Candle In The Darkness

By Matt "Talon" Kirkby

    "Disciple battleships detected!"
    "Where?" Megatron asked calmly. "Full report, Ransack, and delivered calmly if possible."
    "Fifty vessels are maneuvering from around the far side of the moon," Ransack reported in a calmer tone. "They are already in attack formation. Shields and weapons are active."
    "Battle stations then." Megatron kept a snap in his voice. "Raise our shields and divert all available power to the weapons."
    An alert klaxxon began wailing as a synthesized voice called the crew of the Dark Glory to their battle stations.
    "A pity we were uncloaked," Frostwing grumbled from an aft bridge station.
    "The cloaking system required some repairs," Nightracer reminded her. "We only needed a few hours of peace-"
    "Which we didn't get."
    "So now we get blasted," noted Rumble.
    Soundwave glanced up from the communications console for the briefest of instants.
    "How the slag did they find us?" Ransack demanded as he adjusted the sensors.
    "That is indeed a question to ponder," Frostwing replied in cold tone. "This is supposed to be an uninhabited system." The dying brown dwarf star had no habitable planets and only two gas giants with handful of moons accompanying it through space. "That's why we chose to make our repairs here."
    "Maybe the Disciples have garrisoned every star system with ships."
    "Don't be absurd! They can't possibly have done so. No power has that many ships."
    "Argue about this later!" Megatron's voice plunged the multi-level bridge into silence. "Range to targets?"
    "Six thousand tera-lengths," Ransack warned. "Disciples are accelerating."
    "We are severely outnumbered." Soundwave observed in his soft tone.
    "That is hardly a new experience for us in this war," Megatron replied, exasperation coloring his voice. "Any communications?"
    Megatron raised his voice. "The usual rules of engagement--no prisoners, no survivors."
    "Understood," Nightracer replied happily.
    "Incoming transmission!" Soundwave announced. "Standard threats."
    "We are the Disciples of Primus-" a voice crackled over the bridge speakers.
    "Ignore it!" Megatron said. "I don't want to hear it. Activate the ecm systems and jam their transmissions!"
    "Electronic counter measures activated."
    "We're approaching weapon's range!"
    "Fire at your discretion, Nightracer."
    "You got it!" She triggered the tactical console almost immediately.

    The Dark Glory shuddered.
    "We are under attack!"
    "No, duh, Face!" Talon glanced nervously out of the room's armored viewport as the flash of a distant explosion flared brightly. "Shouldn't we be at battle stations or something?"
    'What was my assigned station during an attack?' He couldn't recall if he had one....
    Face extinguished the candle which was on a small table and plunged the room into a darkness lit only by the light show beyond the viewport.
    "So what was your first clue about that attack?" Talon continued. "The klaxxon? Megatron ordering battle stations? Or when we just took that hit?"
    Face shook his head. "Calm yourself, Talon. Fear is counter-productive to our purpose."
    "I don't have time for your--"
    A chime sounded from the room's intercom.
    "Yes?" Face called out as crimson laser bolts streaked past the viewport.
    "Commander Face, you are ordered to report to staging bay seven at once."
    "Might I ask why, Soundwave?"
    "Anti-fighter duties. The Disciples are launching fighter-mode warriors."
    "And we get to engage them in combat." Face's tone kept his thoughts about such a task hidden.

    "Nineteen ships destroyed."
    "Shields are holding."
    "Disciple fighters are closing rapidly. They are too small for the primary batteries to track." Oh Nightracer could-and was-hitting some of the incoming fighters with the Glory's main guns-they were so numerous that it was next to impossible to not hit something--but there were just so many of them!
    "Order Face to launch and engage them," Megatron ordered. "Blow them from the sky."

    "Attack speed!" Face ordered his troops. Scores of jet-mode Decepticons streaked from the four main launch bays and eight smaller bays. Skimming the surface of the Dark Glory, they formed themselves into tight squadrons.
    "I don't like this," Talon moaned as he trailed after Face. "We're really outnumbered out here." His sensors were overloaded with targets--there were hundreds of Disciples swarming around their battleships and flying towards the Glory.
    "Decepticons, break and attack!" Face fired his weaponry, then altered course.
    Talon snapped off a pair of lasers, then altered his own course. "Hey, watch it!" He narrowly avoided colliding with another Decepticon--Triggerhappy, he thought--and then he desperately dodged a volley of particle beams from the Glory.
    Space sparkled with explosions.
    "Keep them away from the ship, " Face ordered. "RedShift, your squadron is with me; the rest of you, stay and screen the flagship."
    Talon, as part of Face's squadron, followed his commander away from the relative safety of the Decepticon flagship and towards the Disciple's battleships.
    "One insect is an irritation, a hundred can be deadly." Face plunged into the midst of the enemy fighters, firing his weaponry and destroying several Disciples. "We are more dangerous than a hive of insects!"
    "Face is moving to engage the Disciple fighter screens. The enemy fighter strike is breaking apart."
    "Continue to fire all secondary guns at the enemy fighters as they enter range," Megatron ordered. "Main guns, continue to target and destroy those battleships!" The fighters were a distraction--they were small, but in sufficient numbers that even their weak weaponry could damage the Dark Glory.
    Talon, and a few dozen other Decepticons, broke through the swarming Disciple fighter squadrons and began making runs on the battleships exploded.
    "Aim for the viewports," one Decepticon advised. "They're the weakest point in any ship design."
    "Good plan," RedShift replied, "assuming that they had viewports."
    Talon took note of that fact as he weaved along the hull of the wedge-shaped vessel, swerving around the superstructure. "They don't have viewports?" he said aloud. "Don't they ever want to look outside?"
    An energy missile streaked past his wing.
    'Watch what you 're doing!' Whisper thought angrily. 'You're gonna get us both killed!'
    Two Disciple fighters were in close pursuit.
    "This is Talon, I need a little help here." Only static answered his signal. "Hey, where is everyone?"
    He spotted two more Disciples closing on him and he fired is laser cannon back at them. One exploded, the other swerved to avoid the laser fire tracking him and collided with the battleship's hull.
    Talon swung around a weapon battery-the gun barrels were several times his size-and his circuitry crackled with interference as the battery discharged a laser beam.
    Face calmly destroyed three Disciple fighters, then turned back into the battle. Unlike many of his fellow Decepticons, Face possessed energy shields--though they would be useless against the energy output from a battleship's weapons--which protected him from the Disciple fighters. He selected his next targets and dove on them, firing his lasers and missiles. Even if he missed the fighters, his shots would hit the battleship drifting beyond them-and would not be wasted.

    "Battleships are moving to flank us," Ransack reported.
    "Target them immediately." The Glory was holding its own--for now--but the Disciples still had superior firepower.
    "Shields are weakening." The warship shuddered as enemy fire raked it. "Hull damage on deck nine." The Disciples were concentrating their fire with uncanny precision, combing their fire to punch through the shields.
    "Cloaking system is back on-line." Soundwave relayed the message from Engineering. "We can cloak and withdraw, Commander."
    Megatron shook his head. "And leave all of those fighters behind?" he asked. "I am not willing to sacrifice so many of my troops so readily, Soundwave."
    "I did not expect you to."
    "Hull breech on deck three!" Frostwing reported. "We're being boarded!" she exclaimed and tapped the intercom to deck three, section nineteen."

    "Blast them all!" Skyquake ordered as he led his Predators into the midst of a Disciple squadron. He laughed with pride as his unit tore through the Disciples like a laser through aluminum foil. "They can't stand up to us!" The Disciples were annoyances at best--a thousand tiny targets to cloud sensors and stress the Glory's shields with pin-prick lasers.

    "Take cover!" Stepping over the body of a fallen Decepticon, Slammer peered around the corner and then quickly pulled his head back as laser fire melted the wall-plating where his head had been an instant earlier. "Yep, we've got boarders." He activated his corn-link. "Security Control, this is Slammer. Disciples confirmed in deck three, section eighteen."
    "We've sealed off sections sixteen through twenty on your deck" the voice from Security told him. "Additional units are on their way... hold your position."
    "Understood." Slammer glanced over his shoulder at the rest of his eleven-mech squad and he smiled. "Let's go!" He threw himself around the comer and charged at the intruders. "For Megatron!" he shouted.

    "They're coming through the hull breech," Frostwing reported to Megatron. "Approximately forty or so, according to a visual obtained through a security camera."
    "Contain them."
    "We're already sealed off those sections with the emergency bulkheads. I've dispatched additional security teams." She broke off as her console reported weapons' fire. "There's a firefight in progress... section eighteen."

    "Pull back!" Face ordered as a fresh wave of Disciples launched. "We have done all that we can here."
    "We took heavy casualties in this effort," RedShift reported as he broke contact with enemy fighters and turned back towards the Dark Glory. "I've lost over half my warriors."
    "What happened to Talon?" Face asked. "I lost track of him during the engagement."
    "I heard him calling for help during the run at the fourth battleship."
    Face noted it on his sensors. "I am not reading any signals from him." Too much interference from Decepticon counter measures, plus the battleship's own power systems, and debris filling the area. "Talon, do you copy?"
    "I've not heard from him in quite a while," RedShift said after a long moment of silence. "I'm sorry, Face. Looks like he didn't make it."
    A volley of laser fire streaked from the Glory to strike at the few remaining battleships. One exploded under the barrage and the others returned fire.
    Face watched the battleship vanish from his sensors, to be replaced by slowly-expanding cloud of debris.
    RedShift fell into formation beside him. "I am sorry, Face. He was okay, for one of the Bonded."
    Face said nothing, but cut his engines to drift.
    RedShift took note of the swarming Disciples. "Looks like they're breaking off," he noted. "They're running."
    "Dark Glory to all fighters...return to base," Soundwave's voice crackled over the corn-channels. "Return to base."
    "You heard him," RedShift said as the other Decepticon jets fell into formation around their two leaders. "The battle's over."     Debris had crowded that particular region of space through which they were currently maneuvering--shattered battleships, smashed Decepticons--which made navigation difficult and dangerous. The situation was not helped by the ECM still being broadcast from the Dark Glory.
    "Death is but one natural outcome of events," Face finally said, his voice emotionless as it carried across the com-channel. "It comes to all beings. It should not be feared in itself, but accepted as a finality to life."
    "I'm glad to hear you say that, I think," a new voice broke into the channel. "Now, Face, if death should not be feared, can thirty or so Disciple fighters be feared!"
    "Talon, is that you?"
    "Who else? I need some help here!"
    Face had already spotted his protege--the thirty or so Disciples pursuing him helped, as they were firing lasers at him. "Alter course by four degrees to port," he ordered. "We will cover you."
    "Understood." Talon accelerated, and the Disciples altered course as if controlled by a single mind. "This is getting close!"
    "We got some targets," RedShift told his squadron over another frequency. "Break and attack."
    Talon shot past the Deceptions... and his comrades pounced out of the debris field and destroyed the Disciples before the jets had time to realize they were under attack.
    "Return to the Glory," Face ordered as the Decepticons reformed. "Good work." He switched back to a private corn-channel. "Talon, what happened to you?" A visual scan picked out scars marring Talon's fuselage.
    "I took a glancing hit from a few fighters," Talon explained. "It disabled my comlink for a while. I had to land on that battleship's hull to make some emergency repairs-and fight off a dozen or so Disciples while I was at it-before I could fly back." He sounded tired. "I had just gotten clear when that battleship was vaped by the Glory. I headed back here, I got jumped by that patrol. Man, I barely made it back here without getting myself vaped."
    Face made no reply.
            *            *            *
    "Panic is too strong a word, I think." Mercer continued talking as Megatron stared through the windows at the war-scarred city skyline.
    "I saw evidence of disquiet on the streets, Mercer."
    Mercer nodded, slowly and reluctantly. "The others are not handling recent events well, I will admit that much," he replied. "Our conquest of, and then almost immediate loss of Cybertron. Disciples raiding TransFormer-occupied worlds all over the galaxy. The Earth Debacle. An Autobot raid which took us all by surprise. The Predacons encountering those mysterious lifeforms. No, the populace are growing concerned."
    "Calm their concerns," Megatron ordered him. "The situation is well in hand. I have control over events." Though not as much as he need to cause his subordinates undue worry.
    "Of course." Mercer paused-he had seen the requisition orders for parts and supplies which the Glory had transmitted upon its arrival. "How long will you be remaining with us on Dnema, Commander?" he asked.
    "Not long, I fear." Megatron turned away from the window. "I have other matters requiring my personal attention. We are merely stopping here to resupply and possibly gather some additional personnel."
    "I see." Mercer stepped closer. "I have the most recent reports on our reconstruction efforts...Dnema will be fully restored by month's end. The rebuilding is proceeding apace, Commander, and all traces of the Autobots' raid will be erased completely from the city. I have also taken steps to alter the defensive procedures. Dnema will be secure in the event of another raid-by Autobot or Disciple."
    "I do not expect any additional raids from the Autobots," Megatron replied. "No, the Autobots have made their little demonstration, they sought to get our attention and they shall have it." He smiled grimly. "I believe that AutoBase: Oberon will very shortly cease to be any threat to us."
    Mercer smiled. "I trust that will be so."
    "I trust that you have no other complaints for me to deal with right now."
    "None of consequence. A few mundane bureaucratic details await my attention, but nothing of importance which need trouble yourself."
    "Good." Megatron paused a moment. "Have you met with Lord Terrorwing yet?" he asked suddenly.
    Yes," Mercer replied in a neutral tone. "The Grey Legion passed through this system a few weeks ago. They left just a few hours before the Autobots attacked, as I recall."
    "What do you think of him?'
    "Terrorwing is a fine soldier, a firm believer in duty, and governed by a strong personal code of honor. I have studied his military record and his career closely. He has had a long and colorful life."
    "True enough, but what do you think about him?"
    "Speak your mind, Chancellor."
    "He is obsessed with honor," Mercer replied. "For all his professed loyalty to the Decepticon cause, I do not think he would remain bound to it for all time."
    "No," Megatron agreed with a chuckle. "Terrorwing does not give loyalty to an abstract thing like a 'Cause' or an ideal...his loyalty is to me--first and foremost."
    "He would be loyal to you until his death."
    "And beyond, I suspect." Megatron accepted the container of liquid energon which Mercer retrieved from a recharge dispenser. "I am quite confident of that fact. I would never have allowed him to build up and command such a powerful personal military unit otherwise." He sipped his drink. "No, if Terrorwing's loyalty had ever become suspect, I would have--sadly--had to eliminate my old friend."
    "I trust that such actions will never prove necessary."
    Megatron looked more closely at Mercer. "Are you jealous of him?" he asked, suddenly realizing what underlay Mercer's tone. "Terrorwing was one of my staunchest allies back on Cybertron. One of the first 'important' Transformers to openly support my policies, to publicly stand up for my New Order. He was the first general to pledge himself to my side... why it was Terrorwing who established most of the early Decepticon Military Protocols, based on his own training with the lacon Council Guards."
    "A common historical fact," Mercer responded. "And he governed over Cybertron itself for a time, following your disappearance aboard the Nemesis." He straightened. "I assume that he will be assuming a political station within your empire?"
    "Of course, but he will not be replacing you, Chancellor." Megatron shook his head. "Terrorwing is a warrior...he has little interest in politics. He only chose to govern Cybertron in my absence because he feared the others would not 'do honor to my dynasty', as proved to be the case." Terrorwing's rule had been short and ended by a coup from an upstart warlord named-justly-Metalhead. "No, I believe he will continue to act as a warlord, guarding our borders and overseeing military campaigns.
    "Mercer, I trust you and Soundwave and Terrorwing above all three are my hands and my eyes within my Empire." He paused a moment before continuing. "If anything ever happens to me, you three will take over and continue to guide my Decepticons to their rightful destiny."
    Mercer shook his head. "Don't talk like that, Megatron," he protested. "Such grim thoughts have no place in our lives."
    "The universe is a cruel place," Megatron reminded him, "and death--as I well know--can come at anytime."
    "You are the light which guides us," Mercer said firmly. "We three cannot hope to take your place."
    Megatron took a long drink. "Then let us all hope that we need never find that fact out."