Many often spoke of the price of life. Philosophers in nearly every civilization had dedicated their entire lives to speculating on it. One race had even attempted to build a computer the size of a city in an attempt to quantify it. But whatever the price of life was, one thing was sure: It was steep.
It was sometimes easy to forget just how precious life could be after gaining immortality and leading a life of warfare. The Maximal who called himself Gunslinger was not only gaining a lesson in perspective, but economics. Security work paid dirt, even in the slums where guards were paid relatively well. Nevertheless, he had been scrimping and saving for the past thirty years, working until he had enough energon to build a new body one part at a time and grant it the gift of life. He had even sacrificed maintenance on himself and his blue and yellow paint job was mostly worn away. Though, it was hard to tell in the shimmering violet and blue hues of light provided by the cache of energon cubes.
Gunslinger labored putting together the circuit board that would contain the protoform's main programming. It was precise, delicate work, and for some reason one of the chips wasn't aligning even though he had checked it half a dozen times for any imperfections. A knock on the door interrupted his focus and he dropped the chip once again. "Ah, slaggitall," he cursed, setting the task aside to answer the door.
He couldn't remain upset at the interruption when he opened the door to see the very Maximal he had been expecting, holding in one hand the package he was hoping would arrive today. "Cybershark! How ya doing, Sailor?"
"Not bad, Cowboy," he said as he invited himself in, handing Gunslinger the package. "Slag, why is it so dark in here?"
"Well, y'know, gotta save power," Gunslinger answered as he opened the package and inspected the device critically.
"You'll strain your eyes."
"That's the perks of being a robot. I can get new ones."
"You go through parts faster than most Wreckers. You used to be human, I'd have expected you to be more cautious with your body."
"That's just it though," Gunslinger said with a grin. "I don't have to worry about losing any body parts any more. Something gets blown off, I can be good as new in a matter of days. It's a liberating feeling."
"It's still not fun."
"Trust me," he said, looking his friend in the optics. "'I've had worse.'"
"Monty Python and The Holy Grail?"
"Very good. Did you see Gunga Din like I told you to?"
"Last cycle," Cybershark nodded. "Loved the ending."
"It still moves me every time."
There was a small lull in the conversation, which gave Gunslinger an opportunity to offer his friend a drink. After he poured the liquid energon into cube-shaped glasses, he turned around to see Cybershark attempting to insert the chip into the board that had been giving him problems. "Hold on there," he spoke up, setting the drink down for his friend. "I'd like to do it all myself. Every wire, every piston, every circuit, I want to have put him all together with my own servos."
Cybershark backed off, taking the drink. "Okay, I can respect that," he said before taking a gulp. "But what I don't get is why you're even bothering in the first place."
"Lots of reasons."
"Which is Human for 'Damned if I know exactly why I'm doing what I'm doing,'" Cybershark pointed out. "Slinger, we've been working together, on and off, for almost a century. I'd like to think I know you pretty well. You having some kind of human mid-life crisis?"
"It's not like that," Gunslinger said with a sigh. "I just get lonely sometimes. And sometimes I feel guilt for having failed my daughter back on Earth. I was just thinking maybe I want to give having a family another try."
"You're using some of your own CNA in the protoform's programming?" Cybershark sounded dubious. "That's risky, since your programming is unique."
"I consulted with First Aid in Cybertroplis before I even got started on the construction," Gunslinger assured him. "He helped me put together what I could use and what I couldn't. The rest is standard Maximal programming, so I shouldn't have to worry about Robin going Frankenstein on me after he's sparked."
Gunslinger grinned sheepishly. "Just what I'm calling him til he comes online and names himself."
"So you're also looking for a sidekick."
"Well, I figured I'd train him in the 'family business' until he's capable of deciding his own path in life."
"Are you sure you can do that?"
"Sure, I've trained plenty of Maximals before, I don't see how this is dif-"
"That's not what I meant," Cybershark turned somber for a moment. "When the time comes that this young Maximal decides it wants a life of its own, will you be able to cut the interface wires and let it go? I know how protective you can be. And-don't take this the wrong way-you have a problem with letting things go."
"Oh " Gunslinger didn't deny the truth.
"Cybertronian offspring are much more independent than human ones, from the get-go."
"I know," He preferred not to think about it. He planned to raise this being with some of his own human standards and heritage. Gunslinger wasn't fully Cybertronian, so why should his offspring be? The advantage of having a dual heritage was that one could pick and chose the best from both. "I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get to it."
The two friends' conversation drifted to less introspective subject matters after that, as they swapped stories and exchanged information on old enemies; who was still lurking about and who had been captured. Finally, Cybershark had to return to his post. Gunslinger thanked him for picking up the part he needed and promised to see him on his next shift.
Once Cybershark was gone and the door closed behind him, Gunslinger returned to the exact spot he had been sitting before. Reinvigorated, he managed to finish the motherboard quickly and get it inserted into the core processor that had just been delivered today. The protoform was almost complete. It only needed two things: armor, and most important of all, a spark.
That was what the cache of energon in his room was for. Half of it, anyway. The other half would be needed to support them for a few months, as Gunslinger had planned on taking a few lunar-cycles off to spent time with his new protégé. He had further stores of it squared away in various locations, as well. Gunslinger looked the blank over after he secured the core inside. He was on the cusp of seeing three decades of labor and love come to fruition, and he decided that he was unable to wait another day.
The next few hours were painstaking, as Gunslinger labored hard to wire the blank into the proto-initiator he had rented. He began feeding the energon into the machine, laboring to attune the protoform to the right frequency, the wavelength emanated by the source of life for all Transformers, the Matrix of Leadership. Even he had come from it, of a sort. It had been that enigmatic artifact that had transformed his human body into a spark just like every other Cybertronian's. As the atmosphere in the room cracked with static energy and the protoform in the center of his living room began to glow with life, Gunslinger had to resist the urge to scream "It's alive! It's alive!" Instead, he watched with reverent awe as a spark came into being in the center of his creation's chest.
As the new life came online, Gunslinger switched functions on the proto-initiator to life-support mode, while he studied the readings. It was perfect, it was
"Female?" he looked down in surprise. He hadn't even considered the notion of sparking a femme. That altered many of the future scenarios he had envisioned, but the change was not unwelcome. "Well, guess I have more experience with daughters anyway."
Gunslinger took a seat by the table to watch the protoform as her systems stabilized. As soon as her optics flashed online, she sat up, looking around as if bewildered. Gunslinger couldn't help but smile. It was already apparent she had his fighter's instinct. He wanted to say something epic, something memorable for his first words to his creation, but right then, all he could think to say was a simple "Hello."
The young femme's head twisted around to face him. Her optics scanned him hungry for information. "Who " Her vocalizer paused as her processor adjusted it. "Who are you?"
"I'm your creator," he told her. "My name is Gunslinger. Do you know your name?"
The femme shook her head. "No. Should I?"
Many Cybertronians instantly knew their names from the moment they came online. As they experienced their first moments of consciousness, it just came to them. Others needed time to decide what they would call themselves. Some were given names by their creators. "Robin" was just what he had called the protoform as a placeholder. He had decided that he would not be the one to choose it for her. "No, it's alright," he assured her. "It will come to you eventually, when you get to know who you are."
"Who I am?" she asked, pondering this. Her first moments of self-awareness were obviously confusing for her. There was so much information to process. "Who am I?"
"You're my creation." It was circular logic, but youthful minds were more accepting of such. To be was to be, and they did not question why. Such speculation was for older, world-weary adults. He promised her, "We're going to have an exciting life together, you and I."
"What makes you say that?" She rotated in her seat to face him.
Gunslinger was not sure how to answer. "Well, um, I've always had an exciting life. I'm an adventurer. We'll go see and do things most other beings only wonder about."
She tilted her head and mused, "Sounds like fun."
He chuckled. "It can be. Especially when you have someone to enjoy it with. But first, I need to put you in stasis for a while."
"Awww!" She didn't sound afraid, just disappointed. Gunslinger could almost guess how she felt: She had just come to life; she didn't want to sleep now. "Why?"
"Because I'm not done building you," he explained, gesturing at her bare circuitry. "You need armor so you don't damage your systems. And your programming still hasn't fully collated. Besides that, I have to go for a while."
"Where are you going?" So soon, her independence was beginning to show. She wasn't a follower who would blindly accept everything she was told. Gunslinger admired that.
"I have to work. Now, you just lie down here and close your optics. When you come online again I'll be right here for you, I promise."
"You're late, Gunslinger," Barrel sneered, looking down at him.
He ignored the statement. Despite having somehow climbed the ranks to become the head of security for the district, Barrel was an ignorant, prejudiced mech not worth wasting reason on to attempt swaying him toward a more tolerant standpoint. "Sorry, I got held up at home," Gunslinger hoped that would be the end of it.
It wasn't. "Do humans have to be slow in everything?" he asked, displaying his aforementioned bigotry as he did almost every day.
This time, Gunslinger wasn't going to allow his chief to ruin his day. Fire shot out of his optics. "Don't talk to me about being slow, Barrel. I fought in the Great War, before you were even a schematic on someone's drawing board. I've come in on time every day for two deci-vorns and if you want to ride my skidplate for one slip, I'm sure Optimus Protean would be more interested to know who trashed his apex armor last stellar-cycle."
Gunslinger was not above blackmail. Barrel stood down, and he had to resist the urge to smirk triumphantly. "Now if you'll excuse me," he said, "I'm late for work."
He clocked in and checked his station for data updates, like he always did. Today was the day he had planned to hand Barrel his retirement notice, but now he didn't want to give the bigot the satisfaction. He was also not above working a couple extra days just to spite someone who hated him. Robin wouldn't know the difference anyway.
"So," Cybershark said from behind him, "Barrel was the culprit. Why didn't you tell me?"
Gunslinger spun around and chuckled. "I was saving that gem for a rainy day. I was gonna tell you soon, leave you with the mantle of holding it over his head after I'm gone."
"Yeah. Once Robin is up and running, it's going to be time for us to move on. This ghetto isn't the proper place to raise her."
"I see," Cybershark said, then paused. "Wait, 'her'?"
"Yep. I brought her online after you left, and it's a girl."
At this Cybershark cracked up, slapping Gunslinger on the back. "So much for the rough and tumble life, eh?"
"We'll see. Something tells me she's gonna be a feisty one."
Before the conversation could continue, all hell broke loose, and the dimly-lit room turned into an inferno as red lights flashed on and off, followed by a blaring siren. That could only mean one thing, but as Gunslinger and Cybershark made their way to the armory, they found themselves having to explain the situation to a confused rookie.
"What's going on?"
"Pred insurgents. So get your aft in gear and grab as many weapons as you can carry!" Gunslinger ordered as he pulled out a specific grenade launcher for himself. "Hello, Betsy. Didja miss me?"
Cybershark noted the rookie's bewildered look. "It's a human thing," he remarked. "Gunslinger, I'll man Platform A. You need any backup, you let me know."
"Will do, Sailor." Storing the weapon into himself, he crunched over and transformed into a vehicle definitely Cybertronian in design, but with an aesthetic that evoked the look of a long-antiquated Ford Mustang. "Heat 'em up!"
"Smokin'!" his friend replied, before dragging the rookie off to their combat stations.
Outside, Predacons had already arrived and begun their offensive. But Gunslinger recognized their faction insignia: Reivers. They always sent an advance wave to soften up defenses beforehand. He knew the real threat had not yet arrived. Still, if enough fliers could be destroyed, the main attack would be called off. Whoever their leader was, he had the spirit of the Decepticon Warlords: a master tactician, but not afraid to sacrifice underlings. Gunslinger wondered if he kept a screechy, ambitious second in command by his side just to complete the portrait.
He returned to his humanoid form and brought his rifle to bare. One Predacon was flying lower than most, screaming challenges and vulgarities at the Maximals on the ground. His hubris would be his downfall. At times like this, Gunslinger was glad for his experience as a Targetmaster. He hadn't come out of that with just a name. His grenade flew right into the flyer's torso, igniting his insides and extinguishing his spark almost immediately. He allowed himself a triumphant cry as the flaming metal corpse hit the ground and exploded.
But that was all the reward he would give himself. There would be time enough to celebrate once the day was won and the terrorists had been driven off. Moving on, Gunslinger managed to take down several targets before the mother ship came into sight. It was a decent-sized warship that looked to have been constructed from the parts of several commandeered vessels. Despite the mishmash appearance, it was bristling with weaponry, including several mega-cannons. It was a true pirate ship if ever there was one. Gunslinger could not wait to get his picture taken standing atop it after they had shot it down from the sky.
Above him, hellfire rained down from the ship and up from the fortifications on the ground. Even though his own weapons would have no effect, he took a couple shots at the ship for the sake of personal morale before moving on to more of the raiders. Then he realized it. The ship was hovering right above his sector of the city-it was probably floating directly above his home. But that was not the frightening part. That sector had minimal relevance-no terrorist would bother targeting it. By the time the sickening truth hit Gunslinger hard, the second ship appeared, directly over Security Command. With all the gun towers pointed in the other direction, it managed to get a few good shots in before the Maximals even could react.
"NO!" he yelled. His attention was torn-should he go back to help his fellow soldiers, or should he try to drive the first ship away from his home? Gunslinger realized he had made a fatal error: he had become emotionally tied to someone. He felt paternal instincts over his "daughter." He loved her. The choice was obvious. He took off for home. He had to get her to safety. There was nothing he could do at Security Command anyway.
Transforming, he sped closer and closer to home, only stopping to blast any Con stupid enough to get in his way. He had made the transit between home and work twenty-one thousand, eight hundred and fifty-three times, yet this time it seemed to take five times as long. Behind him, he could hear the all-too familiar sounds of explosions. On his sensors he could detect reinforcements from other sectors coming in. He ignored it all. Despite having the robotic ability to focus on multiple things at once, his only thought was saving his offspring. He had failed one daughter already in his life. He would not fail another.
Or would he?
The second ship was not just hovering idly in the sky; it was using all its weapons to deadly efficiency, hitting targets without discrimination-whether they were tactically important or not. It was the second ship's job to take out the primary target. Now that the first ship's job of opening up a weak spot in the defenses was complete, it was inflicting as much collateral damage as it could. A mega-cannon began glowing as it charged up. Gunslinger calculated its probable target, then re-calculated it, then prayed that his processor was glitching. His home came into sight. The mega-cannon was either a PF-13 or a PF-18. There was a slim chance, a one in a hundred shot, that if it was a PF-13, Gunslinger could get in, grab the protoform, and get her out before it completed charging. If it was an 18, it would fire while he was still in the threshold of the door. He transformed, using the momentum he had from vehicle mode to hurtle himself through the door of his apartment building.
It was a PF-18.
He could actually see the fire from the blast tear through the side of the complex-and then the shockwave threw him through the hallway wall into an adjacent room before the structure became an inferno. The roof collapsed above him. All he could think before he went offline was I failed
Once in a dream
Far beyond these castle walls
Down by the bay
Where the moonlit water falls
I stood alone while the minstrel sang his song
So afraid I'd lost my soul
There in the fog
His song kept calling me
Leading me on
With its haunting melody
Deep in my heart a voice kept echoing
I knew I'd soon be wandering
Far beyond these castle walls
Where the distant harbour meets the sky
There the battle rages like hell
And every dove had lost its will to fly
Far beyond these castle walls
Where I thought I heard Tiresias say
"Life is never what it seems
And every man must meet his destiny"
Part 2: Gunslinger No More
He wasn't dead. He had not died. As his mind reactivated and he regained awareness of himself and his surroundings, he raged at the injustice of the universe. Why had he once again been spared while someone he loved was ended prematurely? Why couldn't he find peace? He opened his optics and sat up, and for a moment, he considered that maybe he had gone to hell and it just wasn't as bad as it was cracked up to be. Darkened figures scrambled against a background of flames and carnage. This was no afterlife, only the living hell they had created for themselves on this plane. Defeated in spirit and weakened in body, he slumped back down, off lining once again.
"Gunslinger!" A concerned voice drifted from the distance, calling him up from darkness, and then a hand pressed on his chest. His internal chronometer was on the fritz but he intuited he had been out for a few days, at least. He opened his optics and looked to his right, finding a familiar white and brown mech standing beside his berth.
"Silverbolt? What are you doing here?" It was unusual to see a high and mighty Elder outside Cybertropolis. Seeing one in this slum was unheard of.
"I'm in charge of the relief effort here," the former Autobot answered. "When I heard you were here during the attack, Prowl and Ironhide couldn't stop me."
He stared blankly at Silverbolt. Once they had been friends, many lifetimes ago. Nothing especially close, but they had gotten along well. Silverbolt had been built on Earth, not Cybertron, under Optimus Prime to aid in the defense of Earth. Due to his youth and attachment to Earth, he had naturally been more open to befriending humans, including one Kerry Vasquez, fated to become Gunslinger. Despite the circumstances that had brought them together, they had eventually drifted away as the war and loss pulled them in different directions.
"You've been badly damaged," Silverbolt pointed out awkwardly. "I'm told that you were on spark support for a little while. The medics here had to call First Aid for consultation."
"As if my spark were different from anyone else's," he mused bitterly. "They should have just let me go offline."
Silverbolt seemed shocked. "That's not I heard about your protoform. I'm sorry."
He said nothing for a while, merely looking off to the compass point where his home had once stood. "How long have I been out?" he asked.
"Did they find her?"
"Did. They. Find. Her?"
Silverbolt sighed, calling over a gold and blue security mech. "Cheater. Give me the report on apartment complex C-5." From the way the small Maximal fidgeted, he was obviously a cadet, new to this kind of horror. How could he have even considered exposing his offspring to this lifestyle?
"C-5 C-5 " Cheater consulted his data pad, but the way his posture slumped in dismay when the file came up said it all. "Oh boy. It suffered a direct hit to the east wing of the building. The west wing was blown open by the force of the blast. We've been finding the bodies of residents scattered up to half a kilometer from the building."
"No protoforms?" he asked anyway.
"No, none. But wouldn't the force of an explosion that big completely sla-"
"That will be enough, Cheater," Silverbolt interrupted. "Go assist Rhinox in sector D-9."
When they were alone again, or as alone as two beings could be in the middle of a crisis center, Silverbolt spoke up again. "I can promise you Gunslinger, we'll go after these Reivers. We won't let anything like this happen again."
"It would never have happened in the first place if the Council was more proactive," he growled. "She died because you've all become politicians, trying to fight the Predacons with red tape. Meanwhile rogue elements fester and grow and they won't be stopped by a 'Cease-and-Desist' form."
Silverbolt did not look pleased. "What are you getting at, Gunslinger?"
"What I'm getting at," he said as he forced himself up. Half his armor was gone but he wouldn't be needing it much longer. "Is that if you could have stopped the Reivers by now, you would have. Admit it, you can't do anything because of some legal mumbo-jumbo."
The Maximal Elder hung his head in concession. "They're holed up on a Predacon-claimed system. We need to barter for a legal pass into that district and we're not having much luck. It's a no-Maximal zone."
"Well, I'm no Maximal. Gunslinger is dead. I was killed in the explosion. I want the reports to say that."
"I can't do that!"
"Yes, you can," he insisted. "And you will. I'm sick of being the 'Terran-turned-Transformer.' That life is over. And so is my sitting back while terrorists run rampant."
"And what are you going to do, execute vigilante justice with half your body charred?"
"Any justice is better than none," he retorted as he stood up. His legs shook from the strain for a moment but he stayed erect through sheer force of will. "And you should know me better than that. I didn't keep all my resources stocked in one place."
"Don't do this, Gunslinger. I won't stop you, but you're smarter than this. Revenge is beneath you."
"I told you: Gunslinger is dead. And so is every belief in fair play he ever had."
In all the pandemonium, it wasn't hard for a half-slagged mech to slip out of the district unnoticed. One empty had tried to mug him along the way, but he had only been a temporary nuisance, easily disabled with a few blows to the hinges and left offline in the gutter for other scavengers to prey on.
His personal ship, the Eastwood, was parked in a garage in the outskirts of town, where he kept a fresh stockpile of weapons and energon. The cruiser also had what he needed most: a repair chamber. The ship, a gift from some friends in high places, had often served as his home away from home. But now that he had nothing to go back to, the "away from home" part could be scratched out. As soon as he was within the safe haven of the copper-hued hull, his first task was not to repair himself. First, he had to disappear.
It didn't take long to get clearance to launch, using one of his aliases and old security codes, but that would be the last time he could use it. If the Council knew what he was going to do, they would be obliged to stop him, and they would start by tracking Gunslinger. Once he was clear of Cybertron-controlled space and into the black void, that was the last he would ever use that old identity. After settling into orbit around the dark side of a distant moon in Cybertron's solar system, he interfaced with the vessel and began to design a new body for himself.
Gone was the old blue and yellow color scheme. Green and white would suit his needs. His sleek alternate mode reminiscent of the sports cars of Earth was forgotten for something more durable, more suited for the hostile terrains terrorists and murderers liked to hide in: something tank-like, mounted on four independent leg-like treads. On the top he mounted a cannon-something to allow him to fight no matter what mode he was in. On a whim, he affixed a mechanical canine-like head to the front, symbolic of the lone wolf he was molding himself into. Despite the durability he aimed for in the design, he did not go overboard with the armor, preferring dexterity over bulk. His new design still retained a few influences from his Terran heritage, but not enough to betray where he had come from. As the design stage finalized, the computer automatically asked him if he wanted to affix a Maximal or Autobot symbol anywhere on his new body. He told it no.
Unfortunately, only one of Gunslinger's old underworld contacts were still around. The rest had been either scrapped or incarcerated, or worse. (When you were a virtually indestructible robot that could live virtually forever so long as you had the slightest steady drip of fuel, there were indeed fates worse than death. One of the most notorious terrorist leaders, Graxxis the Edgy, had a reputation for his creativity.) And the one being he had left to contact was not the most reliable of informants. The Skuxxoid knew everything there was to know about criminal movements, but getting him to talk was another story. His new identity had given him an advantage though: as Gunslinger, he had gathered enough information about the alien that a simple stranger could not possibly know. With that psychological weapon (and his fists) he easily extracted the location of a Reiver cell. He left the Skuxxoid bound in a chair somewhere, promising to come back if the information was incorrect.
Fortunately for the alien, the intel was accurate. The cell fronted as a casino not the best choice to keep out of the scrutiny of law enforcement, but seedy enough that anyone with any sense-or anyone with anything to lose-would stay away. He entered the establishment smoothly, posing as a gambler while he cased the building. Underneath each table, he slapped on a small explosive-not enough to kill, but it would certainly scare off anyone who wasn't a terrorist accustomed to such things. Anyone who drew a gun would be his target. After a couple games, he saw the only door that could serve as a passageway to anyone wanting to hide, near the roulette table. He casually walked by the wall a few times, leaving a small explosive in a different corner each time. Then he was ready. Ducking down behind the refreshment stand, he triggered the first salvo of bombs.
The gamblers panicked and flocked for the door. Of the staff, all drew weapons not long after he drew his. None of them knew what to look for though. He did. Six targets, two guns. By the time anyone recognized him as an enemy, he had two thirds of them disabled. The last two were tricky, having ducked for cover while their allies died. Unfortunately, he only managed to terminate one more before the hidden door opened to unleash reinforcements. As they emerged, he triggered the second set of bombs, blowing many Predacons to the Inferno as they stepped through the threshold. Those that survived were damaged by the debris and explosion, but they were also very pissed off.
Bullets of both metal and energy flew around the room from both sides, with enough of the ordnance ricocheting around just to make things more interesting. The table he had for cover would not last much longer under the assault. Wedging himself between the wall and the table, he sent it flying towards his enemies with the strongest kick he could muster out of his new body. As it crashed through their own barricades, many were forced to jump up and expose themselves. He was already on his feet and running for another piece of cover, but he managed to take out three more Reivers before they could return to safety. Unfortunately he had sacrificed his own safety in that risky gambit, and in doing do ended up with a wound to his leg. Only three targets to go.
It was then that he noticed it: one of his bombs had failed to detonate, and all three were standing by it. That became his main target, and he began shooting for the small flat device, occasionally keeping up with his potshots so they wouldn't figure out what he was up to. It took five attempts, but he finally nailed it-just as one of them got him too. He felt a surge through his shoulder and sparks fly out of it-but the sparks were nothing compared to the bright ball of fire that killed one and knocked the other two off their feet. Cautiously, he approached the Reivers with both guns bared. Only two were still online. That was all he needed.
Part 3: Fight Fire With Fire
While his two prisoners were in stasis, he went to work. Opening up the armor of his two prisoners, he quickly found their motor-functions cores and disabled them. He had seen his insides opened up and played around with enough times to have a slightly-better-than-rudimentary grasp of Cybertronian mechanics. He then dragged them over to the far wall and propped them up against it beside each other. One they were steadied, he opened up their core processors to reveal their sparks, still pulsating despite the inertness of their bodies.
Limping over to one of the fallen Predacons, he expertly stripped the armor off a leg and removed the primary leg piston, the same part that he had gotten damaged during the fight. Having repaired himself on the battlefield before, he knew just what to do. He stripped the armor plating of his leg off and replaced his damaged part with that of his dead foe's. As he worked, he sensed one of his prisoners come back online, the red one, but the Predacon made no move; instead choosing to play possum and watch him for now. That was fine with him. Once he had his leg repaired he bolted his armor back on and stood up, shifting his weight to his leg experimentally. It worked. For all their thuggish ways, the Predacons knew how to forge good parts.
Fully mobile, he was free to leave the building and return to his ship, where he cleaned the mech-fluids off his hands and retrieved a device constructed from parts he had cobbled together earlier and wheeled it into the den. His timing was perfect. When he came back he found both Predacons online and talking to each other nervously. They both stopped when he returned.
"Do either of you know what this is?" he asked, running a hand over the machine like a showgirl displaying a prize. He knew they recognized it, but neither answered, so he went on. "I know it's not much to look at, but I built it myself, y'see. I've always enjoyed do-it-yourself projects."
"Frag you, you son of a glitch!" the blue one spoke up. "You think you can scare me, Maximal? You're bluffing. You're not gonna use an illegal torture device on us and risk losing your badge."
"You think I'm a cop?" He laughed at that. "Misinformation is dangerous, my friend. And you are misinformed on two accounts: One, I don't have a badge. Two, this thing isn't illegal yet. There's a bill being passed around the Council to ban torture devices, but well, you know how bureaucracy works. It probably won't be signed and put into effect til next deca-cycle at the earliest."
The two Predacons were silent at that.
"That's plenty of time, I reckon."
The red one quietly spoke. "You're glitched."
"No, I'm looking for answers."
The blue one shouted, "So what, you think you can torture us for what you're looking for? I'll never talk!"
He regarded the blue one for a moment. "Okay. Then you're no use to me." And with that he quickly drew his pistol and shot him right in the spark. The energy from his shot eviscerated the Predacon's spark before he even had time to scream.
But the red one did. "Are you slagging nuts!?" he asked as the final blue shimmers of energy faded and sputtered out of sight within his companion's chest.
"No, I told you. I'm looking for answers." He turned on his device, which hummed as it warmed up the small prod. Calmly, he picked the prod up and inserted it into the Predacon's spark. At this power setting, it wasn't enough to extinguish the spark, but it was enough to spread agony throughout every atom of his being. At first the Predacon didn't scream, spasming silently. When he finally did muster enough to let out a shriek, he pulled the prod out. "Do you fear death?" he asked.
The Predacon merely trembled.
"See, that's very interesting to me. You don't seem afraid of ending the lives of others. And yet, when faced with the prospect of the end of your own life, you balk. Why is that?"
The Predacon still said nothing.
"I have a theory about that. You don't believe in an afterlife, do you?"
"N-no " the Predacon answered feebly.
"I figured. Life doesn't mean much to you, does it? The ends justifies the means, correct?"
"You t-tell me, torturer."
"Ah, that's where we disagree," He said, leaning in close. "I believe in a higher power. God, Primus, whoever-'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.' And I think there's someone up there directing this show. We're all here for a reason."
"G-go to th'Pitt," the Predacon finally mustered up some defiance.
It didn't faze him. "I probably will, someday," he admitted. "But see, I've been all over the galaxy. I've seen every level of evil known to exist, right up to and including The Unmaker itself. And you know what? I've taken you all on one at a time, and I'm not afraid to spend an eternity taking you all on at once in the afterlife. Just so long as I know you're not up here making things worse."
The Predacon said nothing.
"Now, you gonna talk?"
The Predacon nodded his head jerkily.
Using a rag he'd brought in with him, he wiped the mech fluids that were now drooling out of the Predacon's mouth. "Good. I have a few questions about your other 'chapters' out there. If you answer them, I will let you live. I'll call the authorities and let them find you here before I head out to 'verify' your information. And, if I find out you lied to me I will find you again, and make sure you'll wish I had killed you right here and now."
The Predacon spilled his guts, so to speak. Unfortunately he did not know much, since he was a lower-echelon grunt in one of the least important cells. But he did give him the location of a place where some higher-ups gathered. He had to work fast, before word got out. Over the next solar cycle, he fought his way up the Reiver social ladder, leaving only one or two survivors at each site for the authorities to sort out.
Finally, he got the location and the name of their leader: Loco. He'd heard of him before, a Predacon wanted on three worlds even before he had organized the Reivers. Now, he was hiding away in a cave on some moon in that system. Unfortunately, it was a well-defended area, even more secure by the time he got there. Apparently, he could not outrace his burgeoning reputation.
Still, this was far from an elite force. Anarchists could be difficult to organize. In his last fight he had claimed a cell's ship as his prize, which he towed behind the Eastwood using a tractor beam. Trojan Horsing it was out since he didn't have their security codes, but he could still load the ship up with explosives and get it in close enough for an autopilot kamikaze run. By the time the Predacons realized the ship wasn't going to slow down for a soft landing, it was too late to shoot it down. It exploded magnificently in their hangar. The alert was raised and almost everyone rushed to put out the fires before the fuel tanks ignited, leaving a skeleton crew to guard the rest of the compound.
He then slipped in through the front door with minimal interference-he had to kill only one sentry. He weaved his way through the corridors carefully, killing everyone on site and hiding their bodies away so as not to leave a trail of carnage that would allow others to follow him. The compound had been carved directly and crudely into the planet's surface, so instead of smooth walls there were plenty of cracks and crevices to temporarily stash bodies.
He had a crude idea of the compound's layout from the prisoners he had interrogated. Of course he could not rely on their accuracy or honesty, so he had asked as many as he could and pieced together a crude map from their various descriptions. With each twist and turn his processor could better assess which descriptions were truthful and which weren't, and by the time he was halfway through the fortress he had a good idea as to where he could find their leader.
Every ten meters or so he placed a bomb in a shadowy corner. About two thirds of the way in, he was finally discovered and a Predacon managed to squawk out an intruder alert while his comrades kept him occupied. He took them out with a small grenade, but it was too late. The Predacons knew he was here and they would soon be coming for him. Sighing, he triggered the bombs, collapsing the tunnels behind him. If he wasn't going to get out of here alive, then Loco wouldn't either.
With stealth compromised, he barreled through the remaining hallways, mowing down anyone who got in his way. The most dangerous being was someone who had nothing to lose. He already had blood and oil on his hands. He was tainted and deserved to live no more than the rest of these scum. But he would make sure that his death meant life for others.
He reached the command center, but Loco wasn't there-escaped through a back exit that no one had bothered to tell him about. Of course, he thought before planting his last bomb on the main operations console and diving into the tunnel without hesitation. The triggered the explosion, annihilating the command center of the Reivers behind him and collapsing the entrance to the escape. In the space of a couple days he had left the terrorist organization in chaos. Soon he would leave them leaderless, attack the roots and prevent this weed from ever growing back.
Faster on wheels than he was on legs, he transformed and began rolling through the tunnel. The thought occurred to him to cause a cave-in and bury Loco alive with himself, but he had no guarantee that his quarry hadn't cleared the tunnels yet. Death wish he might have, but he wasn't going to kill himself senselessly. He would stay on this plane until whatever Powers That Be decided he was no longer useful.
Finally he caught up to the Predacon just as the tunnels opened up to reveal the night sky of an alien world. Loco was a hulking robot that had taken the alternate form of a Nebulan hellhound-a bipedal creature of myth that resembled a Terran wolf with bat wings. As soon as he had a lock he announced his presence by blasting Loco in the back and damaging one of his wings. Neither was going to leave until the other had been defeated.
"Loco, Terrorize!" he snarled, contorting and shifting into a robot with a blaster instead of a left hand.
"Maximize!" he answered, returning to a standing position on two legs and drawing a pistol in his left hand and a sword in the other.
The two stood there a moment, regarding each other. Loco was no doubt taking stock on the Maximal who had burned through his organization. He took stock of the cruel malcontent who had murdered his family and others'.
"What's your name, Maximal? Why have you hunted me down on my moon?"
"My name is none of your business," the hunter said. Honestly he hadn't even thought of a new one for himself yet. He'd been too preoccupied with vengeance. "But you know why I'm here. I've come to make you answer for all the innocent lives you've taken!"
At this, Loco laughed, infuriating him. "A trite heroic cliché? Is that all? I expected something more from someone vicious enough to defeat my Reivers."
The lack of even the slightest hint of remorse made him want to shove his blasters down his mouth even more. "It's enough," he snarled before blasting Loco in the face and charging in.
He didn't expect to actually injure Loco in his initial attack. There was a reason this Predacon had become a warlord, and it became evident when he shrugged off the shots in time to deflect the charge with his blaster-arm. The Predacon was brute force; strong but lumbering.
He saw an opening when Loco spread his arms to deflect his attacks. Quickly, he jammed his gun into the wires lining the big Predacon's neck and fired. Loco gurgled as lubricants spewed out, taking a few steps back. He pressed his attack, using his sword to slice at the hinges where his armor could not protect.
But he should have known better than to think he would win this easily. Somehow Loco was able to staunch the flow of fluid and recover faster than any 'bot had the right to. He was sure he had hit something vital with his shot, but either Loco was built differently or his systems had redundancies and bypasses built in.
With the hunter taken off guard by this new development, Loco used the element of surprise to turn the tide in his favor, almost smashing in his chest-armor in with a piledriver blow. He had to roll back with it to keep his spark core from being crushed. Not yet. Not when I'm so close. He couldn't fathom coming this far only to die now.
His enemy swung that massive blaster-arm around and fired. He tried to leap out of the way in time but felt the heat singe the armor on his leg. Ignoring the wisps of ozone and charred paint, he threw his sword with all his strength. It sang as metal sliced through the air and then through the hot metal of the blaster, causing Loco's arm to explode.
The Predacon bellowed in agony while mech fluid and energon spurted from his shoulder. It was then that he noticed something-the mech fluid was not normal mech fluid. Rather than being the normal translucent yellow it was a thick, greenish substance. Before he could consider what this meant Loco was coming back at him, his red optics glowing hotter. Now the Predacon truly had nothing to lose. They were on equal footing.
The battle wore on without much headway for a while. Loco was endurant, hard to damage. The hunter himself was lithe, hard to catch. With his sword in fragments and depleted of bombs, all he had left were his pistols, which would not wear down the heavy armor fast enough.
Loco attempted to smash him into the ground, hammering his fist down with unholy power. He saw his opening. Grabbing the arm, he was flung upwards as Loco tried to shake him off. He used the momentum to swing himself onto the Predacon's back. Loco began clawing at him, but he latched on and refused to let go. Using the same trick as before, he pushed his gun into the back of his neck and fired. Only this time, he didn't stop. Again and again he shot, even as Loco grabbed the cannon on his back and ripped it off. From both bodies sparks flew, metal twisted and snapped, and fluids spurted.
Finally Loco grabbed hold of his shoulder and flung him off. As he landed he saw a sizeable fragment of his sword blade. Snatching it up he charged at Loco from the side once more, jamming it as hard as he could into the gushing, grinding hole where his arm had exploded. Loco could ignore the ruptures in his systems no more. Teetering, he fell over onto his back, smoke pouring from his chest armor.
The victor stood atop his prize, looking down into the Predacon's face. Strangely, it had completely frozen up, forever twisted into a pained grimace. His optics were black, offlined, yet he sensed his enemy somehow still looking at him. Then he noticed something a crack in the seams of his chest plating, as if it was designed to open for easy access easier then was customary for most Cybertronians. Curious, he pried his fingers into the wedge and pulled it open, expecting to see Loco's still-beating spark core.
Instead, he found a withered head and torso of what had once been an organic being, now more machine than man even on the inside, fully integrated into the robotic façade on the outside. It took him a moment to identity the mutilated, gray-green pulpy mass as Nebulan. "What the frag?" he exclaimed in horror. Of all the terrible sights he had seen in his unnaturally-long life, this would become one of the most haunting.
"Kkhhh " "Loco" half-gurgled, half-groaned. He was coming to, but could not move inside his shell. Indeed, his head was bolted down, and wires coming in from the robotic head component were plugged into ports where eyes should have been. "Kherry Vzzzkezz "
Startled by the sound of his human name coming from alien lips, he leapt off Loco's body, aiming a pistol at the decrepit old man out of instinct. "How do you know me!?"
A twisted smile formed on Loco's face. "I recognized your fighting style, your body language." His wheezy voice came barely above a whisper, his words were slow. "The Terran-turned-Transformer. I've studied you."
"Why?" he demanded.
"Because you were given on a silver platter what I had to sell my soul for: immortality."
"You think it's so great? You think I wanted this? Everyone I ever cared about is gone, especially now thanks to you."
Loco chortled at this. "Good."
"What the frag does that mean!?" he demanded.
"I'm just like you, Kerry Vasquez. I was once Brisko, a cartographer on Nebulos before the Cybertronians came to my world and I got caught up with their war. And like you, I saw it as my key to greatness."
He growled. "That's not why I joined the Autobots. I did it to protect my world. You sold yours out."
That smug smile never left Brisko's half-face. "If you say so."
"Believe me, our stories may parallel, but we're in the positions we're in today for completely different reasons," he objected. "I sacrificed everything I had and everything I was to protect those I loved."
"And where did it get you?" Brisko asked. "As you said, you have no one. I bypassed that mess and saved myself the heartache. And until today, I had real power. I would eventually have ruled the Predacons and they would have been none the wiser that their superior was a 'fleshling.'"
"Except that will never happen," he pointed out, drawing closer. Even if he had been gutted and melded to a machine, he was sure Brisko could feel him put his foot on his moist, wrinkled chest and brush a pistol over his gray, soft lips.
"You can't kill me. Even if you aren't polluted by Maximal programming, you still consider yourself one of the good guys! You're going to truss me up and drag me to the Maximal Elders in the hopes that they won't throw you in prison for violating a dozen treaty laws."
"Either way, you'll die. You won't be able to orchestrate the murder of any more innocents, be they Maximal, Nebulan or Terran."
"Don't be too sure about that," Brisko pointed out. "You destroyed all the evidence behind you. And I had a failsafe circuit implanted into all my followers, should I ever be captured. There's no one alive back there to testify against me."
"Quite a sense of loyalty you've got."
"Come now, Kerry Vasquez. They're just robots. And they won't be able to hold me forever, if they can at all."
"Guess you really give me no choice then." He grabbed hold of some vital-looking wires plugged into the monstrosity's navel. "This is the end of the road for you, Nebulan."
"What are you doing, Kerr-"
"Don't call me that." He pulled the wires free, stepping back in disgust as fluids spewed everywhere. Seeing that twisted smile finally disappear from Brisko's mouth, he put a shot into his skull to spare him the pain of a slow death, though it could be argued that he had been suffering that ever since first mutilating his body to become a Decepticon's Headmaster.
He stood there a moment, looking but not watching as the Nebulan who had struggled for power long exceeding his rightful time in this universe was finally exiled from it. "Now that I have no home or family I'm going to spend my time hunting down murderers like you. So call me Moonhunter," he finally said. "And I'll see you in hell."
Moonhunter turned around and transformed, the signature ability of his adopted species. As he began rolling across the barren plain back toward his ship, he whispered, "For what does it profit a man, if he gains the world, but loses his own soul? And what does it profit me, to lose my world, but keep my own soul?"
There's a hole in the wall
With a light shining in
And it's letting me know to get up
It's time to begin
Oh there's nothing to lose
'Cause it's already lost
In a runaway world
I'm not gonna take it
And so I'll fight fire with fire
Oh I'm burning inside and my heart is a-cryin'
Fire with fire
I don't want to lose this flamin' desire
In a crowded room
I can feel a chill in the air
I'm miles away
I want to cry out loud
I want to fight til the end
I won't let 'em take me alive
And you know I'll fight fire with fire
Oh I'm burning inside and my heart is a-cryin'
Fire with fire
'Cause I'm never gonna lose this flamin' desire
Fire with fire
I'm out of control and I want to you know
I'm fightin' fire with fire