Transform And Roll Out

By Matt TALON Kirkby

    "Stand by," Nightbeat said softly. Around him, the rest of his bridge crew made no reply as they concentrated on their various instruments. "Time to target?"
    "Realspace entry in thirty-seven seconds."
    Nightbeat nodded. "Thanks, Hot Rod. Weapon status?"
    "Everything is charged up or loaded," Topspin replied in a grim tone. "We're ready to fire as soon as I get a target." The Autobot suppressed a shiver, feeling the twinge of pre-combat nerves cycle through his circuits. Despite all his long Vorns of his career as a soldier, he couldn't recall a mission with so much depending on it. "The future of the Autobots rests on our shoulders," he whispered.
    "What was that?" Hot Rod asked.
    "Nothing of importance." Topspin put a growl into his voice, to mask any trace of nervousness. "Now show some respect to your elders and give us a fleet update."
    "Everything looks ready," the younger Autobot announced. "No emergency signals have come in, and everyone is maintaining corn-silence." Just like Optimus Prime had ordered. "We're ready."
    "I hope so."
    Hot Rod ignored Topspin's muttered reply. He was going to show those murderous Decepticons a thing or two. Primus willing, he'd make them pay for what they'd done. And pay and keep on paying.
    "Stand by," Nightbeat said. "Realspace entry now!" he ordered and he braced himself as the strike fleet emerged into normal space. "Tactical report!"
    "Planet is three thousand kilometres from us...we're closing now."
    "Two Decepticon spacefighters in weapons' range."
    "Hit them fast, Topspin!"
    "Already firing." A score of the new tnegamissiles homed in on both fighters and turned the ships into expanding clouds of half-molten metal before their crews even knew they were under attack*
    "Order all groups to break and attack!" Nightbeat noted that, for once, the battle was unfolding according to plan. "Tell Arcae to stand by." He gestured to the sensor screen. "Direct the first wave to skim those frigates...we need to draw them off."
    "Autobot vessels are attacking here?" Mercer sounded shocked as the report was delivered, "This is intolerable!" he snarled to the officer on the corn-screen-who flinched, even though she was elsewhere in the building. "Activate all planetary defenses! Mobilize the entire garrison! And get me an accurate scan of them!" He blanked the screen, then slammed his fist onto his desk. "This is too soon!"
    "Are you truly afraid of an attack?" Razorclaw asked from near the office's armored window. He turned his cold gaze onto the planetary governor. Megatron had sent his newly regained Earth-based Decepticons to various planets of his Empire for repairs, upgrades, and indoctrination into the new order of things. Thus far, Razor-claw was less than impressed with Dnema and its Decepticon inhabitants. However, the arrival of Autobots would make things interesting.
    "I fear very little," Mercer replied to the spoken question. "But given recent events, an attack now could have most serious consequences. The Disciples are-"
    "The Disciples are weak prey," the Predacon replied. "Only their numbers make them threats...and those numbers just offer us that many more targets."
    Mercer was about to reply when a monitor flashed to life with reports on the attacking ships. Schematics scrolled across the monitor. "Those ships are Autobot designs," he said, a measure of calm in his voice. "New ships. So-called Defenders. or so I have been told." Almost fifty of them scattered across the Dnema system. "Apparently our spy was correct after all...the Autobots are attempting to counter our offensives with their own assault."
    "You have a spy among them?"
    "Of course. Megatron placed many spies amongst his enemies." Mercer's tone was arrogant. "Shockwave and Galvatron were both manipulated by Megatron. He chose the course and timing of events and made them dance to his tune. He played them like puppets!" Mercer laughed. Then he sobered, "But these Autobots do pose a moderate threat to this world."
    "They must destroyed."
    "Agreed, Our space forces are already responding." Mercer nodded at the large tactical displays which was bright with icons. "Let these deluded mechs attempt to oppose us...they will be destroyed quickly-trapped by our forces before they can escape this time-and finally we can work towards our destiny without their continued interference."
    Razorclaw studied a display of the planet and the rapidly growing space battle as additional spacefighters and Tarn-class frigates moved to intercept the incoming ships. "Megatron is not the only puppeteer," he chuckled. "They have tricked you into opening a hole in your defenses!"
    Mercer whirled to stare at the display. "Impossible!" he snapped. "Our ships are faster and bigger and can..." he fell silent. "Their maneuvers are pulling ships out of formation!"
    "No, they've already done it." Several Autobot ships were already touching Dnema's upper atmosphere. "They're too small for the main surface batteries to lock onto," he noted. By the same token, they were too small to cause extensive damage to Dnema...but they could destroy a fair chunk of real estate.
    "Let them come," Mercer scoffed. "Those few ships cannot drive us from this world. If they dare land my Decepticons will smash them!"
    "I doubt that is their intention," Razorclaw countered in an equally calm tone. "I have fought these Autobots before-many times, Mercer. I know how they think, how they react, how they are driven by their precious moral code." He jabbed a finger at the display. "They're trying to prove a point. This is but a raid! A small strike to gather intelligence about us, to distract us from pressing our attacks against Cybertron and Earth. They do not intend to conquer this world, only to force us into diverting resources here to further strengthen its defenses."
    "Are you certain of that, Predacon?"
    Mercer paused for a moment. Razorclaw was correct-the Predacon did have far more personal experience with Autobots than Mercer himself. "If this world is lost, Megatron will demand-"
    "If this world is lost," Razorclaw interrupted, "then I and my Predacons will have died in its defense." Ho turned around, transformed to lion-mode and loped towards the office door. "We will be at the spaceport. Alert your ground troops to prepare for combat. Things are going to get messy." And he chuckled as he left the office.

    "Signal Oberon that Phase Two is underway," Arcee tapped her console as the Defender dodged enemy fire. "Press the assault and get us onto the ground!" "Hey, Arcee, it's great to have you back again." Arcee looked at Seaspray. "Oh?" "Yeah, you haven't been the same since Cindras."
    "I know."
    "Fire missiles."
    "Done," Highbrow replied.
    "Decepticons incoming. Silverbolt is moving to engage."
    Doubleclutch hoped the Aerialbots knew what they were doing-they were attacking in just jet-modes without Defensor. "Give them some cover fire!" "What we can."
    "Let's mix it up." Slipstream accelerated with the rest of his squadron, "Let's swat some 'Bots!" Their new ships were sleek, yet not as agile as his fighter-mode comrades.
    "Missile lock," one Decepticon reported.
    "Go evasive."
    Laser bolts streaked past them.
    "Return fire!" Slipstream fired his missiles just as his wing mate caught a laser bolt and exploded.
    "We're going in fast!" Hound warned as he adjusted the thrusters. "Move fast enough and we can avoid their sensors and anti-ship weapons."
    "You just fly this crate," Mirage told him. "I'll give them something else to watch." He triggered the missile launchers.
    "What are you doing?" TwinTwist demanded.
    "Making a distraction."
    "You fired missiles at ground targets?" TwinTwist sounded shocked. "But they'll destroy-"
    "It's fair trade!" Mirage countered coldly. "The Decepticons have smashed both Autobot City and Cybertron! You made it off Cybertron-didn't you see what they did to Iacon?" A loud beep signaled the missiles' impacts. "This is just payback I" he snarled as twenty square kilometers of cityscape vanished under sun-bright explosions.

    Razorclaw saw the smoke rising on the horizon. The fireball had climbed several kilometers into the sky...and he could see half a dozen such clouds. "The Autobots are rash," he mused. "Missile strikes are not part of their standard tactics." He didn't know exactly what had been targeted, but he doubted anything had survived at ground zero.
    "Maybe they finally realized how pathetic they fought," Rampage growled as he loped after his commander. "They're finally learning some decent tactics."
    "The shuttle!" Divebomb squawked. "It's heading towards the far side of the port."
    "Then we must meet it," Razorclaw snapped as he spotted the descending shuttle. His mouth twisted with amusement as the spaceport's heavy laser batteries fired uselessly-the lasers weren't even coming close to the shuttle! "Go, my Predacons, our prey awaits us!"

    Hot Rod rolled the Defender as laser bolts stabbed along its previous course. "How's this?"
    "Better," Topspin said as he triggered their lasers and sent a hail of bolts stabbing back at the spacefighter. "Think that will discourage them from following?"
    "No." Nightbeat braced himself as Hot Rod went evasive again.
    "Strike teams are hitting the ground," Arcee's voice crackled over the comlink. "Groove's shuttle took a went down hard. Three shuttles never made it."
    "This is costing us," Hot Rod observed grimly.
    "Wars always do," Topspin replied. "Now bring us around to a new course. I want to drop a few mega missiles right down their viewports!"
    "You got it." Hot Rod gunned the engines. "Hang onto your motivators, Topspin."
    "The shuttle set down near the south complex!" The Decepticon officer waved his arms to his troops. "Spread out. The crew can't have gotten far!"
    "You got that right!" Smokescreen stepped around the side of a building and leveled his rifle. "It's payback time!" His shoulder-mounted missiles roared.
    Pipes jumped up from behind a park hovertruck and tackled the officer. "This is for Iacon!" He punched the Decepticon into unconsciousness.

    The Decepticon patrol lifted their weapons and opened fire.
    "Let's slice and dice!"
    An explosion caught the shout short.
    "Cover fire!"
    Spinister hovered over a building-maybe a warehouse, maybe a factory--and he poured weapon's fire onto a group of Autobots. Several fell.
    Raggletag ducked as bullets whined past his head. He didn't know how the rest of the battle was going, but he hoped the other teams were having better luck than he was having. He snapped off a laser, but doubted he had done any damage.
    SkyScreech grinned savagely as his frigate's lasers sliced into a Defender. "Score one for the home team!" he shouted to his crew. "Hit them again!" The small shuttle exploded. "Yes, beautiful!"
    "Signal from Dnema…we are to fall back to near-orbit. Mercer's orders. No further Autobot landings can be permitted."
    "I didn't hear that!" SkyScreech replied loudly. "For there is no glory to be won fighting in orbit! We must hunt the enemy down out here, in the void!" He paced across the cramped bride of his Tarn-class frigate. "Weapons, lock onto another-"
    "Autobots heading towards us!"
    "What?" SkyScreech scoffed. "Are they mad?" His ship was nearly five times as big as them, with more weapons, stronger shields, and-"What was that?"
    "Shield emitters just failed!" The officer stabbed fingers at his console. "A fluke shot, Captain. A fluke laser pierced our shields and hit the primary emitter! I can't get the shields back up."
    "Defender is closing!"
    "Weapons, shoot them down!"
    "For Autobot City!" Hot Rod triggered a mega missile as Topspin was distracted with attempting to restore power to their failing shields.
    SkyScreech saw the missile closing rapidly on his ship. "Decepticons forever!" he screeched as fire consumed him.

    Razorclaw growled softly as he stalked an unwary Autobot. "Divebomb here...Mercer has new orders for us."
    "Slag Mercer!" Rampage snarled over the comm. "We got our own fun."
    "Silence," Razorclaw ordered. "Divebomb, what does he want?"
    "Autobots are tearing through his security teams near the fuel depot. He wants us to stop them."
    "All Predacons, converge on my position." Razorclaw growled as he scented his earlier prey. "And quickly!" He pounced.

    Mirage slipped into an empty control center. "Too easy," he said. "Especially for someone who can make himself invisible." He adjusted a series of controls, issuing new orders to the machinery of the fueling center. "I wonder how big a boom this place will make?"
    "Almost a big a boom as you, Autobot!"
    Mirage looked up as a Decepticon stepped through the door. "I suppose you're going to tell me to raise my hands?"
    "No," the Decepticon replied. "Only to die." A bolt of light stabbed from his pistol and stabbed through Mirage to hit the console which exploded. "What?"
    Mirage suddenly appeared on his left. "Surprise!" He punched the Decepticon, knocking him to the floor. "You can't shoot a hologram," he said. "But you can make a mess of the computer console." It was sparking rather violently. "I suppose the reprogramming I did earlier didn't help any." He hurried from the room. "This is going to be loud."

    "Two more spacefighters disabled."
    Alone in his office, Mercer shook his head. "The Autobots had developed some surprisingly effective ships...and despite his larger and more powerful warships, he was losing. Well, being out-flanked. "A draw," he said aloud. "We can keep them away from the planet, but they're better suited to combat in open space." How very strange...the initial assault had not reported any such difficulties with destroying the Autobots on Cybertron. Why were they now so effective?
    "Commander," an aide reported from a corn-screen, "we have fresh reports of ‘bot ground troops."
    "Where?" Mercer turned to the map on his main monitor.
    "Tracking reports that one of the shuttles crashed in sector three by five."
    Mercer smiled. "Inform local security to collect them." The situation was grim, but salvageable. Megatron would be pleased by his success.

    Sludge lumbered through the remnants of an enemy security team. Every Decepticon he stomped on was one less to trouble the universe.
    Laser fire pelted his armored hide, barely scratching him.
    "He's coming this way!"
    "Slag him!" Blitzkrieg shrieked. He took aim and prepared to unleash his full array of weaponry is a devastating display.
    With a loud roar, Skreem leaped from his perch atop a stack of crates. The velociraptor tore into Blitzkrieg, ripping his armor to shreds.
    Skeer, a massive anklyosaurus, swung his club-like tail and sent two Decepticons flying. His turtle-like back ignored their weapons' fire.
    "This is not happening," the security commander muttered. These weren't Autobots ...they were unstoppable forces of nature! A loud voice interrupted his thoughts.
    Sludge loomed over him. "This is for Grimlock and for Slag and for Swoop." He emphasized every name with a stomp of his foot onto the hapless commander.
    "Getting shot down, how embarrassing," Hot Rod muttered.
    "I said dodge that fighter, not ram it!" Topspin peaked around the corner of the corridor. "We were lucky we didn't' all get killed."
    "The thrusters jammed!" Hot Rod told him.
    "Quiet," Nightbeat said. "Any more noise and you might as well put up a sign for the Decepticons." They had been lucky their Defender had crashed into an empty shuttle bay. "The bridge should be just down this corridor."
    "Then what?"
    "Then we steal it." Nightbeat was a detective...he was used to solving crimes, not committing them! The hatch to the bridge hissed open. "Get ready...charge!"
    "For Autobot City!" Hot Rod shouted as he race down the corridor, firing his pistol as he ran.

    "I can smell the Autobots!" Razorclaw inhaled several cubic meters worth of atmosphere. "They're close."
    "As you say." Tantrum grunted loudly.
    "So where are they?" Rampage demanded. "I want to shred some 'Bots!"
    Razorclaw sniffed again. "I'd say they're right-"
    A thunderous explosion made the ground shake.
    "The fuel depot!" Divebomb squawked.
    Razorclaw could see the fires. Flames were reaching high into the air, and thick smoke was billowing skyward. "Mercer is going to be very angry."

    Groove stumbled behind a crate as laser fire hissed past his head. "This is not good," he moaned. His shuttle had crashed, the rest of his comrades were dead, and now he was stuck on some Decepticon-controlled mudball, "This is not what I signed up for."
    "Where'd he go?" a deep voice boomed.
    "Over here somewhere," a second voice said. "Keep searching. He can't have gotten far."
    "What about the others?"
    "They're moving in on the shuttle. The Autobots can't escape us this time. We have them surrounded…they set foot outside that ship and we'll blow them to bits." He laughed.
    Groove put his hands over his audio receptors. A loud explosion erupted nearby.
    "What the slag was that?" one of the Decepticons shouted.
    Then Groove popped up from his hiding place and blasted both Decepticons before they could react.
    "Good shooting," a new voice said, "Hey, hold your fire!"
    "Sorry, Mirage." Groove lowered his pistol-noticing just how much his hand was shaking. "You startled me."
    "Sorry, I wasn't thinking," Mirage said. "Good distraction though."
    "My Defender." Groove explained, "It couldn't fly any more, but it still paid its way." He hoped his comrades understood why he had left their bodies behind though….
    "Well, then I guass you're gonna need a lift' home.."
    "Guess so. Where's your Defender?"
    "We're not taking a Defender," Mirage replied with a grin. "We're borrowing a ship from our hosts."

    Mercer had left his office and gone to the planetary situation room. There, he had access to every Decepticon installation and ship on or near Dnema, "Report?"
    "The Autobot ships are still active," an aide replied. "They're small enough to elude fire from our main weapon platforms, and they're more maneuverable than our spacefighters and frigates."
    "Redeploy the fleet! I want them blown out of space!" Mercer would tolerate no excuses...nor would Megatron.
    "We're trying."
    "Report from field command. Autobots are detected in twelve more locations." A map of Dnema's surface lit up with colored icons. "The spaceport is the most active region."
    "Yes, what word is there from Razorclaw?" Mercer demanded. The Pradacon's words had rankled...he was as much a true Decepticon as that Predacon.    
    "No direct communications," he was told. "However, the port's main com-tower was destroyed by missile fire early in the battle. Fires are reported in the fuel depot and near the main repair bays."
    Mercer winced. "The Autobots are inflicting damage far beyond projections?"
    "Any word on reinforcements?"
    "Negative. Megatron has summoned most of the fleet to deal with the Disciples. The nearest reinforcements are still hours away."
    Mercer nodded, "I hadn't expected to receive any, but Megatron would be furious if the Autobots escaped from Dnema again...and this raid could be just a softening up prelude to a full-scale invasion. But the spy hadn't reported anything about any invasion, only minor raids.... Mercer made a decision. "Redeploy ground troops to all known Autobot locations. I want them located, pinned down, and terminated! This is priority one!"

    "Time's up," Arcee announced, "Signal to all teams-Phase Four!" "Broadcasting now."
    "Swing us around to course nine by thirty. Fire, lasers to clear that weapon platform, Give me a random missile strike on the surface to cover the retreat."
    "Understood." Seaspray nodded.
    "Let’s get this crate moving!" Mirage was already adjusting controls and powering up the engines. "Those fires won't keep the Decepticons distracted for long."
    "We're set," Groove replied as he finished setting up his console. "Let's go!"
    Mirage triggered the thrusters, kicking them to full power, and he felt the cargo freighter lift off from the surface of Dnema, "Slow, sluggish, with the sensor shadow of a small moon," he muttered, but loaded with supplies the Autobots could use in their struggle. "Lift off. I'm heading for orbit." He throttled the drives to maximum, feeling the ship's structure shudder with the effort. "Either we'll get away," he muttered over the noise, "or we'll fall apart."
    "I’m setting the navigation system," Groove said. "We'll jump to hypsrapace as soon as possible. I've laid in a few extra jumps first though, to prevent anyone from tracking us to Oberon."
    "Good." Mirage noted something. "I see a tracking tower!"
    "Firing weapons," Groove said, reaching for the triggering switches, "I wish this crate had some decent guns."
    "I wish we had a bigger crew!"

    Razorclaw kept his Predacons back as other Decepticons rushed towards the fires threatening what was left of the fuel depot's reserve tanks. "No, it's too obvious," the Predacon commander told his muttering troops. "The Autobots would not make such an obvious display if they were still nearby." His gaze drifted towards the nearby landing pad.
    And focused on a freighter lifting skyward.
    "To the pads!" Razorclaw shouted. "They’re getting away!" He pointed to the freighter. "The Autobots-a stole a freighter!" The Predacon ran to the spaceport, barreling past startled guards and scurrying technicians.
    "Out of my way!" Razorclaw shoved a technician away from a parked spacefighter. "We're taking off!" He hurried through the hatch. "Divebomb, power up this crate!" He watched the other Predacons find stations on the bridge of the small craft. "Lift off! Pursue that freighter!"
    Divebomb obeyed and the spacefighter screamed skyward. Unlike the bulky cargo freighter the Autobots had stolen, this ship was designed for speed.
    Rezorclaw girdled to himself. A worthy prey so boldly steal a bulk freighter and then run with it...almost a pity to have to kill them.
    "We're being hailed," Tantrum growled.
    "Razorclaw, what are you doing?" Mercer demanded from the com-screen. "The battle is on the ground!"
    "The battle is distraction! While you move around your soldiers, the real prey escape!"
    "We are in pursuit of thieves," the Predacon Commander replied. "The freighter breaking orbit is in Autobot possession. We will retrieve it."
    Mercer was silent for a moment. "Very well...but do not fail, Predacon. Those Autobots must be terminated!"
    "Of course," Razorclaw kept the mockery from his tone as ha cut the com-system off...he would prove that the Predacons were far superior to these so-called modern Decepticons. "Range to target?"
    "Twenty seconds to weapons' range."
    "Maximum acceleration."
    Razorclaw saw an explosion outside the viewports as another ship succumbed to the still-raging space battle and exploded.
    "Looks like they're preparing for a hyperspace jump."
    "Stop them!"
    "We're not in range!" Rampage snarled.
    "The engines are at maximum output," Divebomb replied coldly. "They must have been undergoing an overhaul. I can't get them to go any faster!"
"If they Jump to hyperspace..." Tantrum warned.
    Razorclaw snarled to himself. The radiation and gravity fields of hyperspace made tracking other vessels virtually impossible. If the Autobots had too great a lead when they jumped, then the Predacons might never find them again. "Prep a courier pod!"
    "A courier pod?" Headstrong repeated.
    "Set it to emit a homing beacon," Raaorclaw explained with growing impatience, "then fire it at the freighter!" Courier pods were faster than missiles, but too small to carry warheads-they were designed to carry data crystals containing top secret information through regions when transmissions were susceptible to being intercepted or jammed. "Quickly!"
    Headstrong’s fingers flew across the com-console. "Done. Firing now." The pod streaked across space and struck the freighter near its engine pods and magnetically grappled itself into place.
    "Now they cannot escape," Razorclaw chuckled as the freighter vanished into hyperspace. "Follow the beacon," he ordered. "And quickly." He had no desire to allow his prey too great a lead. "This hunt will be great fun."