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 Post subject: DWA: The Magma Creatures
PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 3:48 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
THE MAGMA CREATURES

EPISODE ONE

Part One

The AXALON materialized inside a dark, metallic room with its characteristic strobing fade-in and flashing light on the top. The smooth silver booth stood in the darkness for a moment, before the glowing bar above the doors turned a positive green and the booth became solid. After a moment, the doors hissed open and Pestilence stuck her head out. She looked from side to side, scarf dangling from her neck and shoulders, then ducked back into the AXALON. The doors slid shut. After another moment, the doors hissed open once more and now Pestilence walked out comfortably, hands in her long coat's pockets, while Buckshot and Calamari ambled out after her.

"This doesn't look like any amusement park," Calamari commented after a moment of them standing in the dark surveying their surroundings.

"No, it doesn't. Couldn't say where we are, though the timeline is the same as when we left. Could be the navigational circuits hiccuped again" Pestilence said.

"I thought those were supposed to be fixed!" Buckshot replied with disbelief.

"Well, we can't fault the Kurylians for not having a handle on AXALON maintenance. There were bound to be fluctuations. Or maybe the ship has a mind of its own and likes dropping us off in random places just to see what we make of them. Good enough excuse to explore, yes?" Pestilence smiled.

Calamari looked around the darkened room with curiosity, while Buckshot almost bumped into a stack of metal crates. He let out a little grunt, elbowing them aside, and Pestilence withdrew one of her hands from her pockets with a flashlight in her grip. She swept it to and fro before settling the beam on a light-switch. She pressed her palm to the button and the entire room lit up to reveal a gray and blue ship's hold with crates full of equipment stacked around. There were heavy bolts lining the plates of the walls, with layers and layers of treated metal comprising the bulkheads. There was a flight of stairs just behind the AXALON leading down deeper to the ship's hold, and a door with a spinning wheel handle on the front leading, presumably, to the deck.

"We're on a boat?" Calamari asked.

"Sounds about right!" Pestilence said with intrigue, pacing around the room, peering into open crates, knocking her knuckles along the walls, taking everything in with her optics. "Feel that shifting in the deck? This boat's in motion, but on calm seas from the feel of it. These bulkheads are unusually thick- some kind of shielding?"

"What's this stuff in the crates?" Calamari asked, rummaging around in one with an open lid. "Pickaxes in this one. Some kind of siphon thing in this one."

"This one's got gas masks in it. And Geiger counters," Buckshot said, lifting up a blocky helmet in one hand and a dormant radiation detector in the other.

"That's interesting- I wonder if they're just transporting items or if this equipment is necessary to some kind of mining or harvesting operation? That siphon thing is a gas extractor, it draws in gaseous substances of a greater density than air and- supposing it's used in conjunction with the Geiger counters to look for irradiated gas pockets?"

"Oh good, now we're on a ship full of radioactive gas," Buckshot said with a shake of his head, letting the gear he'd picked up drop back into the crates. "Let's get back in the AXALON before you decide to grab some samples."

"Don't be a spoilsport, Bucky, I'm all curious now," Pestilence said, rummaging through more crates. "I can't recall ever hearing of a boat with such a mission. Let's see if we can find a used siphon with just a trace particle or two inside it."

"I knew it, samples! We don't even know who's on this boat!"

"Why don't we, like, go out on deck and ask them what they're doing?" Calamari suggested, pointing a thumb towards the valve-release door.

"That may or may not be wise; without ascertaining what planet we're on, we couldn't guess whether the residents have ever seen a Cybertronian. We might incite a-" Pestilence started to reply, before the valve spun open. They turned and stared as a bipedal humanoid in a big and ungainly armored blue suit walked into the ship's hold and lumbered towards one of the crates. He had one of the big blocky gas masks on and was letting out slow puffs and hisses of respiration as he marched the heavy suit inside the hold. Then he stopped, staring at Calamari, then at Pestilence.

"Hi! We're robots! Friendly robots!" Calamari said with a dazzling smile.

"...How the Hades did PREDACONS sneak aboard?!" the suited being exclaimed through his respirator. Pestilence and Calamari looked at each other, and resignedly raised their hands in the air. The suited being turned and looked over his shoulder to see Buckshot, and relaxed a little.

"Oh good, a Maximal. You brought them on board?"

"Er-" Buckshot paused.

"How'd you get on this boat? What's that?" the gas-masked being asked, pointing at the AXALON.

"Well- see, the thing of it is-" Buckshot trailed off, stumped.

"It's obvious we've some explaining to do," Pestilence cut in, arms still raised. "We'd be happy to give you all the answers, if you don't lock us up or shoot us."

The suited being looked doubtfully at Buckshot, who nodded.

"Friends of mine. Trust her, she's really smart," he assured the gas-masked being.

"I'd better take you bunch to see the captain. Lower your arms, I don't even have a gun to shoot you with. I can swing a pickax pretty good if you start acting up, though. Come on," Gas Mask said with a grunt, waving one big blue glove at them. Pestilence dropped her arms, and Calamari looked questioningly at Buckshot. He shrugged, clearly as nonplussed as her, and the three of them followed Gas Mask out through the door and up a small flight of stairs to the main deck of the ship.

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

"Stay on the deck where everyone can see you. I'll be right back," Gas Mask said to the trio of explorers as he opened the door for them and then lumbered off around the corner.

They walked out onto a wide flat deck of the same shielded, bolted-together material as the innards of the ship. Buckshot and Calamari glanced around, seeing yet more of these bulky-armored beings tending the vessel. Pestilence looked up, expecting a vista of stars due to the relative darkness they emerged in, then let out a startled gasp followed by a comprehending 'Ohhhh!'.

The entire ship was sailing- albeit at a slow pace- underground. About a half-mile overhead was a ceiling of stone and stalactites, all of which were covered in a faint orange glow. Pestilence looked up at the ceiling for a moment as the ship cruised beneath it, then dashed to the deck of the ship, peering over their side. Her speculation was confirmed- the heavily heat-shielded ship was cruising through a river of molten lava. The river swirled and ebbed in orange and red and grayish-black, belching bubbles and radiating waves of intense heat. Even as far up as the deck of the ship was, Pestilence could feel the heat nearly searing her metallic face, and her internal sensors could pick up on a potpourri of noxious sulfuric gases rising from the lava.

"Awesome! We're on a lava-boat! We're cruising through one of the subterranean magma rivers of Castor's Anvil, how cool is that?!" she said gleefully, turning to face her companions.

"Castor's Anvil?" Calamari repeated questioningly.

"One of the outer colony worlds. Way outer. Never been here," Buckshot said, "But I knew some guys on Dustball who pulled jobs here."

"Cybertronians are in demand for lava-boats due to our greater resistance to extreme temperatures and lack of a need to breathe, protecting us against the gaseous byproducts of the molten river. It's actually a fascinating subject, these rivers- I dabbled in geology a couple centuries ago and I wouldn't have expected such a relatively low-temperature magma- though still in the several hundreds of degrees Celsius- to have such a high amount of viscosity that-"

"Yeah, lava's really hot. Working here would be lame," Calamari agreed, interrupting Pestilence before she could get a good babble going. "I don't see any Cybertronians on this ship, tho. Just lots of these gas mask suit guys."

"Good observation. Where -are- any Cybertronians?" Pestilence asked, then turned as she spotted Gas Mask and another, taller organic being in a thick orange suit lumbering towards them. "Ah, Captain, hi! I'm Pestilence, these are my friends, Buckshot and Calamari. We were just admiring your fine ship which we've arrived on in peace and only semi-illegally."

"Yes, I'm told you stowed away in our hold," the captain rasped through his respirator, glaring down at the significantly shorter Pestilence.

"Not true! We arrived in our ship, which is capable of traveling through time and space."

"Pretty small ship," Gas Mask said with a snort through his respirator. "How'd the three of you fit inside it?"

"Relative dimensions," Pestilence responded. "The interior is much larger due to a dimensional transference circuit that keeps it in a separate dimension from the outside of the vessel. And it arriving in the hold of your ship was a complete accident. We don't mean you any harm, and we'll be right on your way if that's what you want, but I am curious what you're hauling. Mining for rare gemstones?"

The orange-suited captain considered her a moment, then shook his head.

"Nothing rare in this region, and the usual stuff is all mined out. We're coming back from a puffer cave. We've got a large haul of propulsion-grade gas and we're a little suspicious of any non-Anvites on the ship at the moment. You don't strike me as thieves, though."

"What are puffers?" Calamari asked.

"I've heard of them- they're large luminescent jellyfish-like creatures that inhabit the caves. Mostly harmless, feeding on fungi and mosses, emit puffs of gas when threatened. Depending on the breed of puffer, you get gas with different properties ranging from propulsive to, uh, hallucinogenic."

"Puffheads," the captain said with a shake of his blocky gas-masked helmet. "I've had to fire three of my crew for snorting hauls. But this is strictly a propulsion-grade puffer expedition. You've got to travel far and find the really deep caves to get at those puffers. We got lucky, found a large nest some miles up-river."

"Is that it?" Calamari asked, pointing to a large caged structure on the deck where silver canisters marked with warning labels were stacked on one another. The cage door was secured with triple padlocks and a pair of armored deckhands toting pickaxes stood on either side of it. "How come they're not down in the hold?"

"Gets too hot on the lowest decks," the captain replied as they walked over to the canisters' cage. "Propulsion-grade puffer gas isn't exactly stable. Pierce one of the canisters and it's like you set off a hand grenade. Excess heat can warp the canisters and cause rupture, or bleed the seals."

"Good thing there's no excess heat around rivers of lava," Buckshot said wryly. "How come you guys don't have any Cybertronians here? We don't need the heat-shielding or gas masks and we don't snort the haul."

"You really haven't heard about it?" the captain asked. Seeing their openly clueless expressions, he blinked behind his visor. "You really aren't from this planet. Yeah, we've got more than a few Cybertronians back at Dug Deep, all Predacons. Hard workers, most of 'em good guys. Until they broke into the plant and stole some propulsion gas, and damn near sabotaged the turbines."

"Why would they do that, especially if they live and work here?" Pestilence asked.

"Mining on Castor's Anvil is a rough, dangerous job. Propulsion gas sells well- the really high-end stuff, properly treated, can help fuel starships. Gets them enough money to go to a nicer planet, maybe. As for sabotaging the turbines- that I can't explain. We called in the Maximal military and they're at Dug Deep investigating the plant. We've temporarily suspended all Predacons from work in the meantime. Just a precaution."

"Hey, it's mean to pick on Predacons, just because some of us have been evil in the past!" Calamari said defensively. "Do you even have any proof they did it?"

"Well, I'm not saying they did, at least until we've got more evidence," the captain replied evenly. "The turbines could have been damaged by something else..."

He trailed off, rubbing a gloved hand across the chin of his helmet. He looked at the trio of explorers.

"We're not far from Dug Deep, now. If you want to hang around, fine- just don't interfere with anything. And don't go near the canisters."

He moved off, making slow and ungainly steps in the large, bulky heat-shield armor, and Pestilence watched him go with her hands in her coat's pockets. She looked at the cage with interest, saw the two deckhands on either side of it glare at her, and looked away quickly.

"So what do you think?" Buckshot asked her quietly.

"I think I'd like to see this plant, and the investigation thereof," Pestilence replied. "I hadn't heard of any Maximal army faction intact after the destruction of Cybertron. Technically, there shouldn't even be any Cybertronian military left. And I might like to see whether or not these Predacon workers actually did what they're accused of. You know, clear my faction's name and all."

"Totally," Calamari agreed.

Meanwhile, far below the main deck of the ship, the lava swirled and pooled in ripples around the advancing ship. The shielded plates were withstanding the extreme heat well. A great orange-black bubble expanded on the surface of the river and popped, splattering droplets of molten rock against the hull. From this broken bubble, a seething orange hand reached out and gripped the side of the ship.

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

As Buckshot, Calamari, and Pestilence talked quietly amongst themselves, keeping themselves well away from the caged gas canisters. Deckhands moved to and fro on the ship deck, taking repair materials to other parts of the boat or tending to navigation. The activity of the ship stopped entirely when the noise was pierced by a low grinding, clicking noise. The deckhand nearest to the railing looked down at the Geiger counter clipped to his armored suit's belt and looked up with panic.

"Trace radiation is picking up! It's the creatures!" he shouted, his voice rasping and buzzing through his respirator.

This prompted a flurry of activity, deckhands snatching up pickaxes and running to the railing. Pestilence opened her mouth to ask what the problem was, and was jostled aside by a running first mate with pickax in hand. Buckshot and Calamari were bumped aside, the captain of the vessel running towards the Geiger-clicking deckhand.

"They've never ventured this far up-river before! Maybe you're just picking up some lava-fish...oh hell. Oh, hell!" the captain peered over the edge of the railing, and then turned and bellowed to his crew, "They're climbing up the side! All hands, try to knock them off! If they get up on deck, retreat immediately!"

"What is it? What's climbing up the ship?!" Pestilence asked, running forward through the confusion of deckhands as fast as her relatively short legs would carry her. She looked down and saw it: Glowing-hot orange and red creatures were climbing up the side of the vessel, sticking handholds to the armored plating and pulling themselves up with single-minded purpose.

"Magma creatures!" the Captain yelled. Deckhands pitched down pickaxes, crates, anything to halt the creatures' progress. Some of the projectiles connected- an empty canister struck one magma creature on the head and it fell from the side of the ship and back into the river of lava with a splatter. They could distantly see it swimming away, hardly the worse for wear. A pickax struck right into the torso of another climbing creature, and it just kept ascending with no regard for the now glowing-hot metal blade in its shoulder. They kept climbing, nearing the top of the ship, and deckhands scattered. Pestilence took a step back, gaping as one of the tall, thick creatures climbed over the railing and stood up straight.

It looked like a man dipped in rapid-drying cement. Its body was a swirl of orange and red, and just vaguely visible, a center of white. The magma creature's body gave off waves of intense heat, and as the Geiger had indicated, traces of radiation. As it walked, plodding across the deck, layers of lava seemed to coalesce and become rock once more, rapidly cooling, then heating and growing fluid again, then cooling into craggy brown layers of 'skin'. It had no mouth, no face, just a blank slate of a head with one staring red eye. The eye made contact with Pestilence and blinked once. Calamari let out a yelp of terror. Buckshot just stared, befuddled.

"...Amazing!" Pestilence said, awed by the creature. More of them were climbing up over the railing, a half-dozen in number now. They looked around, making no noises or attempts at speech, and the deckhands were busy backing way up from them. The magma creatures seemed to reach a group decision, and headed for the cage of gas canisters.

"They're going to take the haul! Stop them, stop them!" the captain yelled. The crew pelted the magma creatures with more debris, unwilling to get close to them, and the pickaxes and bundles of chain and crates thrown seemed to only mildly deter the creatures, bumping them about the back or head and barely slowing their stride.

"This is probably a really bad idea," Buckshot said, as they moved towards the cage with him in their way. With a shrug, he wound up and tried to punch one of the creatures in the face. Its one-eyed head rocked back and it blinked at him as he let out a yelp of pain, clutching the glowing-hot knuckles on his fist.

"Yep, that was a bad idea! Damn! Hot, hot, hot!" Buckshot hissed, shaking his hand and moving back from the creature.

"Here, I'll try something!" Calamari said.

She grabbed a loop of chain from one of the deckhands and ran forward, pitching the long, heavy chain like it was a jumping rope. She snagged it in front of one of the magma creatures' legs and pulled hard, meaning to trip it up. The creature's legs went out from under it- literally, pulling away two legs from the knee down. As soon as they separated from the main body, they rapidly cooled, becoming stiff brown rock, while the magma creature hit the deck on his knees, looked around at Calamari, then simply pooled more lava out to make fresh feet and continued his stride to the cage. Pestilence fumbled in her pockets, still staring with a scientist's fascination at the creatures.

"That's our whole haul, you bastards! Back off!" one of the guards yelled, swinging his pickax. It stuck in the layer of cooling brown rock on the outermost shell of the magma creature, and the thing just looked at the rapidly heating blade with mild annoyance at worst. It picked up the guard by the neck of his suit, digging fingers into the blue material, and tossed him aside. He hit the deck and rolled away, protected by the heat-shielding, and the other guard fled. The magma creature pulled at the locks, gripping them in one stubby three-fingered hand until they melted away into useless slag, and wrenched the cage door open. The group of magma creatures grabbed canisters and walked away from the cage with them in their arms, before starting to pitch them over the side of the deck, the captain and crew yelling at them to stop. Pestilence finally came up with what she needed, and ran forward.

"Sorry about this, but I can't let you throw any more crewmen around!" she said, and chucked a small hand-sized cartridge at the nearest magma creature, the one who'd melted the locks off the cage. It burst on contact and poured foam out. The creature let out a long, deep groan that sounded like boulders rolling together, foam spreading across his body. He staggered towards the railing and pitched himself over the side, landing with a splash in the river, and started to swim away. The other magma creatures looked at Pestilence, as though marking her, and dropped canisters they were holding, before joining their brother in the molten river, jumping the railing and diving back into the red-hot sea without a word. Buckshot watched them jump, still cradling his seared hand, and gazed at Pestilence with some amazement.

"What was that thing?" he asked her.

"AFF Agent," she said, brushing off her coat and scarf. "Rapidly cools on contact and emulsifies flammable liquids. It didn't kill him, but it certainly repelled him."

"Got any more of those?"

"Fresh out, now."

"What's the damage?" the captain asked of the gas masked miner who'd found the Cybertronians in the hold, as he inspected the cage.

"Half the canisters gone," he said dourly, and his announcement was followed by groans and swears from the assorted deckhands, who set about repairing the damage or tending to minor wounds. Pestilence looked at Buckshot as he walked over to her with Calamari.

"How's your hand?" she asked him.

"Ah, I'm fine," he waved it dismissively. "I figured I'd try the dumbest thing first and then try progressively smarter things from there."

"Interesting approach," Pestilence said with a wry smile. "I usually jump right to smartest thing."

"That outer layer was hot, but not lava hot, you notice that?"

"Yes, I did! They seem to be able to regulate and control their own body temperature. Also, they're walking men made of magma! I've never seen -that- before. Seems we have another likely culprit for this plant sabotage they mentioned."

"Aw, you see that?" Calamari asked. "It's so totally magma men stealing stuff, and they jumped right to scapegoating Predacons! We can clear it up as soon as we see those Maximal military guys."

Pestilence nodded in agreement, and Buckshot snapped his fingers.

"Magma men. Hey, you know what you should call these guys? Magmen. Get it?" he asked, grinning.

Pestilence just stared at him for a moment.

"...I'm not calling them Magmen. That's awful."

"Not -that- awful."

"Yes, that awful."

"We're coming up on Dug Deep!" the captain yelled out, disrupting their debate, and then muttered to himself: "Oh, is my ass ever gonna get chewed for this one..."

Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari walked to the other railing of the ship and gazed out on the subterranean city as the boat slowly moved to a stop at the bank of the molten river.


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: The Magma Creatures
PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 3:49 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
THE MAGMA CREATURES

EPISODE ONE

Part Two

The boat was slowing to a stop as they reached the gigantic cavern housing the city of Dug Deep. The river of lava flowed east past a bank a couple of miles from the outskirts of the city, and continued on down a branching tunnel. The cavern had had its ceiling carefully cleared of unstable stalactites and supported a lighting grid of massive solar lamps, without which the cave would've been nearly pitch black. Built into the walls of the cavern were stacks and rows of small box-like huts, sheds, warehouses, businesses. Catwalks and scaffolds connected these blocky houses, criss-crossing at right angles in tiers above the cavern floor. The whole cavern floor gradually inclined downward, creating a gently sloping hill that moved in small curves and mesas down to a massive power plant. This seemed to be powering the network of lights, the electricity of every house and building, and the giant elevator. That was striking, too- not far from the power plant, situated on a large plateau close to the bottom curve of the cavern floor, was a great elevator that seemed to rise all the way to the cavern ceiling- ostensibly, to the surface. Parked on this elevator was a Maximal military star cruiser.

"Dug Deep in sight! Deploy anchors!" the captain called out, and deckhands moved to a series of mechanisms lining the deck and pulled hard on great triggers. Compartments opened on the upper level of the boat and fired hooks on thick heat-resistant chains that dug into the cliffs of the riverbank. With the ship already slowed to a crawl, the rapidly securing hooks easily brought it to a stop. Several wide ramps telescoped out from slits in the railing and connected themselves to the top of the bank, well clear of the river's flow, and workmen began to move crates and supplies down the ramps, including the half-melted cage with its half-plundered inventory.

As the captain moved to and fro, supervising the unloading of supplies, Pestilence caught up to him, ready to pester him with questions. Buckshot and Calamari walked a couple of steps behind her.

"How long have those creatures been appearing?" Pestilence asked the captain.

"About a year ago, pretty suddenly."

"Really? I would've thought a ship moving up and down this river on a regular basis would've encountered them by now if you were encroaching on their territory. Unless they simply weren't here before then."

"Well- since the last volcanic eruption, the tunnel above the Red River's been unstable. There was a collapse at one of the eastern forks, blocked that area of trade off completely. Could've opened up all sorts of caves that weren't there before," the captain theorized.

"Could be. That trace radiation they give off might just be a byproduct of their home, or maybe it's the remainder of some catalytic event- such as a volcanic eruption- that either brought them into being or forced them from their natural habitat...which I guess would be lava? So there's plenty more natural habitat where that came from. That or they're the product of a mad science experiment?"

"They're not a science experiment," the captain said as he trundled down the ramp to the shore. "We don't have mad science laboratories. We do, however, have a hydroelectricity plant that depends on puffer gas-derived fuel to power the machinery that runs the turbines."

"Hydroelectric plant? What's powering it?"

"There's a huge underground lake on the other side of the cavern, a run-off point from hot springs all over the hemisphere. The reservoir runs in through a grate, the friction powers up the turbines, they power up the whole city. It's in need of repairs, since the turbines were nearly sabotaged."

"By the lava things?" Calamari prompted him. "I mean, come on, you saw them take your gas, they so totally did it!"

"Never saw them that close to Dug Deep," the captain said with a shake of his head, reaching the bottom of the ramp. He unfastened some latches on the edges of the helmet and pulled them off, revealing a native Anvite- a brown-skinned, craggy-featured man with crystalline hair and beady red eyes. Even without the rasp of his respirator, he still had a deep and gravelly voice.

"They never even appeared in the Red River before those volcanic eruptions some months back. And they're a little too hot and radioactive to just sneak into the plant. Someone would've noticed, they're not huge on subtlety."

"Do you mind if we go take a look around the plant, all the same? Maybe talk to this Maximal military you've got investigating?" Pestilence asked.

"Go ahead," the captain said with a shrug of one orange-suited shoulder, and as the Cybertronians turned to leave, he suddenly had a thought and turned back to them. "Hey, the next shift's going to be coming along in a couple of hours to move the boat back west. You can't leave that ship of yours in the hold."

"Of course, the AXALON," Pestilence said, turning back to face him with an expression of bemusement. She thought it over a second, then turned to look at Buckshot. He met her gaze, and groaned a little.

"Please?" Pestilence asked. "Cal will help you!"

"Help him what?" Calamari asked.

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

A short time later, Buckshot and Calamari had succeeded in dragging the silver booth of the AXALON out of the ship's hold, across the deck, and down the ramp. Though the booth wasn't heavy for a Cybertronian's strength, it was still dense and ungainly, and so the two of them puffed and struggled as they pushed it up a smooth path along the Dug Deep river bank and settled it into a corner of one of the spare lots between blocks. Pestilence supervised the ship's move, making suggestions at corrections, and when the two had finally pushed it into place she gave them a grin and a thumbs-up. Buckshot shook his head a little, and Calamari stretched out the servos in her back as they moved downhill to the center of the city.

"Wow, that elevator goes -all- the way up?" Calamari asked, craning her neck to look up at the ceiling as they passed between rows of blocky buildings, under scaffolds, and amidst Anvite workers with crystals lining their heads and scaly, gravelly brown countenances.

"It's the only way a spacefaring ship can enter or leave Dug Deep," Pestilence replied.

"Nobody lives on the surface?"

"Way too dangerous," Buckshot said. "Volcanoes, geysers, chain lighting storms, spikeshells-"

"Spikeshells?"

"Giant spiky turtles that can swallow a 'bot whole."

"Oh, ick."

"And so all settlements on Castor's Anvil are located underground, and connected via a network of tunnels, hot springs, and rivers of lava," Pestilence finished. "Anvites were one of the first outer-colony races to make peaceful contact with Cybertron, and some survivors of the planet's destruction came here to work, constructing their descendants of the next few generations to live here."

"About that- the planet's destruction. Before my time, but according to you, not before yours. That look like an authentic pre-Beast Maximal ship to you?" Buckshot asked as they moved further downhill and approached the cruiser parked on the elevator.

"Well, let's see..." Pestilence mused as they walked close to the elevator. The cruiser was dark green and silver, gracefully curved at the cockpit with jets protruding from the back and at evenly spaced intervals along the bottom. Landing clamps were engaged, holding the ship in place. It could be manned by a crew of 250, or a skeleton crew of half that. Its warp drive was quite capable of taking it from system to system, it had a full complement of weaponry, and it was smaller than an old-style Maximal starship. Pestilence walked along the surface of the elevator, her feet clicking on metal worn and eroded by storms and hail on the planet surface, and inspected the cruiser's design. She looked up at the underside of the saucer section. Emblazoned on the hull was M.M.V. Paragon, CX-001.

"The Paragon," Pestilence muttered to herself. "Never heard of it. And it's certainly not the first ship Cybertron ever launched, that serial number doesn't make any sense..."

"Look at the crowd over there," Calamari pointed out. Pestilence and Buckshot turned, following her finger, and saw that a group of Predacons were standing at the entrance to the hydroelectric plant, grumbling and glaring up at the line of Maximal soldiers. Anvite workers were standing a short distance back from the group, looking with interest at them. Pestilence motioned for her companions to follow her, and hurried off the edge of the elevator and along a winding downhill street to the plant. There she got her first glimpse of the Maximal soldiers- most of them male, a couple female, about seven total standing outside the plant. They had stripes identifying most of them as ensigns, and a couple of them as lieutenants junior grade. They were armed with standard-issue Maximal army pulse rifles. Their metal bodies were buffed to a gleam, their optics bright and alert. They stood as a stark contrast to the dozen or so Predacon workers, all native to Castor's Anvil, all male, with shoddy, dented bodies and shabby gray work-suits.

"Let us in! We have a right to see what we're being accused of!" one of the Predacons, a hulking mantis, demanded.

"No civilian may enter the crime scene while it is being investigated," one of the youthful soldiers replied crisply.

"Yet I see a lot of Anvite workers in there!" the mantis retorted, pointing through one of the windows at the plant where, indeed, gray-suited Anvites, distinctly notable by their brown complexions and crystal-like hair, were milling among the turbines.

"A certain number of workers are being interviewed at this time. And with one of the turbines out of commission, extra help is needed to make sure the remaining turbines are running at improved capacity to make up for the loss," an Anvite director, aged and bulky around the midsection, informed them with a harried look around at the crowd.

"Help we could provide!" the mantis snapped, and this assertion was met with a chorus of agreement from the surly crowd.

"Hello! Hello! Hi! How are you? Let me through, oof, you're all very tall, 'scuse me, 'scuse me," the petite moth Predacon pushed her way past the crowd, with some help from her friends, and the three of them made their way to the front of the gathered workers, standing by the tall and burly mantis.

"We're here to help out with the investigation," she told him brightly.

"You mean butt into the investigation?" Buckshot prompted her out of the side of his mouth.

"It's what I do best," she murmured back, and smiled up at the mantis. "What's your name?"

"Thresher," the mantis replied with a suspicious look down at her. His bulky body pushed at his gray worksuit, sharp spines running down his back and creating gray bulges in the suit. Long blades protruded from his forearms, sizzling with energy. He had multifaceted lime-green optics, narrowed in anger.

"We show up at the docks to work our shifts, we're told we're barred from the boats, barred from the plants, pending confirmation of innocence from MAXIMALS!" he said, steel mandibles clicking around his mouth, and the crowd of other workers, most of them tall and large, most of them decidedly dangerous-looking, nodded and slapped him on the shoulders. "Who else'd be quicker to condemn us?"

"Now, that's not true," the Anvite director said. "They answered our communication and promised to clear everything up so that you all can return to work."

Thresher looked like he badly wanted to retort, perhaps violently, when a shorter crab Predacon worker grabbed his arm.

"C'mon, man, you've got a wife at home. Let it go for now," he said lowly.

"That's good advice," one of the Maximal lieutenants said, stepping between Thresher and the Anvite, and though he neither raised his pulse rifle nor deactivated its safety, he made sure it was fully visible. "We'll have this all cleared up in no time, folks. Return to your homes."

Thresher gave him an ugly look, and turned to head back uphill towards the residential blocks. The other Predacons followed in short time, casting distrustful glances at the soldiers and muttering ugly words and barely audible threats. They were followed by many of the Anvite workers not on duty, who dispersed with no interesting show to watch. Pestilence and her companions remained behind, and the moth turned to the Anvite director.

"Don't worry, we're experienced at helping out with things like this. What's your name? Do you run this plant?" Pestilence asked him, offering a small hand and shaking with him.

"Pharus, and yes," the aged Anvite said with a nod. "I'm part of the council that governs Dug Deep. Mining, boating, research, communications, we cover everything. Thank you for getting that mob to break up, Lieutenant."

"No problem, sir. We'll be keeping an optic on them," the soldier replied confidently.

"You guys think it's really necessary to hold a bunch of unarmed workers at bay with rifles?" Buckshot asked.

"What little law enforcement we have is spread very thin," Pharus told him with a frown. "It's all volunteer deputies, and you saw the size of those workers. No Anvite would stand up to a Predacon attack. If they stole our puffer-gas, and sabotaged the turbine, it could be the first stage of something worse. The soldiers are just here to keep the peace."

"Oh yes, armed and aggressive military presence sends a message of peace loud and clear," Pestilence replied, folding her arms and looking with distaste at the soldiers' pulse rifles. "What's in it for you soldiers? There's certainly no Cybertronian army anymore, not with our home planet destroyed before any of you were even constructed!"

"You better get your facts up to date, ma'am," the lieutenant said, looking down at Pestilence with a very faint expression of dislike. "There's a new Maximal army, and the Paragon is the flagship of the new fleet."

"And what brings you to Castor's Anvil? Just to help out your fellow man?"

"You can take any further questions up with the fleet commander," the lieutenant said, stone-faced. Pestilence looked at him, arms still folded, then made a tsk noise and turned to go inside. Buckshot accompanied her in, and Calamari cast one last glance at the line of Maximal soldiers, as though expecting them to shoot her, before following her friends inside the hydroelectric plant.

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

The trio of Cybertronians looked around with interest as they walked into the hydroelectric plant. The great turbines stood in the center of the vast facility, four in total, and unlike the other three, which were humming along at a steady if accelerated pace, the one on the far left-hand corner of the facility was stopped and emitting smoke and grinding clanks. They were all connected to great generators that appeared to run on a combination of turbine-generated electricity and fuel derived from tanks filled with puffer-gas. Anvite workers moved back and forth between the generators, climbing ladders and checking on them from catwalks overhead. There was a series of offices above the main floor, with computer terminals and work stations, communications kiosks and regulatory consoles.

As Pestilence and her friends made their way across the floor, passing by consoles and Anvites in yellow suits, they were approached by an Anvite woman with a worried look in her eyes. She wore a gray dress with a long skirt that was swept back and forth by her legs as she walked, and an ID badge pinned to her chest. She had mottled brown skin, golden eyes, and her 'hair' flowed down her back in a mane of crystals.

"More Cybertronians? Two of you aren't Maximals, that one doesn't have army stripes, and none of you are workers here," she said, still observant even though she looked faintly distracted.

"We came on the lava-boat over here, actually," Pestilence replied. "We-"

"The boat? The last one?" the Anvite woman asked, eyes widening. "Did any of you come from Quartzton?"

The trio of Cybertronians looked questioningly at one another, and shook their heads. She wrung her hands a little, frowning deeply.

"Quartzton's the town further east along the Red River. Not far from here, but since the last volcanic eruption we've lost all contact with them. I'm Luceria, by the way, council member for scientific concerns."

"Oh, you're a scientist?" Pestilence asked, smiling at meeting one of her own. "We were told by the boat captain that a collapse had blocked off the route east. Can you still maintain radio contact with this other town?"

"I've been trying for weeks, but no signals are getting through," Luceria said worriedly. "Quartzton has their own lift to the top, but I can't get Pharus to agree to a surface crossing. Maybe now that the Maximals are here, they'll help me check on them."

"Did you have friends or family over there?" Calamari asked sympathetically.

"Not so much, but colleagues of mine worked at Quartzton's geothermal plant," Luceria said, glancing at the octopus femmebot. "Last I heard, they were attempting a new process of bathing puffer-gas in ionizing radiation to increase its potency somehow."

Pestilence's optics widened, as did Buckshot's. Calamari looked from one to the other, then at Luceria.

"Luceria, is it possible that this experiment led to the creation of-" Pestilence started to ask, before they were interrupted by the sounds of splashing and a wet thump. They looked at each other, and hurried towards the site of the stalled turbine. As they ran, Pestilence fished in her coat pockets for anything useful, Buckshot clenched his fists, expecting another magma creature incursion- instead, they saw more Maximal soldiers gathered around a hatch. They were all youthful and muscular males or tall and athletic females, all of them armed, looking down at an Anvite in a wet-suit as he clambered out of the hatch- hence, the splashing and thumping. He took off the breather on his face, gasping for fresh air.

"It's no good!" he said with frustration, sitting on the floor and leaving puddles of warm water around him. "The turbine's damaged way down near the cave floor, and this breather's got maybe a five-minute capacity! I think hot springs are running off into the reservoir too, the water gets hotter the deeper you go."

"Then maybe it's not a job for an Anvite," a smooth and calm voice said, and the soldiers parted to let their fleet commander through. Buckshot stared, Pestilence looked with interest and Calamari gaped a little as the Maximal captain walked towards the hatch.

He wasn't very old, only a few years older than Buckshot, and clearly in the prime of life and height of operating power. He had the beast mode of an eagle and a tall, straight-backed, muscular body colored in hues of white and gold. His chest gleamed at the breast with top-ranking stripes, his face had a noble jawline, perfect cheekbones and nose, brilliant blue optics. He reached a strong hand out and helped the Anvite diver to his feet. The soldiers all looked at him with devotion, something close to awe. A sense of mild celebrity seemed to surround the eagle; even the Anvite diver seemed taken by him.

"Ohmigod, he's gorgeous," Calamari murmured, still standing several feet away and not yet noticed by him.

"He is quite striking," Pestilence agreed.

"Holy crap, that's Axel," Buckshot said in a low and decidedly non-smitten voice.

"You know him? Where do you know him from?" Calamari asked, rounding on Buckshot. When he didn't answer right away, still staring at Axel, she started to tug on his left arm insistently. "Bucky, where do you know him from? Tell us, tell us, tell us..."

"Yeah, Bucky, where do you know him from?" Pestilence asked, smiling, starting to tug on his right arm in the same manner. "Tell us, tell us, telllll usssss..."

"Ladies! Ladies!" Buckshot pulled his arms away, grinning despite himself. "I'll tell you later. C'mon, he's standing right there-"

"Well," Axel's voice cut through their conversation. "It seems we have some Cybertronian civilians in the plant? None of you look like the workers outside."

He walked forward, smiling down at Pestilence. Calamari just about swooned as he approached. He offered a hand, and Pestilence shook it.

"Captain Axel of the Paragon. Commander for the new Maximal army fleet," he said.

"Pestilence of the AXALON," she replied briskly. "These are my companions, Calamari-"

"Hi," the youthful femme said with a giggle, wiggling her fingers. Axel bowed a little, taking her hand lightly in his, and she giggled louder.

"And Buckshot," Pestilence finished, indicating the other. He was about the same height as Axel, staring at him with a frown.

"Buckshot? Finally decided to leave Dustball?" Axel asked, looking at the shabbier, plainer 'bot with a grin.

"Yeah, well, other opportunities arose," Buckshot said, almost growled. "Hanging out with my friends, saving the galaxy, travelin' through time and space."

"Fascinating. Just fascinating. We really should catch up," Axel said, and turned back towards his other soldiers. Buckshot gave him an ugly look behind his back.

"I got something you can catch up to," he muttered lowly. Pestilence hurried past him and towards Axel. She nudged his arm and he looked down at her.

"How's the investigation going? I understand there's allegations of sabotage from the native Predacon workers," she said.

"Hard to see how it could be anything else, I'm afraid," he replied, walking towards the hatch. "Though we haven't yet determined how damaged the turbine is, it's strong enough to withstand any attack an Anvite could muster, and only a diver with no need to breathe could remain underwater for so long as to do the job."

"What if one of your guys did it?" Buckshot asked, walking over with a suspicious frown, and getting a punch in the arm from Calamari for the accusation. Axel gave him a withering look and shake of his head.

"Because my ship only just arrived here, and the damage took place five days ago," he said.

"Yeah? Well, suppose it was Magmen in the reservoir?" Buckshot challenged him.

"...Magmen?" Axel repeated, optic ridge raised, and looked around at the soldiers for explanations. They all looked as nonplussed as he. Calamari put her face in her hands, embarrassed, while Buckshot stood tall and defiant, glaring at the Maximal captain.

"Yeah, you know, Magma Men. Magmen. The freakin' walking lava monsters! They could've swam right into the underground lake powering this plant and wrecked the turbine!"

"You mean the creatures sighted along the Red River?" Luceria asked, looking up at Buckshot. "They've never come anywhere near Dug Deep before."

"But it is a distressing possibility," Axel said, rubbing his chin. "Yes, we've heard of the lava creatures, we were briefed on them when we arrived. I guess I was thrown for a loop by that...unique name for them."

Buckshot just glared.

"But I'm told there is a network of tunnels leading all over Castor's Anvil, not to mention tributaries of the Red River. It's quite possible the creatures will attack this city. I've been informed they've taken most of another shipment of puffer-gas. They're becoming more than a nuisance- they're a legitimate threat," Axel said, his voice carrying clearly to the soldiers and Anvite workers nearby. "Our problem is threefold- repairing the damaged turbine, determining whether your Predacon workers are to blame for the damage and the theft of your puffer-gas haul five days ago, and protecting this city from the magma creatures. To address the first problem, I'll need to send a couple of good men down to the bottom of the reservoir beneath this plant."

"We'll do it!" Calamari volunteered enthusiastically. Pestilence registered a small measure of alarm, and Buckshot spun to stare at her.

"Oh?" Axel asked, stepping forward and regarding her with intrigue.

"Yeah! I'm a really really good swimmer, my beast mode's an octopus! I can totally swim down to the bottom of the reservoir and fix it. Only I'm not really good with repairing stuff...Pest could come!"

Now Pestilence was shaking her head a little, and then seeing Axel look at her, changed the head-shake to look as though she was simply working out a kink in her neck. She nodded, smiling unevenly.

"That would be quite a help," Axel mused. "I need my soldiers up here to guard the turbines, and keep the workers at bay should they turn aggressive."

"You think I'm just gonna let you two go spelunking without backup?" Buckshot asked of his friends. "With Magmen lurking around underwater tunnels, maybe? I'll go with you if I have to."

"You can swim?" Calamari asked him.

"My beast mode's a dog, remember? So I can at least doggy-paddle. C'mon, let's head for that hatch before good sense catches up to us."

They moved towards the ruined turbine and the open hatch to the reservoir. Pestilence followed, scarf trailing behind her, with an unusually worried expression on her face. Calamari was too busy ogling Axel to pay much attention to their surroundings, and Buckshot just stared ahead with a stoic determination to get the deed over with, but Pestilence, ever alert, looked around and stared as she saw a couple of Maximal soldiers with proximity mines laid on the floor. They were silver orbs with many facets, similar in shape to a 20-sided die, and a sensor nub on each facet. Only one of the facets was devoid of sensors, and these facets were the ones the soldiers were punching arming codes into.

"Isn't that a little excessive?" Pestilence asked. Axel was already ahead of her, following her friends, and she slowed her stride and moved near the soldiers.

"They're all deactivated. In the event of lava creatures entering the reservoir and threatening the plant, we plan to set them at any tunnels into the reservoir," one of the soldiers arming the mines replied. Pestilence watched him punching numbers into the keys revealed by the lifted facet panel.

"Won't they damage the turbines if they go off?" she asked.

"Their proximity sensors have been rigged to ignore the specific motions and electrical readings of the turbines. Just a precaution," the soldier replied, and returned to his work. Pestilence watched him a moment longer, then caught up to her friends.

"Take this," Axel said, handing her a small waterproofed camera on a shoulder-strap. She secured it to her right shoulder beneath her coat, testing the video feed. One of the scientists up in the offices gave her a thumbs-up through the window.

Calamari was kneeling by the hatch, gazing through it. There was a ladder leading down to another level and another hatch- this secondary level was platforms with a grid of thick glass looking down at the reservoir. There were access panels that looked like they could drop things directly from the floor down into the reservoir. They could see where water rushed down a long pipe at the far end of the cave, propelled by the pressure of it squeezing through a narrow intake grate, and the friction of the rushing water spinning the turbines in the distance, before the water rejoined the reservoir and splashed off down adjacent tunnels and presumably back along the hot springs and waterfalls that kept the water cycling. Calamari looked at the frothing waters with glee, while Buckshot frowned and Pestilence idly wrung the ends of her scarf in her hands.

"It's got to be the rotor assembly. It's too far for them to dive to, and it may be too wrecked to fix on the spot- we just need you to ascertain the extent of the damage so we can advise the Anvite workers," Axel told Calamari.

"No problem!" she said enthusiastically.

Axel gave her another broad and charming smile, and turned back towards his men. Buckshot climbed down the ladder, feet clomping across the thick glass panels, and joined Calamari as she started to pull up the hatch to the reservoir. Pestilence paced back and forth a little, and suddenly bolted back up the ladder. She popped her head out the upper hatch, looking around for Luceria.

"Hey! I don't want to get my clothes wet. Would you mind holding onto these until I get back?" she asked, and when the Anvite nodded, stripped off her long and many-pocketed coat, handing it over, as well as her lengthy scarf. She nodded back at the Anvite, shaking her hand, and went back towards the hatch- before slapping her forehead, jogging back, and fishing her multi-tool out of one of the coat pockets as the coat lay draped in Luceria's arms.

"Never drown without it," she said, smiling weakly, and headed back towards the upper hatch, descending the ladder reluctantly.

"What's with you?" Buckshot asked her as she rejoined them. She didn't answer for a moment, staring at the rippling dark waters.

"I'm not...fantastic at swimming," she admitted after a pause.

"Oh, it's totally easy!" Calamari told her with an understanding smile. "See, you move your arms like this, and then you move your legs like this-"

"I know -how- to swim, I just...I'm not very good. I turn into a moth, historically not a water-friendly insect," Pestilence said, regarding the waters uncertainly.

"Just follow me, Pest," Calamari said, and dove into the water without even a step down the short access ladder protruding from the bottom of the second hatch. She hit the surface with barely a splash, and her friends stared as she motored through the water, leaving behind enough chop to rival an outboard motor. The splashing halted and she bobbed up to the surface, smiling up at them.

"It's like being in one of those tubs that makes waves and stuff! C'mon!"

Buckshot looked at Pestilence.

"She's gonna need you to help figure out what's wrong with that rotor thing. And I'm not leaving you behind with a plant full of soldiers and workers with a beef against Predacons," he said.

"It wouldn't come to that, would it?" Pestilence asked uncertainly.

"I'd take the swim over hanging out with Axel," Buckshot said, and cannonballed into the water. He started to paddle around, looking up at Pestilence. She made a face, pulled the goggles up on her forehead down over her optics, and hit the water. She flopped, almost sank, and started to wave her arms back and forth while kicking her legs rapidly. It was graceless, sloppy, but she was managing to stay afloat- barely.

"See, you're doing great!" Calamari said, doing laps around them. "Ready to go down?"

"Let's- get it- over with!" Pestilence gasped. She bobbed up briefly, then turned and dove into the depths. Calamari swam ahead of her, cutting through the water with ease, and Buckshot cast one last glance at the ladder up to dry land and relative safety before following his friends down.

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

The Cybertronians dove deeper, parting dark water aside and kicking their metal legs rapidly. Without communicators, speaking to one another would be an incomprehensible waterlogged blather, so they settled for hand signals. Calamari, who'd already touched cave floor and been back up, motioned for them to follow her. Pestilence made her ungainly strokes through the deep, following the youthful Predacon, and Buckshot swam after them with dutiful swings of his thick arms.

They followed the wrecked turbine down until they came to the rotor assembly, a giant metallic drum with thick metal blades in a winding pattern around it. Or, at least, what were formerly blades- Pestilence let out an 'oh' of comprehension as she saw how smashed and demolished the rotors were. She silently pointed out the damage to her companions, who nodded- no Anvite could've mustered the power to smash up the thick metal blades. The blades jutted outward at broken angles, many of them snapped clean off, the damage resembling great gouges from blades. Pestilence found herself recalling the arm-blades on that Predacon worker Thresher, and winced- the case against the Preds was looking worse.

It was clear there'd be no simple repair- with so many blades worn or broken off, the rotor assembly was having trouble managing quite as much torque. The Anvites would need to forge and mount replacement blades, if not replace the entire drum. Pestilence motioned for her friends to follow her back up to the reservoir's surface- the water was growing very warm.

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

Back up in the offices of the hydroelectric plant, Axel stood behind the Anvite scientists and a couple of soldiers, watching the video feed of Pestilence's camera. Though the waters were dark, and ripples obscured the camera's vision, they could faintly make out the rotor assembly drum and observe its deep gouges and dents.

"You see the extent of the damage? No laser would be so imprecise, and no Anvite worker's weapon like a pickax or a sledgehammer slices so deep. More than one of the Predacon workers have mounted tritanium blades, don't they?" Axel asked. There were nods among the Anvites. "I'm sure if we inspected it more closely, we'd find bits and flecks of tritanium in those cuts. I'm afraid the evidence is clear. We'll need to bring the Predacons in for questioning."

"We have no facilities capable of containing them! They'd bust through a jail cell like it was a cardboard box.," Pharus told him.

"The Paragon has an ample brig facility," Axel replied. "You and the rest of the council will see them there, and we'll determine what-"

He was cut off by a sudden grinding click. All of the Anvites in the room looked up, alertly, to see one of those long-range Geiger counters, sitting on the edge of a regulating console, flashing its warnings of radiation. Axel gazed at it for a moment, optics wide.

"It's them! The creatures!" Pharus exclaimed.

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

Pestilence's swim back to the surface was interrupted by a scared and insistent tug on her ankle. She turned, seeing Calamari point wordlessly towards the black depths below. Given how joyfully she'd been lapping the turbines before, the fearful expression in her face really made Pestilence worry. She glanced down, vaguely aware that the water was really, really getting hot- and saw them.

Magma creatures swimming up from caverns below, swimming against the rushing current and easily making their way into the reservoir. Their outer layers of brown, quick-cooling encrusted rock were just barely keeping the water from evaporating around them, but it was still starting to steam before the Cybertronians' eyes. The magma men blinked their singular eyes almost in unison, swimming towards Pestilence and her friends.

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

"But they aren't out of the reservoir!" Luceria said, as Axel's soldiers moved to and fro, rapidly punching in codes to the mines and moving towards the drop-shafts down to the reservoir.

"We can't risk those monsters making their way up inside the plant- they'd rampage through the entire city!" Axel told her urgently, ordering his men back and forth. "You! Grab two and move to that shaft! You! Be certain they're keyed to ignore the turbines! Drop them, now!"

"But if they hit those other three-"

"They might make it out the caves! We've got no choice," Axel said firmly, and made the signal for his soldiers to drop the mines.

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

Pestilence swam as fast as she can, her anxieties about water temporarily set aside in her hurry to evade the oncoming creatures. They were implacably moving up the reservoir, bubbles and steam rising around them, eyes locked on their pursuit. The Cybertronians were almost to the surface, close enough to see the access ladder through the reservoir surface...

And then, with an ominous series of loud splashes, mines began to drop from miniature hatches above. The multi-faceted explosives sank into the water, trailing ripples behind them and emitting muted beeps. The proximity sensors were red- they were fully armed. Buckshot let out a silent yell, backpedaling and thrashing away through the water. Calamari bobbed just behind him, looking up with terror as the mines sank closer and closer to them.

And, as Pestilence looked below herself, the Magmen were closing in...


END OF EPISODE ONE


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: The Magma Creatures
PostPosted: Sat Dec 11, 2010 4:42 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
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THE MAGMA CREATURES

EPISODE TWO

Pestilence floated in the reservoir depths, looking back and forth between the descending mines and the ascending lava monsters. Though the Cybertronians were incapable of drowning as organic beings understood it, they were certainly capable of being blown up or melted. The magma creatures were swimming towards them in a loose line, some managing the churning waters with more efficiency than others. It seemed to take some effort on their parts to keep their outer shells solid and relatively cool, and Pestilence had to count on that preoccupation.

She looked up once more, seeing the row of mines now almost to their depth. She pointed at Calamari, then pointed at a likely gap between the ranks of the monsters. Calamari nodded and grabbed both Pestilence and Buckshot by their forearms. She took off like a torpedo, water chopping in streams behind her kicking feet, and pulled her two friends along for the ride. Buckshot yelped soundlessly, lifting an arm to protect his face as they passed between the magma men, feeling the heat steaming off their bodies. Pestilence turned and looked back as Calamari motored through the water, and observed the creatures. They'd only given the passing Cybertronians the most cursory of glances, and seemed intent on the turbines. Probably for what they powered- the puffer-gas fueled generators.

The creature in the front of the line was ascending closer and closer to the surface- when one of the falling mines collided with its chest. The proximity sensors went from flashing red to solid red, the mine emitted a watery 'meeeep' and then detonated. Chunks of rock and magma ballooned outward, propelled by a wave of expanding heat and gas, dissolving water where they went. The explosion scattered the lava creatures around it, and propelled the other mines in waves. Calamari swam hard, and Buckshot pointed something out, optics narrowed- one of the natural tunnels leading out of the cavern. Water was gushing through it in a torrent. Before Pestilence could even try to signal her misgivings on just where the tunnel might lead, another magma creature swam into a mine and the trio of Cybertronians felt a wave of heat pushing at their backs and propelling them into the tunnel. Debris clattered against their backs, pelting them and breaking the camera mounted on Pestilence's shoulder. Nigh-boiling hot water rushed and pounded around them, and they tumbled through an endless series of slopes and sharp turns before falling into darkness.

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

Within the hydroelectric plant's control room, the Anvites stared intently at the row of monitors. They saw a confused mishmash of images from Pestilence's feed, all rushing water and blurred images of her companions before the screen filled with static and then went black. The Maximal soldiers had the upper-deck hatches open, readying their weapons in case a lava-dripping hand pushed up one of the lower access hatches. Axel stood just behind the scientists, hands on his hips, optics closed slightly as though in mourning.

"They...?" Pharus started to ask, glancing worriedly at him.

"They may well have died," Axel said, clenching a fist. "Foolish of me, premature, but I just couldn't chance it- if the mines don't repel the creatures-"

"Another explosion! Sir, they're falling back!" said one of the soldiers, a young but seasoned-looking wolf with stripes marking him as a high-ranking officer. He pointed down at the glass panels of the lower deck, where the glows of the creatures' ingress were growing dimmer and fainter as they retreated, apparently back through the tunnel from which they entered the reservoir.

Axel's shoulders slumped a little with relief. He straightened back up to a proper military posture, and looked at Pharus, who was rubbing his crystalline head nervously.

"It seems your mines did the trick. It was worth protecting the plant, but those three-" Pharus started to say.

"They may not have died, sir," the wolf said as he walked over to them. "There's a number of tunnels the reservoir runs off into- the explosions might've pushed them down one of those tunnels."

Pharus looked at him questioningly, and Axel took a moment to introduce them:

"Pharus, this is my number two mech, Lt. Commander Upshot," Axel said. "I'd like to think they survived, but with Pestilence's camera broken, how can we know for sure which tunnel they might've washed up in?"

"Scanners on the ship are finicky in caverns this deep and with this level of geothermal activity all around us, but it's possible we could narrow the search to the area surrounding the reservoir and sweep for Cybertronian life signs?" Upshot suggested.

"It's worth a try. Take some men back to the Paragon and make it happen," Axel directed, and his second moved off towards his purpose. With that aside, Axel walked close by Pharus, tone lowering a little.

"The magma creatures may be repelled for now, but it's clear your plant is dangerously open to incursion and sabotage," he said. "You saw the video feed of the rotor assembly. Your own Predacon workers can't be trusted. We can outfit your plant with new security measures, though it'll take a trip to Ti Ion for supplies."

"But you're already being paid just for this investigation! How much more gas will you need for that?" Pharus asked warily.

"No further payment is necessary, my friend," Axel said to Pharus's obvious relief. "If we're to keep trade open, we can't have this city threatened. But with supplies in this system so scarce, I must add that the agreed-upon rate is a little stifling-"

"Captain, propulsion-grade puffer gas is a rare commodity. We have to stay open-minded, there's trading vessels of everyone from Predacons to Grussites to humans who can convert it to fuel. And we have our own need of it to power the generators."

"Of course, of course. But I think you might consider an exclusive trade agreement- but only if we can stop this magma creature problem for good. And after we've dealt with the problem of your renegade Predacons. Ah, I guess that's a little bit of a redundancy, isn't it?" Axel said with a hearty chuckle. Pharus joined in on his laughter- just two businessmen discussing business- and rejoined the other Anvites as Axel moved off to discuss tactics and security with his men.

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

After what felt like an age, Pestilence's systems booted up and her optics winked on. She groaned, feeling something metal stacked on top of her. Another flat, slightly curved metal piece was laid on her cheek. She feared the worst for a moment- trapped under metal debris, possibly some sort of cave-in- then realized it was Calamari lying on top of her, and that curved metal thing was her foot. Pestilence pushed the young femmebot off her and Calamari rolled slightly to the side, optics blinking.

"Cal, are you okay?" Pestilence asked her, sitting up against the knobbly rock-wall behind herself.

"Ugh, m'fine. Buckshot? Bucky, where are you?" Calamari called out.

"Over here, I'm okay," Buckshot called from somewhere away from them.

They looked around the darkness with confusion, before Calamari tapped the side of her head, causing her optics' searchlight mode to switch on- they lit up like twin searchlights, showing a low-ceiling tunnel with a few inches of water trickling along the smooth floor. Buckshot lay a few feet away from them, rubbing his head and groaning. They could see where they'd taken the tumble- somewhere along the line of their fall, the rush of water from the reservoir had gone down one shaft and they down another.

"We didn't land in lava? Or get broken to pieces on rocks? Good for us," Calamari said, getting carefully to her feet. She reached up- the tunnel ceiling was low enough for her to brush with her fingertips.

"Not sure how far away from the reservoir we are, but there must be tunnels both man-made and natural extending in all directions throughout the center of this planet," Pestilence surmised.

"Maybe we can climb back towards-" Buckshot started to propose, sitting up, and froze as his sentence was interrupted by a warning beep. Calamari turned her searchlight optics towards him, and saw that he was close to one of Axel's proximity mines.

Somehow, it had washed up in the same tunnel as them, undetonated by the battery of rushing water and debris. Now it laid on the smooth tunnel floor, its proximity sensors beeping red. Armed. Buckshot tried to inch away from it for a moment and the beeping started to turn into that solid meep- he went still, and the solid meep became intermittent beeping once more.

"Get out. Get going," Buckshot said quietly.

"No," Pestilence said, patting down her hip compartments.

"C'mon, you guys can get to safety before I have to move, I'll-"

"Quiet, Bucky, I'm not letting you get blown up in this dank tunnel. Who'll carry heavy stuff around for me?" Pestilence replied, cracking a smile she hoped was comforting. She fished in her pockets as Calamari kept her gaze on the mine.

"Ah!" Pestilence said, drawing her multi-tool. The little silver device, almost a wand, extended its head as Pestilence punched the little buttons on its side, and the head started to spin and crackle. She hit more buttons quickly, muttering to herself, and now the spinning, electricity-crackling head was emitting a wide field that felt almost like static. She approached Buckshot carefully, holding the multi-tool out at the proximity mine. The red sensors started to go from blinking to solid for a moment, before the field swept across them and they turned a solid yellow. Pestilence handed the multi-tool to Buckshot, grasping his fist rigidly around it to demonstrate the importance of him keeping it held there, and knelt down in front of the mine. She pulled up one of the panels and rubbed her chin as she stared at the key inputs and the flashing screen.

"What are you-?" Calamari started to ask.

"Ssshhh, it won't hold for long!" she waved a palm in Cal's direction, then looked back at the mine. "It must be...I saw the sequence, but re-entering it won't...unless..."

She bit her lower lip, reaching out to take a gamble, and started to punch numeral keys rapidly. The mine's sensors went from solid yellow, to blinking yellow, and as she hit one more key, to solid green. Pestilence looked at the green lights and slumped with relief, grinning. She turned a switch revealed by the powering-down process, pulled up the key entry panel, reached inside the guts of the mine, and yanked out a clump of wires.

"There, it's dead now," she said, standing up. "You could kick this thing around like a soccer ball and it won't go off. Catch!"

She tossed the mine to Calamari, who let out a yelp and barely caught the thing, cradling it to herself like a nearly dropped baby, before giving Pestilence a withering look and letting the disarmed mine drop to the floor with a splash and clunk.

"What'd you do?" Buckshot asked, accepting the scientist's hand and getting to his feet, handing her back her multi-tool.

"The mines were programmed to ignore the motion of the turbines, so I futzed together a rough approximation of rapid spinning motion and electrical fields generated thereby. It was a faulty knock-off, but by extending the field of influence I could fool the mine for just long enough to defuse it. I saw the soldier inputting the arming code and guessed at a reversal of the pattern to disarm it."

"Nice," Buckshot said, and looked up at the tunnel they'd fallen in from, before looking off down the opposite direction. "So where are we?"

"Er...I had more gear in my coat, which I left back at the plant. I really liked that coat. If I could just figure out-" Pestilence mused, and then snapped her fingers, jumping up and down a little. "Ohhhh! That's it! The radio! The radio!"

"The radio?" Calamari asked, walking over.

"The radio! It's in my coat pocket! We can message the Anvites and let them know where we are, if I can just- find- the other-" Pestilence rummaged in her hip compartments, and came up with a small hand-held communicator. She switched it on, listening intently for a beep, and spoke into it:

"Hello? Anvite woman I gave my coat to? Luceria, are you there? Please respond, over."

The three of them listened carefully in the darkness, picking up only silence.

"Could be broken," Buckshot said.

"No, it's working, but this tunnel's offering us no ability to transmit. This camera, on the other hand, is broken. And too bad, because it'd have shown them right where we are," Pestilence said dourly, stripping off the camera strapped to her shoulder and handing it to Buckshot. He looked at the cracked lens and stuffed the small device in his own hip compartment.

"Maybe if we find, like, a bigger cavern, we could send a message better?" Calamari suggested.

"Worth a try. Internal compass says this tunnel's pointing roughly east. Let's go," Pestilence said. With Calamari and her illuminated optics leading the way, they headed off down the tunnel.

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

"This thing goes on forever. We're going to, like, pop out the other side of the planet and get eaten by something," Calamari surmised as she walked ahead of the other two. As Pestilence's flashlight was in her coat, and Buckshot had no such tools on him, that left Cal and her bright optics to walk ahead of them. They'd been making their way through the dark tunnel for some time, as it gradually sloped upward and turned north to some degree.

"We're nowhere near the surface of the planet," Pestilence assured her.

"But we are close enough to where we could get killed by Magmen!" Calamari replied, and then paused, before making a face in the dark. "Ugh, Bucky, you got me saying it."

She could hear Buckshot chuckle a little from behind her. They walked in silence for some time longer before Calamari, apparently not enjoying the walk through a cramped tunnel beneath almost a mile of rock, spoke up again:

"Bucky? You've barely said anything for like the last hour. What's up?"

"Just thinking about how we got here. We could've swam right up to the ladders if those mines weren't there," Buckshot said lowly, trudging along with his hands in his hip compartments and a frown on his face.

"You don't think he deployed those mines as something other than absolute last resort?" Pestilence asked him.

"Maybe. I'm not tossing around any accusations. Just thinking."

"Why would he attempt to murder us?"

"He wouldn't have. But we come in, messing around in his investigation, Cal volunteers us to help fix the turbine, and when the Magmen show up he sees an opportunity to protect Dug Deep- and take out a potential few thorns in his side in the process."

"That's totally paranoid," Calamari replied with a shake of her head, causing the optic beams to wiggle somewhat in front of her. "Axel wouldn't do that, he's a good guy!"

"No, he's a good-looking guy, and that's what's swaying your opinion," Buckshot replied, almost growled. Both of the femmebots walking with him caught that strange tone.

"I must admit, I wasn't getting any danger vibes off of him myself," Pestilence said after a pause.

"Look, I'm sorry, Cal. But I know him from a few years back. And it's no surprise he doesn't seem that bad to you either, Pest. He's got that war hero persona set in so deep I believed it myself, and I'm probably just holding a grudge- but I don't trust him. Not a bit. Never did."

"Where do you know him from?" Calamari asked, as the uphill slope of the tunnel started to become steeper. They made their way carefully up it, Buckshot having to duck his head somewhat as the tunnel narrowed.

"I'm curious about that, myself," Pestilence added.

Buckshot let out a low sigh, or facsimile thereof. This wasn't something he liked to share, but even in the claustrophobic darkness of the winding tunnel, he could feel his two friends' expectant looks. He helped Calamari up a ledge of rock, then Pestilence, and climbed up after them. The tunnel evened out again and, as they walked, he spoke:

"I was never a big shot or a great hero. I used to hang out at the bars, get hammered, hit on femmes, just sort of putzing through my days. Cybertron was destroyed before I was even made, but I dunno, something about being one of the only 'bots on the colony used to get to me. Cops knew me, I was the drunk-tank guy, the disorderly conduct guy, but otherwise harmless. I worked hard labor jobs, sent letters and money to my ma, tried to be honest- but still was a little bit rowdy, you know?"

Calamari kept her optics ahead, illuminating the path, but was listening intently. She'd never heard this history of his before. Pestilence had some inkling of it, but didn't interrupt.

"I racked up some debts, I forget what, gambling, trying to impress some girl- and agreed to do a job for these real hard crooks. I was working for this shuttleport at the time, corrupt ownership, was ready to quit that dump- all they wanted was to take a shuttle. One of the out-modeled ones I could drive with my foot. I'd be the inside man and the getaway driver, easy money. I only agreed to do it on their word they wouldn't hurt anybody. Stupidest thing I ever did.

"Job went off perfectly, they got a shuttle, I got my pay- and later on in the ensuing police investigation I found out they were using that shuttle to transport a warhead. This went from vehicular theft to conspiracy in arms dealing and terrorism and who knows what the hell else. And since I was the only 'bot left on the colony, they traced it to me. Offered me a deal if I could get any information that would turn them in. I couldn't give them anything- turns out I didn't know their real names, their serial numbers, anything. All fake. The money was a pittance. I was the fall guy. I remembered only what they were: Predacons."

Calamari looked at Buckshot, slightly disturbed.

"Hey, c'mon, I was brought up not to be all anti-faction this or that," Buckshot assured her. "But for a while there? Oh, I stewed. The cops knew I was just a set-up dummy, but they had to have someone locked up for the PR and I'd still committed a crime. I spent the next three years in prison. Don't know how long I'd have stayed in that place- until Axel came along."

"Now what interest would Axel have in a convicted Maximal felon if not...recruiting?" Pestilence guessed, looking at Buckshot keenly.

"Got it in one," he replied. "I was trying to get off on good behavior, but man, that prison was rough. Other 'bots in there, plus all sorts of organics that could knock me around. I spent some time in solitary. I just had no future left, seemed like. So here comes this guy Axel, and what he's selling sounds impossible- he's gathering Maximals from all the planets, the outer colony worlds, every able-bodied 'bot he can find, to form a new militia. He sold me on the whole thing. Honor, glory, nobility, shining the light of Cybertron on the evils of the galaxy, and all that. I joined, and he pulled some strings to get me out."

"So what went wrong?" Calamari asked, and here Buckshot paused, unsure how to articulate his misgivings.

"Axel was...he was a cult of personality. Those other Maximals looked on him in awe. He had all these stories of saving organics and fighting evil Predacons and just sounded good- and I looked up some records, all that stuff really happened. I've got no doubt he did those things. But...you ever meet someone who was two-faced? Someone who showed you a really nice outside but had something dark inside?"

Pestilence nodded.

"Well, that's Axel. He smiles, and he talks nice, and sounds like the best guy ever- and I think he maintains that as long as things go his way. I just had the nagging feeling that, if you took those heroic stories and turned 'em a little bit, got a look at the underside, you'd see something a lot worse beneath. I used to hear the way he'd talk about Predacons and, even with my little grudge, it started to sound weird to me- but a lot of those recruits would eat it up, and the others just looked past it. And then, after some time in service, we came to this planet where we were helping evacuate civilians from this earthquake. Lots of organics, some humans. I was flying them out of there on a dropship and saw some life signs. Couple of Preds, couple of organics. I messaged the ship- it wasn't that one, the Paragon, at the time- and told them I was going back for the remainders.

Well, Axel got right on and in that smooth tone of his said we were well under the margin of acceptable losses, and that in such a crisis, some casualties were to be expected. That dropship was packed, but I knew I had room for more if I jettisoned some of the fuel and equipment. I told him I was gonna do just that, and it was so weird- he got mad. I mean, he got really mad, but he had to keep calm and civil. I remember how he used to talk to his senior crew in these long meetings about how sparse fuel was becoming, and for me to lose fuel just to save some short-sighted organics and a couple of Preds who he thought would just try to take over the dropship- he lost it. He really lost it, but he had to stay polite the whole time. Would not yell at me over comms where everyone could hear."

Pestilence and Calamari looked at one another, and at him. Buckshot was lost in his memories, still frowning slightly.

"I did it. Dropped the gear, went back and got those life signs. Got them back to the ship. For disobeying a direct order from the captain, I got a dishonorable discharge. Axel was the fleet commander, and Cybertron's gone, so he could pretty much make up the rules of military conduct- but with so many witnesses, he couldn't risk doing anything worse to me. And I think he wanted to. They dumped me off on Dustball to herd scalebacks and accumulate dust in my joints, and that's where I stayed until Pestilence showed up to save me."

With this last, he laid a hand gratefully on Pestilence's shoulder, and she patted the back of his hand with a friendly smile.

"You mean he'd really have tried to, I dunno, kill you?" Calamari asked, a disturbed tone to her voice. He'd seemed perfect, upstanding, the best-looking 'bot she'd ever seen.

"I don't know. Maybe not. I'm an ex-con, okay? I've made mistakes, but I always tried to do what I thought was right. Axel? For him, the definition of 'right' is whatever gets him what he wants. He'll shake your hand while holding a knife behind his back, just in case. If everything goes well, he can play nice and be the big hero. But if things start to go wrong...I don't know how far he'll go. Maybe the three of us butting into his investigation warranted a little pre-emptive mining. Or maybe I really am paranoid."

He lapsed back into that reflective silence. Calamari kept climbing, a little frown on her face, until Pestilence pointed out that there was a growing light ahead of them. They moved toward it.

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

Calamari let out a startled cry, pinwheeling her arms and struggling to keep from falling off the abrupt precipice before her. Pestilence reached out, grabbing one of the octopus's tentacles, and pulled her back. She looked down to see what appeared to be another city- their tunnel opened out onto a ridge that wound its way down the rock. It seemed like a relatively new entry point, undiscovered, and she saw why: A massive stalactite that had fallen from the corner of the cavern ceiling and dragged a great rift down the wall with its plummet, opening up that cavern.

"What is this place?" Buckshot asked, looking down into the massive cavern. Some lights were still working overhead, though others had fallen off or gone dark. There was a city below them, smaller than Dug Deep, its dome-like buildings partially immersed in or surrounded by a solid layer of ash and rock.

"We're still east of Dug Deep. This must be Quartzton," Pestilence said, and started to pick her way down the winding ridge. Her companions followed her, and within moments they'd dropped down to the cavern floor. They stared in silence- falling lights and stalactites had destroyed numerous structures, and others still bore scars of burning from the passing lava. There were absolutely no signs of survivors.

"It's like the aftermath of Pompeii....," Pestilence murmured, walking slowly up the ashy streets. "Luceria mentioned a volcanic eruption, and yet I see no evidence of volcanoes in the surrounding tunnels. Could the river of lava running from here to Dug Deep have been overflowed by eruption?"

"Wouldn't there be, like, way more lava and way more heat?" Calamari asked. She bent down to look at something protruding from a deep crust of ash and rock, realized it was a hand, and stood back up hurriedly.

"Good point- there should be much more remnants of the lava flow than this," Pestilence mused.

"Look at that, they've got an elevator to the surface too. It's still intact. So's that power plant, kind of," Buckshot pointed out. The trio made their way up the streets to a geothermal power plant with part of its ceiling smashed in by a stalactite. Indeed, there was a functioning elevator not a half-mile off from the plant. They pushed open the charred front doors of the plant and walked into a dormant power plant. Supplies were gone, apparently raided in a panicky evacuation.

"Now that's interesting. I heard about this," Pestilence said, going over to an intact machine at the center of the floor. It squatted in the middle of the plant, foot-thick power cables running to generators on all sides. There were tall, cylindrical puffer-gas fuel tanks like the ones powering the generators at Dug Deep; however, there was also what appeared to be a radiation chamber surrounding the tanks. Pestilence pulled open one of the rod-insertion ports, peering inside.

"I've got something a little like this in the AXALON. Far more advanced, though. They really were attempting to irradiate puffer-gas...it must have some uniquely reactive properties for them to even consider it. Yet these tanks are completely empty."

"So they dose the gas with radiation, but it didn't blow up. I mean, this is ground zero right here, there should be no plant left if they accidentally nuked themselves," Buckshot said.

"Unless it somehow created the magma creatures? Summoned them?"

"Like, from the river?" Calamari asked.

"Why not?" Pestilence agreed. "Earth life began from the primordial ooze, though the spark that began the evolutionary process is still unknown. Maybe this experiment was the catalyst that created the magma creatures- from the Red River itself or from a nearby volcano, or from a layer of molten rock deeper than this city. They were drawn here, compelled to take the puffer-gas just like they did on the boat."

"Except they were chucking the canisters into the lava, destroying them. There's no wrecked canisters here, they're just gone. It's like the whole plant was looted," Buckshot said.

"We need to get back to Dug Deep and let them know what happened here," Pestilence said. She pulled out a rod from one of the machine's ports, turning it over, and nodded once before placing it in her hip compartment. She'd want to get a closer look at that in the AXALON's lab. She followed her companions back outside, where Buckshot was looking at the elevator and Calamari was looking off past the buildings, where an adjacent tunnel was glowing with heat.

"We could try taking the elevator to the top and get back over the surface. Dangerous, though," Buckshot proposed.

"Maybe they'll have a boat, like a small one, that we could try to get back to Dug Deep in," Calamari counter-proposed.

"We'll try looking for a boat first. There's got to be some building where they're kept, if we could find a small one," Pestilence decided, walking in the direction of that tunnel. She passed between buildings overflowing with gray hardened sludge and ash, keeping an optic out for any likely building- and then stopped short. Calamari almost bumped into her back, before the petite moth spun around and pushed both her and Buckshot back behind cover.

"What's-"

"Sssshhh!"

They peered out and saw, a while ahead of them, what was indeed a small lava-boat, almost like an armored speedboat, anchored to the shore. Above it were hover-platforms, bobbing in midair- and on these two platforms were a pair of tall and bulky beings in armored boat-worker's suits and gas masks, fixing what could only be a high quantity of explosive to the ceiling above the Red River tunnel.

"Those are the boat guys' suits! What are they doing?" Calamari whispered.

"Never saw an Anvite that big," Buckshot replied in the same low tone.

Pestilence narrowed her optics, gradually sneaking closer. She could see one of the suited beings punching in an arming code on the explosives, and peered upward to get a good look. He finished inputting the code and drew a small communicator from his belt.

"Fixer one to eagle leader, come in," he transmitted, rasping through his gas mask.

"Eagle leader here, go ahead," came the response. Calamari gave Buckshot a surprised look- the smooth-toned voice was unmistakably Axel's.

"The package has been prepared, we've only got a couple more items to place before the overhaul is complete," the suited being rasped, as he lowered his hover-platform back to the surface of the lava-boat.

"Understood. Contact me again when all items are placed. Keep your uniforms on. Eagle leader out," Axel transmitted. The suited being adjusted his orange suit with a fidget, and picked up his pulse rifle as his partner stayed near the tunnel ceiling, making a couple more adjustments to the explosives.

Pestilence took out her communicator out and, keeping her voice low, turned it on. This time she managed to get through, and waited a moment before Luceria's voice sounded on the other end.

"-meone there? Hello?" the Anvite woman broadcast, and Pestilence lowered the volume as much as she could while cupping the device to her mouth.

"Luceria? It's me. Pestilence."

"We thought you'd died! Where are-"

"We're in Quartzton, or what's left of it. We can try to find a way back to you, but listen to this first- find Axel. Find out what he's doing right now, and get back to me on this channel. Understood?"

There was a pause, and then: "Understood."

Pestilence signed off, and clutched the communicator device to herself. She motioned for Buckshot and Calamari to follow her, and they snuck closer and closer to the lava-boat.

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

The lava-boat was small, easy enough to control, and common on Castor's Anvil. The kind that could ostensibly be gotten from any subterranean city or docks on the planet, with no serial number to trace. That was why Axel had selected it. The two armored beings on the deck set their hover-platforms down, powering them off, and moved towards the controls. The ship was running on a small amount of propulsion-grade puffer gas, good for hours on less than a canister's worth, and the controls were easy to operate despite their larger hands.

"These suits are driving me haywire," one of the duo said, pulling at the thick and heat-resistant orange material.

"I don't like them either, but there could've been survivors left here," his partner replied, making adjustments to the lava-boat navigational controls while his pulse rifle laid propped against the console beside him.

"No chance, they all made for the surface. What witnesses could there be?"

"There's three right here!" Pestilence called, popping up over the railing of the small boat. Buckshot vaulted over it and swung a fist into the gas-masked face of the nearer worker, sending him stumbling backwards into the hold. The other worker snatched up his pulse rifle, leveling it at them, before Calamari, appearing last over the rail, kicked at it. His grip impaired by the bulky gloves, the worker lost his hold on the rifle, and it flew up into the air, where he engaged in a brief hot-potato game with it, the rifle bouncing from hand to hand, before Buckshot booted him in the stomach, grabbed the rifle, and pitched it over the other side and into the molten river. He and Calamari grabbed the worker by both arms, and though they could immediately pick up on how much thicker and heavier he was than an Anvite, still succeeded in bum-rushing him over the side of the boat that they'd scaled. He landed with a bounce and a series of clanks on the bank of the river, cursing.

"I'll check on the controls, get that other one in the hold!" Pestilence directed. Buckshot turned around, and was promptly caught in the face with the handle of a pickax by the other worker. He advanced on them, swinging the axe back and forth like a well-disciplined soldier handling a sword, and Calamari managed to side-step him and grab one of his arms. She tugged on it, trying to pull him off his attack, and he back-handed her in the face with relish, sending her sprawling to the deck. Buckshot bellowed, charging forward, and ripped away the gas-mask and blocky helmet to reveal: A youthful Maximal soldier, glaring up at him.

"You one of Axel's men?" Buckshot demanded. "What're you doing here?"

"Bucky, behind you!" Calamari yelled. Buckshot turned to see the other soldier almost up to the rail of the ship, optics narrowed behind the tinted visor of his helmet, gripping a large and fierce-looking army issue knife. Buckshot flung the other soldier forward and he bowled into his partner, sending the two of them tumbling back over the railing and onto the bank. Pestilence, who'd only needed a moment to assess and understand the lava-boat controls, pulled on the throttle and sent the ship speeding west along the Red River.

The other soldier popped off his gas mask and helmet, throwing it down. He had no need of the heat-protection or the respirator, and so kicked the helmet into the river with a growl.

"Eagle leader, fixer two! Identity compromised, ship has been taken by three unarmed Cybertronians, please advise, over!" his partner commed, looking down the river. Two of those Cybertronians had been Predacons.

There was a brief pause, some static, and then Axel, sounding as mad as he got. He had to keep up appearances, but there was that icy layer of rage just crackling beneath his mellifluous voice.

"Eagle leader here. I'm...really having a hard time dealing with this, gentlemen. I guess a magma creature incursion and about fifty mines isn't enough? Here is an order- you take care of them, and you do it quickly, or you will have neither ship nor military commission to return to. Understood?"

"Understood, eagle leader, out," the unmasked Maximal replied with a grimace, and turned to his partner. "The Red River's obstructed further down, they'll be blocked there."

"Not if they take one of the little side canals. We need something big," he replied, and drew a small detonator with a dial on it. He placed a hand on the dial, and his partner looked warily at it.

"You better make sure you just blow one. I don't want to get caught in a chain reaction."

"Just one," the other soldier pledged, and with an insouciant half-fingered salute snapped off in the direction of the fleeing Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari, he flipped the dial slightly upward and thumbed an arming button.

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

The lava-boat slalomed to and fro, kicking up small ripples of magma, while Pestilence continually made adjustments to her steering, constantly learning more and trying to teach herself how to handle it. Calamari and Buckshot each clutched the railing, staring ahead down the tunnel.

"Is that a bunch of rocks in the way down there?!" Buckshot yelled above the din of the lava-boat's motor.

"I think there may be room to squeeze the craft between them!" Pestilence yelled back. "If not, er, we'll just have to do a really quick 180. Try not to get thrown from the boat when I do it."

And, as they rocketed down the tunnel, the dislodged rocks half-immersed in the lava flow still looming ahead, something small buried in the tunnel ceiling went from blinking red to solid red. Pestilence cocked her head, picking up on that long, loud meep even above her companions' words and the sound of the motor. And as they passed beneath it, the buried explosive detonated, and, propelled by an expanding cloud of gas and heat, heavy boulders and long, wickedly sharp stalactites plummeted towards them.


END OF EPISODE TWO


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: The Magma Creatures
PostPosted: Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:27 am 

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THE MAGMA CREATURES

EPISODE THREE


Pestilence pushed the lava-boat's throttle forward and stared intensely ahead, hoping against all odds that one last burst of acceleration might outrun both the ballooning cloud of fire and the shower of debris from the collapsing rocks overhead. Lava parted and rippled in fans away from the prow of the boat in molten sheets as the extra-extra-shielded plates cut through. Buckshot was clutching at the railing, yelling something that couldn't be heard above the explosion. Calamari was in one of the seats, hands above her head, optics shut tightly. Pestilence looked at her friends, as though for one last glance, and then ahead, where a wall of collapsed rocks had shut off the tunnel. Even if they outran the explosion, they'd be caught in the blast or rammed to pieces against that obstruction.

Then, something caught hold of the underside of the ship and Pestilence fell forward, barely catching herself on the driving console. She looked over the rail of the boat, startled, expecting that the ship had run against the side of the tunnel or on some submerged rocks- and saw a pair of glowing hands clutching at the hull. She winced, wondering to herself at how often things seemed to go from bad to worse. Either be swallowed up by an explosion and ceiling collapse, or eaten alive by lava monsters...she looked behind herself and her expression changed from rueful to astonished.

More of those creatures were rising from the river, forming out of it like clay figurines being pushed upwards through a grate. They turned their single eyes towards the rushing explosion and seemed to all mold together, linking hands and letting their outer layer of cooled rock heat and coalesce and merge. They formed a barrier burning white-hot at its core, and Pestilence shielded her optics as she stared. The explosion racing through the tunnel caught up to them- and the wall of Magmen shuddered against it...and held. Flames licked over their heads and were swallowed up, and what rocks hadn't already dropped into the Red River were absorbed into the creatures' molten mass. Buckshot gaped, mouth hanging open, and Calamari just looked from them to Pestilence, hands spread questioningly. The small lava-boat bumped and rocked beneath them, and they realized it was still being carried forward, closer to the tunnel obstruction. And just when it seemed they would run into it, the Magmen toting the boat and helping it along eased it through a wide crevice emerging from a great crack in the tunnel wall, and through a dark side canal.

"Did you see that? They just gulped up the explosion!" Buckshot whispered, crawling forward towards Pestilence and Calamari. They saw each other in the darkness via the glow of the thin canal of lava beneath them, and the bright, blinking eyes of the creatures. The protective wall of Magmen had melted down back into the river and was reforming into separate men, who followed the eerie, silent procession.

"Why would they do that? Don't they, like, hate us? I mean, they attacked that last lava-boat we were on-" Calamari started to say, and then let out a yelp. One of the Magmen was now climbing up over the rail. Pestilence, who was still slumped against the driving console, got to her feet quickly. Buckshot and Calamari stood up as well, staring at him. He regarded them quietly, blinking his single eye once or twice, and looked past them at the lava-boat's engine at the aft. There was a half-canister of puffer-gas in it, the volatile substance swirling around in the chamber. The creature took a couple of tottering steps towards it.

"Don't interfere. Let him have it," Pestilence directed her friends, placing a hand on Buckshot's chest to stop him from stepping forward to the creature or trying to punch him again.

The lava creature looked at them, and then walked past them towards the engine of the boat. It reached out one glowing orange hand, this limb slowly cooling itself and forming a protective outer brown layer of rock, and pulled out the canister of puffer-gas. Immediately Pestilence saw the small boat's fuel gauge start to flash, and a little warning of it going into auxiliary power. The creature turned the canister over in its hands, staring down at it, and then tossed it over the rail and into the canal. It hit the lava and exploded, the cloud of expanding gas quickly swallowed up by the Magmen marching through the river behind them. With that done, the lone lava creature on the boat turned to look at them.

"You've saved our lives," Pestilence told him. "Can you communicate with us?"

He blinked his eye again. He had no mouth, and his hands just hung at his sides. He stared for a moment, and then with some effort, created a mouth and something approximating a tongue. He opened the cooled-brown surface of his jaw a couple of times experimentally, and then:

"Wwweee...will...speak."

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

Axel didn't pace, didn't clench his fists, nor make any other sign in his body language that any conversation out of the ordinary was taking place on his private, encrypted command communicator. The only thing that Luceria could see was a slight furrowing of his brow as he stood in the corner of one of the power plant's offices. She could see him through the window. He'd spoken at length to Pharus and his second in command Upshot, then gone into that office for a communicator conversation. Luceria edged closer to the door, pushing it open just slightly.

"Eagle leader, fixer one here," Axel's comm buzzed. Luceria held her breath, listening carefully.

"Go ahead, fixer one."

"We've lost the Cybertronians. Motion sensor detects movement of the boat is continuing, though not on any area showing up on our map. Probably an uncharted tunnel. We'll have to find another boat before we can attempt pursuit."

"That...is unfortunate," Axel said, very carefully keeping the tone of his voice in check. Luceria was no judge of Cybertronian mannerisms, but she could pick up on the way his shoulders hunched a little, and the faint uneven pitch of his voice. He was fuming.

"For the sake of your careers in the service, gentlemen, I hope you'll tell me you left the tracer on in that boat."

"Yes, sir," came the quick response.

"All right. All right. I can't risk losing two good- well, two mediocre men in unmapped tunnels," Axel continued, one hand moving distractedly up and down along one of the desks nearby him. "And other members of the crew would question you being absent for much longer. You'll return to the ship and begin tracking from there. If you can't find another boat where you are, you'll just have to risk surface travel. Eagle leader out."

He started to turn, and Luceria quickly took a few steps away from the door, moving behind one of the un-windowed walls. Axel took a few steps back and forth, frown deepened, trying to think things over- when his gaze settled on the door. It was still open a few inches, when he certainly remembered shutting it. He took a step towards the door, a suspicious look on his face- when the door was pushed open wide by Upshot.

"Back from the Paragon already?" Axel demanded.

"The council passed a majority vote to serve arrest warrants on probable cause for their Predacon workers. I was called back to assist in rounding them up," Upshot said. From outside the office, Luceria mouthed a 'they did what?' to herself. She hadn't been in on that quick assembly.

"Then I'll help you to do so," Axel said, keying off his communicator and heading out the door.

"It seems a little excessive," Upshot said as he followed his superior officer. "I'm not sure that there's enough here to go on. But we have to abide by the local ruling body's laws, and so I've sent men out to find the workers. Most are coming quietly. A couple have been more difficult- I've had to speak to a couple of lieutenants about their rash treatment of these civilians. And there's a handful that we haven't found yet."

"We'll step up the search. They're not threatening anyone else," Axel said firmly.

"Another thing, sir- the council also agreed that, with the damage of the turbine and the loss of resources- they can't spare any additional puffer-gas to pay us. I told them the rate you'd already agreed on would be-"

"They just now decide to cut us off at the knees when we're the ones protecting them?!" Axel repeated, and Upshot looked at him with surprise. "What do they think is going to happen with these Predacon workers on the loose? More theft, and more destruction!"

"They felt that they may need to ration, with the magma creatures attacking their boats and untrustworthy workers in their cities," Upshot replied. "Again, even if I disagreed with the decision, it is their city."

"Yes...quite right. I'm a little stressed. We'll do things their way," Axel said, and let a weary smile flash across his handsome features. Upshot looked convinced, but Luceria wasn't. Not at all. "We'll agree to step up guard on their stockpile if they require it."

"By the way, I couldn't find Jetspark or Dynamo at their stations in Ops," Upshot mentioned just as Axel was turning away.

"Surveying on the surface. They should be back at the ship before much longer," Axel replied so easily and naturally that Luceria had to admire it. Those had to be the two he'd been talking to on the communicator. She watched him walk towards the main door of the power plant, Upshot alongside him, just as the doors were thrown open by a harried young lieutenant.

"Captain! Commander! We're going to need your help, one of the workers is barricaded in his house. He's resisting arrest and he's wounded a couple of ensigns and a few Anvites. It's that big one, Thresher."

"We'll handle it," Axel said, a stern expression on his face, and hurried out the door with Upshot and the young lieutenant. Luceria waited a few minutes, then followed.

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

For a moment, all the three Cybertronians could do was stare at the lone spokesman magma creature. The small lava-boat continued to move beneath their feet, rocking gently as it was carried through the dark and narrow canal.

"Holy crap, the Magmen can talk," Buckshot said faintly.

"You can speak! That's incredible, you just formed a mouth by thinking of it?" Pestilence asked with delight.

"It...was...learned," the creature said carefully, still tripping over his words a little, having to dole them out in fragments. "We have listened...to words...since we were born in the rivers."

"Then the experiments at Quartzton created you, summoned you to them? The river of magma that destroyed the town?" Pestilence asked.

The creature blinked his eye and considered a moment.

"Yes. That is right. We existed not in this form before that time, and were...called."

"What do you mean, you existed not in this form?" Buckshot asked.

"Pieces of what we are...exist in the flows of the lava. It was such for generations. We were...I do not have the word."

"Microscopic organisms?" Pestilence tried. "Amoebic life? Silicon-based building blocks from which your current bipedal state would evolve?"

"We existed not in this form," he repeated. "But when the people started the experiments...it created a signal throughout the rivers. We started to divide, and the divisions...multiplied, and we learned. We learned...very quickly. We thought of shape. We thought of movement. We listened, and we...copied."

"Then you don't have a civilization? Or a home? You came from the lava flow itself, catalyzed by the Quartzton experiments? This signal, it must've vastly accelerated your evolutionary speed! Or, induced notions of self-metamorphosis you simply hadn't considered in your previous form," Pestilence rattled off, looking at them with pure scientific fascination. "What is your societal structure? Do you have a name?"

The creature considered this.

"That one called us 'Magmen'. That name will serve."

"Magmen? ...BUCKY!" Pestilence turned to look at her companion with a severe frown. "That's just great, really good! A brand-new species evolves from the lava itself, taking its first step to coexistence with other sentient beings, and you -curse- them with your goofy name!"

"Hey, I didn't make them pick it," Buckshot said, holding up his hands placatingly- yet grinning. "I named a new species? I'm like an exo-crypto-anthropologist!"

"Ugh," Pestilence rolled her optics, then turned back to the lead creature. "Well, I welcome you all the same. I'm Pestilence, a traveler through time and space from a another world. These are my friends, Buckshot and Calamari."

"Yes, we know those are your names," the Magman said. "We have heard your introductions to the people of Dug Deep."

"How'd you hear that?" Calamari asked.

"We are...of one mind. Many voices merging together, like many different types of rocks creating the flow of the lava," the Magman said. "When we are not as we are now, we return...return to the lava that birthed us. There we hear all that is near us, from everywhere that we flow."

"...You hear everything everyone says nearby one of the rivers?" Calamari said, optics widening. "Talk about, like, paranoia fuel."

"Then...do you know what happened to Quartzton? Or about the explosives being prepared in the tunnel, the ones you saved us from?" Pestilence asked.

"Yes...Quartzton," the Magman said. He had a stoic face, the one glowing eye barely registering any emotion, and yet Pestilence swore she could pick up on sadness in his tone. "The signal...overwhelmed us. We converged, and created what we are now, and we felt lives being extinguished before our travel. We were...disturbed by this. It was not our wish."

"Then you had no control over the influx of information, the new imperatives in your mind," Pestilence said.

"We had not. But we saw that not all were lost. More beings...the soldiers. They had a ship on the great lift, smaller than the one in which they...arrived. As lives were lost in our depths, we saw that they were not helping those who fled. They went to a building above our flow, and there they left with the gas of the puffing creatures."

"Son of a bitch," Buckshot said with anger, and Pestilence's optics narrowed. Calamari clenched her fists a little at her side.

"In our confusion of our new being, we could not help. We could only...consume, unwillingly, lives lost to our fires. And we returned to the rivers, and we thought. We had no wish for it to happen again, and we knew that the puffer-gas brought this...change upon us. And then we heard from the river's the plan of the soldiers' leader."

"You heard his plans? The whole thing?" Buckshot demanded.

"...We heard what we heard. We know not if it is a whole thing," the Magman said honestly. "He wants more of the gas. It is...important. And if he wants it, then we must not let it be taken. He will help the experiments again, and create the signal again, and drive us to whence the signal comes."

"Wait a moment," Pestilence cut in. "Help the experiments again? Then Axel...the leader of the soldiers...he had a part in the Quartzton experiments?"

"It was...a way to make it more potent, we heard. We do not think he knew we would be created as we are by the signal. He fled...and sent trusted men to take what he wanted from the town before it would be ruined. He is dangerous to us, and to you. We have gone to boats, and we had not yet known of your speech- we took the gas, so he might not have it."

"Yeah, but in you taking the gas you might've hurt a lot more people, and screwed them out of fuel for their towns," Buckshot said.

"We have not taken another life since Quartzton," the Magman said, optic blinking twice rapidly as if that was their version of a shake of the head. "And we have no wish to...interfere in their lives. We will live separately, and keep watch over them so they will not be extinguished again. We need only wait until Axel leaves."

"I don't think he'll leave without getting what he wants. In fact...I think I know what the explosives are for. On such a distant colonial world as Castor's Anvil, with towns so cut off in contact from one another, a destructive overflow of lava can be a neat destroyer of evidence," Pestilence said. "He didn't plan for you to come flowing through Quartzton, but he certainly took steps to make sure he benefited from it. And it gave him an idea. Enough explosives...well...you may live in the lava, but do you control where it goes?"

"We do not. A violent upheaval would bring many of us unwillingly. More lives lost to the fires," the Magman said, eye widening.

"If he doesn't get all the puffer-gas he wants...who would know? It'd be months before anyone heard of it. And him long gone," Pestilence said, rubbing her chin. "But the attempted sabotage of the power plant? A cover-up of his men stealing gas?"

"And framing the local Predacon workers in the process," Buckshot said, an ugly scowl on his face. "The explosives along the river, that's a backup plan. Getting to capture and convict every Predacon in Dug Deep...that's serving justice. He'd do it. Oh, I know he'd do it. Show everyone the Preds getting what they deserve. The bastard."

"We have to get back to Dug Deep and tell everyone. We have the testimony of...of...oh, spacedust, they wouldn't accept your testimony, would they?" Pestilence asked, looking at the Magman, who regarded her with stony detachment. "They're terrified of you. They don't know what's in your mind and, quite honestly, the string of unexplained sieges on lava-boats hauling puffer-gas hasn't made you look very friendly. Axel could spin the whole thing. And if he decides to just blow the explosives and leave- we need proof, and we need to keep Axel thinking he's got everything in hand so that he won't go for that last trump card. Can you take this boat back to Dug Deep?"

"The canal will bring you...near to it. In a few hours," the Magman said. He walked over to the rail of the boat and, like pushing a big lump of gelatin over the edge of a bowl, simply coalesced into more lava and ran down the smooth side and into the river, where he joined the masses of Magmen pushing the vessel along.

"So how are we going to do this?" Buckshot asked, raring and ready to go after Axel.

"With one of my most brilliant plans yet. As soon as I think one up," Pestilence said, leaning against the ship rail and staring down the canal with a look of determination.

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

Axel, Upshot, and the young lieutenant arrived at Thresher's house to find a confused flurry of activity. They'd made their way uphill to one of the small box-like houses built into the cavern walls of Dug Deep, and saw Anvites armed with batons and stun-guns arrayed around the outside of the house. There were Maximal soldiers leveling pulse rifles at the front door, and a couple more besides on one of the catwalks from neighborhood to neighborhood that stretched overhead. There were indeed a couple of wounded soldiers, one holding onto a deep scratch raked across his chest, the other with a hand above part of his face that had been dented in somewhat. Superficial damage for a Cybertronian, but galling nonetheless. An Anvite doctor was tending to a couple of the lawmen, who'd been put down with bruises and scratches- apparently, Thresher had held back on them but not on the soldiers.

"All this for one Predacon?" Upshot asked with disbelief. "How tough can this guy be?"

"You haven't fought against them. I've seen what one is capable of when he's backed up against a wall. What more proof can the council need of his guilt?" Axel asked, looking concerned and vindicated at the same time. He moved towards the front of the line, while Luceria hung back near a crowd of worker Anvites watching.

"Thresher! You are hereby charged with assaulting officers of the Maximal army, resisting arrest, and oh yes- theft of puffer-gas and sabotage of vital Dug Deep machinery!" Axel called, hammering his fist on the front door. There was what looked like a mine-cart wedged against it from the other side, resisting any attempts to push the door open.

"I fought in self-defense!" Thresher called back through the door. "Soldiers have been rounding up innocent Predacon workers and I saw a couple of them getting hit if they fought back! You think I don't know what you people are doing? Lining us up for trial and execution!"

"That's ridiculous," Axel said smoothly, a faint trace of a smirk on his face, unseen by the other spectators. "You're making it harder on yourself. Come along quietly and we can get all of this sorted out. If you can prove your whereabouts on the night of the theft and sabotage, you'll be cleared of that much, at least."

"I do tunneling jobs for other cities! I was cutting a tunnel that night!"

"Funny, because we've asked around, and of all the tunneling 'bots in their employ, the mining company has no record of you working that night," Axel said, loud enough for his voice to carry. Murmurs and questions traveled among the crowd of spectators.

Thresher paused for a moment.

"...The records should have my name in there...look, it's some kind of mixup, but that's not enough to convict me on! Get lost, soldier boy, I got my rights!"

"Your rights are what I say they are..." Axel murmured, face contorting briefly with anger, before he lashed out a sudden kick. The thick front door bent and swayed inward slightly, the mine-cart dragging against the floor. Thresher, who'd been pacing the living room of his house, moved towards the door quickly...but Axel was quicker. With one more speedy kick, the door was flung open, the mine cart sliding along the floor with a squeal of sparks, and Axel was inside. Thresher flung out a beefy arm, one of those wickedly sharp tunnel-cutting blades extending, and Axel- so fast!- sidestepped it and delivered a fierce punch to the Predacon's midsection. He moved with the blow, wincing, and brought his other blade swinging around. Axel ducked to avoid it, briefly adopting a martial arts stance, and caught the taller and bulkier Predacon with a series of sharp punches and knee-strikes. He flung out a palm, putting extra power into the blow with hydraulics hidden in his arm, and Thresher smashed back against the wall. He got to his knees, glaring up at Axel, looking ready and more than willing to go several more rounds- but the door was pushed open again and soldiers were on him, pulse rifles at the ready.

"Get him to the Paragon. I want him in one of the solitary confinement cells on brig level. Maximum security," Axel ordered. Thresher raised his hands, defeated, blades sliding back into his wrist gauntlets. The soldiers tagged him with an inhibitor bolt and dragged him off. Axel took a moment to adjust himself, frowning, and walked back outside with his head held high. He was met with thunderous applause from the crowd. He smiled brilliantly, heroically, and waved back.

The crowd started to disperse as Thresher, glaring balefully around, was walked away by soldiers. Upshot went with them, punching in official records of detainment on a datapad, and Luceria stood by a moment. She saw Axel through the open door- he was studying the inside of Thresher's house. There were spare tunnel-cutter blades mounted on the wall on a rack. He looked at these for a moment, seeming to consider them, then walked out and after his men, passing by Luceria with barely a glance.

Luceria watched him leave, then quickly ducked inside Thresher's house before anyone could see her. Her shoes trod over the scratches dug into the floor by the mine-cart's skid, and she looked up at the blades mounted on the wall. She had some tools in her pockets- she reached into her coat, drawing a tiny sharp blade and a specimen jar. She whittled it back and forth along one of the blades, filing bits of metal from it, and tipped them into the jar. She pocketed the vial and left, making sure not to be seen by any soldiers. She needed to get in touch with Pestilence, and soon.

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

It was over two hours later when Luceria had finally decided to try entering the Paragon. Attempts to raise Pestilence on the communicator left in her coat had met with no success, and Luceria had spent time poring over the hydroelectric plant and checking some leads. She had only vague theories and the belief that this must all be a misunderstanding. Axel had seemed so virtuous and noble, to think that he was manipulating events to some personal gain seemed contrary to everything the Maximals were about. Of course, many Anvites admired the few Cybertronians they saw, admired their abilities, their strength, and their superior thinking power, but that was before the undercurrent of anti-Predacon sentiment growing among them. Which, Luceria reflected, hadn't existed before Axel came along...

She walked through the brightly lit and spotlessly clean corridors of the Paragon, occasionally passing a crewman who would do little more than nod or offer a perfunctory greeting. As a member of the governing council of Dug Deep, she was authorized access to the ship to participate in the upcoming trials of the arrested Predacons. Therefore, she faced little questioning and no resistance on her way through the expansive but sparsely manned vessel. That was good. Luceria couldn't risk Axel putting on a sham trial and getting away with convictions of innocent 'bots- and with no ability to contact Pestilence, that left her to try and do...something.

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

Axel sat at the desk of his ready room, giving only cursory glances to Upshot's report. The wolf was young, idealistic, paid meticulous attention to procedure and regulations. He'd make a fine member of Axel's inner circle of truly dedicated Maximals, when the time was right. He set the datapad down, turning to punch some information into the small computer mounted on his desktop, when his private communicator beeped in his ear.

"Fixer two to eagle leader."

"Eagle leader here," Axel said, optics sharpening as he sat up straighter, keying on his communicator. "Where are you? Report."

"We're on our way up the main lift inside the ship now, sir. We were able to find another lava-boat. We finished placing the rest of the items in the tunnel and are now heading to Ops to track the stolen boat."

"That's what I like to hear," Axel said smoothly, running a hand along his forehead as he leaned back in his chair. "Call me back when you've got results. I want a pinpoint location, and I don't care how much interference these tunnels give you. Eagle leader out."

He keyed off his communicator, a distracted but faintly satisfied smile crossing his handsome features, and looked up as a chime sounded at his door. He called for whoever it was to enter- and gave only the best of nonchalant poker face smiles as he saw Luceria come carefully stepping through the much larger door.

"Captain Axel," she said, inclining her crystal-maned head.

"Luceria, isn't it? One of the council. You're certainly here early enough, we're still processing the prisoners and sorting out the really dangerous ones from the only mildly dangerous ones," Axel said, rising from his seat and offering a hand to her. She shook it briefly, and at his gesture, sat down in the smaller, less luxurious seat on the other side of his desk.

"Is there really enough to go on here? You've got rotor damage from tunnel-carving blades, and puffer-gas theft, but even if that incriminates one of the workers, what about the nearly dozen others? What've they got to do with it?" she asked.

"Ah, you just aren't fully aware of the Predacon mindset," Axel said with a slight and respectful nod of his head. "I've had to face them down more than once, and I can tell you this- they are all, each of them, far too cowardly to act alone. They roam in groups, packs, and it's quite probable that if one perpetrated this crime, then the rest were complicit or had knowledge of it. Now, I don't claim to be intimately familiar with Anvite law- though I've been studying on it- but under colonial laws, a sabotage of vital machinery is cause for exile, and accessory to that is same. I have just the exile in mind. Cocytus."

"The ice planet?" Luceria repeated, aghast. "The prisons there are lawless, run by madmen!"

"Lawlessness and insanity, I'm sure it'll feel just like home to them," Axel said. "You want to believe they're innocent, and I sympathize. But your community took them in without fully realizing the danger they represented. I'm left with the unfortunate duty of sorting them out- all by the books of the council, of course."

Axel swiveled slightly in his chair towards his computer, considering what was on it, and gave Luceria a handsome smile.

"Did you come here just to make an appeal for them? You'll have the actual trial to do so, and I am -quite- busy..."

Luceria took a deep breath. Past this point, there was no going back.

"Tritanium," she said.

"...Sorry?" Axel asked, looking oddly at her.

"Tritanium. That's the alloy that Predacon blades are often manufactured from, isn't it? In the outer colonies, anyway. It's strong enough to carve through solid rock. You said that the cuts and gouges on the rotor assembly would have bits of tritanium in them."

"Yes, and-?"

"This is a sample of true tritanium alloy. I took it from one of Thresher's spare wrist blades at his house," Luceria said, holding up the vial of metal filings before slipping it back in her coat. "He forges them himself. Predacons don't like to replicate tritanium blades for some reason. I think I know the reason."

"Oh?" Axel asked. He was looking right at her now.

"Replicators- like the ones on this ship- have difficulty matching the exact molecular structure of tritanium. It comes out nearly as strong, but with a different structure, some changes in melting point, all sorts of things that would be picked up by a microscopic comparison. The Maximal-replicated metal is closer to dualonium, which is very close- but different. To a scientist who knows what he's looking for, it's different. When you detonated those mines, some of those rotor blades that were almost sheared off in the sabotage were dislodged completely and blown apart. I found a big chunk lodged in the lower floor above the reservoir. Took me a while to pull that blade up out of the floor, but I checked the damaged part. Dualonium. Maximal-replicated dualonium."

"It's an interesting coincidence, but it's quite possible that the blades were created at another city with Maximal-issue replicators. The technology's not uncommon," Axel said smoothly, a slight smile on his face, though he was staring at her.

"Actually, most cities on Castor's Anvil don't have that level of technology. Another thing we don't have in most Anvite cities- lava-boats with trackers. ...I heard your conversation in the plant."

At that Axel's stare intensified and he sat upright a little.

"You didn't drop those mines as a precaution against the magma creatures. You dropped them to wipe out Pestilence and her friends. They made it out, they got to where two of your men where, for some reason, using a lava-boat, and they made off with it. Why would they do that? And why would you put a Maximal army tracer on a boat that was not requisitioned at any dock in Dug Deep?"

"They attacked my men, and stole the boat they were using for-"

"For what? What possible reason? To track magma creatures? What 'items' were your men placing? Why didn't they just bring the other Cybertronians back here when they approached them? They're certainly not dangerous, they volunteered to check the turbines for damage in the first place!" Luceria said, her voice picking up volume as she rattled off her questions.

"You're a little confused," Axel said, one hand now gripping the edge of his desk very firmly. "If you'd just take a moment to listen to reason-"

"I've got a lot of things to check on, but Pestilence commed me just to tell me to keep an eye on you. And I've got a theory that you're manipulating all of this. And if you don't turn yourself over to full investigation alongside those Predacons-" Luceria said, getting up from her seat.

"I can't do that. You're placing me in a difficult position-"

"Then I'll just have to tell the rest of the council. And we're sending out boats to find those three Cybertronians and get -their- side of the story!" Luceria said, and turned towards the door. Axel quickly ran a hand over to a button on the underside of his desk and the door emitted a harsh buzz, failing to open before Luceria. She pushed the button on the side of it twice, frowning, and nudged against it. She turned back to face Axel, who had his palms spread as if it were all a huge mistake.

"You've gotten entirely the wrong idea in your head. And I can't allow you to, to incite dissent among the council when I've worked this long to-"

"Let me out."

"Not until we've cleared this up."

"I'll scream."

At that, Axel sighed a little, and looked back up a harsh gaze and cruel smile.

"This room is entirely soundproofed, Luceria. I've had to bring unruly prisoners into here before. Now sit. Down."

Luceria fumbled in her coat for a moment before pulling out a gun, a small six-shooter of Anvite design. She leveled it at Axel, and he regarded it with a frown.

"Soundproofed, huh? Then n-no one will hear me p-put a shot between your eyes," she said, stammering slightly.

Axel watched the gun intently for a second, opening his mouth to speak- then sprang forward, vaulting over the smooth desk top and sending the monitor and datapad crashing to the floor. She fired a shot and the round barely grazed his shoulder. She was no soldier or lawman, her aim mediocre at best, and with her sudden fright the second shot went wide. Axel was on her in a second, and snatching the six-shooter away. He grabbed her by the arm and spun her away- she crashed into the desk and crumpled to the floor, gasping. He turned the six-shooter over in his hands, scowling, and with a compression of his metallic fist the weapon was reduced to a chunk of broken scrap in his palm. He let it drop.

"You are really not listening to reason here," he said, voice lifting a little as Luceria stared up at him. "You Anvites, you've been so cooperative to this point, but there always has to be the lone dissenter, the little non-conformist, the pain in my...Don't you get it?! I've been trying to help you people, from day one! And all I've asked in return is very little! Fuel for my ship! Food for my crew! Easy requests to grant, but no, you people live and work alongside thieves and murderers, you've been corrupted, and I...I can't...I have to fight this, don't you see that?"

Luceria held a hand to her side, staring up at him. As Axel spoke, losing more and more of his composure, he seemed to be rationalizing something to himself.

"If we allow- the enemy- even an inch of compromise, it could all happen again. Cybertron destroyed again! And it's up to me to gather the remnants and you, you'd bring it all crashing down for THEM?! I can't allow it. I won't allow it," Axel said, and reached for a hidden panel on the room of his ready room wall. With a tap it slid open, and he drew a long and fierce-looking wrist blade. Luceria gasped.

"Oh yes. Dualonium. Best I could do without the ability to steal a tritanium blade on short notice. Anvites are far too dense to know the difference, but one smart one in the bunch..." Axel said, pacing faster now, swinging it from side to side. "I'm truly sorry, but you were given chance and chance again to listen to reason, and I can't allow- no! No, you don't! Not now! Too late!"

Luceria had tried to duck past him and run for the door, hoping that she might be able to throw herself against it and bust it down. Axel grabbed at her mane of crystalline hair, metal palms skidding along the formations, and she threw an elbow against his chest. She beat a fist against the door, trying to side-step him, and looked desperately at the desk. Maybe the controls were there. She lunged for it, but Axel was grabbing her midsection, pulling her away. She fought, she hit him again and again, but he was taller, stronger, faster- and it was over quickly. With quick, brutal precision, Axel inflicted cut after cut, and soon it was over. He stood above her body, gazing with wide optics down at her. He let the soaked wrist-blade drop, and walked unsteadily to his desk. He keyed his communicator.

"Jetspark. Dynamo. I need the two of you in my ready room, immediately." he said, his voice resuming its normal, mellow tone.

After a few minutes spent contemplating the corpse, Axel's musings were interrupted as the door buzzed. He reached under the desk, unlocking the door, and his two 'initiated' soldiers walked into the room. One was a tall and fierce-looking rhino beast mode 'bot, the other a thick-bodied bull. They stared down at the body, then back to him.

"We were having a conversation about the upcoming trial when she pulled that gun on me. I was forced to defend myself with the nearest weapon available," Axel said, replicating a small towel and rubbing the droplets of blood from his face and limbs. "Is that understood, gentlemen?"

"Perfectly, Captain," Jetspark said after only a moment's pause.

"Self defense, sir," Dynamo agreed.

"The tracer. You've been working on it?" Axel asked, continuing to stare at Luceria's body.

"Normally these tunnels play hell with radar, sir, but with our tracer on the boat we could use it as a remote radar source of its own. They're almost back to Dug Deep now- the canals apparently wind around the long way and take them to the southern shore. Two Predacon signals, one Maximal signal, and a lot of unusual motion around the boat itself," Dynamo said, occasionally glancing at the body throughout his report.

"You have its location exactly? And it's nearly back here?" Axel asked. They nodded. "All right...I'm releasing the command lock-out on ship transporters. I want two transports immediately."

"Captain, you said the amount of energy and fuel expended by the transporter-" Jetspark started to say.

"I am aware of that!" Axel interrupted, almost shouted. "Just listen! Target this body and every single particle of its blood, tight-beam transport, and put it somewhere in Dug Deep with no life signs around. And then target Thresher and transport him from his cell directly to the lava-boat the other three are on. Take this blade, be damn sure no crewman sees it, and destroy the door to his cell when I tell you to. I want a fake trail of destruction leading right off this ship and you'll be the two to sound the alarm."

"Yes, Captain," Dynamo said promptly.

"Aye, sir," Jetspark said.

Axel nodded once and they hurried from the room. A short time later, as Axel watched, the body started to glow with bright blue light and then vanish, leaving behind a spotless floor. He nodded a little, and started about tidying up his ready room.

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

"Are we almost back to Dug Deep?" Calamari asked as the small lava-boat bumped and rocked over the magma flow. The narrow, pitch-black canal had gradually twisted its way around, and, after following a tight squeeze through another crevice in the rock, was now widening into a longer tunnel. Throughout the boat's long and circuitous travels, the Magmen had been silently helping it along, without any further communication with their passengers.

"According to the navigational console, we're very nearly there. Somehow they tunneled around the Quartzton obstruction and popped clear out the other side," Pestilence said, gazing down at the controls. No need to work them with the Magmen carrying the boat, and she had a theory the engines had been damaged by the tunnel explosion.

"What do we do when we get there?" Buckshot asked.

"We'll need to present all the facts and evidence we can gather to-" Pestilence's reply was cut short by a sudden high-pitch beeping from the hold. She spun around, expecting some kind of remote self-destruct device, and saw a glowing blue silhouette materializing on the deck. Buckshot had his fists raised, Calamari was backing up, and then the big Predacon miner, Thresher, was standing before them. His optics were glazed and unfocused, and he had an inhibitor bolt on his neck.

"What the-?!" Buckshot exclaimed. Thresher took a couple of lumbering steps towards them, and hit the deck face-first. Pestilence was immediately kneeling by his side, running her multi-tool over him.

"What happened to him?" Calamari asked.

"He's been hit by a very nasty stun-bolt. I don't know how they managed a transporter, but he needs immediate repair. My gear's back in the hydroelectric plant," she said. Before the others could reply, the lava-boat's prow was gently rocked to a halt. They were at the shore of the Red River. They could see, not far off, a great crowd of Anvites at the bottom of the cavern, standing before the doors of the plant. And they could hear, amplified, Axel's voice.

"This won't be good," Buckshot murmured, and leaned over the rail of the lava-boat to listen. He knew the two femmes were listening from where they knelt by Thresher, and the Magmen were of course silently observing as they stood half-formed within the river. Even through the PA system, Axel's voice was faint, but they heard it.

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

Axel leaned against the podium, hands tightly grasping its sides. He'd amplified his voice as much as he could, and the mounted microphone was sending his voice out further to the entire crowd of Dug Deep villagers. He looked at them with sadness as the entire Anvite council of the city stood just beside him.

"Yes, the rumors are true," Axel said. "Luceria- a respected member of the council- was found dead just one hour ago. I have my men poring over the crime scene for every clue, any possible explanation other than the most frighteningly dire one- that she was slain by one of your Predacon workers."

At this, there were shocked mutters and open stares from the Anvites. Axel nodded, a bleak expression on his face.

"I owe all of you an apology. I had underestimated the threat these workers represented, and the most dangerous one- whom some of you witnessed being arrested earlier today- escaped his cell in solitary confinement, destroyed the security cameras and force field emitters in the corridor, and made his escape on foot. We believe he was heading for a rendezvous with a small assortment of other Cybertronians who stole a lava-boat sometime last night."

"Who are these Cybertronians?" an Anvite in the crowd spoke up.

"Pestilence, Buckshot, Calamari. They seemed harmless, and in fact eager to help. But it's a sad fact that sometimes the helping hand conceals a dagger, and those we view as harmless can be most dangerous of all. Two Predacons and a Maximal civilian. They are now harboring a fugitive from justice, a murderer gone free, and must be apprehended."

"Does the council agree to this?" another Anvite demanded.

"We have," Pharus said, briefly taking the microphone. "The fees have been negotiated, and full authorization given. Until this threat is contained, Dug Deep is under jurisdiction of the Maximal Army."

"A sad state of affairs. I pledge I will devote every waking moment and every ounce of strength to making certain that no Anvite is ever harmed again," Axel swore to the crowd. "Know this: My men are patrolling the streets. They are armed with lethal weaponry. We are deputizing capable Anvites and arming them with stun-weaponry. Any Cybertronian we see who is not of the Maximal army is to be arrested on sight."

He paused, and a ghost of a smile flickered over his face, imperceptible to the crowd.

"If they resist, they will be killed."


END OF EPISODE THREE


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: The Magma Creatures
PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 10:31 pm 

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THE MAGMA CREATURES

EPISODE FOUR



Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari looked at one another with stunned expressions as Axel's speech blared out to the assembled crowd, audible even as far away as the Red River shore. Thresher reached a struggling hand toward the rail of the small lava-boat, tried to pull himself up, then just sat against the rail. The Magmen had mostly absorbed themselves back into the river by now, save a few who were still bobbing just head and shoulders out of the magma and were staring down the cavern.

"Luceria's dead?" Calamari repeated.

"They mean to say that this guy killed her...?" Buckshot asked, gesturing towards the stunned Thresher. Pestilence's expression had slowly turned from incredulous to furious, and at Buckshot's question, she turned towards the hold of the ship and took short, striding steps towards it.

"He did not kill her. It's too easy, too convenient for Axel's plans. Just how did a supposed 'escaped murderer' get to be transported onto our stolen ship?!" she snapped, and started to rummage around in the small hold, working quickly, throwing aside crates and gear. She bent down and pulled a small blinking device, barely the size of a cellular phone, from the wall. She looked at it for a moment, punched in a code experimentally, and the blinking stopped. She stood up and showed it to her companions.

"This is nowhere near Anvite technology. A Cybertronian-design tracker, meant to relay the location of any vessel it's attached to, to within three meters' accuracy. I wasn't sure whether Axel's ship had functioning transporters, and knew they couldn't have transported through all the subterranean interference even if they had, but with -this- little toy they can easily lock onto a distinct signal and use it to boost their own transporter technology! And that is why I'm stupid, stupid, stupid!"

She flung the device down with anger, where it bounced off the deck a couple of times. Calamari regarded her with surprise and alarm.

"Pest, you are so not stupid-"

"I got a woman killed because I told her to keep an eye on a man whom I've severely underestimated," Pestilence said, fists clenched. "I just know he did it, or had one of his men do it! He won't get away with it!"

Buckshot bent down, picking up the tracker, and looked like he was sorely tempted to crush it in his hand. And then he cocked his head, looking askance at the other two.

"If he's got a tracker that can pinpoint our ship, why not just beam us right into his brig?" he asked.

"Raises too many questions as to where we came from, how we knew where to transport us from, where he got the boat...he could've spun it, maybe, but I'm sure the idea of framing us seemed better. And the trackers are iffy, as I said- he could handle beaming Thresher here onto his rough idea of where the boat was, but locking onto us might've transported an angry Magman into his ship."

"How'd you turn it off? Wasn't it coded?" Buckshot asked.

"Oh, the code was the same as the mine's. I imagine it's so the grunts don't have to memorize more than one...code..." Pestilence trailed off, a thought occurring to her.

"But you only turned it off like ten seconds ago, they know where we are!" Calamari said, a panic-stricken expression crossing her face.

Pestilence looked anxiously down the cavern, at the distant assembly. They were too far away, hidden by buildings, to be spotted from the power-plant. And they could still make out Axel continuing to address the Anvites. But as soon as the assembly ended and he had a chance to get a location from his men...

"We have to get going. Right now. I need my gear from the plant if I'm to...to...give me that tracker, would you? It -might- come in handy," Pestilence said, before she took the deactivated device from Buckshot and stuffed it in a hip compartment.

"Okay, but with the inhibitor bolt, this guy's gonna be dead weight," Buckshot said, bending down to start hefting up the barely mobile Thresher.

"The bolt's easy. Watch," Pestilence said, briefly keying her multi-tool, before pointing it at the silvery bolt attached to Thresher's neck. It came off with a dimming beep, falling to the deck, and though he didn't rise to his feet right away, Thresher's optics brightened up and he started to fidget around. Buckshot picked him up, supporting him under his arms, and started to drag him across the deck. Calamari vaulted the rail and helped Buckshot pull Thresher down from the boat. Pestilence took a small ladder down the side, starting to run towards the buildings. She stopped, making a quick 180, and ran back to the Red River's shore. Axel's speech was finishing up.

"Magmen! Magmen?" she called, kneeling as close to the churning river of lava as she was able. An orange, black, and brown bubble rose before her, popped, and revealed what might've been the spokesman of before. He regarded her calmly.

"I can help you. I want to help you. If your people are truly a group mind, then while I'm speaking to you, I'm speaking to all of you, isn't that right?" Pestilence asked.

"That is correct," the Magman said slowly.

"I may need to pass on a message later, and I think I know how to make sure all of you hear it. And do me a favor, if you would- get rid of this boat. Push it, burn it, sink it, anything to make it disappear before the soldiers see it."

"We will do this," the Magman said, and Pestilence gave him a quick nod before turning and running back towards her friends. There were narrow spaces between the buildings, beneath the criss-crossing catwalks above, and through one of these alleys the trio of explorers carried the slowly recovering Thresher.

Magmen started to form from the lava, summoned by telepathic contact, and took hold of the small vessel. It was barely the size of a speedboat, light and quick, and easy to grab hold of. Searing-hot fingers dug into the ship's panels, pulling it down, joined by dozens and dozens more, until the aft of the ship started to sink into the lava, lava spilling onto the deck. The small boat slowly sank beneath the bubbling magma, part of the prow going up in flames, before disappearing beneath the flow. The Magmen followed it down, leaving behind no trace of the ship.

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

Axel walked away from the podium, smiling as reassuringly as he could as the Anvite workers and civilians dispersed, leaving behind only those who'd volunteered to be armed and help the Maximal army with their patrol. Axel smiled a little to himself- these were the sort of organics he could like. Naive, gullible, and compliant. Just the sort who knew what was best for them, and who they could rely on to help them.

He nodded at Jetspark and Dynamo as they approached.

"Report," he said.

"We kept a trace on the lava-boat's signal all the way up until it stopped right here, at the shores of Dug Deep," Jetspark said. "Shortly after transport of the Predacon, the tracking signal disappeared."

"They must've found the tracking bug and deactivated it somehow," Axel said with a slight frown. "But you said it was right here- give me the exact coordinates you had before the tracer was deactivated."

"Er...149.675," Dynamo said, taking a moment to recall the numbers.

"That's due north of here right at the shore bank. Come on," Axel said, turning and striding away from the power plant. The two Maximals followed him at a march, arming their pulse rifles. They'd made it a way up the city streets, Anvites making quite sure to stay out of their way, when Upshot caught up to them.

"Captain! I've got some data from the crime scene," the young officer said, hurrying to match Axel's stride.

"Crime scene?" Axel repeated, glancing distractedly at Upshot.

"Luceria's. I've been comparing the blade wounds from her body to the cuts in Thresher's cell door and walls, and at the destroyed security cameras and force field emitters. The blade type matches exactly."

"Of course. He had plenty of time to kill her before he barricaded himself in his house," Axel said briskly.

"I'd like to take a look at her to determine exact time of death, but Anvite physiology is unusual in its decomposition- and they have strict rules on allowing anyone aside from family to view the body."

"Well, you may not like it, Commander, but there are some rules of the culture even we must abide by," Axel said, smiling. "It's pretty open and shut."

"I am a little confused as to how Thresher managed to break open his cell door," Upshot said. "The inhibitor bolt should've impaired his blade-retraction as well as his strength."

"Faulty unit?" Jetspark suggested.

"Probably," Upshot said, though he looked a little unconvinced. He nodded to the trio of fellow officers, and went off down another path to continue with his investigation. Jetspark watched him leave, then turned to Axel.

"He's starting to sniff around, Captain," he said lowly.

"He's attentive, thorough, and committed to his duty. An ideal officer," Axel said calmly.

"Should he be in on this?" Dynamo asked.

"Upshot isn't quite ready for the inner circle. There's a few realities of our cause that he's not yet prepared for. But he will be, in time," Axel said just as they walked towards the shore of Dug Deep. He gazed at the churning molten river, and his slight frown deepened to a scowl.

"I suppose it was too much to hope they'd be dumb enough to leave the boat anchored right here with them aboard," he said. "I doubt they just moved on down the river. Not when they can try to 'stop' me. I want you two to interview every civilian who lives or works around the shore, and ask them if they've seen any boats here within the last hour. Keep trying to raise a signal on that tracer. I'll be giving descriptions of our fugitives to every soldier and Anvite in the city."

"And the other Predacon prisoners?" Dynamo prompted him.

"Heightened security. The trials will go forward as planned, as soon as the fugitives are brought to justice. Three Predacons and a Maximal defector. I want him most of all," Axel said firmly. "Alive so I can show him what we think of traitors."

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

One of the doors of the hydroelectric plant, an oft-ignored utility door connecting by a series of passages to one of the narrow alleys, swung open to reveal Pestilence holding her multi-tool out, with Buckshot and Calamari just behind her supporting the wounded Thresher. Pestilence looked alertly around- they weren't far off from the turbines, but she could see Anvite workers still working on the damaged generator and patrolling the walkways. She motioned for the others to follow her, and they carefully stepped between pipes and power cables alike, always keeping something between themselves and line of sight to any nearby Anvites.

Thresher wasn't limping as badly, and looked almost completely alert. Calamari silently pointed out one of the office areas, and Pestilence's optics lit up to see her gear laid out on a table alongside a number of odds and ends. They hustled towards the office, the lock on it once again no match for Pestilence's multi-tool, and shut the door behind them, kneeling so as not to be seen through the high windows.

"There's one bit of good news, at least. I thought I might not be able to get these back," Pestilence said with obvious relief as she pulled her favorite long coat back on and wrapped her scarf back around her neck. All of her devices she scooped up and placed back in her pockets, save a medical device that she used to start tending to Thresher's wounds.

"These look like close-range stun blasts. They're supposed to be non-lethal, but I don't think Axel paid close attention to the details of his armaments in this case," she said lowly as she slowly repaired the metal ruptures. "At higher intensity on a 'bot who's already impaired by an inhibitor bolt, they can potentially kill."

Thresher looked blearily at the small moth femme.

"What're you, a doc-"

"Ah! I'm not a doctor. I'm just Pestilence," she told him with a smile, and went back to tending to him.

"I was sitting in my cell, trying to figure things out," Thresher explained, voice gradually gaining in strength and surety as his wounds were repaired. "They'd thrown me in solitary after that guy, Axel, burst into my house and took me down. My door was opened and I was immediately hit with a stun-bolt, never saw who did it- just two big shapes. I was down and out on the floor, but I could hear them breaking apart the door just after they'd closed it behind them. Next thing I knew, I was on that lava-boat."

"Did you kill that Anvite, Luceria?" Buckshot asked him.

"No! I got nothing against any Anvites, and I certainly don't want to kill them! What'd be the point? I just want to work here and be left in peace. I didn't steal any puffer-gas, either, and I'm friends with most of the other Pred workers. They didn't do it."

"We don't think they did, either," Pestilence said. "Your testimony might be enough to throw some serious doubt on the whole thing, but it really would've helped if you'd seen their faces. But why kill Luceria? She must have figured something out-"

She leaned back against the table, and glanced at the array of tools on it. She blinked- there were magnifying glasses, a microscope, other forensic and close examining devices. And a long metal blade. She stood bolt upright, quickly remembered the window, and ducked back down. She scooped up the blade fragment in her palm and peered at it, tipping down her goggles long enough to zoom in on the scratches on it.

"This is one of the blades from the turbine, a piece of it. There's flecks of...no, that's not tritanium at all. That's what your blades are made from, correct? This is dualonium, a very similar but notably different alloy that can be created by...replicators!" Pestilence snapped her fingers. "If Luceria discovered that fact, she may have gone right to Axel or his men to confront them."

"Axel couldn't have killed her!" Calamari said with surprise. "He's not that crazy! ...Is he?"

They looked at Buckshot, who knew him best. He was frowning.

"He might've done it, yeah. He's not crazy- but he's committed to his own warped ideals, and he's used to having things work out. I think he's been thinking like a general for so long that he's used to looking at everyone in terms of 'acceptable losses'. To make sure his plan didn't get derailed. Last resort. He might've done it."

They looked at each other with chilled silence. To cross that line, killing an innocent organic- Axel had put himself into a much worse category of threat.

"So take that evidence right to the council, tell them what he's up to!" Thresher said, cutting into the silence.

"It may not be enough. He's got them so scared of us he could spin any story for them. We need more evidence, and we really need to get your fellow workers out of confinement," Pestilence said. "If we blow the whistle, Axel could set off the bombs- uh, don't panic, let us worry about that- and then kill every Pred he has in the ship as a response to another 'escape attempt'. The AXALON could get us right into that ship!"

"Except the AXALON is way at the top of the hill near the river. We gotta get back there," Buckshot said, and she nodded.

"Let's get going, then," Thresher said, determined to help them see it through. Calamari helped him back to his feet, looking out the window to make sure no Anvites could see them. Buckshot walked past the table of gear, then stopped and looked more closely. There were random parts from various machinery strewn around it, and he spotted what looked like a camera lens and some wiring. He picked up the lens, looking closer at it, and made eye contact with Pestilence. She nodded, and he stuffed the wires in his hip compartment before moving to help support Thresher. He waved them off irritably, pretty close to full operating power now, and stepped out the door.

A few Anvites and a Maximal soldier were gathered around the open utility door. Clearly, it wasn't often opened. One of the armed Anvites turned, and spotted them. Pestilence winced.

"Oh, shazbot," she said faintly.

"There they are!" the Anvite shouted, the Maximal soldier spun around and raised his pulse rifle, and the quartet of Cybertronians took off running.

Stun-bolts sliced through the air behind them, and Calamari ducked to avoid a particularly close one. The crackling blue sphere of energy hit a pipe and dissipated, showering sparks. Pestilence ran between the turbines, looking ahead for a way out, and saw a few more soldiers heading their way. She turned and directed her companions to a staircase on the far wall. They made their way up the steps, evading more stun-bolts fired by panicked Anvites, and one of the soldiers stepped forward and aimed his pulse rifle carefully. He moved the targeting reticule just ahead of the running Pestilence, and fired- she was spared a round in the temple by Calamari reaching out and grabbing her scarf, yanking her back suddenly. The round slammed into the wall and smoldered- Pestilence stared at it for a split second, gave Calamari a wordless nod of thanks, and hurried them on.

"They're coming up after us!" Buckshot yelled, more pulse rounds and stun-bolts peppering the underside and glancing off the rails. He stopped, an idea occurring to him, and ran to a large pipe embedded in the wall near the top of the stairs leading to the catwalk. Thresher followed him to it and the Maximal and Predacon, working together, pulled on the pipe until its bolts burst and the great metal cylinder came free, crashing down the stairs. The steps and banisters were bent to useless metal beneath the crashing object, and Anvites and soldiers scattered to avoid it. That effectively sealed off one route up to the catwalk, but they'd find another way up. Or, those of the Maximal soldiers gifted with aerial beast modes could just fly up and shoot them.

"Got something genius figured out yet?" Calamari asked as they ran along the catwalk towards the far end of the plant, above the entrance doors.

"Working on that!" Pestilence replied. There was a long glass window ahead of them, a staircase down and- oops- the big double doors opening to reveal Axel and some of his officers. They had pulse rifles armed and were heading up the staircase. Pestilence started to pump her legs faster, bolstering as much power as she could to her internal systems.

"When I say the word, everyone grab onto me and prepare for a hard landing!" she yelled above the din of machine gun fire and shouts from below. "TERRORIZE!"

She took a running leap and her entire body started to shift, her scarf and coat sliding into protective panels to keep them from being shredded, before her entire body became a mass of whirling metal. She folded out giant moth wings with shining brown, black, and white panels, her body elongating and becoming an insect's, six legs and long abdomen. Buckshot grabbed onto one narrow metal leg, Calamari another, and Thresher gripped the abdomen. She put on a burst of power and slammed through the long window, glass and wire falling down on the soldiers below. They sailed majestically through the air for a moment- before Pestilence's small stature and low power reserves caught up to her. She flapped her wings as hard as she could, trying to offset their descent, and succeeded only in a wavering, dipping glide before they crashed to the ground less than a quarter-mile away from the plant entrance.

Pestilence rolled over, converting back to robot mode and letting her wings and extra limbs slide back in. Her coat and scarf unfurled back where they belonged, and she rubbed her head with a groan.

"I really hate transforming. I'll feel buggy all day. Okay, everyone's fine? Then come on!" she said, getting to her feet and pulling on Thresher's arm. He lumbered to his feet, Calamari and Buckshot picking themselves up off the ground, and they ran down one of the narrow alleys moments before soldiers started to appear from the hydroelectric plant's doors.

They made their way up the alley, gradually moving uphill and jumping from corner to corner, doorway to doorway, as the soldiers were still sweeping the area around where Pestilence's moth beast mode had crashed to earth. Axel was barking orders, striding back and forth, an expression of anger seething on his handsome features. A short time later, Pestilence found the beloved silver booth of the AXALON and pulled the doors open, directing her companions inside. Thresher shot a questioning look at the booth- it looked too tight a fit just for him, let alone him and three others- but Pestilence just shoved him inside. She stepped in, cast a quick glance behind her, and slammed the doors shut.

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

"It's...it's a lot bigger on the inside," Thresher said, gazing around the inside of the AXALON. Pestilence walked briskly by him, ascending the short flight of steps up to the navigational console two at a time. "How is it bigger on the inside?"

"Because we are now in a separate dimension from the entirety of the outside universe! Sort of," Pestilence said, beginning to work the controls of the console. Buckshot was staring out at the viewscreen, watching as Anvites passed the corner the silver booth was parked in. A couple of Maximal soldiers brought up the rear, sweeping their pulse rifles and scanners from side to side with military precision.

"What're we gonna do? We can't just leave!" Buckshot said.

"No, we can't. Not until Axel's been made to answer for his crimes. Now that I've got my tools back, we have a chance at defusing those bombs. The AXALON can't transport into a river of lava, but I can transmit a message from here. With the right tools," Pestilence said, and reached into her coat pocket, taking out the sample of puffer-gas she'd appropriated from the destroyed plant in Quartzton.

"What if Axel just blames the bombs on those guys we saw planting them and lies his way out of the whole thing?" Calamari asked.

"He won't have the chance if we can get more evidence. Buckshot, do you need a hand with that?"

"Nah, I can figure it out," Buckshot assured her, and Thresher saw he had what looked like a broken camera on the edge of the console, and was working on rewiring it and replacing its lens.

"Video footage of a detonator might be sufficient- and then there's that blade fragment I found in the plant. Together, we could-"

"HEY!" Thresher yelled, and the trio of experienced explorers halted their brainstorming and looked at him.

"What about my friends? They're still locked in the ship's brig. What if Axel tries to have them killed, or 'ported away like he did me?"

"You're right! I almost forgot, sorry. That's one more ball to mentally juggle, isn't it? We'll just have to go into the Paragon and rescue them en masse," Pestilence resolved. She started to make adjustments to the navigational console, looking out at the viewscreen and its distant panorama of blocky buildings as though to aid in her coordinates. "I don't have records of that ship's blueprints. What deck is the brig on?"

"Er...seven, I think," Thresher replied.

"Pest, look!" Calamari said warningly. Pestilence glanced up at the viewscreen once more, hands still flying over the controls, to see a few Maximal soldiers approaching the booth. She quickly jerked back on a lever and the booth began to enter a time tunnel, vanishing before the startled soldiers' eyes. Thresher stared at the flashing blue and white vortex on the viewscreen, which became- the inside of an empty ship's corridor. The AXALON set down with its familiar strobing lights and metallic thud.

"Okay," Pestilence said, scooping up some thick cables from under the console and bundling them in her arms, "I've got to get some equipment up and running in another room, so you'll just have to free these prisoners on your own."

"Do you have any guns?" Thresher asked.

"Don't need them, don't like them," Pestilence replied. Shifting the bundle of cables from one arm to another, she fished her multi-tool out of her pocket and handed it to Calamari.

"Most of the soldiers on duty are out looking for us, Axel's running a skeleton crew, so there should be little surveillance on the brig. Use my multi-tool to release the brig's force field- just press the blue button twice, then turn the silver dial counter-clockwise, blue button twice more then hold white button while rotating silver dial clockwise, got it?"

"Uh, press blue button twice-" Calamari started to repeat uncertainly.

"Get going!" Pestilence said, and hurried out of the main room and down one of the AXALON's many hallways. Buckshot pushed the sliding doors of the booth open, looking out and around the corridor, and then hurried for the brig, followed by Calamari and Thresher.

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

The Maximal and two Predacons made their way quickly down the corridor, expecting soldiers to leap out and shoot them at any moment.

"Do you remember the exact directions?" Buckshot asked Thresher, as Calamari just kept muttering Pestilence's multi-tool instructions to herself, practicing the motions on the small device.

"I was kind of stunned and bolted at the time, I think just remembering the deck number as I was dragged by it is a good trick," Thresher retorted. Buckshot glanced side to side as he walked.

"Hey, what's with this? All the cameras are trashed. There's cuts in the sides of the bulkhead here and here too. Force field emitters?" he asked, pointing at the deep grooves and scratches in the walls.

"I didn't do this," Thresher said, looking at the walls. "They must've used my blades- or something like them- to break open my cell door and make it look like I escaped."

Buckshot, Calamari and Thresher followed the trail of destruction to a ruined solitary confinement door leaning open on its half-destroyed hinges...and, across from it, the door to the brig. Buckshot and Thresher took position on either side of the door while Calamari hit the buzzer and took a few steps back. It slid open to reveal one Maximal ensign standing in front of the shimmering blue force field, optics locked on the many prisoners within.

"Hi! I'm a Predacon and I'm so super evil! You better come out and stop me!" Calamari called to the ensign. He spun around, optics widening, and raised his pulse rifle. She bolted out of view and he ran after her- before Buckshot extended a foot to trip him up and Thresher brought down the flat of his blade on the back of his head. The ensign tumbled to the floor, shutting down into stasis, and Buckshot kicked the pulse rifle away to the side of the hallway. They moved towards the brig force field and Calamari pointed the multi-tool at the lock to the emitters.

"Thresher! You break out just to break back in?" a squat beetle Predacon asked with disbelief.

"Who're these two?" a gaunt jackal Predacon asked of Buckshot and Calamari.

"Pipe down! We're jailbreaking you," Thresher said, and stepped aside to let them focus on the emitter.

"Okay, it was...press blue button twice, then turn silver dial counterclockwise, then press white button twice- no, wait. It was press blue button twice, then white button- no, that's not it either!" Calamari muttered, trying to recall the instructions.

"Cal, time is of the essence..." Buckshot prodded her.

"I'm trying!"

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

Pestilence finished running the heavy power cables along the nodes in the huge silver machine, which began to thrum with energy. She turned the small vial of puffer-gas over in her fingers, looking critically at it.

"This had better work," she said, and slipped it into a casing on the side of the machine. She hopped up to pull down a giant lever, then started to spin dials all the way to the right. The machine began to quake, radioactive particles seeping into the puffer-gas. Pestilence paced from side to side, willing the machine to work faster.

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

"It was blue button twice, then silver dial clockwise- no, counterclockwise..."

"Cal..." Buckshot urged her, glancing back repeatedly at the brig door.

"Blue button twice, I've got that part, but the silver dial needs to, uh..."

"Cal, c'mon..."

"I've got it! Press blue button twice, then turn silver dial counter-clockwise, blue button once- no, blue button twice and then white button and silver dial clockwise!" Calamari said.

"THEN DO IT ALREADY!" Thresher roared, and she nodded and worked over the multi-tool. With a scan and click, the force field deactivated and the nearly dozen Predacon workers poured from the tight and boxy brig. Thresher directed them after him and they sprinted out of the brig. Calamari took the multi-tool away from the emitter and ran after the escapees, Buckshot closely following.

"Where are we going?" the beetle Predacon asked. Before anyone could answer, a loud emergency klaxon started to blare out along the deck. Calamari looked upward with stunned optics, before Buckshot pushed her along. They hurried toward the AXALON parked in the middle of the corridor, its sliding doors open. Thresher herded his brethren through the door before they could stare at trying to cram into one booth, and ran in after them. Calamari was next through the door, and Buckshot was ten feet behind her- before a pulse round slammed into his shoulder and he rolled head over heels, conking off one of the bulkheads.

"Bucky? BUCKY!" Calamari yelled, spinning around.

Axel was marching towards them from the other end of the corridor. He had the guard's dropped rifle and was slowly dialing up the power settings, an expression of cold contempt on his face. Buckshot looked back at him, one hand clutched to his shoulder as mechfluid seeped through his fingers, then looked back at Calamari.

"I'll deal with this prick! Get them out of here! Go!" he yelled. Calamari shouted a protest, but Thresher just nodded and pulled her inside before the doors hissed shut. Buckshot got to his feet slowly, and turned to block Axel from the silver booth.

"When my men told me they saw a small booth teleporting from sight, I had a feeling it'd teleport here. And when my systems check told me the brig force field had just been deactivated, that feeling was confirmed," Axel said, pulse rifle leveled at Buckshot.

"C'mon, get going, get going..." Buckshot murmured, glancing back at the booth. It finally started to vanish and he breathed a sigh of relief, facing his enemy with full attention...before Axel fired once more.


END OF EPISODE FOUR


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: The Magma Creatures
PostPosted: Tue Jan 18, 2011 3:27 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
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THE MAGMA CREATURES

EPISODE FIVE


Calamari pushed herself away from Thresher and moved towards the open door, before it slid shut in her face. She turned to look furiously up at the big miner Predacon as he pulled his hand back from the door closing button.

"Bucky's still out there!" she exclaimed.

"He said to get out of there. I came with you to rescue the other workers, and if he wants to sacrifice himself to help, then I'm grateful. But we have to leave now," Thresher said firmly.

"Is everybody in?" Pestilence asked, emerging from a doorway and looking around at the assemblage of bewildered Predacons. "Good! Tell Buckshot to- um- where's Buckshot?"

"Axel showed up and Bucky stayed behind!" Calamari said, pointing at the closed AXALON doors. "We have to go out there and save him!"

"We need to get everyone to safety before that lunatic blasts the doors open," Thresher replied.

"I- he chose to stay behind? I've got- he- oh, double shazbot! I can't leave the machine unattended for long or it'll overload!" Pestilence said, going to the navigational console and punching in coordinates. "We'll just have to come back for him later!"

"What if he's dead?!" Calamari demanded.

"We're in a time machine, aren't we?" Thresher asked. "Just come back and get him before he-"

Pestilence was shaking her head slightly.

"Couldn't do it. Jumping to the same place and time we just were, and risking encountering ourselves, could create a paradox. He gave us the chance to escape, we need to use it. We will come back for him," she said, firmly pulling a lever. Calamari heard the strobing clank of the AXALON, and looked at Pestilence as she hurried back towards the machine room.

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

Axel fired a round from his pulse rifle. Buckshot stared, time seeming to slow as the muzzle began to flash- he shifted quickly to the right and the round passed by his head, grazing a shallow rift across one metal cheek, before hitting the vanishing AXALON and disintegrating in the temporal bubble created by its exit. Buckshot looked at Axel, as stunned as him, and then took a sudden burst forward and knocked the pulse rifle from his hands. He saw in that moment what had saved him- Axel was livid, barely suppressing his stress and rage, and his aim was off. The two exchanged a quick flurry of pushes, trying to get at the rifle, before Buckshot managed to shoulder-check Axel into a bulkhead. He snatched up the rifle, and broke it over his knee. Axel glanced down at the two rifle halves, then looked back up at Buckshot with disbelief.

"...Why didn't you try to shoot me?" he asked.

"Because you got some things to answer for and I couldn't trust myself not to put a bullet in your neural net right now," Buckshot said, glowering. He clutched at his wounded shoulder- the pulse round had passed clear through it and out the other side. The wound was painful, but not even close to slowing him down.

Axel regarded him for a moment. The klaxon was still blaring on and off in the background.

"My men will hear the alarm and come running. You'll be taken down in minutes," he said with a smug smile.

"Bull," Buckshot replied. "All your soldiers are outside looking for us and this thing can only be heard -inside- the ship. Unless you send them a distress signal. Or did you forget to do that? What with murdering the natives and all."

Axel's optics narrowed.

"See, the others weren't sure you did it. I had a good hunch, tho. It was you, or you making one of your soldiers do it. She was pretty close to something, right? Maybe something about what happened to Quartzton. Maybe something about the sabotage at the plant here. And I know you. You're Mr. Smooth when everything's going to plan, but some cracks here, some mishaps there, you start to get nervous," Buckshot said, as he and Axel slowly paced the corridor in a circle, looking at one another.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Axel said.

"You're just crazy enough to do it, aren't ya? Clean it all up and frame the evil, evil Predacons for it. You're a damn murderer."

"No!" Axel spat, fists clenched. "I have to take these responsibilities! Sacrifices have to be made for the greater good of our race! We need fuel, we need power! I have lives that I must take care of, and planets that need protection! We have to bring order back to this galaxy, and I have spent years gathering Maximals from planet to planet, and one scientist- one short-sighted, empty-headed little organic who didn't appreciate what I was trying to do for, never gave me an option, never gave me a chance to explain- she'd have endangered every one of my soldiers, and doomed the Maximal cause, so that a group of Predacons- snakes in the grass- would go free!"

"So you killed her," Buckshot said, glaring.

"I had my back to the wall, and I made one more choice so that my men wouldn't have to. She'd have ruined everything. I admit things got...a little out of control."

"Just like Quartzton? River of magma and stolen puffer-gas? That must've gotten more than a little out of control," Buckshot said.

"I advised the experiment, but I didn't know those...things would show up! I was seeking alternatives, but the Anvites failed. We could not allow the fuel to be destroyed. I had my men take it- the river was already flowing through town, and I lost two ensigns as they tried to evacuate the citizens- foolish. We had to escape."

"No survivors at all?" Buckshot asked faintly.

"I made sure the lift stayed operational. They could've tried traveling over the surface. It was no longer my problem," Axel said, fists clenching so tightly his fingers started to dig into his palms. "The Anvites are dense, and short-sighted. They need protection. They need order."

"They sure as hell don't need someone like you! Claiming anyone who gets in your way as an acceptable loss? Covering it up to protect your squeaky-clean reputation? Factional cleansing of the village, huh? How's it feel to know an ex-con broke into your fancy ship and busted all those evil Predacons free?" Buckshot asked, grinning as Axel's fists started to shake. "Oh yeah, they're long gone. It's all slipping away from you, you're starting to go crazy again. How'd you get all these medals if you can't handle the stress?"

Axel snarled and lunged. Buckshot had a moment for his optics to widen- he was fast!- before the eagle 'bot was raining blows on him. He slammed his fists into Buckshot's midsection, struck a knee into it for good measure, and as Buckshot doubled over, hit a knife-edge chop against his shoulder wound. Buckshot grunted, clutching at the hole, and Axel hit him with a technically precise double kick that sent him sprawling across the deck. Axel took a couple of steps forward, striking up a martial arts stance.

"I rescued you from that prison. I showed you a better way and you turned your back on me because you didn't have the commitment to see things through. You traitor. You've allied yourself with the worst of Cybertron!"

"You're the worst of Cybertron," Buckshot grunted defiantly. Axel took a running charge forward, meaning to punt Buckshot's head like a football- the canine mech rolled out of the way and twisted his ankle hard. Axel tripped and fell to the deck, and Buckshot got to his feet, swinging hard punches into the rising Axel. Axel deflected the next punch and spin-kicked Buckshot into the bulkhead- the impact causing it to creak and dent slightly. Buckshot shook his head, blinking, and turned to try and fight- Axel was faster, kicking him in the face again and sending him crashing back into the bulkhead. Axel was stronger, faster, trained to perfection.

"Enough...kicking..." Buckshot panted.

"Give in. Give in and I only drag you to the brig, instead of having you executed," Axel said, grabbing Buckshot by the throat and pulling him to his feet.

Buckshot chuckled weakly and gave Axel the finger. The captain growled, and slammed his head off the bulkhead, then again, then again. Buckshot sagged slightly, and Axel slammed his head into the bulkhead so hard that it cracked and gave way in great chunks, exposing fuel lines and power conduits. Buckshot slumped to the deck, nose bent and forehead scraped and bruised, as Axel loomed over him.

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

"Calamari, could you get these 'bots to the guest quarters? Or just let them mill around the primary navigation deck, makes no difference as long as they stay away from my machine," Pestilence said as she looked over the glowing canister of puffer-gas, every dial on the machine telling her it was growing in radioactivity. Calamari was leaning in the door, twirling and pulling a lock of her metal tendril-like hair in a nervous gesture.

"We just left him there. What if they kill him?" she asked.

"They won't get the chance. He'll fight them to a stand-still," Pestilence assured her, though she looked uncertain, checking and re-checking her settings.

"We've got to get back to him-"

"We will! But first it's imperative that we get these beings to safety, and disable all of Axel's bombs before he sets them off! I have a feeling they're there as a last resort, and this jailbreak may be what pushes him over the edge to pursuing that option," Pestilence said. "I can defuse every bomb- I know the code. It's the same as was on the mine I disarmed in the tunnel. But in order for me to get that message out, I'll need a significant power boost."

"Message?" Calamari repeated, then looked with widening optics at the machine. "You're going to summon the Magmen the same way they did at Quartzton?"

"Close! But not exactly. I'm banking on being able to control their impulse to return and being able to establish that same rapid-evolutionary intelligence link. Kind of like a radiation-fueled mind meld on wide transmission. But I'll need to turn down all the safety settings, and this room will flood with radiation here in about...five minutes. Don't look like that! I'll be fine! Probably...look, get those ex-prisoners off the main deck, would you? We'll be setting down at the shore."

Calamari hurried out of the room, and Pestilence finished turning down all of the machine's safeguards, despite the myriad warnings it was flashing. The canister was now trembling in place, glowing brighter and brighter. Pestilence paced in front of it, waiting for the moment of overload.

"Almost there...almost...come on, the one time I -need- something on this ship to blow up in my face..." she murmured. "Come on!"

The puffer-gas, now coalescing into something between gas and plasma, was shuddering and glowing as particles burst and re-shaped within it. The warning gauges had long since turned red and buried needles, and now the canister shattered, flooding the room with iridescent vapor. Pestilence let out a yell of sheer pain as she was blasted with it, full-force.

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

"Let's think for a moment on where you went wrong," Axel said, keeping a foot firmly placed on Buckshot's neck, holding him face-down to the deck. Buckshot grunted, struggling a little, and Axel ground his heel deeper into the places between the metal plates of his neck, making them creak. He reached for the hip-holster at his side- a Maximal-army issue officer's sidearm within it.

"You were pulled up from the dredges of society- a thug, a miscreant, an echo of all those lesser beings. I showed you a better path, the duty of all Maximals...and you abandoned that to fraternize with filthy, traitorous Predacons."

He drew the pistol, and brought it up towards the back of Buckshot's head.

"See where your 'friends' have brought you? They left you to die," Axel smirked, and just as he cocked his pistol, Buckshot lunged one arm up, the same arm as was attached to his wounded shoulder, and smacked an elbow off the bottom of Axel's pistol. The shot went wide, ricocheting off the destroyed bulkhead and piercing a fuel line. Axel looked up, startled, before a shower of sparks and a burst of escaping gas detonated before him...and no force field emitters operational to catch it. He was blown off his feet by the explosion, while Buckshot wisely stayed face-down on the deck, hands clapped to the back of his head. The stressed and ruptured bulkhead was blown apart, and metal plates flew across the outer hull of the ship. Soldiers and Anvites alike looked up, startled, to see a small piece of the Paragon's hull blow outward, showing a hole in the upper side of the ship. Inside, environmental controls quickly extinguished the blaze, alarm warnings flashing on every menu screen along the corridor.

"My friends left me here to put you in your place, Axel. Should've just shot me instead of taking the time for a lecture," Buckshot said, standing up a little shakily and dusting himself off.

Axel reached up, and clutched one hand to the wall. He pulled himself to his feet. He was faintly charred along one arm and part of his torso, his handsome face marred by blackened streaks on one side. He rubbed a hand along his cheek, wiping some of the soot away, and grimaced with rage.

"See that? That's what I did to you, Axel. I did it for my filthy, traitorous friends," Buckshot said.

Axel glanced around the corridor- his pistol had been blown out of his hands, and was probably broken. He sprinted forward, putting on a burst of surprising speed, and tackled Buckshot, his martial arts precision momentarily forgotten in his blinding anger. Buckshot rolled with the assault, and was vaguely aware of them crashing through ruptured circuitry and shell, and tumbling across smooth metallic plates. The two Maximals fell across several feet of the Paragon's outer hull, visible as faint figures atop the ship to the spectators below, and rolled close to the edge- where a long drop to the cavern floor awaited them.

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

"Pestilence! PESTILENCE!" Calamari called out, hammering her fist on the door. She'd herded the Predacons off the navigation deck, only Thresher remaining there and gazing at the viewscreen as the AXALON materialized a short distance away from the shore of the Red River.

Calamari called out her friend's name again, trying to pull open the handle of the door. Before she could call out again, the door burst open and Pestilence stumbled past her, bathed in glowing vapor and her optics bright-white. She seemed to be radiating energy, and Calamari's internal systems flashed warnings of danger just to be this close to her.

"Keep...back! I can't contain this!" Pestilence gasped, staggering through the corridor. She pushed open the door to the navigation deck, and Thresher took a couple of steps backwards, looking uncertainly at the glowing femme as she stumbled by, chased by Calamari.

"What the hell did she do to herself?!" Thresher asked, startled.

"The inside of the...AXALON won't...transmit! I needed to irradiate myself! I must...get...outside!" Pestilence fell to her knees for a moment, gasping, and hauled herself back up to pull at the AXALON's door. Thresher glanced at the viewscreen once more, and his optics widened.

"Wait! Don't-!" he shouted, and she pushed open the doors to reveal a group of armed Anvites and Maximals with guns at the ready, Jetspark and Dynamo in the front.

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

Axel reached out to grab at the hull, fingers scrabbling across smooth plates, and finally managed to place his palms down and halt his slide. Buckshot put his feet out, bumping them off one of the rising curves from which jets would protrude at the back. He got to his feet quickly, managing to keep a steady footing on the hull now that he'd stopped his fall, and turned- only to be met with a beautifully executed spin kick from Axel. Buckshot tumbled forward and hit the hull hard on his back.

Axel moved forward, already having calculated how best to keep his footing, and stalked towards the fallen Buckshot. He got back up, glaring at his enemy. Axel had better speed, better skill, greater technical precision- but Buckshot wouldn't stay down. Not ever.

Axel came in for an underhook punch and Buckshot side-stepped it, slugging him hard in the abdomen. Axel teetered, and Buckshot followed up with a knee strike that sent him rolling over the hull. Axel scrambled up to his feet, and pulled off a viciously fast snap-kick to Buckshot's jaw. The canine Maximal cried out, grabbing at his face, and Axel lashed out another kick to trip him up. He brought down his foot, intending a neck-severing blow, but Buckshot barely slid out of the way, using the smooth deck to his advantage- if only for a split second's evasion.

"Face it, Buckshot. I am a better fighter than you. I am the example you should've aspired to! I am stronger, smarter, better!" Axel yelled, punctuating each of these last few syllables with a kick to Buckshot's side. Buckshot rolled over, wheezing, and chuckled.

"Yeah, you're smarter. But I know something you don't," he said.

"What?" Axel demanded, as Buckshot staggered up to his feet.

"I've got a camera on you," Buckshot said with a grin. He pulled at his midsection, revealing a small light on the belt compartments of his midsection. Axel hadn't noticed it in the brawl- but yes. Small enough to be stuffed in a belt compartment. The same type of camera they'd given Pestilence when she and her friends dove into the reservoir. That light shining through the entire time. Seeing everything. Recording everything.

"NO-!" Axel lunged for it, and Buckshot met him with an uppercut to the jaw. Axel reeled, and Buckshot started to pummel him with haymaker punches to the face, one after the other. Axel tried to fight back, mind racing to recall some of his martial arts training's counters and deflections, but Buckshot had a second wind and a deep well of righteous rage. He chased Axel across the hull, slamming a fist into his face, another into his torso, dodging or shrugging off every attack Axel threw. They were clearly hurting him- he no longer cared. He kept coming. Axel tried to feint left and kick- Buckshot caught his foot, twisting it hard, and pulled him forward into another massive straight punch. One of Axel's optics cracked, and his cheek dented. Mechfluid misted from his rent lips, and hel let out a bellow as he fell backwards- and kept falling, sliding across the deck.

"That last one was for the woman you murdered!" Buckshot called after him, just as Axel slid towards the edge of the hull. He nearly tumbled off it, and grabbed hold of the edge, clinging against the lip of the hull. Face contorted with fury, Axel reached into his pocket, drawing a hand-sized detonator.

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

The Anvites and soldiers alike unconsciously took a step back when they got a good look at Pestilence, as she stepped from the doors of the AXALON. She looked around, optics flashing white, vapor snapping and swirling around her.

"You're...uh...under arrest..." one of the Anvites cautiously said, stun-gun trained on her and shaking a little.

"Get it together! Stun her!" Jetspark ordered him.

Pestilence looked past him, past the soldiers, at the bubbling flow of the Red River, and spoke in a voice that was her own, yet seemed to, with the speaking, become joined with something ancient and wise flowing through that river.

"Magmen! It's time to do your part to save these people!" she yelled, and before the Maximals could fire, a shout from the Anvites drew their attention. They turned, and stared as black and orange bubbles burst one by one along the river's surface. Magmen emerged from the red-hot, glowing river, blinking their single eyes up at the scattering Anvites.

"Stay back! I'm...keeping your evolutionary link to my mind active! Use this knowledge I'm sending you now!" Pestilence gasped, clutching at the side of the AXALON. "Find the explosives along the river! You can feel their unnatural presence, I sense it! I know the disarming code...now you do, too!"

The Magmen blinked in unison, and dipped back into the river. Pestilence struggled to keep the radiation within herself, every system in her body warning her to stop. The Anvites had fled before the oppressive heat of the Magmen, and the Maximal soldiers were now staring at Pestilence, utterly uncertain of how to proceed.

All along the tunnels, at every place Jetspark and Dynamo had set their explosives, Magmen erupted from the river, building on themselves. They joined together, minds as one, still in a blooming frenzy of suddenly acquired knowledge, and formed a tower of lava with a rapid-cooling outer shell. One Magman would form from the top, reaching out a crusty brown hand, and input the code on a bomb set in a tunnel ceiling, a tunnel wall, or the base of a stalactite. The process was synchronized, and within moments every bomb was disarmed and then swallowed up.

"Did...did they...?" Pestilence asked, leaning against the AXALON, gasping. Before her eyes, one spokes-Magman emerged from the river, standing atop the shore as two more of his brothers climbed up on either side of him.

"It is done," he stated. "All bombs are dead. We know the code. We know they are...Maximal made."

"What?" one of the soldiers repeated, completely nonplussed.

"Maximal made? Sir?" another soldier asked, looking at Dynamo.

Pestilence finally let the radiation free, venting her systems. The glowing vapor swirled away from her and the Magmen opened their mouths to suck in the gas before it could harm anyone nearby. With the vapor fully dissipated, Pestilence collapsed to her knees, optics resuming their normal color, and Calamari helped her up.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"I hoped my Transmetal II systems could hold the radiation at bay for much longer than a normal 'bot could. I was right...but I wouldn't do it again," Pestilence managed a weak smile. "And I think you'll find, ensigns and lieutenants alike, that I'm in good enough shape to tell you that your two superior officers here were present at the setting of those bombs."

The Anvites were keeping their distance from the Magmen, as even with their cooled outer layers, they were still too hot to approach. But they stood, still reeling in the rapid knowledge gain of the replicated experiment, and seemed to be communing by group-mind. The Anvites looked curiously from one to another.

"They do not attack us?" one asked.

"They've saved us from bombs?" another questioned.

"Don't just stare at those monsters! Shoot them, now!" Jetspark ordered his soldiers.

"They haven't attacked anyone, sir."

"And we'd still like to know about these alleged bombs."

"You are disobeying a direct order!" Jetspark shouted.

"Not if it contravenes an order from a higher-ranking officer," Upshot said as he strode forward to the shore. "Men, place Lt. Commanders Jetspark and Dynamo under arrest on suspicion of sabotage."

The two Maximals looked with outrage at the other officer, even as their guns were taken away by the other soldiers and their hands were shackled behind their backs. Pestilence's smile widened, and she waved to the Magmen. They withdrew into the bubbling depths of the Red River, and she turned to the AXALON, and Calamari.

"Now let's go get Bucky," she said.

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

Axel kept clinging to the face of the ship with one hand, exerting every ounce of strength his Cybertronian servos could give just to try to keep his grip on the ship. From this high up, the fall to the cavern floor would severely damage him if not kill him. He spat out a gob of mechfluid and looked at the remote with grim satisfaction. He pressed the button. He listened for the distant series of explosions- and heard nothing but the distant babble of voices and background noise of the Anvites watching from below.

He pressed the button again, and again, and his expression of rage gave way to shock. Just as his other hand began to slip from its hold on the hull- Buckshot reached down and closed his hand around Axel's, hard enough to crush the detonator between their fingers. Axel's hand slipped and he dangled in air, gazing up at Buckshot- who was lying on the ship, tightly gripping his hand and glaring at him.

"Forget it. You don't get to die until after everyone finds out what you did," he said, and with a sudden tug, hauled Axel up and over the edge onto the hull. He twisted Axel's wrist, pulling the shattered detonator out of his hand, and dropped it over the side. They heard a far away crunch from where it landed.

"Stay down. You get back up, I'll keep hitting you. It's over, Axel. It's OVER," Buckshot warned- battered, dented, exhausted, but ready for more. Axel looked at him with anger- and let his hands drop. He stood on the hull, rubbing a hand over his face. Buckshot marched him back up the hull, both mechs carefully maintaining their footing on the slippery plates, and they stopped as they saw a squad of Maximal soldiers appearing in the corridor from which they'd broken out onto the exterior of the ship. Axel looked hopeful for a moment as they trained guns on the two- then Upshot stepped forward, trying to maintain a mask of duty over warring emotions of betrayal and disbelief.

"Captain, I....Captain Axel. We have confessions from Lieutenant Commanders Jetspark and Dynamo. You have to stand down, sir," he said, looking up at his idol. Axel looked around at the group of young soldiers- all recruited by him from a dozen worlds across the galaxy, as part of his search for the last scions of the Maximal faction. They were looking at him like he was a stranger. He slowly presented his hands, and Upshot shackled them- before placing an inhibitor bolt on his neck.

"What did they say?" Axel asked dully.

"That you ordered the placement of high explosives along the Red River- and that you commanded them to covertly enter the Dug Deep hydroelectric plant and sabotage one of the turbines."

"Here," Buckshot unhooked the camera from his belt, and handed it to Upshot. "You can add assaulting a civilian to that. And any stuff he says on the tape."

Upshot nodded, looking unhappy but satisfied as he accepted the camera. Axel stared at the floor as Buckshot started to walk away from him- at the end of the corridor, just where it'd left, the AXALON materialized into being. The doors hissed open and Pestilence peered out cautiously. A smile lit up her face at the sight of Buckshot, then she looked past him to the group of soldiers.

"Oh- er- look, I know this ship appearing inside your ship looks bad, but- see, I may appear to be Predacon but-" she started to explain. Upshot held up a hand to halt her.

"I've ordered a halt on the search for Predacons, ma'am. It's become clear the search was begun on less than solid grounds, and eye witnesses saw you expel a dangerous source of radiation -and- somehow placate the magma creatures before they could attack anyone."

"Oh," Pestilence said, blinking. "I mean, oh! Good! Awesome! Bucky...?"

Calamari pushed past her, looking with concern up at Buckshot. He looked worn and ragged- yet he still managed a smile as he gazed at them. Pestilence saw the beaten and cuffed Axel, and tsked at Buckshot.

"Solving our problems with violence again?"

"Hard habit to break," Buckshot confessed, and grinned. Pestilence reached out and hugged him, an embrace he returned gingerly before offering another to Calamari. Pestilence bustled towards Upshot.

"You have everything you need, then?"

"We've got confessions, but not much evidence," he admitted.

"I can help with that! Meet us down on the cavern floor, and be sure to contact the Anvite council to be there as well," Pestilence told him, and headed back into the AXALON with her friends. Axel gazed oddly at them, seeing a booth barely big enough to hold one somehow accomodate three- and then stared as it vanished.

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

The Anvites were talking confusedly with one another, some still holding stun-guns from their brief deputization in the aborted hunt for escaped prisoners, and others repeatedly casting uncertain glances up the cavern of Dug Deep. In the distance, nearby the eternal glow of the Red River, the Magmen were still standing at the shore. The council had been gathered, and stood at the front of the teeming mass as the AXALON materialized in front of them- creating yet another buzz of gossip. The Maximal soldiers stood by, the beaten Axel shackled just behind them.

Pestilence stepped out of the doors, her companions Calamari and Buckshot just behind her. And, behind them, came Thresher and a procession of the formerly imprisoned Predacon workers. Some of them had friends among the crowd, a couple had spouses, and they greeted them warmly.

"What happened here?" Pharus, of the council, demanded of Pestilence. "We saw two men fighting atop that ship! Magma creatures, I'm told, stand at the distant shore, yet attack no one! And the Maximal captain is now a prisoner instead of the Predacons, who had been alleged saboteurs?"

"Nice recap! Succinct, as recaps go," Pestilence smiled up at him. She still looked weak from the massive dose of radiation, but her systems were gradually recovering. "But an explanation is owed- to you, to these people, to the soldiers misled by Axel. First, if I might use one last bit of psychic link to ask that the Magmen join us?"

She focused, optics dimming for a moment, and distantly, Anvite citizens could be seen scattering as a lone Magman walked forward. He kept generating crusty outer layers of cooling to himself, until he looked more like a walking mass of pebbles than lava, yet heat still steamed from waves off his body. He stopped several feet away from the crowd.

"We do not advise closer proximity. Our heat damages you," he said. This prompted disbelieving questions from the crowd at seeing the feared lava creature speak. Pestilence stepped up.

"The Magmen are not your enemies. They were created in the aftermath of an ill-advised experiment to irradiate puffer-gas back in Quartzton...which is now destroyed. I'm truly sorry- but they were not to blame. They could no more avoid the destruction than a piece of ferromagnetic material could avoid a strong enough magnetic pull. What's -really- interesting is that the resulting radiation somehow triggered a new evolutionary process via the massively accelerated division and replication of Magmen cells, driving them to imitate what was around them based on environmental stimuli-"

"You're losing them," Buckshot murmured.

"They got really smart, really fast!" Pestilence summarized, and the crowd made 'ah' noises. "But it wasn't the Magmen who started the experiment, nor they who advised it. That was Captain Axel of the Paragon. Cybertron is long dead- our people scattered across the galaxy. Building materials and fuel alike are hard to come by. He wanted to try a new method of fueling the ship- and though he didn't count on the Magmen showing up, he certainly made sure to take advantage of it. Taking all the puffer-gas his accomplices could carry and leaving the people of Quartzton to their demise."

"That's a damn lie!" Axel stepped forward, glaring down at her. "When those...things showed up, I was forced to protect my soldiers first! The river of lava was flowing across the town, swallowing up anyone in its path. We could see faces in it, these monsters taking shape. What good is a pulse rifle against that?"

"So you left, and doomed everyone in that town," Pestilence said, glaring back.

"We made certain that the lift to the surface returned. Any survivors could have attempted a surface-crossing," Axel said slowly, coldly.

"But you made sure to get the fuel, didn't you? The precious gas to make your ship run more efficiently than ever. And no tracks to your theft. It all gave you an idea, didn't it? You were planning to get more fuel from Dug Deep, and get rid of these Predacons in the process, but if it didn't work out? Some explosives along the river would agitate the lava flow and create another Quartzton incident. Who's to blame? Those evil Magmen. Once again, you'd have tried to help. And once again, it'd have been 'too late'."

Axel's fingers twitched, as though he wanted dearly to grab at her, but his face remained composed, even handsome in its injury, as he glared at her.

"The Magmen attacked ships because they knew more puffer-gas could create another Quartzton. But you had more plans than that. Why should you have gone to the trouble of having your accomplices sabotage the turbines? To sway public opinion in Dug Deep. Hold a kangaroo court on your ship. And maybe see to it none of your charges made it to any planet where they'd see fair trial or incarceration?" Pestilence asked angrily. Now Axel was fuming.

"Surely he wouldn't have murdered captive, unarmed men?" Pharus asked, quite at a loss.

"Why not? He murdered Luceria," Buckshot growled. "She was figuring something out. We found a scrap of turbine blade in the plant. Tools all around it."

"It had filings of dualonium in it, a metal similar to the tritanium of Predacon blades," Pestilence said. "The kind of metal that might be created by a Maximal replicator. Sabotage indeed, but not just sabotage of your power and livelihood, but sabotage of the people you depend on. If Luceria figured it out, he must've killed her to make sure she told no one."

Upshot turned to Axel, a disturbed expression on his face. Axel looked at him.

"Upshot...you have to understand. We're alone in this new galaxy. I spent years acquiring recruits, and it was becoming so hard to keep us fueled, armed, and moving. She'd have ruined everything! I was sorry things came to that, but...I had to make that sacrifice, you see? The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one!"

"That's no way to justify attacking and killing civilians, sir. You can't...we have to court-martial you, and bring you to Cocytus if found guilty. It's the code of law for the Maximal army," Upshot said.

"THE CODE OF LAW NO LONGER EXISTS! THERE IS NO MAXIMAL ARMY BUT THE ARMY I GATHERED!" Axel shouted. "These creatures, these organics, they have enemies in their midst! Predacons waiting for the moment to strike! I sought to save them from that, and I asked so little in return!"

"You've gone crazy," Buckshot said wonderingly.

"I so don't find you attractive anymore," Calamari told Axel defiantly.

"...If I had saliva glands, I would happily spit in your face. You little Predacon whore," Axel snarled, optics blazing with hate, and she took a step back, startled. Pestilence moved in front of her, staring up at her, her optics showing the depths of her age- and her righteous fury.

"I know you want to hate us, Axel," she said, staring up at him. "You're used to being a war hero. You've been at it for so long you can't stop thinking in terms of us versus them. You were poisoned by your bigotry a long time ago. It'd make it so much easier if all Predacons acted the way you think they should, by keeping up these old battles for a dead planet, and hating Maximals because...that's the way it's supposed to be?

"Well, time to bring you up to date, Axel. None of these Predacons care. I certainly don't. You want me to hate you? I can't. I can only feel pity for you. You're obsolete. A relic of more savage times, and one that nobody needs anymore. If Cybertronians are going to unite, and show some great light to all the other beings of the galaxy- they'll do it, and leave you and your hatred behind. Where you belong."

Axel looked at her, befuddled for a moment- and lunged at her. His inhibitor bolt sparked on his neck, manacles pulling, and two of the Maximal soldiers flanking him had to hold him back. Pestilence looked at him, her expression somehow ancient and sad, as he pulled at his chains.

"Pharus?" Thresher said, placing a large metal hand on the shoulder of the small Anvite, who turned to face him. "You're gonna need some good Cybertronian workers to dive into the reservoir and fix that turbine."

"Yes, I suppose we will," he agreed. "You're willing to go back to work after all this? All of you?"

"It's all we wanted in the first place," Thresher replied. "We work, we live, we get left alone. Sound good?"

Pharus nodded, and they shook hands. As Axel was being taken away by the soldiers, he yelled out to the Anvites:

"You don't know what they're doing! I fought them in a hundred battles- they are evil, they are bloodthirsty, and they will never stop scheming! You're dead men! They WILL betray you! And HER!"

He pointed at Pestilence.

"She's worse than any of them! I see it, oh yes...she's got a power inside her that puts mine to shame. Whatever she is, she's a Predacon now, and has greater capacity to destroy than any of them. Any of them! Just wait! Just wait and see!"

The soldiers continued to drag the ranting, raving Axel away and towards the Paragon. Pestilence watched them leave, an unreadable expression on her face.

"What'd he mean by all that?" Buckshot asked her.

"....Nothing, I'm sure," she replied, her sunny expression returning. "I'm not going to place much stock in a bigot's conspiracy theories. I used to be a Maximal myself, you know. And I like both factions just the same."

She walked over to the Magman, while the crowd of Anvites either dispersed or stayed to chat with the liberated Predacon workers. She looked at them with a smile, then turned to the crusty brown Magman spokesman.

"They are a bit dense, in their way. They go from being terrified of you to ignoring you after a speech from me. They go from hunting the Predacons to welcoming them into the fold once more. Someone as charismatic- and as hate-filled- as Axel could truly manipulate people like these. It's frightening," Pestilence said softly.

"They are under protection now," the Magman said, blinking slowly. "We will return to the rivers that birthed us- but remain ever watchful, and always listening. We can listen to the entire planet. It's our home, and it will remain their home as well."

"Planetary protectors," Pestilence said, smiling. "I never was much good at that- too much wandering to do. Thank you, uh, Magman? Do you have a name?"

"We have no individual names. But give us time. Perhaps we will evolve some names for ourselves," he replied, blinking once more, and slouched off towards the river at the top of the city. Pestilence watched him walk away, pulling her scarf more tightly around her neck, and walked back to the AXALON.

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

"I could do with about a week in CR. How about we stop somewhere relaxing after this?" Buckshot asked her as she entered the navigational deck of the ship.

"Relaxing is just another word for boring," Pestilence replied with a wry smile. "But I'll oblige. You took some hits for me- for all of us- and I won't forget it."

"Hey, fighting's one of the few things I'm good at. I'm just glad my fists got their time to shine," Buckshot chuckled good-humoredly.

"Bucky?" Calamari asked from where she leaned against a safety rail of the deck.

"Yeah?"

"Axel was...I thought he was one of the good guys, but he's not anymore, is he?"

"Nah. Not anymore."

"You used to serve in his army. And Predacons framed you once, like you said. Did you hate Preds as much as he does?"

Buckshot looked at her, surprised, and then at Pestilence. He went over to Calamari, and put a muscular arm around her shoulder, giving her a one-armed hug.

"If I was ever dumb enough to blame some problems in my life on a whole faction, I'm over it now. I'm glad to know both of you, and glad you put up with me enough to want me along. Simple as that."

"Right! Let's get this bucket of time and dimensions moving, then," Pestilence grinned, throwing back the lever, and the AXALON vanished into space, heading for its next destination.

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

The Paragon had a couple of solitary confinement cells. One had been trashed, and Axel now occupied the other one. His accomplices, Jetspark and Dynamo, were in the brig under heavy guard. Axel sat in the darkness of his cell, staring at one wall, as a young ensign dutifully repaired his wounds. The cracks in his optic were sealed up, the dents in his face carefully buffed out. Upshot had authorized the return of all puffer-gas to the Anvite council, leaving behind only enough to get them to the next colony world. The ship was now on route to that world. Axel sighed as the young ensign finished setting a small metal stitch into his chin.

"It's not much of a patch job, Cap- sir, but it should alleviate the pain some," the ensign said, catching himself from referring to Axel as Captain. Upshot was the interim Captain now.

"Thank you...Resurge, was it?" Axel said, smiling a little at him. "We recruited you on Pralss. You're quite a study in astrophysics, and an excellent marksman."

"Thank you, sir," Resurge nodded. "Is there anything else you need?"

"...A do-over of the last few months would be nice," Axel said, with just the right amount of self-deprecating charm. Resurge couldn't help it, he smiled a little.

"I have a lot to make up for. I've...lost touch with some things. I went a little out of control, did things unfitting of a captain. I don't know how I could possibly begin to apologize to you, Resurge, and to all the other young officers under my command. I let my fears control me."

"What happens now, sir? We just...leave, and don't come back?"

"That is Upshot's decision now, not mine. But I don't think a Maximal military presence on Castor's Anvil would have been welcomed for much longer, following my actions," Axel said.

"....I guess that's fair. But the Predacons- I don't know, sir. That big one attacked a couple of us. We know they're dangerous. Don't those organics see it?" Resurge asked.

"They see what they want to see. Sometimes the truth is hard to handle," Axel said, now looking very keenly at the young and naive recruit.

"What sort of truth is that, sir?" he asked.

Axel smiled- a brilliant, handsome, deeply deceptive smile. And he started to tell his version of the truth, and the young ensign listened.


THE END


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