to be concerned about.

   What they failed to grasp, however, was that their actions were every
bit as real as those taken in the "real world".  They _could_ influence
the lives of others... and when they did, the consequences could become
very real indeed...

-  -  -
   One frequent traveler of the Internet was a robotic being known as
Soundwave.  He was chief of communications for a group of mechanical
aliens who had been living on Earth for over ten years, a group who called
themselves Decepticons.  One of his many contributions to their on-going
war effort against their foes, the Autobots, was the considerable time he
spent sifting through the collective electronic output of the human race,
searching for any bits of information that might be of use to the cause. 
A wide range of subjects was privy to his patient attention, everything
from governmental situations in unstable countries (which could determine
human military resistance to Decepticon activities there) to science and
engineering newsgroups which gave indications of the state of human
knowledge and technology (useful for both defensive and offensive
purposes.) 

   Of special interest were a group of Usenet newsgroups devoted
to discussion of the Transformers themselves.  Beginning as an underground
movement on alt.transformers, it had eventually branched out into over a
dozen different groups in several hierarchies.  But alt.transformers was
still the home base, the "headquarters" of the numerous humans who, one
way or another, found themselves strangely attached to these off-world
visitors to Earth. 

   Soundwave found alt.transformers to be highly chaotic.  He scanned with
bemusement through headers such as "Optimus Prime spotted in NYC!!" and
"Rumble is red: photographic proof."  He found himself loathing many of
the humans, who often asserted positions and beliefs with no backing of
any sort - a manner of argumentation so foolish that it was hard to
believe any rational being could ever resort to it.  This group frequently
turned to obscenities and threats when others disagreed with them.

   Some humans, though, he admitted a grudging respect for, even some of
those who argued that he and his kind were despicable tyrants who should
be destroyed.  They at least showed some semblance of intelligence behind
their writings, even if it their rhetoric was filled with a naive lack of
understanding about the way the universe worked.  And there were a select
few who genuinely surprised him, a group that argued in favor of his
kind's actions, saying it only duplicated their own human history, or that
their actions were simply the natural product of a species trying to
survive.  Some pointed out that if the governments of the world would
simply supply the Decepticons with sufficient energy, they might leave the
planet.  Soundwave suspected that his leader, Megatron, would be more
likely to demand even more energy if the humans proved so weak-willed, but
he still had to grant that it was a creative idea on the humans' part. 

   He wondered what might be waiting for him today, as he slipped
effortlessly past the login protocol of some hapless newsfeed that would
never even know he'd been there.  He downloaded over three thousand
headers, patiently waiting while the human computer slowly sent them out.
He liked to flip through them before sending them on to the base's
processors; sometimes it took a living eye to catch the gist of things
that the computers missed.  "re: Blaster can kick Soundwave's butt!" a
subject line read.  Amused, Soundwave stopped for fraction of a second it
took to read the message:

        You are pathetic.  Prepare to die.

        Captain Skyppi

   A "troll", the humans called them.  Pathetic puddles of flesh whose
primary concern in life seemed to be causing trouble on the Internet
purely for trouble's sake.  Soundwave found that almost unfathomable - it
would be like attacking a human energy installation purely for the purpose
of attacking it, rather than with the viable and productive goal of
obtaining fuel.  An imbecilic waste of time and effort, to no useful end.

  Soundwave prepared to skip past the thread when a very familiar user
name caught his notice: blaster@teletran.ark.org.  Interested, he called
up the post from his Autobot counterpart:

        Well, dudes, there's been a lot of confusion about 
        which of me and Soundwave's the strongest.  Fact is, 
        we're a pretty even match.  He's got better firepower, 
        but I'm probably better with my fists.  I'm pretty sure 
        I could take him in a fair fight, but he's mopped the 
        floor with me a couple of times too.  So don't bet the 
        farm either way just yet, alright?

        >too.  Plus, witness reports said that Blaster cheated 
        >when they fought in NYC ten years ago.  Doesn't that 
        >prove he can't win on his own?

        I don't know if "cheat" is the right word to use 
        there -- it's not like we laid down any ground 
        rules, y'know?  We just started layin' into each 
        other.  Okay, I had a little help, yeah -- or you 
        could say I just made good use of the surroundings.  
        Anyway, I bet Soundwave'd be the first to tell you 
        that in a war, there's no rules.

        Oh, and once again, please don't send any more 
        e-mails asking for my or the other Autobots' tech 
        stats.  Those are 100% confidential.  Loose lips 
        sink starships, ya dig?

                   ---===****|||Blaster|||****===---
                "When the music's rockin', I'm rollin'."

   Soundwave noted the time and date before moving on.  Before long he
happened on another post by the same Captain Skyppi... then another... and
another.  *A persistent troll,* Soundwave thought, deleting the posts
without reading them.  Another troll by the unlikely name of Little Poppa
Zoot had this to say under a "Who's going to TransCon VIII?" thread:

        We are taking over this group
        All you sad little alien worshipers can go home now and get lives

   Soundwave deleted the post... and over a dozen more by the same user.
An annoyance.  Satisfied with his skimming, Soundwave sent the posts on to
the base computers, where they would be processed analyzed for certain
keywords.  He unplugged from the computer, having spent all of five
minutes on the 'net, to attend to his numerous other duties.

-  -  -
   "Why you Hound waste so much time reading stupid human talk?"

   "Because it's fun, Grimlock!" Hound said cheerfully, looking up from
his computer screen as the giant Dinobot lumbered by.  "You outta try it
some time.  The humans talk about all sorts of things.  They even talk
about us!"

   "Where talk about me Grimlock?  Me no like puny humans talking about
Grimlock!"

   Hound suddenly wished he'd said less, as he remembered a running joke
thread titled "The Dinobots are so dumb that..." that was on
alt.transformers last time he'd been there.  "Well, um... actually
no-one's talking about you in particular, today at least..."

   "Why no talk about me?!  Why me Grimlock not good enough for humans to
talk about?  Me no read what they say!"  To Hound's relief, Grimlock
stomped off in a huff.  Hound turned back to his computer and pressed
'return', bringing up the newsgroup.

        re: I like to eat Dolphin meat
        Get a life losers!
        Little Poppa Zoot is god now
        re: Dolphins are shark food

   Hound stared at the screen in confusion; headers like this ran down the
whole page.  Bringing up one of the strange messages, he discovered it was
cross-posted to over a dozen other groups.  A quick check revealed that
the others were as well.  Hardly any of the messages that were on the
group were actually on-topic.

   Shaking his head, Hound punched up a button to the communications
chamber.  "Blaster, have you read the newsgroups this week?"

   "Sure hadn't," came the response from the Autobots' communications
officer.  "What's the prob, something I should see?"

   "I'm not sure what it is," Hound said, scrolling down the page.  "I've
never seen humans act this dumb before..."

-  -  -
        dkels acke dkwel slksrewc
        sske skdrrewf flsst resl
        sfjfjs skelse kllll

   For two pages it went on, strings of characters in no language that
Soundwave recognized.  Shaking his head at the stupidity of some humans,
he moved on to the next message.  "FS: MISB 1/64 Alpha Trion", it claimed.
Soundwave would have paid no attention to such the out-of-place sales
message, but again he saw the same sort of mysterious text:

        Flrxx ssitl os alel kl alalkj
        Fjlas slkjr dkls oekks f 
        Pyhpl lkiqu ei oiueiow bnctgh

   That was all Soundwave needed to recognize a pattern.  Something
curious was occurring here... Soundwave took a moment to scan the headers
he'd downloaded.  There it was, as he'd expected: "WHAT HAPPENED TO MY
POSTS?!!!!!"  "Where is this junk coming from?!"  "HELP! I can't read
a.t.!!!"  And a dozen similar headers proclaiming confusion.  Hundreds of
messages had been canceled and replaced with undecipherable garbage.

   Soundwave noticed that Zoot, Skyppi, and several other trolls he had
encountered last time were responsible for many of the crossposted
messages.  It didn't take a genius of Soundwave's caliber to figure out
that they were responible for the garbage as well. 

   The annoyance from the previous week was unexpectedly becoming real
trouble.  AT and groups like it were a valuable source of contact with the
world of the humans.  Through it, Soundwave had identified several dozen
humans that might some day prove worthy of elimination... and several that
could be possible allies, if the need ever arose.  It kept him informed on
how humans felt, where resistance might be greater, how much they knew
about the Transformers... in short, it gave the Decepticons some idea of
just what they could expect from these creatures that inhabited the planet
they were operating on.  Even though Soundwave could easily crack whatever
simplistic code was being used, the presence of so much junk was bound to
drive away the newsgroup's users, thereby diminishing its usefulness to
him. 

   Whoever was doing this had just made an enemy.

   Further reading revealed that the culprits appeared to be a group of
self-proclaimed "flamers".  Soundwave decided to run an experiment.  With
a few commands, he created a false user account for himself; seconds
later, a post entitled "Build a fusion cannon at home" went to the
newsfeed and onwards to the world.  That title (followed by some bogus
technical jargon) was bound to generate attention.  Soundwave put a mark
on the newsfeed's location and turned his mind elsewhere while he waited
for his bait to lure in its prey.

-  -  -
   Teletran One's databanks sifted through thousands of megabytes of
information per minute, filtering out the vast majority of the information
it received by radio, computer, and other means.  There were a few bits of
information that could cause a signal to be prioritized above all others,
however.  One of them came in while Blaster was on duty in the
communications room of Autobot Headquarters.

   "Alert.  Alert. Incoming transmission from Decepticon Headquarters,"
Teletran's modulated voice announced.

   "Punch it up, dude," Blaster ordered.  Instantly, Soundwave's face
appeared on the screen.  Blaster's eyes narrowed.

   "Soundwave.  Not like you to come through the front door like this."

   Soundwave didn't bother with formalities.  It occurred to Blaster that
maybe Soundwave didn't like having to do this any more than he did. 
"Proposal: temporary alliance," the Decepticon announced. 

   "Yeah?  What for?"

   "To eliminate a nuisance before it becomes a difficulty."

   "What nuisance?  Get to the point, Soundwave."

   "Newsgroup alt.transformers is no longer readable.  This will mean loss
of data for both factions.  Solution: temporary alliance to eliminate the
source of difficulty." 

   "Hey, now, I ain't buying into anything that's gonna end up hurting the
humans."

   "The humans will not be... irreparably harmed."

   "Sorry, Soundwave, Prime'll never agree to it."

   "I am operating on my own initiative.  Suggest you do likewise."

   While Blaster pondered that, Soundwave's image was replaced by a screen
full of text.  Blaster leaned forward to read the top message:

        I am leaving here.  All you are pathetic drooling losers.  
        You suck.

        Blaster

   At the top was his own user account name.

   "This was posted today by the responsible parties," Soundwave said, as
the text disappeared.  "Research indicates they will continue their
operation pending destruction of the newsgroup."

   Blaster found his fists were clenched.  "Alright, count me in," he
said, relaxing them.  "What did you have in mind?"
 
-  -  -
   Elton Snelling, a rail-thin twenty-four year old, sat alone in the
darkness of his room, wearing boxers and a ragged undershirt, lit only by
the blueish glow of his computer screen.  It was two o'clock in the
morning in the quiet Chicago suburb where he lived.  Not that time or
location made much difference to him; he rarely left his parents' house
for any reason.  The world beyond the four walls of his room was of little
interest to him.  His real life was on the Internet, where he was feared
and respected.  He was also loathed and hated, too, but he didn't really
care about that.  People knew his name.  People talked about him.
Thousands of people.  He was famous.

   Not famous for his real name, of course.  Famous as his alter ego. 
Under the name Little Poppa Zoot, he was responsible for the ruination of
several newsgroups, one of which he'd taken down single-handed.  He lead a
small army of trolls whose mission was to spread chaos and disorder on the
Internet, by cross-posting irrelevant and inane articles, till all of a
group's regular users left, and it was their own to do with as they
pleased. They were moving on to bigger and better things now, taking out
one of the biggest newsgroups around, alt.transformers. 

   He had not moved from his desk chair in over three hours; most of that
time he had spent cruising his target newsgroups, selecting random
messages to respond to and cross-post.  His eyes were focused on the
screen; its glow consumed his vision.  He completely failed to see the
silent shadow that slipped through the darkness outside his window.

   But when the glass pane of the window imploded, and an eight-foot long
metallic jaguar leapt into the center of his cluttered room amid a shower
of glass fragments, he could not help but notice. 

   Nor could he help screaming as the creature's eyes fixed upon him, and
a low, throaty growl escaped its jaws.  Elton jerked out of his chair,
backing toward the wall, stumbling over piles of junk and dirty clothing
that littered his unkempt room.  He tripped and fell backwards, knocking
his head hard against the wall.

   Ravage approached the human's still-running computer, casually swatting
aside the computer chair, and examined it for a second.  Then with a
savage swiftness, his jaws closed around the monitor, smashing through the
screen with a brief flash of blue light, and then hurled it across the
room with enough force to send it completely through the wall.  The
Decepticon's claws ripped open the cover of the computer's processor unit
and quickly disemboweled it, scattering the smashed components across the
room.  Finally, a short burst of flame breath turned Elton's massive pile
of computer disks to a melted ruin.

   Satisfied, Ravage turned his attention to the cowering human, and took
a couple of steps toward him.

   "Oh-- oh- God -- p-p-please don't hurt me..." Elton managed to stutter.
"Please..."

   Two missiles, mounted on Ravage's rear hips, lowered and aimed at the
human.  Elton began to hyperventilate.  He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting
to be torn apart and seared into vapor by missiles that were the size of
his torso.  Something knocked him over; he screamed and looked up to see
Ravage looming over him... and gesturing with one paw.  Outside. 

   Mouth hanging open and nodding dumbly, Elton scrambled obediently
through the shattered window, cutting his hands in the process.  Before he
could figure out what to do next, something snatched him harshly by the
shoulders and jerked him off the ground astoundingly fast.  He screamed
and flailed as he was carried into the air.  Before he knew it, his entire
neighborhood was a tiny pinprick of light receding behind and below him. 
The wind whipped savagely at his face, assaulting his unprotected body. 
In a matter of minutes, the lights of Chicago were receding into the
distance.  He finally had presence of mind to look up to see what carried
him, but all he could see was the underside of something metal with claws
and wings. 

   For three hours he was carried through the terrifying black coldness of
the September night, dangling by his shoulders, shivering from the
freezing night air.  At last he was roughly deposited in an empty field
surrounded by trees.  Terrified, certain that the creature that had
carried him all this way meant to consume him, he scrambled to his feet,
trying to run for the trees.

   He made it about fifteen feet when a giant robot unfolded seemingly out
of nowhere.  The dark blue behemoth glowered down at him from a dimly lit
red eyeband that glowed as if from the depths of Hell.

   "Do not attempt to flee," it intoned.

   Elton wasn't about to not flee.  He ran in the opposite direction,
nettles picking and poking at his bare skin.  But another robot
materialized out of the ether, expanding and unfolding all at once.  "Hey,
dude, have a seat, take a load off your feet!" it said, reaching down to
scoop him up.

   Elton screamed as he was lifted, but it came out as a loud, sniveling
sob.  He was carried to where the first robot waited; he saw the creature
that had brought him here perched on Soundwave's shoulder, a metallic
condor with red trim.

   "Buzzsaw estimates ETA three minutes," Soundwave said.

   "Ramhorn and Steeljaw should be here any second," Blaster replied.
"Hey, man, you wanna cool it with that?" he directed at the human in his
grip.  Elton was bawled up and sobbing uncontrollably.  The troller's
response was too garbled to understand.  Blaster set him down between
them; the human fell to his knees and vomited.  "Ugg," Blaster muttered.

   A moment later, a metallic gold robotic lion burst out of the trees,
carrying an unwilling human passenger on its back.  "Drop him here,
Steeljaw," Blaster said.  Steeljaw obeyed, depositing the human on the
ground next to Elton, who was curled up in a fetal position and rocking
back and forth on his heels.  Over the next several minutes, five more
humans arrived, carried by Buzzsaw, Ramhorn, Frenzy, Ratbat, and Rumble.
The group of humans cowered in silence, surrounded by giant robots, each
of whom brandished titanic weapons.

   "Alright, everybody's here," Blaster said, as Ratbat dropped the last
human and returned to Soundwave's chest compartment.  "Let's get on with
it.  Listen up, humans, and pay real close attention.  You're all in _big_
trouble, let me say that right from the start.  You've pissed off a lot of
people."

   Soundwave spoke up.  "The charges: disruption of Internet.  Excessive
cross-posting.  Trolling.  Inciting flame wars." 

   "Whah-- what?!" one of the humans exclaimed.  "You mean we're here
because of that Satan's Flame Warriors thing?!"

   "Correct," Soundwave said.

   "Don't you recognize your buddies?" Blaster asked.  He pointed to the
boxer-and-undershirt clad Elton.  "That there is Little Poppa Zoot.  This
guy," he gestured to an unshaven and unwashed man whose stomach burst out
from the bottom of a faded New Kids on the Block t-shirt, "is Captain
Skyppi."  He continued around the group, naming off each of the group
responsible for the cross-post invasion.

   "Now then," Blaster said.  "You guys thought nothing would happen to
you for all that trolling stuff you did.  You were _way_ wrong."

   "Release prisoner," Soundwave said.  Blaster's chest compartment
opened, and a cassette flew out, unfolding into a small, black robot.

   "This here is Rewind," Blaster said.  "We caught him doing the same
stuff you guys do -- starting flame wars, trolling, trying to wreck
newsgroups.  We brought you here so we could show you what we do to punks
like you."

   "No, please no!" Rewind said.  "Please, have mercy --"

   "Troll don't get mercy from me," Blaster said.  He drew his weapon, a
menacingly large rifle, and carefully adjusted its settings.

   "All trolls must be destroyed," Soundwave said, aiming his own weapon.

   "Please, noooooo!!"

   "Do it," Blaster said.

   Twin beams of laser light burst from their weapons, striking Rewind
dead center in the chest.  He reeled backwards, screaming, arms flailing.
Then a spectacular light display filled the darkness, and all present
turned away.

   When they look back, Rewind was gone without a trace.

   Rumble whistled in awe.  "Vaporized," the small, bluish robot
commented. "Cool!" 

   "Prisoner terminated," Soundwave agreed.

   Blaster spun on his heel and leaned towards the humans, pointing the
barrel of his gun at them.  The humans cringed.  "That's what's gonna
happen to _you_ punks if we ever catch you pulling stuff like this again,
on the Transformer groups or anywhere else.  You dig?"

   "Uh huh," one of the flamers managed to choke out.

   "You better.  Now get out of here," Blaster snapped.

   "You're not gonna kill us?" another human asked.

   "Don't give me any ideas, okay?  I am _not_ in a good mood.  You're
lucky... this time.  We're letting you go now, with just a warning.  You
can go home.  You better find some more constructive ways to use your time
from now on."

   "We know where you live," Soundwave added.

   "We - we can go home?"

   "WHAT did I just say?!" Blaster snarled.

   "But - but - where are we?"

   "Oregon, United States," Soundwave intoned.

   "Oregon?!  Dude, like I don't even know where that is!  I don't know
how to get home from here!"

   "Them's the breaks, youngblood," Blaster said.  "Think about it next
time before you go startin' trouble.  Let's go." He gestured to Steeljaw
and Ramhorn; they started for the woods.  Soundwave and his entourage
moved off in a different direction without any parting words.  The humans
stood gaping after them till they were gone. 

   Five minutes later, Blaster turned to Steeljaw with a smile.  "You got
him, right?"

   Steeljaw nodded silently, lifting one forepaw.  Magnetically attached
to it was a tiny cassette tape -- which broke loose of his grip, unfolding
and enlarging into the form of Rewind. 

   "Well!" he commented cheerfully.  "I seem to be none the worse off for
having been destroyed."

   "Let's just hope _they're_ better off for it," Blaster said.  "That was
a good act, by the way.  I didn't know you had it in you!"

   "That was an emulation of the Thoresian hyperdrama method of dramatic
excess, a technique brought to refinement on the colony world of Mayal
almost five hundred years ago during --"

   "Save it, okay?  Sheesh... I guess letting loose some of your data
matrix energy in that light beam didn't affect your store of facts, huh."

   "Of course not," Rewind said as he climbed onto Steeljaw's back;
Blaster transformed to his tape deck mode and landed in Rewind's hand.  "I
simply shunted unused data sectors to the fore.  Of course, I also have
triplicated back-ups and a hard drive copy in my quarters.  Not to
mention..."

   Blaster didn't hear the rest; he chose that moment to switch to his
shut-down rest mode.  To save energy, of course.

   The group set off on their trek back to Autobot Headquarters, as the
first hint of daylight began illuminate the sky above the forest. 

-  -  -
   "Blaster, Hound calling.  You read news this week?"

   "Um, sort of, how come?" Blaster asked, his feet propped up on the
Ark's Com Room tables.

   "All those trolls I showed you last week?  They're gone!  Just like
that! The one called Little Poppa Zoot even apologized!  I'll have to take
back what I said about the humans acting stupid." 

   Blaster smiled to himself.  "Heh, that's great Hound, glad to hear it."

   "I wonder what could have happened?" Hound said.

   Blaster leaned forward to disconnect the com.  "Who knows," he
muttered.  "I, ah, gotta get to work, dude.  I'll catch you later."  A
button push closed the connection.

   Blaster turned back to the screen that had been occupying his attention
and resumed inputting data.

        So anyway, I agree, Alanis Morissette blows, 
        but we're getting way off-topic here.  Can't 
        we get back to what this newsgroup's all about - 
        Transformers?  ]B]

                   ---===****|||Blaster|||****===---
                "When the music's rockin', I'm rollin'."

************************THE END***************************


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