Trials of the Grey: Staking out the Roost

By Matt Kirkby

    Metallic debris glittered in the light of distant stars, tumbling through space, a rough line pointing a course into infinity. Metal and glass glinted as they caught starlight or sparked weakly as remaining power reserves failed and still-functional circuitry overloaded.
    “They tried to jump into Hyperspace,” Doppler guessed in a quiet voice, sitting straighter in his chair.   “The strain must have proven too much for their weakened hull...they lost structural integrity.”
    “And now are scattered over the next light year of space.” Terrorwing’s voice held no trace of the horror his aides felt, only mild regret. “They fought most valiantly.” His optics glanced across the bridge of the Centurion and studied his loyal crew.
    Cryon sighed softly, relieved that the battle was over. “I have the preliminary damage reports, my Lord.” He checked the monitor of an aft station. “The hull is fully intact and our structural integrity is well within tolerances. No casualties from the engagement.”
    “Excellent. Inform Chief Engineer Bolt that he can make any necessary repairs while we’re in Hyperspace. Navi, you will plot a course.”
    “To where?”
    “An excellent question,” Terrorwing agreed and leaned back in his command chair. “We have several options to choose among: Syrra IV, Earth or Cybertron.”
    A moment of silence greeted his words.
    “I’ve taken the liberty of running a records’ search through our data banks.” Navi turned away from her console so she could face her commander. “Bear in mind our records are sadly incomplete and rather outdated.” She shrugged. “Syrra IV is a water world, with no recorded sentient lifeforms. I found three hundred and seven listings for ‘Earth’ when used as a planetary name; I’m assuming this is the native name and that we would have it listed under something else...unfortunately, we don’t know which one it is. It could be Ind’anior, Strokab Prime or even Sol Three. As for’s wandering course makes it difficult to locate; I know it’s last known position, it’s projected trajectory and relative speed, but with stellar gravity wells and the War affecting it’s course, the planet could be almost anywhere.” She shrugged in lieu of being able to be more precise. “Standard procedure, of course, is to jump to a projected location and then try to contact Ibex for a homing beacon to follow.”
    “A blind Hyperspace jump into a potentially hostile system is not something I’d care to try.” Cryon shrugged as his commander looked questioningly at him. “I am sure that the Grey Legion has made such jumps before, but I do not relish such an additional risk.”
    “A valid point against Syrra IV and this mysterious Earth as well,” Terrorwing agreed. “Even if Klaxxon was lying about the political upheavals, even a Decepticon-controlled Cybertron will not greet us with open arms. Thunderwing sent the Flame Brigade to destroy the Legion and assassinate me, after all; he will be most annoyed by our return. The Autobots, if they are in control of our homeworld, will certainly attack us.” He fell silent as he pondered their options. “But we cannot sit here forever, afraid to take a risk.” His optics gleamed. “We require additional data. Navi, plot a course, what was it? Oh yes, system MW-AQ-6439.”
    Navi bent over her controls. “That’s quite a ways from here,” she noted aloud even before starting to type commands into her console. “Course plotted. ETA is ten point seven Orns.”
    “What’s at MW-AQ-6439?”
    “Ah, Cryon, don’t you remember?”
    Cryon’s polymetal brow furrowed. “I’m afraid not ,sir.”
    “That star system is the site of Renaissance Colony.” Navi had swiveled around so she could face Cryon. “Founded by Governor Charter, Renaissance is a neutralist colony on the fringes of the original Cybertronian colonies. It is inhabited--at last report--by over five thousand Transformers, mainly artists, philosophers and scientists.”
    “Defenses?” Casing asked.
    “Records do not indicate any...surface or orbital. Charter relied solely on her neutrality for protection.”
    “Too bad, Casing,” Doppler joked. “At best they’ll be able to throw paint at us. Maybe a horde of poets wielding witty and wounding sonnets, or artists showing off offensive statues will try to chase us off-world.” His laughter was joined by Commo and Cryon.
    Casing glared at them all.
    Terrorwing suppressed a grin of his was good to see them back to their normal good-natured banter. “Everyone should review the pertinent files during the flight.” His voice sent the crew back to work. “Commo, transmit the course to our remaining spacefighters. Navi, make the jump to Hyperspace as soon as the fighters report ready.”
    “You got it. I’m looking forward to was a nice world.” A red light blinked on her console. “They’re ready...powering up drives now.” She pressed a switch and the starfield dissolved into the swirls of Hyperspace.
                                        *                                 *                                     *
    “...and the final factor is the leader!”
    “Doppler, this is so self-serving!”
    “How can you say that, Commo?”
    “You just admitted that you’d be happy to serve anyone who would allow you to continue being part of the Legion. The Legion will not have anything if the Empire it serves is controlled by some pathetic excuse for a tyrant.”
    “Good point,” Casing agreed. “I say slag them all. Put a real officer back in charge of things.”
    “Like Terrorwing?” Cryon asked.
    “Why not? Who’s this Galvatron that he should command the loyalty of the Grey Legion?”
    “Who indeed?” Terrorwing asked as he stepped onto the bridge. “None of our databanks contain any record of him.” His optics narrowed as he looked at each of his officers. “The time is ripe for political change. With the might of the Legion, we shall eliminate all those who would oppose us, and the Decepticon Empire will once again embrace the glory that is Megatron’s New Order!”
    Power to the Decepticons forever!” shouted every Decepticon on the bridge.
    Terrorwing smiled in pleasure.
    “Stand by for Realspace entry,” Navi interrupted the cheering as her console beeped. “Now.” She pulled back the controls and, outside the viewports, the bright swirls of Hyperspace faded into a starfield. “We are three light minutes from the planet,” she reported. “Just like you wanted. The spacefighters are holding station around us.”
    Terrorwing took his chair. “Sensor report?”
    Doppler checked his console. “Three comm-relay satellites located in orbit, a space telescope, but no evidence of other spacecraft or weaponry.”
    “I’m monitoring extensive surface comm-traffic,” Commo replied after a moment. “Most of it is evidence of military data. The satellites are silent though. Correction, we’re being hailed.“
    ”Open a channel.”
    The main viewscreen flickered from the starfield to reveal a smiling, polymetal face. “Greetings, fellow Transformers. I am Governor Charter and I offer you all welcome to Renaissance Colony.“
    ”I am Terrorwing, High Commander of the Grey Legion.”
    “Welcome back to Renaissance Colony, Lord Terrorwing.” Charter’s smile never slipped from her face. “Your Legion’s honor and its exploits are known to us, but you are still welcome here. We are a purely neutral colony and open to trade--”
    “Spare us the speech,” Terrorwing overrode her voice. “I recall it all from my previous visit. We will be landing shortly. You will provide us with supplies and information, or else we will simply take what we want and level your colony.”
    “There is no need for threats, Warlord.” Charter sounded reproving, stressing the ‘War’ in his title. “We are quite without armaments here as you will soon learn. An aide will supply you with landing sites...ones with the most strategic advantages, of course.” Her image faded into blackness.
    “She mocks us!” Cryon gasped.
    “Yes, a brave gesture.” Terrorwing grinned with amusement. “We could level her entire colony from orbit on a whim, yet she remains defiant.” He paused. “I like her.”
    “She’s little better than an Autobot,” Casing grumbled.
    Terrorwing ignored him. “Navi, select a good landing site... or take one from among those Charter offers. The spacefighters will remain in orbit. Cryon, assemble a security detail to accompany me when I meet with Charter.” He wouldn’t need one--not if he was the only Decepticon on the planet--but appearance counted.
    “Of course, my Lord.”

    Centurion settled onto a steelcrete landing pad amid clouds of smoke billowing from its thrusters. It sat there, like some nesting avian, armor glinting in the sunlight, creaking slightly as the hull adjusted to both the gravity and atmosphere. As its main airlock hissed open, a dozen heavily-armed Legionnaires marched out. They formed a row at the bottom of the boarding ramp.
    Terrorwing stepped through the hatch and his optic sensors studied the field--its surface pitted by centuries of ship traffic--and the distant horizon. His gaze finally settled onto the small group of Transformers who stood near the side of a parked groundskimmer. With a slow and measured tread, he walked down the ramp and then between the line of waiting guards.
    “Warlord Terrorwing,” the centermost of the waiting figures said.
    “Governor Charter,” he replied in a matching tone.
    “As our most ancient traditions dictate, we offer you this gift of fuel from our private stocks.” Charter held out a small crystalline flask. “Accept this gift in the spirit of peace.”
    Terrorwing reached out and took the flask. “I accept your gift in the spirit in which it was intended.” The disruptor cannon mounted on his right arm glinted in the yellow-green sunlight. “Let our friendship be marked.”
    “You are welcome here on Renaissance Colony, Warlord, and your people will be treated fairly. This we vow, by Lord Primus, Guardian of Life.”
    Terrorwing recognized the air of religious ritual in her voice. “Of course.”
    “We may now speak of more mundane matters,” Charter said with a small grin. “Your people will not require their weapons while in our cities.” She gestured to the nearby towers and domes. “We are sworn to do no violence, to harm none who visit us. We are a fully neutral Colony, recognized as such under the Treaty of Declared Neutrality, open to any and all visitors: Autobots, Decepticons, Neutrals and
non-Transformers alike.”
    “A most noble sentiment, Governor. Forgive me if I do not take you up on your offer.”
    She nodded politely, her face sad. “I feel sorrow that you cannot feel freedom from the threat of violence. My aides will help you obtain what you require from us. Our resources are at your disposal. May Primus shelter you.” She turned and walked back towards the groundskimmer with two of her aides.
    “Nice female,” Cryon noted softly, admiring her sleek form. That white armor, trimmed with gold, really made her stand out, and those curves were--
    “Cryon, that female holds rank equal to my own. She will be treated with all due respect.”
    “Of course, my Lord.”
    “Though she is a pacifist, she is skilled in her own style of warfare: that of the political battlefield. She has kept Renaissance free from outside control since long before the War began. Decepticon warships have passed through this system and none have taken offensive action or left garrisons behind.”
    “A most distinctive accomplishment,” Cryon agreed. “I can’t think of a single other colony which did not see at least one battle over the course of the War.”
    “Nor can I.” Terrorwing’s optics narrowed. “Meet with her aides, arrange to scan their databanks for any information on current events concerning our race and the War. Offer them whatever they request in return, for I wish to keep Charter as an ally of sorts.”
    “An ally?”
    “We might need a neutral port at some point in our travels. Failing that, she might choose to sell information to our rivals and enemies if we anger her.”
    “If any still remain.”
    “All the more reason for us to find current data, isn’t it? Now go.”
    “Yes, my Lord.”
                                        *                                 *                                        *
    “Priority alert to Lord Terrorwing.”
    Even before the voice fell silent, Terrorwing tapped his comlink. “Yes, Commo?” The last few days of peace had not lessened his reflexes any.
    “There are incoming spacefighters...ETA of five breems.”
    “Put the fleet on full alert. I’m returning to the Centurion immediately.”
    “Yes, my Lord.”
    As he keyed off his comlink, Terrorwing turned to face his aide--who stood a short distance away. “Cryon!” he bellowed. “Transform to shuttle mode. We must return to the Centurion!”
    Cryon hurriedly obeyed without question.

    “Report!” Terrorwing ordered even before the bridge doors had finished opening for him.
    Doppler was hunched over his console. “Spacefighters dropped out of Hyperspace at three light minutes from the Colony. They are on an intercept course at half sub-light speed. Transponder beacons identify them as the Ember and Tinderbox, last recorded as serving the--”
    “Flame Brigade.” Cryon clenched a fist. “How did they find us?”
    “We’re being hailed,” Commo announced. “Audio only.”
    “This is Commander Kindle, of the Flame Brigade,” a voice crackled over the speakers, “hailing the renegade Grey Legion. By order of Lord Galvatron, you will surrender immediately or we will destroy you.”
    “This is Lord Terrorwing. Your threats are quite meaningless to me. You will surrender, or my Legion will leave your rusting carcasses drifting in empty space.”
    “They’ve cut off their signals.”
    “Ember is powering up weaponry.”
    "Keep tracking them. Doppler. Signal our spacefighters to engage them,” Terrorwing ordered. “Full thrust to sub-light engines and arm all weapons.” He felt the Centurion shudder as it lifted from the spaceport.
    “Sub-commander Starfall acknowledges your orders...he is moving into a flanking position.”
    “Hail from Charter...she invokes the Treaty of Declared Neutrality and orders us all to cease our hostilities.”
    “That Treaty’s jurisdiction hasn’t been recognized since the first fall of Iacon!”
    “Perhaps not, Casing, but hold your fire. Commo, open signal to our ships: we will only return fire...let Kindle fire first.”
    “Yes, my Lord.”
    “Sir!” Casing protested.
    “Hold your fire.” There was no mistaking the threat in Terrorwing’s voice.
    “The fighters are closing.” Doppler kept his optics focused on his screen. “Entering weapons range now...all combat systems are fully armed.”
    Laserfire crackled from one of the fighters.
    “Return fire!” Terrorwing shouted. “They violated the we may repay them in kind!” He watched laserbolts tear hullplates off of the Ember. Bright explosions quickly destroyed the ship. “Where’s the Tinderbox?” he demanded.
    “It’s moved around the planet,” Doppler replied. “We lost a fighter.”
    “Which one?”
    “The Integrity.”
    Terrorwing frowned with annoyance. “It wasn’t the best of my ships nor equipped with the best crew, but I regret its loss.” He sighed once. “They died with honor in combat, however, and there is no death more glorious.” His expression hardened. “Commo, signal Starfall to pursue the Tinderbox and destroy it.”
    “He confirms your orders.”
    “Navi, take us along their projected course...we’ll meet them halfway and catch them in a crossfire.”
    “Yes, my Lord.”
    “Incoming hail from Charter...she orders us to abide by the Treaty.”
    “No reply. Doppler?”
    “They’re still hiding, must have dropped into the Ionosphere. I can’t confirm their current location.” He frowned. “Just a moment.” He typed in a new command. “Got it! Low orbit, looks like they’re trying to land ground forces.”
    “Cryon, alert our troops for ground assault.”
    “Yes, my Lord.” Cryon turned to an intercom. “I’ll also notify Nightstorm--he’s already on the surface.”
    “Do that. Casing, fire as soon as we enter range!”
    “Weapons Firing!”
    Lasers stabbed through the atmosphere and explosions blossomed on the fighter’s hullplates.
    “Tinderbox is hit hard, sir. They’re breaking orbit, trying to pull towards open space.”
    “They cannot be permitted to escape.“ Terrorwing kept his voice calm. “No mercy, no survivors.”
    “Starfall is moving to intercept.”
    “Hail from the surface!” Commo reported. “Ground troops are advancing on the capital. Sub-commander Nightstorm requests orders.”
    “He has full combat authority...defend the colony from the Flame Brigade. It’s a free-fire zone, but try to limit collateral damage.”
    “Yes, my Lord.”
    “Starfall reports the Tinderbox has been disabled...he offers you the glory of the kill.”
    Terrorwing shook his head. “He may have that honor. Cryon, dispatch recon parties to search the debris of all ships for survivors, supplies and intact data banks. Survivors of the Brigade will be offered the opportunity to join the Legion...execute any who refuse.”
    Cryon nodded in acknowledgment.

    Nightstorm ducked as a missile roared past his head. Even before it exploded behind him, he snapped out fresh orders to his troops. “We’re outnumbered two to one at least,” he noted, “and the civilians are worse than useless.” He had placed most of his troops on the western edge of the city--amid gardens and a data library--when the first Brigade shuttles had appeared in the sky. The civilians had fled the area immediately, hampering his early efforts to establish defensive positions.
    Red and orange armor--the Brigade was easily recognizable--glinted in the sun as enemy troops came into visual range. Many were quickly cut down.
    Nightstorm cursed as aircraft bombed the Legionnaires who had just finished firing. “They’re tracking us by our own weapons’ fire,” he radioed to his aides. “A wise tactic, but one which makes my job harder.” He altered his comm frequency. “All air units, transform and engage. I want total air superiority!”
    Fresh gunfire erupted to the south. On the ground, both sides seemed evenly matched.
    Nightstorm smiled as he watched his first air units engage and destroy their opponents with ease. “Like razorfangs amid grazors,” he noted with a chuckle. “The Legion is the most elite battlegroup in the Empire. No one stands up to us.” It was time--past time--to remind the other Decepticon warlords of that fact.

    Terrorwing stepped out of his shuttle and looked to the west. Smoke rose from distant fires and the dull boom of explosions could be heard rumbling.
    “Terrorwing!” A white and gold figure approached him at a quick and undignified pace. “This is intolerable!” Charter shouted.
    “I agree.” Terrorwing nodded a greeting to her.
    “You will remove your troops from this site immediately. We are a neutralist colony and this display only--”
    “If we try to leave, my Legionnaires will be slaughtered.”
    “I give you my word--”
    “It’s the Brigade’s word I do not trust.” Terrorwing shook his head in mock sorrow. “I know how warfare troubles you so, and I also know Colonel Flashpoint. He cannot be trusted.”
    “So you argue. He claims you cannot be trusted.”
    Terrorwing shrugged.
    “You must leave!”
    “Soon, my dear. If we leave now, your precious colony will be destroyed. The Brigade is under strict orders from the new Decepticon leader to destroy the Legion...they will destroy you because we were here.”
    Charter gestured to the west. “If you remain, my world will be destroyed by your insanity!”
    “The fortunes of war.”
    “Take this.” Charter held out a data chip. “It contains all the data we possess about the history of your War, about Earth--the planet you seek--plus current data about Cybertron. Take it and leave this world.”
    “I shall leave here at the earliest opportunity,” Terrorwing replied. “And now I must visit my troops who are overseeing your protection.”
    Charter sadly shook her head. “We do not require, nor want, your protection,” she told him. “Why can’t any of you understand that?”

    Terrorwing watched closely as a small group of Flame Brigade soldiers retreated towards the towering mountains.
    “They could hold out for some time in that terrain,” Cryon observed. “It could prove costly to dig them out.”
    “Very true.” Terrorwing nodded. “So I will not permit them to reach their goal.” He tapped his comlink. “Unit!”
    Aircraft sprang into the sky and proceeded to strafe the Flame Brigade with missiles and energy bolts.
    “Beta team!” Terrorwing watched as ground-based Legionnaires burst out of the forest and cut down even more of the Brigade’s soldiers. Return fire against both forces was weak and ineffective. “Cease fire,” Terrorwing ordered. There was no one left to fight back. “All units sweep for survivors, then return to the spaceport.”
    “Success?” Cryon asked.
    “Completely,” Terrorwing replied with grim amusement. “Navi reports she has determined the location of Earth, the world where Megatron once fought and we can leave here immediately.”
    “Excellent news, my Lord.”
    “I thought so as well. Soon we will once again be allied with our brethren.” He sounded pleased. “Charter’s files were most thorough.”
    “They were?” Cryon frowned. “It’s just that--well, I guess I didn’t expect a small colony to have such extensive files in its records.”
    “Actually, the colony’s official neutrality would work to it’s advantage, as any visitors could be more inclined to leave data of their own. Keeping information safe from the ravages of war, and all that.”
    “I suppose.” Cryon grinned. “What did you learn?”
    “A great deal, as I said before.” Terrorwing looked around one last time. “You can read the full files for yourself, but I’ll give you an overview.” He paused for a moment. “Galvatron came out of nowhere barely a quarter-Vorn ago and rapidly gained political power through an alliance with Shockwave.”
    Cryon grimaced at that. He did not care for the former commander of the Black Fortress of Polyhex.
    “Together they’ve established an outpost on Syrra IV--as we already knew--and hidden troops on two of Cybertron’s moons--and our Homeworld has become locked into orbit around Proxima Centauri so it will be easy to find now--in preparation for invasion. They also have plans for mounting an assault against an Autobot outpost located on Earth--which is known to us as Sol III.”
    Cryon nodded. “I recall a briefing on that world...we chose not to invade it because it was too primitive.”
    Terrorwing nodded. “The natives have matured quickly...they now pose some small threat. One which this Galvatron recognizes...his troops are poised to launch their offensives very soon.” He shook his head sadly. “However, I fear there will be complications.”
    “The Legion?”
    “Precisely. The Grey Legion will not be left out of this important an assault. I will not permit it! Honor is at stake.” He smiled, more calmly. “Thus we shall move now and remove Galvatron from power, as well as Shockwave, and then I shall lead our race to it’s rightful destiny!”
    “All honor to the Legion!” Cryon exclaimed.
    “Indeed.” Terrorwing frowned. “One thing does puzzle me.”
    “Yes, my Lord?”
    ”Just how did Charter gain all this detailed knowledge? Surely no Decepticon would casually reveal a planned military campaign to a civilian! Nor would any Autobots. And why did she share it with us so easily?”
    “A valid concern, my Lord. Perhaps she wishes to bribe you into leaving.”
    “Or else she is helping bait a trap...purposely or while being duped herself. We will be cautious.”
    Cryon grinned. “Always, my Lord.”
    Terrorwing smiled. “Signal our forces to commence their withdrawal...this world holds nothing more for us.” He turned away from the mountains and debris-strewn battlefield they loomed over. “The future awaits us.”
    “And,” Cryon added, “victory!”