The Axalon RPG

 
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 Post subject: Doctor Who: AUG
PostPosted: Sun Aug 15, 2010 12:17 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
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THE UNIFIED PLANET

EPISODE ONE


As the AXALON made its way through space and time at velocities far in advance of most known physics, rocking back and forth within the time tunnel, Pestilence busied herself with routine maintenance of the temporal navigation console. Since puttering around the control deck with her tools didn't quite seem to be enough, the petite-bodied Predacon had finally decided to simply uproot one of the side panels and crawl in entirely. Her legs hung from the knees down out of the panel, one foot idly kicking from time to time, as clanks, sparks, and beeps sounded from whatever old and rickety machinery she was prodding. Buckshot leaned on the console with one elbow, observing her- or as much of her as he could with only her legs showing- and occasionally making a minor adjustment to the navigational coordinates. Today's coordinates? Back to the present, he hoped. The AXALON had been known to overshoot its destination before.

"Are you sure it's smart to tinker with that stuff while we're driving?" the burly, broad-shouldered canine Maximal asked her, blinking and wincing slightly as Pestilence hit a sensitive area and the AXALON swayed slightly before righting itself.

"This equipment's been finicky for too long, needs a good- unfh- tightening- no, tighter than that-" Pestilence's exposed legs kicked a little impatiently as she struggled to make an adjustment. With a snort of irritation, the femmebot slid back out of the panel and looked up at Buckshot. She was youthful, appearing in looks to be the equivalent of her early 20's, and possessed of a moth beast mode. She wore a long leather-and-chain-mail coat that hung to her knees, with numerous pockets for carrying tools, supplies, scientific samples, and everything else in. Her ever-present goggles were pushed up on her forehead, metal antennae bobbing lightly behind them, and a curiously anachronistic Earth-style fabric short scarf was slung around her neck.

"Bucky, you're big and strong. Reach in there and give that a good tweak, would you?" Pestilence requested. Buckshot nodded once, getting down to one knee, and though he had to turn a little and strain to reach his muscular torso inside the console, succeeded in grabbing ahold of the troublesome lever and pulling it as directed. The AXALON's onboard lighting system grew a little brighter, and the ship's flight steadied itself completely. Pestilence beamed, clapping him on one shoulder.

"Thanks for that. My last form was stronger. But there, see? Smooth sailing and we saved time by doing it on the go."

Buckshot grunted a little in acknowledgement, wriggling back out of the console and getting to his feet. He wasn't much of a scientist, in fact all these weird little lights and gadgets and controls unnerved him- he always felt like he'd lean too hard on a panel and accidentally send them back to the beginning of the universe- but he was growing accustomed to making small repairs and course corrections. Maybe this trip would turn out to be more than a temporary thing that he'd tagged along on.

Pestilence moved over to the main navigational console and keyed in a few commands. A holographic screen lit up in the middle of the console, designed to be viewed from either side, and Buckshot stood on one side of it while she peered at the star charts. The AXALON (Applied Xenoscience And Logistics Orbital Nexus) was a highly experimental prototype from Cybertron and, as smart as Pestilence was, even she wasn't quite up to speed on everything it did. It could cross one side of a galaxy to the other in days, though, and for a scientist and explorer with no home to return to, there was no better way to travel.

"It looks like we're in SR-407. It's pretty out in the boondocks, a ways from any civilized worlds that I know of," she said, drawing one finger through the holographic display along the stars and systems, and making a ripple in the projection as she did so.

"How far is that from Dustball?" Buckshot asked curiously, referring to the place of refuge he'd been living when Pestilence had found him. She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could so one of the adjacent doors to the bridge of the AXALON was swinging open and Calamari walked out, blinking her optics and brushing a finger through her long, metallic, tendril-like hair. She was a little younger than Pestilence, a Predacon as well, with a lithe and slender body and an octopus beast mode.

"Did the ship stop? It was moving around, like, all wiggly, and then it totally leveled out. Oh, is that where we are?" Calamari asked, looking at the starchart.

"Sort of, yes, but we need to decide where to go next. You know, it's the strangest thing, I made sure to upload a complete galactic map when I left Cybertron, and memorized it too. Well, I've forgotten some of what I memorized, so I guess it didn't get memorized all that well, but this system, SR-407, something about it always stuck in my neural net," Pestilence said, rubbing her chin as she peered at the chart. "Oh, and Bucky, we're a good day or two's travel from Dustball. Were you wanting to return there?"

"Nah," Buckshot said casually, shaking his head. "I liked Dustball, it was quiet, but I didn't fit in there. It's just good to know we're not that far off from a planet I'm a tiny bit familiar with in case we need a quick getaway. I'm up for exploring any planet here, provided there's no gelatinous blobs that try to eat us whole."

"When has that ever happened aside from that one time last week? That you won't shut up about?" Pestilence replied, though she was smiling. Calamari was peering intently at the star chart.

"Maybe I need to go back to sleep for a while, because I swear I've got the weirdest feeling," she told them. "I used to travel a lot, maybe it's like a little bit of deja vu or something, because- because-"

"...Because?" Buckshot prodded her after she paused for a moment, staring at the screen.

"Because. Because. Ha. Ha. Because." Calamari started to say in an eerily mirthful tone. Buckshot immediately stepped back from her, and Pestilence had her multi-tool out of one of her coat pockets and aimed at Calamari in an instant. A few months back, they'd had a tense ordeal in freeing Calamari of the rogue AI Abacus's influence, and though Pestilence had been certain they'd flushed Abacus out of her mind entirely, the normally sweet-natured and mildly ditzy femmebot had been prone to the occasional echoes of Abacus' warped humor and 10th-level intellect.

"Because Abacus was here once before." Calamari finished, and lifted a hand to her forehead. She looked at both Pestilence and Buckshot with concern. "It was him again, wasn't it? I felt it for a second. He's going to try to take over me again, isn't he?"

"How could he?" Buckshot asked. "We dumped the computer core into a black hole and sent him back a million years into empty space. He's nowhere."

"That's right. I told you at the time that Abacus is a particularly tenacious AI, and that you may still experience slight twinges of him. Think of it like a muscle spasm. Primus willing, you'll never be forced into using that particular muscle again." Pestilence said, relaxing and pocketing her multi-tool.

"I feel fine now, anyway. It is so the freakiest thing, tho. I'm picking up on a little bit of his memories? And he knows this system. See, a really long time ago, this sun right here? Sol-XI, it says on the chart? It went hypernova . Wiped out every planet around it, at least as far as anything living on them goes. Abacus was into astronomy, he knew all about it."

"That's right! The 407 Hypernova! It's such an old story that I forgot all about it!" Pestilence said, slapping a palm on the console deck in astonishment. "But...the hypernova destroyed the planets closest to it, and made the other planets further out in the system unlivable."

"Yeah?" Buckshot prompted her.

"Well...then why is the AXALON showing an M-class planet nearby the location of the nova, and picking up life signs all over it?" Pestilence asked slowly. Calamari and Buckshot looked at each other, then at her. She smiled a little, yanking back on a lever and punching a few keys, and the ship began to make its way to the lone surviving planet of the system.

"We'll just have to pull over and ask someone, then."

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

The AXALON materialized in a large meadow, amidst tall trees teeming with lush vegetation. Though it was the size of any small star vessel inside, on the outside it resembled a metallic holovid booth. The doors opened up and Pestilence stepped out first, multi-tool in hand. She began to stride briskly back and forth in front of the AXALON, swinging her multi-tool's scanner around and making checks and double-checks of her readings. Calamari walked out next, almost skipping, and bent down to look at some flowers. Buckshot came last, careful to shut and lock the door behind them, and looked curiously at the surrounding greenery.

"This is bizarre!" Pestilence said, absorbed in her scanner readout. "Setting aside the fact that any planet so close to a hypernova should be obliterated due to the resultant black hole, the sheer amount of gamma radiation should cause a fundamental shift in, well, everything! Scorched landscape and mass extinction! Not a field of flowers and capering woodlands creatures!"

"You're complaining that we -didn't- set down in a hellhole?" Buckshot asked her.

"Who's complaining? This is a really interesting turn of events, and I'd like to know more," Pestilence said brightly, before setting off in the direction of the nearest large clump of life signs. "Are you coming, Calamari?"

"Right away!" the octopus Predacon nodded, picking up a bright red flower and tucking it into her hair. She hurried along after Pestilence, and Buckshot followed the pair of femmebots. As they made their way through the forest, the meadow thinned into an easily traversed dirt path that gradually became pavement. They spotted skyscrapers on the horizon and continued further, leaving what must've been a park or nature preserve-like area and emerging on the outskirts of the city. The towers gleamed in the sunlight, and they could see beings moving back and forth in the windows. There were hovercars and bikes gliding along the streets, many of them entering or exiting a great dome in the center of the city.

"It's so big. Look how many different species there are." Calamari said with wonder as she gazed at the milling pedestrians and up at the skyscrapers. "Humans, Grussites, Carbations, Nestorans, even a few Cybertronians."

"They didn't pick a half bad name to describe this place." Buckshot said, pointing out a sign at the city limits identifying the metropolis as 'UNITY'. "Reminds you a little of Cybertron, doesn't it?"

"Yes...yes, it does." Pestilence said, her upbeat mood briefly made somber as she remembered her home world as it had been hundreds of years before.

The Cybertronians, always a warlike race, had been engaged by the Beast, the most fearsome threat ever known. Mutations in body, horrific powers, but retaining the intelligence and strategy of the infected, the Beast were tearing her planet apart. As the infection had spread, and more enemies had arrived to capitalize on Cybertron's weakness, Pestilence- or, Artifact, as she'd been known at the time- had been forced to retreat and regroup rather than fight. She'd taken the AXALON and a Transmetal II sphere that had gifted her with a strange brand of immortality. It'd extended her life, but made it so that, upon dying, her body schematics would be reconfigured from the ground-up and she would regenerate into a new femmebot. Artifact had been followed by Iliad, who had been followed by Lightspeed. Pestilence was the fourth incarnation, and retained her previous selves' memories and knowledge, if not their personalities. And just now, the memory of her beloved home world, Cybertron, with all its flaws and glories, was paining her greatly. As it must've been Buckshot and Calamari too, though they'd adapted well to Cybertronians being scattered around the galaxy.

"Well..." she finally said, breaking the silence, "Why don't we head down and see what information we can gather?" The petite femmebot took off at a brisk pace, moving downhill along the street and towards the dome. As they passed by a recharging kiosk and a roadside cafe specializing in multi-planetary cuisine, a tall and well-built human with a badge on his gray uniform stopped, put down his book, and set off after them at a march. As he walked, he nudged an old Autobot, also with a badge, who turned and, whirring and clanking, joined him in pursuing the new arrivals. Buckshot glanced over his shoulder as they walked, spying these badged officers, and muttered to Pestilence:

"Looks like the law's already rolling out a welcome for us. The human guy's a pushover, probably, but the Autobot might have some fight in him."

Pestilence glanced back as well, seeing the two policemen, and shook her head.

"I don't want there to be any fight in you. We're just passing through, and if you hadn't noticed, we're outnumbered by thousands, here. We don't need to get started by punching out two- HELLO! What a beautiful city! We're just passing through!" she said loudly, changing her tone as soon as the two officers arrived within hearing distance.

"Three Cybertronians." the human said, glancing up at the Autobot, who seemed to be his partner.

"I will begin organizing the proper documentation." the old model Autobot replied, nodding.

"No reading rights or any of that stuff?" Calamari asked them, looking helplessly from one to the other. "We didn't do anything wrong! Okay, we might've landed the ship on the grass back there in your park, but I wasn't the one driving."

"Ma'am, we're not here to arrest you." the human said with some surprise. "We welcome any new arrivals to Unity. But you are Cybertronians, and we just need you to do us the- uh-"

"Courtesy." the Autobot supplied.

"Right! The courtesy of a brief registration. There's not many Cybertronians left now, and it's a matter of unique interest to the Unity government that we take note of any we find." the human cop said, looking from 'bot to 'bot. "You don't need to come anywhere or answer a lot of questions, just to please submit to a quick scan. Name, faction, serial number, and you can be on your way."

Buckshot looked at Pestilence, who was mulling over the situation and gazing at the mismatched cops with keen interest. Buckshot had served some time in correctional facilities, and it had left him with a faint mistrust of law enforcement. He was all set to protest his rights to privacy, but before he could do so, Calamari was already placing her hand on the Autobot's offered scanner.

"Cal!" he chastised her.

"What? I'd like to come to a nice-looking planet without having to run from anybody within the first five minutes, 'kay?" Calamari said with a roll of her optics. There was a brief chime and the scanner flashed up her name, her Predacon faction status, and her serial number. The Autobot bowed his head with acknowledgement, apparently finding no problems, and offered the scanner to Buckshot next. Pestilence nodded imperceptibly to Buckshot, who went ahead and placed his hand on the scanner, and in short order had given up his name, faction, and serial number as well.

"Thank you very much, sir and ma'am, everything's in order. Now you, ma'am?" the human requested, taking the scanner from his Autobot compatriot and offering it to her. Pestilence paused for a moment, her hand raised and wavering above the scanner's warm green touch-screen, and finally settled it down. It accessed her systems data, but rather than the immediate chime of acceptance her two companions had received, emitted a strange brash trill and took a few moments longer to scan. The human looked at it oddly before pulling it back. He and the Autobot put their heads together- or would've, if the Autobot wasn't three feet taller than him- and observed the readout, as Pestilence waited a little nervously.

"Name's coming through, Pestilence it says...faction comes up Predacon, though I could've sworn it read Maximal, and then Autobot before that," he murmured.

"Look here, Ed- no serial number whatsoever. Just random bars. The scanner's having a fit reading her." the Autobot noted in his low, rumbly voice. Now Pestilence was shifting tensely from one foot to the other, certain she was in for a confrontation.

"That's an interesting anomaly. But just a glitch, I'm sure." Ed said, giving the scanner back to the Autobot.

"I'll make a note of it so we can clear up the processing problems later." the Autobot agreed. "That's all we wanted, sir and madams. In these troubled times, to be frank, we can use all the Cybertronians we can get."

"Er...yes, thanks." Pestilence said, looking doubtfully from one to the other, as though she were still afraid one of them would draw his weapon and fire on her at any second. "About the Cybertronians here? Actually, about the anyone at all here? Doesn't the healthy status of this planet strike you as...odd? Isn't this city new?"

"Never seemed new to me. I was born here." Ed replied. "How about you, Gearbox?"

"Constructed here decades before you were born. Unity's my home." he nodded.

"So this planet would've never been, hypothetically speaking , consumed by a black hole caused by a collapsing star?" Pestilence prompted them. The two cops looked at each other oddly, then back at her, and shook their heads in unison. "Well, that's...a relief."

"If you folks are looking to do more than just pass through, maybe pitch in a little considering your added abilities, you might stop in at the Project and see if they can use some extra hands." the human cop, Ed, said to them.

"The Project's that big dome down in the middle of the city, yeah?" Buckshot asked, jerking a thumb down at the gigantic silver-gray building. "I was hoping that was a sports arena."

"We'd be happy to take a look, and even happier to lend a hand." Pestilence assured the two policemen. They nodded again, seemingly satisfied, and moved on back down the street. She let out a sigh, letting her shoulders slump, and tossed her scarf back up another loop around her shoulder.

"I think we'll do just that. I don't care to hang around any place too long that's got my data on file." she said, turning and heading down a sidewalk going east towards the dome, which was still a distance away yet.

"Why's that?" Calamari asked, adjusting the flower in her hair as she walked.

"Because you never know who could be reading the file."

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

Pestilence, Calamari, and Buckshot, seeing that the dome was too far away to walk to in a hurry, opted to hit up one of the bus stops. Ordinarily, Pestilence would've had no qualms with taking their time, hanging around the city and seeing the sights as they investigated the strangeness of the planet's very existence, but the sound of those officers' anomalous scans had perturbed her into a sense of urgency. She and her companions waited as a long, sleek blue bus pulled to a halt in front of the stop, its hoverjets sending out puffs of gas as it idled in place. Pestilence took hold of the bars on either side of the opening door and tugged herself bodily up onto the bus. There was a middle-aged human woman at the steering wheel, her graying hair tied back and a placid, easygoing demeanor to her face.

"Er...Buckshot, did you happen to bring any money?" Pestilence asked after spending a fruitless moment patting down her long coat's pockets for any legal tender.

"I keep telling you the AXALON needs an ATM!" Buckshot groused, but before a debate could ensue, the bus driver was shaking her head with a smile.

"There's no need for money on Unity. Hop in. Where are you going?"

"You're very kind, thanks- we're going to the, uh, Project?" Pestilence tried, raising her optic ridges as she said it, unsure of what reaction this stated destination would draw. All it got was a businesslike nod.

"That's my next stop." the bus driver said with a smile. She returned to peering out the windshield, driving the hoverbus along the street at a sedate pace. The traffic was unusually quiet- no engine hums, no horns, very little conversation. In fact, the whole city was quiet, despite its multitudes of inhabitants. This added to Pestilence's discomfort as she made her way down the center aisle of the bus. On either side of them were various public transportation goers, some with work IDs clipped to their uniforms or magnetized to their metallic chests, and holding toolboxes. Calamari was about to take a seat next to a good-looking Maximal guy near the front, but before she could sit down and initiate mild to heavy flirtation, Pestilence had taken both her and Calamari by the upper arms, one in each hand, and was steering them herself to three spaces at the very back of the bus. They plopped down onto the reinforced seats and Pestilence huddled close to them, speaking lowly.

"We should keep as low a profile as possible from here on out. Our names are in the system. Nothing may come of it, but I've found that sometimes being paranoid means they really -are- out to get you."

"Agreed," Buckshot nodded, his voice just above a whisper. "This place is giving me the willies. It's so clean and quiet and, I dunno, polite? Hell, I've lived in some big cities, none of them were ever like this."

"Calamari, you mentioned earlier the diversity of the people you saw. Did you notice how almost every species you saw are ones noted for being displaced from their home planet? Humans are scattered everywhere, Grussites haven't been seen in any large numbers since the end of the Pioneers' War of the outer colonies, and the Nestoran civilization died a millennium ago!" Pestilence hissed.

"You're right, that's pretty freaky. You think we're in some kind of danger?" Calamari asked.

"No, not as yet. But we are on double-alert from now on." Pestilence said, and glanced around at the other passengers on the bus. She spotted a large insectile Predacon in a seat one row up from them. He was of the large, shiny, extra-spiky variety of 'bot, seeming like he'd be far more at home skewering enemies on a battlefield than riding around on public transportation. She leaned forward, tapping the insect Predacon on the shoulder, mindful not to stick her finger on one of his spikes, and he turned around to look at her.

"Hi! We're, ah, visitors here. How long have you been living in Unity?" she asked him carefully.

He gave her an odd look, multifaceted optics narrowing. "I was built here. I work on the Project."

"Then...you're not from Cybertron? Like every other Predacon and Maximal?"

He tilted his head, as though trying to dislodge some distant memory from his neural net.

"I've heard of Cybertron, yes, but I'm from here. Didn't something bad happen to that place?" he asked.

"Yes! As a matter of fact, something very bad happened to it! The worst thing to happen to all Cybertronians! Surely you, as a proud Predacon warrior, seethe with rage and vengeance and, well, acknowledgment of it?"

The Predacon paused a long moment, staring at her.

"None of that matters anymore. We're going to fix what went wrong. That's the Project." he said, and turned back around in his seat. Pestilence slumped backwards, once again hitting a brick wall in her search for answers, and Buckshot just gave her a shrug. The young moth femmebot leaned up in her seat, watching the street names, making certain to memorize their route.

"Alright, there's our stop." she finally said, hauling herself to her feet as the hoverbus, speedy and reliable as no other busing system could ever be, pulled up just outside the city of Unity's central dome. Pestilence and her two companions piled out the door and gazed up at their destination, taking in the sheer size of the place, before heading right in the front door.

There was a line of workers, diverse in species and carrying various tools and building materials, at the front desk being waved in one by one by a badged law enforcement officer. There was a swiftness and utility of movement to the whole thing- step forward, scan for identity, door opens, in one went, repeat. No conversation, no horsing around, no anything but well-oiled precision for what was essentially one long punch-in for shift change. Pestilence walked right to the end of the line, shooting both Buckshot and Calamari a meaningful look. Having been through enough shenanigans with her to pick up on an old con, they both nodded and moved into position. Calamari walked up to the worker in front of them- in this case, a craggy-faced gray-skinned Grussite, whose naturally serious disposition fit in well with the surroundings. The braided red hair that would've signified his place within Grussite society had been sheared off, surprisingly- all this warrior/thinker seemed focused on were the duranium planks in his arms. That changed, however, when Calamari sidled up to him.

"Isn't this, like, the best job you've ever had? It's just my first day and I don't know where everything is yet. Are those duranium? I bet that's really strong. Could you snap one over your knee? I heard Grussites are super strong like that. What time do we go on break?" she started to ask rapid-fire, hand on the Grussite's shoulder.

"Er...break?" he repeated uncertainly as, unseen to the left, Buckshot was moving towards him.

"Well, sure, you get- okay, maybe not paid, there's no money here, but you get all the benefits and junk, right?"

"I work because that is my caste and my calling on this world. I have never been anything else." the Grussite said, looking at her with honest befuddlement, before Buckshot barreled into his left side. It had to be a nice solid hit, Grussites were strong enough to take a blow from a Transformer and keep coming, though Buckshot was hardly going for a tackle. The duranium planks spilled to the floor and, with no reaction of fatigue or frustration, the Grussite simply bent down to begin collecting them. Despite the ear-aching TWONG TWONG TWONG of the planks clattering against the floor, none of the other workers nor the badged security guards gave the drop more than a cursory glance or offered to help. Buckshot beat them to it, making a litany of mumbled apologies as he bent down, began scooping up planks and handing them to the Grussite, picked off his ID pin and handed it behind his back to Pestilence with practiced ease, and waited for her to scan it and hand it over, before placing it back on the Grussite's chest. Camouflauged by the act of squeezing more planks onto the hefty Grussite's armload, this brief borrowing went unnoticed. A fully aware and combat-ready Grussite would've picked up on the deception right away, but this one seemed to be running on a lean mixture.

"Thank you," he said simply, standing back up and readjusting his plank-load before turning to Calamari. "I will answer all of your questions at the end of my shift, when I have free time."

"Sure," Calamari said after a quick glance in Pestilence's direction to confirm successful scan, "I'm totally looking forward to it. We'll do lunch and talk about how awesome duranium planks are. See ya!"

She hurried over to where Pestilence and Calamari were regrouping. Pestilence had taken another device out of one of her many coat pockets, this particular one being a small-scale replicator, and was typing rapidly into it. With a low beep and whirring noise, a waxy white card popped out of the replicator. It was clearly not the same design as the ID pins, but had an identical bar code to the one pilfered from the Grussite worker. Pestilence nodded once, pocketing the key replicator, and headed through an open doorway in the corner of the room. The adjoining hallway carried them a short distance to a door marked 'Limited Access'.

"Why didn't you just use the multi-tool on the lock? I've seen that thing pop open tougher doors." Buckshot asked as he leaned against one side of the door, watching Pestilence slide the facsimile card through the slot on the side of the door.

"Because," she said, pointedly tapping a little blue light on the upper corner of the door, "That would set off a very advanced alarm system. I'd rather not get caught until we have at least enough time to check out what's inside. All these ID cards look identical, one should be sufficient to- Ah!"

The door slipped open without a peep of the blue light, and the trio of explorers ducked inside.

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

They entered a wide foyer-like room, escalators sliding upward into shadows at both northeast and northwest corners. There was a long narrow glass screen, pitch black, across the wall between the two escalators, which, like everything else in this room, seemed to be in perpetual motion. Buckshot gazed around at the panorama of machinery and moving parts, exposed power cables hanging from open access panels and lights blinking in diagnostic codes. Like the turns of some great clock, everything in the room seemed to realign itself at regular intervals, silver panel covers sliding across some open machines and sliding apart from others, cables seemingly reattaching themselves. Calamari wandered over to a railing and glanced down, seeing from about thirty meters up yet more Unity workers hammering and drilling and welding at more parts, feeding them into organizing machines like gigantic coin-counters, which would then send the parts along conveyor belts to be added to the living, self-reconfiguring mass. The silence and perfect sychronization of both robots and organic beings was chilling. Pestilence remained silent, looking around the room.

"What is all this? What could they possibly be building?" Buckshot asked.

"Maybe they're not building, but repairing," Pestilence said softly to herself, mulling it over.

"There's some kind of a computer here, maybe we can hack it and find out more stuff," Calamari said, pointing out a small terminal standing upright in front of the black window. Pestilence took the replicated ID card in hand, moving towards the terminal, and placed her hand on the screen. It booted up, immediately showing her a list of information directories and maintenance subroutines. She blinked, pocketing the card.

"No need for the card- I suppose they decided that once you're in their inner workings, you're pretty much cleared for everything. That's nice and convenient. Let's see," she muttered, beginning to touch directories, "I'd like to know just what this Project is, but I'm also very curious about how this planet is even here. Perhaps they're linked? This tab says Orbital Grid, now that is intriguing....Bucky, Cal, come here!"

Buckshot and Calamari, who'd been peering into the black window fruitlessly, obligingly walked over to where Pestilence stood, staring down at the terminal's screen. She'd pulled up a map of the star system, specifically the sector which the planet Unity occupied, and was pointing out a long octagonal pattern of blinking lights, hundreds of them, suspended on the star-chart in a perimeter light-years wide around the sun and its adjacent planet.

"Do you know what these are?!" she asked, tapping the perimeter. She opened her mouth to provide the answer for the two of them, but Calamari beat her to it.

"Temporal Memory Spires!" she said, surprised. "I remember- well, Abacus remembers them, I guess."

"Exactly." Pestilence nodded, and turned to Buckshot. "They're highly experimental technology, deemed too unreliable for use. Essentially, you scan the spatial and temporal data for a small area of space and the spire then remembers it, and can later project that area of space, exactly as it was, onto- or maybe I should say beside- the space as it's become. There's a grid here of- let's see- 1,850 spires aligned in a perimeter encircling this entire sector! The sun, and the planet closest to it, resurrected!"

"Didn't this sun go hypernova a really long time ago? Centuries, maybe longer?" Buckshot asked. At Pestilence's nod, he continued: "Well, if these spire things only remember an area of space as it was, they would've had to be here before the sun blew up so they could scan everything."

"Which means whoever set this grid used time travel to obtain the original data!" Pestilence said excitedly, reaching up to give his shoulder a slap. "That shortens the list of perpetrators of- all this- considerably. Time travel was known to the Cybertronians, but only a few other spacefaring cultures-"

"Is there a tab that'll show what's behind that window?" Buckshot asked, pointing at the black glass screen.

"Nothing here on the terminal that I can see, but perhaps that switch next to the window. The cords from it are running behind the screen." Pestilence directed. Buckshot walked forward to a switch jutting from the wall. His hand paused a moment in front of the switch as he pondered whether this might bring the entire facility on high alert. He shrugged, steeling both his nerves and a sense of fatalism, and flipped it. The black window did indeed have what was behind it shown as lights blinked on in a massive hangar behind the foyer. Calamari clapped her hands to her mouth, a gasp nearly escaping it, going very still where she stood. Pestilence's hands dropped from either side of the terminal and she slowly walked over to where Buckshot stood, looking with confusion at what he witnessed.

The first thing you would've expected to draw their gaze was the mothership. It was all sleek, perfect geometry, a crystalline pod over a mile long hovering in place. Great gaps were missing from it, but there was that clockwork production of the Project, conveyors and robot arms feeding down necessary pieces, chunks of hull, attaching cables and pipes and decks little by little. The process was so smooth and relentless it brought to mind the comparison of watching damaged flesh gradually knit itself together in accelerated time. The spectacle was entrancing, but that wasn't what drew Pestilence's gaze. What she stared at in horror were the lines and lines of glass cases on shelves containing uniform-gray faceless drones. Their optics were closed, their weapons powered down- they had once been native Cybertronians, but now lacked any semblance of faction or affiliation, any remnant of individuality. Theirs was the ultimate purity of design.

"Who are they?" Buckshot asked.

"The Purification-!" Pestilence exclaimed. At the ceiling of the foyer, a blue light had been blinking silently since they'd switched on the terminal. Now, as they stood in a line gazing through the window, all three travelers felt gun barrels pressing into their backs. Pestilence slowly turned, seeing a Maximal security guard with a badge along with a human and a Nestoran, all armed with heavy-duty laser rifles, all wearing the same ID tabs that identified them as members of the Project.

"You are under arrest," the Maximal informed them solemnly. "Once you have been processed- Pestilence- then the overseer will meet you personally."

"Overseer?" Calamari asked, hands raised.

"Logic." Pestilence whispered.


END OF EPISODE ONE


(Episode 2 coming soon, comments welcome.)


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THE UNIFIED PLANET

EPISODE TWO


Pestilence, Calamari, and Buckshot were led at laser rifle point along a dense network of corridors somewhere deep within the Project dome. As they'd walked, Pestilence attempted to memorize the exact layout of corners and turns, which seemed almost deliberately labyrinthine, but was having a little trouble keeping it all straight even with her own high-level intellect. Aside from the occasional sign marking a specific area- Engines Upkeep, Maintenance Access, etc- every hallway seemed exactly the same as the one connected to it. All silver panels, blinking lights, and that ever-present, eerily silent shifting of mechanisms driving the self-reparation of the Purification mothership. After a few more minutes of marching along a series of confusing twists and turns, the trio were led into an area marked 'Incarceration and Processing'.

They came to a stop inside a long, narrow hallway- only about the widths of three 'bots standing side by side, in fact. One end of the hallway was the door inside and an adjacent lab- processing, Pestilence assumed. The other was, appropriately enough, a dead end. And lining either side of the hallway were cells, gray and devoid of furniture, divided by thick metal walls. There were no bars or doors at the front of each cell, just force field emitters and a control panel on the left of each. The Maximal guard forcibly removed Pestilence's long coat, with its multifarious pockets of useful tools, and pushed her into one cell on the right. With a slap of his palm to a large square panel on the side, the Maximal guard pushing her in had brought down a sparking, shimmering blue force field. Pestilence touched a palm to it, feeling a low static-electric charge and absolutely no give. She might as well have been pushing at the outer wall of the dome itself. As the Maximal guard carried Pestilence's coat into the lab, the human guard pushed Calamari into the middle cell and force fielded her in, as did the Nestoran guard, short of stature with a sandy consistency to his skin, yet strong enough to shove the struggling Buckshot into the next cell to her and slap the force field panel.

"Hey! Jackass! What does locking people up have to do with unity?" he called, palms gripping the tingling force field as he glared at the Nestoran.

"There have been some who've failed to grasp the necessity of the Purification," the Nestoran replied, his mandibles clicking along his jawline as he spoke. "They are processed. And then they are released."

"I'm sure they are- numb, obedient drones, is that correct?" Pestilence called from her place two cells over. The Nestoran turned to face her.

"Some," he said simply. "Others are organic, and unfit for Purification. I am organic. I serve the cause in other ways."

"Look- we are machines, and even our neural nets can be overridden, and wiped clean! You are a thinking organic being, and you have been brainwashed into going along with this! Logic has no room in his glorious movement for anyone other than Purified Cybertronians under his total control! Can't you see where this is going?" Pestilence demanded of him.

"Yes. Home." the Nestoran said cryptically, and moved with the human guard towards the processing lab. Pestilence threw up her hands, walking over to the back wall of her cell and leaning against the smooth silver

"What are they going to do to us?" Calamari asked, gazing with trepidation at the processing lab, and the number of wicked-looking machines and instruments hanging on wires within. Buckshot paced in his cell, looking as though he badly wanted to beat something up. Pestilence sank to a sitting position against her wall, trying hard to think.

"We'll be 'processed', one by one," she said. "They'll return with an inhibitor bolt to shut down your body, and a memory sifter that goes through your neural net and starts wiping out anything that'll conflict with what Logic wants. It's such a gradual process of acclimating you to his control that you won't realize what's happening, even as your body is being broken down to its basic template and rebuilt according to your desired station."

"You mean we'll be like some kind of collective?" Buckshot asked, trying to peer at her through the edge of his force field on the far left cell.

"Hardly. The term collective implies group decision-making. Logic is more like a puppet-master with thousands of strings. He determines every single action of every individual drone, with that supercomputer brain of his. And there's no-" Pestilence stopped short, jumping to her feet as the Maximal guard returned, walking along the hallway. She was fearing having them come to her cell, beginning to process her, and running through mental contingencies of any possible resistance she could mount, when she realized the Maximal wasn't carrying an inhibitor bolt and memory sifter, but a simple holographic projector. Without a word, he walked to a place on the corridor that was within sight of all three occupied cells and set it down, flipping a switch. Immediately, a full-size holographic representation of Logic sprang forth, standing calmly with his hands at his sides.

Logic was tall, as tall as Buckshot, but rather than being muscular like the Maximal canine, was slender, with just a lean build to him. He had no discernible faction or beast mode- these things were unnecessary to him. His body was a white and silver hue, with touches of gray along his sides. There were lines of circuitry exposed along his neck and temples, more running down his arms- they looked, to Pestilence's eye, as though he'd been undergoing some maintenance himself. His face was utterly calm and composed, his optics shining white and glowing with internal energy. They couldn't see where he was standing or what he was doing through this holographic representation, but could hear the sounds of moving machinery and workers speaking to one another, very faintly, beside him.

"Logic, I'm disappointed. I thought you were going to meet us in person," Pestilence said with a boisterous quality she didn't feel.

He looked at her, tilting his head slightly.

"Response: I am presently detained with the duties of overseeing this facility and this city. It requires a considerable amount of power on my part to maintain all these tasks at once. However, I wished to see you before you had been processed for Purification. You have changed in appearance in the time since our last confrontation."

"I have," Pestilence said. "That scanning I received when I arrived tipped you off to my presence?"

"Correct," Logic replied. "Your physical attributes may regenerate, but the anomalous scan results and your Transmetal spark signature are unique."

"What is all this, Logic?" Pestilence asked. "I haven't seen an active drone since I got here. Clearly you're trying to repair your ship, and harvest any Cybertronians you can find as fresh manpower, but why go to the trouble to resurrect a dead world and an extinguished sun? There must be hundreds of unoccupied worlds you could have taken to begin repairs."

"Answer: The mothership's engine had sustained too much damage to reliably travel at warp speeds. Rather than stay in the present and risk complete destruction of the ship, I enacted an emergency temporal retreat of whatever coordinates could be reached. It brought the ship to SR-407, years before the emergence of the hypernova. With the drones damaged, there were not sufficient resources to land on a planet and begin processing its inhabitants, so I scanned the area for temporal data and, when basic repairs permitted, returned to the present to begin laying the grid for the Temporal Memory Spires."

"So you brought back an entire sector from the dead, and have been gathering Cybertronians and organic beings from lost cultures with- what, time travel?" Pestilence asked.

"When I and my few remaining drones had established a base on this world, I began to gather workers with the mothership's time travel capability. They are rescued from doomed worlds and given a purpose. It is...humanitarian?"

"What a cruel joke, to hear you use that word," Pestilence said. "I have one more question."

Logic looked expectantly at her.

"This planet must've had native life forms on it when you originally scanned it, who'd have returned with the planet when the time spires brought it back. And whatever they were, I haven't seen them," Pestilence said slowly. "What did you do with them?"

"There were many indigenous, sentient life forms present. The time spires could not be programmed to exclude them from memory," Logic recalled. "When the workers and remaining drones were sufficient in number, they purged the planet's population of those who were not deemed useful. None of them were deemed useful. All were purged."

"You killed everyone on this planet?" Calamari asked with horror. Logic turned his head to look at her.

"The resource expenditure was acceptable. The planet is quite small, and its population was not unmanageable."

"If you weren't a hologram right now, I'd punch your damn face in," Buckshot swore, fists clenched as he stared at Logic through the force field.

Logic blinked once.

"Your responses are emotional. The hypernova had long ago destroyed this planet and its occupants. The time spires establish a memory alongside the present space. I own the time spires. I own what they recall, and determine its use to me. The purged once again have their natural order in the present, and so shall the hypernova. I am borrowing this space. That is all."

"And the workers you've 'borrowed' from so many planets? What happens to them?" Pestilence asked, her voice seething with anger as she glared at the holo-Logic.

"The Cybertronians, like you, will be Purified. The others will be returned to a natural order," he said unconcernedly.

"You're killing them!" Calamari yelled.

"Query: What life does an inhabitant of a doomed world expect? They were on their final days, knowingly or unknowingly. I have awakened them to a new unity and a new purpose. They have enjoyed over a decade of function, repairing my ship. It is more time than they had on the worlds from which I gathered them. Rescuing beings from certain death and prolonging their lives with new purpose. Is that not what you do?"

Pestilence stared at him as he posed her the question. Before Logic could continue, he was interrupted by a worker's voice in the background of the hologram.

"Overseer, there are fluctuations in spires 402, 511, 765, 766, and 1133."

Logic turned to look at something that of course could not be seen through the hologram, and glanced back at the three in their cells.

"Repairs will be effected. You all will be processed, and then you will no longer be in conflict with the Project," he said, before turning around to tend to his machines. The hologram winked off, and the Maximal guard, who'd stood accepting and silent to the side throughout Logic's speech, picked up the emitter and continued back to the processing lab. Through the window, they could see the human and the Nestoran programming the implements to wipe the three of them clean. It wouldn't be long, now.

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

Buckshot had spent several minutes testing the walls of his cell. They were utterly smooth, his metallic palm sliding down them as he vainly looked for any panels he could pry loose. When that search had failed, he'd tried a couple of experimental shoulder-rams into the wall, which only served to ding his shoulder a little bit. Calamari was still standing as close to her force field as she could, looking fearfully at the Project workers off in the processing office. Pestilence was gazing out the hallway, up at the ceiling, mentally grieving for the loss of the days when villains would stick her behind bars and forget to confiscate her multi-tool with its sonic lockpicker.

"So how'd you beat this guy the last time?" Buckshot asked her, taking a brief break from punching the walls and massaging his knuckles.

"Lightspeed? She created an encrypted subspace communications signal that would loop upon itself in greater and greater complexity. The mothership computer core had to divert more and more of its resources to decrypting the signal, crippling Logic's ability to transmit to his drones or defend itself from enemy ship projectiles. Hence the near-total destruction from the missile barrage."

"Any chance you could do that again?" Buckshot asked hopefully.

Pestilence shook her head.

"I scanned the local frequencies as we were being taken to our cells. No subspace communication channel here. Logic never allows himself to be defeated the same way as before. He'll have wiped out that vulnerability."

"Back to freakin' square one, then."

"It's them! They're coming back!" Calamari interrupted. Pestilence quickly ran forward to the front of her cell, palms pressed to her force field, watching as the Maximal, human, and Nestoran guards emerged from the processing office. They were holding a portable generator of some kind, resembling a computer hard drive tower, a magnetized metal bolt that would inhibit the lower body functions of any 'bot that it was attached to, and a small device attached by a line to the generator that, Pestilence knew, would suppress any individuality from their neural nets and make them compliant to Logic's will. She observed curiously how the three guards moved in lock-step synchronized pace, their faces neutral. Before, the inhabitants of Unity had seemed personable enough, like they were functioning individuals, but these three had apparently been rerouted, one could say, to fulfill this particular function. And she understood why- no conscious, fully self-aware being could stand there and force someone to strip away all that they were, she hoped.

"Come on in here and try slapping that on me!" Buckshot yelled at them. "I'll bust that thing over your heads!"

"Logic wants me the most, put it on me and let my friends go!" Pestilence said, gesturing them over to her cell.

The guards wavered for a moment. They only had one memory sifter among them, had only ever needed one. Logic's method of gathering manpower had left very few in the way of dissenters. In their indecision, the puppet-master that was Logic stepped in and chose for them.

"You will be first processed," the Nestoran said, pointing out Calamari in her cell. She stepped back as the human deactivated the force field in front of her cell and, oblivious to Buckshot and Pestilence's cries of protest, allowed the Maximal guard to set down the generator in front of her. Calamari made a motion to side-step the guard and run out of her cell, and with her surprising swiftness and experience in quick escapes, damn near made it. The Maximal spun around, snatching her by the bicep and tugged her back so hard that her back slammed into the wall. She gritted her teeth, glaring up at him, and with implacable force he took hold of the memory sifter and placed it onto her right temple in between her strands of metal hair. Pestilence's shoulders slumped. She knew that the tranquility and composition of the Purification network was asserting itself, smoothing out all the ripples and spikes of her personality. There'd be no resistance- by the end, the afflicted wanted to be Purified. Then something new happened.

Calamari had given no outward change, no hint of impeding the process, and the human guard was stepping forward with inhibitor bolt in hand when the Maximal suddenly went rigid, optics flashing white. His fingers convulsed, and when the human opened his mouth to question him, he fell to his knees as well, teeth clenched, hands clutching at his temples. The Nestoran staggered against the cell wall, hands clapped to the top of his head. Calamari stared at them for a moment, baffled, though she could hear the old voice of Abacus in her head laughing in his disjointed fashion. Then she ran forward, weaving between the guards. The Maximal and the Nestoran were inside the cell, but the human was outside it; that changed when she shoved him into the cell with his compatriots and slapped her palm onto the control on the side, bringing the force field back up and shutting them inside.

"Yes!" Pestilence cheered, jumping up and down in her cell. "Best companion ever!"

"What happened to them?" Buckshot asked, as Calamari hit the release on his force field and then on Pestilence's. Pestilence gave the two of them a quick loose-armed hug around their shoulders, then sprinted down the hall to the processing office as they hurried after her.

"I wasn't sure whether it might happen, but there was enough of Abacus's influence left in you to temporarily disrupt the Purification network!" Pestilence said, searching through the various compartments and storage panels in the office. "It makes sense- logic and order thrown off by dislogic and chaos. The organics must be partly tapped into it somehow, perhaps with cybernetic implants at the brain stem, because they certainly felt it as well. They'll have already recovered, and Logic will certainly know what's happened. We need to get out of here fast, if I can just find- the darned- got it!"

She pulled open a long filing cabinet-like drawer from the wall, discovering her coat inside. She pulled it back on, giving the pockets a quick pat-down to confirm that all of her gear was still inside, readjusted the goggles on her forehead, then nodded to her companions. They headed out the hallway and back into the twisted honeycomb of dome hallways, leaving the trio of workers standing and staring after them silently from behind their new prison.

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

"I hope you're keeping track, because I got lost, like, even before the jailbreak," Calamari confessed, as she, Pestilence, and Buckshot dashed along the shifting-paneled, silver-hued corridors. Pestilence rounded a corner slightly ahead of the other two, stopped short on her heels, then ran back and pushed them up into a shadowy corner. A pair of workers moved ahead past them around the corner, and she watched them leave before gesturing to her companions to keep moving.

"I think the layout itself might be changing as we walk through it. Only Logic's directions to his workers keep them apprised of where to go and what to do, otherwise they'd be lost. That's where we've got to go- the mothership. That's where the controls to this place are bound to be. And where the Project itself must be centered," Pestilence resolved, keeping a steady pace down the smooth hallways. "Now, unless the layout as changed itself overmuch, I swore I saw a door marked 'Maintenance Access'. I think this is it."

They found a gray hatch with a glass sign protruding from the wall above it. This sign indeed identified it as Maintenance Access. Pestilence hit a switch on the side and the door opened, sliding upwards into the wall with a smooth hiss. They found themselves in a small room, almost a walk-in closet, with a number of tools hanging from the walls in neatly ordered compartments. And, ahead of them, was another hatch set at an angle into the floor, almost like a cellar door. Buckshot bent forward and took hold of its handles, pulling upward with a huff of effort, and succeeded in lifting the heavy metal doors and exposing a long set of steel steps leading deep down into a subterranean corridor.

"Oh, seriously? Sewers?" Calamari asked, her metal nose wrinkling.

"These aren't sewers, these are maintenance tunnels," Pestilence replied, already starting to descend down the steps.

"Maintenance tunnels are like sewers for 'bots!" Calamari said. She looked over at Buckshot, shrugged, and followed the petite moth femme down into the darkness. Buckshot looked behind them briefly before shutting the hatch behind them and heading down the stairs, his large feet clanking on the steps as they went.

The three of them stood briefly in total darkness, before a series of soft orange proximity lights, set into the corners at regular intervals, automatically switched on and illuminated the tunnels in all directions. Unlike the uniform silver and smoothness of the dome, these walls were a patchwork of power conduits and supports, everything meant to be readily accessed. Workers would descend down to these tunnels, just below ground level, and be able to quickly make their way to any trouble spot while circumventing the constantly-shifting layout of the self-repairing citadel above. It was, Pestilence reflected, rather like the repair tunnels behind the scenes of an amusement park ride.

"Jeez, these tunnels look like they stretch on for miles. Maybe they go underneath the entire city!" Buckshot exclaimed, squinting his optics and peering down one of the branching corridors.

"I wouldn't doubt it. Just in case some workers need to emerge right into the basement of any non-compliant citizen. Now, the mothership's hangar is in the very center of the dome. The hallways may move and shift around it, but its position does not change and neither do these tunnels. We head northwest, we may be able to come up right underneath it."

"Sounds good to me," Buckshot nodded, and after taking a moment to confirm the right direction, headed in the tunnel of the proper direction. Calamari smiled down at Pestilence, who nodded briskly, and they followed him, careful to watch all adjacent tunnels for pursuers as they passed them.

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

Logic had little need of security cameras. His neural net, a wonder of multitasking and adaptability, could monitor the activities of all drones and all workers with functioning implants, without Logic ever needing to leave his room. And he rarely did that; the demand placed on him to reliably maintain all of the Purification's connections in this sector was too high. He sat in a room at the very bottom of the gigantic hangar housing his mothership. This room was pure white, utterly sterile, conditioned to a constant 60 degrees' chill. Lowly humming computer cores were stacked around his seat, a blocky metallic chair bolted into the floor. A cable ran from the back of Logic's neck and down into the chair, wires spreading out into the computer cores- analyzing and organizing terabytes of data, issuing instructions to thousands as little more than subliminal suggestions capable of disguising themselves as mere intuition. Logic didn't require the cord to access his computer cores, but in the Purification's vulnerable state, he found it a valuable way to ease the process and provide himself with greater control. As a result of this grounded connection, when Pestilence and her friends escaped processing, he knew it immediately without needing any connected worker to report.

Logic's was not without emotions. Indeed, he'd never subjected himself to the same emotion-numbing process of purification that all his drones had. He believed it of paramount importance that he retain emotions, yet suppress them into a completely neutral state. Yet he felt a tinge of concern- Pestilence on the loose could only mean disruption of the Project, perhaps even of his ultimate goal. He stood up from the chair, disconnecting the cable in the back of his neck with a quick tug. He maintained a wireless feed on his computers, though the signal strength was weakened somewhat. No matter. He needed to contain the problem now, with a minimum expenditure of necessary resources. He consulted the layout of his citadel and saw three unauthorized entries into the maintenance tunnels. That'd be the interlopers.

Logic exited his private room, leaving behind its ever-running computers, its soothing white walls and comforting hum, to enter the cavernous hangar. He walked quickly but without hurry, moving to the sides of the hangar where drones lay dormant in pods, dozens and dozens arranged side by side on multiple levels. Not many- but he had the means to resurrect them. With enough Cybertronians gathered from time, he could modify their bodies and minds to add fresh units to his army, or upload their consciousness into drones too damaged to be rebooted. It was far too early to awaken them all- the mental processing power drained would be catastrophic. But he could spare one. One might suffice.

Logic pulled out one of the ground-floor pods, swinging it out of its framework on wheels. It must've weighed in excess of a thousand pounds, but Logic maneuvered it out with ease. There was a drone- once male, now genderless, its body a uniform gray with scanning bars on its chest to denote its rank and function. It had a serene look on its face, optics blank, as the support system it was hooked into occasionally blinked a green light. Logic needed to only give a mental order, and the support system for this particular pod shut down, preparing rescuscitation. The drone's optics lit up, their color an ashy black. He stepped out of the pod, his footfalls thudding on the shining floor, and turned to present himself to his master.

"Observation: You are not running at 100% efficiency," Logic stated.

"Awakening self-diagnostic confirms energy projectiles not at sufficient charge to utilize reliably, and personal shield emitters are partially impaired," the drone said in a voice that seemed to layer on itself to create a cold, eerie chorus.

"You will compensate for these deficiencies. I have need of you. Enter the maintenance tunnels below the hangar. Find the three intruders. End their conflict with me. Return with their bodies," Logic directed. The drone didn't nod, or salute, or give any vocal response to the order. It simply turned on its heel and took off at a march for the nearest maintenance access door.

Logic stood and waited, standing perfectly still upon the hangar floor, tying a portion of his mental facilities into the drone's activities as the rest focused on running this citadel, observing the city around it, and preparing for the mothership's final voyage home.

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

Pestilence and her companions made their way carefully through the maintenance tunnels. Calamari walked with her hand trailing along the uneven patchwork of conduits and circuitry on the walls, glancing at each turn down the tunnel as though expecting a company of Purified drones to ambush them. Buckshot glanced up occasionally, seeing hatches in the ceiling of the tunnels with numbers on them. 032, 022, 018. Pestilence had taken a scanner from one of her pockets and was sweeping it back and forth in front of her, fascinated by what she saw.

"There's another set," she said, pointing out gleaming nodes in the ceiling as they walked underneath them. "I've been seeing them at regular intervals since we entered the tunnels underneath the hangar area. They're chronon particle emitters- they generate the raw energy that powers time travel. This entire citadel must be a way of bolstering power to the mothership's time travel engine."

"That's a one-way trip, isn't it?" Buckshot asked.

"You bet it is. Without a chronon containment chamber to hold it in, the sheer volume of energy expended by such a large-scale transport would just destroy this citadel like a tin can in a microwave. Unless...the entire dome is the chronon containment chamber? It'd explain the constantly shifting layouts, the assembly lines feeding power to the hangar at all times...Logic has to be planning a trip, and he doesn't care what happens to this city once he's gone."

"Logic said he made an emergency jump to the past after his ship almost blew up, and then returned with time spire stuff to set up this city," Calamari said. "He's been here for what, years? Trying to, you know, recuperate? When's he gonna go to? The future? The past again? If he tries to stop you in the past, won't that make a time paradox?"

"I've played fast and loose enough with time to know how to get around paradoxes; I'm sure he does too. But that is still a very good question..." Pestilence trailed off, rubbing her chin thoughtfully as she swept the scanner up at the ceiling. Suddenly the scanner let out a ping of signal recognition and she, Buckshot, and Calamari stopped as one, almost bumping into each other and going very silent.

"There's one in here," Pestilence said slowly, barely above a whisper.

"How close?" Buckshot asked.

"Not sure...it's also picking up the dormant ones in the hangar above. Some interference, but one of these signals is moving..."

From an alcove in the next tunnel connected to theirs, the drone observed them silently. It analyzed their movements, determined which one represented the greatest physical threat, the state of their weaponry and where they could flee to. A litany of engagement tactics roamed through the drone's mind and it settled on a plan of attack- if the first plan failed, it would immediately adopt one of a dozen more contingency plans. The drone began to slowly walk forward, its footsteps not making the slightest echo. So many other robotic menaces moved at a Frankenstein-like trudge, their slow advances a sign of inevitable defeat. Purification drones moved differently- stealthy, so eerily synchronized and silent, until they saw their prey. Then- if necessary- they would run. They would close the gap so quickly.

"There! He's there!" Pestilence yelled, spinning around, her scanner pinging frantically, as the drone ran at them. Its arms pumped back and forth, legs moving to shame the best of the Olympic sprinters on Earth, and yet it still did not make a single unnecessary sound. It went for Buckshot first, slamming out a palm into the burly Maximal's chest and sending him flying backwards into a wall.

"Ungh! Damn!" Buckshot slid down the wall of the tunnel, conduits severed and panels dented inward by his impact. The drone was upon him in a second, one arm inexorably locking around his neck and the other heading towards his temple. A needle extended from a tiny pore in the drone's gray palm and it began to push its hand closer and closer to Buckshot's head. Buckshot gritted his teeth, legs kicking fruitlessly at the air, as he tried to push back against the drone. It was so strong! He could feel his own servos creaking with stress as he tried to force away the drone's arm.

"Get him off! Get him!" Calamari yelled, jumping up onto the drone's back. She kicked and kneed it in the spine, arms locked around its neck.

"Hold him there! I can neutralize him if you hold him tight!" Pestilence shouted, whipping out her multi-tool and heading for the grappling trio. The drone spun out a backhand, knocking the multi-tool out of Pestilence's hand and catching her a good one upside the jaw. She fell to the tunnel floor, dazed, and shook off the momentary stun, searching for her dropped tool.

The drone was slowly being pushed back, hand pulled away inch by inch from Buckshot. The canine Maximal yanked his head away and, getting his feet up, booted the drone in the chest. The drone stumbled backwards, Calamari jumping down from his shoulders, and Buckshot, swearing lowly, got to his feet and swung for the drone's jaw. It caught the punch in its other hand and body-checked Buckshot into the wall in one smooth motion of unreal silence. It went in for the kill once again, needle extended, and Calamari took hold of its bicep and helped Buckshot to divert the stab into the wall. Pestilence snatched up her multitool and ran over, setting up a communication signal jammer on wide beam to block Logic's transmission to the drone. She waved the tool at the drone, aiming it specifically at the base of its neck. The drone turned its head to look at her, black optics narrowing.

"...That would've worked before. Logic really never does allow for the same defeat twice-" Pestilence said, optic ridges raised in surprise. The drone went for her, one hand grabbing her by the lapel of her coat and the other raising his deadly needle. Calamari grabbed the drone by one arm, Buckshot grabbed it by the other, and they pulled it backwards. Pestilence glanced at the wall, confirming her theories in an instant, and snatched down one of the cables severed by Buckshot's impact into it. She jammed the sparking end of the cable into the drone's neck, between the jawline and the chestplate, and its black optics went wide in a rictus of overload. It stumbled backwards and then sagged against the wall, body stiffened, looking like a discarded toy. Smoke rose from the neck. Pestilence leaned forwards, hands on her knees, gasping.

"Is he dead?" Calamari asked, peering at the drone.

Pestilence stood up straight, shaking her head. "The power surge in his network forced out Logic's influence. I saw the opening when I realized his personal shield wasn't activated."

"When's he gonna wake up?" Buckshot asked, rubbing his neck.

"Drones cut off from the network either go temporarily dormant or revert to a basic set of programmed instructions until they can rejoin it. Logic will reestablish the connection to this one in minutes, or send two more drones to pick it up. We have to get away from him right now."

"Where do we go to?" Calamari asked.

"Right up here." Pestilence said, pointing upwards with a grim expression on her face. They'd been below the hangar since before the drone had attacked them- now they seemed to be almost in the center of it. The hatch above them was marked '001'.

Buckshot stepped forward, lifting up the petite femmebot with ease, and held her up so she could begin the job of opening the hatch. Pestilence's multi-tool disengaged the magnetic clamps and she swung the hatch down, careful to avoid hitting either herself or Buckshot's head. There was a ladder folded up on the floor above- she took ahold of this by the bottom rung and swung it out, where it unfolded piece by piece until it was on the floor. Buckshot laid Pestilence across the ladder, where she took hold of it easily in her hands, and started to climb up. Buckshot followed quickly, and Calamari brought up the rear. She looked down, seeing the drone leaned against the wall. Its black optics started to blink, and she hurriedly yanked the ladder back up and shut the hatch, resetting the magnetic clamps.

They had emerged inside the hangar, craning their necks to see the mothership above them. Its crystalline underbelly, its dropship deployment hatches, its gigantic warp drive engines visible to one side. More robotic arms coming out of panels the walls and floor, feeding materials from the ever-running conveyor belts into the hungry machinery. There were all sorts of work stations around them, and given that this hangar sat in the middle of a giant time machine, Pestilence could bet that at least one of them would govern the machine itself.

"What's the game plan?" Buckshot asked, looking around. No drones were awake to meet them, all continuing to lie in stasis within their shelves of pods. No workers either- apparently they stayed at their stations outside the central dome, never to enter it.

"We royally sabotage the time travel controls and see to it that Logic's ship never leaves this hangar," Pestilence said with determination.

"Response: I will repair all damage."

The three of them turned around to see Logic striding from his control room. His face was the picture of composure, hands loosely clasped at the small of his back. Calamari stepped back a pace, leaning against one console, while Buckshot clenched his fists in remembrance of a promised punch to Logic's face. Pestilence frowned, multi-tool held out in front of her.

"Query: Did you suppose that you could gain access to my inner sanctum, my mothership's hangar, and I would not be prepared for any sabotage you would attempt?" Logic asked them quietly. "You, Pestilence, once again display a lack of deductive reasoning and foresight. There is no logic in this attack."

"I thought that one of its advantages," Pestilence said lightly, eyes locked on him.

"You disconnected my agent in the maintenance tunnels. Clearly, greater numbers are required to subdue you. I think all will be more than sufficient. I will be satisfied by the results," Logic said, tapping his fingers to his temple.

Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari looked around as doors to the hangar began to open. Workers, dozens and dozens of them, were marching into the hangar. Cybertronians, humans, Nestorans, Grussites, Carbations, and twenty more species from twenty more lost cultures were converging on them. The cybernetic implants in their brains, their neural nets, and any other thinking tissues, were fully activated and had depleted away any conscience and any reasoning in favor of blind, unthinking submission. They had wrenches, and welders, and pipes, and saws.

"A violent solution will suffice. End their conflict with me. End it. End it now!" Logic demanded.

The workers raised their weapons, and advanced on the trio of intruders.


END OF EPISODE TWO


(Episode 3 on its way soon.)


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THE UNIFIED PLANET

EPISODE THREE


Pestilence and her friends started to back up, as though there were anywhere for them to go. Surrounded on all sides by weaponry-wielding Project workers, running would only bring them closer to the ones advancing behind them. Logic stood in the back of the mob, not far from his control room, and pointed to the trio of intruders. Though he spoke quietly, his voice still carried above the dozens of footsteps and the hiss of welders and the grind of saws.

"Command: Destroy the other two, but prioritize the survival of the Anomaly. She will prove an asset once Purified."

A chill ran through Pestilence at hearing that description. The Anomaly. That was what Purified drones had referred to her as in the past, given both her unusual sensor scans and her form regenerations. Hearing that term used again brought home just how much danger there were in. Then her fright was pushed from her mind by urgency, as an advance horde of workers closed in, swinging their weapons. An idea struck in that moment, and she turned around, dashing towards a console behind her companions.

"Hold them off! I need a few minutes at these controls!" she said, peering down at the screens and letting her fingers fly across the controls, clicking on tabs and typing in codes.

"Oh, sure, no problem-" Buckshot groused as a Predacon toting a big, nasty-looking wrench stepped in and swung for the fences. Buckshot nimbly ducked the shot, feeling air molecules part above his head, and gave the large mech a firm shove, sending him stumbling away. Calamari teetered backwards as a female Carbation worker swung a saw at her. Faster than the mind-controlled worker, Calamari evaded each of her shots, wincing at the high-powered whine of the saw. She snatched up a power cord from the floor and used it to trip up the female, her saw clattering uselessly to the floor as she face-planted into the metal surface. She let out no expression of pain, blank-faced and stoic, slowly getting back to her feet.

"Pest, we really really need some help here! Like, now!" Calamari yelled above the din of oncoming assailants and operating power tools.

"Just another minute! Minute and a half, tops!" Pestilence replied, tossing her scarf back over one shoulder impatiently as her fingers danced across the console.

A human worker stepped in, this one carrying what looked like a big nasty sledgehammer, the kind you used to hammer dented panels back into shape on a shuttle. He came in low with a shot that'd have crumpled Buckshot's chest in, and the canine mech side-stepped, lifting his fists. Calamari, who was occupied with a Nestoran grappling against her, yelled out:

"Bucky, don't hit him! He's a human, you'd break his whole face!"

"So I should just stand here and let him hammer away at me?!" Buckshot retorted with surprise, though he obliged, placing a metal palm flat against the human's chest and shoving, sending him stumbling against a Grussite so that the two of them rolled to the floor. A Decepticon worker stepped forward, taller than even Buckshot by a head and toting a straight-up pipe, and Buckshot grinned up at him.

"Now, you I can punch," he said, and did just that, slamming an uppercut into the Decepticon's jaw and following up with a series of knee-strikes to the midsection. He took the Decepticon by the bicep and spun him around rapidly, hammer-tossing him into another four workers and bowling them all over. Pestilence spun around from the console, running to her friends.

"I've set the field to a 30-second delay! We need to get under the aft section right now! Forget the fighting and RUN!"

Without questioning her, the two 'bots spun on their heel and started to run. They were near the middle section of the mothership's great crystalline underbelly- the aft, with its arching nacelles and massive warp engine coils, was a quarter-mile or more away. Putting all the speed on that they could, they ran underneath the mothership, weaving between the ever-active robot arms pushing construction materials up inside missing portions of the ship, and either running around or pushing down any worker that got in their way. As they dashed underneath the aft section of the ship, Calamari, the quickest of the three, saw a glowing line of emitters beneath their feet. Calamari made it past the emitters first, followed by Buckshot. Pestilence took a running leap, making it across the emitter perimeter just as a glowing blue force field materialized into place. She skidded across the smooth hangar floor and rolled over, sitting up and staring as the Project workers advanced on the force field. They stopped in mid-stride, some standing still, others running a palm against the force field and others knocking on it with their improvised weapons. Pestilence's head bowed in relief, and she accepted Buckshot's hand as he helped her to her feet. Behind them, motorized arms continued to feed panels and machinery up into the ship.

"What'd you do?" Calamari asked, looking at the force field.

"I erected the warp engine testing shield and expanded its radius as far around the aft as I could. It'll buy us some time," Pestilence said.

"Will it hold?"

"It's designed to safely contain the byproduct of warp coil reactions, so it should keep a bunch of brainwashed factory workers at bay, yes."

Pestilence peered past the blank-faced workers to where, yards and yards away, Logic had stood and watched their escape. He tilted his head, considering the situation like a chess master confronted with an unusual counter-strategy. Without comment, he turned and walked towards his control room, a little shield bunker set into the floor of the hangar.

"He's gonna try to override it with whatever's in that room," Buckshot said, and Pestilence nodded.

"I put up as many blocks and encryptions as I could, but he'll get past them quickly. We've got to do something big, something that'll really knock his network for a loop, and I think I know what, but we must reach another control station with access to the entire network."

"There's nothing on this side. At least, not in the field," Buckshot replied, looking around the smooth hangar area. Pestilence instead looked straight up, inspiration dawning in her optics.

"Oh, yes, there is. The mothership! Logic is all about redundancies, he wouldn't confine his base of operations to one room in this hangar, especially if he's planning to travel through time and leave it behind. There will be a second, autonomous control source inside that ship! We just need a way up."

"We could hitch a ride on that robot arm!" Calamari said, pointing at one of the giant metal limbs plucking panels from a conveyor belt on a lower level and lifting them up inside the ship. Pestilence watched its motion for one repetition, nodded, and hurried towards the arm after her two companions. Cal went first, scrambling up the side of the arm and clinging onto it in an octopus grip. Buckshot jumped up as the robot arm began to ascend, snagging onto a bar in its side with one hand and holding the other down to Pestilence. The petite femmebot hopped, catching his hand and hanging onto it, feet dangling in empty air as the robot arm carried them all up over two stories into the ship.

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

The robot arm ascended through a large gap in the hull, carrying a heavy-duty metal plate in its grasp. Calamari hopped off the arm, landing on the floor exposed by the gap. Buckshot swung Pestilence onto the deck after her, and then jumped away from the arm, rolling to a stop on the white metallic floor. He turned, watching as the robot arm- no participant in this conflict, merely an automaton concerned only with repairing the ship- began to position the plate along the multiple layers of the hull, a tool extending from the arm to start welding the plate into place. Buckshoot stood up, looking at Pestilence as she glanced around the corridor.

"We're on deck 3. The bridge will be up two floors and north of here, at the front of the ship."

"How do you know that?" Buckshot asked her.

"I've been on this ship before," Pestilence replied with the frown of bad memories, and waved him along. The three of them sprinted down the smooth hallway, bright lights shining down on them as their feet clicked on spotless white floors. There were no workers up here, nor any drones, though they would occasionally pass a self-repairing hunk of wall or a robot arm emerging from the hangar floor to affix more necessary components. Pestilence avoided the elevators, as it was probable Logic would access and shut them down from his control room. Rather, she and her companions took access ladders between decks, moving as quickly as they could. When they'd made it to deck 5, moving north, they quickly emerged on the bridge. It was unlike any bridge the other two had ever seen- rather than one command chair in the middle and all the other chairs and consoles around it for control of various ship functions, there was just the one chair in the very center of the narrow pentagonal room, facing the viewscreen, and five drone frames set into the walls of the bridge at each corner. Each frame had a viewscreen of its own set into the wall, with panels at where the hands would lay at rest.

"Jeez. It's like...it's like five fingers spreading out from a palm," Buckshot observed of the bridge design.

"Exactly," Pestilence said, and hurried to the command chair, the only chair on the ship, the only command the ship would ever have. She swung out a console in front of it and, activating the information tabs, leaned over the command arm and began to read through the tabs quickly. Buckshot walked forward to the viewscreen, staring through it- he could see the workers milling around the bottom, awaiting instruction.

"It's awful," Calamari opined, standing by him at the viewscreen. "He says jump and they say, 'state the specifications of the requested jump'. And not because they want to, not because they respect him and follow his orders, but because of something in their brains that forces them to."

"Why didn't he just use his drones?" Buckshot asked. "Not enough of them? Or too valuable to exert on the assembly lines?"

"I know where he's going," Pestilence said in a grim tone from her place on the bridge. Calamari and Buckshot turned, heading over to where she stood. Then they both saw it too- Cybertron. Before the Beast attack. The 2D representation of the planet, sector 001, floated in space on the console screen ominously. The year was marked, and a constantly updating readout of the chronon emitter array confirmed the intended destination.

"He's going to resume his original mission. Return to Cybertron, initiate mass Purification with the benefit of future technology, and take over the planet," Pestilence said with dawning horror.

"How could he do that?" Buckshot demanded. "He's been able to time travel all this time, why not do that from the get-go?"

//"Response: The temporal and spatial distortions left by the destruction of the planet and the Beast technology made it impossible to safely return to that sector. Until now."//

Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari looked up to see Logic gazing at them from within his control room, on the viewscreen. They realized now it was where he'd been broadcasting from as he'd spoken to them while they were in their processing cells. There were blinking computer cores behind him, humming softly, and they could see his hands moving independently of his gaze. Occasionally he would glance down, making some correction on the console, before looking back up to regard his adversaries dispassionately.

//"Compliment: Your encryption skills are notable, Anomaly. There are yet more firewalls to circumvent, but the warp engine testing shields will be removed. I will order the workers into the ship. If you prolong this siege, I will awaken more drones."//

"Then we're at an impasse, at least for right now," Pestilence replied, glaring at him. "It's insane to attempt returning to Cybertron."

//"Incorrect. I am not insane."//

"You'll be defeated! Maximals, Predacons, enemies will ally themselves against you and your brand of salvation!"

//"I will not be defeated. I have the technology to overcome. The revised chronon array scans the temporal origin point of my mothership, and returns it to that time. I would not have thought to implement this technology had your actions not forced me to jump to the site of the 407 Hypernova and compile the time-spire data."// Here, Logic paused, his white optics focusing on his foe. //"If you must persist in moralizing, then the blame for this chain of events can be laid at your feet only."//

"Don't even try to guilt trip me, you madman," Pestilence said, lowly and dangerously. "Cybertron is dead, its people scattered across the galaxy. We had our flaws, we had our small squabbles and our great wars, but each and every one of us would rather die or remain in exile than see our home under your control."

//"You are enemies of peace. You oppose the resurrection of our home world. You could not stand to see it blessed with true unity of mind and purpose."// Logic said, almost sounding disgusted with them, as he turned back to his console. He seemed preoccupied with a particularly dense cluster of encryptions Pestilence had set before him, so she took the opportunity to turn to Calamari. Her optics burned bright with purpose, though she held onto the octopus femme's arm with concern.

"Cal? I want to ask you to do something that is potentially dangerous," she said lowly, too low for Logic to hear. "If I connect your mind to the network controls here, we can upload the Abacus influence on a large scale and disrupt his entire network. You'll need to allow those fragments of Abacus' personality still within you to have free rein. It's risky, you may lose yourself if you stay in there too long."

Calamari looked at Pestilence, then to Logic on the viewscreen, and nodded.

"Let's do it."

Pestilence gave her friend a bolstering smile and started to rummage, quickly and covertly, through the lower pockets of her coat. Emerging with a long black cable and a pattern buffer machine, she started to make connections. Buckshot moved to the bridge entrance, peering down the hallway through which they'd entered, expecting Project workers or Purification drones to enter at any moment. Pestilence plugged one end of the cable into Calamari's temple and slipped the other into an access panel on the lower side of Logic's command chair console. She started to type in commands, and in a moment, had achieved a primary upload of Calamari's consciousness to the Purification network. Logic, who had just finished his decryptions and was lowering the shields for the workers to enter the ship, stopped suddenly, detecting the new presence in his supercomputer of a mind.

//"Query: What is the tactical advantage gained by adding one more malleable mind to mine? You will only place another agent within your bridge."//

Pestilence glanced up at him quickly, her optics narrowed with resolve, and hit Execute. Calamari's body went rigid, and her optics started to flash like strobe lights. Her mouth twitched into a sickening grin. Pestilence backed away from her, ready to pull the plug from the network in an instant. Logic sat bolt upright in his chair within the control room, confusion showing on his face. Outside, Project workers both organic and mechanical were stopping short in their tasks, limbs shaking.

//"There is...interference...massive scale-"// Logic started to say, before his transmission to the mothership's viewscreen started to go bad, static snowing over the screen.

"Ha. Ha. What is red and invisible? No tomatoes. Ha. Ha. Ha," Calamari said mirthfully. "Why did the weasel cross the road? Because it was stapled to the chicken. Ha. Ha."

"She's starting to talk like him, you gotta pull her out of there!" Buckshot urged Pestilence.

"Not just yet!" Pestilence held up a hand, glancing warily at Logic. "She needs a little more time to fully infect the system."

//"Signal degradation...network efficiency...what have you..."// Logic demanded, his voice coming in bursts. Whenever the intermittent scrambles of snow cleared, they could see his control room beginning to take damage. Sparks showered from a computer core behind him, and he clutched his control console more tightly.

"How does a crazy person walk through the woods? He takes the psychopath. Ha. Ha. Why is a raven like a writing desk? Because the frog on the man's head said it started as a wart on his behind. Ha. Ha." Calamari stuttered, her jokes beginning to break in even their coherency, before she went into a full-body spasm.

"That's enough!" Pestilence said, jerking the cord free of the console. Calamari swooned, and would've knocked over the shorter and smaller Pestilence had Buckshot not been there to catch her. The octopus femmebot staggered back to her feet, with his help, and blinked dazedly up at the viewscreen. Now several systems appeared to have caught fire, and Logic's hands were flying across his keys to keep up with the massive levels of dislogic and chaos corrupting his network.

"Cal, are you all right?" Pestilence asked, shaking the femme's arm. Calamari nodded a little, giving her friend a woozy thumbs up.

"Think you flushed the last of it right out of me, and into him," she murmured, optics half-lidded.

"Hear that, Logic? I don't think you'll be going anywhere, or anywhen. You've got some kinks in the system to work out," Pestilence said up at her foe, grim satisfaction on her face.

//"No, you cannot...no- all functions...tied to my network...you do not understand the ramifications-"// Logic tried to say, before his viewscreen went black.

"This may be the event that finally rids the galaxy of the Purification. And I applaud it. We need to get back to the AXALON," Pestilence said.

"Now, that I agree with," Buckshot said, nodding emphatically. They started to walk away from the command chair, supporting Calamari by her upper arms, until she shook them off, and started to jog away. Nodding at her cue, they ran back down the corridor and to the nearest exit.. A vertically canted ramp lowered itself from the fore of the ship's underbelly and they ran down the smooth incline, almost tumbling in their hurry to escape. They ran around and between their former assailants. The Project workers, their cybernetically implanted ties to the network subjecting them to the madness of Abacus, were emitting monotone ha's or stumbling around the hangar, swiping at nothing. In a short time, they had exited through the front office where Pestilence had swiped the worker's card key, and were fleeing to the street.

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

The escaping trio pushed out of the large double doors at the front of the citadel. Normally there would be a small stream of workers going in and out of these doors as they began and ended their shifts, but the flow of worker traffic had stopped completely. Pestilence looked around the street, seeing no law enforcement officials, drones, or workers heading their way.

"We should have a clear path all the way to the field where I parked the AXALON," she said, turning to Buckshot and Calamari. "With the navigational circuitry restored, we can- what is it?"

Buckshot was looking straight up, optics wide. So was Calamari, hands clapped to her mouth with horror. Pestilence slowly turned her head and looked straight up, and horror dawned on her face as she realized what was happening.

The sky itself was vanishing. Great patches of the atmosphere would flicker out of existence for a couple of seconds, then appear back in place. A clear blue afternoon sky of the past, with white clouds drifting across the horizon, would appear infrequently as the inky blackness of the future, with no sun above. Ripples of non-existence passed through the atmosphere in waves, leaving behind checkerboard patterns of nothingness for an instant before the grid reasserted itself, struggling to maintain.

"Oh, no," Pestilence said in a hushed tone. "No, no, no. How could I have been so short-sighted? The grid, the temporal memory spires! Logic's network is maintaining them too!"

"Abacus must be running rampant in the system already, we saw how messed up those workers were! How is the planet even still here?" Buckshot asked.

"Logic must be expending truly vast amounts of energy and willpower just to keep the grid in place- if it disappears, he's as doomed as everyone else on this planet," Pestilence replied, starting to run down the sidewalk.

"What'll happen if the grid collapses?" Calamari asked, running alongside her, Buckshot keeping up behind them and throwing glances over his shoulder up at the distorted sky.

"Either all of this, this planet, this sun, will simply vanish from existence, leaving behind the 407 sector as we know it in the present. Or..." Pestilence stopped in her tracks as a new possibility occurred to her, causing Calamari and Buckshot to almost collide with her back.

"Or what?!" Buckshot demanded.

"Or the spires' collapse could initiate a time realignment cascade- the future reasserting itself at an accelerated rate. Two divergent timelines side by side, one degrading rapidly, the other slamming into its place. The hypernova, happening a second time, in a matter of moments."

Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari stood in silence for a moment, the enormity of it settling in on them. Above, portions of the sky flickered in and out like a faulty lightbulb.

"...We really gotta get to the AXALON," Buckshot said.

Pestilence nodded, and they started to sprint down the sidewalk, when a law enforcement cruiser, blue sirens flashing silently and hover-pads glowing, sped around a corner towards them. Behind the wheel was the human who'd questioned them before, taking their scans, and the hulking Autobot friend of his, riding cramped in shotgun and holding a fearsome-looking rifle.

"I thought Abacus was screwing up Logic's link to all the workers!" Calamari said disbelievingly.

"Only the ones whose implants Logic was currently jacked into! The others not currently connected to him are free to pursue and kill us!" Pestilence exclaimed, spinning on her heel and starting to run in the opposite direction. Buckshot looked around wildly, seeing an empty hoverbus and a Maximal driver, clearly not concerned with much other than keeping his pickup schedule, pull up to the curb in front of the citadel. Buckshot took a couple of quick strides forward as the hoverbus settled and the doors opened, grabbed the startled driver by the arm, gave him a shrug of apology, and tossed him bodily out onto the sidewalk.

"Was that necessary?" Pestilence asked, grabbing ahold of the hand-bars on either side of the doors and tugging herself up, before taking Calamari's hand and pulling her up as well.

"If we're gonna get to the AXALON in a hurry, then yeah, it really was," Buckshot nodded, pulling the doors shut with a lever beside the steering wheel and settling himself into the driver's chair.

"Do you know how to drive buses?" Calamari asked, plopping down into a front-row seat and peering backwards nervously as the police car, with its surreal silent lights, closed in on them.

"Been in a couple of car chases in my time. It's just like riding a bicycle. Really fast, away from cops. Hang on," Buckshot gunned the motor, and the bus engine started up with a ferocity it was never meant to convey. The hover-pads on the underside flared up with excess energy, and Buckshot leaned on the velocity. The bus took off down the street, swerving around the corner, and the police cruiser gave chase.

Buckshot didn't have Pestilence's genius intellect and centuries of experience, nor did he have Calamari's physical agility and innocent spirit. He had specialties of his own, however, that made him an invaluable companion in a tight situation, and one of these was a certain disregard for his own safety when his friends were in jeopardy. Buckshot didn't even attempt to drive safely. The hoverbus careened across sidewalks, scattering pedestrians, and weaved in and out of traffic with heart-stopping closeness. Pestilence rocked in her seat, leaning forward to clutch at the driver's chair.

"Look out for that bus stop!" she pointed.

"I see it!" Buckshot assured her, swerving around it.

"Don't go there, that's too tight!"

"I can make it!"

"Watch for that-"

"Would you just let me handle this?! You take care of the cops back there! Use your doohickey to mess up their hoverpads and make their car stop going!"

"It doesn't work like that!"

"Hell, you'll figure something out. I got this," Buckshot said, optics locked on the chaotic scene in front of him. He was completely focused on the task, hands clutching the steering wheel tightly enough to leave indentations from his fingers. Pestilence turned around, and almost fell on her face in the aisle as Bucky was forced to make a sudden stop to avoid smashing into a truck, then a hard bank to the left to begin heading to the Unity city limits. Clutching the overhead rails, Pestilence made her way hand-over-hand to where Calamari sat, bumping and jostling in her seat as Buckshot smashed the bus over and into any number of curbs, garbage receptables, and traffic cones.

"They've been keeping up with us the whole way. I saw the human guy on some kind of radio? Not even, like, a radio in his hand, but in his neck. He's calling for backup," Calamari said, peering out the back window of the bus as the two police officers kept steady pursuit. Neither of them liked the way the Autobot cop, Gearbox, was holding that rifle across his lap, just waiting- either for them to be close enough to fire it effectively, or for them to be out of the way of civilian traffic. Either way, Pestilence didn't want that gun going off at them.

"Logic will be entirely focused on ridding himself of the Abacus infection, but I imagine he's still keeping tabs on us, directing his law enforcement officers."

"And they might bring more drones with them!" Calamari replied. "We should...he's firing!"

As the bus smashed through the Unity sign, sending it wobbling in place, the police hovercar sped after it, smashing the other support of the sign and knocking it to the ground. The battered and shuddering hoverbus zipped a circuitous route up the hill, as the Autobot cop leaned out the side window and fired the rifle. A glowing blue laser, searing hot and fast enough to bisect steel, lanced up after the bus, carving a line right through the bus roof. A piece of the back corner slid off, tumbling to the grass and leaving a triangular hole above the three astonished 'bots inside.

"Not gonna let them fire that again," Buckshot resolved, and as they approached the meadow of the AXALON's landing, suddenly deactivated one side of the bus's hover-pads. The effect was immediate, the entire bus tilting upward on one side, carried along by its momentum. Pestilence and Calamari tumbled against the left wall, falling in a pile into one seat, as Buckshot swerved the bus hard to the right. The human and Autobot police officer both had brief facial expressions of shock, identical on faces both of flesh and bone and of metal and circuitry, then ducked beneath their dashboard as the leaning bus loomed over them. Buckshot clutched the rails on the side of his seat, and Pestilence and Calamari copied his example, and not a moment too soon- the entire bus slammed down into the grass with a mighty thud, crushing the hood of the cruiser beneath it. The hoverpads winked out and the car was buried in the soil deep enough to leave its back section tilted in the air. The overstressed hoverbus engine gave one last puff of energy and then went dead.

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

Buckshot crawled over to the middle of the bus aisle and pushed open the emergency exit with his foot. He clambered out first, then helped out Calamari and Pestilence. Pest peered underneath the bus and past the crushed hood. She could see the two cops, dazed but alive underneath their seat restraints.

"I'll never backseat drive you again. That was outstanding," she said, standing up and giving Buckshot a firm hug. He returned it, nodding once, and then turned to start running towards the AXALON. Pestilence drew a key from her pocket, sliding it into the silvery booth's door, and held it open for both of her companions to run inside. As they entered the wide, bright interior of the ship's control room, Buckshot spread his hands across the navigational console and looked at Pestilence for directions.

"Set it to coordinates 407.005.112!" she directed him. "We're going back to the dome."

"You got it, I'll just- wait a minute. We're going back?!"

"Correct," Pestilence said, standing beside him at the navigational console and putting in the coordinates herself. Calamari stared at her disbelievingly.

"We just crashed an entire bus trying to get away from there! Shouldn't we, like, get away from the whole planet now?" she asked.

Pestilence looked up from the console, her expression firm as she gazed at her friends.

"We've thrown a major complication into Logic's network, but perhaps only a temporary one. He may find a way to correct the problem- reboot the whole system and purge himself of Abacus, then start his project all over again. He can never be allowed to return to Cybertron. It'd be catastrophic for our entire race."

"So what do you do, kill him?" Buckshot asked.

"I could never do it," Pestilence shook her head a little. "But I can beat him to the punch as far as time traveling anywhere goes. Before I uploaded Abacus to the network, I looked over as much of the mothership settings as I could. It's set to return to its original temporal signature- that is to say, Cybertron hundreds of years ago- and it is a one-time, one-way trip."

"What happens to all the people on Unity when he goes?" Calamari asked.

"The same that happens to any tool when Logic no longer has a use for it. It is discarded."

"But that'll happen anyway if he can't keep Abacus from shutting down the time spire grid!" Buckshot exclaimed.

"Which is why we need to bring the AXALON back to the citadel, right inside the bridge of the mothership," Pestilence told him. "This ship has one of the only functioning, renewable chronon emitter arrays in the galaxy. It's more powerful than Logic's improvised bridge setup by far. He won't be there, he'll have confined himself to the control room to try and stabilize the time spires. If I connect the AXALON engine to the time machine controls in the mothership, I can overload the emitter array and greatly amplify its area of effect. It will lock onto the temporal signatures registered within the cybernetic Purification implants of every 'bot and organic in the entire city. And, hopefully, return them all to their individual times and places of origin, unharmed."

"Okay, I don't know a lot about this ship, but I know an overload like that could completely wreck the engine. and the navigational circuits!" Buckshot replied.

"Are you saying you don't want me to do it?" Pestilence asked.

"...Nah. Just making sure we know the stakes." the Maximal replied with a grin. "Cal, you in?"

"Totally in." she agreed. Pestilence nodded once at each of them, and threw the ignition switch on the AXALON console. Outside in the once peaceful meadow, Ed and Gearbox climbed out of the wrecked car and watched, dumbstruck, as the silvery Cybertronian holo-chat booth sitting in the middle of the field flashed a couple of times and then vanished.

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

The AXALON reappeared within the mothership and, after a moment, the booth's doors slid open. Expecting resistance, Pestilence had advised Buckshot and Calamari to arm themselves- the two of them peered out, Buckshot holding a baseball bat and Calamari a big hefty wrench. Pestilence shouldered between them, glancing around the gleaming corridors warily. What workers could be seen through the bridge viewscreens were out of commission- with their network connection to Logic corrupted, many had been forcibly disconnected from the network and now resided in a sleep-like state, lying peacefully on the shining floor. Others were still struggling against the Abacus influence- laughing in his monotone voice, walking in circles, lying twitching against the ground as though ensnared by a hallucinogenic drug. No drones present, they were still lying dormant in their pods within the hangar. Logic's surveillance and alarms systems were compromised. There'd be no better time.

"Okay, forget the weapons, just get back into the AXALON and pull out the power cables. The really long ones with the yellow bands!" Pestilence directed her companions as she charged towards the command chair. Buckshot and Calamari ran back into the booth and emerged sans weapons, holding a long thick python of a power cord with an omni-adaptor port at the end of it. Pestilence sat down in the chair, hooking her multi-tool into the console and beginning to make overrides and calculations. Buckshot plugged the thick cable into the base of the console, and Calamari ran back to the AXALON to start flipping switches on the navigational deck. She leaned out of the booth, giving Pestilence a thumbs-up. Pestilence nodded, and started to get to work.

"Won't this mothership get sent back to Cybertron too?" Buckshot asked, leaning an elbow on the back of the chair and watching the screen over Pestilence's shoulder.

"Not if I set the field to only accept the temporal signatures of the workers. It'll scan for their cybernetic implants and return them home."

"Hang on a sec. Could this thing send us back to Cybertron?" Calamari asked, walking away from the AXALON and towards them.

Pestilence paused.

"We don't have the temporal signatures of the Purification implants. But if we went back with the mothership...enveloped it along with everything else...yes. We probably could."

Buckshot and Calamari were silent for a moment. Pestilence looked up at them.

"Is that what you want to do?" she asked carefully. Cybertron was a sensitive topic among the three of them. Buckshot and Calamari were too young to remember the Beast invasion, and their homeworld's destruction. Pestilence remembered it well from her first incarnation's experiences- but yearned to return as much as they did.

"You said Logic has all kinds of redundancies. If we go back in his ship, he might find a way to return himself along with it," Calamari said, shaking her head.

"He might even have another him in this thing's computers or something. Nah. It's not worth sending us back home and possibly screwing over everyone there as we do it," Buckshot agreed.

"Right," Pestilence said, with relief. She smiled up at her friends, starting to key in more commands- then, with no warning beyond a split-second alarm flash on the console, the entire citadel shook. As the bridge shuddered beneath them, Buckshot ran to one of the other bridge windows to see a great chunk of the hangar briefly vanish into nothingness before re-establishing itself.

"It's not just the sky anymore! Everything's breaking down!" he exclaimed.

"I have a couple more decryption levels to break through. I already know how to bypass Abacus, so the corruption at this station is manageable, but it's still tricky!" Pestilence called. The bridge gave another great shudder as a portion of the mothership simply disappeared for a few moments before reappearing, and Calamari yelped as she fell to her knees. She climbed back up, optics wide, and Pestilence doubled her efforts to break past Abacus and set the time travel field.

"Pest...I don't wanna tell you your business, but if this bridge vanishes for a second with us on it-" Buckshot warned.

"I know! Just another moment!" Pestilence interrupted, fingers flying across the keys. "There! The time travel field is set, it'll radiate outward from the mothership. We need to be out of here by the time it finishes!"

She stood up from the console, hitting one last key, and took Calamari's hand as lines of power all throughout the bridge began to glow with brilliant blue light. The light started to strobe along the glowing conduits, intermittently bathing the entire bridge in blue, and the chronon emitters spread out in the tunnels underneath the hangar started to flash and spark with overload. If the mothership's bridge had quaked before, it was convulsing now, the deck shuddering and shaking under the bots' feet. The power cable running to the AXALON was hot to the touch, and the silvery booth was glowing with force. Pestilence and Calamari ran towards Buckshot, who held out a hand to them, and then were thrown to the deck as the time travel field erupted from the mothership engine.

A flashing, sparking blue bubble of temporal energy swelled outward from the mothership. As it swept across the hangar, every worker within its influence- organic or Cybertronian, conscious or comatose, were enveloped by energy and disappeared, leaving behind a brief blue silhouette before vanishing completely. The bubble of energy passed through the hangar walls easily, radiating outward through the entire city. People disappeared from their Purification-mandated places of work within the skyscrapers. Hovercars skidded to a stop on the street as the drivers vanished in their seats. Ed and Gearbox, who were inspecting the patch of grass vacated by the AXALON's disappearance, turned to look at the oncoming wave of energy and were caught up in it, disappearing into the time-tunnel and returning to their original homes. As the wave finally dissipated, so too did most of the sky as the temporal memory spires suffered a catastrophic breakdown. Entire patches of the planet ceased to exist, and on the ones that remained, metal buildings started to rapidly erode, time passing at a phenomenal rate.

Within the mothership, Pestilence and her companions were exposed to a patchwork of disaster. Sections of the bridge and outer corridors were disappearing, while other sections aged and fell to pieces at a vastly accelerated rate. Pestilence unhooked the power cable from Logic's command chair and looped it over her shoulder, starting to run back to the AXALON, where Buckshot and Calamari awaited. The navigational console within was flashing warnings at every screen, smoke pouring underneath it. Pestilence didn't know how much stress she'd placed on it with that ultra-amplified bubble, but it was surely still capable of taking them somewhere and somewhen else to safety. It had to be. She heaved the coiled-up cord into the AXALON, and prepared to close the doors behind herself, when Logic shoulder-rammed himself into the partially open doors and knocked Pestilence to the floor.

"Pest!" Buckshot yelled, starting to run across the control room. Logic was half-in and half-out of the doors, and to behold his face was truly frightening. What most didn't know, and Pestilence had only suspected, was that Logic had not subjected himself to his own process of mental and emotional purification. He suppressed his emotions, regulated them for the good of his movement. And now, with all at risk, his face was distorted in a rictus of rage. His mouth was set, his bright white optics narrowed, an expression of undying hatred etched into his features.

"You are destroying any chance of peace within this universe." he said. "You are an agent of chaos, a bringer of destruction. You would not even allow our world to be returned to life. There can be no peace while you live!" he said, locking his hands in place around Pestilence's throat. She gasped, kicking underneath him as she felt his hands start to constrict- there was no need for an air supply that he could cut off, but he could easily crush her neck servos, snap her power cables, simply cut off her access to a neural net and insure she died slowly and painfully. His all-consuming desire for her death was visible in his face, and he bore down his murderous grip, teeth clenched. Pestilence wriggled underneath him, her petite frame little or no match for his power.

"You...are all that's wrong...with what we were..." Logic hissed, and Pestilence felt vital power lines in her neck creak as he tightened his grasp. Buckshot ran towards them, snatching up his baseball bat, and swung hard. Logic raised his hand with astonishing speed, catching the bat in his grasp, and hurled it away. With this same hand he struck Buckshot in the chest, hitting vital energy distribution nodes and leaving the canine Maximal to sink to his knees, temporarily paralyzed. Calamari grabbed ahold of Logic by the arm, attempting to pull him away from Pestilence- his other hand still had a death-grip on her throat. As Logic was occupied with wrestling her away, Buckshot flopped himself over to them and snatched up the Purification overlord's leg, dragging him away. With only one hand locked on her throat, Pestilence was able to pry his fingers off with difficulty and scrambled away from him.

"Never threaten another sentient being again!" she yelled, shoving him hard in the chest as Buckshot and Calamari both released their holds on him. Logic tumbled out of the AXALON doors and into the jittering, self-destructing mothership. He immediately got to his feet, ready to attack once more- Calamari slammed the booth doors shut and Pestilence yanked down the lever. The AXALON sprayed sparks, quaking back and forth, before vanishing into the time tunnel.

Logic gazed around his pristine bridge, flames erupting from damaged panels and others rusting and flaking to dilapidated hunks of metal. Through the windows, he could see entire pieces of the hangar fading away, briefly showing the sky above and the sun looming large, blindingly white, the hypernova imminent. A panel exploded near him and he narrowly evaded the blast, flames scorching across his back and legs. He got to his feet and started to stride towards his command chair.

"I must endure," he stated flatly. "My mission must continue. There is time to escape. There is always time."

The floor of the bridge vanished just past his footsteps and he managed to leap across the new chasm, landing flat on his chest on the other side. Pipes and cords were falling down from the ceiling, warning klaxons sounding everywhere. The command console was a mere twenty feet away. He crawled towards it, repeating his mantra with mechanical tranquility.

"There is always time. There is always time. There is always-"

And everything around Logic was enveloped in heat and light.

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

Pestilence massaged her strained neck as the AXALON emerged in distant space. As the booth made its way through a time tunnel at sedate speeds, she and Buckshot surveyed the navigational console.

"How's it look?" Buckshot asked her.

"Not as bad as I'd feared," Pestilence replied in a subdued tone. "The engines have taken a lot of damage, but they're reparable. The navigational circuitry is fried, it will need to be replaced entirely. I have materials that can be used for it. It'll take a few days' work, but we'll have the AXALON up and running again."

"Pest?" Calamari asked as the young-looking yet very, very old scientist walked past her.

"Yes?"

"Logic said he took his workers from doomed worlds. He said he was saving them, giving them a new purpose. Those people we sent back to their times- will they, y'know, remember what happened to them?"

"I'm not sure," Pestilence admitted. "It's possible returning to the past will simply wipe out the implants, make it as though they were never taken. Or, being disconnected from Logic's network will erase their memories of the years on Unity under his rule."

"Are they really going back to doomed worlds?" Buckshot asked.

"Yes," Pestilence said. "But of the many civilizations Unity was home to members of, nearly all of them have survivors. Logic took them for his own purposes, and would have abandoned them to die in the supernova. Better to return home, be left ignorant, and have a chance at survival- then be used, discarded, and left with no chance."

Buckshot mulled that over as he started to make course corrections on the navigational deck. Calamari reached up to run her hand through her metallic tendril-like hair, and paused as she felt the flower she'd picked from the Unity meadow. She looked at the bright red flower in her palm, still colorful and vibrant.

"I forgot I had this. I thought it would've stopped existing with everything else," she said with surprise.

"It's still alive outside of the time spires' grid- only anything within the grid when they shut down would disappear," Pestilence replied, looking at the flower. "I have some botanical equipment in the lab, let's re-plant it."

"Is there enough time for that?" Calamari asked.

"There may not always be enough time, but there's always hope." Pestilence said with a smile, and went with Calamari to plant the flower, as Buckshot kept the AXALON on course to a new destination.


THE END


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 Post subject: Re: Doctor Who: AUG
PostPosted: Sat Jan 01, 2011 3:00 am 
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Joined: Wed Oct 07, 2009 6:12 pm
Posts: 84
(Is Pestilence really a future version of Lightspeed or is that just part of the 'Dr. Who' spin? I feel like this would make a good RPG. Logic was a Pred Base villian originally? Solid first story - ending was pretty good, giving up a chance to return home to safe the universe. Touching. You'll writting has come a long way... I need to start writting more, I'm feeling rusty...)


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 Post subject: Re: Doctor Who: AUG
PostPosted: Sat Jan 01, 2011 8:40 pm 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
(It's just part of the Doctor Who spin. This is set in a different canon than previous AUG continuity. Basically the idea is that she has a Transmetal II power enabling her to regenerate into a new femmebot when she dies- new face, new body, new name and personality, while retaining the memories and knowledge of her previous incarnation. Lightspeed was the 3rd incarnation, Pestilence is the 4th.)


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