e mërkurë, 13 qershor 2007

Derelict

Author's Note: This is the seventh episode of "The Skyfire Adventures" written in 1998. The story ties up the loose ends from the Apocalypse Trilogy and moves into what was supposed to have been another extended story arc. This episode primarily focuses on Perceptor and Wheeljack, who find a derelict ship inhabited by scary monsters that try to kill them, sort of like "Alien." This is the first indication that something evil is afoot...

The Skyfire Adventures: Derelict

Prologue

The planet of Hippolyta was a brown world that until a month ago had been uninhabited. Now it was teeming with over fifteen hundred beings, the survivors of the planet Cybertrax. A large central city had been built in the course of the month and the new residents of the planet were growing used to their environment.

A single orange ship was grounded a few miles from the city and was the site of a great effort. Scores of Cybertraxians were working on the ship, preparing it for its upcoming journey. On the bridge of the ship, the Maximal Skyfire listened to the latest reports. Wheeljack reported, “All systems are just about ready to go. We just have to finish up some modifications on the engines.”

“Great. What about the two transports?”

“Zeam and his group have finished work on them and are loading them in the hangar.”

“All modifications to the sensors and internal systems are finished, so once you’re done we’ll be ready to get out of here.”

“It should only be a few more hours. Can’t say I won’t be glad to get out of here. I mean this place is nice, but it’s not Cybertron.”

“I know. Report when you’re done. I’ve got to meet with Tym and discuss a few things.” Wheeljack nodded and Skyfire hurried from the bridge. Once he had left the ship he transformed into a bald eagle and flew to the large, conical building that housed the new government. Skyfire was escorted inside the building and taken to an office. The office was bare, having been completed only days before, and behind a gray, metal desk sat Tym, the head of the new government. He got up and extended his hand to Skyfire.

“Glad that you made it. I hear your ship is about ready to go.”

“Yes it is. We’ve been most grateful for your hospitality and help. With the refit engines we’ll be able to cut years off of our journey.”

“I wish I could say that we were just trying to help, but there was a hidden agenda on our part.”

Skyfire stared at Tym for a moment, wondering what was going on. Did Tym plan on hijacking the ship and killing Skyfire and the others? None of the Cybertraxians had ever bore any ill-will towards the Autobots, Scarecrow, and him. “I don’t understand,” Skyfire replied simply.

Tym pushed a button on the edge of the desk and a panel in the wall to Skyfire’s left opened. Skyfire was nearly blinded by the bright lights coming from the five Matrices recovered from Cybertrax. Skyfire, as Jetfire, had recovered them in a daring raid Hippolyta had concocted and turned them over to the Cybertraxians. Tym got up and went to the Matrices, resting his hand on the white and gold Matrix of Harmony, the Matrix that could find all of the others. “These Matrices are too powerful to be left here. Our government is only beginning to reform, our security isn’t as tight as it could be. If someone finds these, then they could use their power and destroy the planet and possibly the universe. I won’t let that happen.” He looked at Skyfire sadly. “Skyfire, I need you to take these back to Cybertron, they’ll be safe there.”

“Tym, we won’t get back to Cybertron for about thirty more years, anything could happen to them in that time. It’s a terrible risk to take.”

“I don’t want them on this planet, I can’t take the chance. There are Cybertraxians who would give their sparks to possess the power of just one of these, let alone five of them. Shoot them into the nearest star for all I care, but they can’t stay here.”

Skyfire nodded. “Very well then. Wheeljack and I will make a defense system for them so no one can steal them. I give you my word that I will protect them with my life. No harm will come to them.”

“Thank-you. I know I can count on you, just as Hippolyta did. As soon as you’re done with that defense system I’ll arrange for a secret transfer. Good journey to you and your crew, Skyfire.”

“And to you, Tym.” Skyfire left the office sadly, knowing what Tym was doing. The Matrix of Wisdom had not appeared as yet, and by getting rid of the other Matrices his people would be completely on their own. It was possible that the Matrix of Wisdom would return later, but until then the Cybertraxians would have nothing. Their entire system of government would have to be altered since there could not be another Yta without the Matrix. However, Skyfire knew that the Cybertraxians would find a way to survive. They were a brave people and had endured a lot. Somehow they would get by.

*

Two days later Skyfire and his crew were gathered outside of the ship. A large group of Cybertraxians were there to send the ship off. Skyfire stepped forward to address them. “We are all very grateful for your hospitality and help in refitting our ship for its voyage home. We thought before we lift off we should demonstrate how much your help means to us.” On his signal, Grapple opened the hatch to the ship, revealing two boxy transports. “These are our two transport ships, the Pathfinder and the Legacy II. With your help we have outfitted these for long-range research missions that will allow us to better add to the knowledge that we will take back to Cybertron and then bring back to your people. As soon as we reach home, I will return using trans-warp drive and share all that we have discovered with your people. Because of your help, our engines have been upgraded and will cut over fifteen years from our journey. The increase in sensors, shields, and weapons will also help us along the way.”

“There is no way that we can ever thank you enough for your help with our ship and for allowing us to fight beside you against Cybertrax. We will remember you always and once we return to Cybertron, we will make certain that our two peoples who are so related are finally united.” Skids handed Skyfire a bottle of radium-spiked oil left over from the victory celebration a month ago. Skyfire turned towards the ship and announced, “Without any further ado I hereby christen this vessel the Odyssey.” He threw the bottle and it smashed against the side of the ship, a blotch of oil dripping down the orange hull. Odyssey was the name the entire crew had agreed upon in homage to a human story about a ship and crew that also had to make a long journey home. A cheer went up from the crowd and more intoxicants were opened. A new party began and with a final wave the crew went inside the ship. Grapple took the helm, Perceptor the science station, Beachcomber the sensors, Skids the weapons, and Skyfire the command chair. Wheeljack went back to the engine room to make a final check. Scarecrow simply went back to his quarters until he was needed. Since he was not supposed to even be part of the crew he had no station.

Grapple activated the ignition sequence and the vertical take-off engines of the ship roared to life. The Odyssey lifted off on a bed of yellow-orange fire until it was high in the air. The crew fought against the forces of gravity and for a few moments Skyfire was certain they were all going to be torn apart. The ship finally made it through the atmosphere and was once again out in space. “Activate main engines and ready the hyperdrive.” Grapple nodded and the vertical take-off engines died out. The three large main engines began to glow with blue-white fury and sent the Odyssey moving forward.

“Sensors detecting an object approaching,” Beachcomber called out.

“A fighter?” Skyfire asked.

“That’s what it looks like.”

“Good. Open the hangar doors and let it land.” Beachcomber nodded and the hangar doors opened, magnetic systems keeping the transports and everything else inside. A green fighter with cranked-arrow wings and twin tails streaked by the bridge, waggling its wings. It made a sharp turn and landed inside of the hangar. “Show off,” Skyfire said to himself.

A green Autobot appeared on the bridge moments later. “You weren’t going to leave without me?” Valkyrie asked.

Skyfire turned in his chair and replied, “Of course not. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.”

She nodded and took an empty seat on the bridge that allowed access to a computer terminal. Valkyrie, the Autobot incarnation of the Cybertraxian leader Hippolyta, had been drifting in space for a month now, her only company the equipment and rations she had been given. It may seem cruel, but Valkyrie knew that it had been necessary to make sure that no one found out who she really was. She didn’t want any of her former people to know that she had survived, that was part of the punishment she had been given from the Elders of her race for being allowed to come back to life.

“All right, take us up to light speed, Grapple.” Grapple nodded and signaled that he was ready. “Engage,” Skyfire commanded. The Odyssey shot forward into space, into the unknown.


Chapter One

A month later Wheeljack and Perceptor were sitting in the cockpit of the Pathfinder, ingesting energon rations. They were on their way back to the Odyssey after conducting some research on a blue reflection nebula nearby. Perceptor had wanted to go to study it and Wheeljack had volunteered to come along to make sure the transport worked as it was supposed to, since this was its first field test.

Skids and Beachcomber had left days before them in the Legacy II to study a planet with intelligent life. The two scientists wanted to conduct some field work on the society of the race and were equipped for a discreet survey. While Skyfire had granted the two sidetrips, he had ordered that the Odyssey keep moving. The ship had maintained a leisurely pace before, but with the Matrices aboard, Skyfire wanted to get back to Cybertron as quickly as possible. Besides, he had made a promise to the Cybertraxians, a promise he intended to keep.

“Nothing like studying a nebula,” Wheeljack commented in boredom. “Except maybe tinkering with some alien technology.”

Perceptor sniffed a bit and replied, “The study of that nebula provided a wealth of scientific data for use on Cybertron.”

“I know that, but it’s boring to just sit around and look at some space gas.”

“Perhaps to you, but the upgraded sensors allowed us to see things about the structure of that blue reflection nebula that we had never seen before. I will have to write an article for the Autobot Journal of Science as soon as we return to the ship.”

“I can’t wait to get back to Cybertron and tell everyone about our adventures. They’ll never believe half of it. Of course, from what Skyfire says Cybertron is a different place now that these Maximals are in charge. I hope our buddies are still all right.”

“I’m sure all of our comrades are fine. We haven’t been gone that long.”

“I know. Hey, what’s that?” The comlink button was beeping and Wheeljack wondered if Skids or the Odyssey was calling.

He pressed the button and a deep voice rumbled something in a foreign language. “There is nothing on the sensors,” Perceptor said.

The message replayed and Wheeljack snapped his fingers. “From that monotonous tone and the way it’s repeating, I’d have to guess that’s a distress signal of some sorts. Let’s see if we can trace it back.” Wheeljack’s hands flew over his console and he nodded. “I’ve got a fix on a ship. There’s some kind of radiation interfering with the scans, but I am definitely detecting metal in large quantities.”

“I am setting a course for whatever it is,” Perceptor said, punching the coordinates into the computer. The Pathfinder turned and its engines went to full speed. “I estimate it will take two hours to reach the source of the metal.”

“Great. I hope whoever sent that signal isn’t in too much trouble.”

“As do I. We will see.”

*

Two hours later the metal Wheeljack had detected came into view. The metal was a starship that was gray and fan-shaped. It was a little bit larger than the Odyssey, but from what Wheeljack could determine it was dead in space. “I’m not detecting any lifeforms,” he reported.

“That radiation is still present. I would surmise that it is coming from the ship itself. There may still be a crew on board in need of assistance.”

“Right. No weapons, shields, or propulsion active. I think I’ve got a lock on a hangar. Take us over and we’ll see if we can get the doors to work.”

Perceptor maneuvered the transport around the back of the ship and to the other side, where there was a large, rectangular area of darker metal. Wheeljack analyzed it and couldn’t find any way to signal it to open. They had tried already to hail the ship with no response, except for the distress call. Wheeljack armed the twin laser cannons on the ship and fired on the door. After a few bursts a hole large enough to accommodate the transport was formed. Perceptor set the Pathfinder down inside a large dark room that was obviously a hangar, as it contained a couple of small, fan-shaped ships.

Wheeljack analyzed the ship’s interior to determine if he and Perceptor could survive outside the Pathfinder. “That radiation seems to be coming from the rear of the ship, near the engines. There’s no way we can survive for long back there, but levels are lower in the front, so we can look around up there for survivors.”

“Good.” The two Autobots went to the hatch and opened it. Perceptor had his rifle in hand and Wheeljack’s missile launcher was loaded in case there was any trouble. They cautiously stepped out and looked around the hangar. There were no lifeforms around and so they decided to look elsewhere. Perceptor found a door and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. “The computer systems must be off-line.”

Perceptor found a manual release to the side of the door controls and the door grated open enough for them to get it the rest of the way. The adjoining corridor was dark and Wheeljack activated a flashlight mounted on the side of his right arm. “I’d suggest the first thing we try to do is get to the bridge and see if we can get things working again. There isn’t much air left in here for anything to survive.”

Perceptor nodded and the pair of Autobots hurried along the corridor. They were stopped at an elevator and pried the doors open. There was no elevator car, only a long shaft. Perceptor led the way and they slowly climbed up. Two levels later they found the elevator car, barely attached and looking as though something had torn it open. “It does not appear as though that was done by an accident,” Perceptor observed.

“Maybe we’ve come too late.”

Perceptor shrugged and scrambled over the car. Wheeljack grabbed the sides of the car to haul himself up when the last supports gave way. He shouted in surprise and Perceptor reached back to grab his friend’s hand. Perceptor’s hand barely missed and Wheeljack began to fall with the car. Wheeljack managed to get on the top of the car and looked for some way to stop his fall. He spotted a ledge for one of the stops along the shaft below him and waited for the car to descend that far. He jumped and his hands caught onto the ledge, the elevator car continuing its long plunge. Wheeljack managed to pull himself to his feet and then climbed back up to the shaft to catch up to Perceptor.

“That was close,” Wheeljack said when the two were reunited.

“Too close. The top of the shaft is not too far ahead, the bridge should be close by.”

“Great, maybe then we can get some answers.” The Autobots continued to climb until they reached the top of the elevator shaft. There was a ledge similar to the one Wheeljack had been saved by, and just above it was a door. Perceptor leapt across the shaft and his right hand caught onto the ledge. He pulled himself up and manually opened the door. He stepped back and Wheeljack jumped across the shaft and pulled himself up to his feet. They looked around to see that they had made it to the bridge, or what was left of it.

“Primus, this place looks trashed,” Wheeljack commented. Perceptor nodded and then both of their fluids went cold when they saw the bodies. There were five of them total, scattered about the room at various stations. Perceptor went to the nearest one in the center of the room and transformed to microscope mode, examining the corpse.

The body was humanoid and small, a child of about ten years from what Perceptor could determine. Its entire left side was mangled and almostcompletely decomposed. The right side was splattered with blood, but intact for the most part. As Perceptor examined the corpse, Wheeljack went to the forward-most station and found the source of the distress call. It was eminating from a console that the decomposed body of a little girl was slumped over. Wheeljack moved the girl aside, forcing down his fear and shock, and shut off the distress beacon. “What is this, a ship run by kids?”

“I’m not sure, but I can tell you that these children were not killed from an accident. The damage to this body is consistent with the damage done by large predatory animals. In other words, he was mauled by some kind of being.”

“Perhaps they were boarded and there was some kind of hand-to-hand fighting, although I’d have to say that the damage is a little severe for a typical fight.”

“Exactly. Try and get the computer system active, it may provide some answers. I will check out the rest of these bodies.” Perceptor went about his grim task and Wheeljack looked for an access port for the computer system. He moved access panels aside and finally found what he was looking for under a station across the room from the door. He eased the body of a toddler aside, taking a moment to look at the corpse. The girl’s body was gone from the waist down, but her gray eyes were open and seemed to be drilling to Wheeljack’s soul. He shut the little raven-haired girl’s eyes and shook himself back to work. He had seen a lot of death and destruction in his time, but when it came to seeing dead children it always stirred something deep within him.

As he went to work on the computers, Wheeljack had to wonder what these kids were doing on the bridge of the ship in the first place. Had the creators of this ship stocked it with kids for some kind of long-range exploratory mission? Perhaps it was a colonization mission or just some kind of ark from a devastated society. In all cases, it seemed unlikely that a two-year-old girl could maintain a system so complicated. He turned to Perceptor and asked the question on his mind, “What if these kids aren’t supposed to be kids?”

“What do you mean?” Perceptor asked as he studied the body slumped over the station where the distress signal had come from.

“Well, it should be obvious that these little kids couldn’t really run a complicated ship, and from what I see, there isn’t any kind of highly-advanced automated system. So what if these kids were adults at one time. Maybe through some kind of freak temporal event they were all changed into children.”

“It’s possible, but the sensors didn’t pick up any kind of temporal disturbances in the area, and there aren’t any black holes or other phenomena except for the nebula.”

“Maybe this ship has been cruising for a while since it happened. All I know is that little girl you’re studying had to have hit that distress call button, which meant she had to be familiar with the ship in some way. Either her society trained her from the crib for this, or she was an adult until something happened to her.”

“I understand what you are suggesting, but there is no evidence to support it yet. If you get the computers working maybe we can find some evidence.” There was no anger in Perceptor’s voice and Wheeljack knew his friend was only pointing out the obvious. He nodded and went to work on the console, hoping to find some results.

*

Perceptor finished studying the bodies and the conclusion was the same for all of them: something had attacked them. It looked like in some cases that whatever it was had actually digested part of the children, which meant that some kind of predator had attacked them. Perceptor could not find any evidence to support Wheeljack’s theory of a temporal event, but from his findings, the children had been dead for over a month, the low temperature inside the bridge had preserved their bodies, but any signs of temporal events would have already been eradicated.

The entire situation seemed odd to Perceptor, which was an abnormal feeling. Perceptor was a scientist, the greatest Cybertron had ever known, and used to unlocking mysteries, but this one was especially puzzling. Why were five kids running a complicated starship? The youngest one was only two-years-old and could barely even reach the controls if she had been standing up. Looking around, Perceptor could see that the furniture was not designed for children, it had been scaled for adults. So either some temporal event had happened to change the adult crew into children or else the regular crew had vanished and the kids had tried to take charge. Perceptor leaned towards the former since at least the one child had been familiar enough with the ship’s systems to activate that distress call. He doubted that a five-year-old of any race would know how to do that or even be able to guess.

“Perceptor! I think I got it!” Wheeljack shouted. Perceptor transformed and hurried over to where Wheeljack was working on getting the computers operating. Wheeljack pushed something and lights activated on the bridge terminals. “Good, looks like the computers are working again.”

Wheeljack stood up and Perceptor was already analyzing one of the terminals. The language displayed was unknown, but with enough time a translation subroutine could be made for he and Wheeljack so they could interpret what the screens were saying. “I’ll prepare a translating subroutine so we can figure out what these computers are saying,” Perceptor said. Wheeljack nodded and fiddled with the terminal closest to him. He hit a button and one of the screens came to life.

It was a map showing a green planet and various star systems nearby. From what Wheeljack could tell, the planet was about fifteen light years away and far away from the Odyssey’s path. The planet on the screen became larger and then zoomed in to the surface, which was covered in lush, rolling hills and plains that were all a bright green. “It’s a map to some kind of paradise,” Wheeljack breathed. “Maybe these kids were on some kind of colonization mission.”

Perceptor only nodded, still trying to crack the alien language. It would take a half hour to get a good grasp on the language and while he waited, Wheeljack worked on getting other systems on-line. Forty minutes later, Perceptor was finished and Wheeljack had not made any progress at all. “I think that the radiation has slagged most of the primary systems,” Wheeljack said.

“I have completed the translation program,” Perceptor replied. He copied it and downloaded it to Wheeljack’s systems. Now they could both understand the foreign language and examined the terminals once more. Perceptor was at the sensor station and noticed that some sensors were still functioning. He checked them and stopped. “There’s movement coming from three decks below us in what appear to be crew quarters.”

“I guess this ship isn’t so dead after all,” Wheeljack commented dryly and the Autobots hurried to find the source. They hoped that they would find a survivor who might be able to explain what had happened to the ship and clear up the mystery of why the bridge was run by little kids.


Chapter Two

The source of the movement was in the quarters of one of the crew. As Wheeljack and Perceptor arrived they found that the door was open and rushed inside. The quarters were dark and small, containing only a single room. What furniture there was was scattered all over as though the room had been ransacked. Wheeljack panned the flashlight around and under a fallen set of drawers he saw a body.

Wheeljack raced over and hefted the drawers off of the body. As he did, Perceptor saw the body was of a little girl of only about six-years-old. She had bright red hair and was wearing a long white dress with flowers. Perceptor examined the child and knew that she was dead. Her back had been broken and her skull smashed by the drawers. He turned her over and saw that her midsection had been slit open, her innards visible through the blood. What was also obvious was that the death had occurred recently. “This girl died within the last hour,” Perceptor said.

“She was alive when we got here?”

“From the looks of it, yes.”

“Then that means that whoever attacked the bridge crew is still on board. We’ve got to find them.”

Perceptor nodded and then noticed a small computer in a pocket of the girl’s skirt. He pulled it out and activated it. The girl’s face was on screen, looking terrified. “This is Inductee Karun Halle, or rather I used to be. I don’t know what’s happened, but there was some kind of purple cloud and then my body began changing. I looked into a mirror and saw that I had become this little girl.”

There was a pause and then the girl’s face seemed to change. Tears suddenly came to her face and she screamed, “I don’t know what’s happening to me! I can feel things inside of me changing. I…I think I am becoming this child. I can feel some kind of terror growing inside of me, some kind of primal fear surfacing!”

The message stopped and Perceptor noted there was another one. He played it and saw that it was still the little girl, although she looked pale and disheveled now. “This is my last message. I’ve been in here for over a week. I can’t control myself any longer. I lapse into long periods of crying and am experiencing a strong longing for my parents. My adult personality is rapidly being submerged and often it goes completely unconscious. I once found myself playing with some makeshift doll and singing some old children’s song. I don’t know what’s happened to the rest of the crew and I’m too afraid to leave my quarters. It’s dark and creepy. I managed to take a peak into the corridor and saw that it was completely dark with wreckage strewn about.”

“My food and water are running out and this childish fear prevents me from leaving my quarters. Thus I know that I will soon die. I can only hope that everyone else has met a better fate than I.” The girl began tearing up again and whined, “I want my Mommy and Daddy!” Then the message stopped.

“I guess that explains part of it,” Wheeljack said. “It doesn’t explain why it happened, or what attacked this girl.”

“A purple cloud would be comparable to a wormhole or a temporal vortex like Skids encountered.”

“Yes, but that vortex didn’t change Skids, it just sent him into the future.”

“Perhaps such phenomena operate differently on biological creatures.”

“That may explain her body, but what about her mind? It was obvious that her mind was becoming that of the little girl. It was like she was schizophrenic.”

“I agree, but that may be a psychological side effect, not a physical one.”

“At any rate, this doesn’t explain what killed her.”

“I know. We’ll have to search the ship, or at least as much as we can.”

Wheeljack nodded and the two Autobots stepped outside the corridor. As they did, Perceptor heard a loud noise coming from one end of the corridor. “What was that?” He asked.

Wheeljack shrugged and they readied their weapons. Wheeljack panned the flashlight that way and saw nothing but an empty, wreckage-strewn corridor. “My sensors don’t register anything, it must have just been some…” Before Wheeljack could finish, something came crashing through the roof. It landed on Wheeljack and massive jaws snapped at Perceptor forcing him back.

The flashlight shone on the attacker and Perceptor gasped. It was an immense black creature with beady red eyes, bat-like wings, eight arms with claws, two legs, and a large tail. Its mouth had rows of sharp teeth and it growled with a huge, deep sound that seemed to resonate from its entire being. Perceptor raised his rifle, but before he could shoot the creature hefted Wheeljack up and flew back up from whence it came. “Perceptor, help!” Wheeljack shouted. Perceptor couldn’t risk a shot without hitting Wheeljack and held his fire. He looked for a way up into what appeared to be an air shaft and dashed into the room where they had found the little girl. He took the drawers that had fell on her and was able to use those to boost himself enough to get into the shaft.

Perceptor crawled madly down the shaft, anxiously hoping that he could catch up with the creature that had taken Wheeljack. He thought he heard something at a junction and looked down each of the two shafts he was presented with. He decided on the shaft to his left and continued on his way. As he did, he noticed that radiation levels were getting steeper. Obviously he was getting near the rear of the ship. He stopped and then heard a muffled cry ahead of him. He continued crawling, hoping to find Wheeljack and the creature soon.

He heard a crashing sound ahead of him and saw light coming into the shaft. He knew that the monster must have exited the shaft and looked down where it had broken through. He couldn’t see Wheeljack or the creature, but that was because there were green clouds all over the room. Peceptor analyzed the clouds and determined they were radioactive gas from the propulsion systems. His circuits could handle the radiation for a little while, but prolonged exposure would fry them for certain. Still, he had no choice.

Perceptor jumped down from the shaft and landed on the deck of the ship, green clouds obscuring his view in all directions. Suddenly the creature lunged at him, one of the giant clawed arms swiping across Perceptor’s chest. Perceptor fired his rifle at where the arm could come from and heard a grunt. He took a step back just as the creature came roaring through the mist. Before Perceptor could fire it hit him with the right arms and he was sent crashing up against a wall. His gun went spinning from his hand and Perceptor lost track of it. He ducked as the creature struck again. Its shot went wide and Perceptor managed to hit it in the midsection as it went by. The creature barely flinched and Perceptor could see he had done no harm to it.

The monster was coming back around to hit at Perceptor with its right arms and he jumped back and ducked. Claws raked across his left shoulder and Perceptor screamed in pain. Th creature came back around and kicked Perceptor in the midsection with a clawed foot and for good measure slapped him in the head with its tail. Perceptor hit the deck and knew he was losing consciousness. Still, he had to flee or else the radiation would kill him. He clasped his hands together and came up swinging his arms. He nailed the monster in the middle and it stumbled backwards a bit. That was enough of a distraction for Perceptor to duck under it and flee into the mists.

“Wheeljack!” He shouted. There was no answer and he wondered if the monster had already killed his friend. He frantically looked around the room, but couldn’t find his comrade anywhere. The creature was approaching and Perceptor found a door. He pried it open and saw that it led into a corridor leading to the front of the ship. Perceptor dashed down it and ducked into a set of quarters away from the radiation. He sat up against a wall and noticed the bodies of two boys. He shivered, still uncertain as to what had happened to the crew, but at least now he knew how they had died.

He had been unable to find his rifle in the confusion, so he had no weapon and was going up against a creature as large as him that was far heavier and stronger. Yet somehow he had to go back and look for Wheeljack, he owed his friend at least that much. The question was just how to do it. He got to his feet, analyzing his wounds and determining that they were merely superficial. He decided that the best thing to do would be to search the ship for supplies like weapons or anything he could use to beat the monster. He left the quarters and began his search, hoping that Wheeljack could hold out for as long as it took.

*

Wheeljack woke up in a storage locker and found himself hung against the wall with crude chains. Maybe it’s planning to wait to eat me for later, he mused. He hoped Perceptor had fared better and tried to activate his comlink, but the radiation was interfering with it. He tugged on the chains but they were too strong. He was trapped.

The doors opened and the monster lumbered in on all of its appendages. It grunted at him and then stood up. It used its claws and severed the chains, then shoved Wheeljack outside. It led him by the chains through the thick green clouds and Wheeljack wondered if he was going to be killed now. The creature took him through the clouds and to another room, which was even more obscured. The radiation was extremely high in the area, but the monster kept herding Wheeljack along until it stopped and pushed him ahead into something. Wheeljack looked around and from what he could tell, he was looking at the propulsion drive.

It was old by Cybertronian standards, running on some kind of fusion reactor. The reactor had overloaded, Wheeljack suspected because no one had maintained it for well over a month. He wondered why the creature had led him to the engines and stopped. It can’t be. It doesn’t want me to fix the ship, does it? A case of humanoid tools clattering to the deck around Wheeljack answered the question.

He picked up the tools and pretended to busy himself at working on the engines, but already he knew it was a hopeless cause. There was no way to rebuild the reactor and sooner or later the radiation would spread to the whole of the ship, completely irradiating it. No sensible race would come near it then. He looked around, hoping for a way to at least vent the radiation. He stumbled around the huge room and finally found what he was looking for, an emergency airlock. With some work he managed to pry it open, holding on tightly as the vacuum of space sucked the radiation clouds from the ship.

There were still clouds forming near the reactor, but at least Wheeljack could see around the room. That and the radiation levels were lower so he could survive longer. He closed the airlock and examined the engines. He found the problem with the reactor after a few minutes. Maintenance systems must have gone off-line, because systems that would have vented the gas into space were not functioning, so the gas had built up pressure inside the reactor until parts of the reactor had burst from the strain. Still, what had caused the gas in the first place?

Wheeljack continued to search for answers and after a long while he finally found them. Someone had sabotaged the engine drive. He found residue on parts of the reactor of some kind of chemical not native to the reactor itself. The chemical must have reacted with the materials inside the reactor to create the gas. Over time the gas had built up and since the safety systems were off-line there was no way to stop the inevitable explosion of the reactor. He sighed and knew that short of scratch-building a new reactor there was nothing he could do.

The monster looked over at him and Wheeljack simply shrugged. It roared and he knew that he was in trouble now. The creature charged and Wheeljack darted away from it. He set off running blindly out of the engine room towards anywhere. He hoped he could find Perceptor and that together they could overpower the thing. If not, then they’d end up dead like the original crew.


Chapter Three

Perceptor had finally found what he was looking for inside of a storage room near the hangar. Inside were spacesuits and primitive projectile weapons. The projectile weapons were similar to shotguns the humans had used early in the Great War. It bothered Perceptor that a society could make such a fabulous ship and yet have such primitive weapons. He shrugged and grabbed one of the spacesuits. It was a very tight fit, but Perceptor managed to get the suit around him. He closed the helmet and sealed it. The suit would protect him from the radiation for at least a little while longer than otherwise. He also took one of the rifles, which would be hard to use with the suit on, but not impossible. Then he headed towards where the monster had been.

He stopped as he heard something pounding furiously against the deck, footsteps. Perceptor searched for cover, his weapon ready. He ducked into a doorway and opened the door, leaving the door open so he could ambush the monster as it approached. The footsteps came closer and Perceptor waited until the monster was near before he leapt out of the doorway. He fired a shot and ducked back into the doorway, steeling himself for the next attack.

“Perceptor! You nearly took my head off!” Wheeljack shouted.

Perceptor looked into the corridor and found Wheeljack lying on the deck, a hole in the wall nearby. Perceptor helped his comrade to his feet and they went into the small room. Perceptor shuddered at seeing two of the children lying in the room’s single bed. One was male and the other female. They had obviously been performing some kind of reproductive act before the ship had run into trouble. “Where is it?” He asked Wheeljack simply.

“I don’t know, I lost it back in the engine room. It…it wanted me to fix the engines. I did what I could, but the drive is completely shot. I don’t think it understood that, though, because it wasn’t too happy when I tried to explain. What’s with the funny suit, by the way?”

“I found this spacesuit and deduced that it would provide some protection against the radiation in the engine room. However, now that I have found you, we can get out of here.”

“Not quite. We have to find a way to destroy this ship. This thing’s going to go completely radioactive in days and it could hurt a lot of innocents along the way. Plus there’s that monster still loose, and Primus help anyone who tries to salvage this thing. If we get to the bridge maybe we can find some way to dispose of it.”

Perceptor nodded. “Agreed. Let’s go.”

Wheeljack stopped his friend and gently took the rifle away. “I think I’ll keep a hold of this if you don’t mind?”

“Of course, you have more of a way with weapons than I do.” They checked the corridor and seeing nothing began hurrying towards the bridge. They thought they heard the creature once, but couldn’t see it or find any evidence that it was close by, so they kept going. The corridors were all still dark and with the danger the creature posed ever-present it made the trip an eerie journey.

They finally reached the bridge and Perceptor opened the door while Wheeljack loitered around to guard in case of attack. Perceptor went inside once the doors were open and Wheeljack carefully stepped into the room and then shut the doors. They both heaved sighs of relief and looked around the corpse-strewn bridge. Perceptor looked for the sensor station, but it was no use. Wheeljack waited patiently with the gun and his missile launcher ready. Finally Perceptor snapped his fingers and turned to Wheeljack.

“Is there any way that we can move this ship, even without engines?” He asked.

“There might be emergency thrusters or something. Why?”

“The only way to dispose of this ship close by is the nebula. Since that nebula is a blue reflection nebula there has to be a star within that is giving off the light. If we can pilot the ship through the nebula then we can direct it towards the star, where it will harmlessly be destroyed.”

“It’s hard enough to pilot in a nebula usually, the best bet would be to rig up a remote system so we can fly it from the Pathfinder. You take your turn at the watch and I’ll see if this crate has some emergency thrusters we can use.” Perceptor took the gun back and waited while Wheeljack used the computer terminals to try and determine if the ship was capable of flying at all. He shook his head after a few minutes. “No such luck. Not even landing thrusters, which means they must leave this in orbit and use shuttles to get back and forth.”

“Could we use the two shuttles in that hangar to tow the ship into the nebula?”

“I think we might be able to rig them to push this thing, but it’s going to be hard to maneuver.”

“Once we near the star its gravity will pull all three closer. All we would have to do is exert significant force then to create the final plunge.”

“All right. I can try and rig a remote system for the ship and two shuttles.” He stepped over to the navigational controls, which is where the distress signal had been from. He examined the system and set to work, gently setting the little girl’s body aside. “At least then we can get out of this ghost ship and give these folks a proper send-off.”

“I still do not understand what happened to the crew or how that creature got here. However, I believe that the creature was not as large or menacing when it first appeared. I believe that was a mutation from the radiation.”

“That thing isn’t bright enough to have gotten here on its own from a ship. Maybe it hitched a ride or something,” Wheeljack replied as he worked on the console.

“It is possible. We will probably never find the answers to this mystery anyway.”

“I know. I wish I could keep this ship working for a little while to see how it ticks, but we don’t have the time.” Wheeljack got to his feet and announced, “I’ve patched the navigational systems into the communications system, so all we have to do is send it the signal and it will go. It can maneuver a little bit, but not much. Must of the work will have to be done by our tugs, so let’s get to the hangar and rig those.”

Perceptor nodded, taking a last look around the bridge. His eyes caught at the girl who had sent the distress call and he thought back to that horrible message that he had seen earlier. Had that girl and the others here experienced schizophrenia as well? He hated to think about it, hated to think about how this crew had suffered while he had been looking at some space gas. Perhaps they could have helped the crew sooner and saved some of them. He shook his thoughts away, knowing after eons of war that it was fruitless to ponder what-if scenarios. He opened the doors and stopped right away, hearing a distant noise. “I hear something,” he whispered.

The noise was like the rumble of thunder and it was obvious that it was approaching them. “The monster’s back,” Wheeljack commented. Perceptor nodded and kept his weapon ready as Wheeljack opened the doors for the elevator shaft they had climbed up earlier. He began his descent and Perceptor hurried to shut the bridge doors. With any luck the creature wouldn’t find them until they were safely out of the hangar.

Wheeljack hurried down the shaft, making sure not to lose his footing. He could still hear the rumbling sound of the monster’s approach and as Perceptor began climbing down the shaft there was a crashing sound. “What was that?” He asked.

“It’s broken through the bridge doors, I think it knows we’re here.”

“Great, I guess we’ll have to climb faster.” They increased their pace and Wheeljack nearly slipped several times, but was able to keep his feet. He reached the corridor for the hangar and saw that the door was still open. He leapt and his hands caught the ledge, pulling himself up and into the corridor.

Perceptor was only about half way down and heard the doors to the elevator be flung open roughly. He tried to hurry even more, but his foot slipped and he nearly fell. He gripped the handholds tightly and recovered. Then he continued to climb down. It was then that he heard a massive roar and saw something flying down the shaft at high speed.

The creature’s red eyes were barely visible as it plunged towards Perceptor. The Autobot scientist had the rifle strapped to the back of the spacesuit and there was no way he could draw it, fight, and make his way down. “Wheeljack, help!” He shouted.

Wheeljack looked up just as the creature neared Perceptor in the shaft. Huge, bat-like wings unfurled and slowed its descent. It filled nearly the entire width of the shaft and tore at Perceptor with its arms. It shredded most of the spacesuit with ease and was following Perceptor as he climbed down. Wheeljack knew he had to do something and armed his missile. Maybe he could draw its fire. He leaned into the shaft, knowing that he was guaranteed a hit. The missile struck the monster in the left wing and it managed to hover for a few moments before it began to fall, the one wing useless now and the other unable to support the creature’s full weight. As it fell its arms reached out and grabbed a hold of Perceptor.

The Autobot scientist was torn from the side of the shaft and clutched closely to the creature. “No!” Wheeljack shouted and reached out to try and help his friend, but his hands were batted away by the monster’s. He heard Perceptor screaming as he fell and Wheeljack looked away helplessly. He turned away and slowly made his way for the hangar. He had to finish the task he and Perceptor had begun to avenge his friend and to make sure that no more innocents died.

Perceptor was falling rapidly down the shaft and yet all he could think about was how bad the monster smelled. Its eight arms were wrapped tightly about Perceptor almost like a cage. Perceptor searched for some way of escape. He quickly came up with a plan that was dangerous, but he couldn’t think of anything better, so it would have to work.

He activated the magnifying glass on his left shoulder and set it for a short, concentrated burst of X-rays, usually used to scan lifeforms he encountered. The creature growled as it felt the X-rays against its skin and it loosened its grip to rip Perceptor apart. In that moment Perceptor kicked free, flying down the shaft and unable to reach the edges of the shaft. He looked down and could see the end approaching. The rifle was still strapped to his back and it provided his only hope.

He reached back to try and activate it and create a discharge of the rifle, but his arms wouldn’t reach. Fortune smiled on him as the monster fell past Perceptor. It tried to grab him and haul him down with it, but couldn’t get a grip. One of its clawed arms grasped the rifle and squeezed. The ammunition in the rifle went off and Perceptor was violently blown forward. The right side of the monster was torn up badly, all four of its arms being shaved off from the explosion. Perceptor screamed as his left side was rented from the explosion, but ignored the pain as his arms reached out and he grabbed the edge of the shaft.

The monster continued its fatal plunge and with one last feral howl it impacted on the bottom of the shaft. Perceptor scanned down and saw that it was dead. He sighed and wearily began climbing back up the shaft. He couldn’t believe he had survived and laughed madly in glee.

As Wheeljack reached the hangar doors he heard a shout. He turned joyously and ran to the shaft. Perceptor swung himself onto the deck of the corridor and Wheeljack helped him to his feet. Perceptor laughed and joked almost hysterically, “I fear I look like I have been to the scrap heap.” Perceptor’s left leg was nearly torn off and was barely functional. His entire left side was mangled and the left arm hung limply at his side. His face was torn and his left eye was shattered. His right side looked much better, but was still badly damaged. That Perceptor was functional at all was a miracle.

“What happened?” Wheeljack asked.

“It’s a long story, I’ll tell you later. Can you help me back to the Pathfinder?”

Wheeljack patted Perceptor on the right shoulder and replied cheerfully, “Sure thing, buddy. Let’s go.” They limped to the hangar and Wheeljack helped Perceptor into the rear of the Pathfinder. Then he went to rig the remote control systems on the two shuttles. Perceptor was lying in one of the beds in the back of the transport and stared at the ceiling, a cracked smile coming to his face. It felt so good to get out and have a little adventure. He had been cooped up aboard the Odyssey so long he had forgotten what it was like to flirt with danger. It was exhilarating, even if it was dangerous. He didn’t want a lot of action, but from time-to-time he needed some excitement in his life. This will be an intriguing story to tell the others when we get back, he thought happily and closed his eyes to rest.


Epilogue

It had taken some doing, but the two shuttles had managed to push the larger ship to the nebula in a few days. Wheeljack had monitored all three from the Pathfinder, which was flying behind at a safe distance. He had carefully gotten Perceptor into the co-pilot’s seat so they could watch the final event.

The nebula made it hard to get signals through to the three remote-piloted ships, but enough got through to send the necessary minor course corrections. It took nearly an hour for the ship and shuttles to execute the wide turn necessary to line it up properly with the white dwarf star inside the nebula. Perceptor watched with fascination as the star’s gravity began to yank all three vehicles into itself. Wheeljack cut the Pathfinder’s thrust and sent the last command to all three vessels. The two shuttles’s engines flared as they struggled to push the ship through the star’s gravity.

The ship’s front was beginning to melt from the star, which was over twenty thousand degrees Celsius in temperature. The shuttles finished their push and the engines died out. Then all three began plunging into the center of the blue-white star. Both Autobots watched with awe as all three were slowly consumed by the star until there was a miniscule flash on the surface of the white dwarf. Thus all three ships were gone forever. “May the Matrix protect that ship’s crew in the next life,” Perceptor whispered, mostly to himself.

“Finally they will all be able to rest in peace, as will that monster. It’s too bad we don’t even know who that race was, so we could send our condolences.”

“Yes, but that does not matter really. Their race could be many light years away. They could have been on a long journey to their home, like us.”

Wheeljack nodded and replied quietly, “At least now their journey is over.” Both Autobots tossed salutes and then Wheeljack set a course out of the nebula. It would take them weeks to find the Odyssey and dock with it and in that time both of them would have a lot to think about. They remembered the faces of those innocent children who had been caught up in some kind of disaster and couldn’t help but wonder what had happened. Wheeljack remembered what he had found in the engines, that someone had sabotaged the ship, and wondered who the real monster was: the mindless creature that had slain the crew or the unknown monster who had sabotaged the engines to put many lives besides those of the crew in jeopardy. Ultimately he could feel nothing but sorrow for the creature and contempt for whoever had planted the strange chemical in the fusion reactor.

“There are a lot of monsters out there, Perceptor,” Wheeljack commented. Perceptor nodded and silence prevailed as the Pathfinder cruised out of the spectacular blue nebula and on its way home.

The Skyfire Adventures Continue in Episode 8: Greenhouse Effect, Coming Soon!

(This episode was of course never written...)

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