Target Practice

By Tom Zavier

    Midnight, sprawled lazily about the command chair, glanced at the time-strip on the nearby console. 0375 hours. It had been 125 time units since Megatron had teleported down to Moonbase. What was he doing down there?
    Not that it really mattered...with an indulgent yawn, he surveyed the vast complex of interlinked floors and platforms that served as the bridge of the Dark Glory. With such power at one's command, it would seem easier to simply blast Moonbase to atoms from orbit; instead Megatron had to be excessively dramatic. The moron Mercer was the same way. Incompetents!
    Not that Midnight would complain too openly. His value to the Empire was perhaps a little...dubious.
    He sniffed indignantly. "Status?" he snapped.
    The crew nearby was more than eager to report: comm channels silent. Power readings normal. Et cetera, et cetera...
    "Cloaking device?" he hissed.
    Dreadwing's deep voice rolled from behind Midnight. "Nominal. Emissions within tolerance levels."
    Midnight nodded slowly. With a smile stretching along his long jaws, he allowed himself another yawn. Megatron could take care of himself--there was nothing to do but wait...
    "Commander!" Lead Foot cried.
    "A vessel has just dropped out of Hyperspace. Coordinates 4-31-62-Z."
    Midnight grinned eagerly. "On viewer!" he rasped.
    The viewer burst into radience. A tactical representation of Cybertron and it's moons appeared--with a single blinking anomaly.
    "Autobot configuration," said Dreadwing quietly. "Older model, too."
    "Well, well, well..." Midnight clicked his claws together, still grinning happily. "This could be interesting."
                                            *                                                     *                                                         *
    Motormaster couldn't believe their foul luck. Only this Autobot scrap-heap would break down not once, not twice--three times! Trapped in Hyperspace! The sight of that insane swirling was enough to drive any mechanoid crazy...
    "Commander..." Dead End's voice was weak. "Look!"
    The viewscreen didn't lie. Cybertron's surface was a twisted, charred shadow of it's former beauty...
    Motormaster gaped at the sight. "What has happened here?"
    "My guess?" Blitzwing smiled, "the attack's been and done. We've missed the show."
    Wildrider frowned. "Hmmph. Figures. We miss all the fun--"
    A high-pitched electronic shriek interrupted him. Breakdown's hands fumbled with the tactical controls...
    "It's the proximity alarm!" he cried, trying to shut it off.
    Motormaster bellowed, "but why's it going off? there's nothing out--"
    They all stared at the viewscreen--it was Blitzwing who exclaimed:
    "Primus save us!"
                                            *                                                        *                                                      *
    Midnight had almost leapt right out of the command chair. "Optical! I want a standard view! Now!"
    "Y-yes, Commander!" Lead Foot's hands shook as he handled the controls. The holo-screen changed: the stars and space, and something else...
    "Confirmed!" Nightracer gasped. "Exactly three-hundred ships! They entered Realspace simultaneously...all at the exact same ti--"
    "Silence!" Midnight hissed. "Get Frostwing up here. Powerdive--what are they doing?"
    "Nothing yet...closing...they aren't in an attack formation...yet. They've filled almost this entire sector..."
    "Well, Dreadwing?" Midnight turned to look over his shoulder. "Thoughts?"
    "Vaguely Cybertronian in design...definitely battleships."
    "Agreed." Midnight said. Each ship was a sharp silver wedge, sheek and triangular, and bristling with weapons. They bore no external markings.
    "Helm: move us to 40-7-3-F, quarter lightspeed. Just to be sure."
    "Commander Midnight!" Manta Ray spoke up. "We're recieving a transmission--all frequencies."
    "From which ship?"
    "All of them...I think! It's being sent everywhere in the area." He paused. "Audio only."
    "On speakers," Midnight growled.
    The voice came through; clear, crisp and completely devoid of accent or emotion. It was slightly masculine: "Attention all mechanoids within Cybertron sector. Please be advised by the will of our Lord Primus, all ships, weapons, and equipment will be rendered inoperative. Do not resist, or you will be harmed. We repeat..."
    Midnight raised a sleek eyebrow. "Primus, indeed. What madness is this?"
    On screen, the ships had moved into attack formations--moving toward the Moons, the Planet...and the single Autobot shuttle.
    "Manta Ray--" Midnight said crisply, "Hail Megatron. Immediately."
                                            *                                                             *                                                 *
    The ship rocked violently, throwing the four Autobots that were standing, flying against the walls of their holding cells. The lights dimmed. The sound of metal twisting and rending filled the air...
    "What's going on?" cried Beachcomber.
    "I'd say we're under attack!" snarled Sideswipe, his patience long expended.
    "Obviously! But who is attacking us?" Arcee asked.
    "Quiet!" yelled Ruckus, leaning against the wall intercom, trying to listen but getting only static. The deck plates rocked. The panel burst in a shower of sparks--throwing Ruckus against one of the force-fields--and into unconsciousness.
    Crankcase steadied himself against the brig's wall as another explosion rocked the shuttle. Drag Strip tripped and rolled across the floor as the lights flickered, and the `evacuation alert' siren sounded...
    Sunfire supressed a laugh. "We're safer in here than our guards!"
    Prowl didn't think so. They were helpless, against an unknown asailant...
                                             *                                                             *                                                  *
    All things were in chaos.
    Suddenly, hundreds of ships had appeared out of Hyperspace, all around them. Just as suddenly, these ships--or the ones nearest them, anyway--were firing upon them. And now, the lights had gone out!
    They'd lost power! All was in darkness...and for a brief moment, all was silent.
    Then, it happened. Sudden flickerings of brillant light filled the shuttle's bridge--vague outlines of Humanoid shapes--
    Teleportation beams! They were being boarded!
    All was dark again; leaving only the blue glow of the intruders' optic sensors--and then, the fighting started.
    Flashes of laser-fire crossed the bridge, acompanied by the clanging and crunching of hand-to-hand combat...Blitzwing's electro-sword flared in sudden brillance as it tore into his metallic opponent...
                                             *                                                              *                                                 *
    The sounds of violence, thin and muffled, still surrounded Beachcomber as he cowered in his cell near the still-unconscious Jazz. He'd stayed behind to watch over him--yes, that was why--not because he was frightened.
    It had all happened so quickly. Darkness, followed by flickerings of teleporter light...the realization that, like the lights, the force-fields were down. Fighting, and the yelling--Prowl barking orders, and arguing--he'd thought it was Arcee, but no--arguing with Sunfire! Then, they'd left--to reclaim the shuttle.
    So he sat here--practically alone, in the dark, surrounded by bodies and debris...a puddle of something wet was touching his foot module. It was getting cold--life support must have gone down also. And despite the distant noises, it was still very quiet...
    And he was scared. But then--
                                             *                                                              *                                                   *
    "What a mess!" Sideswipe said, stepping onto the bridge. The signs of the struggle were all-too evident. He stepped aside, allowing Prowl, Arcee, Sunfire and Inferno to pass into the room.
    "This is not good..." Prowl muttered, looking over the charred computer consoles. He tapped his fore-arm mounted Com-link. "Hoist? Status?"
    Hoist's voice replied immediately: "Engineering secure--main power steady. I'm working on shields..."
    Prowl glanced at Sunfire, who was crouching near the front of the bridge, gingerly lifting what appeared to be a severed arm-module. Arcee was leaning over a fallen Decepticon--it looked like Blitzwing--while Sideswipe and Inferno had started examining the computers more closely.
    Prowl sniffed. The smell of oil was in the air. "Try and access the automation systems, Hoist. It's our only chance."
    "Will do, sir." The comm-channel clicked off.
    "Prowl?" said Arcee. "This one's still alive. Barely."
    It was Blitzwing. And he was the only whole Decepticon left on the bridge.
                                            *                                                              *                                                    *
    Midnight shifted in his seat uneasily. "You can't reach Megatron?"
    Manta Ray swallowed. "His com-link must be off! Shall I attempt to--"
    "Contact Skyquake, then!" Midnight screeched, unintentionally finishing Manta Ray's sentence. `Idiots! All of them!'
    "Yes, Lead Foot?" he growled.
    "The shuttle has altered course," Lead Foot said, matter-of-factly. "And it's heading right for us."
    Midnight bolted upright. "Range?"
    "5,060 teralengths--and closing."
    Midnight bared his fangs, with a prolonged hiss of displeasure. Why did these things always happen to him?
                                            *                                                               *                                                     *
    "Good work, Hoist!" Prowl exclaimed. "Get me shields and I'll really be impressed."
    "Don't get your hopes up," said Hoist, over the com-link. "I can't guarantee Hyperspace either."
    "Just keep trying--the more speed, the better. Prowl out." He turned to Inferno. "Are they in pursuit?"
    "Yes. Only now--they just noticed. We'll be caught before we leave the sector, unless--"
    "I know." Prowl cut him off. "Sideswipe go see if you can find Swoop and Slag--they're not responding. The ship might not be completely secure."
    With a nod, Sideswipe left the bridge.
    Prowl sighed--this was too strange. Cybertron was decimated--presumably either by the Decepticons or these unknown attackers. Teleporters! They had appeared, attacked--and disappeared--when the fight was over...leaving an almost empty shuttle. He could only assume they'd taken several of the Decepticons prisoner, for interrogation--the still functional ones, that is.
    The fight probably wasn't over yet. If Hoist couldn't get the Hyperdrive working, it would begin all over again...and Prowl knew the only way to figure this insane situation was to escape and head for Oberon. He'd find his answers there--he was sure of that.
                                            *                                                                 *                                                    *
    "4,009 teralengths, Commander," Lead Foot stated calmly, "what are your orders?"
    Midnight grunted indignantly. There was no time to get the Dark Glory out of the way--the shuttle was approaching too fast and they were just too big--and he couldn't let the vessel draw attention to their cloaked position.
    "Ransak, calculate trajectory. Nightracer," he paused, and smiled slightly. "Arm pulse lasers, singular setting." He couldn't risk more than the single bolt or the fleet might detect it.
    Nightracer--the gunner--also smiled. "Yes, commander." She pressed a few buttons on the keypad before her. "Armed and ready."
    "As soon as the shuttle is within optimum range, destroy it."
    Nightracer nodded. She was--reputedly--the Dark Glory's best gunner, and was more than eager to fulfill the order.
    Powerdive, from the security station, spoke up: "Say Nightracer--bet you can't hit it now--at this range--with one shot!"
    "Bet how much?" She snarled.
    "Half-a-cycle's energon rations!" Powerdive replied.
    Frostwing had finally arrived at the control center. "What is the situation?" she asked crisply.
    "Midnight gestured her to be quiet--he was suddenly enjoying his underlings' wagering.
    Ransak spoke up: "A whole cycle's ration she can't do it without a target lock!"
    Midnight grunted uncomfortably--that might be pushing it.
    "You're on!" Nightracer snapped. She leaned over her console, readying herself...
    Midnight smiled again. She could do it. She was the best.
    She fired.
    The shuttle accelerated with a sudden burst of regained speed.
    "What?" she cried.
    "What?!" Midnight shrieked.
    The red bolt of energy crossed paths with the shuttle and almost missed it. A small burst of blue light erupted near the shuttle's engines.
                                             *                                                                *                                                    *
    "Damage?" Prowl cried, into his com-link. Obviously, the pursuing ships had opened fire--there was no other explanation.
    "Negligable..." Hoist replied, "but I don't think we can maintain our increased speed much longer...wait--"
    "What is it?"
    Oh--it's alright--we've got a radiation leak. I'll look into it--I don't think it's a problem, though."
                                             *                                                                 *                                                     *
    "You incompetent amateur!" Midnight shrieked, leaping from the command chair. "How could you miss?"
    "It accelerated!" Nightracer pleaded. "I--"
    "Commander," said Lead Foot, "the shuttle--"
    "Silence!" Midnight snapped. "Now, look here, Nightracer--"
    "Midnight!" cried Frostwing.
    The proximity alarm!
    The shuttle raced over the hidden Dark Glory, missing it by a very thin margin. But suddenly--
    "No!" Dreadwing cried, running to his console as a new alarm sounded. "The cloaking device is failing!"
    Indeed, as the shuttle passed the Empire's flagship, it's leaked radiation caused an unpredictable reaction--and for a brief moment, a sizable section of the tremendous flying fortress Dark Glory was revealed, to all eyes.
    They watched as the unidentified vessels slowed their pursuit and stopped. "We've been detected." Frostwing said calmly--too calmly. "You'll have to answer to Megatron for this, Midnight."
    Midnight released a low growl. "I plan to, my dear. But first, Nightracer, Ransak, Powerdive--to launch bay seven! We shall pursue and destroy this shuttle ourselves. Go!" He had no intention of being on the bridge when Megatron returned--and maybe destroying a shuttle full of Autobots would make amends for any percieved failure Megatron saw here. At any rate, they couldn't take the chance that the Autobots had accidentally uncovered a way to nullify their cloaking device. That possibility had to be neutralized.
    The three officers leaped up, virtually running out of the control center. Midnight addressed Frostwing, "The bridge is yours. Dreadwing will brief you."
    Frostwing's purple optics glared at him. "You want to leave? Now? I should arrest you for this display of incompetence."
    Midnight only smiled mockingly. "You wouldn't dare." He turned and left swiftly.
    `Don't tempt me, you overhyped piece of scrap!' she thought silently as she watched him depart.
    Frostwing sat down gingerly, and assessed the situation. She immediately noticed that the unidentified vessels around them were now--slowly, but surely--moving into an attack formation.