Law Of The Jungle

By Matt TALON Kirkby

    "I say we slag them now!" Rampage snarled.
    "That's what I said," Razorclaw growled back. Their prey—several Autobots who had stolen a freighter during their aborted raid against Dnema—were still trying to flee through hyperspace. "Two reasons," the Predacon commander then continued. "No attempted combat in hyperspace has ever gone well—for either of the sides involved. The variable radiation and gravitional fields jam targeting systems, and warp weapon trajectories," He had heard of one warship actually gutting itself with its own lasers—like any good hunter, he had studied numerous potential battlegrounds. "Secondly, that freighter is laden with munitions and other kinds of military supplies...with the Autobots still reeling from the first phases of our assault, they desperately need those supplies for themselves."
    "All the more reason to blast them!"
    "Fool!" Tantrum had such a small cerebro center! "With any luck, these Autobots will flee straight back to their main base." Allowing the Predacons to track them back there. "And then we Decepticons can easily destroy them all!" Razorclaw bared his fangs. "Divebomb, is the tracker still functioning?"
    "Yeah," the pilot replied. "How else could we be following them through hyperspace?"
    Razorclaw found the use of a tracking beacon to be vaguely unsporting—even though there was otherwise little chance of actually tracking the other starship through hyperspace—but those Autobots could not be lost. Megatron would be displeased—and his wrath was never something any Decepticon wanted to face. Still, he noted, the geography of hyperspace itself made the tracking beacon fade in and out so there was some challenge in following it...and Razorclaw did enjoy a challenge.
    "They're leaving hyperspace," Divebomb announced suddenly. "I'm following."
    Razorclaw frowned slightly as the spacefighter—The Great Hunt—emerged into Realspace. "Location?" He eyed a monitor—after those long hours of flight, they could be almost anywhere in the galaxy.
    "I'm not sure," Divebomb replied. "The navigation system is trying to find a match, but this system could be uncharted. We're quite a ways out from any of the civilized worlds."
    Razorclaw studied the monitor closely. The star system was crowded with stellar debris: rocky planetoids, countless tiny asteroids, clouds of dust...from appearances, it was a system worthy of staging a hunt.
    "I see them!"
    Razorclaw spotted the freighter a bare moment after Rampage's shout. "Are they sending any signals?" He dragged his attention away from a brightly colored nebula swirling nearby—-the nebula was a number of lightyears away, but it still
dominated the view of this system.
    "None I can detect," Headstrong replied. "All frequencies are dead quiet."
    "No sign of anything artificial," Tantrum reported from the sensor station. "No space stations, no satellites, no other ships." No other targets either. He grunted in annoyance.
    "Either the base is well hidden, or else they aren't in this system." Razorclaw paused…this could simply be a system where the Autobots would alter their course to avoid detection. "Where are we, Divebomb?" he demanded again. "Aren't the navcharts computed yet?"
    Areheron," Divebomb replied in a bored tone. "We're in the Areheron system."
    "Never heard of it."
    "It's a miserable, obscure system near the Creator's Cloak Nebula." Divebomb adjusted their spacefighter's engine thrust with an idle flick of his fingers. "The Autobots are heading towards the local star."
    "Pursue them. Take us into weapons' range...disables that freighter. We'll take prisoners."
    "Looks like this'll be a short hunt," Tantrum grumbled.
    "Entering extreme weapons' range." Rampage adjusted the fighter's targeting console. "Firing!"
    Laser bolts burned a series of holes into the freighter's hull. The bulky ship lurched under the impacts, then altered its course.
    "It's like shooting dynametal ducks in a barillium barrel," Rampage growled. "No challenge." He triggered a second barrage. "No challenge at all."
    "They're hit!"
    "I can see that, Divebomb."
    "They're on a collision course with that planetoid."
    "A true collision, or is this some deception?"
    "Well," Tantrum said as he adjusted a sensor. "Hard to say. The planetoid is barely twelve hundred kilometers in diameter. Rotation period of two hours and only point eight six gravities. Surface is basalt, rhyoliteu, mainly lava overlay but no noticeable tectonic activity. The atmosphere is nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia—frozen at that!—and numerous trace gases. Pressure is barely ten to the four dynes."
    "Well within tolerances for Transformers." Though certainly not for any known organic species. "Accelerate to overtake...I want that freighter crippled." He frowned. There might be a base on the planetoid, possibly underground….
    "In range." Rampage unleashed another laser barrage. The spacefighter had some impressive firepower for such a small ship...and the freighter's hull was quickly pockmarked with carbon-scoring and vaporized hullplates, "Multiple hits. Their engines are failing."
    "It's a crash for sure."
    "Scan for lifepods, we'll want to question any survivors."
    "No sign of either lifepods or teleporter activity." The spacefighter's sensors were very powerful for such a small ship, Tantrum mused.
    "They're entering the atmosphere."
    "Keep tracking them," Razorclaw ordered. "Unless they break up, we'll have to land nearby to personally make" certain there are no survivors." He activated the spacefighter's com-system. "Predacons to Dark Glory," he announced, "we have pursued the Autobots fleeing Dnema to the Archeron system. They cannot hope to escape us." He paused. "Route a copy of that message to Dnema...make certain that Mercer knows of our success."
    "The freighter is still dropping. Impact in about twenty-two seconds."
    "Keep tracking them." Depending on how hard they hit, the Predacons might have a chance to hunt their prey down on the open planetary surface.
    The flash of the explosion was visible from orbit.
    "Take us down." Razorclaw smiled, baring his fangs. "Then prepare yourselves —for the hunt!"
            *            *            *
    The swipe of a titanium claw slashed a feathery sculpture of purple-tinged ice into fragments.
    "The air is too thick," Rampage snarled as the wind gusted around them and pelted their armored bodies with dust and ice pellets.
    "It just makes this more of a challenge," Razorclaw tried to control his temper. A minor difficulty and the others were ready to give up. He was disgusted by how soft they had become on Dnema. "It has been too long since our skills have been tested properly." He grinned toothily, trying to pick the scent o£ Autobots out of the noxious soup that was this world's atmosphere.
    Divebomb tightened his claws on an outcropping rock where ha had perched for a moment. "Poor ground-crawlers," he squawked. "The upper reaches are clear enough."
    "Make yourself useful!" Tantrum snapped. "Find that slagging freighter!"
    "Due southeast," Divebomb chuckled. "As the eagle-con flies." With another squawk, he threw himself into the sky and was almost immediately obscured by the wind-blown fog.
    "I hate this planet," Headstrong growled.
    A figure watched the four reddish shapes as they advanced through the fog. Almond-shaped eyes narrowed as boulders and icy sprays were shoved aside. Then it slipped into the deeper shadows under a particularly large boulder.
    "Slag!" Headstrong made the curse a long drawn out sigh.
    Razorclaw stared at the sight. The freighter was buried in the ground...over half its forward length was hidden from sight, leaving only the stern and engine pods thrust up into the air. "I don't understand why it's not destroyed," he growled. "Surely the impact would've destroyed it? It should be crumpled up." He transformed to robot-mode and strode towards the ship. No sign of movement.
    Divebomb dropped from the sky and also transformed, "It's buried itself," he said. "From above you can see it clearly. There's a hollow underground. A cave or something...the crash just broke through the ceiling rock."
    "So the crew might have survived without serious injury?" Razorclaw quickly gestured. "Predacons, advance!" He transformed back into his lion-mode and then leaped through a gaping hole in the freighter's hull.
    The freighter's interior was a mess. Its hull was battered, breached in dozens of places, and the interior corridors and cabins were littered with pieces of shattered bulkheads and the cargo from broken storage containers. And a few Autobot corpses.
    "I want live prey," Razorclaw growled as he pawed one white and blue torso. "This is no fun." Mirage, he thought, though he couldn't be certain.
    "Commander, I've found something."
    "On my way, Tantrum."
    Razorclaw hurried towards the outer bulkhead and then stopped dead in his tracks, "By the Pit!" he swore.
    The cavern into which the freighter had crashed, was huge. It stretched as far as he could see. Scores of huge pillars of rock rose from the rocky ground— stalagmites and stalactites which had merged together—to support the ceiling. And the cavern was filled with plants...a veritable forest of lush carbon-cycle plantlife. It was hot...well warm, considerably warmer than the surface was and suited for the growing plants...possibly some subsurface thermal vent provided the heat. Just another oddity on this world of oddities.
    "Even the atmosphere is different." Divebomb made that observation. "More Earth-like."
    Razorclaw looked at the freighter and noted that where it had crashed through the ceiling, the gaps between hull and rock were now sealed by ice. "A natural thing?" he asked aloud. The surface of Archeron was certainly not suitable for plantlife—at least not the type's he could see—but this cavern reminded him very strongly of the Amazonian rainforest on Earth. Even the humidity was nearly the same.
    "I sense something," Rampage growled softly. He was looking around, sniffing the air—which was rich with the scents of organic growth and decay.
    "Autobots?" Tantrum asked eagerly.
    "I don't know."
    "I don't like this," Divebomb said softly.
    "Spread out," Razorclaw growled. "Check for evidence of any survivors." He wanted this place investigated more thoroughly. Something was definitely strange about this place.

    Elsewhere in the cavern, a humanoid figure stepped out from behind a tree and stepped into a circle of other figures. The glow from lichen which grew thickly on the cavern ceiling glinted off its scaly skin. "We have intruders," the figure growled, the horns atop his head seeming to twitch, "These Mechs must be stopped." Stubby wings on his back unfurled slightly as he spoke. "They offer us the chance to prove ourselves worthy of our sacred mission." He held up his right hand and clenched it into a fist. "We must show the Mechs the power of the Holy Fist!" The other figures murmured agreement.

    Headstrong paused as a tree toppled over and crashed to the ground in front of him. He shook his head with a grunt.
    Rampage chuckled. "Not watching where you're lumbering?"
    "I'll lumber over you!"
    "We have no time for this nonsense," Razorclaw placed himself between theother two Predacons. "First we terminate any still functioning Autobots, then you two can indulge all you wish in those barbaric challenges you so relish!"
    "Good," Headstrong growled.
    "I can smell something."
    Razorclaw paused to glance at Tantrum. Then his olfactory sensors caught his attention and he inhaled deeply. " is not the spore of an Autobot. At least not of any normal Autobot." The scant was distinctive. "Almost a Terran," he mused, sniffing again. "But different...almost wrong," Something moving in the shrubbery caught his optics. "What's that?"
    "What's what?" Rampage asked.
    The movement in the bushes continued, half-glimpsed shadows rustling behind fringed leaves. Then three figures stepped into view. They were barely a fifth the size of the five Predacons, reptilian-like, with stubby horns atop their heads and wings folded around their bodies like capes.
    "What are those?"
    "Looks like a Terran demon," Razorclaw said.
    "Smells like a Terran too," Rampage growled.
    "But different." Razorclaw didn't like this. Terrans on an uninhabited—and supposedly uninhabitable—planet? "Their scent is...wrong."
    "You Mechs are an abomination!" the largest figure announced in a deep voice, "We are the Holy Fist. It is our sacred duty to smite thee in the name of the Primal God!" He gestured.
    Two of the beings stepped towards Headstrong, Both reached their hands toward him...and bolts of electricity crackled from their empty hands and played across Headstrong's body.
    As his fellow Predacon bellowed in agony, Rampage pounced and flattened one of the attackers.
    And seven more stepped into view.
    "The Fist strikes!" the leader shouted. "Strike them down my warriors!" He clenched his left hand into a tight fist. "Now!" Energy crackled around his tightly clenched fingers.
    Razorclaw leaped, avoiding an energy bolt, and his claws sliced through a figure. Scales and flesh flew, and red blood splattered the foliage. "They bleed, they die!" he shouted. Then he bellowed as electricity skittered across his flanks and he jumped again, trying to get clear. "Maybe they are demons!"
    Then Divebomb dropped out of the tree tops and fired a missile which sent dirt and plants and supposed demons flying.
    "Destroy the blasphemers!" the leader shouted. His wings unfurled—seeming to simply grow out of his back—and he rose into the air. Miniature lightning bolts flashed from his fingers and crackled around Divebomb.
    Razorclaw cursed as his claws shredded a tree trunk while his intended victim dodged to safety.
    "These are tough prey!" Rampage had chunks of armor missing from his flanks already. "What are they?"
    "I still say Humans." Razorclaw shook his head—it felt as if his cerebro circuitry was trying to shut itself off. "The ones I've slain are certainly Human, but unlike the Terrans these can really fight!" He watched Tantrum bulldoze his way through a tree to reach one of the Humans. "Must be some kind of organic body armor." That explained the odd scene—the armor itself was alive—but then he shook his head again—living organic armor? How advanced were these creatures?

    Militant Prime watched his warriors throw themselves into battle eagerly and without hesitation. He had trained them well, following all the ancient and time-honored traditions of the warrior caste. Study of the hunting styles of various animals back on their ancient birthworld had allowed the Fist to first learn how to fight...and those methods had been refined during the First Holy War against the Mechs. "And now it falls to us to improve upon those methods in holy war again." A pity, though, that the mech leader was seemingly unaffected by his mental commands to deactivate itself...the records didn't mention the Mechs were immune to the mental commands of a Master. "We shall simply have to do this the hard way," he mused and adjusted his altitude with a simple thought. He channeled another energy bolt, feeling the power course through his body.
    "They're picking us to pieces!" Razorclaw snarled to his fellow Predacons. It was outrageous! The Predacons were larger than their prey, faster, stronger, more ferocious...and yet the Humans were damaging them, weakening them. It would take them a long time, but Razorclaw actually admitted to himself that the Humans had a good chance at victory. "They fight like animals," he mused. Just like a pack of wolves...or even like Predacons. His concussion blasters sent a Human flying backwards...only to stand up again and charge back into battle.
    "I hate to run," Divebomb said as he completed yet another strafing run, "but we’re getting our tailfeathers kicked here."
    "Yes, we must alter the rules of this hunt," Razorclaw grinned a fierce and feral smile, "Predacons, unite!"
    Within moments, the five Predacons underwent their partial transformations and merged together into the gestalt known as Predaking. Thirty meters tall, the giant Decepticon very nearly brushed the cavern ceiling with his head. His optics tracked movement—and then he struck with a mortar.
    Trees, dirt, and at least two Humans vanished in a bright explosion.
    Militant snarled. "So these Mechs have other tricks. We are the Holy Fist! It is our destiny to triumph over the soulless machines!" He unleashed a powerful lightning bolt.
    Predaking laughed at the bolt. It was too weak to harm him fact, it almost tickled. "Tremble before me, prey!" he boomed. "For you cannot elude my wrath!" His x-ray laser fired, as did his mortar launchers. Smoke from explosions and burning vegetation began to fill the cavern. "There is no escape!" Entire groves vanished in one shot.
    Three Humans flew towards his head. Lightning streaked from their fingers.
    Pradaking swatted two of the Humana aside with one sweep of his arm.
    "For Lord Primus!" Militant channeled another bolt. As was fitting for a Prime, he channeled a far stronger bolt than any of his warriors was capable of handling. A bolt strong enough that even he felt pain.
    And Predaking laughed at it.
    Militant frowned. He mentally ordered the Mechs to disband back to their separate forms...but nothing happened. He tried harder, 'shouting’ his command as hard as he could. These Mechs were not susceptible to telepathy from the Masters. "At least not without proper conditioning and the Master's owm thought's being amplified by a brainmeld device, he reminded himself sourly. The will of Primus would have to be altered. Then he winced as yet another of his warriors was caught by an explosion and her mental death cry echoed through his own mind. "Fall back!" he ordered, both mentally and over the com-system built into his synth-armor. "Fist unclench!" ha shouted, then turned and vanished into the forest.
    Predaking watched the remaining Humans flee into the smoke and fire of the burning forest, Then he disbanded.
    "That was fun," Rampage said. "Let's go after them!"
    "Yeah, I want to slag some more fleshlings!" Tantrum agreed.
    "Now is neither the time nor place," Razorclaw reminded his battered troops, "We're wounded." Those lightning bolts had burned out a few of his internal servos, slowing him down and limiting his leaping ability. "If they're going for reinforcement's, then we could be overwhelmed." He turned back the way they had come. "I cannot scent any Autobots, Let's head back to the ship." He slowly loped into the bushes. "We must inform Megatron of this new situation." Reluctantly, and with much soft grumbling, the other Predacons followed him.
    "I found something," Divebomb squawked as he soared in low over his fellows. "It looks like those Humans don't just hate us Decepticons."
    "Oh?" Razorclaw followed Divebomb around a large stalagmite. "Yeech," he shuddered.
    Two Autobots lay sprawled on the ground...well, the remains of two Autobots, possibly more. Their limbs had been torn from their bodies, their torsos were ripped open and their internal circuitry had been yanked out and strewn across the fuel-stained ground. Only their faces were intact—and both were contorted into expressions of purest agony.
    "They were stripped alive," Headstrong growled softly with a shudder.
    "Even for Autobots, that's a cold way to go," Rampage added,
    "I suggest that we get moving," Razorclaw grunted. "Before we get added to that mess." He took a bearing, and then loped into the undergrowth. "The ship is this way." He really didn't like this planet.