Scorched Earth

By Matt Kirkby

    “Yes, Frostwing?” As the door to his office hissed closed, the Decepticon Commander didn’t bother to glance up from his computer monitor as additional information scrolled across its surface.
    “I’m sorry to bother you like this,” Frostwing said--not sounding sorry at all--as she walked towards the desk. “But this just came in with the standard data--updates from our recon-probes.”
    “What of it?” Megatron asked. He paused in his study of enemy tactics to lift his head and study his security commander. He could see concern in her purple, blue and white form. “Go on.” He knew that she wouldn’t bother him with news of probe updates unless there was something of great importance in this uplinked data.
    “Most of the data was downloaded automatically and filed for later strategic analysis, as well as being copied to the archives. Most of it is purely routine--planetary scans to indicate potential resources, info on military preparations regarding future targets, etc.”
    “Yes, yes,” Megatron prompted. If this was important enough to interrupt him, why didn’t she get to the point?
    “Random checks of the datastreams by various Analysts didn’t notice anything of great importance or uniqueness in the download. Of particular note, however, is probe A12-Gen2-C.”
    Instantly, Frostwing had his full attention, for Megatron knew that particular series well. “Is there a mechanical problem with that probe?” he asked. “Or has something happened in that sector?” He hoped he was masking the sudden nervousness he felt surge through his circuits at mentioning the sector of space where his Benefactors had established their base.
    “The planet the probe was monitoring has been destroyed.”
    Megatron stared at her, surprised by her calm tone. “Destroyed?” he repeated.
    “It self-destructed at 1227 precisely.” Frostwing handed Megatron a datachip. “The update arrived at 1745.”
    Megatron slid the datachip into his desk and then looked at the monitor.
    A rather ordinary looking planet filled the viewscreen, rotating serenely against the backdrop of a star-strewn void. Then a single pinpoint of flame blossomed in the northern hemisphere. Then another. And another. Then a dozen at once. The flames spread quickly, erupting faster and faster until the planet was a brightly glowing spark.
    “Additional data?”
    Frostwing stopped staring at the image. “Not much at present. Backchecks of the probe records show that it detected only the usual levels of traffic and communications prior to the planet’s destruction.” She paused before adding: “I’ve taken the liberty of activating two additional probes in that sector.”
    “Cloaked, of course?”
    She nodded. “Full stealth systems with enhanced sensor packets, just like all the others in that series.”
    Megatron was taking no chances by allowing his benefactors to take steps against him. Ever since he had broken free of their control, he had kept cloaked scouts and probes near their planetary base to monitor them...they had never seemed to notice his probes, nor prepared to take any action against him. Could this be the start of some plan of theirs? “Results?” he asked allowed.
    “Almost seventy percent of the planetary surface is still burning...but a preliminary analysis is available.” Frostwing didn’t bother to consult her hand held compad. “Surface-wide sterilization is the result. The planet is now completely charred. It’s been rendered lifeless...useless. The atmosphere is down to less than three percent oxygen and still dropping and toxic byproduct emissions are too high for even us to tolerate for long. No lifesigns, no signals or power emissions at all. Above all,” she added grimly, ”there is no evidence your benefactors were ever there. There base has been wiped from existence.”
    Megatron nodded. “A good point. After abandoning that world--for whatever reason--I can see them scorching it to hide their presence from any future detection.” From what he observed during his service to them, they relied on secrecy and lurking in the shadows.
    “Do you plan to send more scouts into that sector?”
    “No...there’s no reason to bother.” Megatron shook his head. “If they have activated such an effective self-destruct device, as we have observed, then I trust we can assume there will be nothing left for us to find.”
    “I see.”
    “I think that my benefactors can be ignored, Frostwing, for now. Oh, do have Soundwave alert all outposts and colonies to maintain for watch for traces of their presence--in case they are preparing to move against us--but otherwise, we have other, more pressing concerns. Yes,” he gestured to his computer monitor, still displaying the burning planet, “the current activities of the Disciples must remain our primary concern for now. Next to their threat, all other foes--active or not--are secondary.”
    “As you wish.” She didn’t sound thrilled with the orders but she would obey.
    “Is that all, Frostwing?”
    “The only thing which requires your immediate attention.” She shrugged as she mentally skimmed various status reports she had read earlier. “All other probe updates are routine...or at least within tolerances. Fuel consumption and construction rates remain at projected levels. Military losses, thus far, are acceptable... not low, but acceptable.”
    Megatron nodded grimly--he had already scanned the casualty lists earlier that cycle. “This war is proving very costly for us to wage, Frostwing,” he agreed in a cold tone, “but it will prove a far more costly one for us to lose”.
    “Indeed.” Frostwing shrugged. “I must return to my duties.” With that, she turned and strode out of the office leaving Megatron alone with his thoughts.