Trials of the Grey: The Most Desired Roost

By Matt "Talon" Kirkby

   "Dropping out of hyperspace," Navi reported. "As ordered, we are holding station four light-minutes from Neklon Major."
   Terrorwing nodded acknowledgement. "Excellent work. Proceed along the designated course, Navi, at half-sublight."
   "I don't understand this," Cryon argued. "Why did we divert here, my Lord? I thought Sol III was our intended destination."
   "Oh, it is," the warlord agreed. "But we do have one other small matter to attend first." He smiled. "System scan?"
   Doppler shrugged. "Nothing registering yet...this is hardly the best place to be, you know." Ke gestured to the viewscreen and the imagery it was showing. "My scanners are getting echoes, ghosts, and lots of just plain malfunctions." Swirls of gas and dust filled the viewscreen, obscuring large portions of the local starfield. "This is a weird place." Three gas giants orbited a common centre of gravity as they revolved around a red giant, with numerous moons moving and being traded between all of them ...that was an odd enough sight, but the three planets fed off of each other, stealing gas from each other's surfaces and leaving a rather thick mess of cosmic dust and gas particles trailing after them.
   "I trust that you will make do." Terrorwing allowed his crew to nod their understanding. "This day marks the beginning of our ascension back into honor," he announced in a proud tone. "I know that you will not fail to serve the Legion to the extent of your utmost ability." He paused for another moment. "Cryon, you may now sound battle stations. All sections will prepare for combat." A definite precaution for this situation.
   "Stations are confirmed," Commo announced from her console. "The Centurion is now battle ready, our escort spacefighters are also ready."
   "Navi, our ETA at target?"
   "Ten minutes to the specified moon."
   "Maintain course and speed. Commo, tightbeam a signal to Commander Starfall...he is to hold his position to provide us with back-up in case we encounter resistance."
   The target was already starting to become visible on the scanners, a rocky moon surrounded by whisps of gas clouds.

"Well, it should help hide our approach," Cryon commented after Navi cursed aloud about the difficulties the dust clouds were causing her.
   "I've got something," Doppler said softly.
   "What is it?" Terrorwing rumbled, a puzzle look on his face. For all his interest in the system, actually finding something made him appear concerned.
   "Unidentified vessel detected at bearing four two mark six one," Doppler announced. "Another is at bearing four two mark six five....a third at bearing five seven mark six three."
   After a pause to make certain Doppler was finished reporting, Terrorwing frowned. "Identity?"
   "Unknown," Doppler replied after a moment. "Vessel lengths are six hundred mechomers. Hull content registers as a titanium-duetrillium alloy, and onboard power readings are consistent with Cybertronian-based technology." He typed several commands into his console and then watched his monitor. "If these readings are accurate, then I estimate crew size in excess of ten thousand." He sounded nervous.
   Terrorwing's pale optics widened. "Indeed?" he gasped, for even he could feel fear at the unknown—and this was certainly an unknown to him. "It's certainly no Decepticon design," he said after studying the enhanced visual of the huge wedge-shaped vessel. "Possibly Autobot, or maybe something neutral-built." He grinned, visibly confident. "Let us introduce ourselves to these interlopers, shall we? Navi, set intercept course! Ahead, attack speed! Casing, power up the weapons and stand by to open fire. Coramo, open a channel."
   "Course plotted. Accelerating to attack speed."
   "Weapons standing by,"
   "Widebeam channel open,"
   "This is the war cruiser Centurion to unidentified vessels. You have entered a star system claimed by the Decepticons. I demand that you identify yourselves at once and make clear your intentions immediately." That should be sufficient...threatening without being too open with information,
   "Incoming signal," Commo announced.
   "Attention all mechanoids within this sector," a voice said in standard Cybertronian. "Please be advised that by the will of our Lord Primus, all ships, weapons, and equipment present will be rendered inoperative. Do not resist, or you will be harmed."
   The Legionnaires exchanged puzzled looks.
   "I do not like threats," Terrorwing growled, "unless I am the one making them."
   "They're repeating their signal," Commo said.
   "Any response from the moon?"
   Doppler looked surprised by the question. ", sir."
   "Pity," Terrorwing sighed in obvious regret, "Attention enemy vessels...this is Warlord Terrorwing of the Grey Legion, You've had your chance to surrender, now you shall be destroyed. Power to the Decepticons, forever!" He nodded at Commo to close the channel. "Navi, full ahead! Weaponry, target and fire at will!"
   "Confirmed!" Navi and Casing replied in unison.
   "Ship at bearing five seven mark six three is altering course towards us," Doppler warned. "Weaponry charging! Six batteries detected, seventeen guns total."
   "Fire!" Terrorwing snapped.
   Casing triggered the main batteries and purple energy bolts streaked through the gas clouds. "Direct hit to enemy vessel. Minor hull damage only. They've activated some form of energy shielding unlike anything we have on record,"
   Crimson energy bolts began firing from the wedge-shaped ship
and Centurion rocked under the barrage.
   "Force screens damaged by particle beam fire," Casing grimly reported. "Our weapon systems have been affected. Switching to back-ups."
   "Return fire!" Terrorwing snarled. "Full power charges to all batteries! Commo, alert Starfall to join us!" He turned his attention back to the main screen as more energy bolts crisscrossed space.
   A bright explosion flared as the wedge-shaped ship was struck from behind.
   "Starfall has arrived," Doppler reported.
   Terrorwing refrained from commenting on the obviousness of that statement. "Target their engines, or command decks! Fire at will!" He watched the energy bolts fly and more explosions blossomed, several grouped on the aft command decks.
   The entire ship turned into a fireball.

"Vessel destroyed," Doppler announced. "No survivors."
   "Bolt reports extensive damage to our own systems," Cryon reported. "He advises us to avoid further combat."
   "That may prove difficult," Terrorwing observed dryly as the other two ships began moving towards the two Legion vessels. "Commo, warn them to stay away or we will destroy them as well."
   "No response," she replied after a moment.
   Terrorwing cursed softly. "Who are these beings?" he asked aloud.
   "Starfall reports he will move to engage the enemy." Coramo shook her head, "There's some interference with his signal, but he's telling us to withdraw...he'll cover our retreat."
   "And gain all the glory?" Terrorwing asked with an amused grin. "I don't think so. Ahead, full speed!"
   "Casing, fire missiles."
   "Firing first volley...intercepted and destroyed. Both enemy vessels are still closing."
   "Continuing firing!" Terrorwing watched the screen as one of the cruisers followed him, firing particle beams from half a dozen batteries.
   Centurion rocked*
   "Damage to outer hull," Doppler shouted over the wail of alarms. "The enemy continue to attack."
   Terrorwing nodded. "Alter course, take us around Planet Beta then!" Green fingers gripped the arms of his chair as the ship's gravity fluctuated. "Any report from Starfall?" If his war cruiser was having such difficulties, how was a mere spacefighter faring against these foes?
   Navi winced as she adjusted their vector. Flying through a planet's atmosphere was a novel tactic, but the cruiser might not have the structural integrity to last. She knew the ship well— after so long aboard she knew Centurion like one of her fellow Legionnaires—and she did not like the sounds the hull was now making.
   Commo muttered as she adjusted her console. "Just
   just lost it. Ah, there it is." A few more mutters, "Nothing official, but I am intercepting his intraship signals. Extensive systems damage...intruder alerts too...he's ordering his crew to abandon ship."

Terrorwing cursed, more loudly than before. He slammed a hand onto the intercom. "Bridge to Engineering...1 want every scrap of power routed to our weapons! Casing, lock onto their command decks and blow them into scrap I"

"Yes, my Lord," Casing hunched over his console, gripping it for support as the the bridge rocked around him. "Targets are locked, awaiting final command."
   "Fire at will!"
   Lasers stabbed, missiles streaked from their launch bays and explosions flashed.
   "Direct hit to enemy vessel..." Doppler sounded pleased with the data his systems displayed. "Power failures and disruptions detected...their shields are failing. We've hurt them."
   "Now we finish them!" Terrorwing snarled. "Take us about, one hundred and eighty degrees! All batteries, fire at will!" His optics focused on the viewscreen as energy bolts blasted dark craters into the silvery hull. "Excellent," he commented as secondary explosions spread rapidly.
   "Enemy vessel's falling into the Planet Beta's upper atmosphere." Doppler nodded. "The gravity should crush it within the next few minutes."
   "Continue pursuit."
   Navi shook her head. "Our structural integrity is holding, my Lord, but I wouldn't trust it for much longer." The ship groaned, as if to echo her words*
   "Ignore them Starfall!"
   "Breaking off pursuit, returning to a more normal orbit."
   "No response," Commo replied grimly. "Channels are silent. Their transponder beacon is down too."
   Terrorwing frowned. "Doppler?"
   "Something at bearing four two mark one nine." He adjusted his scanners. "The cloud is thick there...hard to scan through. I'd say it's a ship—I am getting radiation readings—but I'm just not sure who."
   "Navi, ahead at quarter speed,"
   "Casing, stand by on weaponry."
   "I'm always ready." The gunner just hoped his combat systems were still working, 'This ship can't take much more pounding,' he thought grimly. "Missile bays loaded, fusion warheads armed." He would go down fighting to the last. "Targeting locks active,"
   "Cryon...prepare a boarding party. If our last enemy has been disabled, I'd like to claim their ship for salvage. If it's Starfall, he might require assistance."
   "At once." Cryon tapped his comlink. "Despot, Incursion, assemble your assault teams and report to shuttle bays two and three. Potential combat, plus search-and-rescue."
   "Understood," the two officers replied.
   Terrorwing had risen to his feet and ho moved closer to the main viewscraen. "Anything better, Doppler?" Silver glinted through the swirling clouds ahead.
   "It's a ship..." Doppler frowned. "Got something clearer.,, size registering at six hundred mechomers!" his voice rose in justified alarm,
   "The enemy!" Cryon moaned,
   "They're moving!" Doppler warned. "Power readings are lower than they wore, and there is definite hull damage, but they are moving on an intercept vector."
   "Casing!" Tarrorwing stumbled as the deck dropped out from under him. "Return fire!"
   "Main weapons off-line!" Casing jabbed desperate fingers at his console. "Major damage to all systems."
   "Switch to back-ups!"
   "These were the back-ups!"
   Cryon stumbled over to the tactical console and desperately tried rerouting the systems. "No response from repair systems!"
   Terrorwing turned his attention elsewhere. "Navi, evasive course!" he shouted.
   "Got it!" She ran her fingers over her console. "We can't outrun them for long, sir!" She could detect the faint rumble from the damaged engines...a gift all good pilots developed.
   "Hyperspace—" Cryon began.
   "Not while we're in this cloud!" Navi cut him off as the ship rocked again. "The engines couldn't take the strain." More shudders. "Evasive maneuvers are not working. We don't have the speed or maneuverability to outrun them."
   "That's it!" Terrorwing said. "Alter course to..." he paused long enough to study a reading on Dopplerfs console, "bearing one six mark three. Full sublight!"
   "I can give you quarter-sublight for now." Navi cursed as the Centurion shuddered yet again. "The dust cloud is thicker here, sir! It's slowing us down." She decided not to mention that structural integrity was failing...why worry the others even more about things they couldn't change?
   "I'm aware of that. It'll slow them down as well. Or so I hope." Terrorwing returned to his command chair. "Casing, can you get anything from weapons?"
   "I've got a couple of anti-missile lasers back on-line." He shrugged, disgruntled that their missile launchers had gone offline. "They can't do much damage to a large warship, but we might be able to hurt them if we get closer." He feared they'd be getting a lot closer.
   "Lord Terrorwing, the enemy are launching fighters."
   "What, Doppler?"
   "Numerous targets registering...estimating twenty-four craft. Identical designs and signatures, no obvious commanders but they are working in unison. Accelerating on intercept vectors."
   "Anti-missile lasers, target and fire!" Terrorwing watched as several enemy fighters exploded. He frowned as several of the survivors return fire with wing-mounted guns.
   "Hull breach on deck four," Cryon reported over a new alarm. "My Lord, a new strategy is in order."
   "Perhaps you are correct. We can't outfight them in our current condition, nor can we outrun them."
   "Surrender?" Cryon heard the dead silence which gripped the bridge after he dared mention the unmentionable.
   "No surrender!" Casing snarled. "Death before dishonor!" His words were echoed by most of the others,
   "There is no need for such a desperate action."
   Cryon turned. "Sir?" he questioned.
   Terrorwing was leaning back in his chair with a smile on his faceplates, calm and relaxed. "Doppler, content of the cloud?"
   In puzzlement, Doppler bent over his console and began to read aloud: "Helium, ammonia, methane, argon, hydrogen..." his voice trailed off suddenly. "Primus preserve us!" he swore in a soft voice. "You're not going to try and—"
   "Exactly. Navi, take us past the thickest hydrogen clouds you can find."
   "Second wave of fighters coming in, the cruiser is closing as well." Doppler shook his head resignedly. "Alter course to one two mark three. If we're going to die, let's take them with us."
   Casing tapped at his console. "Charging lasers."
   "Hold your fire, Navi, I'll want a full thruster burst' on my command."
   "I'll give it everything we've got left," she replied. "I'll even get out and help push."
   Terrorwing shook his head. "I doubt that will be necessary," he told her. "Shields would be nice," he requested hopefully but Casing shook his head. "Stand by." He watched the other ships crossing the monitor. "Fire!"
   "Done!" Casing triggered the lasers.
   The laser bolts were too weak to harm the large cruiser, even though they proved sufficient to destroy the small fighters, but they were powerful enough to set a particularly rich cloud of hydrogen alight. The resulting explosive fireball consumed the cruiser and its fighter escort's as it spread outwards.
   "Navi!" Terrorwing shouted. "Full speed!"
   The female jabbed at the helm controls.
   Then the shockwave from the explosion struck and most of the Decepticons were thrown from their stations as their ship tossed and shook.

"Extensive hull damage to enemy cruiser," Doppler reported, somehow staying at his station even as Centurion rocked around him. "Fightarcraft destroyed. Secondary explosions detected... yes, I think their reactors are now destabilizing! Shields have collapsed."
   "Excellent." Terrorwing nodded in mingled anticipation and pleasure. "Casing?"
   "Missile bay one coming back on-line...firing!" He paused to track the volley. "Direct hits by all missiles...enemy vessel has been crippled."
   Doppler nodded agreement. "It's changing course...vector indicates that the gravity of Planet Gamma has snared it. Impact with the surface in point aero one breeras...unless it explodes first."
   "It's doomed." Terrorising shifted hi.3 attention. "Navi, set a course to rendezvous with Starfall."
   "At once." She tried to coax the engines back to life. "I fear this may take some time, my Lord."
   Terrorwing nodded resignedly. "I quite understand."
   The spacefighter was drifting outside the thickest portion of the cloud. Its once-proud hull was dark with carbon scoring and pockmarked by missing hullplates.
   "Some power readings…the reactors are still functioning, though at minimal levels. I've got some external power readings as 'yell,"
   "I'm not exactly sure, my Lord. Scanners are damaged, and the dust clouds are interfering with what readings I am getting." Doppler enhanced a visual scan, "Movement!" His blue optics narrowed. "How very odd."
   Terrorwing’s own optics widened as he noted the monitor. "I do not recall this type of combat from any of our previous battle tactics," he commented,
   Starfall, easily recognized in his bright purple-and-silver armor, was standing on the aft dorsal hull of his spacefighter, firing his pistol at a silvery humanoid figure. Around him, dozens of fellow Legionnaires were engaged in fierce hand-to-hand fighting with other TransFormers.
   "Who are they?" Terrorwing demanded.
   Cryon shrugged. "I'd guess they're the enemy crews."
   Terrorwing glared at him.
   "Escape pods detected," Doppler reported, "Clustering along vector five one mark one zero seven. They are transmitting the standard Legion distress call."
   "We'll pick them up momentarily. Starfall is in more serious danger." He was obviously outnumbered, "Casing, can you hit the enemy without harming our own comrades?"
   "Some of them I guess." Casing shrugged. "It'll be quite a challenge, sir, but I'll try." He tapped at his console, making small adjustments to the anti-missile batteries. "Navi, take us in with maneuvering thrusters...hold us steady at five hundred mechomers."
   "You got it." She made the adjustments to their course.
   "Firing now.,," Casing triggered the anti-missile lasers and several of the unknown mechanoids were melted into molten slag in an instant. He fired several volleys, having to take care with each one not to hit any of his comrades...several of those other TransFormers turned and fired their hand weapons ineffectively at the cruiser. "All easy targets destroyed," he reported happily, "and Starfall will just have to handle the others,"
   "He's doing it," Doppler agreed as the Legionnaires rallied around their commander and redoubled their efforts against their attackers.
   Terrorwing watched the last enemy soldiers fall under heavy fire, most of thorn tumbling off helplessly into open space as they died. "Have Starfall retrieved, then recover all the escape pods," h« ordered calmly, "I shall be in my quarters."
   "At once, my Lord." Cryon saluted.
   * * *
   "...and after they knocked out our engines, they teleported onto the fighter." Starfall shuddered at the memory of those first confusing moments, "In seconds, there were dozens of them scattered throughout the ship. Heavy fighting was reported from the lower decks, and Engineering was trashed." He gazed out of the viewport at his crippled spacefighter, drifting towards an impending collision with one of the gas giants. "For every one we killed, a dozen more seemed to appear. We would have been overwhelmed if their cruiser hadn't pulled away to pursue you."
   "You're welcome," Cryon muttered.
   "But who are they?" Doppler demanded,
   "They had no insignia," Starfall replied, "or at least none which I recognized anyway. They spoke Cybertronian Standard, had standard—if somewhat modified—hand weaponry, and they were definitely TransFormers, They also made numerous references to Primus—-their Lord and Savior."
   "Religious fanatics are the worst opponents," Cryon noted,
   "The fact that they are all identical in design lends some credence to the theory of some new religious cult," Terrorwing agreed, "I wonder how they arose to such power without being eliminated by the Decepticons before this," Or mentioned among the data records the Legion had obtained from Charter while on Renaissance Colony, he added to himself.
   The door to Terrorwing's office hissed open, cutting off any further conversation,
   "My Lord." Sub-Commander Nightslayer marched in and saluted, slamming his fist against his chest in the ancient manner, "The final pods have been recovered. There are still over two hundred Legionnaires unaccounted for, but all the survivors we could find have been gathered onboard Centurion. Scavenging parties are now stripping energon and all other supplies from the fighter and transferring it here. They expect to be completed within two more breems."
   "Acceptable," Terrorwing sounded somewhat discouraged.
   "Bolt reports that most of the damage to Centurion will be repaired within the orn, making us flight- and combat-worthy. Non-essential repairs will require another fourteen orns of work altogether,"

"Inform him to continue work until all damage is completed, He should concentrate efforts on flight and combat systems, I want you to oversee the identification of survivors also…I want to know who I have available."
   "Understood." Nightslayer saluted, then turned and marched out of the room.
   Terrorwing turned back to his comrades. "Prior to reaching Sol III, I had hoped to make use of a supply depot which had been established in this system many Vorns seems that ray good intentions have cost us highly."
   "It was hardly your fault, my Lord!" Cryon protested.
   "Nonetheless, we have lost the last of our fighters, suffered heavy damage to this cruiser, and lost numerous personnel. The depot itself is missing."
   "Your orders?" Cryon asked.
   "No further delays can be permitted," Terrorwing replied with a cold tone. "Inform Navi and Casing to prepare a scenario for our arrival at Earth...assume that the planet is held by Autobot forces, and that more of these Unknowns are there as well."
   "Of course."
   "With luck we will find our Decepticon brethren there...if not, we will seize the planet, eradicate resistance, and make use of its resources to complete repairs and refurbish our forces." He rose; to his feet, "In any event, the Grey Legion is finished running, I can sense it...this Earth will prove the key to our race's victory, or to our destruction."
   The others nodded.
   "In any event, all that we have left now is our honor," Terrorwing smiled with grim determination. "And that greater honor will yet be ours!"
   "As you command," Cryon said, "so we shall obey."