It was a barely-inhabitable rock of a planet. "World" was too generous a word to describe it. "World" implied hospitability. Winds of unbreathable atmosphere hurled frozen flakes of ammonium at velocities that made flight impossible. Cybertronians had to teleport in to access the small fortress hidden in an obscure portion of the planet's surface. Why anyone would go there willingly was the very explanation of their presence: such a miserable corner of the universe was the perfect place to hide a precious cargo, and the ten-mech team hired to keep it safe. This day and age of the Pax Cybertronia made jobs a lot more interesting for Scope and his crew.
The winds rattled against the metal walls and the wailing assault of wind could be heard even through their thick protection. And this was a good day. Inside one of the dimly-lit rooms, Scope glanced up from his hand of cards. "So Boomer, how's it going with you and that femme back home? Whatwashername?"
"Tank," Boomer replied. "And it's not going any more."
"Sorry to hear that," Scope grunted.
"Wait, her name was Tank?" asked Lockjaw.
"He likes big girls," Scope explained.
Boomer glared at Lockjaw. His slender shape belied his intimidating nature. His name was more apropos, and when he growled "Don't say a fragging word, rookie," in a low voice, it was enough to make Scope shudder.
Lockjaw was still too new to understand he should be careful. While the two mechs bickered, Scope activated his commline. <What've they got, Web?>
<Boomer's got a pair of fives and Lockjaw doesn't have anything,> their all-seeing monitor stated. <I've never seen a mech with such bad luck.>
<Geez. It's almost like I don't need to cheat him.>
<Well, without a mouth, he's got a natural poker face. Just don’t forget my cut.>
<As if I could.> Scope closed the channel and interrupted his two bickering companions. "Gentlemechs! Are we going to sit here and discuss personal boundaries like a bunch of femmes, or are we going to play cards?" He decided to ignore the huge new dent in Lockjaw's helmet.
Web hated the beep that signified the end of a transmission. It got pretty lonely up here in his personal security hub. It was a cube of a room just a few meters in dimension, but since every wall--and the ceiling--were lined with monitors displaying every other room in the compound and the surrounding area outside, it hardly felt claustrophobic. In a perverse, antilogical way, this was the biggest room in the fortress. And it was Web's domain, as he sat in the center of the room, a cable plugged into his chest to allow him to serve as the brain to the fortress' nervous system. With this level of interface, he wasn't just a part of the fortress. He was the fortress.
He could see anything and everything that happened within and around this bastion. And, being a bit of a voyeur, he was privy to the secrets of his teammates. (Not that the secrets were in any way juicy--these guys were pretty slagging boring.) And they never talked to him, except for business or to get one-up on each other. They never showed interest in him as a person, although he supposed it made sense. It was a little creepy to know that someone else was watching you. Perhaps they thought of him less as a person and more of... something else, who knows?... it was probably for their own peace of mind. His body probably didn't help matters, but it wasn't his fault that his creators had built him with a spindly, multi-armed structure to make his job easier. He supposed he could repaint himself something more creatively than solid magenta, but he had never been good with paint schemes.
He cracked his knuckles and leaned back into his seat. He just wanted to be one of the guys. Was that too much to ask? Yeah, he had a higher capacity for data-processing than most, and his function was data management, but that didn't automatically make him a stiff. He liked having fun too. Maybe after this gig paid out, he would take a vacation. Yeah, somewhere fun where the femmes ran around without their armor plating, and he could rack up a few shameful secrets of his own...
A flicker in the data stream caught his attention. This happened all the time with the external sensors, what with the forces of nature constantly assaulting them. But still, it was always annoying. Like listening to music and then hearing the track skip, his mind would adjust to the rhythm of monotony in the background and then the flicker would bring his attention back to nothing. Still, protocol demanded he divert his attention to the disturbed area, just to be sure. The package they were being paid to protect was highly valuable, and their employers didn't take kindly to sloppy work.
No surprise, nothing was out there. Probably just a huge chunk of ice had dinged a sensor. He logged it as a nonissue and went back to watching Rollstop locking himself into the maintenance room to secretly interface with the cleaning drone. Web knew he should probably report this kind of deviant behavior, but screw it, he was bored and could use a show. He had a whole collection of videos with Rollstop and just about every drone on the compound. His favorite was the time Rollstop his gotten his plug caught in the aerial-scout's-
The door behind Web wooshed open. He frowned. He hadn't detected anyone coming down the hallway. Who would be visiting him right now? As he began to turn to face his company, a hand gripped around the back of his neck and shoved him forward out of his seat and head-first into a monitor screen. The plastic shattered and Web felt electricity spark all around his head in the darkness. Out of reflex he tried to raise the alarm, but he felt nothing but emptiness. With a sick feeling he realized that in his pain he hadn't felt his interface cord ripped violently from his body.
The intruder yanked him out of the broken screen. He opened his mouth to scream, but the intruder rammed him into another monitor. This time he was ready for the pain, though, and mustered enough will to try to land a kick into his attacker's torso. The invader merely caught his leg and then spun, building up centrifugal force to send his whole body flying into more monitors. His environment exploded around him as his own body was used to destroy it. Web tried to get a look at the attacker, but all he saw was a blur of white before a blade severed his head.
Web was a data processor. And deprived of the majority of his primary source of sensory input, all his enhanced processing was good for now was to tell him exactly how much pain he was in, compounding it exponentially. He didn't know if it was the pain, or the violence of the act, that ultimately put him into shock. But as he shut down, all he could feel was relief that it was over...
It was a very special hallway. It was THE hallway. Oh, sure, it looked like an ordinary enough hallway. Gray walls decorated only by structural reinforcements and the occasional maintenance hatch. No windows, since it was in a central area of the compound. A door on either end, and a few more lining the halls. But what made it so important was the door behind Tripod, the only way in and out of the room that held the precious cargo. And it was Tripod's shift, which made him the most important member of the team right now.
Oh, sure, almost every member of the unit took turns guarding this door. Sometimes two at a time, because some of them couldn't take being alone in this hallway for very long. But they were less committed. Less dedicated. And someday his superiors would recognize that and reward him.
He would alternate between his robot and gun platform modes to alleviate boredom. Sure, he could have uploaded a story file to read while on duty, but then he would be giving less than 100% to his job. And he could only be commended for commendable action if he gave his full 100%. Besides... Tripod couldn't read. There was a glitch in his software from the day he had been brought online that made him unable to comprehend written language, and no amount of software patches had been able to fix it. He couldn't even read the readouts in his own vision.
So, here he stood, ever vigil, ever at the ready for an attack. Not that anyone would attack this place. Hardly anyone knew about it, and even less would come out here. As he did every minute on the minute, Tripod swiveled his head first to the left... and then to the right, making sure no one unauthorized was at the door.
He should have looked up. Rule One of deep space: Never take the ceiling for granted.
Without even a sound of warning, a weight drove itself down from the ceiling. It wasn't that heavy, but the fact that it had come down pointy-end first into his shoulder made him worry. He jerked his neck around and saw some hideous amalgamation of technology and flesh. The organics seemed Terran in origin, but Tripod was no xenobiologist. It looked Cybertronian, but not like anything he had seen before. He locked optics with its angry crimson glowing orbs. They stared at each other for a beat, and then it drove the blade mounted on its forearm deeper into him.
Tripod grunted in pain. Some kind of warning flashed in his vision, but he guessed it had something to do with the hydraulics in his right arm because he could barely move it. He lifted his left arm instead and made a move to grab the creature off himself. It withdrew the blade and slid around his back, easily dodging his grasp. He wasn't a burly mech, but this thing was half his size. He leapt backward into the door behind them, hoping to crush it. But he scrambled up his back just before the impact and all he did was dent his own armor. What did they make that reinforced stuff out of?
Tripod yelled and spun around, making several grabs at the thing, but each time it managed to avoid him and plant its blade inside him a couple times. When it stabbed him in the optic, he'd had enough. Falling over to one side, he transformed into his weapon-platform mode. The creature fell off him and landed right in front of his barrel. Perfect.
"I don't know what you are but it's not gonna matter in a second here," he said as he warmed up. It just stared down his barrel, seeming petrified in fear. "All you'll be is atoms."
Tripod heard the sound of metal cutting metal, and then realized one of his legs was gone. "Uh-oh," he said, right before tipping over. He couldn't stop the shot, though and the thing got out of the way in time for him to blast the door at the end of the hallway into molten slag.
"Slag!" he shouted, transforming. Unfortunately, the severed leg had also been his good arm. He looked up and saw the creature had a friend, a more normal-looking Cybertronian... one that Tripod recognized. "Oh scrap," he said. He knew this was the end.
As Tripod watched the blade come down for his head, his final act of defiance was to trigger the emergency alarm.
Scrounge watched her partner dispatch the guard with one blow, just as the lights all turned red and a horrible claxon resounded through the hallway. She winced and turned down the sensitivity level of her audio sensors, but they were already ringing. She stuck a finger down one of her canine ears and rotated it back and forth, bringing out a huge ball of wax on her nail. She flicked it away, and it landed on the new corpse. Oh well.
Her partner looked at her with a look of mild annoyance. "I told you not to fool around," he said.
"I didn't!" Scrounge protested. She stood up and dusted the dust out of her fur. "I'm a thief, not a fighter. If you wanted someone to dispatch the guard, you should have brought her along!"
"She may be a better fighter, but there's no way she could crack this security system," he said, knocking on the door's lock.
"I appreciate your confidence in my skills, but it may be misplaced," she said, giving the locking mechanism a once-over. "That's a Rampere Premium Series sixteen-digit code lock. It's all but tamper proof, and even if you do somehow mess with it, the inner workings are so sensitive that they'll set off whatever booby traps are inside, destroying everything inside the vault!"
"Another reason why I brought you along. Wait here." He disappeared around the corner and dragged out another decapitated body, a spindly maroon-colored thing with multiple limbs.
"This guy was a data processor. Lash'd be squeamish about dissecting another Cybertronian, but I know you'd have no problem with it."
"You want me to wire his core into the system and use his processor to hack the security code," she guessed. She thought it over for a second before extending her blade once again. "This is gonna take a while."
"I'll keep the guards off your back," he promised. "No one's getting in through that side. After I'm gone, use the fusion tape to weld the other door shut. You're just gonna 'port out of here anyway once we get inside the safe."
"Got it," she said. She watched him turn to leave. "Did I ever tell you you're damn sexy when you get all business-like?"
He snorted. "Predacons."
The alarm was so sudden and unexpected, that Scope jolted and dropped his cards, spreading the Best Hand of his Life out on the table for Lockjaw and Boomer to see.
"I'm out," they said in unison.
"Forget the cards!" Scope shouted. He drew his pistol. Believe it or not, the impossible had happened. <All units, this is not a drill! Get to the vault!>
The room shuddered, and then the lights went dead. No power. Someone must have blown out the generators.
<Commander!> The voice of Quarry cut through the static. No, that wasn't static, it was gunfire in the background. <There's someone in the generator room! We can't keep him pinned! He's invisible to our sens- No wait, he's transforming! He's cutting us down! Oh Primus he's-> Actual static. The line went dead.
<Quarry?> Scope transmitted. No answer.
<Web what the hell is going on!?> No answer.
<Puncherator?> No answer.
<Tripod, report!> No answer.
Scope looked at the two mechs with him, one of them a rookie. He didn't like his odds.
"All right, here's the plan," he said. He thought he was doing a good job sounding brave. "We get to the vault. Destroy the cargo. We can't let it fall into enemy hands, or we're screwed. Got it?"
"Got it," Boomer said, pulling a cannon that comprised half his mass out of his back. He carried it quite gracefully.
"It's only two spans to the vault. We go through the halls single-file. Boomer, you take the rear." He didn't exactly trust the rookie to cover his back.
The three marched down the dark corridor.
Down. Deeper into the black. The windows provided no light, since it was the middle of the night on this part of the planet. Not that midday would have been much better--this chunk of ice was too far from its sun. Which begged the question: why had the invader, whoever it was, cut the power? Cybertronians could see perfectly well in the dark. Granted, it was a lot creepier, but only a rank amateur would fall for that kind of psychological warfare-
"AAAAAH!" screamed Lockjaw.
"Primusdamnit rookie!" Scope snarled, turning on him. "Keep your head screwed on and hey wait a second where's Boomer?"
"I don't know!" Lockjaw squeaked. "I felt a whoosh of wind and when I turned around to see he wasn't there!"
Out of the open door to their left came a flash of light and then a loud BANG! That Scope would recognize anywhere. That was the sound of Boomer's gun going off. He shoved past Lockjaw and rushed through the door, only to find his friend's weapon on the ground, smoking.
Boomer was in there, too--or at least his legs, head and shoulders. His own weapon had been used in a very ironic way.
"There!" Lockjaw screamed. Something white vanished into the room opposite. Quarry had been right, this thing was somehow invisible to sensors.
They dashed into the room--it seemed like a good idea when you didn't think--but it was empty.
"How?" Scope demanded.
"Some of the roof panels are gone!" Lockjaw said, pointing up. Indeed, he was right. Scope felt a pang of embarrassment. Why hadn’t he thought to look up? That was Rule One. "Whoever it is, they're sneaking about through the ceiling."
"Well, there's only one thing we can do then," Scope said.
"Get up there and hunt him down."
"What, are you crazy!? That's his territory!"
"It's our base," Scope retorted. "Besides, it's a better plan than continuing on as we were so he can finish picking us off."
"All right help me up there," Lockjaw said quickly.
Scope transformed into his artillery-vehicle mode and extended his cannon up into the hole. Lockjaw clambered up him and into the ceiling. The rookie disappeared into the pitch black.
Scope transformed back and raised his arms. "Now help me up," he called up into the depths. "Hurry up, I'm feeling exposed out here."
Lockjaw's arms did not emerge from the ceiling.
Lockjaw emerged from the ceiling--feet first! But he didn't land, instead he defied gravity mere inches from the floor and then bounced back up. Scope screamed as he saw the luminous wire around the rookie's neck, casting the room in a sickly slate-blue glow. It was a stasis noose--a rather nasty tool used by mercenaries.
"Geez, kid," he addressed the swinging shell of his teammate. Their attacker couldn't have known about the virus Lockjaw had contracted last trimara. He had taken an antivirus for it, but it had still temporarily rendered his locking chip inoperable. The device intended just to overload him into stasis lock had killed him. "You really did have the worst luck I've ever seen."
Scope knew he was going to die. There was only one thing he could do now--destroy the cargo to keep it out of enemy hands. He knew he was going to lose, but he wasn't going to let the enemy win, either. Once past that door, t was just a straight run to the vault. And he had a plan.
He set the strength of his ammo to a power level that wouldn't ricochet off the walls. "One," he mumbled.
"Two," came next. He coiled.
"Three!" He dashed out, shooting randomly around himself, before himself, behind himself. Non-stop. Bang! Bang! Bang!Bang! Bang! Bang!Bang!-Bang! Anywhere and everywhere, surrounding himself with a lethal bubble of protection while his legs hurtled himself as fast as they could toward the door.
He should have known when he got there that it would be welded shut. He looked through the small window... the vault door was open, and there were two dead bodies in front of it. Scope whimpered and sunk to the floor.
"You should have seen this coming," a rough voice resonated through the hallways. "You brought me down upon yourself."
"WHO ARE YOU!?" he screamed.
"I'm a force of nature. Of reckoning. I'm what you get when you choose to prey on those weaker than you, Predacon."
A horrific beast emerged from the shadow, pure white and hideous in form. Scope was vaguely familiar with Terran mythology, enough to not believe the creature that stood before him. Its lips curled back to reveal a disturbing set of jagged fangs, dripping with frothing slaver. "I'm the monster that eats other monsters. Moonhunter: Maximize!"
Scope's sensors screamed alerts suddenly as the werewolf transformed into a more familiar, Cybertronian shape. But that name was more than enough to replace the terror. "M-Moon..." He had heard that name before. Oh, how he had heard it.
Though he knew it was futile, he raised a weapon up, only to have Moonhunter suddenly on him, foot pinning his wrist to the floor.
"WHO HIRED YOU!?" he roared.
"I-if I tell you, they'll kill me," he stammered.
Before he knew it, he was no longer on the floor, but pinned to the wall by one of Moonhunter's claws. The other was making short work of his gun-hand. "If you DON'T, I'll kill you! You think you're the only one left alive in this compound? I don't shy away from killing, but I only do it when necessary. Three of your friends are back in the generator room, in stasis. I bring them your head, and one of 'em's bound to sing."
"T-Tectonic!" Scope shouted. "Tectonic's our boss please don't kill me I was just-"
"Do NOT say you were just doing a job!" he said, azure optics flashing brighter for a moment. "I hate it when you guys say that. Thank you for your cooperation. Now," Out of his forearm emerged a launcher of some kind, which he pointed straight at Scope's face. Inside the barrel, he recognized the same dangerous glow that he'd seen straggling Lockjaw. "Go to sleep."
The Predacon went limp, and Moonhunter let him fall into a heap on the floor. He bound the Scope with some of the cord before cutting it free from his launcher. With the last Predacon either dead or immobilized, he walked over to the door and rapped two fingers against the window. Tap taptap tap-tap!
Through the open door of the vault, he saw Scrounge's arm reach out and knock on the wall in response. Tap tap!
<Is she okay?> he transmitted as she and the "cargo" emerged. A thin, shaken young alien with purple skin looked about with disorientation evident in her black eyes.
<She's fine,> Scrounge reassured.
<Good,> he said.
Opening a channel to their ship, he hailed the pilot. <Whip, transmit to the Ambassador that his daughter's safe. And tell the Maximal Council that peace talks can commence again. Cassidy, 'port us out of here.>
<Got it!> Whiplash said.
<Oh, and Whip? Don't forget to transmit our bill. Expenses, plus one hundred units each, no more.>
<But Moon! He was offering ten thousand times more than that!>
<I know, but we're not doing this for the money,,> he reminded her. His voice took on a dangerous edge as he said, <We've been through this before...>
<Yeah, yeah. "We do it because it's our responsibility to protect those who can't protect themselves",> she recited out of rote, but at least she acquiesced. Lesson learned.
<Three to beam up?> Cassidy's voice broke in.
Moonhunter looked through the window at Scrounge, and the two nodded at each other. <Let's get the girl home. And then we go after Tectonic.>