View Full Version : [FICTION] Reckoning, Part Sixteen

2014-02-09, 11:15 PM
The story so far...

With their homeworld conquered by the Cybertronian Empire, only a few small groups of Transformers remain free of the Liege Maximo's grasp. One of those, a group of both Autobots and Decepticons under the command of Spinister, Springer and Grimlock, have captured an Imperial warship and steered a course for the enemy stronghold. But Spinister, intent on striking a killing blow against their enemy even if it means dying in the attempt, has failed to realize that not everyone agrees with his priorities...

Previous chapters:
Part One: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=35760
Part Two: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=36046
Part Three: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=36295
Part Four: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=37186
Part Five: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=37454
Part Six: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=37623
Part Seven: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=38131
Part Eight: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=39173
Part Nine: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=41811
Part Ten: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?s=&threadid=44343
Part Eleven: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?t=48711
Part Twelve: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?t=49364
Part Thirteen: http://tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?t=50161
Part Fourteen: http://www.tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?t=51496
Part Fifteen: http://www.tfarchive.com/community/showthread.php?t=52077

Transformers: Reckoning

Part Sixteen: Apex Predator

The first thing that Needlenose noticed when he walked into the room was the silence. For a boisterous personality like him, silence was always a bit unnerving. But it was doubly unnerving when he was in a place that was usually so loud – like the interrogation room he'd just entered. And triply so when the people doing the interrogation were Beastbox and Squawktalk. The two cassettes weren't exactly known for their quiet subtlety at the best of times, and less so when they were merged into Squawkbox like they were now. The smallish Decepticon was pacing the room, making circles around the Imperial officer Calcar, who was secured in place with a variable-voltage harness. The Decepticon interrogator gesticulated violently and shouted, but not even the slightest noise reached Needlenose's audio sensors.

"So you finally gave in and muted them?" he asked teasingly, reaching out and tapping on the one-way glass that let interested parties observe the interrogation but kept the prisoner from seeing who was watching.

"You have no idea." Spinister turned away from the window. "I've been accused of having infinite patience, but even I can only listen to their empty threats and promises of violence for so long before I need a break."

"Maybe this'll help to perk you up." Needlenose handed his commander an energon cube, then collapsed into a free chair and started to drain one of his own. "How long have they been at it?"

"This time, or in total?" Spinister took the cube, but didn't partake just yet. "They started their latest session thirty hours ago. I don't think they've shut up since. They've tried bargaining and threatening. Psychological torture? Squawktalk spent about six hours giving a dissertation on the vagaries of punctuation in Nebulan Second Epoch art history papers. Physical intimidation? Beastbox smashed half of the furniture while he stormed around threatening to pull the prisoner's arms off. Then they combined, and they just finished spending about three hours treating him to that cacophonous madness that they laughingly call music. But our guest still hasn't said word one." The Targetmaster commander sighed, then downed his energon in one hit. "Just like the twelve previous times they tried. If I didn't know better, I'd say that they were interrogating a corpse."

"It's that bad?" Needlenose asked disbelievingly.

"We don't even know what his voice sounds like," Spinister said with frustration obvious in his voice. "He's been our prisoner for over a month and the only reason we know his name is because your Autobot friend managed to hack their personnel database to verify what he told Sixshot."

Needlenose chuckled. "I'm sure Lightspeed'll be happy to hear that he's become our best intelligence asset." When Spinister didn't even acknowledge the comment, Needlenose leaned in closer to him and asked, "If it grinds your gears so much, why're you watching?"

"Because someone has to make sure that Beastbox doesn't snap and kill him." Almost immediately Spinister shook his head, dismissing his own flippant remark. "Because if I'm going to ask my troops to waste their time on an assignment as pointless as this, I feel obliged to waste my time along with them."

"The other one isn't any more helpful?"

"Road Pig? He's talked since day one," Spinister admitted. "The problem is that he's about as intelligent as a bulkhead support. We've learned about as much from him as the Imperials would if they captured Skywarp."

"Less teleportering during the interrogation, though," Needlenose joked.

Spinister couldn't quite repress a chuckle. "Thankfully. I don't think the VVH would take well to that. But that means if we're going to get anything useful it'll have to come from this one, and that means that I'm stuck here. And besides, it's not like I've got anything better to do. We're only a few hours out from the Hub and we can jump in whenever we want, but we know so little about it that we can't even come up with a plan of attack. We can't do anything until we get some information." Spinister sighed. "But enough about that. How's the crew today?"

"Restless," Needlenose told him. "Treadshot keeps using the unoccupied crew quarters for target practice. Roadgrabber is convinced that Carnivac is hunting him for sport. Trypticon filed another complaint about not being let out of the hangar bay."

"Again?" Spinister shook his head. "I've explained to him twice that he's sixteen times too large to fit down the ship's largest corridors."

"He knows. But what else does he have to do with his time?" Needlenose shrugged. "Pipes filed a complaint. Apparently he found Submarauder's shell swimming laps in the oil reservoir? I don't even what to know what that's about. We still don't know where Sixshot is hiding, there's been two fistfights in the last day and Fangry has threatened to kill at least three people."

"Only three? That seems low."

"One of them was Scattershot, so he spent most of the day unconscious."

"How did we survive for so long without Autobots on the team?" Spinister asked rhetorically.

Needlenose straightened when he heard that. "Oh! That reminds me. I didn't just come down here to bring you a snack. Cosmos wanted me to letcha know that he finished tinkering with the ship's scanners, and he's starting to get a picture of what's up ahead."

Spinister's relief was palpable. "That's the best news I've had all week. Is he working in the astrometrics lab?"


"Then I'll pay him a visit." The Targetmaster commander rose from his seat, casting one last look at Squawkbox and his prisoner. Then he looked back at Needlenose. "Of course, someone will have to stay here to observe the interrogation."

Needlenose groaned. "Oh, gee, thanks, boss."

"I was going to call Springer, since he's back on his feet and looking for something to do," Spinister told him. "But since you volunteered..."

He was out the door before Needlenose could get a word out, leaving him alone with the captivating view of the cassette gestalt who was trying to match wits with their POW.

"I hate it when he does that," the young Decepticon muttered to himself.

Fangry leaned back in his chair, slowly sipped at his Energon and glared at the table of Autobots on the other side of the spacious mess hall's main floor.

"Tell me again why we put up with them?"

"We put up with them because the boss would rip your arms off just for saying that," Squeezeplay told him, his tone not suggesting whether he personally agreed or not. "Also, those guys? I'm pretty sure they'd rip off arms and legs if you want to start something with them."

"I'm not afraid of no Dinobots," Fangry said as he went back to glaring at Snarl and Sludge. "And I'm certainly not afraid of Spinister. What kind of idiot names himself after a pun, anyway?"

"The kind who would happily crush the life out of you for saying that," said the third member of their group, the punnily-named Tentakil. "Except that if I did that I couldn't laugh at you for not realizing your own name was a pun."

Fangry let out a low growl of frustration. The group of Autobots looked up, then chuckled and looked away.

"Oh, that is it!" Fangry snapped. "They think they're going to laugh at Fangry and get away with it? I'll show them--"

"You'll show them what it feels like to borrow Grimlock's personal punching bag?" Squeezeplay finished the sentence for him. "Lay off. They'll pound you into the deck plates, and I'm not scraping you off this time."

"You'd let them beat me down four on one? Some friend!"

"Just because I'm drinking with you doesn't mean we're friends," Squeezeplay told him. "For one, friends usually don't bellow at me in outrage. Or spit so much when they talk to me. I'm still not even sure how you manage that last part in robot mode."

Fangry looked like he was, indeed, going to bellow in outrage, but he forced himself to speak calmly instead. "You can't tell me you've never thought about testing yourself against a Dinobot," he said, taking a different approach.

"It would hardly be a test," Squeezeplay said indifferently, clearly not interested in where this conversation was going. "It'd take more than a Dinobot or two to bring me down."

"Easy to say," Fangry said in an accusatory tone. "Prove it! Or are you afraid of what big, bad Spinister will do to you?"

"No," Squeezeplay responded. "You don't pick fights because you're afraid. I don't pick fights because I'm not a frothing-at-the-mouth psychotic mad dog."

Fangry's expression turned from run of the mill anger (his usual expression, to be honest) to full-out wrath. "I'll show you who's afraid!"

Standing up, the winged Headmaster shouted across the room. "Hey you! Dinobots! I'm going to—agh!"

That was as far as he got before Snarl threw a chair at him, hitting the Decepticon in the face hard enough to dislodge his Nebulan Headmaster partner.

Squeezeplay took one look at him, then just sighed. "Tried to warn you," he told the stunned Transformer. "Maybe next time you'll listen."

Tentakil just laughed. "Warn him. Good one. You goaded him on like a pro."

"Maybe," Squeezeplay shrugged, finishing his drink and getting up. "Or maybe he's so dumb that he goaded himself. Either way, I'd rather not be here when he wakes up."

"That," Tentakil said, "makes two of us."

Sludge watched the two Decepticons leave, a slightly disappointed expression on his face.

"Shame. I was kinda hoping the others would put up more of a fight than ol' fur and fangs."

Snarl chuckled. "Oh, come on. I took his head off with one throw! That's worth the price of admission right then and there!"

One of the Dinobots' two companions, the Technobot Nosecone, shook his head. "Too flashy," he said. "He's going to see it coming next time."

"You're giving him too much credit," the last Autobot, Nosecone's teammate Afterburner, said. "He's a 'Con, and not even a good one. Brains are in short supply in their camp. Really don't know why we put up with them."

"Grimlock says we do," Sludge told him, as if that was the most basic law in the universe.

"Riiiight," Afterburner said. "Excuse me for not wanting to take orders blindly from some guy walking around in a giant human suit."

"Okay, first of all, that 'giant human suit' is a high-tech Pretender shell that's keeping him alive and putting him back together even though he was basically cut in half," Snarl told the Technobot. "And secondly...you're right, the damn thing's hilarious. I can't take him serious in it either. Every time I see him I want to pat him on the head."

Nosecone took a sip from his drink. He was still nursing his first round while the others were on their third or fourth. "You guys are horrible," he told them with a big grin on his face.

"And you love every minute of it," Afterburner said, tossing back another full serving of Energon.

Spinister looked at the grainy, low-resolution hologram that Cosmos brought up on the room's large central display, his forehead creased in mild disappointment.

"I have to admit," he said, "when Needlenose told me what you were working on I was expecting something a bit more...concrete."

"We're a long ways out," Cosmos told the Decepticon without flinching. "This bucket's passive scanners shouldn't be able to make out anything from this distance. Unless we want to start shooting subspace scans at them or move closer, this is the best we can get."

Cosmos gestured towards the grainy image, which was slowly resolving itself into an image of a world so torn apart by industry that it was barely even spherical anymore. Orbital structures formed a halo around it so thick, it seemed like a haze in the image that he'd constructed. "The good news is, my algorithm is piecing this together from time-lapse images from all of our visual sensors. It'll take a while, but eventually we'll have a fairly clear idea of what the Hub is...and what defences it has."

Spinister nodded. "I didn't mean it as a slight," he told the Autobot. "You're doing good work here. But time is something we must be frugal with."

"I know," Cosmos told him. "Believe me, I know. That's why I asked Needlenose if I could see you. I have another idea, one that could speed things up. Springer liked it and Grimlock thought I was weak for not suggesting a frontal assault, but it's your ship, so..." the Autobot shrugged. "Your call, I suppose."

Spinister was pleasantly surprised that an Autobot would accept his authority so readily. "Thank you," he said. "What would you like to do?"

"I could build the image faster," he said, "if we had more eyes facing the system. And even faster if each set of eyes had a slightly different angle. I've talked to Lightspeed, and he's put together a software package to process the inputs. Sky Lynx, Astrotrain and I are each equipped for long-range space operations, and we all have scopes powerful enough to get a view of the system even from here. What we see won't even be as clear as what our ship is getting now, but if the three of us and a pilot in the Wraith head out in four different directions and stream our feeds back to Astrometrics from...say, about a hundred thousand kilometers away, our slightly different perspectives will let us build a clear image of the system in a day instead of two weeks. The down-side is that moving four ships under thrust this far into deep space will increase the Imperials' odds of detecting us fivefold."

Spinister mulled that over. "That's a chance I'm willing to take," he said at last. "Put together whatever you need, and launch as soon as you're ready."

Cosmos seemed a bit taken aback that he was getting a free hand from a Decepticon, but he just nodded and said, "You've got it, captain. I'll let you know when we're ready to go."

Four hours later

Needlenose heard the door to the interrogation suite open up. He casually looked over his shoulder, expecting to see Spinister finally returning. Instead he saw someone else entirely. He gave the newcomer a friendly smile.

"Oh hey, what are you doing h--" was all he got out before a high-powered electric blast arced into his torso and shocked him into unconsciousness.

Whirl walked into the starship's security room, his featureless face somehow still managing to get across his annoyance. Springer and Carnivac followed a few seconds later, their features far more readable and just as annoyed.

"Alright, Grimlock," the Wreckers' leader said. "We're here. What's such a big secret that you needed the three of us to come right away and couldn't say what it's about?"

"Me Grimlock not call you," the Dinobot Pretender said, crossing his shell's gauntleted arms over his chest in an accusatory manner. "You call Dinobots here. What for?"

"We didn't call anyone," Whirl said. "And I certainly wouldn't have agreed to come if I knew that he would be here," he said, glaring at Springer. "Swoop called me and said that he thought Springer was up to something."

"No," Swoop denied. "Carnivac called me and said--"

"Someone's playing us," Carnivac cut him off.

"Well, not exactly that, but...oh." Swoop frowned. "Yeah. You're right. This must be someone's idea of a joke."

"Me Grimlock no like jokes," the Dinobot leader said. "Not like comedy at all. Except slapstick. That funny. Especially when Fangry is victim. Then it hilarious." He shook his head. "But no matter. Me no hang around and wait for prankster to show self."

He turned to walk away, but before he could move a heavy blast door slammed shut over the room's only exit. A moment later a recorded voice announced, "Prisoners escaping in main security junction. Emergency bulkheads have been sealed and forcefields have been erected. Initiating heavy stun protocol in five...four...three..."

"Like hell!" Snarl charged at the door, his hands balled into fists, but he was tossed aside by a powerful energy field before he could reach it. The count continued unabated.

"...two...one...Protocol initiated."

The Autobots looked around for a second, confused...then all seven of them dropped to the ground, screaming in pain, as a powerful electric current arced through the room.

Seawing always enjoyed the chances he got to stand watch on the bridge. Although he'd never begrudged Snaptrap his leadership of the Seacons, he knew that the other Decepticon really hadn't earned it on merit. No, he'd gotten his rank because of his reputation as a deadly killer and because of his intimidating size, but mostly because of his close friendship and loyalty to Megatron. Seawing didn't have any of those things, but the one thing he did have was a keen tactical mind. Snaptrap might have been stronger and better-connected, but that would only get him so far. Command of the Seacons was the most a mech like him could ever reasonably hope for.

But Seawing was smarter, more talented and above all far, far more patient than his now-departed commander. He knew that his ceiling was far higher than Snaptrap's, and so he was willing to cautiously bide his time, serving as the unit's second-in-command and gathering experience until his obvious skills earned him a command of his own. He'd never really considered the possibility of taking command of the team over Snaptrap's dead body, and now that that thought had become a reality he wasn't sure how he felt about it. Although he enjoyed his new-found authority over his fellow Seacons, he still found himself missing the brutal, destructive Snaptrap and even the useless, cowardly Nautilator. They might not have been the most likable Decepticons in the world, but they were a part of his team and even friends, after a fashion.

But on the other hand, he couldn't deny just how good it felt when he got a chance to sit in the big chair.

On the ship's main display screen, he watched as four distinct engine trails took off in four distinct directions: Cosmos, Astrotrain, Sky Lynx and finally the small stealth ship Wraith, piloted by the Autobot Doubleheader and the Decepticon Windsweeper with the gruff Scattershot in command. The Seacon smiled as he pondered just how the two of them might interact.

When the four ships disappeared from view, Seawing toggled the chair's comm switch and said, "Spinister, the mission is underway." When he didn't get a reply, he toggled the switch off and on again. "Spinister, do you read?"

There was no response, so he surveyed the other Transformers on the bridge before settling on the one who seemed like he would be the most useless if a crisis developed. "Strafe?"

The Autobot jumped out of his chair when his name was called, and had his hands on the handles of his guns before he caught himself. "Uh...sorry about that. Yes, sir?"

"Communications seem to be down. Could you run down to Spinister's office and let him know that the ships are away?"

"Of course."

"Thanks," Seawing said. "After that, please go down to Engineering and ask Pincher and Pipes to find out what's wrong with the intercom."

"Will do."

That did little to mollify Seawing, though. Their captured ship had had some minor systems failures before, but he couldn't quite shake the feeling that this time there was something sinister behind it all.

Thundercracker clapped Skywarp on the shoulder and said, "You know, this is almost like old times."

"If you say so," the other seeker said grumpily.

"You don't see it?"

"We're relaxing with Autobots instead of shooting them," Skywarp said. "Not sure how it could be any different."

"We're not relaxing with them," Thundercracker said. "We're relaxing separately, just in the same room."

"Overbite and Outback are playing darts," Skywarp told him. "Submarauder, Cliffjumper and Broadside are cheering them on. Repugnus is heckling them. I'm pretty sure that counts as together." He made an indifferent noise. "Look, I ain't saying that I like it or that I don't. It's just weird, you know?"

"Warp's got a point," Thrust said as he handed the other two seekers the last Energon cubes from the trap he'd been carrying around. "Not sure how this could be anything like the old days."

"Forget the badges for a second," Thundercracker said. "It's a room full of mechs that should hate each other, come together to fight a bigger enemy. Doesn't it remind you of the old days in Kaon? Megatron dragging together all these gangs that had been trying to kill each other a few weeks ago and talking them into overthrowing Sentinel Prime?"

"I wouldn't know," Thrust told him. "I'm from Polyhex, remember? Not much in the way of nonconformity there."

"I'm just saying, it's actually kinda nice," Thundercracker said. "I mean, I thought Megatron had gone off the rails a bit at the end. More interested in revenge and showing up Optimus Prime than actually fixing stuff, you know? But since he came back last year he's been as sharp as ever. He shut up that idiot Bludgeon and ended the war singlehandedly, then started putting these upstart Con-wannabes in their place."

Thrust looked said. "They said you'd say that."

"Huh?" Thundercracker tried to looked up at the other seeker but found that he couldn't focus. Scan lines were buzzing across his vision as well. "What do you..."

"I tried to tell them that we could bring you two around, but they said no. Can't trust you. You're too close to Megatron." Thrust shrugged. "Guess they were right. Heh. And to think I felt bad about poisoning your drinks..."

Thundercracker tried to come up with a retort, but the world spun around him and he fell to the floor before his systems went into stasis mode.

The gunshot took Nosecone by surprise, hitting him full in the face. His armour absorbed enough of the force of the blast that he didn't die instantly, but his head cracked open and Energon and lubricants poured from the wound as he hit the ground. Rollout, who was sitting a few seats away, wasn't so lucky. Afterburner saw the lights go out of his eyes even before his body hit the floor.

The Technobot wasn't sure what was going on, but it didn't really matter. The three Autobots had been sitting in a large hall that they'd converted into a recreational viewing theatre, watching some entertainment recordings that Rollout had brought with him from Cybertron. The blindside attack had come only a few minutes into the viewing, when all three Autobots' attention was anywhere but the door. Afterburner felt waves of fury overwhelm him – anyone who would walk into a movie viewing and shoot two people in the head, well, they just flat-out needed killing. Even if the victims hadn't been friends of his.

Afterburner dropped to his knees, only barely ducking underneath the rounds that had been meant to do to him what the attacker had already done to the other two Autobots. Behind him the video screen exploded, but Afterburner didn't flinch as shattered glass scraped across his back. Instead he tracked the fire back to it's source, vaguely identifying it at Treadshot even as he blew the Decepticon's chest apart with five quick shots from his sonic pistol. Not willing to take any chances, the Autobot vaulted over the two rows of chairs that separated him from his target and blew Treadshot's head apart with a single well-placed shot.

"The 'Cons have turned on us!" Afterburner snapped. "Just like I said they would!"

Nosecone made a horrible noise. Afterburner looked at his friend, then immediately wished he hadn't. Half of the other Technobot's face was missing, including one of his eyes and half of his lower jaw. But in spite of the pain he must have been in, he was vehemently shaking his head 'no'.

"You saw what just happened! I have to--"


Afterburner scowled. "Lightspeed's a big boy. He can take care of himself."

Nosecone shook his head again. "Nnnn. Thhhh trrrry tttt stppp hmmm."

Afterburner wasn't entirely sure what Lightspeed had been doing in the first place, but he had to admit that the other Technobot had been spending a lot of time with the bigwigs lately. Whatever he was up to it had to be important...and maybe worth killing for.

"Right," Afterburner said. "Can you move?"

Nosecone started to shake his head, but before he could say anything he passed out from fluid loss. Afterburner took a moment to ensure that the damage didn't look fatal – As long as nobody tries to finish the job, anyway, he thought grimly – before easing his stasis-locked friend down to the ground. Afterburner closed the door behind him so that none of the other 'Cons would be able to see what had happened from the hall, then transformed to motorcycle mode and roared off for Astrometrics.

Fangry opened his eyes, saw Triggerhappy standing over him with a dopey expression and immediately punched the other Decepticon in the face.

"Ow!" Triggerhappy bellowed as he fell down.

"Oh, grow a spine," Fangry told him disrespectfully. "I'm barely awake! I'll punch you twice as hard in a couple minutes."

"No," a firm voice told him. "No you won't." Divebomb stepped into the Headmaster's field of view, sword in hand.

"And why not, birdy?" Fangry practically leaped off of the table they'd had him laying on, then did his best not to sway in place as his Nebulan partner's nausea filtered over their mental link.

"Because," Divebomb told him, "you've got more important things to do. I hear you don't like Spinister."

"You mean the stealth expert who painted himself the brightest colours in the universe? He's an idiot."

Divebomb nodded in agreement. "Then we have something in common. But unlike you, Fangry, I'm doing something about it." He gestured towards the door with his sword. "Once you and I are done talking, I'm heading over to Spinister's office and relieving him of command by force. And I'd very much like for you to come with me."

Fangry grinned. "Birdy, I thought you'd never ask."

Needlenose woke up with an ache that ran through his whole body and a vague memory of how he'd gotten it. He opened his eyes to find that he was now sitting in the interrogation room that Calcar had occupied only moments before, strapped into the restraints that had held the Imperial. He looked up, saw the person who had attacked him and glared.

"Real nice, Shrapnel. Real nice. You do remember we're both Decepticons, yeah?"

"Funny," the Insecticon replied. "I could ask you the same thing."

"I'm not the one shocking and tying up my own team," Needlenose told him sharply.

"No," Shrapnel retorted. "You're the one making friends with Autobots."

"Really? We're sitting a gunshot's distance away from enemy HQ and you're worrying about that?"

"Are we?" Shrapnel shook his head. "You're fighting alongside Autobots against other Decepticons. And you like it, Needlenose. You're a traitor. You and your pink helicopter boss."

"I'm pretty sure I'm not the one who trussed up a superior officer," Needlenose said bitterly. "So no, I'm pretty sure you're the traitor. The Imperials are our enemies and we're trying to fight them the best way we can. If that means being buddy-buddy with Autobots, then that's what we do."

"No!" This came not from Shrapnel but from the small, stocky primate standing at his side. Beastbox beat his hands against the floor and said, "You don't think the rest of us have noticed you buddying up with Lightspeed and Cosmos? Needlenose, we're supposed to kill Autobots. We don't work with them. We certainly don't befriend them!"

"But we do like other Decepticons. Or at least ones with their heads on straight." This came from Squawktalk. "And our guest Calcar? Well, it turns out that he's far more talkative than we let on. And we might have been disingenuous about what exactly we were talking to him about, too. But you made it so easy! Muting the sessions so you didn't have to listen to our prattle. Did you really think an interrogation team would act so foolishly? Because I assure you, we did not."

"So, what, you kill all of us and join the Empire? Hardly a big plan."

"The best plans are simple," Shrapnel shrugged. "But don't worry. We won't kill you yet. First we're going to deal with all the Autobots aboard. Then we're going to round up your boss and the rest of Megatron's stooges. Lastly, we'll line you and your boss up against a wall, blow your heads off and let the rest of the crew decide whether they want to join the winning team or not."

The Insecticon turned his back on Needlenose and headed out the door. "You'll be safe in here until we've finished killing all your little Autobot buddies. But don't worry. I'll make sure to save their corpses so you can know exactly who's waiting for you to join them!"

Squeezeplay turned the corner, saw four Decepticons with their weapons drawn and stopped in his tracks.

"Uh...guys? What's up? Did we get boarded and nobody told me?"

"Not quite." Divebomb gestured at him with his sword. "We're taking over."

"You're...what?" Squeezeplay looked at the Predacon like he'd grown another head. "There's four of you."

"Five," Kickback said bluntly.

"Oh no," Squeezeplay shook his head. "I know a mistake when I see one. But you guys have fun."

"I'll have fun eating you if you try to walk away," Fangry cut in. "Triggerhappy might shoot you a few times first though."

"I'm afraid they're right," Kickback said. A pained expression crossed his face. "Look, I know it's cliched, but you can either join us or die."

"I'm pretty sure I could stomp the four of you into the deck plates if you tried," Squeezeplay said, his optics narrowing.

"Debatable," Divebomb said. "But not really the point. There are four of us here. Not in total. You start a fight here and they'll all come running. Do you think you could get out alive fighting eight of us? Ten? Fifteen?"

An irritated Squeezeplay glared at him. "Alright, fine. This is how you want it? I guess I might as well hang around to see how badly you get your butt kicked. Lead the way."

Fangry snickered.

"Quiet, you," Divebomb told him. "We've got work to do."

Seawing glanced up casually when the bridge doors slid open, curious who was entering the ship's nerve centre. He saw Calcar and Road Pig, glanced back down...and then did a double take, jumping up and drawing his guns.

"I don't know how you got out--"

"We let them out," a haughty voice said from behind the Seacon. Seawing glanced behind him and saw Krok looking very proud of himself, with Roadgrabber and Thrust standing at his sides. They were pointing guns at Tentakil and Skalor, who were returning the favour.

Three against five...and they even gave the Imperials their guns back. Dammit!

But Seawing wasn't the type to back down without a fight. "What are you doing, Krok?"

"What does it look like?" the former athlete asked. "We're taking over. Some of us decided that we don't like how your boss is running things, and Calcar here gave us a better offer. Put down your guns and we can talk about it once things have calmed down. Or don't and...well, you know what happens then."

"You know I can't do that," Seawing told Krok. Not only did the Seacon bristle at the thought of treason, but he refused to cede his hard-earned authority without a fight. "But if you put down your weapons and help us take the prisoners back to their cells I'll make sure you don't get executed for this...indiscretion."

"We figured you might say that," Thrust piped up. "So we grabbed a little insurance. Your buddy Overbite? He's locked up in a cage belowdecks, right now. If the three of you so much as fire one shot, just one," Thrust mimed firing a pistol. "A round through the brain module. We're already down two Seacons. You really wanna make it three?"

Seawing clenched his jaw, then glanced sidelong at his two comrades. Skalor looked on in restrained horror, waiting to see what his leader would choose, while Tentakil clearly wanted to kill the invaders and to hell with the consequences. Seawing wanted to agree, but when he looked back at the opposition he realized that defiance wouldn't just lead to one more dead Seacon – chances are they would all die. And duty or no duty, Seawing couldn't throw away the lives of his whole team when there was no chance of success.

The cold Decepticon slowly lowered his guns, then dropped them to the ground.

"Smart," Krok said, though he clearly meant it as a biting remark. Seawing didn't mind, though – he was already calculating just how to kill all five of them with zero losses.

"The door open, Autobot, if please you it would."

"Yeah! We just wanna play! Heh."

Weirdwolf and Skullcruncher. Oh, this day just gets better and better...

Afterburner roared up the hall towards the Astrometrics lab, but by the time he was ten doors away he knew he was already too late to get inside and guard his teammate. The door to the lab was sealed, thankfully, but Afterburner knew that wouldn't last. The Decepticons flanking the door were both bigger, stronger and more durable than he was, and between the two of them they had him easily outgunned. That was especially true because of their location on the ship – a little ways up the corridor dead-ended at the forward fuel tanks, and a single wild miss from Afterburner's powerful alt-mode weapons would ensure that he had a lot more to worry about than two Decepticons trying to kill his friend.

That doesn't mean I can't get their attention, though...maybe pull them away a bit.

Revving up his engine, Afterburner roared in between the two Decepticons at full speed. He kept going into the dead end, using his adhesive tires to drive up the wall and horizontally around a corner before dropping back toward the ground and opening fire. Now his back was to the fuel stores and the Decepticons were fair game. He fired plasma blasts and incendiary missiles at them, then roared back the way he'd come. They returned fire, of course, but they'd been too busy scrambling for cover to even come close to hitting him. Once he was safely down the hall, Afterburner returned to robot mode, drew his safer-to-use sonic pistol and hid behind a corner, waiting for the Decepticons to come after him.

They did, naturally...but before they could reach him the Decepticons' attention was drawn away by a new arrival on the scene. Ruckus walked out of a room a bit farther down the hall from Afterburner's position with a furious expression on his face and demanded, "What the hell is going on? Can't you idiots go a single day without shooting up the halls?"

The two Decepticon Headmasters looked at each other and shrugged...then raised their guns and started firing at Ruckus instead of Afterburner. The Decepticon, standing in the middle of the corridor, was an easy target and quickly took several hits.

"Sorry, Ruckus," Weirdwolf said. "Friend you are, but Megatron loyal to. A risk too great, leaving you alive would be!"

Afterburner sighed and muttered to himself, "I'm sure I'll regret this later..." Then he dove out from his cover, grabbed the Decepticon and dragged him to safety.

Strafe barged into Spinister's office, an urgent expression on his face...then stopped short when he saw Splashdown sitting in a chair across from the Decepticon commander.

"Oh. I, uh...I didn't realize you were busy. Sorry. I should have knocked, but, uh, Seawing, he asked me to come down here."

"Oh?" Spinister cocked his head to one side in mild curiosity.

"Cosmos and the rest are off on their little, uh...whatever it was mission," Strafe told him. "He tried to call but the comm's busted."

"Is it, now?" Spinister's optics narrowed. "I wonder..."

Before the Decpeticon could get his thought out, though, a loud crash reverberated through the room and the door collapsed inwards. On the other side was Fangry, slavering in his beast mode, with Divebomb, Triggerhappy, Kickback and a very reluctant-looking Squeezeplay standing behind him. Strafe was up with guns in hand before the door hit the deck, but the sight of five seemingly-hostile Decepticons was enough to keep even him from acting without orders. Splashdown, meanwhile, confidently rested his hands on the handle of his photon pistol.

"Well?" Divebomb demanded. "Where's the pompous Spinister I've come to know and love? Stand up and demand 'What's the meaning of this?', I dare you!"

"You and I both know what the meaning of this is," Spinister glared back at the Predacon before shifting his eyes across Kickback, Triggerhappy, Fangry and finally Squeezeplay. "Followers of Straxus, Scorponok and Bludgeon, angry that Megatron has come back and marginalized them, grasping at whatever flimsy excuse they can find to try and seize power."

Squeezeplay shook his head and held up his incongruously empty hands. "Don't look at me, boss. I'm just a passenger on this trip through crazy-town."

"Shut up!" Divebomb glared at his apparently-insubordinate henchman before whirling back on Spinister and the Autobots. "Give me your weapons."

"Like hell," Splashdown spat at him, not waiting for Spinister to answer.

Kickback gave a theatrical sigh, then shot the Autobot in the chest. At least a dozen rounds hit him, punching through his armour and making a mess of his innards. The light in the Autobot's eyes dimmed and he fell to the ground.

"Now look what you made us do," Fangry growled.

Divebomb smiled at his two minions, then turned and looked at Spinister. "Look, I really want to trot you and the Autobots out and execute you in front of my new crew to prove a point. But I'll kill you here and now if you make me. Give me your weapons. Now."

Forcing himself not to look at the damaged – and possibly dead – Splashdown, Spinister placed both of his sidearms on the desk with the handles pointed toward his captors. Strafe hesitated for a moment and did the same.

"Good boys," Divebomb told him contemptuously. "Now just sit there and wait quietly while we catch all the rest of your buddies."

"Don't worry," Kickback added cruelly. "It'll all be over real soon."

Sideswipe ducked out of the empty hangar bay that they'd converted to a race track with a big grin on his face. Hot Rod and Sunstreaker followed him out, looking dejected and outraged respectively.

"Oh, come on, guys. You kept it tight but you know there was never a chance you were beating me!"

Sunstreaker's scowl deepened. "You cheated," he said bluntly. "I bet that ugly black paint you're wearing has negative mass or something."

"Negative mass? Is that even a thing?" Sideswipe shook his head. "Oh, and for the record, this black paint job is the best thing ever."

"You and I both know you only got it because you lost a bet with that Jackpot punk before he left for Earth," Sunstreaker told him gruffly. "Don't pretend that you like it."

"Okay, first of all, it wasn't me that lost the bet, it was both of us. And second, I only had to keep it for two weeks. If I didn't like it, I would have gotten rid of it as quickly as you did your white paint job."

"I never had a white paint job," Sunstreaker said obstinately. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Riiiight," Sideswipe said, chuckling. "I'd show you the pictures, but I don't want to puncture your bubble of denial."

"You have pictures?" Sunstreaker demanded furiously. "Delete them right now!"

"Oh, I would," Sideswipe told him, "but they're not the only copies. Gave some to Jackpot too. Oh, and Jazz, Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, Hound, Bluestreak, Wheeljack..."

"You wouldn't!"

"Oh, and come to think of it, Wheeljack mentioned something about sending out a mass email to everyone on Cybertron..." Sideswipe trailed off, finally noticing their quiet comrade. Hot Rod had taken to spending a lot of time with the duo lately and usually participated in their back-and-forth banter, but today he was quiet. "Is something wrong, kid? I know you lost, but hey, at least you beat out Sunny, right?"

"It's not that," Hot Rod shook his head as the trio walked past the doors into main engineering. "It just...I dunno. It feels like something's not right around here."

"What do you mean?" Sideswipe asked. "And this had better not be another shot at my paint job."

"No, nothing like that," Hot Rod shrugged. "I can't put my finger on it. I just--"

He broke off as an energy blast shot between the three of them and tore up the bulkhead on the other side of the hall.

"You know what?" Sideswipe said dryly, "I think I believe you."

Krok scowled as Shrapnel's voice came over the conspirators' scrambled comm channel.

"Uh...some help here, guys? I was heading to Engineering with the cassettes to take out the Autobots there, but we're pinned down by three armed and not at all happy Autobots." His voice turned annoyed. "Someone thought it was a great idea to shoot at them."

"Beastbox, you moron!"

"It was a good idea!" the cassette insisted gruffly.

Krok's scowl deepened. He looked over at Calcar and demanded, "Are you done locking out the controls?"

"No. Your comrades did a good job eliminating old access codes. It will take some time."

The scowl had reached Bludgeon-esque levels now. "Fine. Stay here. Thrust and Roadgrabber, stay with him. If the Seacons act up, shoot them. The same goes for our new 'ally'. You," he said, pointing at Road Pig, "time to prove your worth! Come with me."

As Krok headed for the lift, Divebomb's voice came over the comm. "I'll join you there. Engineering is key to our control of the ship."

A wounded Ruckus glared up at Afterburner. "What the bloody hell did you do to make those idiots so mad?"

"And hello to you too," the Technobot said peevishly. "You're welcome, by the way. You know, for saving you and all."

"Saving me?" Ruckus guffawed. "Kid, I've been getting shot up by better mechs than these since before they wired you Technobots. It'll take a lot more than Skullcruncher and Weirdwolf to put my life in danger." He scowled. "But that ain't to say that I like it."

"Good," Afterburner told him. "Because I'm not a big fan myself. You wanna help me bust their heads?"

Ruckus punched his fist into the palm of his open hand and grinned. "Do I."

"Good. 'Cause they might not be a threat to tough guys like us, but if they get that door open my buddy Lightspeed's going to be in a whole world of hurt. And that's just not going to happen!"

Spinister watched as the traitor Divebomb let himself out, then turned to Squeezeplay and said, "You don't want to do this."

"We're not playing this game," Kickback cut in. "You think we're dumb enough to let you drive a wedge between us?"

"No. But I don't think your Headmaster friends have adequately thought through what happens if your plan works." Spinister spared a quick sidelong glance at Strafe, who was tending to the thankfully not-yet-dead Splashdown. The Autobot's expression was grim, and Spinister knew he only had a few minutes to bring this to an end if he was going to safe the soldier's life.

"I said shut up," Kickback said, gesturing threateningly with his rifle. "Unless you want to eat lead!"

"You won't shoot me," Spinister told him. "Divebomb gave the game away. If you kill any of us, it makes your little act of theatre far less effective. Unless I get my hands on a gun and start shooting, you won't risk it. So put the gun down, Insecticon, and stop with the empty threats. You're accomplishing nothing but embarrassing yourself."

Kickback seethed, but didn't do anything. At that moment, Spinister knew he'd been right. And more than that – he knew he was going to win.

"What do you mean?" Squeezeplay demanded. "What about us Headmasters?"

"Surely it has occurred to you that the Imperials have a low regard for organics," Spinister said. "You and Fangry have organics in your heads. That won't go over well at all. At best, they'll kill your Nebulan partners and restore your original heads. At worst..." Spinister shrugged, then gestured toward his guns, which Kickback had stored in a magnetic cage. "Well, I'm just a Targetmaster and even I would be nervous signing up with an army that considers me tainted by contact with organics."

"I hadn't thought of it that way," Squeezeplay admitted. He looked at Fangry and said, "I told you this was a bad idea."

"Are you kidding? These guys are going to off Brisko and make me whole again?" The beast-mode Fangry laughed, ignoring the calls of protest from his chest compartment. "That sounds like heaven."

"For you maybe. I like Lokos!" Squeezeplay shook his head. "And what if they just decide to kill us all and be done with it?"

"They can try," Fangry told him. "They can try."

"They will try," Spinister interjected. "And they'll succeed, at least with you, because you're a useless waste of space with the fighting skills of an Autobot Micromaster."

Fangry's eyes flashed with rage and he pushed past Squeezeplay. "You know what, boss?" he asked Spinister. "I think I've had just about enough of you."

"Then do something about it," Spinister challenged him. "I'm sitting right here. Unarmed, not ready. That's how you like it, isn't it? Attacking people who can't fight back?"

Fangry roared, but Kickback grabbed him by the arm and held him back.

"That's enough!" the Insecticon snapped. "Shut up, Spinister, or by Primus I will kill the Autobots right now!"

But he wouldn't get the chance, even if he had meant it. Infuriated, Fangry bit down into the Insecticon's shoulder, lifted him into the air and tossed him into the nearest wall. "Don't touch me, bug," he growled. "Don't ever touch me." Then he turned away and stalked toward Spinister. "And you, little mech...get up. We're going to settle this once and for all."

Spinister stood and walked out from behind his desk, glad for the faceplate that hid the smile that would otherwise be spreading across his face.

Almost too easy...

Hot Rod ducked over the tipped-over equipment case that he and the other two Autobots were using for cover, firing off several rounds from his electrostatic discharger gun before popping back behind it. Enemy fire cut through the space his head had occupied just seconds before.

"What the hell are you doing, Shrapnel? We're on the same side, remember?"

"I must have forgot," the Insecticon quipped as he fired a grenade into their cover. "Come out here and remind me."

"Yeah, I'll get right on that."

"No need," a cruel voice said from behind him. Hot Rod turned just in time to see Krok arrive with one of the Imperials in tow, moving to flank the Autobots. They had a clear firing lane, and any attempt to break their line of sight would give Shrapnel and company a free shot at the Autobots' backs. "You can talk to us instead. But throw down your guns first."

Hot Rod scowled, glancing sidelong at Sideswipe. The other Autobot gave an unhappy nod, and both of them tossed their sidearms to the deck. Sunstreaker followed suit a moment later, a disgusted look on his face.

"Smart boy," Krok said to Hot Rod with a sadistic tone. "Just bought yourself a few more minutes of life that way. Now come on, I'll--"

The Decepticon trailed off as the lights went out in the corridor, dropping a blanket of darkness on the group of them. Hot Rod frowned, unsure of what was going on.

Someone's here it. But friend or foe?

The young Autobot had no way of knowing, and he hated it.

A second later, the screaming started.

"Krok? You there buddy?"

Seawing watched Thrust out of the corner of his optic as the seeker screamed into his comlink with increasing levels of concern. Roadgrabber was standing within arms' reach of him, and both of their backs had been turned to the captive Seacons.

"Divebomb, we've lost contact with Krok. Can you see him?"

"No, I'm still a minute away," the frontman of the mutiny responded.

Seawing made eye contact with Tentakil, who nodded fractionally.

"Well, be careful. Something's going on there, and I don't--" Whatever else Thrust was going to say was drowned out as Tentakil flung himself at the two traitors, transforming to beast mode in mid-air and wrapping his long, lashing tentacles taut around their torsos. Muffled screams emerged from the two Decepticons but nothing more.

Calcar, meanwhile, got up from his station with his heavy machine gun in hand. He swung it around to face Seawing, who had taken a few steps forward and positioned himself in the middle of the room, and easy target. Before he could fire, though, his attention was grabbed by a teal and pink blur charging toward him at ground level. He tried to turn his focus onto Skalor, but the stocky Decepticon had swept his legs out from under him before he could fire.

Not waiting to see what happened, Seawing charged toward the collection of confiscated Seacon weapons that the traitors had piled in one corner, retrieved his venom lasers and shot the Imperial four times in the chest.

Skalor looked up at him, disappointed. "Bo-oss," he whined, "I totally had him!"

"I'm sure you did," Seawing lied smoothly, "but we don't have time to mess around. Tentakil?"

The other Seacon released the two Decepticons he'd grappled, dropping their battered and dented bodies to the floor. Seawing hit both Thrust and Roadgrabber with multiple shots from his paralytic weapon as well, then told his comrades, "Drag them somewhere out of the way. They'll be napping for at least an hour, which should be plenty of time for us to clean up their mess."

The Seacon leader strode over to the nearest control console – which happened to be the main sensor board – and keyed in a couple commands and then swore. "Or not."

"What's wrong?" Tentakil asked, suddenly right behind his fellow Seacon.

Seawing refused to flinch, knowing how much Tentakil enjoyed imposing himself on others' personal space. "The controls are locked out," he said bitterly. "Calcar finished hacking the command codes before we got him."

"That's bad," Tentakil agreed.

"It is, but it's not what I'm cursing about," Seawing told him. "There's an Imperial patrol ship incoming."

"That's really bad," Tentakil winced. "Did they get a signal out?"

"Either that, or they saw us launch our scout ships," Seawing said, shaking his head. "Not sure it much matters which. They'll be in our hangar bay in ten minutes and there's nothing we can do to stop them."

Tentakil flexed his multiple limbs, saying, "There's one thing we can do."

"Right." Seawing scowled, then told his two fellows, "get your guns. We're heading out."

"What about them?" Skalor asked. "We can't leave them here. Can we kill 'em?"

Seawing shook his head. "Don't bother. We can toss them in the brig on the way."

"That's a mighty generous interpretation of "on the way", boss. The hangar is in the opposite direction."

"Maybe," Seawing said, "but we're going to stop in for some backup. Where else do you suppose they stuffed Overbite and anyone else they've nabbed?"

Afterburner roared down the hall again, but this time he didn't steer between the two
Decepticon Headmasters. This time he drove directly at them, upending himself at the last minute so that one of his wheels would smash into either Decepticon's shins. Weirdwolf tumbled forward, transforming to beast mode as he fell and trying to land on all fours. Skullcruncher, meanwhile, toppled sideways and smashed into the bulkhead shoulder-first.

Afterburner transformed to robot mode once he was clear of them, still skidding across the deck as he drew his pistol and fired sonic blasts at Weirdwolf's feet. The Decepticon yelped, tripped and slammed into the wall. Ruckus flew at him from the nearby cross-corridor and immediately began raining blows down on his face.

Afterburner turned back to deal with Skullcruncher...only to see that the Headmaster was already subdued, lying face-down on the ground with a bunch of holes from Lightspeed's sidearm in his back.

"Oh, sure," Afterburner snarked at his fellow Technobot, "now you peek out, once I've saved the day without you..."

"It's good to see you too," Lightspeed said, grinning at Afterburner. "Oh, and thanks. I don't know what these two goons are doing, but it was obvious they were up to no good."

Afterburner winced as the memory of Nosecone and Rollout came to mind. "Yeah, you could say that."

Lightspeed gestured towards Ruckus, who had clearly knocked Wierdwolf offline and was now kicking him spitefully while taunting.

"Uh...he's on our side, I hope."

Afterburner wasn't sure how to answer that, so he shrugged. "Well, these two tried to kill him."

Lightspeed laughed. "Close enough."

Spinister didn't so much as flinch as Fangry charged him. Strafe stared at him, agape, clearly of the impression that the Targetmaster had gone insane. But Spinister was nothing of the sort. He was simply very confident that Fangry wasn't going to lay a hand on him.

And he was right, as Squeezeplay proved when he intercepted the other Headmaster no more than three paces away from Spinister with a shoulder tackle. The two Headmasters went down, struggling and slashing at each other in their vicious beast modes.

Spinister paid them no mind, though. Instead he turned his attention to Triggerhappy, who was slow to react but finally starting to bring his weapon up. Spinister was faster, though, grabbing his chair and hitting the other Targetmaster full in the face with it. A stunned Triggerhappy sunk to the ground, shaking his head.

Then Spinister headed for Kickback, closing the gap between himself and the Insecticon with a few brisk strides before bringing his foot firmly down on the other Decepticon's wrist as he groped for his submachine gun. Spinister leaned in with all his weight and heard Kickback's wrist joint and forearm crack, but to the Insecticon's credit he didn't so much as whimper. Then the Targetmaster kicked the other Decepticon in the chest, sending him skidding a few metres away.

"You think I don't understand," Spinister told Kickback as he bent to retrieve the Insecticon's gun. "But the truth is, I do. I understand all too well. I was the field commander of the Mayhem Attack Squad. I was the captain of Thunderwing's elite bodyguards. I coordinated the capture of the Matrix." His optics narrowed as naked fury started to show even in his faceplated expression. "I was the second most important Decepticon in the galaxy, Kickback, and far more vital to our cause than you could ever hope to be! And it was all taken away! Not by the Autobots, no. Not by our enemies. No, Kickback. It was my fellow Decepticons who took all that away. First Scorponok, stripping me of my rank on a flimsy pretext because he didn't know me and didn't trust me in a position of authority over his troops. And then the rest of you, spurning my years of experience for Bludgeon of all people and his ridiculous superstitions."

"Then you know why we had to--" Kickback croaked out, but before he could say anything Spinister kicked him again.

"No!" the Targetmaster roared. "I understand how you feel, Kickback. But your actions are a disgrace to the badge that you wear! I accepted Scorponok's petty provincialism because I knew that the battle against Unicron was more important than settling old grudges. I swallowed my pride and took orders from Bludgeon, no matter how insanely wrong-headed it was to make him leader, because our homeworld was falling apart and survival was the only thing we could worry about.

"But you! The Imperials declared war on us, Kickback! They attacked us, murdered our friends! They've invaded our home, and surely right now they're busy trying to kill every single person back on Cybertron that you care about. And you want to try and join the enemy that has targeted us for genocide? You would throw away everything that it means to be a Decepticon just because Megatron was mean and didn't give you a nice job when he took over? And you would lie to hapless idiots like Fangry, pretending like they'll be accepted when we both know that the enemy will line them up against a wall and shoot them?"

Spinister raised his appropriated rifle and took aim at the prone Kickback's head.

"I don't blame them. They're just soldiers, doing what their friends say is the best thing to do. But you, Kickback? You and Krok and Divebomb and Shrapnel? You put your own ambitions ahead of the good of the Decepticon cause. And there's only one answer to that."

Before Kickback could get so much as a word out, Spinister pulled the trigger and blew the Insecticon's head apart with his own weapon.

Spinister just stood there for a moment, cognisant of the fact that everyone in the room was staring at him. He took a second to compose himself, allowing the rage that had boiled over to fade away before turning back to face the rest of the room's occupants. A battered Fangry lay on the ground, dazed, oil running out of his mouth. Squeezeplay stood over him, triumphant and clearly happy that the situation had resolved itself the way that it had. Strafe was utterly terrified, and Splashdown somehow managed to look proud even though he was barely conscious. Triggerhappy, meanwhile, had an enthralled expression on his face as if he'd never seen anything like what had just happened.

"Okay. Yeah. I don't know about the rest of you," Triggerhappy said, "but I'm sticking with this guy."

Divebomb walked down the hall, unable to see anything even with his keen vision. But his internal guidance system told him that he'd arrived at the scene of the battle. His other senses, though, told him that something was very wrong. His keen ears told him that there was no sound other than his own footsteps. His sharp sense of smell, on the other hand, told him that fuel had been shed here very, very recently.

I need to shed some light on this...

Divebomb raised his laser sword and ignited it, flooding the hall with a blood-red glow that made what he found even more horrifying than it would have been in daylight. Discarded shell casings, flak and debris littered the corridor, which was burned and blackened. There was no sign of the Autobots, but Divebomb's own men were easy to find – Road Pig and the cassettes were lying on the ground, clearly unconscious, while Krok and Shrapnel both were waiting at the other end of the hall standing in what looked like extremely uncomfortable poses. As Divebomb drew closer he realized that they weren't standing at all – they were dead, and their corpses had been pinned to the bulkhead with a makeshift spike through the chest.

"Who—" Divebomb started to ask.

Then the lighting in the corridor changed, going from blood-red to an ugly, bruise-like purple. Divebomb spun and found himself face to face with Sixshot, his own blue blade the source of the change in colour. The larger Decepticon had somehow managing to close to a few metres' distance and only revealing himself when he wanted to.

"You did this?"

"I did this," Sixshot admitted with a nod.

"How could you defile the bodies of your fellow--" Divebomb's furious question was cut off before he could get it out.

"They were not my fellows," Sixshot said bluntly. "Nor are you. My fellows are loyal to Megatron and the Decepticon cause. You are neither. And if you aren't on my side, you are merely...prey."

"Then so be it," Divebomb said. "Have at thee, sixchanging scum!"

Divebomb raised his sword, prepared to charge...and then his head was wreathed in flame and he knew no more.

Hot Rod stepped out of the cover he'd been hiding behind, lowered his Targetmaster gun and nodded his head to Sixshot. "Thanks again for the save."

"And thank you for the...assistance," Sixshot replied, the blue light from his blade casting ominous shadows across his face.

"No prob," Hot Rod told him, "but I don't think you really needed it. You coulda took him."

"Yes," Sixshot acknowledged, "but he didn't deserve it. If I killed him, he would have died a warrior's death. An honourable death. Far more fitting to be shot from behind like a mad dog that needed to be put down."

Hot Rod opened his mouth to reply, but the blue blade's light died and he lost sight of Sixshot. Moments later, the corridor's lighting returned to normal and the sixchanger was gone.

"I'm glad he's on our side..."

Epilogue: Visitors

After taking a moment to ensure that Splashdown was safely ensconced inside his Pretender shell and that he could move safely while it repaired him, Spinister had led his ragtag collection of Autobots and former traitors out into the halls. The Targetmaster was intent on retaking his ship, but after only a handful of paces he realized that would not be strictly necessary.

As his group moved aft, toward the ship's control centres, they ran right into an armed party moving toward the bow. The four Seacons had taken point, with Thundercracker, Skywarp and Submarauder following them. And bringing up the rear...


"Needlenose." In spite of what was going on, Spinister couldn't help but feel a flush of relief that his protege had survived the chaos. "Where are you going?"

"I'd better let Seawing explain," Needlenose shrugged.

The lead Seacon didn't miss a beat as Spinister's crew mixed in with his own. "The enemy took the bridge," Seawing said. "We reclaimed it, but not before they managed to lock out the controls. We're dead in space, and the sensors showed an Imperial ship incoming. Unless they've slowed down, they'll be unloading troops in our hangar bay within the next minute."

"Let's move!" Spinister shouted in response. "Double time!"

As they moved out, Seawing continued. "We tossed our captors in the brig and sprung all the loyalists and Autobots they'd rounded up. Springer, Grimlock and their guys went to round up stragglers and shoot anyone who thinks they're going to keep up the whole 'mutiny' thing while we're being boarded. I grabbed these guys and went to get the lay of the land."

"Good work," Spinister said, and meant it. Seawing had done an excellent job under pressure. "Do you have a plan?"

Seawing nodded. "Right now, Skywarp is the plan. He can pop in, tell us what's going on and then pop back."

"Agreed." The group stopped at the main hangar doors and Spinister waved Skywarp forward. "Go," he told the seeker.

"You got it." Skywarp grinned, then teleported out. A few minutes later, he returned.

"What did you see?" Seawing demanded.

"The weirdest thing," Skywarp told him. "They're just...standing there. Not talking, nobody giving orders, nobody moving. Just standing in place like statues."

Spinister's expression was unreadable. "Interesting. Skywarp, trigger the doors. The rest of you, we're following the Seacons in!"

The group of Decepticons stormed through the doors, weapons raised...only to find exactly what Skywarp had described. No less than eighty Imperial troopers stood stock-still in the middle of the room, only a few paces away from the boarding ramp of their patrol ship.

Spinister like out a small noise of relief as he looked to his left (and way, way up) to say, "Good work, Trypticon."

"I suppose you're going to say that this is why you keep me locked up in the hangar all day long?" the giant Decepticon asked, a bored expression on his face.

"As long as there are absolutely no follow-up questions, why not?" Spinister gestured toward the Imperials and asked, "How long can your hypno-beams hold them?"

"I'm not sure, but not indefinitely," Trypticon replied. "I would recommend stunning and imprisoning them forthwith." He nodded his gigantic head toward the black and pink robot standing at the forefront of the enemy legion and said, "That one appears to be their leader. He was very talkative before I froze them."

"Was he, now? Then perhaps a conversation is in order." Spinister glanced over his shoulder. "Fangry, would you mind eating our guest if he makes a hostile move after Trypticon releases him?"

Fangry, still a little out of sorts after getting manhandled by Squeezeplay, was all too eager. "You can count on me, boss."

The Headmaster strode forward, getting close enough to the Imperial that he was only one pounce-length away. Once he was out of earshot Spinister whispered, "Needlenose, Thundercracker, once the Imperial is distracted by beating up Fangry feel free to shoot him."

Needlenose chuckled. "You got it, boss."

With that settled, Spinister strode forward and signalled Trypticon to release the Imperial. The enemy mech immediately wavered on his feet, but managed not to fall down. Not wanting to let him get a chance to recover his wits, Spinister immediately snapped, "Identify yourself!"

The Imperial drew himself up to his full height, an accomplishment that evidently required some exertion. "I am Colossus," he said. "Brigadier in the Imperial Army and emissary of the great Overlord."

Then he threw his arms wide in a gesture so theatrical that Fangry nearly attacked. "On the behalf of my master, I welcome you to the Hub! Overlord said you would come, but I never believed..." Colossus shook his head. "But I was a fool! Of course you would come. Overlord foretold it, after all. He said you would save us all!"

Spinister looked on, incredulous, then glanced up at Trypticon and asked, "Did your hypno-beams damage his brain?"

The giant dinosaur shook his head. "He was going on like this as soon as he arrived. Why do you think I zapped him in the first place?"

Spinister sighed, then looked back to Colossus. "You knew we were coming?"

"Of course!" Colossus gestured dramatically again. "Not you in particular, of course, but Overlord knew that an attack on Cybertron would inevitably lead to your kind coming here."

"And that's...a good thing in his books?"

"Naturally. Who else could save us except for you?"

Spinister shook his head, then looked around at his equally baffled troops. "Okay. Colossus, is it? Colossus, I'm going to need you to start again. From the beginning."

NEXT: The Truth!

There's not much to say about this chapter, except that it's one that I've been waiting to write for a long time. We've been away from Spinister and company for a long time now -- since chapter nine, which is seven ****ing years ago if you've been reading the story as it's posted. I do wish I'd foreshadowed this a bit more, but alas that's one of the things that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle when you take so long between chapters.

Next chapter (which, incidentally, is ready to go and has been for two years...I actually wrote it well before this chapter and the two previous) is something of a bittersweet moment for me, because it marks the turning point where I stop introducing new questions and plot threads and start wrapping up the existing ones as we begin to head towards the conclusion. It'll be a while yet before we get there but next chapter is a definitive ending for the second "act" of the story.

As always, comments and critiques are more than welcome. :)

2014-02-10, 02:44 PM

The Spinister the Seawing the Sixshot the Squeezeplay the Afterburner the Skywarp and Thundercracker the Fangry and the everything.

Everything is just awesome. Spinister in particular. Also Seawing.

Not even Shrapnel getting killed off can put me off.

This is great. A bit on the shorter side, but this is great. The general theme of Autobots and Decepticons working together, Spinister's whole speech, a lot of great stuff involving comedy and action scenes, and that ever mysterious agenda of Overlord's... really, really intriguing. Also loved the selection of traitors you made, glad to see Skywarp and Thundercracker and Shrapnel and Kickback getting a lot of screentime, Sixshot's reappearance was awesome, Spinister's speech was awesome, Trypticon was awesome, the Ruckus-Afterburner fight was awesome, and bloody hell seeing the Suicide Squad back again is really awesome.

A longer post would be variations of me saying the word 'awesome' so yeah there you have it another strong entry.

Less people died in this one than I expected but that's okay. Surprised Splashdown and the cassettes actually survived, though.