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  Beast Wars: Desperate Times

    Chapter 1: The past, anew.
 
The Orion 3 system was a bleak, planetless wasteland.  By all accounts it was worthless, of no strategic value to anyone.  It had lain silent for eons, undisturbed by the universe around it.  Until now.  A ripple formed across a thin line of space, no bigger than a coin.  Gradually however, it widened into a door through which a shape leapt into existence.  The shape sped on toward the lone star, scarcely noticing as the gap it had created abruptly closed behind it, leaving no trace of its brief existence.

It was a spaceship.  Sleek in design, its outline appeared somewhat like an arrowhead with two wing-like appendages projecting from the front, trailing off nearly to the rear.  It was dark onboard.  They were running mostly on emergency power, their main supplies depleted from the battle they had narrowly escaped from.  They moved into close orbit around the star, and when they were in range, hatches along the ship opened to reveal long sail-like devices.

“Solar sails deployed,” a voice said in the darkness.

“How long until main batteries are recharged?” another asked.

“Approximately three hours,” the first voice came back after a few seconds.  From the direction of the second came a sigh.

“I guess that’ll have to do.  Can we get internal lighting back on yet?”  Almost a full minute passed before the reply came in the form of a dim red glow filling the bridge.

“Emergency lights are the best I can do for now, Optimus.”

Optimus Primal surveyed the bridge.  Almost every inch had smoke pouring from some part of it.  Many of the control boards were totally dark.  “Rattrap, damage report.”

The pilot’s chair gradually turned around.  In it sat a smaller Transformer.  “It’s not good, Big Bot.  From the few readings I can get out of this bucket of bolts we’ve lost shields, most of our weapons, we almost slagged the main drive getting here, and communications are still down.”

Optimus’ head slumped.  “Well, that’s just prime... Any more good news?”

Rattrap hesitated.  “Um, yeah.  Sensors say we’re alone here.  Which, considering that this is the rendezvous point, and that we were one of the last ships out, doesn’t seem like a good sign.”

Optimus nodded.  He had been thinking exactly the same thing.  “Our ship is faster than most of the others, and all things considered, we’re in better shape than most of them are.  We’ll just have to wait here until we either meet up with the rest of the fleet,” he got up and turned to enter his office, “or until we’ve waited long enough to know that they’re not coming.  Either way, Rhinox, revive the others and get started on the repairs.”

Rhinox got up slowly.  “I’ll get right on it.”

Optimus entered his office, the doors separating him from the smoky bridge.  He listened for a moment, but only silence had followed him in.  In the distant past, Rattrap would have made some crack about the ship’s condition, or at least taken a verbal swipe at Optimus.  The hard times had taken their toll on Rattrap however, and the jokes were long since gone.

Optimus sat at his desk and tried to come to grips with the situation.  He had to face the very real possibility that they were one of the last, if not the last ship in the Maximal Resistance.  If that was true, then he had to get the ship underway and reach New Earth to report to central command what had happened.  “Computer,” he called.  After a surprisingly long period of time, it answered.

“Yes, Commander?” a feminine voice said back.

“Prepare a message pod, if we still have any that work.  Download my personal logs, dating from two cycles ago to present, and program the pod to warp to the pickup point in the Centuari system.  Do NOT launch until I give the order.”

The computer was silent for a few moments as it processed these commands, and then announced, “Functional message pod located.  Delayed launch order confirmed.  Beginning download of personal files.”

Primal turned his chair towards the viewport and looked out into the vast sea of stars in front of him.  “Let me know when the download is complete.”  The computer acknowledged his command as it worked to process the orders.  I barely even notice the stars anymore, he thought to himself as he looked out at the endless view before him.  I’d rather be out there, exploring, than fighting the Predacons any day.  He sighed quietly.  Of course, if we don’t beat them, none of those planets will be free, or possibly even exist long enough to explore.

For nearly an hour he sat alone with his thoughts, waiting for some sign from the rest of the fleet.  Surely the Predacons couldn’t have gotten them all.  If they had however, he had to prepare for the worst.  “Computer...”

“Yes Commander?”

“Begin recording a personal log.  I want it to be added to those being stored in the message pod.”

“Confirmed.  Recording personal log.”

He paused for a moment, unsure of how to begin.  “This log may be the last entry I make after one hundred ten years service in the Maximal Resistance Army.  We have been fighting the Decepticon/Predacon menace for untold eons, and it is now possible that I command one of the only remaining ships.”  He paused once again, gathering his thoughts.

“For millions of years, Autobots have fought Decepticons on our home planet of Cybertron, to preserve not only our own freedom, but the freedom of other worlds we knew the Decepticons would enslave should they defeat us.  Ironically, it was not until the war spilled over onto one of those other worlds that the tide turned so drastically against us.

“Four million years ago, our greatest leader, Optimus Prime, launched a great ship called the Ark.  With it, he intended to find enough energy to win the war and free Cybertron once and for all.  Unknown to Prime, however, the Decepticon leader, Megatron, learned of his plans and set a trap to destroy the ship as it emerged from hyperspace near the intended destination: Earth.

“The Decepticon ship heavily damaged the Ark and the Decepticons boarded her, intending to finish the Autobots personally.  Optimus, however, programmed the ship to crash into the planet in an attempt to stop Megatron and his followers, while making the ultimate sacrifice.  The ship crashed, intact, into a dormant volcano where her inhabitants lay in emergency stasis until the Earth year 1985, when the volcano exploded.

“This reactivated the shipboard computer, Teletran 1, which immediately began repairs, while sending out probes to explore its new environment.  It detected what it assumed was the planet’s mechanical life forms and began modeling its passengers, as it repaired them, to mimic this life.  Unfortunately, in its still damaged state, the computer could not tell the difference between Autobot and Decepticon, and the Decepticon Thundercracker was repaired first.  He in turn revived Megatron, and together they revived the rest of the Decepticon army.  As the Decepticons abandoned the Ark, a vengeful Starscream fired off several shots in an attempt to bury the ship again.  All he succeeded in doing was knocking the Autobot Ironhide into Teletran 1’s repair beam.  Once revived he roused the others, only to find the greatest tragedy of all; their leader, Optimus Prime, was dead.  His head was all but slagged, and his spark long since gone.

“At first, the Autobots though that one of the Decepticons had done this, but the autopsy showed that it had happened almost two hundred fifty thousand years past.  Long after the Ark had crashed, but also long before they had awoken.  This remains the greatest mystery in the history of our race.  Prime was clearly shot, but not by anyone aboard the Ark, and none of Teletran 1’s records show anyone else aboard.  Of course, the computer was not exactly operating at full capacity at the time, so it’s impossible to say for sure.

“Prowl assumed leadership of the Autobots after that.  The Matrix had not been damaged, and so it was passed to him.  For years they fought against the Decepticons, at first despite the race, called humans, which inhabited the planet, and then later with their help once it became clear just how much a menace the Decepticons represented.  Prowl, though a good and wise leader, was no Optimus Prime.  Despite many victories against the Decepticons, the Autobots still lost more battles than they won.  With the help of the Space Bridge, many energon cubes were sent back to Cybertron to re-energize the Decepticon armies.  Using this same technology, Megatron brought Cybertron itself into Earth’s orbit, causing massive tidal waves and devastating earthquakes.  Using human slaves acquired with the help of a human scientist’s ‘bio chip’, Megatron harnessed the power produced by these elements.

“The Autobots fought bravely, but Prowl realized the battle was lost.  He arranged for the remaining Autobots, and several hundred humans, to begin emergency repairs to the Ark, under Grapple’s & Hoist’s direction.  Then, as the Earth was torn apart by natural disasters and the gravitational influences of Cybertron, the remaining Autobots and humans blasted off into space.  Cybertron itself tore loose from Earth, but remained in its orbital plane.  To this day, Earth is still used as an energy source for Cybertron, as they draw off energy from its now exposed nickel-iron core.

“The Autobots took the humans and established several colony worlds, including New Earth.  Together, they began to gather the Autobots who had fled Cybertron after the Decepticon victory, and began to develop new technologies with which they hoped to eventually rid the universe of the Decepticon menace.  Thus ended the Great War.”

After this, Primal was silent for a moment.  So many lives lost in all this time, he mourned to himself, and so many more to follow unless we can somehow end this madness, and soon!  Regaining, his composure, Primal continued.

“The first uprising occurred in the year 2005, when the great beast Unicron returned.  Unicron was the ancient enemy of our god Primus.  In the universe that came before ours, Unicron sought to destroy all matter and energy, thus negating its existence.  He was not thorough in this destruction, however, and parts of that universe escaped him.  In the fullness of time, these parts came together and exploded into the reality that we now know.  Unicron awoke to find a new universe to destroy, and immediately set about the task.  This time the universe was prepared for Unicron, and created a great defender to stop him: Primus.  For ages they fought, and in doing so destroyed a great amount of the universe that Primus was trying to protect.  In desperation, Primus tricked Unicron into entering a gigantic asteroid, as Primus did the same.  Primus sealed both of their essences in these floating rocks for all eternity.  As they drifted apart, Unicron gradually learned to reshape his prison into a giant planet-eating behemoth which could also transform into a facsimile of his old appearance.

“Primus also reshaped his prison, but he shaped it into the planet known as Cybertron.  He began to create an army out of his own being, an army he would use against Unicron when he returned.  The soldiers of this army resembled robots, except they possessed Unicron’s ability to change their appearance.  Before Primus could instill life and sentience into his creations however, a cruel race called the Quintessons discovered the planet.  They thought the planet abandoned, and when they found a race of seemingly mindless robots inhabiting its cities, they moved in and took over.  For centuries they studied, rebuilt, and sold their enslaved race as they pleased.  When the robots were finally sufficiently developed however, Primus awoke and gave the essence of his life to his creations in the form of Vector Sigma, and the Creation, or Autobot, Matrix.  Primus gave the Matrix to the first Transformer he breathed life into, a robot named Alpha Trion.  With it, Alpha Trion instilled life into the others, and they eventually drove the Quintessons from Cybertron.  Primus himself returned to his slumber, so that Unicron would not detect him and come before his troops were ready.

“For millions of years, Primus slept, until a battle deep inside Cybertron woke him.  A stray blast struck the receptacle that held his essence, and he awoke with a startled scream.  The psychic reverberations from his scream attracted Unicron to the Sol system, where a united Autobot/Decepticon army attacked him.  Unicron was prepared for such a threat however, and had struck a deal with Megatron.  In return for a new body and increased powers Megatron, now calling himself Galvatron, turned on the Autobots.  His hidden agenda was to gain control of the Matrix and use it against Unicron himself.  To this end, he fought and destroyed Prowl, literally ripping the Matrix from his body.  However, Galvatron soon learned, to his dismay, that he could not use the Matrix, and was devoured by Unicron in repayment for his treachery.  During the battle, an Autobot strike force also entered Unicron in an attempt to retrieve the Matrix.  It was recovered by a young bot named Hot Rod, who succeeded in releasing its power.  The unleashed power ripped through Unicron, tearing him apart.  However, during the cataclysm, Hot Rod was struck down by Galvatron.  Before he died, Hot Rod passed the Matrix on to our current leader, Grimlock, who has held it ever since.

“Almost three hundred years have passed since the uprising.  In that time, we have fought battle after battle with little or no success.  Of the four new worlds established by the Autobot/Human alliance, only two remain.  Aurora and New America were destroyed after their locations were discovered by Decepticon extermination squads.  New Earth and New Iacon are still safe, as far as I know.  Also, over the years, as our technologies have developed, my race has become smaller in order to better conserve our energy resources.  We now stand on almost equal ground with our human allies.  Many other races have joined our fight, but the Decepticon control of Vector Sigma has allowed them to produce an almost unlimited supply of troops.  Only our control of the Creation Matrix has allowed us to compete at all.  Unlike the Predacons however, we consider every spark created by it to be sacred, and not simply cannon fodder.

“I am making this recording in case we fail to return home.  May any who find it use what knowledge it may impart to fight the Predacon menace and stop their relentless advance, that the fires of freedom will not be extinguished.  ‘Til all are one.”  He stopped.  “Computer, end recording.”

“Confirmed.  Uploading new log to message probe.”

Optimus looked at the chronometer on his desk.  Almost an hour had passed since they had arrived at the rendezvous point.  More than enough time for any other ships to have arrived.  He looked up at the Maximal standard hanging above his desk.  It was a red background over which a black triangle had been emblazoned.  At each of its corners was a symbol.  At the top was the original Autobot symbol.  On the bottom left was the symbol used during the uprising, sometimes known as the second generation.  Ironically, it somewhat resembled the head of Optimus Prime.  On the bottom right was the Maximal symbol.  Underneath the triangle was the Autobot/Maximal code: “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”  It was a saying that Optimus Prime had often been heard to use.  Primal stared at the standard for a few minutes, trying to find inspiration for his next move, but he already knew what it was.

“Computer, launch pod now.”

“Affirmative.  Initiating launch sequence.”

Optimus watched out the viewport as the ship spat a tiny cylindrical object into space.  The pod took a few moments to gain its bearing, then shot into hyperspace.  He knew it would change course several times, eventually ending up in the Centuari system to await retrieval, if any was coming.  The pod would contain logs of the slaughter at Aurora, where their fleet had attempted to stop the Predacons from bombarding the planet.  It had been a trap however, and they had lost many ships - ships they could ill afford to lose.  They hadn’t had many left to begin with.  The very ship he commanded wasn’t even of Maximal design.  It was a captured Predacon frigate equipped with the new transwarp drive.  That was one of the reasons they had been one of the last ships to leave.  They were more heavily armed and armored, and faster, than practically any ship in either side’s fleets.  However, in the end, sheer numbers had won the day for the Predacons.

Primal tapped the com-link.  “Rhinox, report.”

“Rhinox here, Optimus,” came the reply from the other end.  “I’ve revived our remaining crew, both human and Maximal.  Also, we’ve got main power back up to about sixty percent.”

Optimus nodded, “How long until the main drive is back on-line?  We can’t stay here much longer.”

“Another hour at least.  I barely know how this damn thing works to begin with,” Rhinox reported.

“Do what you can,” Primal ordered.

“Yes, sir.”

He was about to sign off when Rattrap interrupted.  “Yo Big Bot!  I’ve got a possible hyperwave signature coming in on an approach vector.”

Optimus jumped from his chair and dashed back towards the bridge.  “Is it one of ours?” he asked as he came through the doors.

“I can’t tell yet, most of the sensors are still glitched.”

“Raise our shields and bring all weapons on-line,” Optimus Primal ordered.

Rattrap raced to obey.  Optimus noted several others of his crew, now revived and back on the bridge, were also doing the same, hurrying to bring the ship to battlestations.

“Shield power at thirty percent,” Rattrap noted with an air of disgust in his voice.

Another voice came up from the front deck that Optimus identified as Eclipse, his weapons officer.  “I’ve only got main plasma guns.  All missile launchers and point defense lasers are still off-line!”

Optimus slammed his fist into the command console.  “Rhinox!  I need those engines, NOW!”

“I’m doing what I can!” Rhinox hollered back.

“Do better, or we’re all dead!”

He turned towards the pilot, a human named Jackson.  “Plot us an escape vector and move us away from the signature’s exit point.”

As Jackson punched in the nav data, the ship slowly broke its orbit and withdrew her sails.  As she did, a ripple, vastly different from the one they had formed, flowed through the fabric of space.

“Here they come!” announced Rattrap.

A moment later, a huge starship many times larger than theirs filled the viewport.  At first, it was hard to make out, it had appeared so suddenly, but then they all recognized it.  Someone in the back of the bridge let out a hoot of surprise.

“Computer, confirm ship ID,” Optimus asked excitedly.

“ID confirmed, vessel identified as Autobot flagship Resolute.

A cheer went up over the bridge.  “They’re hailing us,” Rattrap said over the din.

“Then for Primus’ sake, put me through,” Optimus commanded as the noise quieted back down.

A moment later the face of their leader Grimlock appeared on the screen.  “This is Autobot leader Grimlock to Axalon, are you receiving us?”

Optimus answered, “Confirmed commander, it’s good to see you.”

“Same here.  How bad are you damaged?”

“From what I saw of the battle, probably not half as bad as you are.”

Grimlock nodded curtly.  Though the Matrix had imparted new wisdom and knowledge to the once simple-minded warrior, he still tended to be a being of few words.  “How many of your escort ships made it out?”

Optimus hesitated.  “None sir, we’re the last one from our group.”

Grimlock stood silently a moment, digesting this news.  “Most of ours too.  The rest should be arriving soon.  I want you to dock with us.  We’ll start repairs on both ships while we wait for the others.  But I want your ship ready to go as soon as possible.”

“Yes sir,” Primal said hesitantly, “but may I ask why?”

“Not over an open channel.  As soon as you dock, report to my office.”

“Right away, commander.”  The screen went dark.  Optimus addressed his crew, “You heard him, get us underway and prepare for docking maneuvers.”

About an hour later, Optimus stood in Grimlock’s command center.  Like all Maximals from the old Autobot army, Grimlock had been re-engineered to a new, smaller body.  He was still an impressive sight however, a full head and a half taller than Primal, and his alternate mode was still that of a mighty T-Rex.  He motioned for Optimus to sit down.  “I’m going to get straight to the point.  While we were in flight I received a transmission from our covert agent on Cybertron, in the Predacon capital city.”  Optimus started at this.  They had not been able to get any agents near Cybertron in decades, much less its capital.  Whoever this agent was, he was good.  Grimlock continued, “He thinks he’s found something of vital importance to the Predacons.  They have the information under maximum security, and to get it he will blow his cover.  We must have this information at any cost.”

“What does this have to do with my crew, sir?” Primal asked.

“That’s easy.  You command one of the only Predacon ships in our fleet.  We’re going to change the ID on your ship to match one of their long range patrol ships.  Then you will retrieve the agent.”

“No offense, sir,” Primal pointed out, “but there’s no way that’ll hold up under close scrutiny.  Besides, the Preds KNOW we have some of their ships.”

“I know that.  But the ID we’re giving you is from a silent running patrol vessel we disabled in the Delta sector.  They keep all communications shut down to avoid detection.  They only report back when they start back from a mission.  We got their ID codes and crew list when she was salvaged.  She’s due to return in two cycles.  You will use this information to go into Cybertronian space and retrieve the agent.”

Slowly Optimus took this in.  “Surely as soon as his cover is blown the Predacons will shut down all traffic in the system and bottle us in.”

“They’ll try,” Grimlock agreed.  “But our agent has been placing charges all over the city, including the space control center.  The explosions will disrupt them long enough for him to grab the information and for you to escape.  Your transwarp equipped ship will not be affected by their hyperspace dampening field.  However, you’re going to have to go in under normal hyperspace drive so that they won’t know you have this ability.”  Grimlock hesitated there, then continued.  “I can’t stress how important this mission is.  We can’t keep going on like this, especially after the loss of Aurora.”

“I know, sir,” Optimus said solemnly.  “I’ll do my best.”

Grimlock looked Primal in the eyes.  “I know you will.  You’ve always lived up to your namesake’s example.”

Optimus stoop up in anticipation of being dismissed, but Grimlock was not quite done yet.  “There’s one more thing... I’m sending along several crew members from the flagship to bolster your crew.”

“Yes, sir, I’d assumed that.” Primal acknowledged.

“There’s more.  I’m giving you command of a special Maximal for this mission.”

If Optimus Primal had been capable of breathing, he would have held his breath at that moment.  “Who sir, if I may ask?”

“Project X,” Grimlock said slowly.

Optimus started at that.  “Primus, sir, but are you sure that’s wise!?  He’s all but uncontrollable.  Last time we deployed him, the losses on BOTH sides of the battlefield were-”

“I am aware of the difficulties,” Grimlock interjected, “but his particular brand of... resilience may be needed on this mission.”

“As you wish sir,” Optimus conceded, trying to disguise the lack of enthusiasm and confidence he was feeling.

“You’re dismissed, Optimus Primal.”

Optimus saluted, then left the office to prepare his crew.  Grimlock swiveled his chair to look out the small viewport behind him.  “May Primus forgive me if we’re wrong about what the information contains.  Or, even if we’re right...”
 

To be continued.

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