By Matt TALON Kirkby

    Razorwing was standing on the command deck of his flagship, Aviary, when his seven-ship task force-his personal combat unit, known as the Feathered Furies-emerged from hyperspace. "ETA at the target?"
    "Ten minutes at our current speed."
    "All ships report combat-readiness, Commander."
    "Stand by to launch fighter escorts." Razorwing frowned as a slight flicker on one monitor caught his optic. "What is that reading in sector seven?"
    "A minor radiation distortion...nothing harmful. Fledgling has scanned the area thoroughly and detected nothing."
    "Keep an optic on it anyway." Razorwing turned his attention back to the main display. His Tarn-class frigates were in a standard layered attack formation, now proceeded by seven full squadrons of fighter-mode Decepticons. "Any communications from the target, Chirp?"
    "Just what I've intercepted so far," she replied. "Standard planetary stuff...mainly entertainments, and a few boring reports on civilian channels. No challenges to us, or requests for our identification."
    Razorwing smiled. "Hail the planetary government." Surely they had seen his fleet by now...if they hadn't, it was too bad; even if they had seen him, reports indicated the planet had only a limited military force available with which to defend itself. "Open message, all frequencies: attention, leaders of Lithone,.. in the name of the Decepticon Empire, you are hereby ordered to surrender to us. Resistance will be dealt with by maximum force." He nodded to an officer. "Target the asteroid at bearing one five seven mark two...destroy it."
    A brief burst of energy fire from Aviary's forward particle beams turned the asteroid into glittering dust.
    "Incoming signal, Commander...the duly elected government of Lithone surrenders." Chirp grinned from the corn-station-that reply had been so fast! "Well an official cease-fire at any rate. They wish to discuss terms of any occupation, pending an official surrender, but they ask that you refrain from bombardment during the negotiations."
    Razorwing chuckled. "A bombardment would make them agree to our demands even faster, but an intact world is far more valuable to us than one which has been blasted into rubble."
    "True, Commander."
    "Continue along current course...standard parking orbit. Have the Raptor and Fledgling proceed to the far side of the planet. Prepare ground troops for deployment. Secure all major military outposts and population centers." Just like standard procedures dictated. "Sub-commanders have permission to return fire if attacked. No pre-emptive strikes though."
    "Yes, Commander." Chirp began issuing the orders to the rest of the task force. It was pretty standard stuff, really, given that the planet had surrendered without even offering the pretence of a fight.
    Razorwing turned back to staring out of an armored viewport. "Megatron wants this world claimed by the Empire...I will not hand him a war-torn ruin." He would prove his ability and show the Supreme Commander his true worth...then he might get assigned to a task worthy of a Decepticon warrior. "Inform Lithone's leaders to prepare for my arrival. When I have proof of their loyalty, I will see about selecting a suitable governing council to advise the new planetary governor." Which would probably be himself, he thought with a pleased smile. And governing a world was a small step towards the next political level....
    Feeling smug, and confident with the ease of his success, Razorwing turned to his sensor officer. "Yes, Eagle-eye?"
    "Sensors detect' several vessels emerging from hyperspace."
    "Unknown." Eagle-eye sounded mildly alarmed. "Fifty vessels detected. Scanning them now."
    "Incoming signal.. .trying to pinpoint it's origin," Chirp said. "It's coming from all the ships!"
    "On speaker," Razorwing wondered what pathetic and empty threat these new arrivals would make, blustering and trying to bluff an obviously superior lifeform. Perhaps, he mused, they would pose some mild threat and have to be taught a lesson...and that would increase his own standing among the Decepticons. A grin pulled at his mouth...either way he would gain prestige.
    Chirp finished adjusting the corn-system.
    "All mechanoids within the Lithone sector," a harsh voice announced, "please be advised that by the will of our Lord Primus, all ships, weaponry, and equipment present will be rendered inoperative. Do not resist, or you will be harmed. We repeats all mechanoids-"
    "'Lord Primus'?" Razorwing tilted his head in puzzlement. That message was the last thing he had expected to hear, and now he was unsure how to continue. "Tactical analysis."
    "Fifty vessels, all identical designs. Length of twelve hundred metres, numerous weapon emplacement-they're powering up!" Eagle-eye finished in a shout.
    "Battle stations!" Razorwing felt his frigate shudder under enemy particle beams. "Return fire!" The lightpanels dimmed slightly as more power was transferred to the weapon systems. "Report, all stations 1"
    "Shields are down fifty per cent...several emitters are badly damaged."
    "The Fledgling has been completely destroyed. Enemy vessels are concentrating their firepower on one ship at a time...I've never seen anything like it."
    Razorwing cursed. Tarn-class frigates should not fall before enemies so quickly. "Signal the Raptor to flank us...lock all our weapons onto the lead ships and-"
    "Raptor has been disabled. They're drifting, though their weaponry remains functional."
    Razorwing cursed even as fresh explosions rocked his battered flagship. "All weapons, fire at will! Release all ships to independent control...fight to the death!"
    "Enemy vessels are launching fightercraft."
    "Launch our own Birds-of-Prey...intercept and destroy." He was being distracted...his own aerospace forces-highly trained yet sorely lacking actual combat experience-could surely handle anything the enemy could throw at them, "Weapon status?"
    "We have destroyed four enemy warships, make that seven. * .most' of the survivors are now concentrating on us. Over half the enemy are now moving towards the planet, standard englobement pattern."
    "Priority signal to the Dark Glory!" Razorwing snapped. He disliked the sense of failure that order gave him, but that sense of failure was nothing compared to losing his entire fleet' to some new enemy. 'Victory is easier to share than defeat,' the quote from the Vos Military Academy ran. "Inform t'hem of our current situation, Chirp, and request immediate reinforcements." He had little desire to share the glory of conquering a planet, yet this unknown enemy was more powerful than he had thought and the utter destruction of his command would not benefit the Decepticon Empire in any way.
    "Message transmitting now...there's some kind of interference signal, Commander. It might be natural, or it could be generated from those ships." Chirp stabbed at the controls with fierce finger strokes. "I cannot break through it or confirm if our original signal got through."
    Razorwing cursed again. "Keep transmitting, Chirp." Maybe something would get through-
    "Hey, I've-oh slag!" Chirp frowned, "I thought I had something there, but it's only a signal from Lithone...Commander, they are asking the new arrivals for help in overthrowing us!"
    Treachery! Razorwing was incensed-they had been conquered fairly, after all, and this request for outside help was pure treachery, "I will see Lithone destroyed for this!" Razorwing vowed. "I will personally see its capitol razed! Its skies darkened with the ashes of its civilization-" He broke off as the Aviary shuddered again. "Launch all jets, even the reserves ...gun crews, fire at will!"
    Between the groups of large warships, the Birds engaged the enemy fighters. The Birds were all identical in design-forward-swept wings, tipped with laser cannon, though their colour schemes varied-but so were the enemy fighters. The fighters attacked in unison, selecting targets and firing energy cannon as groups...the Birds moved as individuals, some covering one another, others ignoring their comrades.
    Tailfeather, chief flight leader, directed several of his fellows to intercept a squadron of fighters heading towards the disabled Raptor, then he personally led another group against a second squadron. Tailfeather enjoyed the thrill of aerial combat ...he had studied the exploits of Starscream and the Seekers-on which the Birds had been modeled-but knew he lacked the actual combat experience which had honed the Seekers into true warriors. "Now I get ray chance to stretch my wings," he muttered.
    Observing the battle from his flagship, Razorwing issued new desperate orders. He'd rejoiced as several more enemy vessels were destroyed, and winced as casualty reports arrived from the Birds. He saw the battle's outcome clearly, despite his apparent victories. "Helm, set a course for the nearest outpost in the Empire," he ordered grimly even as three more enemy ships blew apart. "All surviving ships will jump to hyperspace as quickly as possible! Recall fighters...but abandon them if necessary." He hated to run-even from a lost battle-and his circuitry shuddered in disgust at being ready to abandon his comrades, but Megatron must be informed of this new enemy-which could not happen if all the Furies were destroyed-and then that enemy must be punished. "And I will be part of the punishment," he vowed softly. "We will be avenged."
    "The Starhawk is hyperspace ready," Chirp reported, "The Raptor will cover our withdrawal. They'll make the enemy pay for this defeat."
    "Their sacrifice will be remembered!"
    "We've recovered fifty Birds, but another seventy-six are unable to break off in time to regroup." Eagle-eye didn't mention that over three hundred Birds had been destroyed. "Enemy fighter losses have been equally heavy."
    Razorwing sighed and slumped wearily into his chair. Almost two-thirds of his command had been obliterated in one battle-in less than twenty minutes, by the Pit! "Jump to hyperspace," he ordered softly.