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               Beast Wars: Desperate Times

Chapter 3: “Creating chaos, for fun and profit.”

SOL system entry checkpoint, in orbit around the planet Pluto.

“This has got to be the most boring job in the empire,” Terrorsaur thought. “I mean sure, I command a fairly large squad of Predacons, but no one’s tried to break into the system in decades.” He sighed and checked the gauges again. There were several incoming hyperwave blips, but all of them were authorized, so there wouldn’t be any fun from them. “Too bad,” he said aloud. “It might be fun if someone would try and stir things up a bit around here.” Little did he know, but he would be getting his wish and more, all too soon.

The system itself was protected from entry by a huge hyperspace drive dampening field, combined with a series of outposts and satellites. No ship could approach closer than two light years without being detected by its hyperwave signature, and even if it could escape detection, the field would force them out of hyperspace well outside the system. If that happened, the odds of the ship escaping the field’s influence before the Predacons reached it was minimal. The entry station offered the only way in or out - alive that is.

 Terrorsaur brought up the registry for the most recent incoming blip. She had been on patrol in Gamma sector for almost six months now with no word since her departure. This was normal however, as these ships ran under a radio silence order to prevent detection. The scanners confirmed she was a Night Dagger class frigate, and that her codes and registry checked out. The only thing that seemed to be out of order was a slight fluctuation in her main dive readings. When he contacted her for an explanation, he was told by her engineer that her drive coils had degraded and needed replacement badly. He shrugged, and ordered them to proceed to the Martian orbital shipyards after their clearance for repairs. He turned to scan the other ships for something more interesting. If he had paused a moment however, he might have noticed a tiny blip on his screen that had previously been masked by the drive emissions from the Night Dagger detach itself from the ship, and attach itself to the hull of the station. The Backstabber itself proceeded in system, anxious to be as far away from the station, and it’s deadly new addition, as possible.

Mars orbit, Predacon fleet shipyards.

Everything had been calm at the shipyards for some time. The fleet was scoring victory after victory with no end in sight. With their stranglehold on Vector Sigma, they had an almost limitless supply of troops to send against their enemies. No one had any reason to doubt they would eventually win the war and rule the universe itself. The main fleet itself was still mopping up the Aurora system, and intelligence agents were cracking the main databanks of the planet to find the remaining rebel strongholds. Everything seemed to be pointing to imminent victory for the Predacons, until now.

Without warning, a class “Inferno” alert came through. Fleet commander Cyclonus couldn’t believe it, Cybertron itself had been attacked and Galvatron was reported as  terminated. He struggled through every update he received, looking for news of his leader's condition, and news of the assassin’s demise. He was shocked when he learned the assassin had been no other than Counterpunch himself. Cyclonus was even more shocked when he heard that the intelligence commander had been an Autobot agent all along. He knew the other generals would be moving to take command of the empire, and was beginning to initiate moves of his own, when the report came in that Galvatron had survived the attack. Cyclonus expected relative calm to be restored within minutes. This wasn’t the first attempt on their leader's life, though it was the first one to come from a rebel source for quite some time. Cyclonus was in store for at least one more surprise, as the alert was raised to code “Armageddon”. Nothing less than a threat to the whole empire could justify that kind of alarm. He was about to send out an urgent recall notice to the main fleet, when Galvatron’s glaring face filled his screen.

Fleet headquarters, storage sector.

Elsewhere on the station, in a small unused storage room, a glow began to form. Its faint outline was that of two Transformers, and slowly it became more distinct. Several times it looked as if it might fade and disappear altogether, but finally it won out over the laws of physics and two images solidified. Night Stalker took a moment to gather himself and gain his bearing before proceeding. The transport hadn’t been easy. The teleporter he used had been experimental and therefore not fully tested. He would have to report that it worked, but tended to leave one’s power a little drained. He used passive scanners to confirm they were alone, and proceeded to the cache of equipment he had left behind when he came through here on his way in system. Command had considered this to be his second most important demolition target, so he had planted the first charges here, and also left any equipment too big to smuggle in. The plan had been to use the teleporter to return here in case of an emergency, and sneak out aboard an outbound transport. He opened a particularly old looking crate marked “hazardous” and took out his mincomp. It had been hacking at the fleet command computer since he left it here months ago, with some success. He still couldn’t get into the command levels themselves, but he could track ship movements. If he couldn’t find the ship sent to pick him up soon, he was going to have to take a chance and board the next transport out of here. In less than half a cycle, this place wouldn’t even exist anymore.

Cyclonus' office

Cyclonus recoiled from his screen, Galvatron’s face was a mess. Clearly he hadn’t even let them take him to the restoration chamber yet. Nonetheless, his expression could not be mistaken for anything but the pure fury it represented.

“CYCLONUS!” Galvatron bellowed.

“Y-y-yes my leader,” he stammered, trying to figure out how Galvatron might be blaming him for this event.

“As you no doubt know by now, an Autobot agent has attempted to terminate me,” he said in what Cyclonus hoped wasn’t an accusatory tone.

“Yes, and I was also glad to hear that you survived while he did not....”  Cyclonus started to say.

“IT WAS THE EXPLOSION OF HIS DEATH THAT ALMOST KILLED ME YOU IDIOT!” he screamed, nearly shorting out the audio monitor.

Cyclonus cowered, expecting the order for HIS death to come next, but instead, Galvatron took a moment and regained his composure.

“That is not important however. I order you to close off the system, and begin a comprehensive search for a Maximal agent,” he said evenly. “And before you say something stupid, it is NOT the same one who tried to kill me, he is quite dead.”

“Then who is it?” Cyclonus asked, now confused.

“I don’t know, but he has stolen something of great value to me, and I want it back,” Galvatron said in a threatening tone.

“But how can I find someone I don’t even know the identity of?  Don’t we have any clues?” he asked timidly.

“We might have once, but the traitor Counterpunch introduced a virus into the main computer that erased all recent intelligence on captured Maximals. We have no idea which of the prisoners he might have freed to help him.” He stopped and the image on the screen became frighteningly large. “I WILL tell you this much, if he escapes with what he’s stolen, it could spell the doom for the whole empire. If that happens, I will personally insure that you precede us into oblivion.” Galvatron terminated the transmission abruptly, leaving Cyclonus all but in shock.

He took a few moments to compose himself and issued the orders to seal off the system. “And then I either find an agent that’s capable of penetrating Cybertron’s nearly invulnerable security net, or take my own life before Galvatron does it for me,” he thought grimly.

Fleet headquarters, storage sector.

In the hold, Stalker prepared to move out. He secured Megatron, checking to make sure the restraining bolt was still working. He then stood before the door, and slowly his form appeared to shift slightly. A holographic field altered his appearance slightly. The black coloration of his panther mode parts started to change color, and his robot features also appeared slightly different. His signature mask now made it appear he was a Predacon officer. He hoped it would be enough to keep anyone from questioning any orders he might have to give. The only problem was, this had been the same disguise he used the first time he was here. He had to hope that station security hadn’t caught on to his ruse yet, and that Punch had erased his identity from the main computer and the guard bot who brought him in. He walked out among the Predacons, and got through several checkpoints without incident. There was a lot of excitement, although nobody seemed to know exactly what was going on. He knew all too well though, that either they were about to start a civil war over who now ruled the Predacons, or Galvatron had survived, and they were looking for him. Either way, he had to reach the bay were his ship should be waiting. He only had a few hours left at best.

Cyclonus' office

Cyclonus paced his office. Every now and then he would pound a button on his desk, demanding for news about the search. If the Maximal was trying to leave the system, which he would eventually have to if he hoped to live, they would detect it. Otherwise, he had to lie low in the hopes of making them think he had already escaped, and make his move when he thought their guard was down. Cyclonus unfortunately didn’t have the luxury of the time it would take to wait the Maximal out. He needed results quickly, so he had ordered an extensive search of all Predacon installations including this one. Unfortunately, he ordered most of his forces to search Cybertron air traffic as he thought the infiltrator couldn’t have made it this far yet. Whatever this captured item was, it couldn’t be easy to smuggle off planet, and they would tear every transport apart if necessary until they found the agent, and terminated him.

Mars fleet command, Docking bay 1521-A.

“Identify for signature scan,” the voice of the security computer said flatly.

“Security officer Tigatron,” a deep voice said. A thin beam played over the voice’s owner, panning downward. After it was complete, the computer spent a moment verifying the identity.

“Identity confirmed,” it said after a moment. “Please state the nature of the visit to bay 1521-A.”

“To complete the sweep of all incoming ships, as ordered by commander Cyclonus,” Tigatron answered.

The computer confirmed the order and opened the bay’s door for him. Slowly he stepped inside. Within, he was greeted by the slight disarray of what looked to have been a hastily abandoned repair bay. Cyclonus was recruiting people from all over the station to search outbound ships for the spy. In fact, there only seemed to be one mechanoid present at all, and he was working at the rear of the craft, near it’s drive section. Gathering himself, the officer strode to the rear and confronted him. “You!” he said tersely.

Slowly the ‘bot pulled himself out from the tube where he was working. Mech fluid covered nearly every inch of his superstructure. “Yeah,” he said in a defiant tone, “what is it, I’m kinda busy here.”

“Why aren’t you out searching for the fugitive?!” Tigatron fumed. The worker didn’t even seem to notice his tone, and simply shrugged.

“I look like a guard bot to you? I’m just a grease monkey, and my commander said to have this thing fixed in less than a cycle,” he said, indicating the ship.

“Commander Cyclonus’ orders supersedes all others. You should be out there right now.”

“So sue me,” the bot answered, the defiant tone more noticeable now.

“I’ll do more than that to you,” Tigatron brought up a vicious looking rifle. “Prepare to enter the void, scum.”

Before he could fire however, he heard a noise behind him and turned to see the barrel  of an altogether different rifle stuck right in his face.

“Nobody threatens to off one of my friends and gets away with it, ya stinking Pred!” Rattrap said.

A startled Tigatron looked at the Maximal for a moment, then began to laugh.

“I don’t see what’s so funny Pred, you’re about to get vaped,” Rattrap said, grinning. Slowly his hand started to squeeze the trigger.

“Hold on,” Rhinox said, climbing the rest of the way out of the hole. He brought his chain gun out from concealment and aimed it at the Predacon security officer. “What IS so funny.”

“You are” he replied flatly. “I knew if you were really Maximals, you’d never let me kill one of your crew in ‘cold blood,’ as the humans say.”

Both of them looked around, expecting a trap. As both of them turned back to him, Tigatron began laughing again and a shimmer formed around him. His features appeared to change, and soon Night Stalker stood before them.

“You guys really aren’t cut out for this covert work, are you?” he said in a slightly mocking tone.

Both Maximals were stunned. Rattrap however managed an outraged, “Why didn’t you just tell us who you were!”

“And blow my cover before I could identify you? No way. It’s not like we had time to work out a code or anything,” Stalker said, shrugging to himself. “Now I haven’t got time to chit chat. We’ve got to retrieve my cargo from a storage bay two levels down.”

“Wait a sec,”  Rhinox interrupted. ”We’ve got to contact Optimus and let him know what’s going on.”

“He already knows,” a voice said behind them. They turned as one to find Optimus Primal standing in the shadows near them. He walked towards them, and Stalker got his first look at the famous Maximal officer. He was a head taller than Rhinox, who was fairly big for a Maximal. He wore colors reminiscent of the Autobots legendary leader, whom he had been named after. “Don’t disparage them too much for not being subtle, this isn’t the sort of mission we usually take.”

“Uhh, sorry. I didn’t mean to...” Night Stalker started, but Optimus dismissed the apology with a gesture.

“We don’t have time right now. How exactly do you intend to get this ‘cargo’ onboard so we can get off this floating deathtrap?” Optimus asked.

“Well, I’d hoped to use the teleporter, but it burned out after I used it to get here. I wanted to get several of your crew to help me move a crate containing the ‘cargo’ here....” he started to say.

“Are you kidding me?!” Rattrap said incredulously. “The Preds are all over this place like cyber ants. We’d be picked up in a second.” He turned to the other two Maximals. “And he’s accusing US of not being subtle.”

“I’ve hacked into the computer.” Stalker said defensively. “I can get us the clearance.”

“Well isn't that just grand,” Rattrap said sarcastically. “Just how far do you think we’ll get before some Pred guard decides he wants to take a look at the ‘box’ we’re moving, what then.”

“Okay,” Stalker said angrily. “Have you got a better plan?”

“Actually, I think we can make his plan work,” Optimus said.

“What!!” Rattrap exclaimed. “You blown a fuse or something.”

“No,” Optimus said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “You see, I have an idea.”

Starship Axalon, main hold.

Optimus approached the container hesitantly. He had truly hoped not to use this. With his other ‘surprise’ waiting at the exit point however, he was out of other options. His crew would be needed to help move the crate and guard the ship for their escape, so he was down to this. He tapped a code into a terminal on the outside of the Cage, as it was sometimes called. There was the sound of a stasis field shutting down, and then movement from inside. Optimus backed off slightly as the sound of pounding came from inside.

Something screamed and thrashed around, attempting to escape its confinement. After a few minutes, this calmed down and a deep voice filled the room. “Let me out of here!” it said. “Already I can taste the delicious colors of fear in the air. Even from you, Optimus Primal.”

“I don’t fear you,” Optimus said coldly.

“Oh, but you do,” The voice seemed to ooze from the Cage. “You cannot hide the flavor of your fear from me. You are right to be afraid, I represent your imminent death.”

“I don’t fear you, because Commander Grimlock gave me this.” Optimus held out a box. At the sight of it the occupant of the Cage stopped moving and was silent. “That’s right, you know what’s in here, and you know what I can do to you with it. So, you will do EXACTLY as I say, or I’ll see to it that you feel more pain than all of your victims combined.” A chittering sound emerged from the Cage as the figure inside seemed to consider this for a moment.

“Very well, I will do as you ask. But know this, Optimus Primal, I will add your name to the list of those that I will have my revenge upon one day. You WILL pay for this indignity,” it said menacingly.

“Your not the first one to say that,” Optimus said turning to leave. “I doubt you’ll be the last.”

Before he reached the door, the voice chuckled and said, “How ironic.”

Optimus stopped, turning back to the Cage. “What is?” he asked.

“Why, in your quest to stop the Predacons, you now share many of their qualities. I find that quite, amusing.” it replied.

Of all the things he had heard over the past few days, that shook Optimus the most.

Cyclonus’ office.

Cyclonus was growing more worried with each passing minute. There was still no sign of the agent on any of the outbound transports. He had ordered most of the ships to Cybertron in order to facilitate the search there. “He MUST still be on the planet,” he said aloud to no one specifically. “There’s no way he could have gotten off planet without us finding him. Yes, he’s hiding there, hoping we’ll overlook him checking the space traffic.”

“Um, if you say so sir,” a junior officer replied.

Cyclonus gave him an annoyed look. He hadn’t realized he’d spoken aloud. He turned back to the screens, trying desperately to think like his opponent. As he viewed them, something caught his eye. Several troops were moving a rather large crate through the lower levels. Normally this wouldn’t have been worthy of his attention, but they should have been helping with the search, not moving supplies.

“Where is that, and what are they doing there Sky Shadow!?” he said to his lieutenant, pointing at the screen. The Predacon looked for a moment before replying.

“It looks like the lower levels, somewhere near long term storage. As to what they’re doing, they appear to be moving a crate marked ‘hazardous materials’.”

“That seems like a strange thing to be doing during a state of emergency, wouldn’t you say?“ Cyclonus asked dryly.

“To say the least sir,” Sky Shadow said, nodding.

Cyclonus pulled his gun out of a drawer and stood up. “What say we gather up the guards, and go see what our little busy bodies are up to.”

“We sir?” Sky Shadow asked tentatively. “Shouldn’t we just send the guards to...”

“NO! I want to do this myself! That way I will get the credit for retrieving this arrogant Maximal,” Cyclonus said as he dragged Sky Shadow from the room.

Hallway 1798, near long term storage.

Six robots labored to move a large crate down the long hallway towards a cargo elevator. They were trying their best not to look hurried, but in each of their minds they knew they could be discovered any moment. They managed to get to the intersection of  another corridor, when they stopped to rest for a moment.

“Let’s move it,” one of them said. “if we take too long it’ll attract attention.”

“Like we couldn’t figure that out for ourselves,” another said back.

The first never got a chance to respond, for at that moment the doors to the elevator they were trying to reach opened. In it stood commander Cyclonus with a platoon of  his guards, awaiting them. They started as one to reach for weapons, but several warning shots came from either side of them. Two more squads of guards moved down the hallways they were crossing, catching them in an inescapable crossfire.

“Gentlemen,” Cyclonus said smoothly, “working late, even through this emergency, how commendable.” He strode forward, flanked on either side by a bodyguard. “I’m afraid however that a Maximal agent may be trying to smuggle out stolen materials.”

“What does this have to do with us?” one of the cornered ‘bots managed.

Cyclonus gave them an evil smile. “Why he might try to get it out of the system by smuggling it aboard an outbound ship.”

“So?”  the first bot challenged, stepping forward.

“So, who gave the order to move this crate,” Cyclonus asked.

The bot started to reach into a panel in his chest. Before he could pull his hand up, every weapon in the hallway was aimed at him. Carefully he pulled it the rest of the way out and showed a datacard to everyone present. A guard took the card from him and gave it to Cyclonus. He in turn ran it through his datapad and read the orders.

“Sub commander Tigatron? Of security? I’ve never heard of him,” Cyclonus said, dropping the card to the floor. He looked at the one who handed him the card. For a moment he thought he recognized him, but dismissed the thought. “Have you searched the container?” Cyclonus asked.

“No sir.” The bot in charge said. He pointed at the ‘Hazardous’ sign. “Didn’t seem like a bright idea.”

“Oh really,” Cyclonus said. “Well maybe I’ll just take a look for myself.” He moved forward to the crate, his guards herding the robots back from it.

“I really wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the lead bot said.

“Well you’re not me,” Cyclonus said as he opened the crate. “I think you’re a Maximal spy. After I see what’s in this box, I’m going to give you, and your friends to my leader Galvatron, so he can.....” he stopped short as the lid opened; the glow of two eyes greeted him from within.

The most menacing voice he had heard since Galvatron’s said, “Feel the thrill of the fear that courses through you Predacon, for it will be the last thing you feel.”

The other Predacons looked on in horror as a claw grabbed Cyclonus and lifted him into the air. The bots that had been moving the crate pulled back swiftly, as some of the guards finally had the presence of mind to shoot at their leader’s tormentor. Blast after blast poured into the box the claw emerged from, but when the smoke cleared, its owner stood there barely scratched.

“Is that the best you can do, weaklings? It amazes me that you’ve managed to beat my fellow Maximals this badly so far if that’s all you’ve got.” The voice came from what appeared to be a huge mechanical crab. It turned its attention to its prisoner. The crab regarded Cyclonus for a moment then threw him over its shoulder towards the bots that had moved him. “Here,” Rampage said, “a present for you.” He shifted his form, until he appeared to be a tank-like craft. “The rest however, are mine.” With that he unleashed a missile from his forward cannon down the cross hallway. It traveled down and exploded among the Predacon guards. The blast from it was so powerful that it destroyed most of them instantly, and flattened everyone else nearby. Rampage himself barely noticed, and he turned to take down the guards on the other side.

Cyclonus watched as his guards were mangled by this single Maximal. His internal diagnostic told him he would be off-line soon, the Maximal juggernaut had damaged many of his internal systems while crushing him. His guards tried to fire back, but to no appreciable effect as far as he could tell. The other Maximals had already drawn their weapons and were adding to the body count. The guards, now in full retreat, barely tried to fight back. One Maximal especially caught his attention, the one that he had been talking to. Cyclonus watched as he took down several Predacons in rapid succession, before changing modes to a black and gold tank with two howitzer cannons. As his systems began to shut down Cyclonus finally knew who it was - one of the original Autobots,  Bumblebee. By all accounts, he was single handedly responsible for taking down no less than two of each Decepticon from each of the combiner groups that had become prime targets early in the war. “How interesting, I thought he was dead,” Cyclonus thought as he went into stasis lock.

As Bumblebee’s commandos kept the Predacons busy in the lower levels, another group of Maximals moved a repair stretcher down a different corridor. On it lay an apparently stricken Predacon, who moaned and thrashed around weakly as they moved him. Fortunately the guards were too distracted by Rampage’s carnage to even notice them.

“We’re gonna die, I know it,” Rattrap said. “This is absolutely crazy.”

“Will you shut up already,” Night Stalker hissed. “We’re almost there.”

“Yeah, and what if we run into that crazy crab bot? You know he’s not exactly discriminating about his targets,” Rattrap whined.

“Well if you’d shut up and quit attracting attention, maybe we’ll make it intact,” Rhinox growled.

“Hmph,” Rattrap muttered under his breath. “I could set off an  atom bomb and no one around here would notice at the moment.”

“Well what do you say we NOT take that chance, now SHUT UP!” Stalker said as quietly as possible.

They rounded the corner and headed for the ship. The security checkpoint was already disabled, so they didn’t even pause to acknowledge it. As they entered the bay however, they barely got a few steps in before they had a dozen different blasters pointed at them.

“Hey! Wait! It’s us you morons!” Rattrap screamed out.

“Did you accomplish your mission?” Optimus asked, stepping forward.

“Yes sir,” Stalker replied quickly.

Optimus looked over at the Predacon bound to the gurney. “So where is it?” he asked, presuming the Predacon to be a prisoner they captured.

“Um, you’re looking at it Optimus,” Stalker answered slowly.

Optimus couldn’t believe it, “All this, for a single prisoner?”

“Trust me Optimus, when you find out who this is you’ll understand,” Rhinox assured him. “Right now though, we’ve got to evacuate the ‘distraction’ team and get out of here.”

That brought Optimus back to reality. “You’re right. Send out a signal to Bumblebee’s  team, tell them to head back here NOW.”

Hallway 1798, near long term storage.

The Predacons were finally starting to rally somewhat, despite the devastating toll that Rampage was racking up. Bumblebee had already lost two members of his Killer Bees, one of whom had been caught in a blast of Rampage’s missiles. When the signal finally came through to pull back he was greatly relieved, not because of the situation with the Predacons, he had been in worse before, but because he was afraid of Rampage turning on them.

“Fall back,” he ordered his remaining troops.

As they passed him towards the lift that was their escape one asked, “What about him?” pointing back down at the berserk Transformer.

“I’ll take care of him, now get to the ship.” he said more sternly. The other Maximal saluted him and proceeded towards the exit. “How do I always get the ‘fun’ jobs,” Bumblebee asked aloud. He ran down the corridor, rifles blasting several Predacons as they tried to draw a bead on him. He reached Rampage who was busy taking down a line of guards with a set of machine guns mounted above his tank mode’s cannon. Bumblebee ducked behind the giant Maximal for cover.

“We’ve gotta get out of here!” he yelled at the behemoth.

“Go away foolish Maximal,” it answered, “or become one of my victims.” To emphasize his point, Rampage fired another missile down the hallway, vaporizing another trio of guards. Bumblebee, however, was not impressed.

“Computer,” he said aloud, “activate the charges in Rampage’s superstructure.”

“What are you doing you fool?!” Rampage screamed in rage.

“You’re either going to come with me, or I’ll see to it you never go anywhere else again.” Bumblebee said evenly.

“My spark is indestructible you idiot, you cannot destroy me,” Rampage said indignantly.

“Maybe, but your body isn’t. I doubt your spark will be doing much feeding if you don’t have a body to do it with anymore,” Bumblebee came back sternly. “Besides, don’t forget that Optimus still has the core of your spark back on the ship.”

Rampage considered that for a moment. “You have a point Maximal. Very well, let us return and end this farce.” Rampage began to move backwards, his treads crushing the remains of fallen guards beneath it. As they entered the elevator, he changed to his robot mode and fired several more rounds out the doors before they shut behind him. He turned to regard the smaller Maximal for a moment.

“I suppose you’re going to add my name to that list you’re always going on about,” Bumblebee said unflinchingly.

“I thought about it,” Rampage said in an amused tone, “but I think not.”

“Why not?” Bumblebee asked, sounding annoyed. “I’m not worthy enough to be on it?”

Rampage chuckled. “Quite the contrary, you are the first Transformer I’ve met who is actually not afraid of me. It would take too much effort to find your fear, much less feed on it.”

As the elevator reached their floor, Rampage leapt out and cleared a path through the waiting Predacons. “I’m not sure,” Bumblebee thought, “but I think he just complimented me.”

Aboard the Axalon, final preparations were being made for their abrupt departure from the Predacon base. “All Maximals except for Bumblebee and Rampage are on board” one of the human crew announced.

“How long until Bumblebee gets here?” Optimus asked.

“He hopes to be aboard in five minutes,” the answer came.

“Well, tell him to hurry, Parker. Those charges I set will be going off in about fifteen minutes, and I want to be long gone from here before that,” Night Stalker exclaimed.

“That’s enough,” Optimus said cutting him short. “Eclipse, are the weapons on-line?”

“On line and fully charged,” she answered.

“Good, we’re going to have to make our own way out of here, and I doubt the ships outside are going to let us simply walk away,” he said, settling into the command chair.

Suddenly there was a loud explosion, and the bay door came flying off its hinges.  “Auto guns on-line, prepare to raise shields,” Optimus said quickly. Eclipse’s hand raced across her control panel, in an effort to comply. Outside the ship, a dozen different ports opened revealing hidden weapon emplacements. All of them came to bear on the doorway, but when the smoke cleared it revealed not a Predacon assault team, but Bumblebee atop Rampage’s tank mode.

“Open the shuttle bay doors quick,” his voice said over the radio. “We’re both almost out of ammo and I don’t think the Pred’s are to happy with our redecorating job.”

“Open those doors, now!” Optimus ordered.

“You got it,” Rattrap said from his Ops station.

The two stragglers wasted no time in entering the ship. As the starship's door closed behind them a group of Predacons rushed through and into the bay. Half of them ran headlong into the Axalon’s now active shields, while the other half were instantly mowed down by her auto guns.

“Eclipse, make us an exit. Jackson,” Optimus said to the human pilot, “lift off and get us out of here.”

“Yes sir,” they both said simultaneously.

The ship’s guns turned on the repair bay’s doors. They didn’t last long under the onslaught of her plasma guns. Even before the doors had given way, the ship started to move. She crashed through the remains and out into space, her shields glowing from the impact. Another frigate, not unlike theirs, had the misfortune of being in the way. It didn’t stay there long as a fusillade of missiles tore into her side, sending her spinning helplessly out of control. Once away, the Axalon went to full speed immediately, heading at near light speed for the outer system.

Fleet command H.Q. , formerly Cyclonus’ office.

Sky Shadow had taken command after Cyclonus had fallen, and he was not about to waste the chance to make sure he kept that position. He had retreated after Rampage’s initial onslaught, determined to let the guards handle it. In the meantime, he recalled the home fleet from their futile search around Cybertron. If the intruders meant to steal a ship and escape, he’d make sure they had no where to go. His guards had finally managed to trap the attackers in a ship repair bay, which reports said contained only a frigate with a damaged drive system. “No escape there,” he thought gleefully. His glee was short lived when the ship’s guns came alive, and first took down the Predacon squad, then blasted its way off station. He tried vainly to contact a ship to stop them, but the closest one was blasted before they knew what was happening. Now angered beyond all reason, he ordered his remaining ships to pursue and destroy them. As a precaution, he contacted Pluto base to be prepared to intercept them as they made for the outer planets. It would be the last order he ever gave, for at that moment the world exploded around him.

Mars base and Cybertron itself were also rocked by a series of explosions as Stalker’s charges did their final duty. All communications systems ceased instantly and the most invulnerable planet in the galaxy was brought to a virtual halt.

“What about the dampening field.” Rattrap asked as they tried to outrun their pursuers.

“I couldn’t get at enough of the generators” Night Stalker answered.

“Then let’s quit pretending we’re trapped and transwarp our tails out of here,” Rattrap said.

“Not yet,” Optimus said. “Remember the other part of our mission. We’ve got to keep the Predacons busy to give Grimlock more time to evacuate the colonies.”

“Besides,” Stalker said with a sound almost like sadness in his voice, “the Preds still have one or two more surprises coming to them.”

Cybertron security was finally beginning to get a grip on things. The back up towers were in operation and the emergency generators were coming on-line. As power rushed through these however, it activated a pulse generator that sent out a signal. This signal activated a second series of charges, which took out several, but not all of the back up systems. Night Stalker had not been able to complete his full mission, and more were left active than not. One set however, had been the first target he had placed when he arrived on the planet, his primary target: Vector Sigma itself. It was one of the last two vessels that contained the essence of their god Primus, and a relic almost as sacred as the Matrix itself. A series of explosions brought down the roof of the chamber housing it, crushing both the spherical supercomputer, and the mindless troops it was forced to instill with life.

All the Maximals felt it as Primus’ essence fled this plane for whatever lay beyond. They groaned in agony, but felt something akin to relief, and perhaps gratitude as he passed through and beyond them.

“I can’t believe we just did that,” Rhinox said finally.

Optimus shook his head. “There was no choice. He was a virtual slave to them, only good for producing more troops. If anything, we freed him from his bondage, as we always said we would.”

“Besides,” Bumblebee interjected. “part of him still resides in the Matrix, and in us.”

“Yeah, well he’s not gonna reside there much longer unless we do something about that,” Rattrap said, bringing up an image of the Pluto station, the last obstacle they faced.

Pluto Station, main command center.

“Excellent, they’re heading straight for us,” Terrorsaur chuckled. “The fools really think they can get past me and out into open space. Let us teach them how wrong they are.” He pressed a button, sending out the order to attack. A host of fighters and space capable Predacons leapt outward from the shuttle bays, while the station’s own weaponry came to bear on the lone ship. They looked forward to a glorious kill. They knew they would suffer tremendous losses, but most of them didn’t care. Though they had all felt Primus’ passing, few of them fully realized what consequences it entailed.

Several waves of attackers hammered the ship mercilessly. Her return fire however was far more powerful, and depleted their ranks rapidly.

“Our forces have engaged the rogue ship,” a lieutenant reported. “Our losses are higher than expected.  The ship has obviously been heavily modified.”

“Then order our troops to drive them towards the station. No ship can survive the firepower we can put out.” Terrorsaur screamed, backhanding his subordinate. Driven in what seemed to be a suicidal frenzy, the Predacons hit them as hard as they could, attempting to drive them towards the station.

“We’re almost into the station’s weapon range, and the shield can’t take much more as it is,” Rhinox warned over the alarms. “We’ll never be able to take it on directly.”

“Then we won’t try,” Optimus said, and pressed a button on his command chair.

Much to Terrorsaur’s surprise, a large explosion erupted from the station’s hull. “What hit us?” he said aloud.

“I don’t know, but it took out main power and the gravitational stabilizer,” his subordinate answered. “Worse yet, we’ve been knocked out of orbit, and we’re drifting towards the planet."

“What?!?” Terrorsaur said in astonishment. “Stabilize us NOW!!!”

“Didn’t you hear me? They took out the stabilizer! We’re out of control!” the subordinate snapped in panic.

Looking at the view screen, Terrorsaur already saw the telltale flashes of escape pods being launched. He knew even if he recalled all his remaining fighters they couldn’t stabilize the station. They had to abandon ship, and wait for the fleet to arrive.

“Abandon ship,” he ordered. “We’ll have to leave them for the fleet. Order the remaining fighters to do what they can to slow them down.”

“Right away sir,” his lieutenant said.

“Well, I wanted excitement,” Terrorsaur thought as he headed for his personal escape shuttle, “and I got it, with interest.”

The remaining fighters posed no real threat to the Maximals as they headed out finally into the blackness of deep space. Most of their weapons had been spent in the initial attack, and there was no place to re-arm now. Rattrap’s scanners showed that they weren’t clear yet though.

“I’ve got multiple hyper wave signatures entering the system in front of us, and bogeys coming from the rear. Looks like they’ve got us boxed in Big Bot,” he reported.

“How long until we’re out of the field’s range,” Optimus asked.

“Not soon enough,” came the answer from Jackson's station.

“Then we don’t have a choice, I think we’ve created enough chaos for today. Activate the transwarp drive, and get us out of here,” Optimus said.

“Aye aye sir,” the pilot said.

A shimmer formed around the ship, and it disappeared into the strange dimension beyond hyperspace, leaving the Predacon fleet empty handed, for now.

End of Chapter 3.

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