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Old 2007-02-20, 03:27 PM   #1
snavej
Poisoned by modern life
 
London, U.K.
Default Part 3 in the series centred on Megatron (this one is longer)

Dying for a Change © John H. Evans, March 2005

The metal walls were breaking and falling in pieces around them. Debris large and small showered down. Flames spread wherever they could and blue electricity erupted obsessively from millions of protrusions. The husks of the dead lay forlorn and ominous. The fifty six surviving mechanical warriors were far too apprehensive to celebrate their temporary advantage. Some were searching their fallen adversaries for weapons, ammunition and energon. A further seven fighters came down from the sky, their battle also temporarily over. They transformed and began scavenging for useful supplies. One of them caught sight of his leader across the cratered, debris-strewn plaza. He immediately jetted over to him, landing only two metres away. Despite his leader’s greater size and fearsome reputation, the warrior seized him firmly by the neck.

“What the hell have you done?!” he shrieked, his body shaking and his voice cracking with barely suppressed terror. “We’re getting cut to pieces here! I’ve lost most of my airforce: three thousand seven hundred mechs!” The leader’s expression was one of surprise for a moment, but then it changed to one of reassurance.

“Ah, Thundercracker,” said Megatron with a slight smile. “I do regret the losses we have incurred today but remember our cause. We fight to liberate our world from paralysis, from eternal useless stasis. The forces we face are powerful indeed but with the right strategy they can be overcome.”

“I see no strategy here, just grinding defeat!” Thundercracker persisted vehemently. “Yes, we have killed thousands of their toughest fighters but they have thousands more heading this way. We cannot stand against them!” Megatron reached up and gently pried Thundercracker’s hands from around his throat.

“I understand your pain, your grief,” he said calmly and quietly. “We have all lost good friends today but the sacrifice is worth it. We can break away from our old lives of triviality and boredom, seize our destiny as rulers. This battle is not some mindless riot; it is part of the grand strategy of victory!”

“So, what will we do now?!” queried Thundercracker with more than a hint of doubt and derision. “Are we going to have a grand strategic slaughter at the hands of those reinforcements?! I bet you’ve got the whole thing planned out to the micrometre!” Megatron appreciated the black humour from his trusted but overstressed lieutenant. However, he felt that he should now be a little more firm.

“Hah, you are right about the precision of my planning but wrong about our next move,” he explained patiently. “We will now have an orderly strategic withdrawal. Here are the details.” He transmitted them to his troops via secure channels. “Now, I must insist that you trust me and not question me like this in future. If you support me consistently then your place in my government and military will be secure. If on the other hand you doubt me, entertain irrational fears and improvise inappropriate tactics, you will be dealt with severely!” He squeezed Thundercracker’s wrists with a small fraction of his strength but it was enough to make the flier shiver with pain. Megatron released his warrior, who stepped back and stood nervously at a more respectful distance.

“This is your first full-scale battle,” Megatron pointed out. “Your fear is understandable, but I want you to get over it. We can’t afford such luxuries on this mission. We have a long way to go. Prepare to withdraw on my signal.”

“Begging your pardon, Megatron, but these trajectories will leave us exposed and vulnerable,” said Thundercracker, referring to Megatron’s withdrawal plan.

“Twenty days ago, you would have been correct,” replied Megatron. “Now, though, you are wrong. The reason is here, all around us.” He emitted a signal and a few nanobots flew down from the shattered buildings. With his microscopic vision, Thundercracker was able to view them skittering about on Megatron’s fingers. He could also feel their strong broadcasts.

“You may remember these from the arena,” he said, admiring the design once more. “They will disrupt the airwaves and cover our escape from here. The enemy has no idea these exist here. You will get to safety and together we will chart our course to domination.” Thundercracker felt his spirits start to rise again. Megatron could be very persuasive and inspirational when he wanted. It was good to be part of something so important and exciting. Thundercracker signalled to his watching troops. Together, they transformed and sped away to their next hideaways. Megatron took one last look at the site of his costly victory, then transformed to tank mode and led his ground assault troops to their own clandestine barracks. He was fairly satisfied with the day’s attainments but a little alarmed by Thundercracker’s lack of nerve. He would have to be vigilant in case such problems recurred. Still, compared to some of his other worries that was only minor.

After a fairly long drive, the group arrived at the underground bunker that was to be their latest temporary home. Transforming, they climbed down through thick layers of junk into the reinforced fastness of their sanctuary. It had been a disused radiation research facility until Megatron and his Decepticons had converted it into a small fortress. Passing through many layers of security, the weary troops steadily felt more secure. They were still a little shocked after doing battle with some of the toughest warmechs on the planet. It was only good training, superior tactics and intense firepower that had enabled them to slowly overcome their hulking foes. Inside the base, the corridors and halls were lined with other Decepticon: it was standing room only. Many were receiving medical treatment from doctor-mechanics and their numerous repair drones. The new arrivals went to their own stations and waited for any attention they might need. Carefully negotiating the crowded passageways, Megatron went alone to the central control room. Outside that room, no one dared talk to him. Inside, it was a different story.

“Commander, I really must protest in the strongest terms!” said Shockwave urgently as Megatron stepped through the door. “You have begun this conflict at a very unsuitable time. We are fast being destroyed on the ground and in the air. It is only underground that we still have a slight advantage.”

“How true,” agreed Megatron as he sat in his chair.

“Now we are confined down here like bugs, waiting for the next devastating assault!” complained Scorponok bitterly, flexing his massive serrated claws. “We should be up there fighting non-stop!”

“In an ideal world, perhaps,” conceded Megatron with a shrug.

“And you seem to find all this somehow amusing, diverting, like a frakking GAME!” screeched Starscream, stepping forward belligerently. “Give us a reason why we shouldn’t scrap you, right here, right now!” He pointed one of his cannons at his leader.

“Very well, I give in to your demands,” said Megatron magnaniomously. “I’ll tell you my winning strategy.” A miniature blaster unfolded from inside his hand and opened fire on Starscream. The energy bolt passed through Starscream’s cannon and into his arm. The precise hit on the cannon disabled it. Starscream grimaced in pain and clutched his arm. His boldness dissipated and others interposed themselves between him and his leader.

“Don’t be a fool,” Soundwave advised Starscream. “The strategy is sound. Our best minds are unanimous on that. Your objections are not valid, Starscream.” The two lieutenants eyed each other with equal resolve for a moment, then Starscream turned away in scorn.

“You haven’t quite grasped the concept of our movement, have you?” said Megatron to the others. “We are Decepticons. We use deception as one of our main weapons. We can only win by cunning, by being contrary, by bluffing and feinting until the enemy is at our mercy. If that amuses us, then so be it. Never forget the seriousness beneath it all.”

“Philosophy is all very well but the government army is overwhelming,” said Scorponok, trying hard not to appear afraid. “Their troops are incredible. They advance and blast and crush and shoot until they’re surrounded by our dead. My claws barely dented some of them.” He looked ruefully at his battered claws. “They’ll stop at nothing to end our rebellion.”

“That is exactly what I’m counting on!” said Megatron. “Let me explain...”


* * * * *



‘The small, rusty shuttle levitated slowly through the jagged structures of Brevincy, following a set of very vague directions. Starscream sat by the side window, his keen eyes watching the unedifying vista around them. He wasn’t the most patient mech in the world and he was becoming increasingly irritated by his latest errand. He particularly hated having to travel in a dreadfully inferior craft, hired in an attempt to pass unremarked above this relatively shabby region.

“Surrounded by junk,” he murmured dejectedly. “This ship, this so-called city, this whole situation.”

“That’s not entirely true,” said Soundwave from the pilot’s seat. “I sense many useful people nearby. In future, this could be one of our recruiting grounds.”

“Any sign of our objective yet, or is he still firmly in the mythical realm?” asked Starscream pointedly. “I can’t believe our strategy depends on this character, what’s his name?”

“Skywarp,” said the physicist Myoxar, sitting at the rear of the shuttle. “According to all the accounts we have, he is real but very difficult to locate.”

“Because of his special abilities,” said Starscream doubtfully. “I can accept that some of us have some extra gifts but this one beggars belief.” He stared at Soundwave, as if he was blaming the communications officer somehow for this state of affairs. Soundwave stared back via the mirrors, his fixed gaze silently challenging Starscream’s persistent desire to have his own way.

“Why am I even here?!” asked Starscream petulantly. “You and Myoxar should be able to handle this without me.”

“Megatron’s orders,” said the ever-loyal Soundwave. “He said you were possibly the best persuader he knew. One way or another, you can get all sorts of people to do your bidding.”

“True, but my track record with elusive wraiths is poor,” said Starscream with a shrug, secretly pleased that Megatron regarded his skills so highly. “However, if victory depends on sweet-talking a spook, then I’ll give it my best shot.”

“Glad to hear it,” said an unfamiliar voice behind him. Everyone was startled. Soundwave engaged the autopilot and looked around. Sitting in the extra seat next to Myoxar was an unfamiliar Transformer. He was similar in size and design to Starscream but was coloured mainly black and grey.

“Skywarp, I presume,” said Soundwave with a slight tremor in his voice. “What a pleasant surprise!”

“Likewise,” said the newcomer. “I felt drawn to this little floating bubble. Now I know why. You are truly important figures in future history.”

“So, what brings you up here, friend?” asked Starscream, a little perplexed. “Is the conversation flagging down below?”

“No, I came to warn you that flying conditions around here can be extremely hazardous,” replied Skywarp. “The city has become quite lawless recently. Cyberspace has become disrupted and some people have armed themselves, afraid that violent forces may soon descend upon them. I see that day has now come.”

“You mean us?!” queried Myoxar. “How can that be? I am a peaceful physicist, Soundwave is our chief communications officer and Starscream is a top diplomat.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” said Skywarp, staring at Starscream’s recently repaired cannons.

“We are here to talk to you,” continued Myoxar. “We want to offer you a deal.” Soundwave signalled Starscream that it was time to act. Starscream opened a tiny hatch on his right flank. Nanobots poured out in close formation and headed rapidly towards Skywarp.

“Sorry, but I’m not interested,” said Skywarp, just before the infiltrators reached him. “Why are you looking at me like that, Soundwave?” Soundwave simply watched as the infiltrators took effect. Skywarp didn’t have time to react as his body was hijacked. He lost consciousness and slumped back in his seat.

“Damn, I didn’t think it would be that easy!” exclaimed Starscream. “I hardly had to do any persuading.”

“It’s a good omen,” said Soundwave. “But then, no one seems to anticipate an attack from Megatron’s nanobots, not even a mystic like Skywarp.”

“I can’t wait to study him,” said Myoxar. “It’s an incredible, unprecedented opportunity!”

“It’s as if he wanted to be caught,” hypothesised Starscream, intrigued. “Are you sure this is really him and not a clone?”

“Take a look,” said Soundwave. Starscream reached over and opened Skywarp’s chest plating. Myoxar looked on eagerly. Inside, there was something profoundly different about Skywarp’s mechanisms. Parts were fluctuating like heat haze. Other parts were appearing and disappearing. Occasionally, foreign bodies would appear in place of proper components. Some areas shone brightly in various wavelengths while others were far darker than normal. The unnatural sight made Starscream a little uneasy.

“Whoa, that’s too weird!” he exclaimed, quickly closing the chest again. “This is him, all right. Remind me not to employ his architect for designing my next body.”

“I hope that the nanobots can deal with such an extreme bodily environment,” said Myoxar nervously. “If he wakes up suddenly, we could all die.”

“I have faith in Megatron’s great skills,” said Soundwave. “If anybody can design the right nanobot for the job, Megatron can. Let’s turn this pod around and get back to him.”


* * * * *


Harnessing Skywarp’s special skills proved to be exceedingly difficult. The investigative team spent days observing his inner workings and trying to find ways to influence them. They found that it wasn’t possible to exercise complete control over the freakish body without input from Skywarp’s conscious mind. There was no alternative than to allow him at least partial wakefulness. They were relieved to find that, with nanobot support, they could rouse him into a placid, suggestible state of mind. Once dialogue was established, work proceeded fairly swiftly. Megatron wanted this one on the tightest possible leash. Skywarp’s intelligence and propensity for independent thought were sharply reduced. His psychic abilities were narrowed so that they were concentrated on one main talent. His level of self-control was also lowered so that he was more likely to perform cruel and aggressive acts without provocation. To compensate for this, his obedience levels were raised significantly so that he would not rebel against his superiors. For the time being, this was what was required of him but it would be possible to change his personality again if needed in the future. To match his new mental state, Megatron gave him a new body design. Modelled on Starscream, it was well armed and armoured but fast and highly manoeuverable. It pleased him greatly but he wouldn’t rush out to test it until permission was given. Starscream was impressed though a little perturbed. If Skywarp ever broke his obedience conditioning, he could now do tremendous damage to anyone around him. He was a wild card: his origins were obscure, his talents were unprecedented, his personality was suppressed but still simmering under the surface. He was not a typical Decepticon. Who knew if he would fit in or not?

Meanwhile, the government forces were hunting Decepticons all across the region. Thousands were being killed and thousands more were being captured but the cost to the government was high. The streets, squares and other open spaces were littered with dead: government personnel, Decepticons and many innocent bystanders. Buildings were being deliberately destroyed in an effort to kill more people and deny facilities to the enemy. Construction robots were continuously trying to rebuild them but it was slow and dangerous work. Some troops targeted the robots in order to gain or preserve an advantage. The government was trying many less violent methods to fight the Decepticons, so as to reduce the destruction. Mostly, however, these were ineffective. Persuasion didn’t work because grievances were long-term and deep-rooted. Nanobots didn’t work because they were disrupted by the Decepticons’ own nanobots and electromagnetic defences. Stun weapons had a minimal effect because of those same defences. Only heavy weapons could penetrate Decepticon armour and only large-scale attacks could break Decepticon morale. The key to victory for both sides was accurate and effective strikes. As they gained experience, all the troops were becoming increasingly effective.

Many times, the high-ranking Decepticons broke cover and went to join the battle. This often led to significant Decepticon gains, since each had very superior capabilities. Those with the greatest firepower could literally blast enemy brigades from the battlefield. Others used their speed and manoeuverability to target enemy weak spots and hasten their collapse. A few were exceedingly good spies and could steal the most tightly guarded strategic information. All this was merely delaying the inevitable, though. The government still had much greater resources. Decepticon reinforcements were insufficient to halt their advance. Slowly, squad by squad, the Decepticons were sliding towards extinction. The government knew by now that the conspiracy had spread worldwide. They had mobilised their security forces and were rounding up thousands of suspected sympathisers. These suspects were being interrogated as far as possible, then disassembled and put into secure stasis. Most of them were not giving away much information, choosing to purge their memories before they could be mind-probed. Some even committed suicide to avoid betraying their cause. A minority did opt to tell at least some of their story. The picture that emerged was not encouraging for the government. Apparently, this problem was not going to disappear after the current conflict. It was inevitable that rebels would continue to whip up anti-government sentiments. In the long run, the government would have to find ways to contain these firebrands.

On the thirty-second day of the rebellion, a government reconnaissance robot located Megatron’s bunker complex. It called for reinforcements before it could be knocked out by the autoguns that protected the entrance. Decepticons took up positions and ambushed the government troops when they came but were not strong enough to stop them. Giant Sentinel robots began tearing through the bunker’s ageing roof. Megatron ordered the evacuation of non-combat personnel via the deep-level escape tunnels, hoping that they could get away before the enemy reached them. Skywarp and his research team were among the evacuees. The researchers were very concerned that their critically important work might never be finished. Their anxious talk did not go unheeded.

“Don’t take me away,” said a quiet voice. “I can help you fight.” This hushed plea reached the ultra-sensitive ears of Soundwave. He knew what it meant.

“Megatron,” radioed Soundwave on a secure frequency. “He wants to fight. I read his thoughts. He feels capable of effective combat.”

“Really?!” exclaimed Megatron. “It would be a huge risk but we could see what he can do. Tell him he can try a short attack, nothing too dangerous. We’ll watch from here.” Soundwave did so and Skywarp detached himself from the diagnostic equipment. Having been informed of the situation, the researchers unlocked his restraints and Skywarp was free to engage the foes above. A robot loaded his guns and missile racks. He flexed his new body, half-closed his eyes, concentrated for a few moments and vanished. The Decepticon officers used the remaining surveillance cameras to watch what happened next. Skywarp appeared on the surface, sprayed a group of smaller troops with gunfire and vanished again. He repeated the trick several times, never staying in one place long enough to be attacked. After about twelve minutes, he broke off and returned to the bunker.

“That was extremely impressive,” said Scorponok with unabashed admiration as Skywarp reappeared and immediately slumped against a wall.

“But also extremely tiring,” said Skywarp. “Could someone please bring me more ammunition and energon?” He remained still as the robots fetched the supplies. The lights in his eyes were dim with his exhaustion.

“Bravo!” said Megatron as he arrived in tank form. “Tell me, when you have your strength back, could you teleport a passenger with you?” Skywarp was silent for a moment as he prepared for further exertions.

“Yes, as long as they’re not too big,” he replied. “Who did you have in mind?”

“Well, it was my idea to recruit you, so that gives me the right to go first,” said Megatron gleefully. “I have some business to take care of, up on the surface.” Minutes later, they abruptly arrived at the surface. Megatron started blasting and none could stand against the storm of white heat. Even behind his leader, Skywarp was pummelled by the side effects of the fusion cannon - the piercing light, the furnace-like heat, the radiation barrage, the circuit-searing electromagnetic pulse and the steel-shattering booms. With his special abilities, he could sense the disturbances caused in the fundamental forces. Space-time fractured for a moment in each searing plasma stream. Slow-moving Sentinels were easy for Megatron to wreck, though one almost managed to blast the Decepticons with his own large cannon. The ground heaved and the two intrepid warriors nearly fell into the new crater. They were saved once again by Skywarp’s teleportation, operating short-range and with an accuracy that had never been remotely matched before. On they fought, lashing the remaining smaller troops with irresistable starfire. Megatron was shot a few times but the damage was minor. He shut off the pain and carried on until the area was once more reduced to lifelessness.

Afterwards, he surveyed the scene for a minute and took great satisfaction in seeing the vanquished foes smoke and smoulder where they fell. The cannon gave him the power that he so deeply craved. He was increasingly intoxicated by the sense of total domination. Sometimes he worried that war would cause him to become overstressed and unbalanced. Now, though, he felt like he could do no wrong. He had fought the toughest warriors in the known galaxy, endured the worst barrages short of nuclear weapons and outsmarted the most complex defences ever devised. He wanted to do something to celebrate. He saw a dead Sentinel on the edge of the battlefield. With a cry of exultation, he transformed and ran swiftly towards it, crushing smaller corpses underfoot.

“Megatron, it’s not safe,” said Skywarp, still trying to recover from the effects of the battle. “They will send more forces very soon.” Megatron ignored him and closed on the Sentinel. Reaching the huge headless body, he jumped onto its chest and grasped the edges of its plating. Using only a fraction of his strength, he wrenched a large section of armour from the front of the chest. He heaved the forty tonne section away and examined the reactor inside. Skywarp teleported over and watched from a short distance away.

“What are you doing?” he asked, as politely as he could.

“Friend, you need to travel more!” said Megatron, interfacing expertly with the reactor systems. “Study other intelligent species, see how they fight. This is a time-honoured tactic - making a bomb, a trap for the unwary. Only this one is bigger than most.” He concentrated on rewriting the reactor programming and creating a trigger mechanism. It was a fun little diversion for him.

“May I ask how big?” asked Skywarp. He was becoming apprehensive and looked around for danger.

“Not too excessive,” said Megatron coolly. “Blast radius of thirteen kilometres, that’s all.” Skywarp’s fuel ran cold.

“All the more reason to leave,” he said, pacing around uneasily.

“Quite!” said Megatron with a chuckle, his hands a blur as he made some final adjustments. He jumped down and hefted the chest plate back into its original position. “Take us back into the tunnels.” As he spoke, Skywarp sensed something approaching rapidly from above.

“Incoming!” he warned and the two Decepticons dived for cover. A missile struck the ground and exploded only 150 metres away, showering them with debris. Four more followed but none hit their targets.

“Those are from the orbiting defence satellites,” said Megatron as crawled towards Skywarp. “A truly desperate tactic from the government.” Their hands touched and immediately they relocated to subterranean security.

“As I was saying,” continued Megatron in one of the tunnels, picking himself up from the floor and brushing away some dirt. “The defence satellite missiles are supposed to be used against enemy ships and shuttles, not ground targets. They are not really designed to manoeuvre in the atmosphere. It shows that the government is running short of suitable troops and weapons. We, on the other hand, are not doing too badly! Let’s go and catch up with the others.” He put his arm around Skywarp’s shoulders and led him down the corridor. His grip was quite loose, yet still sufficient to buckle the teleporter’s shoulder slightly. His optimism knew no bounds now. His spirits were soaring and his brain was buzzing with a million grand concepts. He started to send out hundreds of messages to his troops ahead: critical or trivial, it didn’t matter. Involvement in such a righteous movement was the greatest reward. Without it, he would be nothing: a disgraceful speck in the vast cosmos. Skywarp was sensitive enough to pick up Megatron’s tremendous emotions without a physical linkage. They were so profound and electrifying; Skywarp quickly realised that he would do anything for this mech. He would go to any lengths to realise Megatron’s ambititions.

When he had rejoined his officers at the new underground headquarters, Megatron learnt that the Decepticons’ position was far from rosy. The government attrition was biting deep. Some Decepticons were starting to desert, or even change sides. There were a few reports of mutiny, of Decepticons killing their former comrades. The news was so upsetting that Megatron wanted to incinerate the messengers but he held himself in check. It was time to focus; to carry out the master plan.

“Is everything ready?” he asked.

“Of course,” replied Shockwave. “Though we only have your assurance that it will work.”

“Skywarp, refuel yourself and have someone attend to those scrapes,” said Megatron, ignoring Shockwave’s persistent skepticism. “You have to be at full fitness for this. Be in position at noon.” Skywarp proceeded to the repair bay, attended by some very careful medics.

“In the meantime, I want everyone who doesn’t have to be here to get out there and fight,” commanded Megatron. “If I don’t see massive enemy casualties, you will be terminated.” The officers sprang into action. With a mighty roar, they departed in various different directions, leaving their leader to attend to his vital plans. He was about to coordinate an extremely difficult and audacious raid on the enemy.

“Soundwave, status,” he radioed.

“I am in position, near the city,” replied Soundwave, not giving too much away to potential eavesdroppers. “Ravage has done very well. His stealth abilities are unrivalled.”

“So far so good,” commented Megatron. “What about the others?”

“Also where they’re supposed to be,” said Soundwave, continuing his deliberate vagueness. “They’re not going far in the current climate.”

“We begin at the high time,” said Megatron, then cut communications.

Noon arrived and Skywarp found that he had been smuggled into tunnels near to Iacon, the government capital. Looking at the maps, he marvelled at the Decepticons’ boldness.

“I can’t believe that I’m about to do this,” muttered Skywarp to his transport team. “A few days ago, I was a small-town mech with no particular purpose in life beyond having a good time. Now, they want me to strike at the heart of the government. It’s a huge adjustment!”

“You want sympathy?” challenged Sparkstalker. “You picked the wrong moment. Everything’s riding on you. I’m so damned nervous, my head hurts.”

“It would be best if you concentrated on the job,” said Astrotrain, who was carrying the team in train mode.. “This is incredibly dangerous for all of us. Besides, being a subway train is not my favourite occupation. Hurry and finish it. My good friend Ravage will give you all the help you need.”

“Yeah, but if you ruin our plan, I’ll melt your innards!” warned the edgy little Sparkstalker, brandishing his flamethrower.

“I won’t let you down!” said Skywarp, enthused by thoughts of his sacred destiny. He smiled and patted Sparkstalker on the head, then vanished. The transport team made themselves as inconspicuous and unobstrusive as possible, then waited.

Skywarp reappeared in one of the few dark corners in the government headquarters. Seconds later, a dark shape rushed to his side and a stealth field enveloped him.

“Ravage, good to almost see you!” quipped Skywarp. “Take me to the leaders.” Without a sound, the small, sleek Decepticon spy stalked off down the corridors. Skywarp followed closely and soon they were at the door of a councillor’s chambers. Ravage easily opened the electronic lock and they went inside. The councillor was alone. He heard the quiet swish of the door and looked for his unexpected visitor. He saw nothing and was about to call for help when he was paralysed from behind. Skywarp had been well equipped with silent step and instant immobiliser technology. Referring to his database of body blueprints, he quickly removed the councillor’s compact brain assembly, replacing it with an undetectable substitute. Stashing the real brain in his storage compartment, he left the impostor to carry on as normal. They left the chambers undisturbed and proceeded to the next councillor.

One by one, the fifteen councillors were kidnapped and replaced. Skywarp was satisfied with the work but longed to shoot all the government stooges he passed in the corridors. Ravage kept a close eye on him. Under the intense, silent scrutiny, Skywarp knew that he had to toe the line. Ravage wouldn’t hesitate to put a missile in his back if he screwed up. Fortunately for the two Decepticons, the substitute brains worked perfectly, continuing to communicate normally with the rest of the government. It was quite a feat, even for Megatron and his experts. The tension built as Skywarp and Ravage sneaked deeper and deeper into the centre of government. Even cool-headed Ravage was reduced to glancing around nervously. At last, the job was done and all the councillors were imprisoned in Skywarp’s body. He gave them the absolute minimum of energon and kept them isolated from his own systems.

Ravage signalled that it was time to go. He was running low on energon after providing full stealth cover for two people in the most testing environment possible. Skywarp agreed and teleported them both back to the tunnels. They climbed on board Astrotrain and made their way cautiously towards home base, refueling as they went. The vigilance continued, of course. For this purpose, the Decepticons had brought along the miner known as Scavenger. He was particularly useful as a tunnel scout since he had specialised sensory equipment. Several times, he was able to warn the group of approaching enemies or other hazards. Together, they left the city, then ascended to the surface and flew rapidly back to base in Astrotrain’s shuttle mode. Megatron was overjoyed to receive the brain modules. First of all, he took copies of all the information that he could from them. He ordered his analysts to study the information and find anything of importance to the Decepticon cause. Then, he told Skywarp to fly the brains to a small city in the far north called Zuthiene. He instructed all available air warriors and shuttles to accompany the teleporter as bodyguards.

“Frak, this is exciting!” said Skywarp as they jetted in formation across the northern towerlands.

“Quiet, it’s time for some more evasive manoeuvres,” said Darkwing cuttingly. “The next fifty kilometres are particularly hostile.” Sure enough, the Decepticons were subjected to a considerable barrage of flak. Thousands of missiles streaked past the weaving air warriors. Most were shot down but a few hit their targets, taking some Decepticons out of the mission. A small squadron of government jets also engaged the Decepticons. Proportionately, these were a greater menace and caused several casualties but they were outnumbered and soon chased down by the ruthless Decepticons. Despite his precious cargo, Skywarp couldn’t help joining the fight and fooling the enemies into ill-judged attacks before perforating them with shells. Dreadwind criticised his recklessness at great length. In the end, Skywarp stopped listening and carried on regardless.

After an eventful five thousand kilometre flight, the Decepticons arrived in force at Zuthiene. They found it to be another battlefield, with plenty of structural damage and thousands of other Decepticons on patrol. These troops were very well drilled: they followed orders to the letter and didn’t communicate unnecessarily. After a few minutes, it dawned on Skywarp’s group that these were not living troops - they were sophisticated automatons.

“How many of you are there here?” Darkwing asked one of them, hoping it would talk.

“We number fifty six thousand three hundred and sixty two,” said the unit, indistinguishable from a regular trooper except for the dimness in its eyes and lack of individuality. “Minus four.”

“What happened?” asked Flywheels, a little confused as usual.

“An enemy just exploded and destroyed four of us,” replied the unit without a flicker of emotion.

“What should we do here?” asked Skywarp. “Our orders were deliberately left incomplete.” The unit transmitted a verification code to prove that it carried an official Decepticon message.

“You will leave the councillors in a secret chamber in a building near the city centre,” said the unit. “You will then vacate the city and take cover in a bunker complex to the south west.” The coordinates were transmitted.

“What?!” exclaimed Dirge. “How can we fight the enemy there?”

“You won’t,” said the unit. “We will fight and die for you, taking the enemy and their councillors with us.”

“You heard him,” said Flywheels. “It’s official - we hide out, for now. Let’s go and hunker in the bunker until they tell us otherwise.” He strode off towards the complex, glad of a command that didn’t involve pain and uncertainty. Skywarp signalled his group to follow, then teleported ahead to reconnoitre. He found the bunkers to be mostly empty. There were only a few small refugees hiding out in the lower sections. He shot them, tore off their heads and crushed their brains one by one. He considered them to be vermin who had dominated the planet for long enough. In his opinion, they deserved death. He stuffed their wretched bodies into a ventilation duct before the other Decepticons started streaming in. Soon, his airforce had all arrived and settled down, keen to watch the battle via the many surface cameras. Most were glad of the respite from combat, though a few still felt cheated. That hard core consisted of warriors like Dirge, who saw it as their duty to show courage and face the enemy, to dominate them with masterful will and destroy them, leaving no hope for others.

Duped once again by disinformation, the government war robots thundered into Zuthiene. They fell straight into the trap. The Decepticon robots had laid a huge and sophisticated minefield. When the enemy had reached the correct zone, they were decimated by thousands of powerful explosions and other traps. The survivors soon became embroiled in a deafening firefight with Decepticon robots hiding in the buildings, lurking underground or diving out of the clouds. Primitive pit traps and sharp lances were effectively used to pin enemies down so that they could be finished off easily. Intense flashes of sound, light and other radiation were used to disorientate the government robots for the same purpose. In only fifteen minutes, over ten thousand government robots had fallen for the loss of only seven hundred Decepticon robots. The Decepticons in the bunker were mostly ecstatic as the casualty count climbed. This had been a triumph of deception, disguise and strategy. The dwindling band of enemy survivors were surrounded by hostile fire and unable to flee. They were being wiped out. The government had also been watching - in horror. This new Decepticon army was the most deadly yet seen. It posed a threat to the whole world and it had to be stopped as soon as possible. The decision was taken to use nuclear weapons.

“I am absolutely captivated by this!” exclaimed Roadblock as robots fell like target boards. “It just energises me so much. I am itching to get out there and ambush some government drones!” Dirge glowered at him in quiet exasperation. Roadblock hadn’t yet matured into a serious warrior - he was still rash and over-eager. Skywarp, on the other hand, was very much in agreement with Roadblock. Together they drank in the dramatic scene and discussed a few tactics.

“Wait a second, what’s that?” asked Darkwing urgently, pointing at one of the screens. “Some kind of missile...” There was a brilliant light: all the screens went dead and the lights went out. Radio communication became impossible as a circuit-scrambling electromagnetic pulse enveloped the whole area. The entire bunker shook violently and part of the roof fell down, narrowly missing some Decepticons who dived out of the way. A deep and powerful roar rattled everything for many kilometres around. On the surface, Zuthiene was converted directly into elementary particles, gas, dust, ash, rubble, ruins and a large, superheated crater.

“No!” shouted Roadblock as the reverberations continued. “They nuked them! They were the best non-sentients I’ve ever seen!”

“We should leave here now,” urged Dreadwind. “They might strike again!”

“No, we stay put,” countered Skywarp with an air of authority. “Those were our orders. Besides, we’re much safer here. If we try to fly, we could be slagged by the next blast.”

“Then let’s escape underground!” said Darkwing. “Use your common sense for once!” He searched for a suitable hatch leading to a serviceable tunnel. Two minutes later, he found one and pulled it open. Looking down the tunnel, he noticed several small robots crawling up towards him. This was very strange. Normally, such robots kept themselves hidden and ran away from Transformers. Also, they tended to flee from large explosions or other great forces since they wanted to survive. These ones were completely oblivious to the Decepticons and the nuclear explosion.

“What the frak?” Darkwing asked himself. More robots emerged, then larger ones, then larger ones still. Other hatches opened and even more robots poured out. All the Decepticons recoiled somewhat. The tide of robots scuttled up the stairs, opening doors as they went. None of them showed any interest in the Decepticons. As the procession to the surface continued, a more ominous sound could be heard. Something very large was ascending from the depths. One wall of the bunker started to buckle. Metal plates were prised apart and bent back to reveal a giant robot behind. It was about twenty metres high and a hundred metres long. It looked around the bunker for a minute, then emitted a shrill call and withdrew back into the tunnels. The Decepticons drew their weapons, ready for the slightest hostile act. The whole main chamber became quiet. The only sounds were the slight creaking of poorly oiled joints and the continuous procession of deep maintenance robots.

“Millions of them, big and small,” said Roadblock, swivelling around to look at the whole scene. “You must have noticed that there are lots of nanobots coming through here too. I guess something must be drawing them out. That damned explosion, those councillors maybe, all dead now.”

“Yeah, you might be right there,” said Dirge. “But if so, then how did Megatron figure it out?”


* * * * *


“I first made the discovery on my galactic tour,” said Megatron, taking another energon pack from the dispenser. “It was the most incredible stroke of luck. We were touring a poorly-charted region of space, filling in the blanks as we went. We came to a star system that was reputed to have a world with a civilisation. No one had actually been to that world for several thousand years. We scanned the whole place but the world was not there. All we found was some small rocks and pieces of metallic debris. They had all been melted by a sizeable explosive event.”

“Do you think it was a starship hitting an asteroid that made the wreckage?” enquired Shockwave as he sat back in his favourite chair and carried out his routine internal reactor checks.

“No, I think it was something larger, like colliding proto-planets,” replied Megatron. “Anyway, we couldn’t find enough debris to account for any planets. Some of us thought that the life world had ascended into a higher dimension, which does happen occasionally. However, that theory ignores the evidence of the fragments. Our archaeologists discovered that the melting of the rocky pieces occurred very recently: perhaps five thousand years ago. It was the same for the metallic pieces, as far as we could tell.”

“Do you mean that you had difficulty analysing the metallic fragments?” asked Shockwave dubiously. “How could that have been, with your ship’s superb research facilities?”

“Well, here’s the crux of the matter,” said Megatron, enjoying a surface-clean from numerous tiny robots. “We still haven’t been able to fully analyse those fragments. Their composition is amazingly complex, more so than our own metal bodies.” Shockwave was taken aback.

“Do you have any that I could see?” he requested.

“Naturally,” replied Megatron, extracting a tiny piece from inside his arm and throwing it across to Shockwave. The purple officer used his electromagnetc skills to catch the sliver in mid-flight and bring it in front of his single eye. He scanned it repeatedly in different frequencies and wavelengths, building up a picture. However, this material was not so easy to understand. After about thirty seconds, the fine circuit structure changed like a flesh creature altering skin colours for camouflage. It only took a tiny amount of energy and the whole piece rearranged itself repeatedly.

“I see your point,” said Shockwave, terminating his brief examination. “I also notice that my nanobots are behaving strangely near this artefact. They are trying to approach it but I am repelling them with my magnetic field.”

“For me, that is the most intriguing aspect of the material,” added Megatron. “Almost invariably, Cybertronian wildlife reacts to it with hostility. Since my analysis is incomplete, I can’t say why this is so. I can hypothesise, though. This material probably originated in a highly advanced civilisation that is somehow very dangerous to us and our world. Even that little piece might be a threat in the right conditions. I try and keep all the samples secure and isolated, until they are needed.”

“How many samples are we talking about,” asked Shockwave. “What do they weigh altogether? Where are they now? Why wasn’t I told sooner?”

“I’m running this army on a need-to-know basis,” answered Megatron. “I decide what the rest of you need to know and when you will be informed. Today, I can tell you that there were millions of fragments in that system. Most of them were small, like the one you have there. About one percent were larger. We collected six large pieces whose weight totalled approximately five hundred tonnes. However, the largest piece was over ten kilometres long and two kilometres wide.”

“Incredible,” said Shockwave. “That’s probably the most important alien discovery in recent years, yet you haven’t allowed this planet to know anything about it. Could you show me the data files?”

“Here’s the condensed version,” said Megatron, transmitting the file. Shockwave read it immediately.

“No chambers for living or storage, no evidence of inhabitation, plenty of machinery but no evident function,” he noted. “Is someone playing a grand joke on us?”

“Unlikely, unless they’re the most dedicated jokers in history,” said Megatron. “My view is that this material is from a planet system, essentially similar to our own. There are huge numbers of robots in that system, building and maintaining things constantly. Sometimes, they are given the wrong instructions for some reason and they build useless structures. That is what I saw on my galactic mission.”

“So, what happened to the planet in question?” persisted Shockwave.

“Gone elsewhere under its own power,” replied Megatron, as if the idea was perfectly normal. “You know that it is technically possible to move a planet, as long as large enough engines are constructed or some other method is found. I think that it would be a good idea to do that with Cybertron.”

“Well, that theory would support your views on the need for top quality planetary defences,” reflected Shockwave, trying not to appear anxious. “I wonder if this independently mobile planet has faster-than-light capabilities?”

“We may find out some day,” said Megatron with a shrug. “In the meantime, I have found an extremely good use for the samples that we collected. I have turned them into a weapon against the government and its supporters.” Shockwave’s keen deductive mind saw the connections.

“You have divided them up finely and used them to paint targets?” he ventured. “Cybertron’s own wildlife will then destroy those targets. The trigger was the murder of the fifteen government councillors and the Zuthiene armies in the nuclear explosion. Do you think that it will work?”

“My numerous experimental successes have convinced me that it will,” said Megatron. “I predict that roughly seventeen billion will die in the next few days. This figure will vary depending on the performance of my delivery system: a purpose-built army of non-hostile microbots.” For a few moments, Shockwave struggled to come to terms with this grave information. He knew that much of Cybertron would soon be devoid of intelligent life.

“You understand that Cybertron is rotten and has been for millennia,” continued Megatron soberly. “Our population has been allowed to stagnate, to become purposeless and without higher ambition. Luckily for us, our planet also has an immune system. It is only with my experiments that I discovered this fact. The robots are more than just builders, cleaners and maintenance workers. They are also a vast and formidable army, willing to fight to the bitter end to eliminate significant invasion threats. With the right planning, their strength can be used to rejuvenate the planet by eradicating those who oppose progress. Thanks to this beneficial redirection of energies, Cybertron can be brought back to the correct path without a ruinous war.”

“I commend you most highly for this superb, unprecedented, profoundly original scheme,” said Shockwave diplomatically. “Your farsightedness puts the rest of us to shame. Despite your youth, you are by far the best leader I have ever known.”

“Flattery is all very well, but I am more interested in your suggestions for further improvements,” responded Megatron.

“Your holocaust will leave fifty to a hundred million survivors,” said Shockwave baldly. “Most of those will presumably be Decepticon sympathisers but we must work hard to gain their full support. The massacre of seventeen billion will not create an entirely happy new society overnight. We must also be on full alert for any kind of counter-strike.”

“Indeed,” said Megatron. “I think that we shall be exceptionally busy for the forseeable future. Also, I sense that the slaughter has started. Let us fully connect to our command network and guide our forces to further victories.” So they did and outside the old Transformer society fought vainly against extinction.


* * * * *


Cybertron had never before experienced such a brutal and painful time. Million after million after million were cut down from without and within. No one could fight their awful fate. The so-called lucky few watched their communities collapse around them, as if the masses had been made of rust all this time. Cyberspace was reduced from a vast ocean to a small pond of traumatised survivors. Even this was short-lived as the robots severed the cables and jammed the airwaves. The sense of isolation was unbearable for many. This and the bereavements led to a wave of insanity, catatonia and suicide. Largely unaffected by these concerns, the Decepticons worked feverishly to impose their will on the remnant population. Liberated from the government oppression, they roamed the globe. Their main tasks were to destroy pockets of resistance, seize key infrastructure and recruit new members. The government war robots that were still functioning could no longer fight effectively since they had no proper orders. After a while, the Decepticons broke their control codes and took charge. They made perfect converts, of course.

There had been some structural damage to most parts of Cybertron during the liquidation of the masses, though nowhere near as much as had been feared. The robots had attacked so quickly and unexpectedly that the doomed Transformers had been unable to organise proper resistance. Those same robots now cleared away the dead, dismembering them and sorting the components into neat piles. They also continued to repair or replace the buildings: the Decepticons and their enemies had done a surprising amount of damage in their short and limited engagements. The robots were fantastic natural architects, so the Cybertronian landscape was soon starting to look back to normal. The renovated buildings gleamed while the replacement buildings had a special style and boldness in them. This pleased the Decepticons, at least those who appreciated such things. However, their pleasure was short-lived because the robots started to slow down.

The gradual decline in robot activity was unanticipated, so it took a few days before Decepticon monitors confirmed it. They then noticed that certain types of robots were starting to become scarcer. They were going underground, as if on normal errands, then not coming back out. Decepticons below the surface reported seeing more robots deactivated in obscure tunnels. They often saw swarms of small robots dismantling larger ones. Urgent investigations began. The new Decepticon society depended in large part on robot labour. The frantic analyses brought some very complex programming to light. Someone or something was making a silent but fundamental cybernetic assault on Megatron’s grand dream. Days passed and the Decepticons painstakingly tracked the programmes across the planet to their source. The would-be saboteurs were based in the city of Iacon.

The deactivation of the robots was not the only major problem arising. Megatron was one of the first to notice that the Matrix field was reducing in strength. All life on Cybertron ultimately depended on the Matrix field for its continuation. If it ever reduced below a certain level, everyone and everything would die. The Decepticons waited. No one could influence the field. It was their origin and final support. Had they affected it with their apocalyptic extermination scheme? Quite possibly they had, but in the end the field did not cross the critical threshold. Everyone was relieved but, for the first time, the leadership started to seriously doubt themselves. The whole mood of the planet seemed to change. Those with special sensitivity felt a sweeping shift, both subtle and profound. They could see now that the Decepticons would not have such an easy victory ever again. Most of their robot support was being permanently withdrawn. They would have to organise their own construction, maintenance and cleaning from now on. Furthermore, it would become much more difficult to create new Transformers. Bodies could be built as before but the life force to animate them would only occasionally be forthcoming. It was a chilling prospect that left many shocked and dismayed.

Megatron sat alone in his new headquarters in Helex. The new revelations from the Matrix field had struck at the core of his beliefs. How could he proceed with his plans when the force that gave him life seemed to oppose them? For hours he despaired and couldn’t bring himself to do any useful work. Various Decepticon projects were delayed as Megatron refused to talk with his lieutenants in the field. Some of these lieutenants and their envoys started to visit the headquarters, hoping for an audience with their commander-in-chief. Several assistants were on duty, turning these well-meaning visitors away. Megatron was reduced to staring at his weapons and accessories, which were arrayed neatly on a convenient rack. He wondered what really possessed him to learn so much about warfare and killing. Why had he become a great sharpshooter and swordsmech? Why had he developed energon weapons to such an advanced degree? Why had he been granted the ability to create the fusion cannon, one of the most feared portable weapons in the galaxy? For that matter, why had he been given so many other advantages - the super senses, the black hole connection, the tremendous intellect, the unconquerable will? These things were no accidents: surely, they were meant to be. He had always had a strong intuition of his destiny. As time passed, he became more and more convinced that he should follow that intuition, even if it led to ruin. It was better to be true to himself, to reach for something better rather than waste time and squander his life.

Despite the huge setbacks, Megatron decided to persevere with his original course of action. Nothing else made as much sense to him. Feeling chastened but enthused, he vowed to proceed with greater caution and then returned to his command duties. Circumstances were re-examined and new orders given out. Some Decepticons were reassigned to construction and maintenance duties. Six particularly skilled individuals were given overall control of these operations: Hook (precision engineering), Scrapper (design and architecture), Mixmaster (materials fabrication), Scavenger (salvage and mining), Long Haul (transport) and Bonecrusher (demolitions). They took to their new roles with a level of dedication that no one had expected. They also worked extremely well as a team, commanding their work crews with astonishing efficiency and professionalism. They knew that they had become critical supports for the rest of the army, so they devoted themselves to their tasks with such zeal that they almost appeared unbalanced. They modified their bodies to become the best engineering personnel that they could. They even went so far as to give themselves matching green and purple colour schemes. Megatron instructed them to give priority to the most urgent projects, such as making damaged towers safe, clearing the worst war debris and building new barracks for the slowly increasing Decepticon ranks. Polishing walls to a sparkling shine would have to wait.

Next on the list was recruitment of new troops. The propaganda effort would have to be stepped up considerably. Megatron disseminated a great deal of it himself, using his own channels. He was one of the most persuasive speakers in the army and single-handedly converted many thousands. However, the Transformers were a diverse people with a wide range of opinions, so other Decepticons were needed to drum up more support. Shockwave used his own ultra-logical approach to argue the case on many fronts. He pressed the point that it was preferable to join a strong army than struggle in a weak, demoralised civillian society. He also stressed the opportunities that recruits could enjoy: everything from comfortable careers in headquarters to daring deep space missions. He was supported by many individual recruiting staff working across Cybertron. People like Wingspan and Crankcase collected voluminous datafiles about the population and used them to convince likely candidates of their great potential in the Decepticon organisation. A small number of operatives focused on those who were corrupt. Skilled negotiators like Swindle could make deals with them, promising energon, currency and exotic materials in exchange for alliegance.

These methods only went so far, though. The populace was tremendously frightened and angry. After witnessing so many gruesome deaths, they had tried hard to erect defences and protect themselves. They had made themselves much more impervious to microbots and nanobots. This meant that the mind infiltration programme was severely affected. Bombshell, the coordinator of this programme, could do little but try harder to gain access to vulnerable brain chips. With direct brain control increasingly difficult, the Decepticons had to try psychological tactics. Agents like Kickback scoured the cities, looking for chances. Frequently, they liaised with the data collectors to find out dark secrets, which they then used to blackmail people into joining the army. The mainspring of the Decepticons’ psychological attack was fear. The most alarming Decepticons moved around the occupied territories, intimidating as many as they could but with the minimum of pain and destruction. A few, like Dirge, Thrust and Thundercracker, used sound to generate anxiety and panic. Others simply resorted to their physical appearance. Many Decepticons looked extremely frightening with their blades, claws, spikes, sharp teeth, thick armour, guns, bombs, missiles and other weapons. A smaller number, like Trypticon and the rebuilt Scorponok, were so big and awe-inspiring that the mere sight of them caused thousands to enlist on the spot. People just didn’t want to be on the wrong side of these mobile arsenals.

The army grew at a steady rate but some Decepticon officers were not content. They wanted a wider use of terror tactics, of physical coercion and the infliction of pain. Megatron would not yet allow it. He knew that they were all on shaky foundations and needed time to consolidate. Alienating the people was not a good idea at this point. Yet he was concerned by the large numbers of people who were resisting all the temptations and exhortations. They were building independent settlements and networks where Decepticons were not very welcome. If they were so resistant, Megatron reasoned, then it would be wise to create new warriors to deal with them. He picked out his best psychic sensitives and set them to work tapping the Matrix field. It was imperative to wring the maximum benefit from the limited life force that remained accessible. Thousands of new Transformer bodies were built and taken to the sites that were most generative of new souls. Results were patchy at best. Decepticons did not make good life-creators, even if they were psychic sensitives. Some bodies could not be ensouled and had to be recycled or used as drones. Some bodies would only accept primitive life force, so they had to be erased and put to different uses. Some bodies were sufficiently animated but were still unsuitable for the army due to wrong attitudes, emotional disturbance or refusal to cooperate. The sensitives found these to be frustrating cases, since they represented considerable wasted potential (and more black marks against the sensitives). Only twenty two percent were of an adequate standard for the army. Of those, at least half were dull-witted and narrow-minded, suitable only to be regular infantry and cannon fodder. Megatron was not best pleased but told the sensitives to persevere. At least these new grunts were more than willing to fight.

“I must admit that you have done a remarkable job these past few months,” said Starscream one day, on an occasional visit to Megatron at his headquarters. “The planet is more-or-less in one piece and most of the inconvenient population has been removed, but the job is not finished. We have to tackle that nest of saboteurs in Iacon.” Megatron nodded but said nothing.

“I have read the reports and I know the situation over there,” continued Starscream, pacing about restlessly. “It’s shaping up to be a major centre of resistance. Thousands of our opponents are massing there. I flew over the place myself once. The buildings are half-collapsed but dozens of snipers tried to kill me. You can still see some of the scars on my wings.”

“So, what is your point?” queried Megatron. “Do you hunger for more extermination already?”

“We have the nuclear weapons now,” said Starscream, anger rising within him. “The problem could be solved in five minutes. Destroy that accursed city and have done with it!”

“You need to look beyond Iacon before you make that rushed judgment,” said Megatron, reaching over and laying his hand on Starscream’s arm. Dataports and plugs joined, sending a brief burst of information into the air commander’s neural system. Starscream was given an overview of some top secret military files, showing an extensive network of contacts radiating out from Iacon. The data came from some of Megatron’s top spies, so it was highly reliable.

“I see,” said Starscream, partly placated. “The rust disease is already spreading through the entire corpus. But surely this gives us all the more reason for a strike against Iacon. Maybe nukes are excessive: we can still have a major impact with commando raiding tactics and assassinations of key figures.”

“I assure you that I will deal with this resistance network,” said Megatron. “However, I am waiting for the spies to tell me the best time to begin the attack. This is a rather delicate operation. Moving too soon would jeopardise our preparations.”

“They’re right, you are going soft,” said Starscream sadly. “‘Procrasticon’ they’re starting to call you!”

“Well, DAMN them!” responded Megatron with a sudden indignant reflex. He leapt from his seat, grabbed his sword and swung it to Starscream’s face in one swift, flowing motion. “This insolence is no longer amusing. I will crush you arrogant fools before you can turn into traitors!” Starscream didn’t even flinch, so confident was he that Megatron wouldn’t hurt him.

“Treachery is only encouraged by failures of leadership,” said Starscream brazenly. “It is only right that an army chooses the best mechs for the top jobs. Performance is all that matters.”

“You’ll SEE performance!” said Megatron, exasperated and a little rattled by this unwelcome veiled challenge. “Soon, half a million will leak to death in their holes when my shock troopers move against them. Now, go back to work; this meeting is OVER!” Starscream was unfazed. He gave a little smirk, then stepped back, transformed and rocketed into the night sky. His afterburners scorched the wall and the window surround, leaving a large, unsightly, black patch. Megatron knew that this was deliberate, so he grabbed the nearest blaster and took aim at the receding Starscream. He shot five times, grazing the air commander’s fuselage to remind him not to toy with the boss. Afterwards, Megatron put down the blaster and tried to summon a cleaning robot. Normally, there were a few available but at present they were all offline for maintenance checks. If he wanted to get rid of Starscream’s vandalism, it was quicker to do it himself. The metal panelling was melted, so he thought it best to replace the whole lot.

He went to one of his many storage cupboards and searched for spare panelling sections. As he rummaged, he spotted someone’s reflection on a door. Gingerly, he reached for the nearest gun - a paralysing ray pistol in the cupboard.

“And who might you be?” he asked the new arrival. “Have you just been assigned here?”

“In a sense,” said the figure in a muted voice. “I’m also here to see if we could become reacquainted.”

“Why?” questioned Megatron, turning towards the visitor while concealing the pistol behind his back. “What connection did we have? Was it really so important that you should disturb me here?” He tried to communicate with security but the signal was being jammed.

“It was brief but rewarding,” said the visitor, leaning casually against the door frame. “We were going to work together a great deal, you and I, but you evidently had other plans.” He gestured at the spacious office with both hands. “A great pity, I felt. We could have had a wonderful time, directing the masses in peaceful projects. Instead, you disposed of the masses. I do miss them terribly. Now, I have to do all my own odd jobs, and so do you, I see!”

“I think I remember you now,” said Megatron. “One of the noble classes. Kind of stuck up, as I recall. Had a ridiculously long name just to show off. Used to go on pointless shooting expeditions. Well, we’re all good shots here.” With lightning speed, he pointed the pistol at his old acquaintance. “What do you call yourself these days, anyway?”

“Following your economical example, my colleagues and I have adopted short names,” explained the acquaintance. “I’m called Mirage now. But that’s not the only way I’ve changed.”

“I’ll find out the details for myself,” said Megatron, firing the paralysing ray. Mirage was completely unaffected. He waved at Megatron, then disappeared. Megatron was rather perturbed, immediately suspecting that Mirage could teleport. What sabotage was going on here, he wondered? He scanned the room with all available sensors.

“Show yourself, old friend,” he called out, marshalling his courage. “Talk with me, tell me about your life. What do you plan to do in this brave new world of mine?”

“Kill you,” said a voice to the right. Mirage had reappeared and was taking aim with a high-powered rifle. The bullet arrived at three thousand kilometres per hour, on course for Megatron’s right eye. It didn’t quite get there because a small visor on a super-fast hair trigger descended and deflected it into the far wall. Megatron’s head snapped back with the force of the impact. By the time he had regained his focus, Mirage had gone. Megatron immediately reached for his main weapons but they too had vanished. Someone had taken them so quickly that he hadn’t even noticed. He had started to look around for extra guns when he was suddenly grabbed by a magnetic field and flung against a wall. Suspended above the floor and permeated with excess electrons, he could hardly move. The paralyser pistol fell from his hand and his superstructure slowly started to buckle. A relatively small Transformer appeared and introduced himself as Windcharger.

“Hang in there, Megs!” he quipped as cracks began to appear in the Decepticon leader’s armour. “This is gonna get interesting!” He stepped aside and Mirage reappeared.

“This is for all my real friends!” Mirage yelled, shooting Megatron repeatedly in his more vulnerable joints. The pain was explosively intense. Mirage soon exhausted his ammunition, transformed and raced out of the building. Immediately, another warrior rushed in and charged at the captive Megatron. Though small, this one had huge strength. His fists pounded Megatron almost as powerfully as Mirage’s bullets. Megatron could hardly think clearly through this level of punishment. After a few minutes, the strong assailant was obliged to stop, since he had a low tolerance for magnetic fields. He too transformed and departed, leaving Megatron severely dented and with a fair amount of internal damage. Before the next warrior could enter, Megatron remembered his hand laser. He opened the small hatch and fired. Windcharger was pierced through the chest and collapsed, his magnetic field instantly failing. A wild commando screeched into the office and accelerated into Megatron. Twin diamond drills ground into his armour, twisting sections out of shape. By now, Megatron was seriously angry. He grabbed the commando and slammed him onto the floor so hard that the whole room shook. His superhard fingers crumpled the tank’s tracks like aluminium and ripped them off. The commando transformed and tried to crawl away but he was pulled back and held down. Megatron was about to laser through his attacker’s head when yet another warrior entered at speed and struck him from behind. This latest one favoured an electronic approach, connecting to Megatron’s systems and immobilising him before ransacking some of his private data.

“The name’s Wheeljack,” said the electronics expert as the commando ran away. “We’re raiding you now to show you our true strength. Your security mechs are all dead and you didn’t even know it until we came up here. We’ve taken what we wanted. You’re no longer safe in your fortresses, behind your armies or in your own mind!” Wheeljack disengaged and Megatron fell on his face, still unable to move. Picking up the injured Windcharger, Wheeljack retreated to the door, watching his dangerous victim closely. Within moments, Megatron was starting to regain control of his body.

“As a final surprise, I’d like you to meet my big buddy Grimlock!” said Wheeljack cheerfully. “Bye for now!” Putting Windcharger on his roof, he transformed and drove away, leaving Megatron to confront the largest attacker yet.

“At last we meet,” said Grimlock with dark satisfaction. “I’m sure we’ll get on very well!” His massive frame filled the doorway and his finger was on the trigger of his missile launcher.


* * * * *


“There’s some kind of disturbance in headquarters,” reported Vortex, who happened to be patrolling above in helicopter mode. “I see explosions and structural damage. There’s no response from local security. Please send backup.” With that, he descended to investigate. Even above the sound of his rotors, he could hear the impacts and blasts in the penthouse. He drew level with the window and saw his leader in deadly combat with a mystery assailant. He wanted to shoot this interloper but hesitated, not wanting to hit the wrong mech by mistake. As he hovered, another Decepticon appeared in the corner of the room. It was Skywarp. The loyal teleporter peppered the assailant in the back with machine gun fire, causing him to stagger forwards. Vortex followed up with cannon fire and then a glue spray.

Grimlock found himself off balance with his left arm stuck fast to his side. He couldn’t fight effectively or transform, so he retreated towards the door. Skywarp blocked his path, missile launchers poised and ready. He said nothing but wore an expression of utter defiance. For a moment, Grimlock was unsure of the best way out. That moment was all that Megatron needed. All his weapons were broken or lost but he still had most of his immense strength. Springing across the room, he seized Grimlock, hoisted him into the air and carried him to the window. Vortex backed off and Grimlock was hurled out, falling almost a kilometre to the square below. Vortex followed him down, spraying cannon fire. Grimlock hit the floor very hard, punching through the plating to the utility tunnels below. Vortex transformed and landed, waiting for the dust to settle. Skywarp swooped down, firing two dozen compact missiles into the crater. Vortex stepped back quickly as the ground erupted.

Skywarp looped back, transformed and landed, intending to confirm his kill. He and Vortex peered into the smoking chasm, straining their multi-wavelength eyes to try and spot the hated enemy. Soon, it was apparent that the blasts had opened up a passageway into an extensive tunnel complex. Grimlock was nowhere to be seen. Decepticons adapted to underground searches were sent to find him but eventually returned empty-handed.

Starscream had heard about the attack and returned to headquarters at top speed. He arrived to find his leader damaged but still standing, in a ruined top-floor office. Dropping through a new hole in the roof, he approached Megatron to find out what had happened. Megatron swung around instantly. When he saw who had entered, he was at first relieved, then a suspicious thought dawned on him. Glowering at his arrogant lieutenant, he advanced towards him.

“Megatron, I had nothing to do with this!” said Starscream. “I came back as soon as I heard. I thought I could help in some way.” Megatron used his connectors to link into Starscream’s systems and make a determination of culpability. Starscream was innocent this time. Megatron’s expression changed from anger to quiet resentment and disappointment. For a few moments, he stood still, contemplating these new developments.

“It may seem strange to you, but I like those enemy warriors,” he said. “They’re extremely good; true professionals. Look at what they accomplished!” He indicated his wounds and the damaged room.

“They have considerable special powers,” he continued. “Their dedication is remarkable. It’s a real shame that they hate us. We spared their lives earlier, so I don’t especially want to kill them now. By rights, they should be Decepticons. We should try to convert them to our cause.”

“That’s going to be extremely difficult,” said Starscream, attempting to hide his incredulity. “They resist us so resolutely. I believe that a cull is a necessary evil. We don’t yet have the resources to dominate the planet completely.”

“Yes, sadly, a cull is required now,” agreed Megatron. “Mirage and his merry band have convinced me of that. Rally your airforce to strike targets of opportunity. You have the details on file: you know who to seek and destroy. Ground forces will follow up shortly.”

“What about my proposal for Iacon?” asked Starscream. “Does it appeal to you now?”

“Yes and no,” replied Megatron. “We think alike, you and I. So often, I find that we agree on many points. However, the difference between us lies in our degrees of forward planning. Like it or not, I am more advanced than you, which makes me the rightful leader. Your elementary nuclear strike plan is appealing to a certain extent but my prelaid demolition charges are considerably better. Watch.” A switch closed in his brain, a signal was sent on a coded channel and all the major buildings in Iacon erupted in fire. Starscream saw the devastation on screen. Almost every structure on or near the surface was levelled in the storm of explosions and falling metal. The energy of the event was so great that it caused an earthquake, which damaged and destroyed buildings outside the city. Once again, Starscream found that he had underestimated his leader. He started to consider the wider implications of this latest grand terrorist gesture.

“Enough hidden explosives to ruin the place but without the inconvenient melting and annoying radiation,” commented Megatron. If his face was still intact, he would have smiled. “We will win this, one way or another.”

“Glad to hear it,” remarked Starscream. “I’ll leave you to get yourself fixed up. By the way, is that energon sword supposed to be sticking through your abdomen?” Megatron looked down and saw the intruding blade.

“No,” he said grimly, pulling it out. Starscream’s sarcasm was starting to grate on his nerves. The deep orange blade glowed brightly, reminding Megatron of the attackers’ defiance. It seemed that it was Grimlock’s way of taunting him. Megatron knew that he could not be baited so easily, but he still believed that his enemies would suffer greatly in years to come.
 
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Old 2007-06-21, 12:04 PM   #2
snavej
Poisoned by modern life
 
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Megatron does all in his power to gain the upper hand in the war but fortune does not always smile on him, and the Autobot resurgence begins in earnest. He will not have an easy victory.
 
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