The Axalon RPG

 
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 Post subject: DWA: Time and Tide
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2011 11:31 pm 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
TIME AND TIDE

EPISODE ONE

The three moons of Zefrius hung in the indigo sky- the largest one, which was closest, looming large behind the clouds, and the other two, smaller silhouettes behind it. The aged amphibian creature broke the surface of the crystal-clear blue ocean, blinking onyx-black eyes up at the night sky. His hatchling, the younger amphibian, emerged alongside him.

"The month of reckonings," the elder said, pointing a finger up at the largest moon, water dripping from the talon. "Do you see how the celestial bodies have aligned?"

"I remember what some of the others have said," the young amphibian replied, staring up at the sky as his webbed feet tread water. "When the largest moon overshadows its brothers, it's a time of great conflict...or great strides to peace. Some say that is all superstitious nonsense."

"They let the Visitors get in their heads," the elder flapped a hand disdainfully. "We agree to work for them, we do not agree to share their beliefs."

"But no moon can determine our fates!" the younger proclaimed. "Nor any other celestial body or event."

"This is a month of arrivals. The Visitors arrived on this month, not so many years ago," the elder reminded him.

"Coincidence," the younger snorted.

"This is a month of arrivals. The Visitors arrived on this month, not so many years ago," the elder reminded him.

"Coincidence," the younger snorted.

There was a long pause.

"Have I just repeated myself?" the elder asked, blinking.

"I did too," the younger said, frowning.

They looked back up at the sky, water beading from their smooth blue-green bodies, and stared as the previously peaceful sky saw a blazing portal open up in the indigo, before casting out a flaming silhouette across the distant peaks of the mountains.

------------------------

Far away, a rippling distortion opened up in space and sent out a little, spinning silver booth. The AXALON rocked side to side with the turbulence of its exit from the anomaly, swinging end over end briefly, before settling itself into a steady cruise. Within the booth's much larger interior, the trio of Cybertronians were pulling themselves back to their feet.

"Hell of a ride," Buckshot said, giving his friends a little thumbs-up with one hand, while his other arm had hooked itself around a hand-rail so he could pull himself to his feet.

"Wow, how cool was that?" Calamari enthused, righting her chair. "You don't even have to zip across space when you can take a wormhole! It's, like, a space subway."

Pestilence lifted herself up from beneath the clutter of debris that had fallen over her. The petite scientist pulled her scarf back around her neck- removing it from her face to do so- and looked at the array of monitors and panels comprising the AXALON's navigational console.

"Except this space subway didn't quite pull into the right station," she said, peering into the screens as they flashed readouts of their coordinates. "I don't know where this is, but it's very, very, very far off from the Regula Mu system. This isn't even a system! It's not showing up in my files at all."

"What if we hopped into, like, another dimension?" Calamari asked.

"Nahhh," Pestilence hopped onto a chair and pushed it with her feet over to a drawer mounted underneath the console. "Sometimes wormholes don't pop you out where you think they will. And sometimes the AXALON doesn't go where I tell it to go. It's a double wheel spin."

She opened the drawer, removing thick folded sheaths of star-charts, and let them unfurl out onto the floor. Buckshot stepped closer to her, brow furrowed.

"You mean this ship sometimes doesn't go where you want it to?"

"It's a highly advanced user interface," Pestilence said, smiling up at him. "Sometimes it just...puts me somewhere I don't know I need to be. Also, glitches, of course. Glitches are going to happen. Don't worry, it's only like...20% of the time this thing doesn't go where I want. 30%. It's only about 42% of the time."

"Okay. Right on," Buckshot said, shrugging. "So where are we?"

"No clue! No...clue," Pestilence looked closer at the charts, letting them spin out between her fingers. "I don't recognize this sector at all, but I can tell you it's a long way from the colony worlds you two called home. We might have gone beyond any regions of charted space and then beyond the regions the charters said were uncharted. Sounds like a good excuse to check it out."

"So where should we stop off first?" Calamari asked, as Pestilence wheeled herself back over to the console to take a look.

"There's a planet not far off, at top speeds. I'm getting faint energy and technology readings. Plenty of life-forms, too. It's worth a glance," Pestilence said, pulling levers along the console. The ship started to spin once more, its interior remaining steady and aright, and the AXALON took off, heading toward the distant planet.

-----------------------

The AXALON broke through the layer of clouds and halted its descent several meters above a calm, clear blue ocean. The silver booth hovered in place, and after a moment, its doors slid open and Pestilence peered out. She looked down at the water, sweeping her ionic spanner back and forth at it. She then walked back to the console, double-checking the screens.

"Something in the atmosphere's futzing with my scanners. Seems to have cleared up now, though."

"It's so pretty," Calamari said, gazing down at the ocean.

"It is," Pestilence agreed, and looked up at Calamari. "But I wouldn't go for a swim if I were you."

"Why not?"

"Because...well...hang on," Pestilence said, walking past Buckshot and rummaging around in some drawers nearby the central console. She lifted up various computer parts, dropping them back in as she apparently deemed each unsuitable, and finally settled on an old and somewhat dingy gray laptop.

"Obsolete," she said by way of explanation as she passed her companions, before going to the open AXALON doors and dropping the laptop out into the sea. The bulky gray device toppled end over end through the air before hitting the surface of the ocean with a splash, and the effect was immediate, bringing to mind a child's science fair volcano. Bubbles erupted violently over the water's formerly calm surface, an acrid stench rising as the laptop was corroded, dissolved, eaten away to naught but gray soup on the water's surface. Buckshot and Calamari stared as Pestilence leaned back against the door-frame.

"The whole ocean's acid?!" Buckshot asked disbelievingly.

"Highly acidified, at any rate. But these PH readings are unlike anything I've seen before. I need something else to confirm, hang on-" Pestilence walked hurriedly to one of the ship's other doors, going inside for a moment, before emerging with a fully inflated, red-and-white striped beach ball. She tossed it out the door, and the ball hit the water, submerging an instant, before it popped back to the surface where it bobbed and rolled safely.

"Look at that! A molecular composition benign to certain polymers and organic substances while remaining utterly hostile to metals and electronics!" Pestilence said. "If we fell into that stuff, it'd melt us down faster than all the lava on Castor's Anvil."

"Hey, look!" Calamari pointed. They watched as the water's surface was broken once more by a large amphibian creature, evidently drawn by the activity on the surface. He had a scaled body colored in mottled shades of blue and green, with webbed hands and feet, and fins along his back and the sides of his arms and legs. Tattoo-like markings adorned his back in spiraling patterns. There was a tiny, blinking red light visible just beneath the surface of the skin on his neck. He turned his large black eyes up at the AXALON, placing a hand on the beach ball. This he turned over in his palms a couple of times, as though trying to figure out what it was, then tucked it under an arm and dove back beneath the surface.

"The locals?" Buckshot asked.

"Must be," Pestilence said. "Yet for some reason I'm picking up Cybertronian signals besides us three."

"Wait, what? You are? On Acid-Death World?" Buckshot asked, as Pestilence walked back to the central console. and Calamari made very sure to shut the front doors tightly.

"This planet is over 80% ocean, and land-masses that break the surface are scattered islands, a tiny continent or two, some larger mountain ranges. Atmosphere's still mucking up the scans, but I have a cluster of Cybertronian signals within the mountains, far distant from what must be the life readings of those amphibian creatures. Crash site or terrible choice of vacation spot? I've got to ask," Pestilence resolved, hitting the AXALON's levers and sending the ship towards the mountains.

The booth spun its way over the ocean, as Pestilence worked to resolve her scanning issues. Something about this planet was playing hell with the AXALON, as advanced (though sketchily held together) as it was, so for any Cybertronian ships to be this far out and in any kind of working order seemed unlikely. And any Cybertronians at all, this far out into the galaxy? She pondered the question, confident in answers forthcoming, as she set the ship down on a flat, spacious area of the mountain range.

Pestilence and her companions stepped out and took stock of their surroundings. They stood upon a dry, cracked surface that spread out for miles around them, curving upward amidst jutting rock formations to make steep, jagged mountains poking up into the sky. Some of the peaks and plateaus of these mountains were visible, and probably scale-able, but others stretched farther, all the way into the clouds. Blue weeds poked up from between cracks and beneath rocks, the only signs of vegetation. A bat-like creature with a hairy green body and emerald wings flapped by, before settling onto a rock and gnawing at the weeds.

"We're a good forty feet or so above sea level," Pestilence said, pointing her ionic spanner at the bat creature with avid curiosity, then sweeping it around in front of her as they walked. "Not a bad view, really. And if we follow our lovely view further along this range, we'll come to a..."

"A force field?" Buckshot said, interrupting her as he gave voice to his surprise. They'd made their way between the ridges and outcroppings of rock, walking a good distance away from the AXALON, and stopped at a battered, tan-and-white spire with a locked control panel and a glowing tiara of emitters at its apex. Buckshot gazed up at the top of it, running one large hand down its dented side. It was almost the size of a telephone pole, and they could see others in an uneven pattern- one off in the distance, another couple nearby, the projectors jammed into the ground wherever possible.

"You've seen one of these before?" Calamari asked.

"During the time I spent in the military. They're, uh...A-199 Field Projectors. Really old models, too. We were using A-380s. This is just old gear."

"Very old, you're right," Pestilence said, looking at the spire and running her palm over it beside him.

"We'd set 'em up in areas where there was a chance of bombardment. Protecting a camp from enemy fire, protecting a space station from meteors, that kind of thing," Buckshot explained. Pestilence pointed her spanner at the locked control panel and it swung open, allowing them to take a look. "Hey, Pest, see that?"

"It's set to project a field as dense as possible, and stretched out very wide. It's a giant umbrella," Pestilence said, nodding as she peered at the control panel. "The energy field is specifically configured to hold out rain, hail, snow, any inclement weather. The rain may not be as acidic to us as the oceans, but I'd take the precaution. Just one problem..."

"What's that?" Buckshot asked, as Calamari glanced over at the ridges. Movement. Another bat?

"The field is very weak. See this screen showing the locations of other projectors? A few are nearly dead, and others showing significant signal degradation. It's not the elements, and it's not age, either...look at how worn and torn this projector is. Like it's been fired upon."

"You mean like-"

"That's enough speculation, spies," a cold voice cut in behind them. Buckshot's shoulders slumped and he made a face of resignation before he and Pestilence slowly turned around.

A Maximal soldier stood there with a hand-gun pressed to Calamari's head. She stayed very still, optics glancing to her right at the soldier while being careful not to disrupt him. He had a rhino beast mode, the form lending itself to a large and muscular frame, and his stripes identified him as a major. He had deep-set yellow optics, a dour face with old nicks and dents in his cheeks and nose, and most oddly, wore a thick gray hooded fabric cloak over himself, with the hood pushed back from his head. Its frayed edges hung to his knees. He kept a firm grip on Calamari's shoulder as his gun pushed into her temple.

"You don't look like any of the other soldiers, but I know Preds when I see them. Now, you're gonna take a step back from that projector, you're going to get down on the ground, and-" he started to say, before Pestilence fired a trilling blast of energy from her spanner that hit his gun, rendering its firing mechanism useless. His optics widened and Calamari snatched the gun away, tossing it disdainfully towards the rocks. He looked at the three of them, surprised.

"Yeah, we've had guns pointed at us a bunch of times, we worked out a couple of routines," Calamari said brightly, before pushing him back. His hand strayed to a communicator at his belt.

"Go ahead, call for the others. We're not spies, nor are we saboteurs. Though we will defend ourselves," Pestilence said, slipping her hands into her coat pockets and smiling at him. He glanced from her to Buckshot, spotting his Maximal insignia, and took in their general appearance. No protection from the elements, no battle scars, they matched no one on this rock. "You're reasoning it out now? Good! See how when the guns go away, logic starts to take hold? We're not from around here, but we are glad to see you've been surviving under these less than ideal conditions. How'd you get here? Can we help?"

"Um...er..." the rhino frowned. He was still casting suspicious glances at Pestilence and Calamari, but their open and effusive manner didn't fit the enemy's style at all. He lifted his communicator slowly to his mouth and, evidently accustomed to the burst of static it gave forth upon opening a channel, said:

"Commander? We've got some new arrivals here. They say they...want to help. I'm gonna need some backup."

----------------------

Far from the Maximals' makeshift encampment, nearly on the other side of the planet, a massive space-faring vessel crossed the sky. It was a hulking black beast of a ship, intentionally designed to intimidate, with fang-like prongs of laser arrays and missile launchers jutting from its hull, and great nacelles rising from its side like the coiled rear legs of a violent predator ready to pounce. Within the mighty ship, warrior Predacons with metallic emblems bolted to their chests manned the bridge, weapons on them at all times as they surveyed their screens.

The bridge was more of a pit, a sunken platform within the heart of the ship. Here, the walls were lined with work-stations where helmsmen, navigators, and scientists would operate controls while peering into red screens with scrolling fields of data, red-hued camera views, and wire-frame readouts. At the center of this pit was an elevated dais with a crackling field of electricity suspended within a triple-thick glass column. A tall, regal female Predacon, beast mode of a bat, several emblems of rank and honor bolted to her arm and her shoulder, walked around the center column, surveying her men. This was Tempest: High Lieutenant, Chief Scientist, and First Adjutant to the Archon. She commanded the respect and fear of every being on the bridge.

"Mistress! New readings!" a hunched, beetle Predacon spoke up, swiveling around in his chair. "A crashed vessel in the mountains, and a highly unusual life-energy signature."

"Unusual in what way?" Tempest asked, looking haughtily down at him.

"Tremendous indications of power and vitality. But...no, it's gone again," he said, frowning as he looked back at his screen.

The tall female soldier shook her head, optics briefly rolling upward.

"More interference, false readings. I remind you the sensors are in some disarray since the Maximals' last attack."

"But I swear on my spark that- it's there again! And gone. Mistress, it is bizarre- the computer can't seem to decide if the life-signature is actually there or not."

She looked down at him, optics narrowed, then raised a hand for the other crewmen to see. They immediately began laying in the trajectory for the ship to intercept the new reading.

"This had better pan out," Tempest said very lowly, placing a hand on the beetle's shoulder and squeezing hard. He nodded vigorously, punching in commands. The massive ship gathered the might of its engines, and as it turned to face in the direction of the new signal, one could now see the battle damage marring its hull. It headed for the new signal, a cloaking device shimmering into place and rendering it nearly invisible as it flew.

"Mistress! We have it- a single life-sign, on the move. A crashed vessel, small," another crewmen said, facing Tempest. "We will be within range to engage it shortly."

"Once you have it, bring this being up to the infirmary with security at the ready. Remain above the site of this crashed vessel and pick that up too. I'll go and take a look at this life-form, not-a-life-form, myself."

"Shall we inform the Archon?" the beetle soldier asked.

"When there's something to inform him of, I'll do so personally," Tempest said, glaring at him for a moment, and he promptly shut up. She marched up the steps out of the pit and away down a darkened corridor.

----------------------

"So that's where we came from," Pestilence finished, sitting on a rock and swinging her short legs as she looked around at the assemblage of soldiers. There were about eighteen of them in all, various beast modes, sizes, and of both genders. They had only a few things in common- they were all Maximals, they all sported military rank stripes, and they all wore various make-shift shawls, hoods, and coats of organic substances to protect themselves from any chance of rain. The grouping of force field projectors was densest here, with the spires tightly ringing their encampment. There were battered old consoles set up, along with opened crates of ammunition, weapons, and energon.

They were less than 50 feet from an apparent crash site. A Maximal ship was marooned there, and like the projectors, a very old design. The ship was pockmarked, its hull blackened by laser fire in some areas and sunken, sagging inward from acid damage in others. There was no hatch or airlock open so much as there was a hole in the ship conveniently large enough for soldiers and supplies to move through.

"And you say you have a ship of your own, about...yay tall," the commanding officer said, looking skeptically at Pestilence as he mimicked her way of describing her ship's height: a hand held aloft, not much taller than anyone there.

"That's right!" the petite scientist nodded.

"What is it? A one-man fighter? A stealth ship? ...An escape pod?" the commander asked, looking uncertainly at the trio of newcomers. He was older than the other soldiers, wearing a coat of stitched-together fur with the hood pushed back. He still bore signs of battle, with a few dents, scars, and burns on his body. Much the same as his comrades.

"It's...sort of a prototype. Not much on combat or stealth, but it gets us where and when we want to go," Pestilence said. "How'd you get to be here?"

The commander took a moment to respond. He looked around at his fellow soldiers. They all bore cautious, weary or desperate expressions. It'd been so long, and they were still hurting in some ways from the news they'd received. For these three to just drop in seemed too good to be true. Two of them were Predacons, however, and that meant caution was warranted.

"Commander?" Buckshot asked gently.

"...Yes. Switchback, that's my name. Commander of the M.S.V. Beacon," he said, settling his gaze on the newcomers. "That hunk of wreckage, and this group of marooned, acid-flecked soldiers represents what's left of my command."

"What kind of ship is that?" Calamari asked.

"It's a sleeper," Switchback explained, looking a mite distrustfully at her. "In the fiercest days of the war between Maximals and Predacons, supplies started to grow more and more scarce, and the most populated regions of Cybertronian space were under heavy conflict. The Beacon was meant to carry a group of colonists to distant worlds by generating a wormhole. The ship, and its crew of forty, arrive on a planet rich in resources, gather all we can, and return. Ores, minerals, radioactive elements, raw materials for war. That was our goal."

"So why a sleeper ship?" Buckshot asked.

"The act of creating a wormhole, of folding space and creating stable access points at both ends, required massive, massive amounts of power. More than a small ship like that could generate on its own. We were all hooked into the computers and powered down. Rare, precious isotopes fueled the ship, and our sparks, our vitality, helped drive the engine. And, if the wormhole didn't work properly, well...I guess we'd sleep through whatever happened. Slingshot the ship into space and hope we make it back. We knew it was a long shot, but then, it was a long war."

Pestilence had her arms folded, looking sympathetically at him. She'd been there for most of the war. She remembered it very well.

"Do you know what year it is, Switchback?" she asked.

"I do now," he replied, ruefully.

He walked a short distance away from them, squatting down in front of one of the battered computers set up, most of them atop crates or dislodged bulkhead panels. He'd looked at that screen so many times, and could still see that the communications channel was open. But there was nothing there to hear.

"Something went wrong with the wormhole," he said finally. "We opened it well enough, and were nearly through, when we were attacked. We crash-landed on this planet. Woke us right the hell up, I can tell you. We had to set up camp here- the ship's engines were a complete loss. The water, the rain, is deadly to us. We're under constant attack, have been for years. But we held out hope that if we kept transmitting, our allies would pick up the signal. We had all Cybertronian channels open, but were picking little up. Not a surprise, this far out. Then...about five or six months ago...we started to receive distress signals."

Buckshot looked questioningly at him. Calamari, too, seemed unaware. Pestilence was looking at the ground, feeling chilled as he continued his story.

"The date on the signals was years...many years after we'd left," Switchback said haltingly. "And what we heard over those channels...shocked us. The Predacons were no longer the Maximals' enemy, evidently. They'd found a much worse enemy to unite against. We heard disaster reports. Urgent requests for backup, never answered. Civilian channels where they just begged for help, to anyone...help against something called 'the Beast'."

Buckshot and Calamari glanced at Pestilence. She'd unknowingly drawn a little tighter around herself, arms almost wanting to wrap themselves around her torso. She looked sadly at Switchback.

"One day it stopped. All the radio chatter from Cybertron just ended. Mid-sentence. We had bits and pieces about a super-weapon, a planetary evacuation- then it just stopped. Some of us think our comms have simply cut off....some of us think that Cybertron isn't there anymore," Switchback finished, looking disturbed. "Is it? Is it still there?"

"I'm sorry. It's gone. The whole planet, most of the inner colony worlds. Gone," Pestilence said. A couple of the soldiers took a step back from her, one of them uttered something like a sob, and Switchback's hand trembled a moment before he let it drop to his side, balling itself into a fist.

"But that was supposed to be, like, a hundred, two hundred years ago. Or more. How'd you only hear about it a few months ago?" Calamari asked, as gingerly as she could.

"It took that long for the radio signal to reach us," Switchback said.

"Your ship, the Beacon, it didn't just open a wormhole in space, it opened a rift in time," Pestilence said, standing up and gazing around at the Maximals in awe. "Either by accident of design or by complications from being attacked while within it, you created a time tunnel. In a way, the flight of your ship may have inspired the time travel technology that powers my ship."

"Then you can take us back to our time?" Switchback asked, an expression of hope crossing his scarred features.

"I can't," she shook her head. "The super-weapon...the Isolation Bomb...had a far-reaching ripple effect. The AXALON can never return to that time without destroying itself and anyone in it. It's like a big blank spot on the map for me, now."

Switchback just nodded, figuring that possibility too good to be true.

"It's not all bad, though," Pestilence persisted. "The Beast are long gone. And Cybertronians have survived the cataclysm. Evacuees from the home-world, denizens of the outer colony worlds. There's not many of us left, but we're out there. Look at us three, living proof! We can take you away from the dangers of this world. You said you were under constant attack. Not the natives?"

"The Zefrians?" Switchback asked. "They're usually not a threat. When that wormhole opened up, it dropped our Predacon pursuers into the system. They're not just regular soldiers, they're extremists. Lunatics. They're as stuck as we are, and in order to keep their ship running they've plundered the resources of this world, resources we can't even get at."

Before Pestilence could ask for him to expound on that, one of the soldiers interrupted, looking up from one of the battered consoles set up in the camp.

"Commander! We've got a reading of a stasis beam being powered up, less than two clicks away. The Predacon ship has disengaged its cloaking field."

"What? They've never been this close before!" Switchback said, alarm creeping into his voice. He looked back at the trio of newcomers, considering them for a moment. "We have to see what they're doing."

"Then we'd better leave now, sir," the soldier said, standing up and arming his rifle. "We won't have much time before they disappear."

"But we risk leading them back to our camp if they see us," another said, looking doubtfully at him.

Switchback considered the debate of his crew members, and fixed a suspicious glance on the three travelers.

"We haven't had sign or sight of the Predacons in over a month. They suddenly appear now, just as a couple of Predacons and a Maximal appear in our camp claiming to have a ship capable of getting us all out of here..."

"I can't stress enough to you how -not- part of any secret plan this is," Pestilence replied. "I'm as curious about this stasis beam as you are. If you're going to take a look, why not allow us to come with you? You can keep an eye on us the whole time."

"Fair enough. Lieutenant Nimbus, arm a scouting party and head to that signal, immediately. Keep these three in front," Switchback said. A tall, powerful-looking hawk Maximal clad in a fabric hooded coat stepped forward, and gestured at the newcomers with a rifle. Soon a group of Maximal soldiers, four in all, with the three visitors, were heading out across the plains, the soldier furthest in the back consulting a laptop as he marched.

"Emitter, how are we doing on that signal?" Nimbus asked. He remained respectful of the three, never pushing at them, but his harried demeanor and insistent gestures made it clear he- and by extension, they- had to hurry. Pestilence kept her ionic spanner out, sweeping it around, while Buckshot was looking alertly at the mountain range and Calamari was just keeping ahead of the group.

"They're uncloaked, probably doing intensive surface scans. It's at a higher elevation, dense foliage- we might be able to see them without them seeing us," Emitter replied. "They're still powering the stasis beam- I'd guess they haven't found what they're looking to pick up yet."

"Can you verify all that?" Buckshot said out of the side of his mouth to Pestilence.

"And then some," she nodded. "Whatever these Predacons are trying to find, it's not making itself easy to catch. We might be able to get to it first."

They ascended a rocky steppe, climbing past straggly blue weeds that started to, with the ascent, thicken into leafy blue bushes, becoming a high-altitude forest, seeded by the rainfalls so deadly to the Cybertronian castaways. The Maximal soldiers moved quickly and alertly, taking cover against tree trunks, their rifles always at the ready. They moved from tree to tree, metallic feet crunching across leaves and soil, Emitter keeping his laptop ready and apprising them as they moved closer and closer to the signal. Pestilence was aware of it too- a signal on the move, giving out anomalous readings. They crested a hill, coming to a clearing between the trees.

"It's right in front of us!" Emitter said. "Oh sh- stasis beam engaged!"

"Get back! Get back under the trees, now!" Nimbus barked, pulling Buckshot and Calamari back. Calamari, moving more swiftly than the rest, had been the first to the clearing, and her optics widened as she caught a glimpse of the figure across the way. Pestilence saw it second, and as she started to speak, Nimbus was already grabbing her and pulling her back.

They saw it for only a moment. A tall, powerfully built Predacon with wings folded up at his back. He looked injured, holding one arm to his chest while dragging behind him a nasty-looking black sword with the other. Burns marked his armor, his face locked in a scowl of pain and determination as he hurried through the forest. And in that moment, he'd locked optics with Pestilence, his expression clearing to show surprise and recognition- before a red pillar of light slammed into the ground, seemingly from the middle of the clear sky. It hit the forest floor like a small bomb, scattering dirt and leaves everywhere, the red light almost seeming to have weight. The winged being was caught in it, and in that moment his entire body went limp, his grip on his sword slackening as his head sagged back.

"What are they doing, we've got to stop them!" Calamari cried out, even as she was pulled back behind a tree trunk.

"It's no good! He's already in stasis, they're pulling him up to the ship!" Nimbus said above the thrumming din of the beam. They watched as the winged being was pulled upward, and the vessel above uncloaked. The meadow darkened, the black dreadnought blotting out the sky. A hatch on the underside opened up, the red pillar of light guiding its captive within. The ship remained stationary above a few moments longer, as the Maximal soldiers down in the forest stayed deathly quiet, clutching their guns. Then, with a shimmering effect, the cloaking field re-asserted itself over the ship and the vessel moved off back the way it came.

"Who was that? I didn't see, who'd they grab?" Buckshot asked, nudging Calamari.

"Pyre. It was Pyre," Pestilence said, stunned, and looked at the soldiers. "We have to get back to my AXALON. Now."

----------------------

Pyre's sensory intake was jumbled, his mind feeding him a confusion of sounds and images as it struggled to boot up his systems, intermittently sending him into darkness. He was being dragged along a metallic deck by several pairs of strong, firm hands. He was being loaded onto a table, and with the pull of a switch, could feel a force field enveloping his body and holding him down. He lost consciousness for a time.

When Pyre came to once more, he was staring up at dim red lights. Mechanical arms, wielding a variety of unfriendly-looking medical devices, were moving on their own, repairing the dents and breaches of his armor. It produced a tingling sensation, unpleasant but not quite painful. Pyre attempted to move, but found that the personal force field was still holding him down, allowing only the access of the mechanical arms. They'd taken his sword. Sarkazein was on a table a few meters away, and a gaunt, hunched-over flea Predacon was tracing a hand-held scanner over it. He set the scanner down and walked over to Pyre.

His field of vision was still scrolling error messages. Pyre could not quite make out the face of the doctor, but then, the whole room seemed to be a little warped, shadows looming over him and speaking as if from a distance. He had to concentrate to make out words.

"A bizarre happenstance, indeed," the doctor said. "But to find another Predacon brother, after all this time? The Archon is overjoyed."

"He'll want to speak to this one," came the reply. A female voice. Pyre saw a female with a bat beast mode bend over to peer into his optics. She looked intrigued, and more than a little cautious.

"We must not do him the dishonor of bringing a guest before him in such poor condition."

"Then fix him, you dolt. It's all superficial damage, anyhow. But the ship- that damage is far greater than superficial. If I can't bring the Archon a ship, then I'd better be able to bring him a fellow Predacon in shape to tell his story."

"He will be up and about shortly, Mistress. Shall I place any conditions?"

She considered Pyre a moment longer. "Not for this one. He looks like a warrior..."

The mechanical arms continued their ministrations, and Pyre continued to stare up at the red lights on the ceiling. They had his ship? He couldn't allow them to take it. But, at the moment, the pull of darkness was too great to formulate any plans, and he descended back into unconsciousness.

---------------------

Pestilence's short legs moved rapidly, carrying the petite scientist across the cracked plains and between blue shrubbery, her scarf flying out behind her as she ran. Calamari kept pace easily, with Buckshot just behind the two of them and the group of soldiers easily keeping pace with him. They'd made it back to the Maximal camp, and just as Switchback was standing up, looking at them and opening his mouth to ask for a report, Pestilence was already running past him.

"What did-" he started to say.

"They took a friend of ours! We've got to get back to our ship! I'll fill you in right afterward!" Pestilence yelled as she ran, her companions right on her heels.

Switchback watched them run past the crates and generator spires, and over the nearby hill. He looked back at Nimbus, a scowl crossing his face as he gestured to him.

"Stay here, keep an eye on the perimeter in case the Preds come back. I'm going after them," he said.

Pestilence ran to the AXALON, brow furrowed with determination. She made it to the ship and pulled the doors open, stepping into the interior. As Switchback reached the top of the hill several meters distant, he stopped and stared as the scientist and her friends seemingly piled into a booth barely large enough to hold the three of them, and pulled the doors shut behind them.

Pestilence crossed the floor of the navigational deck and went to the console, pulling hurriedly on levers and getting the machine ready to move. Energy gauges were filling up, screens flashing coordinates as great crackles of electricity ran along conduits mounted in the ceiling.

"What's Pyre even doing here?" Buckshot asked, helping slide controls into place. "Didn't we leave him on Westbrook?"

"If there's a wormhole displacing Maximals and Predacons on this planet, maybe- in some immensely improbable lightning-strike of bad luck- it also picked him up and dumped him here," she said, running around the console. "And I have no intention of leaving him with these other Predacons! Did you see that ship? That was no pleasure yacht!"

"Where do we go?" Calamari asked, giving Pestilence a moment of pause.

"I never do this, normally. I don't know enough about the time period that we're in- this planet, these two crashed ships, could be a seminal point in history. Us three, and Pyre, being here could disrupt that history. I'm using the time travel controls and picking him up before he was abducted by that vessel."

"You can just go back in our own timeline like that? I mean, I thought you -could- do that, but knew you -wouldn't- do that. How come you never do that?" Calamari asked.

Pestilence frowned deeply, readying the coordinates in her ship. "It's...risky. Unethical, to some. Highly unpredictable. At least a 30% chance of being temporally scissioned if something goes wrong. But I can't let him be captured. Now hold on, because this will get shaky."

She fired up the ship, all of its engines running on full power as it prepared for a transport- and then, with a bang of stressed conduits, smoke erupted from the console, showering sparks on them, and half the lights in the navigational deck went black. The silver booth, which had begun to levitate and spin before the eyes of the Maximal commander, was dropped abruptly back to earth. Inside, Pestilence steadied herself on a console for support, looking up disbelievingly at the few functioning screens.

"No, no, no! The one time I choose to break the rules on this one thing, and something like this happens!" she said angrily. "The interference I detected on our approach has grown stronger- the AXALON can't form a time tunnel! And with the damage she took from the attempt, she won't be able to attain escape velocity to leave the planet, either!"

"Damn. How long to repair it?" Buckshot asked.

"Could be days. We can manage traversing the air, but that's it. We're not leaving this planet or this timeline," Pestilence said, staring up at the error messages on the screens.

---------------------

The Archon sat on his throne, sequestered away from the rest of the crew. The lights were dimmed, the ceremonial torches long extinguished. The old Predacon sat in darkness, as he usually did, keeping informed of his crew's actions only through private communications channels and reports delivered in person by trembling low-ranking officers.

It'd been so long since he transformed that he didn't quite remember what his beast mode was. Or perhaps it had been deactivated, the transformation circuits fused in order to save on his power. One thing would be clear to any observer; even without the ability to transform, the Archon intimidated. He was nearly too tall for his straight-backed obsidian throne, hunching over in it. Some of his armor plating had been removed, and it lay, cracked and bent, upon a rack. The Archon's body was a muscular mass in hues of gray and black, and scores of wickedly curved spines ran along his wrists and down his back. He bore the highest rank of all the crew, a silver Predacon skull emblem, with a V of gold between its hollow eye sockets, adorning his chest atop a dozen other emblems of honor. His face was gaunt, and would've seemed diminished if not for the smoldering fury of his red optics.

Archon Wrath gazed at his trophies. Swords and guns taken from his foes, placed upon shelves for him to admire. That was the nice collection. In his private quarters, he kept the not-so-nice collection. The heads, the limbs. The leavings of his enemies, which were his to draw strength from, forever.

He twitched then, and one of his great, clawed hands went to his chest, massaging the center of it. He needed strength these days, yes. More and more.

Wrath was disrupted from his private thoughts when, for the second time today, his private communication channel beeped. The aged warrior pressed a thumb to a console beside his throne, a little holographic screen shimmering into existence just above the console.

"My lord, another new development," Tempest said crisply, her tiny flickering image gazing at the Archon, maintaining steady eye contact.

"Has the newcomer woken?" Wrath asked. His voice resonated upward from deep within his chest, echoing within the chamber- though it rasped a little at the end.

"Not yet- this is another matter. I am informed by my bridge crew, and I have verified their findings, that -another- new ship is on this planet. They have just detected the ignition of great engines, suddenly stalled. They claim that it may have been the attempt to create a wormhole," Tempest said, her tone businesslike but tinges of eagerness creeping into her voice.

"The Maximals, performing a test-firing of their engines?" Wrath asked, hands steeped under his chin as he looked at her.

"It's possible," Tempest allowed. "If they've managed to elude our sensors and return to their crash-site, they may have found a way to rebuild part of their ship. Or, my lord- it could be another new arrival, like the dragon sleeping in our infirmary. Another new ship for us."

For the first time in weeks, Archon Wrath smiled.

"Track it down. Take this vessel. And leave nothing behind."


END OF EPISODE ONE


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: Time and Tide
PostPosted: Sun Oct 16, 2011 2:10 pm 

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TIME AND TIDE

EPISODE TWO


Pestilence stepped out of the doors of the AXALON, and had barely taken another step forward before Switchback was upon her. The soldier was significantly taller than her as it was, and now his astonishment made him seem to tower that much more, his yearning radiating out from him.

"You do have a ship! How are you all fitting in there? It's-" he trailed off, optics widening in wonder, as the door opened again and Calamari stepped out. He saw the spacious interior, the darkened screens and consoles.

"It's larger inside," he said simply, gaping.

"Separate dimension and lots of extra pocket space, it's nice, isn't it?" Pestilence said, distracted. "And I'd be happy to take your crew from this place, except it's not going anywhere right now."

"But I just saw it lift off," Switchback said, still staring at the interior as Buckshot stepped out.

"Followed by seeing it thumping right back down on the ground, right? There's too much interference and we can't form a tunnel. There's no leaving the planet," Pestilence said, and then saw a few of the other Maximal soldiers arriving. Nimbus, the hawk assigned to lead them to Pyre's signal, was first to crest the hill. He moved rapidly down to meet them, rifle in one arm but lowered.

"Then the ship's real? We can just leave and- how do we fit in there? It really is an escape pod, isn't it?" he asked, looking doubtfully at the silver booth.

"It's a very advanced ship, by what little I've seen," Switchback said to him, glancing at Pestilence. "We could have used it, but the same problems we've detected are also affecting it. The Predacons and their cloaking field- the interference it causes."

This sparked a ripple of disappointed groans among the soldiers. Buckshot looked around them- their hope had flared up, then been squashed like that. They had to struggle just to maintain proper military bearing and keep their eyes on their commander, awaiting new instructions. Only Nimbus looked more than just dejected- he looked disbelieving, bordering on angry.

"There might be worse news than just that," Pestilence said. She paused, mouth set like she was about to take some nasty medicine- and then, of course, deciding it was better to just gulp it down quick. "There's a chance that if the Predacons have the same sensor capabilities, they could have sensed my attempt to lift off. And homed in on it."

"I figured as much," Switchback said grimly.

"Then this -is- a trap!" Nimbus said, pointing at Pestilence. "We don't know that the Predacons haven't managed to contact others off-world! She could be an advance scout, and this attempted lift-off was practically a targeting beacon!"

"How could they contact any other Predacons? You heard the radio signals, Cybertron has been dead for centuries," Switchback replied. "These three might not just be off-worlders- they could be time travelers."

"You nailed it," Pestilence beamed up at him. "I promise you, we're not working with those Predacons- but they do have our friend. I'll work on finding a way to get the ship functioning at full power, we pop into that hugely ostentatious black dreadnought of theirs, whisk Pyre out and be back to give you bunch a lift to a populated colony world. Easy!"

"Mark my words, sir, this is a trick," Nimbus said, glaring at her and Calamari. "They're going to-"

His words were cut off by a great roar of rushing engines. The soldiers went for their guns as the skies above seemed to part, clouds rolling and tearing away, and a shimmering curtain of bare sky opened up to reveal the Predacon ship. The din of its engines was deafening, the glow of a hundred thrusters and laser cannons and torpedo ports washing the plains in red.

"Scatter! Fall back! Grab the mortars, the anti-targeting lasers, anything to fight them off!" Switchback shouted, his coat flapping in the wind.

"Pest, they're gonna try to take the AXALON!" Buckshot yelled.

"Not if they can't find it!" she yelled back, pointing her ionic spanner at the parked silver booth and hitting a button. The ship briefly dematerialized, showing itself once more as a spire of rock poking up from the ground. Pestilence pocketed her spanner and ran back towards the Maximals' encampment. Meanwhile, lasers were beginning to rain down from the ship, slicing into the ground. The soldiers fired rocket launchers up at the great black underbelly of the ship, creating small explosions along its side and crippling cannons and thrusters. The battle was joined.

---------------------

"Mistress, we're under fire!" came the transmission. Tempest looked up, frowning, from where she'd been standing beside Pyre. The dragon's wounds were still healing up, the doctor beside him re-setting his arm. She'd been deep in thought, contemplating his face.

"The Maximals are a secondary concern just now," she said, striding over to a communications screen and looking at the solemn face of one of her bridge crew. "Have you traced the signal of this other ship?"

"It spiked, then disappeared shortly after we arrived. It may have already created a wormhole and left," he said.

"Not enough power in this spike for that," Tempest said, analyzing the readings from the bridge sensors as they scrolled into a device in her wrist gauntlet. "If the vessel has seemed to vanish, gone from sensors- it may simply have cloaked itself, much as we do. Have we the power for a wide-area stasis beam?"

"Not without diverting the resources from much of our weaponry," he replied, and as if to punctuate the inadvisability of that option, the ship briefly swayed as the Maximals below scored a major hit along their underside.

Before Tempest could form a plan, her communicator chirped again, and the image of her bridge officer on screen was moved to one side, the shadowy image of Archon Wrath coming into view. Tempest's posture immediately stiffened up, her hands moving behind her back- though irritation swept through her, briefly, at the Archon's interruption.

"I'm told we've sustained some damage. And we have not secured any ship. Is there a reason we float here and allow Maximal insects to prick and sting our belly?" Wrath asked, glaring at her.

"My lord, scanners have lost the ship. I believe it is cloaked, lacking the power to leave. We must take care not to damage it," she said.

"And what will become of us if this ship is damaged? Would you care to attempt a water landing?" Wrath demanded. "Wipe these Maximals out! Scorch the earth upon which they tread, I care not what becomes of them! If the ship is in their midst, it will be damaged, but it will be salvageable!"

"But if we don't know the strength of the ship, we can't know that proximity to a large-area attack won't damage it beyond repair, my lord. We have this being's ship already, within one of the labs. We can-"

"First Major, arm for a bombing run. Sweep the sensors over what remains," Wrath said.

"Yes, my lord!" the bridge officer responded, snapping off a salute, and turning to his controls. Wrath looked at Tempest then.

"Know that you are but a functionary, and I am in true command," he told her, before signing off from the channel. Tempest glared at the screen a moment longer, then returned to the doctor's side to monitor his progress with Pyre.

----------------------

Lasers lanced downward from the dreadnought's cannons, sending up plumes of soil and displaced weeds as they raced over the ground. Others impacted against the encampment's force field, sending waves of force rippling along an invisible dome that was rapidly decaying. Maximal soldiers ran to and fro, firing up at the ship. Calamari ducked under a volley of fire, yelping, and another soldier ran past her to blast a missile up at the ship. As the projectile detonated against its black hull, a cannon sighted him and fired, perforating his torso and dropping him where he stood.

Amidst the onslaught of laser fire, the ship slowly started to turn, hatches opening on its underside. Switchback looked up at this change of direction for a moment, and shouted to his crew:

"They're preparing to drop bombs! Fall back to the camp, everyone beneath the dome!"

The Maximal soldiers, craning their necks to look up at the ship, took hurried steps backward before turning to run, some firing rifles up at the ship in desperate defiance even as they fled. Pestilence took just a moment longer, gazing at the ship, seeing the hatches slide open and bombs sliding along rails behind them, preparing to drop. She ran after Switchback then.

"How will the force field hold up under this?" she shouted.

"Not well! It's already been fragmented!" he responded.

"Then maybe you won't mind me trying something!" she said, and crouched down in front of one of the force field projectors. She ripped open its control panel and started to work the controls with one hand, while pointing her ionic spanner's rippling beam into its circuitry. Switchback looked around as the entire force field, broken and battered as it was, began to glow with greater intensity.

"If I can gather all the projectors' output together, force an overload..." Pestilence said to herself, then called to Buckshot, "Bucky! Help me point this thing!"

Picking up quickly on her intent, Buckshot wrapped his large arms around the projector spire, pulling hard on it, dragging it towards himself. Calamari pushed on the other side, digging her heels into the dirt, until it was approaching a forty-five degree angle. Pestilence took another moment to gauge the angle, optics squinting, and then flipped a switch. The entire force field glowed blindingly bright, and then seemed to erupt out of the projector. A bolt of power slammed into the side of the Predacon ship, rapidly dissipating, and electric crackles of disruption traveled along the black hull. Its hatches froze, some of the laser cannons sparking and swaying side to side wildly.

----------------------

"What has happened?!" Archon Wrath demanded over his private communications channel. The bridge was in disarray, screens winking on and off, systems struggling to reboot themselves. One of the bridge officers struggled to hold onto his chair as the ship dipped, and reported,

"My lord, some kind of energy pulse! We've lost a third of our operating systems, including targeting computers and cloaking field!"

"How could they have managed this?" the Archon asked, his voice intermittently breaking up into static as even communications suffered the blow.

"Before the hit, we scanned and caught two more Predacon signatures below! No sight of the other vessel yet, either," the bridge officer haplessly reported. "My lord? ....Sir?"

There was a long pause, until the static cleared up and the Archon's face reappeared on the holographic display.

"We must not risk another hit like that," he said. "Retreat at once and commence repairs."

"My lord!" the officer snapped off a salute, shaken. Wrath reached for his controls and switched off the holographic channel. The other members of the bridge crew glanced at one another. They'd been forced to fall back, and the mystery vessel hadn't been secured. The Archon would be in an ugly mood after this.

-----------------------

"You've disabled their ship!" Switchback said, looking at Pestilence with awe. The black dreadnought was moving away, errant crackles of electricity still peppering its hull, and the soldiers lowered their rifles and missile launchers to watch its retreat. Pestilence stood up beside the angled projector.

"Temporarily, anyway. A hit like that should knock out some of their operating systems for a while, but it won't do any lasting damage."

"Commander, look at this," Emitter said, showing Switchback the screen of a battered, semi-obsolete, but still useful tracking device. "That beam took down their cloaking field, we can actually track them now! They're moving southeast, probably looking for a safe spot to commence repairs."

"Then this is our best chance," Nimbus said, looking around at the other soldiers, one hand tightening into a fist. "We've got the guided missiles inside the ship. We can hunt them down, and do some real damage."

"You can't shoot that thing down with Pyre still inside it!" Calamari interrupted.

Switchback watched as two of his soldiers dragged the body of their fallen comrade back toward camp, taking him into the wreckage of the Maximal sleeper ship. He was silent a moment, and frowned down at Calamari.

"You have a magic ship. You want this Pyre back? Go inside and grab him."

"We plan on doing just that, pal!" Buckshot fired back, then paused. "Except it's kind of damaged. Pest, you said it can't break orbit or make a time tunnel..."

"It can still move through the air, and perform short transports! ...Eventually. I've set the computer to perform some self-diagnostics and minor repairs, but that'll take time," Pestilence said, doubtfully.

"Your friend also happens to be inside a Talon-class lasercarrier, with bitanium hull, force field projectors, and dozens of security systems," Switchback replied. "You're just going to wait for your ship to repair itself, pop in there, and simply -take- him from the middle of all that? For the purposes of this hypothetical rescue mission, I assume your scarf is a magic talisman that came with the ship."

Pestilence inclined her head, conceding the difficulty of the situation.

"Okay, fine. We'll need more time to think of something. I'll think it up on the fly, I'm good at that," Pestilence said. "I'll also talk a lot while I think, it helps me be really clever."

"We've got another problem, sir," Emitter said grimly. "That overload shorted out the force field projectors. They'll need time to recharge. And we've been keeping track of the weather patterns..."

"Rain," Switchback said simply, looking at the sky. All the soldiers looked up at the faint wisps of clouds forming on the horizon, some of them reflexively pulling their fabric coats and hoods more tightly around themselves. Switchback looked up at the clouds, contemplating them, before making a command decision.

"We can't fret about the projectors now. There's a system of caves a few clicks away, we'll have to make temporary camp there. Carry all the gear you can."

As the soldiers hefted up crates of essential gear at risk from rain damage, Switchback moved a little closer to Nimbus.

"Grab the guided missiles, too. Just as a precaution," he said lowly, and Nimbus nodded firmly. They started towards the caves, leaving Pestilence and her companions behind.

"Is the AXALON gonna be okay? I mean, from the way those guys were looking at the sky, I'm guessing this world rains acid too," Buckshot said to her.

"That rock projection around it should protect it for a while- and, if we need it in a pinch, I've been working on a recall button set into my ionic spanner," Pestilence replied. "Beats always having to run back to the thing, doesn't it?"

"So I guess we follow those soldiers," Calamari said.

"Right into the tunnels. I'm sure Pyre can handle himself very well in the meantime," Pestilence said, and motioned for her friends to follow her.

------------------------

The Predacon ship had moved off towards a relatively safe location, hovering above a jagged expanse of rocks. The crew worked at getting it repaired, with particular attention to restoring the cloaking field. Within its black corridors, soldiers hurried to and fro with whatever tools they could find. It was loud out, clanking and cursing prevalent over the ever-present hum of the ship's thrusters, but within the infirmary, all that could be heard was the beeping of a spark monitor and the whirs and clanks of moving repair-arms.

"I've got about a dozen different matters calling for my attention, Splicer," Tempest said, glaring at the doctor. "It's all we can do to stay afloat after that...whatever that was."

"I promise, Mistress, I'll have not wasted your time," the diminutive doctor said, the additional limbs of his flea beast mode each waving a surgical tool at her. "The diagnostic computer still can't quite decide whether this man is here or not! But the injuries are real, and further, they have been repaired. I'll boot him up."

Tempest nodded once, placated, and looked with intrigue at Pyre. His optics slowly opened, and focused, as he gazed around the room. His table lifted itself slowly, bringing him to a near-vertical position. Behind Tempest, the guards standing near the door to the infirmary kept their hands on their weapons. Tempest took a moment to consider the situation, gazing at Pyre. She motioned to the doctor, and with a touch of a button, the force field holding him in place was released. He dropped the short distance to his feet, and stood up, reaching his full height, several inches above Tempest. She looked up at him with keen interest.

"Where am I?" Pyre asked.

"You're aboard the Avenging Sword, the flagship of the Archon's fleet," Tempest said. "And you are the first new Predacon we've seen in a very long time. What news do you have of Cybertron?"

Pyre looked down at her, and around at the others. He thought he'd caught a glimpse of Pestilence down there. He knew very little about where he'd crashed, or what sort of soldiers he was dealing with, or why they'd taken him. Better to ask questions than try to fight his way out.

"Cybertron is gone. Has been for a long time," he said briefly. Tempest's face tightened. He got the impression they'd been expecting this reply, though they took no pleasure in it.

"What is your name?" she asked.

"Pyre."

"And your rank? Title?"

"I have none," he said carefully.

"How did you come to be here? We have your ship- it's heavily damaged, but I'm told it's something of a marvel. My scientists are trying even now to get it to run," Tempest said, walking around Pyre, looking him up and down. "We had a glimpse of another vessel new to this planet- are you part of an invasion force? Colonization? Advance scout?"

"No to all of the above," Pyre replied, meeting her gaze when she looked back at him. "I'm on this planet by bad luck, nothing more. Had to attempt a landing, didn't fare too well."

"Where were you before this?" Tempest asked.

"Colony world, far away from here," he said. "And you?"

"That's a long story," Tempest said. "Maybe you'd care to listen to it while I show you more of the ship? I'm to bring you directly to meet the Archon. I'm sure you won't mind if we continue to try to fix your vessel?"

"Be my guest. Makes no difference to me," Pyre said. That wasn't quite true- he needed that ship back, and running, if his plans were going to be successful. Then, he got another bad jolt of recognition- Tempest had walked over to a table in the corner and, turning around, showed him Sarkazein. She turned the heavy, wicked-looking sword over in her hands.

"Splicer's taken the liberty of repairing your body along with your internal weaponry. But this- this is something special," she said. She took a couple of experimental swings with it. "Tell me, is this blade yours?"

"It is."

"You've bonded with it, claimed it as truly yours?" she asked, looking closely at him to gauge his response.

"...Yes," he said, frowning.

"Then nobody on this ship will take it from you," she said, handing it over. Pyre accepted the sword slowly and sheathed it on his back. He looked over Tempest. She wasn't just tall and beautiful, she also had a curved blade hanging at her side, and a blaster on her hip. The guards had unique weapons as well. Even the doctor seemed to have some weaponry at the ready.

"We run by a different code than the conventional military," Tempest said. "You are a warrior, a brother in arms, and your weapons distinguish you. At least, that's what the Archon preaches. But before you think to yourself how gullible we are, and decide to start a fight? I'd remind you that every single other soldier on this ship has weapons that they've bonded with, and know how to use."

"Point well taken," Pyre said. "Then I'm not a prisoner?"

"Anyone who lands on this damned acid planet is a prisoner. But you're certainly not being held captive here. Unless you try to make trouble," Tempest said, optics narrowing.

"Not planning on it," Pyre said, raising his large hands open-palmed. Tempest nodded, and gestured towards the door, which slid open for him to leave.

"Mistress, if this new arrival will just have the run of the place, he could-" Splicer started to say lowly to her, and she turned on him, glaring.

"He will be under watch. He is my responsibility now. And as he holds the knowledge to working that ship, we're that much closer to the Archon's vaunted 'operation'. Clear?" she said, and the flea nodded rapidly. She turned on her heel then, and, flanked by the guards, accompanied Pyre into the yawning black corridors of the Avenging Sword.

---------------------

Pyre glanced around the ship as Tempest accompanied him through the ship. They'd passed bomb-arming bays, weapons development labs, training areas. Though Pyre didn't consider himself an expert on military technology, he knew a state of the art ship when he saw it, and knew also when said ship was decades obsolete. This was an old-style vessel, from an era where Predacons were more concerned with menace than utility. Black bulkheads, red lights, the symbols of the Predacon empire emblazoned in crests above doorways. It was impressive, but also unnecessary. He heard another distant creak, another sizzle of overtaxed conduits. This ship had been running for a long time now, without any refits.

"This is an airship, isn't it?" he asked Tempest. "If it is viable for space travel, you're not able to travel off-world yet, or we'd have already left."

"Very good," Tempest nodded. "We've been stranded on this world for a long time. The oceans and rainfalls are deadly to our kind. We risk attack by Maximal insurgents if we try to land. So we travel the skies. The cloaking field protects us from the elements. Which makes it a dire priority indeed, Lieutenant!"

One of the guards who'd been walking several paces behind them nodded curtly.

"It will be fixed promptly, Mistress!" he barked.

Tempest looked at Pyre then, and smiled. He gave her a neutral expression in response. They came to a stop at a large security door, at which the guards took position on either side. Tempest stood before the door and input a security code on the small keypad beside it. The door slid open, clanking and grinding, and she stepped with Pyre through a shorter, narrower hallway.

"Who goes there?" came a voice reverberating out of the dark.

"Tempest, my lord. I've brought our visitor to you. His name is Pyre," Tempest said. Another door opened and she brought Pyre into a war-room, rife with trophies of battle. Pyre couldn't help himself, he had to look around a little, gazing at the majesty of the place. The ceiling stretched up into the shadows, great tapestries hanging from the eaves. He saw racks of ancient weapons, and off at the distance, a row of stone statues. A figure was seated on a throne in the front, with a computer console behind him. It was one of the few pieces of relatively modern technology in evidence- almost everything else about this room would've fit right into a medieval fortress. Pyre could see a small holographic display, apparently another crewman, in serious discourse with the old 'bot sitting upon the throne.

"-the reports are not exactly hopeful, my lord. We are still working on restoring the damage, but it will take additional amounts of power from the engines. We can divert more still from weaponry, from shields," the tiny holographic soldier reported.

"What has been this month's yield of resources?" the being on the throne asked.

"Less than three kilos," the soldier said reluctantly.

"That will not suffice! Tell the Zefrians that their work-rate is declining unacceptably, and -advise- them to speak to their brethren regarding other, suitable areas for excavation," the old soldier snapped, and discontinued their conversation at a press of a button, just as Tempest and Pyre approached.

"Archon Wrath," Tempest said, dutifully bowing her head and placing a fist to her breast.

The old Predacon stood up, and stepped into the light then. Pyre felt a moment of surprise. The Archon was aged, yes, but he also stood tall and proud, easily eye-to-eye with Pyre. His curved, spiked armor. His burning, seething red optics. He smiled, and somewhere deep inside, Pyre felt a chill.

"Welcome aboard my ship, Pyre. You are truly a boon to us,"

Wrath walked around Pyre a little, sizing him up, considering him.

"So, you need materials," Pyre said, returning the Archon's look steadily, and a touch defiantly. "I've never heard of 'Zefrians' before, but I'd guess they're the locals. Mining?"

"As necessary," Wrath returned.

"Sticking strictly to land, I hope."

"Would that it were so simple. The richest veins of the materials we need also run deepest- in the deadly waters of this accursed rock," Wrath said. "You must have ascertained the hazardous nature of this world's oceans just before you crashed? Fortuitous indeed. Your ship, damaged though it is, may give us the key to restoring space travel capability- and crushing the insects upon this planet's surface."

Pyre paused. "The 'Maximal insurgents'."

"Oh, yes. They," Wrath growled. "Come, Pyre. Walk with me, a moment. You may follow if you wish, Tempest."

Tempest inclined her head, though from the way she glanced at Wrath's back following his slightly condescending acknowledgment of her presence, Pyre got the feeling she wasn't too enamored with him. He filed that thought away, and walked with the old soldier through the hall, past the trophy-wall of swords and guns. Wrath lifted a large, clawed hand to indicate one of the tapestries on the wall. It showed a black fist, dripping red, rising above a red sea of angry, woebegone faces.

"In the final days of the war, honor and respect had given way to subterfuge and treachery," the Archon said, looking up at the tapestry. "The Predacon forces, once so mighty, had fallen so low as to seek alliances with their enemies- with Maximals, with humans, with anyone who could satiate their hunger for territory, for resources, as more and more ground was lost. The army was corrupted, compromised. The elders of the Tripredacus Council saw fit then to call upon the lineage of the Archon. The righteous fist of the Predacon people. We would venture out to retake our holdings, bring back the empire sector by sector, inch by bloody inch."

Pyre listened intently. Tempest's arms were folded, though her expression was rapt. She seemed intrigued by the history, although something was holding her back from reverence.

"Do you see my predecessors?" Wrath said, as they walked towards the row of statues. They all depicted Predacon warriors- a towering beast, a gaunt assassin, a cunning tactician.

"My forefathers. Archon Terror. Archon Madness. Archon Greed."

"Not exactly heroic qualities," Pyre said.

"It was the calling of the Archon to take the sins of the Cybertronian populace within himself, give them name and voice, and bring them to strike against his enemies," Wrath rasped, his hand briefly brushing the cold stone arm of one of the statues. "I am become Archon Wrath, deliverer of vengeance and holy rage. I earned my calling upon the broken bodies of my brothers. I slew dozens by my own hand, and brought armies to victory. But now, my days of glory are nearly at an end. Because I am far from glorious battle, now. I am stranded on a world of amphibious simpletons and acid tides!"

Wrath seized a broadsword from one of his walls of trophies and threw it, sending it skidding across the floor. His arm lowered, and that mighty hand at the end of it started to twitch involuntarily. He massaged at his chest with the other hand, scowling. Tempest stepped forward.

"My lord? How long since your last...?"

"I am well, High Lieutenant," Wrath seethed.

"Splicer has prepared the injection, I brought it with me," she said, holding out a silver needle.

"Very well, very well!" Wrath snapped, taking it from her, and slid the needle into his bicep, tapping into a fuel line. The twitching of his hand subsided, and his shoulders relaxed as whatever pain he'd been experienced seemed to fade. He handed the needle back, glaring at Tempest as though daring her to make another comment related to this sudden disruption, but she passed on doing so. Wrath turned back to Pyre.

"Maximal rebels, desperate, fear-stricken. They fled before our might, marking themselves as cowards, refusing a warrior's death. We hunted them- those were our orders. And when we intercepted a small sleeper ship heading into a wormhole, their treachery struck once more. We were caught in a spatial distortion. Flung far, far away from the home-world. And now we know the truth. The home-world is no more. Is it."

He phrased this last as a statement, not a question. Pyre nodded simply.

"It has been...long. Quite long. We've fought off the Maximals at numerous turns, sent them scurrying across the land. Our materials drained, with less and less might to bring to bear on resolving our situation. But your ship, Pyre, will give us the key to restoring our engines- and giving rise to my great operation."

"And if I refuse to allow you to use my ship?" Pyre asked.

Wrath smirked a little. "You are a Predacon and a warrior. I see that in you. You will allow us to use your ship, and you will be welcomed as a brother to join my crew."

"And if I refuse?" Pyre asked again. Tempest looked at him, her expression carefully composed.

"Then you invite my rage. Perhaps you would be a worthy combatant. But for abandoning your Predacon comrades in their time of need, and refusing their help? I would take your head, and cast your traitorous body out a hatch, to dissolve away as to nothing in the sea.

"You have a choice now. Duty to your cause, or death. Choose now," the Archon rasped.

------------------------

As the group of soldiers passed beneath the naturally formed arch of the cave entrance, they entered a cavern with plenty of room for them to set aside whatever crates they'd dragged or carried away from the crash site. Emitter stood in the middle of the cavern, taking readings of the area, while Switchback began to set up a perimeter alarm at the entrance to the cave. He paused long enough to allow Pestilence and her companions to step through it, then activated it.

"If any of the Archon's soldiers come searching for us, this proximity device will let us know. And give them a nasty shock in the process," Switchback said, straightening up.

"Did you say the Archon?" Pestilence asked, startled out of her inspection of the cavern walls. "Archon who?"

"Archon Wrath," Nimbus said. "He's the one in command of that dreadnought."

"Oh, it's been a loooong time since I've heard of an Archon," Pestilence trailed off, rubbing a hand over her face. She looked back at her friends. "The Archon is an outdated Predacon ideal, a quasi-religious figure. If the latest in the lineage is in command of that ship, we can't assume they'll go for rational discourse. I mean if the attempted bombing run wasn't evidence enough."

"You've heard of the previous Archons? How old are you...?" Switchback asked, looking skeptically at Pestilence.

"This tunnel doesn't look like it's entirely naturally formed," Pestilence said, indicating laser burns in the walls.

"After we crashed here, we took out scouting parties and tried to map the area," Switchback said. "We cleared away some debris, found a system of tunnels. We moved as far as we could, but found the deeper tunnels unstable- and some of them leading to reservoirs below sea level. The Zefrians have nests in the lower levels, and the Predacons keep tabs on them. It was too risky to stay."

"Shame, too," Nimbus remarked, "Not much in the way of infusium this far above the lower tunnels."

"Infusium?" Buckshot asked.

"It's a naturally occurring element here, highly conductive," Emitter said. "It can be used to power engines, weapons, and to feed ourselves. We've been able to find some weaker veins of it on the surface, but the highest concentrations are at the bottom of the oceans, in the mantle of the planet. The Archon employs the Zefrians to swim down and bring back infusium, and we hunt for whatever scraps we can get to."

"How'd the Zefrians agree to something like that?" Calamari asked.

"They got fooled into thinking the Preds are something they're not- and convinced, by those same Preds, of their own dire need for protection," Nimbus said disdainfully.

Before Calamari could ask him to explain further, Emitter spoke up once more, his scanner beeping as he pointed it at the tunnel system ahead. Pestilence surreptitiously looked at the readout on her ionic spanner, then at him.

"Commander, it looks like the tunnel layout has changed a little since the last time we were here. Not just a collapse...there's a dead-end where there wasn't before. The scanner's showing it as smooth cave wall."

"Weapons out. Let's take a look," Switchback directed. A couple of the soldiers armed themselves, readying fearsome-looking rifles, and Nimbus moved to point, walking alongside Emitter into one of the tunnels. Pestilence and Calamari followed them in. Buckshot walked after them, but, after several meters into the tunnel, found himself having to duck his head, as the passage grew more confined. Soon, Nimbus was walking with a notably bow-legged gait, scowling as his head brushed the passage ceiling. Emitter, Pestilence, and Calamari were still privileged with relative freedom of posture. They reached the end of the tunnel, the darkness pierced only by the glow of their shoulder-lights and rifle scopes, and a couple clumps of luminescent fungi on the walls.

"This is it, sir," Emitter said, running a hand down the smooth wall. "This led to one of the downward tunnels before."

"It's a hologram," Pestilence said, pointing her spanner at it and confirming her readout. "There'll be a projection frame set into the tunnel walls. Maybe this was left behind by the Predacons...?"

Nimbus turned to her to say something, and then, with a sudden wink of a deactivating frame, a tall Predacon burst out from the formerly obstructed tunnel fork. His head and shoulders dragged sparks along the ceiling as he rushed onward, booting Emitter in the midsection and sending the young technician staggering into Nimbus, bowling him over. Calamari got a brief glimpse of a face half-ruined by acid damage, the outer layer burnt away to show a metallic skull.

The towering Predacon grabbed her by the arm, then, and with a snarl of rage, pulled her into the dark.


END OF EPISODE TWO


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: Time and Tide
PostPosted: Wed Nov 02, 2011 5:14 pm 

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TIME AND TIDE

EPISODE THREE


"Weapons up!" Nimbus barked, and with a series of clicks the soldiers piled into the tunnel had their weapons raised and pointing into the darkness. Buckshot pushed his way past a couple of the soldiers in the back, a look of desperation on his face.

"Cal! CAL!" he called down the tunnel.

Calamari wriggled against her captor's grasp. The Predacon soldier was immense in bulk, hunched over with his shoulders pressing into the rough stone walls of the tunnel. She could feel an arm like a steel girder clenched tightly around her midsection, and the cool flat of a knife sliding against her throat. She chanced a look up at his face. Half his visage was melted away, with further acid burns marring his chest. As black as the tunnel was, intermittently a couple sparks would jump away from compromised wires on his temple, showing the silver cheekbones and twitching red optic.

"It's been weeks, weeks!" he hissed, his good eye darting around as he pulled her along an adjacent tunnel. "You're not a rescue operation! I know every soldier on the ship and you're not one of them, oh no! The Maximals have begun to disguise themselves as Predacons. It won't work on me!"

"What are you talking about?!" Calamari asked, struggling against his grip, ever mindful of that knife. She had a move or two to escape this kind of situation, but in the darkness and close quarters, would it work?

"Betrayal, betrayal! Don't talk, it's just one more bee buzzing in my head! Baptism in a sea of acid!" he snarled, and pulled her onward.

Buckshot was bulling his way into the tunnel, fists clenched. He didn't consider himself much of a marksman, knew a gun wouldn't be too good inside, but he had to do something. Pestilence had a hand up to halt the other Maximals' advance.

"Let me try to talk to him!"

"We don't know how he got in here, or what he has waiting in those tunnels! You're unarmed!" Nimbus retorted.

"Buddy, if we can't get Calamari back or talk him down from hurting her, you can shoot right through me to get him," Buckshot said grimly. Nimbus, with clear disapproval on his face, motioned for his men to take a step back. Pestilence nodded once to Buckshot, and the two of them hurried into the darkness without a glance back, a glowing light of Pestilence's spanner and a lighter from Buckshot to guide their way.

-----------------------

Those next several minutes were agonizingly long, the two of them pushing through dark, winding tunnels to find their friend. Every corner they turned, it seemed the scarred Predacon and Calamari were just out of reach, giving them only the barest glimpse of her leg or face as she was dragged further away. The sounds of struggle, the scrapes and knocks of metal against rock, would've been enough of an auditory lead, if not for the rasped, half-mad, ever-running commentary of Calamari's abductor.

"I saw the way to salvation, and when I stood, none stood with me! Betrayal! Treachery! They didn't know, they never knew, and they thought me easily disposed of!"

"Would you just calm down for even, like, a minute?!" Calamari demanded, trying to pull his thick forearm away from her body. "Who are you? You came from that big black ship?"

"The big black ship?" he repeated, and stopped for a moment, optics unfocused. "My duty. My brethren. I can't think. They took my thoughts. You're going to steal more of my thoughts! I won't have it happen! I'll drown us both first!"

"Drown? DROWN?! No! Stop!" Calamari's apprehension turned to terror as she saw the confines of the tunnel around them gradually widen and open up into a cavern, and realized she could hear rushing water from below. She turned her head against her abductor's arm, seeing them being pulled towards a cliff edge above a subterranean waterfall.

Pestilence and Buckshot emerged from the tunnel, pointing their lights at them. The scarred Predacon stopped, setting a heel down just scant inches from the precipice, his knife wavering against Calamari's neck. Buckshot looked furious, clenching one hand in a fist. Pestilence carefully stepped out into the larger cavern, palms spread open, her ionic spanner dangling between two fingers.

"No weapons here. Nobody's going to hurt you anymore," she said slowly, and tilted her head, looking at the ruin of his face. "You must be in terrible pain. What happened?"

"You are a pretender! I know you are not of my crew! You are- I am-" the scarred Predacon paused, and with an effort, steadied himself. "I was a High Lieutenant. I brought glory to the Archon! And how was I repaid? Betrayal! They did not know what I could do, how I could survive! This is a trick, a trick!"

He turned a little then, looking down at the rushing water. It was clean, blue, and utterly deadly to any Cybertronian. He turned his warped visage back to Pestilence.

"They threw me from the ship. I landed just...that close...to shore," he said, turning his face with an audible creak. "They denied me an honorable military execution! Denied it! Stripped me of my name and rank, broke my claimed weapon! I will regain my honor. Killing a pretender is a fair start. In this death, I am redeemed!"

He took another step towards the shore, and Calamari scowled.

"Yeah. That's so enough of that."

The youthful Predacon activated an internal store of energy, then, and her optics went bright white as a torrent of electricity crackled out of her body. The scarred Predacon felt voltage course through his body, non-lethal but highly debilitating, and his grip slackened. Calamari ducked out of his arms, quickly stepping away, and he started to tilt towards the chasm.

"Buckshot!" Pestilence yelled, and the Maximal bolted forward. The repelled abductor pinwheeled his arms and started to fall from the cliff. Buckshot took a running leap, sliding along his chest, and swung an arm over the cliff's edge, snagging him by a hand. He grimaced, his back stiffening as the heavy Predacon pulled at him. With an effort, Buckshot hauled the Predacon back onto the cliff. Pestilence and Calamari stood over the scarred soldier, considering him, and Buckshot bent down, frowning.

"Betra-"

"Good night," Buckshot said, smashing a fist into his face and sending him into stasis lock.

----------------------

When the soldier came to, he was sitting with his back against a crate, in a cavern lit by energy lamps set into the wall. He looked around, face still smarting with both the acid damage and that recent punch. He could see Maximals, armed and alert, patrolling the caverns' entryways and keeping an eye on him. He dipped in and out of stasis lock again, and shook his head, trying to wake himself. He attempted to move, and found his arms were bound behind his back with some strange piece of fabric- long, soft, but unexpectedly constrictive against movement.

"Better not try to move too much," Pestilence said, kneeling beside him. "That scarf contains electrically activated micro-filaments, it'll tighten like a finger-trap. Fashionable and functional."

"What? I- ergh," the soldier winced. Pestilence had a hand at the side of his head, and was repairing the damaged wires at his temple. There were spikes of pain as she tinkered, but it was far less than the ravening agony he'd felt since his exile.

"How's he doing?" Switchback asked, his rifle armed and ready, but still lowered.

"He's barely functioning," Pestilence said. "I'm not exactly a doctor, but from what I can tell, he's suffered head trauma on top of the acid damage, it could have left him prone to mood swings, delusions, or maybe he was just kind of crazy to begin with and the fall exacerbated it. He's got very little fuel- how were you surviving down here? Infusium deposits in the tunnels?"

"Y...yes. I fed when I could. Weak, but sufficient," the scarred soldier said, focusing a bleary red optic on her. He sounded lucid enough.

"What's your name?" Pestilence asked.

"Thrall, High Lieutenant and Secondary Chief of Engineering," he said after a moment. "One of the warriors of the Avenging Sword, the mighty fist of Archon Wrath. That's...what I was."

Pestilence made another adjustment, clearing up another connection. Thrall straightened some, glancing around at the soldiers. On them he saw expressions of distrust, suspicion, fear. Pestilence looked at him with intrigue, Buckshot with doubt. And Calamari...despite his treatment of her, she looked sympathetic.

"We're visitors to this planet, just like you," Pestilence said, before Thrall could ask who they were. "We had to hide out in these tunnels to escape an attack from this Avenging Sword. That and chance of rain. How'd you get yourself set up down here? The holographic tunnel wall, that was a neat effect."

Thrall gathered his thoughts. The pain was receding; he found he could think clearly.

"I specialized in survival, and improvisation. I made use of any gear that survived the fall. The personal cloaking field of mine- experimental, unreliable. I re-engineered it to become a tunnel wall. I needed to hide."

"Why did you need to hide? Why did the Archon cast you out?"

"Because...on a ship of war...I advocated peace," Thrall said, optics narrowing as the memories, long fractured, dawned on him anew.

Pestilence looked at Switchback, seeing distinct surprise flash across the Maximal's face.

"Tell us more," she said.

-------------------------

Within Archon Wrath's throne room, Pyre was staring down the aged warlord, considering his options. He wanted to fight, to take the Archon down- but this wasn't the time for it. And, oddly, something in him was resisting the impulse to attack, something beside a rational assessment of his chances of escaping the ship upon slaying its master. Pyre pondered that a moment, and frowned. Maybe pacifism was setting in.

"I'll help you," he said finally. "I don't like my chances of fighting my way out of this. Better to ally myself with whoever on this planet has the most power. That seems to be you."

"A wise choice," Wrath nodded. He seemed pleased by this. "With your gift to us, of your ship and your might added to our own, we stand greater a chance of escaping this godforsaken acid-drenched rock. Tempest! Bring him forthwith to the lab where you are keeping his vessel."

"Of course, my lord," Tempest inclined her head, and indicated for Pyre to accompany her out. When the two had left, Wrath walked over to one of the walls. He looked at the weapons of war on his racks, the bloodily won treasures, and, picking up a goblet from a little alcove on the rack, crushed it into a crumpled metal ball in one fist. He smirked, and returned to the console near his throne.

"Splicer! Leave the infirmary and go to the lab housing our visitor's ship. You will report on your progress in repairing it, upon its capabilities, particularly its propulsion. And if you sight anything unusual that the others do not, you will report it to I, and I alone."

"Understood, my lord," the doctor replied over the communications channel.

"We are closer to my great operation yet," Wrath smiled, and cut off the comms link.

------------------------

Thrall slowly paced the wide cavern, one hand idly rubbing at his chin, just below the end of the acid-burnt half of his face. He'd refused any sort of anesthetic. Pestilence had removed the scarf binding his wrists, returning it to a plain piece of colorful and non-constrictive fabric as soon as it encircled her neck.

"At first," Thrall said, "I was confident that a way back home would soon be realized. There was no reason not to pursue our assignments further. The Archon made it clear: Even stranded, we were expected to conform to the highest standards of our cause. Maximal insurgents were to be exterminated."

He cast his gaze around the room. The Maximal soldiers were watching him with distrust. Outside, a low rumbling of thunder sounded in the sky, and a few of the soldiers looked apprehensively at the cave entrance. Pestilence was struck once more by their situation- the frayed coats and hoods, the spots and marks of acid burns. How long just barely holding onto survival?

"We figured a solution to be in our grasp. The rainfalls were troublesome, but the cloaking field handled adeptly both the task of protecting us from the elements, and the task of hiding our position from all of you," Thrall continued. "As chief engineer, I was given the task of finding a source of alternative fuel for when our reserves failed. I discovered the deposits of infusium beneath the surface of the water. We certainly couldn't submerge our vessel, and our stasis beam would dissipate when it passed too far into the water. I, Tempest- the next in command below me- and Splicer, our medical officer- all worked for days and days to try and find a way to get to it, but no avail. We mined the surface where we could. We found only weak deposits, swarmed over by Maximals."

"We had just as much need to survive as you," Nimbus growled. "And just as much right. Not that that stopped any of you from killing to protect those deposits."

"If the Archon gave the order, I'd have killed again and again to protect my brethren and serve my cause," Thrall replied, a couple of sparks jumping from his temple. "But it wasn't enough. The power drain of the Avenging Sword is massive. All my power re-allocations and jury rigs, not enough! Splicer- our medic- he came up with the idea to tag the native beings. Convince them to bring back infusium crystals for us."

"How did you convince them?" Pestilence asked.

"I was tasked with converting the infusium to fuel. I was not privy to any of these diplomatic endeavors," Thrall responded. "But it worked. The locals agreed, and now we keep some as guests aboard our vessel, to direct us to large deposits and bring them back-"

"Did you threaten them? Take them away from their homes? I'd bet it's easy to get a Zefrian to agree to help you when you tell him you'll drop bombs on their eggs," Nimbus said.

"I have nothing to do with how the locals are employed! You will not interrupt me again, Maximal parasite!" Thrall said, taking several quick steps forward and getting into Nimbus's face. The hawk soldier met the gaze of his mismatched, acid-marred eyes.

"That's enough, Nimbus," Switchback said firmly. "Thrall, you're not making friends here with the way you're acting. And I don't think you have any left on the Avenging Sword."

"In that much, you are correct," Thrall snarled, moving away from Nimbus. "It wasn't enough! The Zefrians couldn't go deep enough to bring back the richest infusium. Our propulsion systems were only capable of carrying us through the air- without a complete refit, we could not manage escape velocity and safe space travel. Weeks became months, which became years. The Archon's condition worsened. He proposed a new plan. Project: Eclipse."

"Project: Eclipse?" Calamari repeated.

"A bolt into the heart of this world," Thrall said, trailing off for a moment. "To gather all the power of the Avenging Sword. Draw every last particle of weapons energy, cloaking field energy, life support, propulsion, burn up all of our fuel at once- to create a beam capable of punching straight through the water and all the way to the core. To bring up all the richest deposits of infusium, all we'd ever need; a stasis beam with the force of a nuclear bomb."

"And the side-effects? The aftermath of using such a weapon?" Pestilence asked.

"The impact would cause great seismic activity all over the planet," Thrall said, staring into the distance. "It would displace all the water in its path- creating a wave a mile high, to wash over the land and wipe it clean."

"A tsunami," Nimbus said, looking at him with shock and fury. "We'd have never seen it coming, nor been able to do anything about it. We'd be washed away and melted to nothing!"

"Yes. You would," Thrall said with savage bluntness. "And had I thought we could manage it without risking the ship, I might have allowed the Archon to use this weapon unimpeded. But..."

"But it wouldn't have worked, and you knew it," Pestilence said. "Even if you could manage the power for a large-scale stasis beam like that, you'd burn out all of your ship's systems in the process, and risk being caught in the same tidal wave you created. How'd you break it to the Archon? You told him about all the problems with this particular doomsday device, right?"

"I thought I had allies, those who would back me. Tempest lied. She lies...!" Thrall clenched his hands into fists, glaring down at them as he paced the cavern. "As distasteful as the prospect was to me, I could see no alternative. I told the Archon we had to set the ship down, and try to make a truce with the Maximals. If I had unrestrained access to the wreckage of the Beacon, I could have perhaps made something of the wreckage, added to our own systems. It might've worked. And for that, I am betrayed."

"This Archon guy pitched you off the ship just for suggesting a truce?" Buckshot asked disbelievingly.

"Oh, I didn't just suggest it. I demanded it. I thought the others would support me. I was wrong. Accused of attempted mutiny, and cast out from the ship. Perhaps it would have been better if I'd hit the ocean. Dead now, rather than forced to throw in my lot with Maximals..."

"Enough of that, okay?" Pestilence said, striding to him. "We've got a friend on that ship! In captivity, or in a lab being dissected, or maybe he's fighting his way out as we speak, but I've got to get to him. I promised myself I'd look after him if he ever came my way again. I can't leave this planet without him. Now, you said you were the chief engineer. You've got command codes? Entry codes to get past the defenses?"

"What's the use of them? You're stranded on the ground."

"Maybe not. I've got a way, but you need to help me. How near is that ship?" Pestilence asked, glancing at Emitter.

"It's miles out, last I checked. If the cloaking field's still offline, I can track it. Let me just...it's moving closer to our position. ...Much closer," Emitter said, frowning.

Pestilence, who'd been standing inches from Thrall, glanced down at the metallic insignia on his chest. It was flashing a faint red light. Thrall looked down at it, startled, then brushed a hand to his temple, where she had repaired his malfunctioning wires.

"We are in grave danger. As is your friend."

-----------------------

Pyre and Tempest stepped through the curving archway and into a great holding area of the ship, a few decks down from their previous location. Pyre had made mental notes of their route down, keeping track of the ship's (dark, sprawling, labyrinthine) layout in case he needed to make a quick escape. These plans momentarily left his head as soon as he saw his ship sitting in the bay.

The makeshift hangar was evidently part of a laboratory, where great mechanical arms and tools could be deployed from the ceiling. Spotlights were centered on his craft, and a few Predacon soldiers were walking around it. Pylons and support struts, elevated from the floor, were set into the ship's hull, grasping at its engines. Tempest smiled as she walked over to it, taking it in.

The vessel was a streamlined black arrowhead, with a multi-square viewscreen over the nose in an arachnoid pattern. Blue lines streaked over the side, darkened now with their lack of energy. Stratified metal plates ringed the back of the vessel, clamping like a ring around the circular thrust turbine. Pyre knew from experience that, when the ship was activated, those stratified plates would begin to spin, separating from one another and linking up in new configurations, before it achieved its unique brand of propulsion. The ship was large enough to fit a crew of five but could easily be piloted by one, were it not half-wrecked at the moment.

The nose and the underside of the ship had taken severe damage in the crash, the metal rumpled and cracked. Pyre could see machinery and wiring exposed, burnt, dead. This lack of power was what concerned the soldiers the most, and they talked lowly and gestured. Splicer was there already; the diminutive flea pulled away a bent metal plate, letting it crash to the floor, and peered at the wiring beneath.

"It's a beautiful ship. What do you call it?" Tempest asked Pyre as they passed a saluting soldier and entered the ship's hatch.

"The Crossover," Pyre said in a tone that made it hard for one to detect whether he was joking.

Tempest nodded, stepping into the darkened interior of the ship. She considered the low set of steps down to the engine room, the corner leading to the quarters, and the narrow hallway to the cockpit.

"This ship is far beyond our current level of technology. That's not too surprising. We left that wormhole at a time much, much later than we anticipated..." Tempest entered the cockpit, sitting down in one of the chairs, and swiveled to face Pyre, folding one of her long legs over the other. "How did you acquire this ship?"

"Acquire it?" he repeated.

"There's signs of a mass-produced vessel. No serial number, no insignia of any faction, this is a unique vessel," Tempest said, rubbing a hand over the arm of the chair. "I could buy you being military, Pyre, but not for a long time now. You've been working on your own. Did you design this ship?"

"...No. It was given to me," Pyre said, settling down in the other chair. "I'd just lost someone. A frie...an acquaintance. I'd been in a battle. I could barely stand. And when I couldn't think of how to keep going, a very old 'bot on a cane appeared, piloting this ship. He said I had to take it. I agreed. He left."

"Who was this old 'bot?" Tempest asked, looking at him with intrigue.

"It was-" Pyre started, before Splicer burst into the cockpit. Tempest was startled from her gaze, and Pyre turned, frowning up at the doctor.

"It's incredible! Even in its damaged state, the level of technology in your vessel far outstrips even that of the Avenging Sword! We must possess this technology. All attempts at initializing the engines have failed. You must show us what we're missing."

"Very well," Pyre said reluctantly. Splicer nodded and bustled back out of the cockpit. Pyre stood up slowly from his chair, and motioned for Tempest to go ahead of him. As she turned to leave, Pyre quickly reached under the control panel between the seats, locating a device planted under the ship and turning it before pulling a wire out. With that connection severed, it'd delay a successful start-up sequence that much longer. He put the wire in his mouth, tucking it away, and followed Tempest out of the Crossover. They'd taken a few steps out of the ship when an alarm sounded. Pyre stiffened, expecting to be caught for his deception, only to see Tempest activate a communications device on her wrist.

"Tempest here, what've you found?"

"Mistress, we've got weak readings in one of the cave systems. Almost like one of our brethren."

"Thrall?" Tempest asked very lowly, almost too low to hear, and then spoke up: "Then we must investigate. Is the cloaking field restored?"

"Very nearly, mistress. It's about to rain..."

"Make it a top priority," Tempest said shortly. Pyre glanced at Splicer, seeing the flea doctor making his own notes, preparing to open a different communications channel. The dreadnought sped off, back towards the site of its aborted bombing run.

---------------------

Pestilence stood near the entrance to the cave, watching as rain began to fall. The patter of raindrops against the cracked, dry landscape sounded normal enough, but stepping out in that would cause severe damage to any being of metallic components. Like herself.

"Remember that force field umbrella thing you built on the Entropy world? Should've kept it," Buckshot commented, staring out into the sky.

"I really should have. Thrall, how recent is that set of command codes?" Pestilence asked, looking back at the disfigured Predacon. Calamari was shifting foot to foot near the cave door, preparing herself for the possibility of a sprint.

"Recent enough," Thrall rasped. "You'll have access to nearly any area of the ship- but that's only once you're inside. I have no idea how to get you inside. You've noticed, perhaps, that it is an airship that never lands."

"It's moving closer still," Emitter spoke up. The young, technically-minded soldier had his laptop balanced on one knee, and the pings sounded ever more closely together.

"You've activated a tracer, haven't you?" Nimbus demanded of Thrall. "Standard protocol for any captured soldier."

"I've activated nothing. All of the brethren are tagged, branded in a rite of loyalty. As soon as that small one repaired my mind, she also reactivated my brand."

"And if we kill you now?" Nimbus said.

"They're already inbound," Thrall grinned, the act bringing him pain along his ruined face.

"Stuff it! All of it! All the fighting and posturing!" Pestilence said angrily. "I'll draw that ship away from you. You'll just have to figure out a way to get along without someone sane to talk you out of a firefight. Ready, guys?"

Calamari and Buckshot both nodded.

"Nimbus, stand down. I can give you my coat, the organic material will-" Switchback started to offer.

"Thanks," Pestilence smiled at him, "But we've got a ride."

She hit a button on her ionic spanner and, from a distance, its tiny beep was met by a klang of sound. The AXALON discarded its cloak of holographic stone and began speeding through the air. It landed with a thud just in front of the cave entrance, and the trio of explorers hurried in through the sliding front doors. The little booth took off, leaving awestruck Maximal soldiers behind to peer at it through a curtain of rain.

"Okay! Status report. The ship's repairs are midway, we still can't manage space travel but we can surprise the frack out of that dreadnought," Pestilence said quickly as she dashed to the console. "Where is it?"

"Turning to face us. We got their attention, for sure," Calamari said, looking at the viewscreen. "This thing says their front weapons are charged, whichever ones are still working. But they're not firing."

"Not if they want salvage," Pestilence smirked. "Let's give them a chase."

The little booth sped through the air, the light at its apex blinking rapidly. The huge black ship gave chase, lights still flickering along its hull. Rain was dotting its armor plates, sizzling water molecules into the metal. The ethereal vestiges of a cloaking field tried vainly to coalesce around its bulk, managing a skeletal outline before disappearing again. The dreadnought was forced to rise above the cloud cover, hoping to overtake the AXALON and come down on top of it. Pestilence, with Buckshot's help, pulled hard on a set of heavy levers and sent the booth whirling backwards. When the dreadnought, safely past the storm, dipped back below, the AXALON was behind it.

"We've got one chance at this. An air-to-ship time tunnel. If it goes wrong, the ship materializes in a wall and we're stuck inside. Ready?" Pestilence asked Buckshot.

"Um-"

"Too late!"

Pestilence threw a switch and the AXALON entered a tunnel, moving from one location to another while remaining in the present temporal flow. It seemed to flicker and vanish, before reappearing in a shadowy corner of the ship's interior. After a long moment, Buckshot peeked out, and then Calamari and Pestilence stepped out with him. Buckshot looked ready to fight, fists up as he stared down the corridor. They could hear alarms blaring, feet tromping along metal decks above.

"Pyre's three levels above us. We've got to get to a maintenance tunnel. What do you mean, they're locked?" Pestilence asked her spanner crossly. "Elevator shafts it is. But that's a lot of ladders and if a lift comes along...forget it, we'll just go back into the AXALON and jump up, provided I haven't burned out the circuits. We can-"

"Pest! Bad guys!" Calamari shouted, as a door swung open behind them. Lights were still flickering on and off, the result of Pestilence's improvised laser cannon, and as a trio of soldiers burst into the area, Buckshot booted one in the midsection before tripping him up onto the deck. Calamari grabbed another, jumping onto the larger male's back, and the soldier moved side to side, firing wild laser shots. Now alarms were sounding on this level, and Pestilence charged to assist her friends. She heard it for an instant, a weathered voice from the intercom.

"Activate anti-intruder measures on deck four, segment two. Friendly fire override."

A massive surge of electricity ran along the metal floor, sending jolts of power into both the intruders and the soldiers fighting them. The brethren collapsed, dropping guns and sinking into stasis. Buckshot went down swinging, crackles of electricity racing along his arms before he hit the deck face-first. Pestilence's body went rigid and she dropped, coat fanning out behind her. She looked over her shoulder, seeing only bodies, and grimaced. With one last glimmer of effort, she rolled over and pointed her spanner at the AXALON, murmuring a code and locking its doors.

A moment passed, and Calamari sat up. The same self-defense measure she'd used to shock Thrall had protected her from the non-lethal dose of electricity running through the floor. The large soldier she'd scaled shoulders-first had collapsed on top of her. She pulled at Buckshot's arm, seeing her friend insensate, and then tried to shake Pestilence.

"Guys! Guys! I can get you back into the AXALON! It's...ohmigod, you locked it, didn't you? You didn't see I wasn't knocked out..." Calamari trailed off, glancing worriedly from the unconscious Pestilence to the AXALON. She needed time to think. But the elevator shaft down the hall was in motion, she could see numbers counting down on the meter above its doors. She looked up near the ceiling, spying one of the locked maintenance tunnels.

"There's not enough time! What was that code Thrall said..." Calamari looked with fear-filled optics back at the elevator. "It's...it's....it's 'retribution'!"

She reached up, punching in a code of alphabetical symbols as quickly as she could, and yanked the hatch open. The youthful Predacon disappeared into the tunnel, pulling the door shut behind herself and securing it. She watched through the hatch as a cluster of soldiers left the elevator, with an aged and armor-clad warlord behind them.

"Bring that vessel to docking bay one. Take these two to the brig and your brothers to the infirmary," Archon Wrath directed. Calamari watched as her friends were dragged away, and turned back to face the dark, red-tinged expanse of the maintenance tunnel. Three decks to get to Pyre. It was up to her. She made a quick mental prayer and got moving.


END OF EPISODE THREE


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: Time and Tide
PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:45 am 

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TIME AND TIDE

EPISODE FOUR



Pestilence sat against the wall of her cell, looking up at the ceiling. Black bulkheads, red lights- it was getting to be a theme. She'd had her coat searched, her scarf and goggles taken. When one of the soldiers had asked her if she owned any bonded weapons, she'd replied uncertainly that she had bonded tools. And her tools were summarily confiscated. So much for that.

No cameras in the cell. No force field emitters at the entrance to a cell, either, but a thick, heavy, windowless door. No ventilation shafts, no accessible power lines in the walls, this was nothing but a metal pen with ominous stains on the floor and walls where she'd have to wait it out. Pestilence's musings were interrupted by the sliding clanks of the door, where a trio of soldiers pushed Buckshot inside. He fell to his knees, dented in new places, as Pestilence rushed to his side.

"Useless Maximal wretch!" one of the soldiers growled.

"Hey, I support your decision to switch jobs from soldier to masseuse, but I think your hands are still a little too soft for it," Buckshot cracked. The soldier raised his fist and Pestilence put herself between him and Buckshot.

"An unusual response..."

The soldiers, who'd each looked ready to put a few more boots to Buckshot, and him all the more willing to fight back even more than he had while being processed, immediately stepped aside. Archon Wrath stood in the darkness several paces back from them, looking at the pair of intruders within the open cell.

"It is a common interrogation strategy to take the strongest one first. Show him pain and mercilessness, then return him to his comrades so that they will see first-hand his agony. Perhaps a mistake was made in selecting the physically strongest first. That look in your eyes. You are not as you appear," Wrath said, gazing down at Pestilence.

"You're right. I'm even angrier than I look right now," she replied.

"This will end as soon as one of you tells me how to open that vessel. It is unmistakably a scout ship of some sort. He is not of the Beacon's crew, and you are not of the brethren! Tell us how you came to be here, show us into your ship, and leniency will be granted unto both of you."

"The silver box?" Pestilence asked, and Wrath nodded. "A scout ship? That's completely ridiculous. It's obviously a giant suitcase. I have a proclivity for human clothing."

"Is your arrival and the arrival of the dragon linked?"

"What dragon?"

"The levels of power coming off that ship. The age, the intellect, and the vitality radiating from your readings. If you do not wish your friend to be cast into the sea, you will tell me of these things."

Buckshot was up on one knee, wiping away mechfluid from his jaw with good temper and sizing up Wrath. Pestilence helped him to a bench and looked at Wrath and his soldiers. She sighed, letting her shoulders drop.

"All right, Archon. You've got me. It's not a suitcase. It's a ship capable of traveling through time and space, its interior exists in a separate dimension, therefore it's much much larger on the inside. I locked the door when I got here. Set it to open only on my voice command and to self-destruct if me or anyone under my protection dies. Oh, and the inside is filled to the brim with treasures, trophies, rare and valuable weapons, new propulsion and energy sources, maps back to populated space...

"Actually, I'm lying. It's an umbrella stand and there's no voice command or self-destruct, I just lost the keys. None of those things I mentioned are inside it. Or are they?" she asked, and smiled crookedly.

Wrath's red optics flickered a little and he placed a hand to his chest. Scowling, he turned on his heel and headed back out of the brig, the soldiers casting a contemptuous glance back at Pestilence and slamming the cell door shut.

"How are you, Bucky?" Pestilence asked, laying a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

"Not bad. I've been beat up worse for mouthing off in a bar. No big deal," Buckshot said, wincing as he got to his feet and stretching out his limbs. "Seemed like preliminary stuff. Smack the Maximal around, good times, you know? I didn't give 'em any info. Didn't know much about what they were asking for, anyway."

"As far as they know, it's only us two?" Pestilence asked, and Buckshot nodded. "We'll let them hold onto that impression, then."

"So where is Cal?"

Pestilence sighed. "She can't be in the AXALON; I really did lock it by voice command. No self-destruct feature, though. I thought she was out, too! But they haven't mentioned her and if they didn't find her at the scene, that means she's either hiding or making her way through the ship via some more covert means."

"You don't have any way of contacting her, do you?"

"They took all my gear. But I don't need goggles or spanners or keys to break out of a jail cell!" Pestilence declared. "I will, however, need a boost."

Buckshot stood there a moment, and at Pestilence's insistently suggestive thumb gestures to the ceiling, slapped a hand to his forehead and nodded self-consciously, lifting the diminutive scientist up to his shoulders to allow her access to the lights. She frowned as she tapped knuckles to the glaring red light fixture.

"Nothing but plain illumination! No power conduits in the ceiling beyond a basic one to work the light. I'm getting stumped by a low-tech metal box! This is just...medieval!" Pestilence said, aggravated, as Buckshot let her back down to the floor. "For right now, Cal's going to have to get by on her own."

----------------------

Calamari poked her head out of a ventilation duct and clambered her way down into a maintenance crawlspace, tall enough to stand in but only narrow enough for a large male soldier to walk through sideways. She was lithe enough to move between the circuit and conduit-laden walls easily. She'd been keeping watch for any cameras, motion sensors, but the crawlspaces and ducts were free of security observation.

She stopped at a junction, considering her path. She'd been moving steadily upward, and the numbers on some of the primary power conduits were changing as she ascended. She'd entered at...deck four, segment two. Now she was at deck five, segment six. She settled on the ladder and continued to make her way up.

----------------------

Tempest watched as the strange silver booth was dragged across the room of the hangar, a pair of especially large soldiers toting iron chains to pull it along. They pulled it to a stop in a corner not far from where the Crossover had been docked, and Splicer looked it over, searching for any spot to begin his probing. Finding no power outlets, no access panels, no evidence of even a keyhole, he gave the blessing for the soldiers to begin attempting to force their way in.

"This is the best proof yet that we've traveled very far forward in time. I don't know what sort of ship that is, but it's beyond our level of technology," Tempest commented to Pyre. The dragon was keeping a careful poker face as he watched the heavy-set soldiers pry at the AXALON door.

"I'm sure your men will adapt to higher technology very well," Pyre rumbled, as the soldiers took to giving the handle whacks with the flats of their swords, producing only tinny clangs and no damage to the booth's gleaming exterior.

Tempest rounded on Pyre.

"Is this vessel familiar to you? Its occupants, a petite female Predacon and a musclebound Maximal. They are utterly, glaringly civilian. And, by what I'm told, fairly resistant to persuasion."

"I'm not familiar with that ship. I travel alone," Pyre said carefully.

"Then you have no clue who these other intruders would be?"

"I knew a lot of Predacons and Maximals. I'd have to see them."

Tempest nodded a little, and turned to look at the Crossover.

"Two ships, far beyond the technological scope of even the Avenging Sword. At a time in which we needed it most. If I believed in any kind of higher power, I might consider that the sort of divine providence Wrath might speak of. It's all too convenient to be random chance. I think you do know these other two, and you don't need to see them to be sure."

Pyre remained silent.

"If you were to show us the way to use one of these ships- either of them- you know you'd have our gratitude. But these other intruders will probably die. Certainly the Maximal will. Unless someone were to supersede the Archon's authority," Tempest said, very slowly, very deliberately, as if tasting each word.

"Wrath seems like he'd be more than a match for anyone who went after him," Pyre replied evenly.

"The Archon is very old. His years are starting to turn on him. His degenerative spark condition, for one," Tempest said, keeping her gaze on the Crossover and not on Pyre.

"The medicine you gave him," Pyre responded.

"It's only buying time. He wants infusium to keep the ship running, to keep the crew fed and armed, sure...but he also wants to prolong his own life. Even as the pain worsens, and his mental state becomes...unpredictable. It'd be a mercy to him to end all that."

"Mistress! We're going to set up the frame to generate a power syphoning field, your assistance if you please!" Splicer called out.

"I'm busy!" Tempest replied irritably.

"The Archon will have this ship opened or that one running, but to have neither will greatly displease him..." Splicer said dryly as he looked over at him. Tempest scowled and walked over to join the doctor and the soldiers, setting up a frame of emitters and cables around the AXALON. That left Pyre alone for the moment. He frowned deeply. He couldn't leave Pestilence and Buckshot to die. They'd helped him out back on Lykur- if only after a lot of friction and misunderstandings- and set him up with a new life. He owed them his aid.

Killing Wrath, though? He mulled that over, looking up at the security camera sweeping back and forth across the hangar- when an urgent tapping noise from the ceiling startled him from his thoughts.

"Psssstt! Pyre! Don't look up! Just stay there!"

"...Calamari?" Pyre said, uncertainly, keeping his mouth's movements subdued and his gaze steadily in front.

"I'm in some kind of repair tunnel thing! I'm, like, ten feet above you! Hi, by the way. Are you okay, did they hurt you?" Calamari whispered from above him. She was lying on her belly in a vent, face peering through the metallic mesh of a vent cover.

Pyre blinked. So she was still traveling with the other two; apparently she'd escaped.

"I'm fine, as far as I know," he said lowly. "The second-in-command was just proposing that I help her take down the man in charge to save Pestilence and Buckshot."

"Seriously? Look, I can't come down there to help you without them seeing me, but I've been looking at every map I find in here and I think I can guide you to where they're locked up. You've even got your giant scary sword, still!"

"I can't do that right now," Pyre said, turning his head and speaking very quickly now. "Calamari, you've got to keep moving. Get going. Do everything you can to interfere with their operations."

"Huh? Look, I need help! You've got to-"

"Go! Now!" Pyre hissed. Calamari looked over, and clamped a hand to her mouth as she saw a company of armed soldiers exiting the elevator and heading right for the docked ships, with Archon Wrath behind them. She hurried off through the ducts, while Pyre risked a quick glance upwards before going back towards Tempest and his damaged ship.

-----------------------

Switchback peered out past the entrance to the cave, slipping out an arm experimentally. The rain had stopped, but that had been only a brief drizzle, and the sky was still overcast. He frowned. There was a rescue operation taking place on the Avenging Sword right now, and his company, depleted and demoralized though they were, were not a part of it.

"We're still showing the ship on radar," Emitter reported. "They've moved out of range of the storm. If we're still picking them up, that's good news- they haven't gotten their cloak back online yet."

"Is there any way we could get there to assist Pestilence?" a female soldier lingering near the cave tunnels asked.

"We can't even muster up enough energy for flying beast modes right now," Nimbus said. "But there's one thing we can do, Commander. We have a radar-lock. We have missiles. And now we even have a command code to aid in salvaging from the wreckage."

"What? What was that?!" Thrall demanded. Switchback winced internally, as the scarred and dishonored Predacon walked over to them.

"Nothing to concern you. Besides, aren't you defecting now?" Nimbus asked, looking up at him disdainfully.

"I gave those codes so that a fellow Predacon might be saved, not for you to shoot down my ship and defile its remains with your presence!" Thrall rasped. His headache was returning. He snatched at Nimbus's arm, shaking it as he ranted, and the soldier angrily shoved him back.

"They've gone after Pestilence's ship- if she got aboard, and we shoot the dreadnought down, or damage it, we could kill them," Switchback said, interjecting himself between the two of them. "We are not firing on them unless they come back. Understood?"

Nimbus glared at him for a moment, and stalked off. Thrall rubbed a hand to his half-ruined face, his fingers intermittently twitching. As the dreadnought had approached, he'd felt a momentary leap of joy at the opportunity to rejoin his comrades. Look here, he'd tell them, I've trapped the Maximal parasites in a cave, and sent to you a traitorous scientist and her friends to do with as you will. He thought about how his mutiny would be forgotten, and his brethren would welcome him back....

He shook his head. His headache was intensifying, and he was finding it harder to think straight. He walked towards the tunnels, feeling more comfortable there after having spent so much time hiding out in their cooling darkness. His temple sparked a little, briefly lighting up the black.

---------------------

"My lord Archon," Tempest said, and though her posture and tone were perfect, Pyre caught a faint glimpse of defiance in her eyes as the tall and weathered warlord passed her. "How was the interrogation?"

"The Maximal knows nothing," Wrath said contemptuously, surveying the AXALON. "But then, the interrogations have only just begun. The power emanating from this device! I feel it as surely as I might feel my own arm. I must possess this technology."

Splicer hurried up to Wrath then, conveying in himself a servile cringe that seemed genuine- yet embellished. He looked up at the Archon with something akin to awe.

"We have erected a power syphoning field," he said, pointing out the metallic frame set up around the AXALON. "It may pull the doors open and allow your ingress!"

"And Pyre's ship? How fare the repairs?" Wrath asked, glancing back at the Crossover.

"Not as well. The engines should be restored, but there are faults in the relays. We will have it fixed quite soon," Splicer said, looking chastised. Pyre's frown deepened. He'd bought himself time by pulling out those wires, but they'd find a way around it soon enough.

"Very well. Activate the device," Wrath ordered. With a quick nod, Splicer set to charging up the frame around the AXALON. Tempest stood near Pyre, her bearing regal and her gaze fixed on the booth- save a brief, hinting glance up at Pyre. Splicer hit the switch and a crackling field of energy enveloped the AXALON. The booth shuddered briefly, but the doors stayed firmly shut.

"Unimpressive," Tempest remarked dryly.

"But I am showing readings! Power is being collected from the ship, albeit gradually!" Splicer retorted. "It's like trying to turn water to ice with only the cold radiating from the outside of a freezer. I will simply increase the power, and this booth will bear its secrets."

He turned up the dial, then, and an ominous hum began to emerge from the overstressed frame. The silver booth's seismic jitters increased, rocking the vessel from side to side, and Splicer took an involuntary step backwards as the great hum grew louder- and, abruptly, a spike of energy flared outward from the AXALON's exterior. For a split second, the optics of the Cybertronians grew brighter and their internal systems' energy levels spiked, and even the slowly worsening, ever-present pain in the Archon's body temporarily halted. Devices along the walls and floor shook and blared with overloading bursts of power, and the wave swept further outward, hitting the Crossover's repaired engines, sizzling along its conduits, and sending it into a brief, quickly aborted burst of propulsion.

"What just happened?" Tempest demanded, as Splicer stood up straight, looking at the ship with wonder.

"What just happened?" Tempest demanded, as Splicer stood up straight, looking at the ship with wonder.

There was a pause, and the soldiers took stock of themselves. Pyre knew exactly what had taken place. He kept quiet, thinking quickly, as Splicer started to take readings.

----------------------

"What was that?" Pestilence asked, looking up sharply from where she sat in the corner of the cell. "Bucky, did you feel that?"

"That double-back just now?" he nodded. "You bet."

"That was a temporal recursion wave!" Pestilence got to her feet, looking at the ceiling. "But the AXALON doesn't produce that kind of effect- it's caused by a disruptive event in the fabric of space-time. Some weapons can cause it, as can certain sorts of 4th-dimensionally propulsive drives."

"It's gotta be Pyre's ship!" Buckshot said, getting to his feet as well, and waiting with Pestilence to see if another wave would hit.

------------------

There was a pause, and the soldiers took stock of themselves. Pyre knew exactly what had taken place. He kept quiet, thinking quickly, as Splicer started to take readings.

"Either this feedback event has induced a shared sense of deja vu...or time has just doubled back on itself! But this is incredible! Further than simply re-powering our engines, we have access to-"

Splicer was babbling excitedly, and Tempest was scrutinizing a stone-faced Pyre, but Wrath observed none of it. He thought only of that instant- where he'd felt young, and vibrant, and free from pain. Ready to conquer worlds once more. He turned toward Splicer, raising a hand, and the scientist immediately clammed up.

"How likely are you to open this door under your own machinations?" Wrath demanded.

"This power syphoning frame has been overloaded. I will need to repair it," Splicer replied.

"Enough time has been wasted. I will extract all the information we need from the owner of this vessel. You will assist me in this, as I feel it will require more elaborate measures. Come," the Archon directed. Splicer bowed, and hurried after the aged warlord as he and his few silent, powerful guards walked after him. Pyre glanced at Tempest, and indicated with but a nod of his head that the time was approaching. Tempest returned his nod, and Pyre followed the Archon and his men at a distance.

----------------------

Calamari had thought of herself as possessing a good sense of direction; she'd navigated more than one large shopping mall without once needing to refer to the 'you are here' signs. But this was a gigantic warship centuries before her time, and all the maintenance tunnels looked the same. Despairing of finding her way to whatever passed in this place for the brig, she settled herself in at a ventilation junction and considered her options. She'd been making her way back down, in the direction she'd come, but a bizarre sense of deja vu had hit her halfway down and she'd gotten momentarily confused, going off in another direction. Then another, and another...she'd need to risk another peek.

She crawled along the duct and peered out through a wire-mesh grate. She could see dim blue lights just in front of her, and the floor less than seven feet below her. She peeked around the room, mulling it over, before a scaled, mottled green face appeared in front of the grate.

"GYAH!" Calamari squawked, body going rigid with fright as she stumbled back several paces. The amphibious being stared at her for a moment with frank curiosity, a little red light blinking on his neck. He had ornate black tattoos swirling down his torso, sharp fins running along powerful arms and back.

"This is not the usual way the Visitors let themselves into our rooms," he remarked.

"Hey...you're one of the guys I saw in the water when we got here. Are you gonna tell the guards I'm here?" Calamari asked, regaining her wits and looking around at the other reptiles sitting on low benches around the cramped room.

"If you are here, you were meant to be," one of the others said, flapping a fin on his elbow, an apparent gesture of fatalism. The one that had discovered Calamari easily pried his fingers beneath the grate, digging strong bony talons into the metal, and popped it out. Calamari gratefully took his hand and allowed herself to be lowered to the floor. She stood up and looked around at the assemblage of reptiles.

"Who are you?"

"We are Zefrians, natives to this world. You must be of the Visitors- the stronger, who come in a great black ship. You bear their mark," the other reptilian said, pointing a webbed finger at Calamari's Predacon insignia.

"Ugh, these guys? They are so out-dated," Calamari said, looking distastefully at the room's narrow confines and black armor plates. "I'm from a different ship. Different Visitors. Actually, I came here to rescue one of my friends, then I needed to rescue my two other friends. Now I'm lost."

"We would happily show you a way to your destination, but it is not our time to leave," another, evidently female reptilian spoke up. A couple of the others nodded.

"What do they have you doing here?" Calamari asked.

"The Visitors came, and some of the elders decreed that their arrival was analogous with one of the celestial prophecies," the one who'd popped her out of the vent said. "There's been some disagreement on that point."

"We are tasked with swimming to the lowest depths and bringing back K'hala, the rare stones that grow in the lowest caverns," another Zefrian said.

"K'hala...you mean infusium?" Calamari asked, recalling Thrall's story.

"That is the Visitors' name for it, yes."

"But this isn't right! They've got you locked up, doing all their hard work, crammed into tiny rooms like this? Oh, I would so protest if I were you," Calamari said, frowning deeply.

"Fated," one of the older Zefrians shrugged a fin. The one who'd taken her from the vent was still standing, arms folded over his chest.

"Look, you guys felt that double wave a little while ago? I've been time traveling for a while now, and I know weird time stuff when I feel it. If they've got the AXALON- my friend's ship- opened, or they find a way to activate that super-weapon I was hearing about it, you guys are going to be totally screwed. You think they'll come in here and, like, let you out? Have they ever said -anything- about letting you out?"

At this, the reptilians paused. One of the female ones spoke up.

"They know where our homes are. They know where we keep our eggs."

"....Oh, we're so going to give these guys a bad day. C'mon, we can break out, are you with me?" Calamari asked, raising her fist as though to catalyze a revolution, and got some contemplating gazes. Clearly, the Zefrians were quick to think and slow to act. She let her fist lower.

"Look- if it's fate that you're all locked up in here, then it's fate that I come wiggling through a vent to crack you out too, isn't it?" she tried. "I mean...my friends could die. I can't just let that happen, no matter how scared I am."

They absorbed her words for a moment, and looked at the one who'd broken the vent cover barring her access. He was the youngest and the largest of them. His fins rippled and he nodded deeply, chest swelling with pride.

"I will help you take control of your fate. Assuming, of course, that such a thing exists," he said. He turned towards the door then, unmindful of the security camera peering at him. It was powered down, the surveillance network still wonky from the effects of Pestilence's makeshift laser. With assistance from two of the other Zefrians, he sliced at the heavy door's hinges, rending the old metal, and pulled the door open. Calamari stared, agog.

"You mean you could've done that the whole time?" she asked.

"It's not in our nature to act so...abruptly," the large Zefrian said, looking at the ruined door hinges with some trepidation, bordering on disbelief. "Also, we are marked. They will know we have left."

"We'd better get moving quick, then. Anyone else?" Calamari asked, and a couple more of the younger Zefrians stood, moving with them out into the corridor. The other captives nodded, flapping fins with pride and hope, and waited to see what fate had in store.

----------------------

Pyre had followed Archon Wrath and his guards for some distance, through sliding security doors and past ornate columns of Predacon warriors' architecture, tapestries and gargoyles. He hung back a considerable distance, always just behind a corner, always just in the shadows. Though not blessed with considerable skill in stealth, he had another factor on his side: Tempest. The scheming second-in-command was somewhere near him, and she kept tabs on his location, ensuring that guards in the area were diverted to some other task of repair, and that he knew which doors to take, which corners to turn so that he could follow the Archon. The dreadnought's surveillance systems seemed to be in a malfunctioning state. Good.

Pyre rounded a corner and pressed himself to a wall, wings folding up on his back, listening as Wrath and Splicer approached the brig, the Archon's honor guard at their heels.

"This female- she will not volunteer the information I seek of her out of any pride in the Predacon race," Wrath said, punching in a security code at the entrance to the brig. "That, I have ascertained at a glance. It will be dragged from her. The power emanating from that booth- indescribable! I will have entrance."

"Simple implements of pain- traditional as they are- may not fully serve on this occasion, my lord," Splicer said, scurrying into the brig as the guards formed a trio at the door. "The medical readings from the girl- frail as she appears- are fascinating. Great age, and massive intellect. The experiment of the booth brings to mind another idea..."

"I care not for your methods, only for your results," Wrath said, waving a hand dismissively, and Splicer immediately silenced. The Archon pulled open the door to one of the cells, and Buckshot looked up alertly, hands curling into fists. He sprung to his feet, and would've met the aged warlord head on had Pestilence not slowed him with a hand upon his shoulder.

"What's the matter, couldn't get it out of Park?" Pestilence asked pleasantly.

"I find myself at a crossroads," Wrath said, glaring down at her. "I have spent years, keeping this crew together and floating this cursed ship above a sea of death, in the knowledge that I, and I alone, am destined to return us home, and bring us to glory. I have gone from facing no options for escape, and increasingly few resources, to having -two- vessels, and a wealth of resources appearing at my fingertips!"

"Funny how things just slam together like that, isn't it? Happens to me all the time," Pestilence replied.

"I grant you this final mercy: Open your ship to me. Show me its secrets. You will be placed in a position of honor on my crew- chief scientist, perhaps," (at this, Splicer gave a horrified yelp), "Or even one of my honor guard. The Maximal shall remain incarcerated, but shown leniency and kindness. And you will be hailed at my side as a hero, a revealer of the way, when we return to civilized space."

"You've piqued my interest. I'll take you up on that offer, on one condition," Pestilence said, optics quickly scanning the room behind him.

"And that condition is?"

"That you and your men keep your eyes on me for just a few more seconds," Pestilence said, smiling. Wrath took only a half-second to process that before he spun around, to see Pyre rushing at the trio of honor guards.

His arm flung out and he caught one of them in the face with an elbow, smashing him against the side of the open door. The other guard unsheathed his sword and brought it to bear on Pyre in a wide arc, slicing a rift along his chest. The dragon snarled and sent a punch towards the swordsman's chest- he lifted his blade to block the attack, and in a move born of calculating he'd counter in just that fashion, Pyre's other arm snatched up his and bent it at a horrific degree, cracking his limb. When the swordsman bent over to grab his wounded arm, Pyre pulled Sarkazein free and clocked him atop the head with the flat of it, knocking him out. The third guard brought a twin-bladed lance out, striking at Pyre. The dragon anticipated each strike, fighting pragmatically, with the bare minimum of necessary movement.

"About time! I'm gonna hit you 'till candy comes out," Buckshot growled, battered but more than ready to fight. He snatched at Splicer, who yelped, waving his hands wildly in submission. Buckshot backhanded the doctor, tossing him aside, and lunged at Wrath, whose optics were blazing with fury as he watched Pyre take down his guards. The aged warlord had settled himself into an old-fashioned stance, seeming to become livelier, to thrill with the anticipation of battle. Buckshot swung a fist at Wrath from behind, confident of a good staggering blow- only to have the Archon's great clawed hand catch his fist. He turned his head to look at Buckshot, his gaze narrowing.

"You will not have the honor of facing me!" he blazed, and green flames burst from his hands with raw concussive power, sending Buckshot flying backwards. Pestilence ducked, only just avoiding collision as her friend hit the wall of the cell. He got up, singed but still ready to fight, only to have Splicer hurriedly slam the cell door shut on him. Angry fists hammered on the door, as Pyre side-stepped a lance attack from the guard and sent him sprawling with a swinging punch. He turned on Wrath then, Sarkazein at the ready.

"Yes...we knew that this is how it must be," Wrath rasped, beckoning Pyre onward. He had an old longsword in his hand, one of his many weapons acquired from the bodies of his enemies. "Come, brother! Bring me war and fury!"

Pyre rushed forward, snarling and ready to fight, bringing his sword up. As soon as he readied himself to strike, fully intending to maim or kill the Archon, a bolt of all-encompassing pain shot through his mind, an agony he never could have imagined. He staggered, stumbled, his momentum grinding to a horrendous halt. White flashes of pain were erupting in his brain, and his sword dropped from his fingers. Wrath looked at him, surprised, as Pyre fell to his knees, a roar of pain escaping him.

"What is this?" Wrath asked.

"You will not kill the Archon! Your filthy sword is nothing but a toy to be knocked from your grasp! Interloper! Maniac!" Splicer spat, scurrying over to the dropped Pyre. Pyre made a weak grab at Splicer's knee, but could bearly manage the energy to even hold himself up on hands and knees.

"What have you done?" Wrath demanded of him.

"When he was brought before me, I knew he would either prove a valuable member of the crew, my lord, or another would-be usurper, like Thrall before him. I repaired his injuries- and took the time to set up a countermeasure in his neural net," Splicer said proudly. "Any attempt to harm you will bring the most devastating pain. He will be a loyal subject, or an easy kill. Whatever you wish, my lord."

"I HAVE NO WISH FOR AN 'EASY KILL'!" Wrath bellowed, looming over Splicer. The doctor took several steps backward, cringing. "Do you think me a doddering old waste, to be pandered to and fed scraps of battle? I AM THE ARCHON! I AM THE SWORD OF RETRIBUTION! YOU HAVE SHAMED ME AND YOURSELF!"

Pyre could see the hilt of Sarkazein ahead of him, but it seemed to be doubling and tripling on itself in his blurred vision. He lifted a hand to grab at it, and stared down at his hand. He felt fear trickling through him. His hand was growing indistinct, almost hazy. He could see the bolts of the floor tiles through it. He knew that he was not strictly Pyre- he was a construct, created by Ifrit and given a soul plucked from oblivion. Held together by will. And now the pain was impeding even that will to exist.

"M-my lord, if by chance you should be slain, how would we return home?" Splicer asked Wrath. The Archon, who was nearly quaking with rage, let himself take this in, and forced some measure of composure back upon himself.

"Guards! Jail him. I have not forgotten my reason for coming in here," he demanded. Two of the guards were groggily getting back to their feet, the third still out cold. They took Pyre by the arms, kicking his sword away. The waves of pain were receding, and Pyre was managing some bits of thought. And he found himself remembering one thing most strongly: Despite Tempest's urging, despite her covert assistance of him following Wrath to the brig, she hadn't appeared to aid him in the fight. She'd been nowhere to be seen.

The guards pulled the door open, leveling guns on Buckshot and Pestilence. Buckshot took a step back, fists clenched, as they deposited Pyre on the cell floor- and grabbed Pestilence.

"NO! YOU BASTARDS! I'LL-" Buckshot rushed at them, and took a laser to the chest for his trouble. He fell over the insensate Pyre, while Pestilence- with a terrible calm- allowed herself to be pulled from the cell, arms secured behind her back, and marched out after a brooding Wrath and a servile Splicer. Her friends were left stunned and beaten behind her, the cell door slamming shut with a reverberating clang.

---------------------

The Maximal soldiers peered out into the rain, which had intensified from a drizzle to a steady pouring. Their instruments told them that the Avenging Sword still had not restored its cloaking field, but flying above the clouds- or away from the storm- would easily save them from the searing raindrops. Even if that hadn't been the case, the Avenging Sword was a huge ship; it could withstand quite a bit more damage than any of them.

"The ship is still pinging on our radar, sir," Emitter said, looking up from his laptop and over at Switchback.

"There's not much we can do about it. In this weather, we wouldn't make it thirty steps back towards the Beacon before we collapsed," he replied.

"There is one thing we can do," Emitter said slowly, neutrally, indicating with a nudge of his foot the case of missiles.

"That's a last resort only. Just keep trying to clear up the signal. Any information you can get about what our friends are up to on that ship," Switchback directed.

Nimbus had moved into the tunnels, setting up a couple of spotlights into the rocky ceiling in case the soldiers needed to retreat further inward. The darkness was almost total, and it could be a matter of only meters before they rounded one corner too many, descended too far, and found themselves in an underground lake. The tall, frowning hawk soldier set up another light, focused on his work, and gradually illuminated, segment by segment, the corridor in which Thrall was planning to kill him.

The scarred Predacon lurked around a corner. He'd been searched for any weaponry by the soldiers- no gun, no knives, no swords or bombs. But he had shin armor that protruded upward to an unusual degree, and, needing no great degree of vision in these tunnels he'd called refuge for so long, he easily took hold of one of his shins' armor plating and worked loose a long, wickedly sharp blade, easily concealed in a palm.

Nimbus was getting closer. The disruptive chords of agony in Thrall's fraying neural net were singing, and he could already imagine the welcome he'd receive from the brethren for wiping out the Maximal insurgents, one by one. He lifted his palm, and readied himself to strike.

-------------------------

Pestilence had been taken to one of the dreadnought's hangars. Though the soldiers escorting her had made it quite clear they were willing to drag her there, she'd kept a calm and steady stroll throughout. They'd stoically ignored her witticisms and observations as they strapped her into the metallic chair. Now she waited, arms and legs firmly bolted down, watching as Splicer readied the frame around her, plugging power cords in at various ports along it.

She looked to the far end of the hangar. There was what she took to be Pyre's ship, still being pored over by a few soldiers. There was her own ship, the AXALON, and around it a burnt-out frame strongly resembling the one Splicer was connecting to her chair. She could see other soldiers above on the catwalks. And this, she thought, was the most unnerving aspect of it all- in her many years, and few previous incarnations, enemies had tried to extract information from her before. That had always been done in small, confined rooms- dark, secret, away from view. They were setting up in the middle of the hangar. They'd torture her in full view of everyone.

"Let it be known that, were you even to offer me what you know right now, in an attempt to avoid what is coming, I would not grant that respite," Wrath rasped, glaring down at her. "You have forced me into this, and you shall reap the reward of your arrogance. But you may receive only a small punishment, or the full measure thereof- that is up to you."

"The device is ready, my lord Archon," Splicer said, standing up straight. He pulled over a cabinet on wheels from his lab, fishing in it for tools.

"How do I open that ship?" Wrath asked, pointing at the AXALON. Pestilence craned her neck to look at it, then smiled at him.

"I'm not so sure about your opening. Aren't you supposed to try to break my will by making me renounce some fact? Like, saying there's actually six lights on the ceiling when I can see there's eight? Or, to continue the numbers in a more Orwellian fashion, you could get me to say that two plus two isn't four, it's five. Would that make you feel better about yourself?"

Wrath made a gesture to Splicer, who activated a remote he'd taken from the cabinet. Pestilence felt a surge of energy rush into and out of her body, crackling with pain- she arched out from the chair, unable to pull herself from it with her limbs shackled down, and gasped as she felt energy, and vitality, leave her body. She sank back into the seat, shaken.

"Most interesting! I have only theorized the effects of using this device on another Cybertronian. Mental disorientation, fatigue, acute pain and loss of power. You've just experienced a 3% power drain," Splicer informed her.

"How might I enter that ship? Is it locked out by a voice command, or a type of key?" Wrath asked patiently.

"You'd think, as a scientist, I'd reject the idea that two plus two equals anything but four," Pestilence said, regrouping and speaking once more with a bit of effort. "But I've been to planets on the other side of the galaxy. I've been to parallel universes. Math is a concept created by sentient beings anyhow- Who's to say that, in some realities, two plus two does not equal five?"

"Amplify the power-syphon," Archon directed. Splicer made some adjustments and hit the switch, and another, more intense bolt of pain raced through Pestilence's body, running up and down her torso and limbs before draining back into the frame. Her face contorted; she went into a spasm, fingers jerking and shaking. She slumped.

"18% power drain," Splicer said, smiling. "Her vitality is incredible."

"How do I get into that ship?" Wrath demanded, his weathered face and burning red optics glaring down at her. Pestilence actually smiled, optics blinking rapidly.

"Two...plus two...is five," she said.

Wrath ordered another hit, and Pestilence felt once more that massive, draining shock of pain. Her feet kicked wildly in their shackles.

"Your ship! You will give it to me!" Wrath shouted down at her.

"Two plus...two...is," Pestilence wheezed. She laughed a little, shaking. "Two plus two is green."

Splicer increased the amplitude, and her optics lit up with energy overload. The frame hummed, sucking out more of her essence like a monstrous metallic leech.

"34% power drain," the doctor reported.

"Two," Pestilence said with agony, "Plus two...is chair..."

"You can end this now! Your ship is the key to the salvation of this crew! You will tell me or you will die here!" Wrath said, taking her chin in his hand and forcing her to look up at him with her unfocused, pain-filled optics. "TELL ME!"

"Two...plus two...is I'm not giving you...anything," she gasped.

"Amplify it," Wrath directed.

"I'm not...going to...AGGGHHH! I won't! I refuse! AAAAGGHHH!" Pestilence screamed, pain shooting through her, her body convulsing on the device, the power-syphoning frame glowing brighter beneath her chair.

"Amplify it again," the Archon said, and Splicer moved to comply.

"I won't- ARGH! Ah, ahhh, no, no....GYAAAAGGHHHHH!"


END OF EPISODE FOUR


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: Time and Tide
PostPosted: Sat Dec 17, 2011 3:01 am 

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TIME AND TIDE

EPISODE FIVE

Part One

Pyre woke to an insistent shaking of his shoulders. His optics blinked open and he found himself staring up at the lights of the cell ceiling. Buckshot was looking down at him, battered, his chest still smoldering slightly from a laser burn, and concern in his eyes.

"Pyre, you all right? What happened to you back there?" he asked.

"I-" Pyre lifted his head up, and winced as one last, fading bolt of pain spiked through his skull, a protest at the motion. He pulled himself to a sitting position against the wall, and glanced around the room. The door was scuffed many times over. Sarkazein was missing, and his internal weaponry was...inaccessible. Splicer again.

"The door?" he asked faintly.

"No good. That thing's made to keep in Predacon soldiers. I've been hammering myself against it for the past twenty minutes. Surprised the noise didn't wake you up. Seriously, what happened?"

"The doctor. Splicer. He made some adjustments to my neural net," Pyre said, calming himself, letting the pain subside until he felt more alert. "When I tried to strike Archon Wrath, I dropped."

"Not just dropped, your hand started fading," Buckshot said.

Pyre looked at the appendage, solid and strong once more, and frowned.

"You remember how you and Pestilence and Calamari found me? A magic construct, created by Ifrit, with Pyre's soul- my soul- taken from the void and put into it. I'm held together by will. Whatever Splicer did to me, it..." he trailed off, unwilling to say what he was thinking. The pain was so great, he'd started to let himself fall apart.

"We're gonna get that guy. Him, Wrath, all of them. We're gonna put some serious hurt on them," Buckshot said, pacing the cell. "We just have to get out of here."

"Any escape plans?" Pyre asked, pulling himself to his feet.

"Not yet," Buckshot admitted. "But they took Pest. We gotta save her. We gotta do something!"

He made another sudden charge at the door, putting his shoulder into it. He gave it a mighty hit, but the triple-thick door, and its hinges on the other side, remained steadfast. Pyre gave it a try of his own, smashing his side into it, but the door continued to hold.

"How'd you get here anyway, man? This planet?" Buckshot asked.

Pyre tapped his fingers against the wall, frowning behind his face-plate.

"The last time you saw me, I'd stayed on the colony planet, Westbrook, to look after Ifrit now that he's mortal. I take it you've kept traveling since then," he said.

"Sure. I remember that. We've been bouncing around a few different planets. Nanites took over the AXALON. There was that planet of dead people controlled by a personification of Entropy. Oh yeah, and the Magmen. Walking lava monsters," Buckshot said, clarifying the last at Pyre's nonplussed glance.

"Sounds normal enough for you three," Pyre grunted. "But in that time, several months passed on Westbrook. Ifrit took to civilian life well enough. I preferred to keep to myself. But we were being watched. These entities...more cosmic beings. They came to recruit us, willingly or not, into a fight."

"A fight? Against what?"

"Something terrible," Pyre said, struggling inwardly to pull up those dark memories. "I saw Ifrit almost killed...he confronted it, just to save me. I knew he was still alive, and on the run. The old man gave me a ship. I swore I'd get Ifrit back."

"Get him back from where?" Buckshot asked, and Pyre was about to respond when the door, in its brief moment of respite from the steady blows Buckshot had been raining on it, suddenly swung open. Even in their battered states, both of them responded to this unexpected opportunity well- they moved forward as one, fists raised, only to be repelled by a shimmering red force field erected over a radius of a few inches around the door.

Tempest stood before them, arms folded at her chest, a frown on her classically beautiful face. She was flanked by two guards who evidently answered to her alone- one was pointing a powerful-looking rifle at the two prisoners, the other pressing a hand to his chest, keeping a pair of fingers pressed on a force field emitter. They could see another pair of guards, the brig security personnel, hanging back a prudent distance. One of them had Sarkazein proudly slung over his back.

"I'm sorry it ended up like this," she said slowly.

"Tempest," Pyre growled.

"Who's this?" Buckshot asked, looking from Pyre to the Predacon soldier.

"My co-conspirator in my attempt to take down Wrath. She didn't follow through on her end of the agreement," Pyre said, glaring at her.

"I gave you an opening, you didn't live up to it," she said, frown deepening. "Pyre, I thought you were going to bring real change. The catalyst to begin a changing of the guard. I didn't know what Splicer had done to you. If I had, I'd have never asked you to do this."

"It came down to fighting Wrath or serving aboard this ship. I don't regret my choice."

"You guys are talking about taking over the ship. Won't these guys rat on you?" Buckshot asked, indicating the guards flanking Tempest, as well as the brig security.

"These two are my personal guards, and respond only to my authority. As for the brig security- they're trained to stay completely neutral. This isn't the first attempted coup," Tempest said, glancing haughtily at Buckshot. "Promotion on a Predacon ship is often bloody."

"Convenient that you never have to get blood on your hands," Pyre said. "I'm not the first soldier you've drafted to this cause, am I? How'd the others wind up?"

"You don't understand. I'm not taking advantage of anyone. The will to overthrow the Archon is present in more of the crew than you'd think! I'm not the only one who sees it. His degenerating health, his fits of rage, he can't see the present for the glories of the past. Now, I could lead some violent revolt, have half the crew battling the other half until we're all slaughtered. Or, I can help the right person take over, with as little violence as possible."

"You're a real pacifist, lady," Buckshot snorted.

"I need to stay where I am!" Tempest replied angrily. "Maximals below us, a sea of acid, dwindling supplies! This crew needs to get home, and if I die in a botched take-over, who's going to organize it? Wrath would have us dive-bomb the Maximals and go out in a blaze. And you're not so different from him, I should've seen it from the start."

"Tempest, listen to me," Pyre said. He leaned in- he couldn't place his hands on the force field, but he did set them on either side of the door-frame. "You have one more chance at this. Let us out. Help us save Pestilence."

"If anyone knows how to overthrow a bad guy without resorting to violence, it's her," Buckshot agreed. "I don't know what Wrath's doing to her, but you can't let it happen."

Tempest paused, looking from face to face. Her personal guards kept their weapons ready, the force field emitter still generating its barricades. The brig security, who'd seen Thrall and a couple more besides in here, kept tactfully quiet.

"...I'm sorry. You can't change anything right now," Tempest said, taking a few steps back and motioning for one of her guards to push the door shut.

"You're making a mistake," Pyre warned her.

Tempest paused, pursing her lips, and seemed about to reply when something crashed in the corridor just outside the brig. The security guard who'd claimed Pyre's sword moved to investigate, as the other three turned to watch him. He lifted up a pipe, severed at both ends with sweeping cuts that looked like claw-strikes.

"Who did this?" he asked. "This pipe came from the ceiling."

"The ceiling-!" Tempest said, instantly on alert, before a metallic tentacle swung down from above and pulled off her guard's force field emitter, throwing it aside. The shimmering red barrier holding the prisoners inside their cell vanished, and as abruptly, the security personnel were set upon by Zefrian assailants. Calamari dropped down from the vent, along with two more of them, and the brig quickly descended into chaos as Buckshot and Pyre joined the fray.

It was over in a matter of moments. Buckshot fought like a barroom berserker, swinging fists into faces, while Pyre deflected any attacks that came his way and redirected them into bone-crunching takedowns. The Zefrians slashed and weaved, moving with eerie fluidity, leaving deep but non-lethal cuts with their talons. The guards were down, and Pyre held Tempest aloft by the neck as she kicked at midair. She'd first gone for her pistol, only to have Calamari knock it away, and struggled before being overwhelmed. Also, one of the Zefrians had hip-tossed one of her guards into her. That hadn't helped matters.

"Bucky! You're okay! ...Kind of," Calamari said, happily embracing her friend before seeing the dents and burns adorning his chest.

"No big deal," Buckshot assured her.

"You reptiles cannot be serious! Years of pacifism, following the stars, and now you attempt a revolt?!" Tempest said with outrage, glaring down at the Zefrians. Now that the violence was concluded, they'd steeped their webbed hands, murmuring low sentiments of regret to the defeated Predacons.

"You've wanted to revolt for a long time. Perhaps you sought the wrong allies," the tallest Zefrian said, flapping a fin diffidently.

"Where's Pestilence?" Calamari asked.

"Gone. They took her somewhere- I think they're..." Buckshot trailed off, looking helpless for a moment. Determination took over. "We gotta find her and get her back to the AXALON. Pyre?"

Pyre had only barely heard their conversation. He still had Tempest by the throat, elevating her a good two feet from the floor. His strong, thick fingers almost seemed to rub at her neck as he contemplated the deed. She'd led him to believe she was his ally. Let him throw himself into the fire, only stepping in if he succeeded. Her fear-stricken optics bored into his.

"All I have to do is flick my wrist," he growled.

"Pyre? What are you doing?" Calamari asked, her voice growing small.

Pyre didn't respond, staring at Tempest- seeing in her the face of every manipulative bureaucrat he'd ever dealt with. He loomed over her, a shadow of death, before he felt Calamari's hand at his arm, and Buckshot by his side.

"We don't have time for that, man," Buckshot said. His voice was low but understanding. "We have to go help Pestilence or she'll die. You get that? She'll die. We need you. She won't want us saving her like this."

"What makes you think I care what she wants?" Pyre asked savagely. "Who are you? Who are either of you?!"

"We're your friends," Calamari said. "Well...we want to be."

Pyre looked back at Tempest, and scowled. The Zefrians remained silent, observing but not intervening. Pyre found himself thinking of the old man who'd given him his ship. And Pestilence, and even Ifrit. Something in him wanted to strike Tempest down, badly, but something else in him cried out against doing so.

"...I told you you were making a mistake. Now's your one chance to do something about it. Where are they keeping Pestilence?" he asked, keeping his grip firm on Tempest. She looked from him, to Buckshot and Calamari, and her shoulders slumped in resignation.

"She's in Docking Bay 02. The Zefrians know the way there, they've certainly helped you out so far. My command code is...'paradigm'. That'll get you access everywhere," she said.

"Thanks," Pyre rumbled, and lowered her to the floor- before pushing her into the cell. She stepped forward, anger in her eyes, before he slammed the heavy metal door shut. He looked at Buckshot and Calamari, as though daring them to protest this, but only got a thumbs-up from Buckshot and a hesitant smile from Calamari.

"Hey, that's a pretty good place for her. You might need this, though," Buckshot said, picking up Sarkazein and tossing it to Pyre, who caught it deftly in one hand before sheathing it.

"Docking Bay 02. How quick can you guys get us there?" Calamari asked the Zefrians.

"As quickly as luck will allow. Come," the tallest one beckoned, and the trio of Cybertronians moved with them into the black, strobing-red corridors of the ship.

----------------------

Nimbus set another light into the tunnel ceiling, tapping it a couple of times until the finicky light winked on. His frown deepened as he looked up at it. He didn't like the idea of depending on a network of tunnels to hide in, but they were rapidly running out of options. The Predacons kept forcing them into more and more corners. And Switchback seemed unwilling to allow that there may be no third choice beyond flight-or-fight.

Thrall moved silently, swiftly between rocky alcoves in the darkness. He'd spent a long time hiding out in these caves, secure behind the holographic barrier at the entrance. He'd had more than enough time to memorize the layout. But his thinking was muddled; discordant sounds and images were flitting through his mind, his temples ringing with chimes of pain. It'd go away when he performed his duty. He'd been tricked into allying himself with usurpers. Another betrayal. Never again.

Nimbus rounded a corner, still fiddling with the unreliable spotlight in his hands, his sidearm in his belt. He glanced up to see a half-scarred nightmare rushing at him out of the dark, a makeshift blade pulled from armor plating in its hand. Thrall was upon him in an instant, roaring, stabbing at his chest.

The thigh plate turned dagger plunged into Nimbus's breast, propelled by the manic strength of insanity and the rigorous strength training of the brethren. He cried out, stumbling backward, the spotlight falling to the tunnel floor and shattering.

"For the glory of the Predacon race! I will redeem myself, and never suffer again another dishonor!" Thrall raved, his ghoulish half-melted face leering as he plunged the dagger again, haphazardly, into Nimbus's chest. The soldier fell to his knees, scrabbling at his belt for his sidearm, and pulled it free, managing a couple of lasers into the Predacon's shoulder. Getting to his feet, he turned and stumbled back down the corridor he'd been carefully lighting up until this moment.

"I'M UNDER ATTACK! I NEED BACKUP!" he shouted, as mechfluid streamed down his chest and electricity crackled from the rent circuitry.

"No more betrayal! No more! Never again!" Thrall shouted, lurching after him. It was his final miscalculation, a once keen mind frayed to bits. Rather than retreat into the tunnels he knew so well, he followed his prey, the only thing he could focus on just now, out of the tunnel and into the larger cavern. Nimbus dropped, and the other soldiers opened up. A Predacon pursuing one of their comrades, with a mechfluid-slick blade held aloft? It was enough to go on.

Thrall's torso was riddled with lasers and he fell backward, his good optic widening. He hit the rocky floor with a crash, his makeshift blade clattering away. His empty hand opened and closed, as he stared up at the ceiling that had become so familiar to him. The pain was subsiding, and blessed quiet was emerging in his tormented mind. He let himself drift away. His optics winked off.

"Nimbus? Nimbus! We need a repair kit here!" Emitter shouted, dropping by his fallen superior's side. The hawk turned over, grimacing.

"No need just yet. He didn't get any vital systems. Not too many, anyway," he said, wincing. "He popped out of nowhere. I never saw him coming. He's just a beast! They're all just beasts!"

"We'll get you stabilized. Hold tight, we'll make sure he's down," Switchback said.

"I'm all right, sir- just make sure he's down for good," Nimbus requested, pointing at the fallen Thrall. Switchback paused, nodded, and motioned to a couple more soldiers to carefully check on the Predacon. Nimbus watched them, spitting out a gob of mechfluid on the stone, and his expression hardened. He looked at Emitter.

"The rockets. Push the case to me. I've got the arming codes," he said quickly, urgently.

"Sir-?"

"I'm giving you an order. We need to put these animals down. Give me your laptop."

Emitter, looking nervously over at the other soldiers as they surrounded Thrall, pulled the oblong metallic rocket case over, as well as his trusty laptop. Nimbus, propping himself painfully up on one elbow, punched a numeric code into the case and pulled the lid off, revealing four launching mechanisms within the case, already loaded with guided missiles. He glanced at Emitter's laptop, gleaning its coordinates. The Avenging Sword had not yet restored its cloaking field. That little Predacon scientist in the goggles and the coat had done one good thing for them, at least. Nimbus's finger paused over the fire button on the case. Well...she had her own ship. She'd make it out in time.

He pushed the case toward the cavern entrance, sending it out into the rain, unmindful of the acid drops burning his hands and sizzling into the metal case. He hit the fire button. The first missile launched straight up into the air, rocketing up towards the clouds and swinging toward its moving target. Switchback spun around as soon as he heard the firing noise, as did the other soldiers.

"You can stick me in what's left of the Beacon's brig for this if you want to, sir. But I had to do it," Nimbus said, and pushed the case the rest of the way out into the storm. The missiles were all programmed and locked onto their target, and they launched one after the other, shooting out into the downpour.

----------------------

The bridge crew of the Avenging Sword moved back and forth among glowing computer screens in their recessed pit, navigating around the central dais with its crackling column of energy. They'd been trying for hours to fully restore the systems damaged by the laser emitted from the Maximals' force field generators. There was some success, but other vital systems were still winking on and off. Nowhere to set down and make fuller repairs, either.

"What is the status of our cloaking field?" the officer in charge asked the soldier at tactical, stopping near his station.

"It will take another hour to finish aligning the generator panels. That attack threw them out of sync," the tactical officer replied. "But I am confident in its imminent restoration."

"Very well. Send a communique to High Lieutenant Tempest, inform her that inertial dampeners are back online, however finicky, and restoration of weapons systems is underway. Where is Tempest, anyhow?" the officer asked, brow furrowing.

"My lord!" another soldier spun around at her station. "Incoming missiles detected and homing in on our position!"

"Shields? Raise the shields!" he ordered, startled.

"Shields are at 40% restoration, and missing entirely on aft and starboard sides!"

"Then turn hard to port to take the shot! We have lasers to destroy the missiles!"

"Lasers are still offline, sir. Missile bays as well," the tactical soldier reported, optics widening.

"Evasive maneuvers! Send for the Archon and the High Lieutenant, at once! And brace for impact!" the officer barked, gripping at the railing at the rim of the pit as the dreadnought swooped away through the clouds, the first missile giving pursuit.

------------------------

"Incredible, my lord. Quite incredible," Splicer said with deep satisfaction, looking down at Pestilence. She hadn't given them any ideas as to how they might access her ship, and her replies had grown fainter and less coherent with each drain of power. But truthfully, Splicer had lost some interest in the ship, finding himself absorbed in the unbelievable strength and vitality that was surging into his power-siphoning frame, spiking readings on his scanner. Archon Wrath had stared at her, red optics narrowed, but there was little more to see. Pestilence's head slumped forward on her chest, her optics dimmed.

"A power drain of 94%, and she's still alive," Splicer continued. "Any soldier on this ship would have succumbed long before this! Excepting present company, naturally."

"She's given us nothing. A worthy foe in spirit, at least," the Archon said at length. "She is surely nearing death. I see no point in reviving her."

"Ah! Let me be so uncouth as to dispute you on that one point, my lord. While we are no closer to gaining entrance to her ship, nor successfully activating Pyre's, I see a wealth of potential in her neural net! Observe these readings!" Splicer bustled over to Wrath's side, showing him the scanner. "Her mind is unlike anything ever observed in Cybertronians. Connections upon connections, algorithms and subroutines far, far in advance of any shipboard AI we could create! It's possible that she has the key to finding a way to stabilize the energy output for Operation: Eclipse."

At that, Wrath stirred. He looked at Splicer with dawning intrigue.

"Truly?" he asked, and the diminutive scientist nodded. "Give me that scanner. If we can feed this data into the computers on the bridge, perhaps-"

Before the Archon could finish, a sudden quake rocked the ship, causing him and Splicer to stumble slightly on their feet. Alarms blared across the hangar, and soldiers began to scatter, hurrying along catwalks and through corridors to battle stations.

"My lord Archon, we're under attack! The Maximals have managed to target us with guided missiles! We've taken the first to our port shields, but three more are inbound!" the bridge officer interjected, his worried visage crackling into existence as a static-filled hologram at Wrath's wrist.

"The jackals strike from behind, as ever," the Archon growled. "Where is Tempest?"

"Unknown, sir!"

"Then I will make haste to the bridge. Continue to evade the projectiles! There is hope yet!" Wrath shouted, taking the scanner filled with Pestilence's readings with him. He turned back towards Splicer. "Stay with her. There may be further need of her."

Buckshot, Pyre, and Calamari rounded a corner, led by the Zefrians, who, having had to navigate their way quietly around soldiers who were gruffly indifferent at best and violently confrontational at worst, had learned plenty of alternate access points to vital areas. Buckshot leaned around the corner, peering down the length of the hangar and seeing soldiers rushing towards other areas.

"This place is emptying out. We've got a shot," he said, raising his voice to be heard over the din of the alarms.

"She's down there!" Calamari pointed out. He turned to look, as did Pyre, who caught a glimpse of Splicer bustling over her. Pyre's face tightened into a grimace, and he took off running, with the reptilians and the other Cybertronians behind him. Splicer glanced up at the sound of their approach, and dropped his scanner in astonishment. As they were nearing him, the second missile struck the ship, rocking the entire deck. Splicer fell to his back, and quickly scrambled to his feet.

"Splicer to all security personnel! I need backup, immediately!" he squawked, quaking fingers clutching at his communicator, only to see an unhelpful red light and blitzing static. The communications network was down now, too. The doctor spun and took off at top speed, throwing one last triumphant glance at Pyre as he fled into an adjacent corridor and hit the switch to bring a security shutter down. Pyre hit the shutter at full force, denting it inward, and hammered a fist against it, seeing only a narrow view through the space between the wall and the door, created by the force of his blow, of Splicer retreating down the hall.

"Pest! PEST! Wake up!" Calamari yelled, skidding to a stop by the power-siphoning frame and shaking her friend's shoulders. Pestilence's head lolled to one side. "Bucky, is she-?"

"She's not dead. But she don't look good," Buckshot said, staring, as Pyre returned to their sides. "We gotta unhook her from this thing."

Pestilence's optics, which had been dim nearly to the point of blackness, abruptly winked on with a blazing golden light. She sat upright, limbs tightening against their restraints, and a burst of energy traveled along her frame like a shock wave. Fully alert, she turned her head from side to side, looking at her friends.

"I...I....I'm not...something's going on," she said, unsteadily.

"Freakin' understatement. Come on, before this whole ship goes into the sea," Buckshot said, moving to unhook one of the cables, and she shook her head vehemently. She looked at her hands under the restraints, seeing them beginning to glow with an eerie golden light, that was starting to suffuse her entire body.

"No. No! It's not time yet! This isn't the place for it, I'm not ready!" she said, urgency and apprehension in her voice, and rattled against her restraints.

"Pest? What's happening to you?" Calamari asked, now truly scared.

"Pyre!" Pestilence lunged forward as best she could, and gripped Pyre's wrist tightly in one glowing hand. "That ship of yours...it's a dimension-hopper, isn't it?"

"It- yes. But-"

"Can you start its engine? Can you just ignite it briefly?" Pestilence demanded. At Pyre's hesitant nod, she implored: "Then do it! Right now! NOW!"

Pyre didn't say another word, or linger another instant. He turned and ran towards the Crossover, leaving Buckshot and Calamari behind to attend to their friend. A third missile impacted the ship and the entire deck canted to one angle, a pylon crashing down inches from Pyre's feet. He barely broke his stride, vaulting over it, and as a soldier rounded the corner Pyre clotheslined him to the ground, kicking him in the face and knocking him out, and leaped up onto the open entrance hatch of his vessel.

Retrieving the severed wires from his person, he plopped down into the modified pilot's seat of the cockpit, seeing to the right of its viewscreen Pestilence sagging forward as her companions undid her manacles. She was glowing brighter, beginning to flash intermittently, almost too bright to look at. Pyre finished resetting the wires into place. He still couldn't make a jump, the ship was too badly damaged, but if she needed an engine firing, that he could do.

He hit the ignition and the circular tiers of plating on the back began to spin rapidly, tugging on the threads of universe and pulling the very particles apart, creating an effect like being inside of a blender. The pan-dimensional maelstrom warped and blurred, growing very bright, and then the Crossover's heavy damage made its presence known, shutting down the ship before it could get going. As the rift sealed up, without the Crossover punching through it as designed, the aftershock remained the same- a ripple in time itself flowing outward like a stone into a pond, and Pyre felt again that bizarre doubling sensation as he pulled his hands back from the controls, twice.

Pestilence let out a grimace of exertion, and, seeming to ride out that recursion wave, her companions watched as she forced the glowing aura back within herself, and the counters and meters on the power-siphoning frame went berserk as its ill-gotten energy funneled back into Pestilence. The glow diminished, finally fading away, and Pestilence slumped- exhausted, but restored.

"What was that?" Calamari asked, slowly unhooking her from the chair. She sagged against Buckshot, weak, barely able to stand, as Pyre rejoined them.

"It's an old...modification of mine. If I'm close to death, I can...change. Long story," she said faintly. "The recursion wave...Pyre's ship...I know how to take advantage of the doubling effect. I forced my energy into the frame...overloaded it."

"So you're not going to, um, change?" Calamari asked, still uncertain as to what Pestilence had meant by that.

"Not anymore. I'll...be okay," she said, trying to take a step and nearly falling on her face. Pyre caught her, and she gratefully leaned on both his and Buckshot's arms. "I'm...still a bit out of it. But I'm not going down today. Not. Today."

She looked around, taking stock of their surroundings. The alarm klaxons were blaring continuously now.

"Cal, did you see what happened to my ionic spanner?" she asked, pressing a couple of fingers to her head as though to blot out the noise.

"I think that skeevy doctor guy might've taken it," Calamari replied sympathetically.

"Fine. I can build another. But first, I'm disabling this ship," Pestilence said, her tone resolute. "Pyre, Bucky, help me over to that engineering console on the wall. It'll do."

With their assistance, the petite scientist hobbled over to the archaic (by their futuristic standards) wall-mounted computer. Letting go of their limbs, Pestilence stood up straight experimentally, and was rewarded to find that she was slowly regaining her strength, in spite of the pain and weariness still lingering within her. She began to access the ship's menus, rebooting whole sections into diagnostic mode, finding back entries within the system.

"This software was bordering on obsolete centuries ago. The benefits of time travel. I didn't want to go to this length, but they've forced my hand," Pestilence said resolutely, glaring angrily at the menus and diagrams as they popped up one over the other, her sure fingers calling up options and canceling out others.

"What are you doing?" Calamari asked curiously.

"Picking a lock with a sledgehammer," Pestilence replied. "There's still a fourth missile en route. They've successfully evaded it so far. We'll see how they maneuver with the functioning shields in a recharge cycle and bridge commands to a third of the ship locked out."

Her hands, long since broken past the systems' old-fashioned encryption, danced over the menus, realigning holographic power line displays and canceling out warning messages. Buckshot gave an uncertain glance down at Pestilence. Her face was set, her optics narrowed. She was furious, and every message of danger, of outraged system inquiries from engineers in other areas of the ship, was simply bypassed. She looked, in that moment, like she'd happily wreck the entire ship. He'd never seen this side of her before.

"Grab onto something sturdy," she said curtly. Buckshot immediately complied, as did the others. The ship quaked as the fourth missile sailed into areas that had, only moments before Pestilence's intrusion into the systems, been protected by shields. An explosion rippled across the hull, taking no lives but blowing out vital systems and sending parts of the dreadnought's outer plating falling away. With engineering cut off, the bridge crippled, and the shields vanquished, that left nowhere for the dreadnought to go but down.

-----------------------

The Avenging Sword, trailing fire and debris from its ruined side, sailed over a range of mountains, its shadow racing over the landscape. Pestilence, who was clutching at a collapsed pylon with one arm and holding tightly to one of the Zefrians with the other, had seen via the sensors the ship was above land. A crash landing would be rough, catastrophic, but survivable. She'd underestimated the bridge's ability to keep the ship aloft.

Those last-minute course corrections, even in spite of the ship's damage, kept it flying several moments longer, passing miles of terrain, its flight path unsteady and ever dipping. The dreadnought's underside clipped a mountain peak, breaking off rocks and sending them tumbling below. The ship's descent brought it towards a shore-line, a declining slope of rock and gravel the only bulwark against the deadly tides. The impact was massive, great showers of dirt flying upward as the dreadnought buried its nose into the ground, skidding along its once fearsome prow.

The massive warship's momentum burrowed a rift in the earth, scattering boulders and uprooting tree trunks, until it crested the slope- and carried on forward into the sea. The prow sunk into the water, the spontaneous chemical reaction immediately beginning to corrode the metallic hull plates. At the moment, the ship was only slightly submerged- but then, loosened and weakened by the force of the blow, the slope and adjoining cliff began to break down. The Avenging Sword, proud flagship of the Predacon race, started to slide deeper, in increments of meters, into the sea.

End of Part One


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: Time and Tide
PostPosted: Sat Dec 17, 2011 3:03 am 

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TIME AND TIDE

EPISODE FIVE

Part Two

The hangar was on a tilt, now, and a few lighter crates and tools went sliding down the deck, past the handful of Cybertronians who'd anchored themselves to safe spots by hand and by foot. Pestilence dislodged herself from the beam she'd held onto, glancing over at the AXALON. She needn't have worried; while at a definite lean, the silver booth was sturdy and still held traction to the floor.

"How bad is it?" Buckshot asked, as Pestilence moved over to the engineering panel.

"Worse than I thought," she said, frowning as she tapped at the panel, despite its intermittent bursts of static. "The ship didn't make land, it's sinking prow-first into the ocean."

The inter-personnel communications channels were still down, but apparently the ship-wide intercom was still working, as they heard a harried female voice crackling in the air above their heads, addressing the entire vessel:

"Emergency alert! We are taking on water! Lower decks must be evacuated immediately! All soldiers to accessible escape pods! We are abandoning ship!"

"Tempest?" Pyre murmured, glancing up at the intercom.

"Belay that!" another, harsher voice rasped, overtaking the channel. "The Avenging Sword is not yet lost! Hold, my brothers, hold- we are at the cusp of salvation! I have the formulas I need! Operation: Eclipse is at hand!"

"And that must be the Archon," Pestilence finished. "We can't leave the ship yet- even a quarter-submerged in the ocean, with acid eating away the hull, Wrath might manage to succeed at his plan. We've got to get to the bridge and stop him."

The Zefrians had clustered around Calamari, and were murmuring to her, with the occasional wiggle of a fin. She turned toward Pestilence.

"There's more locals locked up in cells a couple decks down, they said. I told them I've got Thrall's command codes, they want me to help open them up."

"You know these guys can swim in that water. You'll melt in it," Buckshot said, a big-brotherly concern in his eyes.

"No way I'm taking long enough for the water to get to our level," Calamari said resolutely. "Please, Pest- I've got to help them. I'll open up the cells and crack open a door so they can get off the ship, and get right back here."

Pestilence took only a moment to consider it, and nodded. Calamari patted one of the tattooed reptilians' shoulders, and they hurried away down the other end of the hangar. Buckshot watched them go, and Pestilence touched his shoulder.

"Bucky, Pyre and I are going up to the bridge, stop Wrath, and pick up Calamari. You know how to fly the AXALON, I need you to get it out of here and come back for us at my signal."

"I- hell, Pest, that's a big checklist for a ship that's filling up with acid. You sure you can make it?" Buckshot asked doubtfully.

"I can make it. We're all making it out of here. Understood?" Pestilence said, glancing from one man to the other. Buckshot nodded, and after a moment, so did Pyre. Pestilence moved with Buckshot to the AXALON, and even deprived of the ionic spanner with which she'd locked it, had it open again in moments with a whispered phrase. She nodded up at her friend as he moved himself inside the silver booth. It lifted up a few inches from the deck, swaying a little with inexperienced hands at the controls, and disappeared. Pestilence nodded to Pyre, and they took off running.

------------------------

Pestilence and Pyre raced up flights of stairs, avoiding elevators, Pestilence leading the way toward the bridge with the aid of a quickly-memorized inspection of the ship's layout on the engineering panel. No soldiers interfered with their progress- some had chosen to follow Tempest's orders, fleeing the ship via escape pod, while others were working damage control or battle stations, staying on at Archon Wrath's behest.

Arriving at nearly the topmost deck, the two might've thought themselves safe for a long while from the water eating up the prow, but entire panels of bulkhead were being melted away, and as their metallic feet clomped on the deck, it canted another couple of degrees. Pestilence hurried towards the large, ornately carved double door to the bridge, which was flanked on either side by malfunctioning security cameras and frayed tapestries of war.

"Locked off! That won't hold me for long," she said, trying the handles before wrenching open the security pad on the side and beginning to manipulate the obsolete wiring system within. Pyre stood behind her, wondering what he'd do to Wrath when they burst in there, or if he could even do it. Then he caught a flicker of motion in the corner of his optic, and turned, seeing Tempest several yards away down the corridor. He turned, her eyes meeting his, and she ran.

"Keep working. I'll get her," he growled, before Pestilence could say anything, and gave chase. Tempest was athletic, long-legged, clearing more ground than Pyre could at a flat run, but another one of those leans nearly ruined her. The ship tilted further and she stumbled, almost falling into an elevator door mindlessly slamming open and shut, giving off sparks. Pyre nearly got to her, and she vaulted into an adjacent corridor, pulling a security shutter closed with a clang. There was an escape pod mounted into the wall behind her- this she activated, its circular door rotating open and a pre-ignition checklist counting down on the wall. Pyre began to pull at the shutter.

"Don't! You need to get off this ship, too! You can come with me!" Tempest shouted over the alarms, taking a couple of cautious steps back as Pyre wrenched at the shutters. He gave no response, just pulling even more angrily at the shutter, the metal bending up and curling in his talons. Tempest pulled herself into the escape pod, strapping herself in and booting up a route to dry land. Pyre pushed the shutter up with an ear-piercing rend of metal and stepped into the corridor in time to see the escape pod's door rotating shut, and Tempest mouthing a heartfelt 'I'm sorry' before the pod blasted away, leaving behind a round port of open air and deadly rain. The dragon scowled, before turning back to rejoin Pestilence.

-----------------------

Archon Wrath stood within the lowered pit of the bridge, pacing slowly around the central pillar and its weakly crackling column of electricity. Error screens and damage warnings flashed on every screen. Wrath made another input, then another, watching as the pillar's glow strengthened. The officers and technicians who were still on the bridge were bent at their consoles, frantically erecting force fields and rerouting power as the ocean ate away at more of the lower levels.

"More escape pods are launched! Light casualties among those who've remained, my lord," one reported, glancing up from a flashing red screen.

"Those who fled are cowards, and will be treated as such," Wrath replied. "Hold! We must hold! Even this damage may be reversed! My calculations are nearly complete."

Some of the stalwarts manning the bridge kept to their duty, expressions of devotion on their faces- while others shot one another uneasy glances. The ship sank a few more meters, and more bulkheads collapsed, water flooding cargo bays below. The ocean was a raging froth around the prow.

"My lord Archon! The damage is growing catastrophic! How can this be reversed?!" a young technician demanded, standing up from his console.

Wrath glared at him. The constant alarms were distracting him. And the pain in his chest was worsening. He pointed at the little data pad in his other palm.

"The engineering section is not yet lost. The engines are dormant, but stable. I finally have the equations I need, to create a stasis beam that will pierce the core of this world, draw up all the infusium we shall ever want, and make this ship fly again! This is a vessel of redundant systems! We could fly with half the weight! NOW MAN YOUR STATION!"

The technician met his smoldering red glare and sat back down, trying to adjust for the heavy damage. Wrath turned back to the central energy pillar, making more adjustments. Wrath could see he was nearly there, and the sheer volume of power ripped from Pestilence was giving him new ideas, new ways to conserve energy and pour it into his final strike...

The heavy door to the bridge, locked off with the Archon's own command codes, slid open. He looked up, startled, and saw Pestilence and Pyre. Alive, both of them, limping and battered and fatigued, but alive. Pyre hefted up his sword, his protective face mask sliding into place, and glared at the Archon.

"It's over, Wrath. I'd suggest you and your bridge crew take some escape pods," Pestilence said. Wrath stood up straight, rolling his broad shoulders, and drew a long, slightly curved blade from a sheath at his back.

"I have the measure of you, girl," he rasped. "You are no warrior. You are a scientist, a pacifist, and you'll not kill me."

At that, Pestilence's small hands curled into fists.

"Just because I won't take your life, doesn't mean I won't find a way to make you pay for what you've done."

"Come, then! Draw your sword! Oh, but I see you have brought none. Your friend has. Are you feeling better, brother? Has your headache subsided?" Wrath asked mockingly.

As a matter of fact, it hadn't. Low, red waves of ache still washed up regularly through Pyre's mind. He knew engaging Wrath would make that pain spike up into an all-consuming agony. He flipped Sarkazein around in his hand and took a step forward.

"Yes, yes! Fight through the pain! Bring me war and fury!" Wrath exulted, madness gleaming in his eyes, and the battle was joined. He brought his curved blade swinging through the air, a wicked slicing noise following it, and Pyre jumped back from the slash. He brought his sword up to strike at Wrath, and with the intent a fresh blast of pain assaulted his neural net, sending him staggering against the central pillar. Pestilence moved to his side and he waved her back, moving his pain-racked body to shield her against the Archon's advance.

Wrath brought his sword down again and again, Pyre lifting his blade to deflect each furious strike, clangs and sparks raining out amidst the chaotic background noise of alarms. Pestilence picked up the dropped data pad, seeing familiar readings on it, and looked at the central pillar. There was some sort of energizing sequence begun, and with all the command lockouts in place she'd have no chance at stopping it in time. She ran to one of the bridge consoles, catching the eyes of one of the more panic-stricken bridge crew.

"Are you going down with the ship?" she asked bluntly. The young technician- in fact the same who'd questioned Wrath- got up from his seat and bolted. Pestilence started to work at the console, and when the other, loyal bridge crew members saw her, their attempts to pull her away from the station were met with zaps from overloaded consoles, or force fields pulled down between her and them, as she played their systems like a guitar with two busted strings still managing a melody.

Pyre was not faring as well. Wrath met the battle with avid glee, his years of wear and tear seemingly falling away, making him seem like a younger man as he slashed at Pyre. Every time the dragon attempted an offensive move, a slice, a thrust, a fresh wave of pain rocked his mind, crossing his optics and nearly sending him to one knee. Even knowing to expect it, he still found himself caught off guard by the ferocity of the pain. Inwardly he cursed Splicer, managing to deflect another strike and moving away around the central pillar. Wrath slashed forward, and his blade was deflected by a force field.

"What are you doing?" Pyre asked, glancing over at Pestilence, who'd erected the field.

"Buying you some time! You'd better use it to think of something in case I don't!" she responded. Some of the bridge crew, the loyalists, were still trapped behind force fields at their own stations. Others had chosen to flee, heading for escape pods, dragging away others who'd been injured by exploding work stations and power conduits.

Wrath, belying his name, did not become enraged by the sudden obstruction. He just smirked, maliciously, and walked towards one of the exposed conduits, tearing it out of the wall with one hand. A nearly lethal dose of voltage cascaded along his arm, but he weathered this with a grunt and tossed the severed cable away, the shimmering red field vanishing in a blink. Pyre groaned a little. This was going to be tough.

-------------------------

Buckshot had the advantage of sensors and surveillance measures that were actually working, compared to the rapidly degenerating bridge of the Avenging Sword, and so he used the AXALON's computers to pick up on signals. He saw dozens of escape pods blasting away from the sinking dreadnought, taking off in all directions to try and fend for themselves elsewhere. With them gone, a few of the escape pods missing the whirling AXALON by inches, he was able to scan the dreadnought's interior. Most of the Predacon crew gone. Formerly captive Zefrians, leaving by the tenfold at an opening in the lower decks. They swam away freely, mottled green bodies cutting gracefully through the water, weaving around falling chunks of rapidly dissolved debris.

Buckshot allowed himself a smile at seeing them freed, then his smile froze. Calamari's signal was near that opening. The water had risen faster than any of them had thought- she'd never make it back up to the docking bay in time. Buckshot turned back to the consoles, still not quite fully known to him, and sent the ship into a spatial tunnel, materializing it inside one of the lower corridors. He pushed open the doors and stepped out into strobing red and black, at a crossroads between corridors. Calamari's signal was approaching. He looked down the long corridor, which was at a definite lean.

Calamari burst out of a doorway, glancing back briefly. She'd used Thrall's codes to open every cell she found, and the Zefrians thanked her profusely before jumping out a hatch and swimming away. Then the ship had taken another one of those sudden dips, and water began to lap up the hatch. Calamari had taken a flight of stairs, each step disappearing into the churning water, and, spotting Buckshot through the doorway, got running faster.

"Get back in the AXALON! The water's almost to this level! Go, go, go!" she shouted. Buckshot waved her on, saying something she couldn't hear over the alarms. He probably couldn't hear her either. She put on an extra burst of speed, a formidable runner, and made it to him.

"Get in, we'll pick up Pest and-" Buckshot started to say to her, when a shot rang out and a laser lanced through the air, nearly catching him in the head. He fell back against the side of the AXALON, startled, and Calamari spun to see Splicer lurching out of a doorway, a young Zefrian clutched in his arm. The laser, which he'd had pointed at Buckshot, now rested against the reptile's temple. The youthful native was serene. Splicer wasn't.

"I see your ship is now unlocked. Give it to me! Or this one dies," the doctor snarled, having to stand up on his heels somewhat to press his gun to the taller Zefrian's head. Calamari looked at Splicer, who'd emerged from a different door in the same corridor she'd fled from. The ship was leaning further, and they could all hear distant bulkheads creaking and rattling.

"You-" Buckshot started, glaring, and took a step forward. Splicer raised his other hand- it had a little force field emitter in it, the same as he'd seen clutched in the hand of one of Tempest's personal guards. This Splicer pointed at the doorway, erecting a red force field between himself and the other two Cybertronians.

"When I responded to Tempest's distress signal and found her locked in the brig, I thought that freeing her might curry some favor. Playing both sides, you know. I often envied this little toy her men used," Splicer said, looking at the emitter. "But it's nothing compared to that. If you do not step aside from that ship and allow me access, I will kill this one."

"You're bigger than him! Stop him!" Calamari said to the Zefrian, pressing her hands to the shimmering red barrier.

"Let what will come, come," the Zefrian said- clearly one of the young ones more accepting of the old ones' fatalistic ideals. Calamari frowned- then paused. The creaks of the bulkheads were growing louder. She heard a new meaning in the young reptile's words.

"Listen. Buddy. Drop the force field. Drop it right now," Buckshot warned Splicer.

"And lose my protection? I think not. If you do not wish to see this native's biologically unimpressive brains splatter this force field, you will give me command of your vessel! I'll have no need of escape pods after this, no, indeed!" Splicer raved.

"Seriously, drop the force field!" Calamari urged him. "You don't have to hurt him!"

"I will tell you but once more-"

The water reached their level, pounding open the door at the end of the hall and rushing down the tilted corridor. Splicer turned, his gun dropping, optics widening in dismay. His hand clutched the force field emitter tightly as the water rushed to meet him. The Zefrian dove back into the water, swimming away, and as they ran for the AXALON, Buckshot and Calamari got one brief, nightmarish glimpse of Splicer's face dissolving away, his hands clutching at melting bulkheads, and his small, gaunt body turning to so much metallic chum withering away in the tempest. The force field broke, the water rushed through, and the AXALON dematerialized just before being caught up in its wake.

------------------------

Another seismic dip rocked the ship, and Pestilence stumbled, almost losing her grip on the console. She was trying to crack into the central energy column's ignition sequence, but true to Archon Wrath's single-mindedness, it looked like anything he gave his ultimate authorization on couldn't be halted so easily.

Pyre raised his sword, absorbing another furious slash from Wrath. The two blades clanged together, almost dropping Pyre to one knee. The aged warlord stalked him, a predatory smile splitting his weathered face. Behind Pyre, the thick column with its display of crackling electricity parted, beginning to form a divot in the deck. The bridge began to slide apart on plates, showing the level below, and the level below that. A couple of the loyalist officers trapped behind force fields fell through the sliding plates, landing with crashes on the next level. They glanced up, scowling, and ran off to any escape pod that was left.

"You are no threat, after all!" Wrath scoffed, raising his voice above the growing din of the charging stasis beam generators. "No matter what has been done to you, you must fight! Have you no pride?"

Pyre growled at that, and as Wrath came at him again, he smashed his head against the older warrior's, staggering him. Pyre relished the hit, accepting both the spike of internal pain at the aggressive action as well as the fleeting outward pain of their heads' collision. His headache had begun to abate, noticeably, within the past few minutes, but every violent intent, every willful step toward his opponent, still brought pains to his surgically manipulated mind.

Pestilence couldn't help just now. She was clear on the other side of the widening chasm in the center of the bridge. Wrath was well aware of his surroundings; he never set foot close to that chasm. Pyre tried for another strike, and was met with only a skillful parry from the seasoned warlord, and a fresh bolt of agony in his mind. Then Wrath struck, and, glancing along it with the preternaturally slowed perception of honed combat reflexes, Pyre saw the blade coming towards him and simply reacted, turning his shoulder away and letting Wrath's momentum carry him a good slash from Pyre's blade, as if the warlord had paper-cut himself.

"Grah! A strike! Finally, a strike!" Wrath roared, grinning savagely even as he winced against the pain.

Pyre noted that too. He hadn't felt any fresh pain for that little exchange. Could he survive without striking first- only responding, open palm, to any move that came his way? He decided to try it. Slipping into a stance reminiscent of the Carcanen warriors, he bent his knees, letting his posture relax, and let Sarkazein rest along his arm on its flat like a shield.

"What new foolishness is this?" Wrath asked, snorting. On the other side of the pit, Pestilence gave Pyre a hopeful look, and returned to her console to try and halt the stasis beam.

Wrath, an aggressive and ruthless fighter to the last, attacked. His curved blade, already stained at its edge with Pyre's mechfluid, whicked through the air with intent to carve through the dragon's torso. Pyre side-stepped this blow, turning with the motion and catching Wrath with the flat of his blade, mindful to keep his mind free of violent intent, only of calm response. Wrath's nose was smashed inward by Sarkazein's brutal weight, and he almost dropped to his knee. He looked at Pyre with outrage, seeing this- something other than a full-frontal assault- as an insult.

He struck again, and again. Pyre took some hits, but kept moving, kept the cuts shallow, used Sarkazein to keep a distance between himself and his foe, while never lashing out with it. Wrath attacked, and Pyre used a sliding backward motion to allow for more distance, while using his leg to trip up the Archon. Wrath brought his blade forward in a thrust, and Pyre let the sword clatter along the flat of his own, lifting his palm and letting the Archon's momentum carry him forward into a facial strike. Twisting Sarkazein around so that it caught the Archon's blade, he pushed it back and down, catching the warlord a nasty cut deep into his leg. Non-fatal, but painful indeed. Wrath roared, overcome with fury, and shoved Pyre back. He let himself fall, nearly losing his grip on Sarkazein, coming up a few feet from the lip of the central pillar, now opened into a wide chasm.

"Your time's over," Pyre growled, pulling himself up. "Accept it."

Wrath roared, charging, but seeing the pit at the last second, stopped short before Pyre could turn his momentum into a flip into the abyss. Wrath fought with berserker fury, swinging his sword about, and Pyre focused intently on each strike, forcing himself to try to relax- all but impossible, under these circumstances- and see where each attack was coming from, moving with the blows. From a distance, Pestilence was gesturing for him to look down. He saw, beneath them, another power cable, starting to slip along the lip of the chasm. Wrath came in for another slash, his heavy, spiked boot lifting up, and Pyre kicked up the cable in a loop and ensnared Wrath's foot in it. He grabbed at the Archon's sword by the hilt, spinning the warlord around, and let himself drop backward as the stasis beam was engaged.

Pyre remembered well that beam- he'd been captured by it at the start of all this. But this was several magnitudes wider, brighter, and more powerful. Raw energy focused by the intact engine room, drawing on configuration formulas far advanced than anything of that time, it blossomed into a crimson beam filling the entire chasm. Pyre gripped at the bridge's floor plating, digging his talons in, fighting against the beam's suction. Wrath stumbled, his arms pinwheeling, his curved sword still clutched tightly in one hand. The beam's perimeter sheared through the cable, taking the loop in a dematerializing chunk, and Wrath's feet came free of the deck, the warlord vanishing inside the blindingly bright pillar of light.

A few decks below, the raging torrents of water were eating away entire corridors, bulkheads running soft like tallow before disappearing in wet blobs into the froth. The engineering section, blaring alarms, finally was compromised, and the stasis beam disappeared as suddenly as it'd appeared. Pestilence hobbled over to Pyre, fighting to keep her footing steady, and grabbed onto him. They looked about, wordlessly, trying to think of where to go- when the AXALON rose up from the empty chasm, settling itself onto the deck with a beautifully solid thump. Calamari slid the doors open, taking Pestilence's hands and hauling her friend inside. She grabbed onto Pyre's arm, and, dragging Sarkazein alongside him, he let her pull him inside the silver booth.

A gleaming white funnel of light protruding from its underside, the AXALON swept through great patches in the dreadnought's hull, picking up the Crossover- even in a damaged, partially melted state- and took off through the clouds. Below, the flagship of the Predacon race sunk ever deeper into the waters, leaving no trace of its majesty behind except for some non-metallic debris floating to the surface.

----------------------

Some time later, Archon Wrath awoke in a dark cavern, beneath the surface of the ocean. He narrowed his optics, standing up with a wince against the deep slash in his side. He activated a light within his gauntlet, and swept it around the cavern, his burning red optics widening.

The stasis beam had been right on target. It was meant to materialize inside the deepest caverns of Zefrius, bringing back all of its richest deposits of infusium, and leaving in its wake a water displacement to wash the land clean of Maximal insurgents. The beam had entered the cavern, with Wrath within- and abruptly cut off, from a combination of Pestilence's interference and water damage finally taking the engine room.

Wrath looked about dazedly, while the events of the battle still replayed in his mind. Crystals, twinkling under the flashlight of his gauntlet. Jagged clusters spouting from the walls and floor, thick columns of mineral strong enough to hold the caverns in place. Enough infusium to last a lifetime, a hundred lifetimes. More than enough to propel the Avenging Sword away from this cursed planet, and back to civilized space. And he was trapped with it.

Wrath paced, he raged, he snarled. He searched, for hours. The cavern ended in rocky walls, and an exploration of the connected tunnels brought him no closer to an escape- they just looped back on the treasure trove he'd sought for so long. He knew he could punch through the ceiling with enough time to hack away at it- but all that waited above was deadly acidic water and crushing pressure.

He'd been defeated. His time, brought to an end. And denied, once again, a proper killing blow. The Archon took several long moments to look about the cavern. The gnawing pain in his chest, which had pulsed and ravened throughout the battle with Pyre, had abated completely. He could live long, surrounded by these gems. But why?

He'd been defeated. The thought ran again and again in his mind. He thought back, in those dark hours, to what some warriors of Earth, as well as other planets, would do when dishonored, or defeated in battle by an opponent who wouldn't, or couldn't, take their life. Wrath looked once more at his sword, which had come with him in the stasis beam. It lay patiently on the cavern floor.

For the first time in a long time, Wrath felt at peace. He slowly lowered himself to one knee, composing himself, preparing himself, thinking back on all of his vanquished foes- and the foe who'd finally brought him an end. He picked up his sword.

-------------------------

The doors of the AXALON slid open, and Buckshot and Pyre stepped inside. Calamari looked up from where she stood, watching as Pestilence fiddled around with the panels beneath the navigational console. Pestilence had lost her familiar coat and goggles on the dreadnought, but had waved off Calamari's concerns with an airy assurance that she could always get more clothes- and build a new ionic spanner, for that matter.

"Hey, how'd it go?" Calamari asked, looking up at the two males as they approached.

"Turns out those missiles did come from the Maximals, but not on the commander's word," Buckshot said, leaning against a rail. "One of their guys launched 'em after getting attacked by Thrall. Thrall's dead. The guy who fired off the missiles without orders? He's 'on report'."

"You don't sound surprised," Pyre observed.

"Maximals ain't always the good guys," Buckshot replied, and Pyre nodded. "So, the Zefrians agreed to work with the Maximals to bring up infusium and help them get the Beacon up and running."

"That's good," Pestilence said, faintly, rolling herself out from beneath the console. "What about the Predacons in their escape pods?"

"They've landed all over the area," Pyre rumbled. "A few have come to the Maximals' camp. They've been accepted. Cautiously. They're helping repair the ship. Tempest and some of the others are still missing. Probably they're hiding out elsewhere."

"What about the Archon?"

"Dead. Probably," Pyre said, frowning as he remembered Wrath's weathered, furious face just before he'd been caught in the stasis beam.

"Well...as a sign of goodwill from one Predacon with her head on straight, here's a few things that should help the Maximals with their repairs," Pestilence said, sliding a crate over to Calamari. She hefted it up. "Tell them we're not all like Splicer or Tempest; they could do a lot worse than let a few ex-brethren onto their crew."

Calamari nodded, and began to carry the crate out. She paused, looking up at Pyre, and set the crate down before giving him an impulsive hug. He stiffened, surprised, and slowly returned the gesture via a pat of his large, clawed hand at her back.

"I'm glad you're sticking around for a while," Calamari said, smiling, before picking the crate back up. Buckshot chuckled, giving the dragon a nod and a pat on the arm, before picking up another crate of supplies and following her out. That left Pyre alone on the bridge with Pestilence. She looked solemn, distracted, and, seeing him, put on an abruptly cheery tone.

"Well! This silver beauty's just about running again. We'll be able to break orbit and continue cruising the cosmos. Now, I'm very interested in your ship, and I'd like to help you fix it. Towing it until we're done seems unwieldy, but I can probably rig up an inside-to-outside teleportation, or perhaps an invention I call a subspace funnel that can..."

She saw the way Pyre was looking at her. Calm, understanding- secretive. She sighed, pulling herself to her feet.

"I'll be fine," she said quietly.

"You did what you could," Pyre replied.

Pestilence looked at him, sorrowfully.

"That's just it. I did what I could. I almost di- I almost changed," she clarified. "And for a moment there, I was so angry that I did...what I could. Do you understand?"

"I do," Pyre nodded.

Pestilence paused for a moment, drumming her fingers on the console's edge. She'd get over that shock of losing control of herself, of bringing down the dreadnought. But not right away. Pyre knew that haunted look in her eyes. He'd seen it in his own before.

"Anything you need. I'm here for a while. If you can spare a room," he said, uncomfortably.

At that, Pestilence smiled- tiredly, but genuinely.


THE END


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