e mërkurë, 13 qershor 2007

Mutations

Author's Note: This is the third episode of "The Skyfire Adventures" wherein our intrepid explorers come across a crashed spacecraft, a vicious Predacon, and a substance with an amazing power...


The Skyfire Adventures: Mutations

Chapter One

The Autobot shuttle cruised through the depths of space, empty blackness around it on all sides. The Maximal Skyfire stood at a viewport and sighed. The reason for his condition was that he was extremely bored.

The shuttle had left the humanoid planet where it had been resting for decades over a year ago. Since then there had been nothing except an occasional dead planet. There was little to keep Skyfire interested. He heard footsteps behind him and saw Beachcomber standing behind him. "Hey, Skyfire. Wasn't expecting you here," the geologist greeted.

"Just watching the scenery," Skyfire replied. "You?"

"The same." There was a moment of silence as the two Transformers stared out at the void. "This is getting so routine."

"I know. Being in unexplored space, I had hoped to discover something interesting. Not even a nebula to study."

"And all the planets we've encountered have been dead rocks with absolutely nothing interesting geologically. It's like this entire area is empty."

Skyfire nodded, but before he could reply, he heard Perceptor's voice come over his comlink. "Skyfire, I have a finding which may be of interest."

"What is it? It's not another ice ball is it?" Skyfire asked tiredly. While he didn't need rest, the boredom was wearing on his circuits.

"No. The sensors are reading a planet that is inhabited."

"I'm picking up technology near Cybertronian levels," Skids chipped in.

"I'm on my way up," Skyfire turned to Beachcomber and told him of the finding.

"All right, something interesting," the Autobot enthused.

"Let's just hope it's not too interesting," Skyfire commented as they went up to the bridge of the shuttle. Perceptor and Skids were at the science stations, analyzing the readings. "So what's this place look like?"

Skids brought up a picture of the planet. It was a hazy brown color with strands of white clouds. It resembled the planet Mars in the human space system, Skyfire thought. Grapple and Wheeljack came onto the bridge and went over to see what everyone was staring at. "So there's something alive in this sector after all," Wheeljack said.

Skyfire nodded and asked Perceptor, "How long until we can get there?"

"Barring any navigational difficulties we should reach the planet in three hours."

"Excellent," Skyfire replied. "Wheeljack, prepare a probe and send it out as soon as possible. I want to get some data on this place before we get there." Wheeljack nodded and left. Skyfire sat down at his station, the command chair in the center of the bridge, and thought about how great it would be to finally be able to study something.

Skyfire was a scientist foremost and he hated having nothing interesting around him to study. Of course, as the elected commander of the ship he knew that encountering planets with life could present a tactical hazard. The probe would indicate whether or not there would be any danger to the explorers. He forced himself to wait calmly until that time.

His comlink activated and Wheeljack reported, "I've launched the probe. It should be there in just a minute or two." Skyfire nodded to himself and quickly accessed his cultural database to remember exactly how long a minute was. Maximals used different measurements than the Autobots, largely because most Autobots had been exposed to humans for so long. I've been a Maximal too long, he thought glumly. He stood up and went back to where Perceptor and Skids were waiting for the sensor data.

"It looks good," Skids announced. "While this planet has high technological levels, they don't seem to have any spacecraft. The ship won't be in any danger."

"Good. What about their sensor networks? We don't want to attract too much undue attention if we can help it," Skyfire responded.

"Their computers are highly advanced, but they do not have any satellites in orbit or any sensors that appear capable of penetrating above the atmosphere," Perceptor answered.

"Good. Grapple, put us in orbit," Skyfire ordered.

"I'm on it," the architect replied. He took the helm and guided the shuttle towards the planet. Skyfire continued to study the probe's readings. It seemed odd that a planet with high technology could be so ignorant about space. He watched as the probe went into orbit around the planet and used its sensors to map the surface.

The planet was mostly arid and dotted with many large cities. There was very little water except towards the poles. The probe intensified its scans and more details could be seen. Skyfire could see beings moving about busily, but couldn't make out any details of them. Grapple came up behind him and whistled quietly.

"Their architecture is very advanced," he said. "That building there looks almost like the Primus Plaza I designed about a hundred years ago." Grapple pointed to a tall building that had long, graceful curves and seemed almost swan‑like.

"Maybe you should sue them for copyright violations," Beachcomber joked. The Autobots laughed, but it took Skyfire a few moments to catch on. I really have been a Maximal too long, he thought.

"Any idea of what kind of weapons they have?" Skyfire asked.

"Not from the probe's readings," Skids replied.

"Perceptor, have the probe try to access any computer systems they have. See if we can get some data," Skyfire commanded. Perceptor nodded and ordered the probe to search for computer networks.

"This planet has a large central computer network," Perceptor reported. "The probe has established a link with it." Data began pouring onto the screens of Perceptor's station.

The link stopped suddenly and Beachcomber asked, "What happened?"

"It appears that the connection has been severed. I can no longer reach the probe either. Sensors indicate that it was destroyed, although they cannot ascertain any cause," Perceptor explained.

"So what did we get?" Skyfire inquired.

Perceptor ran through the data the probe had accumulated and answered, "The probe apparently accessed a military computer. From the data that we received, their military is composed of less than one thousand soldiers. Weapons specifications were being sent when the probe was destroyed."

Perceptor displayed a partial display of a weapon the planet used and Skyfire was shocked. The image was of a roughly humanoid figure. What was shocking was that it looked like the torso and head of a Transformer. That can't be, Skyfire thought. "Any ideas on what that is?" Skyfire asked everyone assembled.

"From its design, it appears almost like a Transformer from long ago. The sleeker, less boxy body is indicative of pre‑war designs," Grapple analyzed.

"The body doesn't appear to have any characteristics of being able to turn into a vehicle. My guess is that it's not a Transformer," Skids replied.

"What's that symbol on the bottom, where the image is cut off?" Beachcomber asked, pointing to a yellow marking on the lower torso of the thing. Skyfire looked at it and he could right away feel that something was wrong.

"Magnify that area and have the computer clean it up and extrapolate for the missing parts of that symbol," Skyfire ordered.

Perceptor nodded and it was over a minute before the computer was finished. When it was, Skyfire felt his fluids run cold. The computer, based on the existing part of the logo, constructed something that looked much like a Predacon symbol. What would a Pred symbol be doing on something so far away? Skyfire wondered.

He activated his comlink and called Wheeljack. "Is that transport working?"

"I checked it over a few weeks ago, it checked out fine," Wheeljack replied.

"Good. Get it ready. As soon as we reach orbit, we'll be deploying it."

"All right. I'll do a systems check again."

"I'll be down there in about two hours," Skyfire broke the connection and looked at the others. "When we get there, Skids and Grapple will follow me down to the planet. I want to see what's going on."

Skids piped up, "But we could interfere with their culture. It could be extremely hazardous to them."

"From what I've seen, that logo could be a Predacon logo. In which case, this race has already contacted someone from Cybertron. We have to find out. While we're down there, Beachcomber and Perceptor, I want you to try and get into their computers again and find out whatever you can." Skyfire turned and left. He went to his quarters on board the ship and went over to a computer terminal. He typed in notes about the situation in what the humans called a "captain's log". Skyfire wasn't a captain, but he did want to maintain a journal of the ship's journey so that when they got back to Cybertron, others could use the information. It also gave him something to do to occupy his mind for a little while before the mission.

One of the most troubling things to Skyfire at the moment, besides the possible Predacon symbol on the image the probe had obtained, was his relationship to the others on the shuttle. Skyfire was feeling more and more apart from the others because there were things that he knew because he was a Maximal, and there were things that he had forgotten because he was no longer an Autobot. At one time he had understood some of the human jokes and phrases that had been woven into Autobot culture over the years, but years of being a Maximal had caused him to lose touch with that. Skyfire was beginning to fear that he would soon lose touch with the crew.

He was their leader, he couldn't allow himself to lose touch with those under his command. But he could no more become an Autobot again than he could make the others become Maximals. A lot had changed since he had been the Autobot Jetfire. He was older, wiser, and more confident than before. To those outside Cybertronian culture, it seemed as if the only differences between Autobots and Maximals were their symbols and their transformations. However, there was more to it than that. They were two different systems; two different societies. Skyfire had been one of a few Autobots who had made the difficult transition from one culture to the other, but in the end it had been worth it. He liked being a Maximal and he didn't want to go back to what he was. At the same time, though, he hated the growing distance between he and the others.

"We're there, Skyfire," Grapple's voice came over the comlink and stirred Skyfire from his thoughts.

"All right, I'm on my way." Skyfire stood up and hurried to the launch bay. The gray transport, which looked like a mini‑version of the shuttle, was ready for him when he arrived. He barely managed to fit his bulk through the hatch and took the controls of the shuttle. Grapple was in the co‑pilot's seat and Skids was sitting in a seat in the rear of transport. Wheeljack opened the launch bay and Skyfire put the transport's throttles to full. It shot away from the shuttle and headed down towards the planet.

It was an easy trip through the atmosphere, and then Skyfire could see reddish plains below him. He used the transport's sensors to scan the area and located a major metropolitan area nearby. He landed the transport a few miles away at the base of a mesa. The shadows from the mesa obscured the transport, hopefully enough so that it could not be spotted. Skyfire went to the hatch and looked back at the others. "Stay here," he ordered. "I'll scout around and see if I can figure out what's going on. I'll call if I need back‑up."

"Be careful," Skids replied. "We don't know much about this culture, so it could be dangerous."

Skyfire opened the hatch and nodded. "I'll be careful. Beast mode." Gears whirred as Skyfire's robotic form transformed into a bald eagle. He flapped his wings and soared into the air. He didn't know if this planet had eagles, but it would blend in better than a minivan or a construction vehicle.

It didn't take long for him to reach the city. He could see many tall buildings overlooking streets with aliens bustling about on foot or in small vehicles. The vehicles and the buildings didn't seem right. They seemed to look too much like something from Cybertron. He perched himself on the top of a building as he thought about how best to approach the situation. He decided that there was little else he could do except to fly around and look for leads. He took off and flew lower to the ground, scanning for any clues. He only hoped that Beachcomber and Perceptor had better luck tapping into the planet's computer network.

***

Beachcomber had finally gotten into the planet's computer network and was beginning to download data again. Perceptor was using the sensors to map the planet to search for anything suspicious. Beachcomber watched the data roll past, too fast for him to read. There didn't seem to be anything of use so far. He thought he saw something and reached out to stop the computer. As he touched the key, a shock ran through his body. It felt like his entire body was on fire and he screamed in agony.

Perceptor looked over at his friend and asked, "What's wrong Beachcomber?" He stood up and went over to him to try and help him. Beachcomber roughly shoved Perceptor aside and stumbled towards the door. "Beachcomber, come back here! Let me examine you to try and determine the source of your discomfort."

Beachcomber whirled about suddenly, his pistol in hand. "Shut up!" He shouted.

"What are you..." Perceptor began to ask, but was hit in the chest from Beachcomber's weapon. The scientist fell to the deck and Beachcomber sprinted off of the bridge. He ran down the empty corridors until he reached a cargo bay. The bay was nearly empty, except for the far wall. Along this wall was a series of drawers, each one a stasis chamber that could be used to keep a robot immobile. He went to the drawer on the bottom of the first row and punched a red button. There was a sound of metal‑on‑metal as the stasis chamber cycled. The drawer slid out and Beachcomber tapped a few more buttons to make the Transformer inside the drawer partially active.

The massive, purple robot stood and began to march dumbly from the room. It was moving on remote control and stomped down the corridors to a hatch. Wheeljack emerged from the engine room and saw the robot about to open the hatch. "Stop!" He shouted and fired the rocket launcher on his shoulder. The robot batted the rocket away and fired its weapon back. Wheeljack was hit in the shoulder and went down. Then the robot opened the hatch and stupidly stepped out into space. Beachcomber followed him, although he wasn't altogether sure why.

They floated in space for several minutes until a crude vessel appeared from the planet below. It was a long rocket that was patched together from several different pieces. It was barely spaceworthy, but the two robots didn't care. They were ordered to take the vessel back to the surface, so they maneuvered to catch up with the rocket and stepped into the open hatch. They sat down and restraints fastened around them and the hatch closed. Then the rocket arced back towards the planet and roughly reentered the planet's atmosphere. It landed in a remote location, where a single, silver building stood.

The building was short, angular, and looked more like a piece of a Cybertronian spaceship than anything else. The robot and Beachcomber emerged from the rocket and numbly walked into the building. Inside the small structure were computer terminals of all kinds. In the center of the room, though, was a large, tubular chamber. The robot stood inside the chamber table and deactivated itself. A terminal activated and a voice told Beachcomber, "Do exactly what I say."

Beachcomber nodded and then followed the instructions the terminal gruffly told him. He took a laser scalpel and began to tear away the robot on the table's exoskeleton. When he was finished, all that was left was a robotic skeleton. "Now open his head up and access his memory core. Plug this chip into the module and seal it." A chip appeared from the terminal and Beachcomber took it. He opened the robot's head and inserted it as he had been ordered. He sealed the area up and waited. "Now take this canister and pour it over his body." The canister popped out of the terminal and Beachcomber grabbed it. He opened it and began to pour it over the robot's body.

A gooey, silver liquid ran onto the robot until it had collected into a puddle. Beachcomber took a step back in surprise when the liquid began to move. It covered the entire body of the robot and hardened. Then it took on colors. The robot now looked completely different in shape. "Plug this into his head." Beachcomber took a cord from the terminal and connected it to a spot in the robot's head. There was a burst of light and then the robot's eyes glowed red. Beachcomber shook his head, whatever had been controlling him was suddenly gone.

He found himself staring at a large black and gray robot. The robot stepped out of the chamber and smiled evilly as it pulled a large rifle out from a holster in its back. "I am Scarecrow, and you are about to be slag," the robot sneered.


Chapter Two

Beachcomber raised his weapon and fired. The shot nailed Scarecrow in the chest, but he merely laughed. "Fool!" He shouted. "Your puny weapon cannot destroy me!" He fired his own weapon and Beachcomber flew across the room. There was a gaping hole in his chest and he struggled to stay conscious. Scarecrow kneeled down and stared at the Autobot for a few moments, letting Beachcomber languish in pain. Then he reached back and pulled a something that looked like the tail feathers of a bird. He locked the device against the side of his free hand and instantly two silver blades were unsheathed. He waved the twin swords in front of Beachcomber and then slashed the geologist across the chest. He moved his hand back and plunged the blades into Beachcomber.

Beachcomber screamed in pain and then mercifully went unconscious. Scarecrow smiled and stood up. He opened the building's door and said, "Now it is time to rid myself of the rest of these fools."

"Maximal energy signature detected nearby," a computerized voice told Scarecrow.

"Excellent. Beast mode." Scarecrow took to the air and headed for the energy signature his sensors had detected. He would start with the Maximal and then finish the remaining Autobots.

Skyfire glided through the air and swooped down into an alley of the city. He watched the aliens pass by and knew they were not Predacons. They had tan, leathery skin stretched over their bodies. Skyfire's biological database told him that they closely resembled a highly evolved toad. He didn't see any Predacon symbols on any of them and wondered if he had been seeing things. He sighed and took to the air again.

He flew high above the city and decided that the best thing to do would be to look somewhere else. Something told him that he had been right about what he had saw, he just had to keep looking. He left the city behind and was over open plains once more.

"Predacon energy signature detected," a computerized voice warned him. He looked around and saw nothing around him except clouds.

Must be a glitch, he thought to himself. He looked back to the ground and suddenly felt something tear into his back. He cried out in pain and saw a large, black bird fly past him. Where did that come from? He thought. More important, why had it attacked him? The bird, which Skyfire's biological database classified as a crow, turned around and moved to attack him once more. Skyfire shot away from him and banked towards the ground. The crow flew past and hovered in the air.

"Enough of this foolishness. Scarecrow, Terrorize!" The crow instantly changed into a large robot and Skyfire gaped. Scarecrow? He had not heard that name in decades.

Scarecrow had been a Predacon who had left Cybertron with some of his cohorts to try and conquer the universe. Maximal forces had tracked his ship to Earth, where he had assumed his beast form and gotten his name. The Maximal forces had driven Scarecrow and his troops back into space, where they had engaged their trans‑warp drive and disappeared. Nothing had been heard from him since, so it was presumed that he was dead. Obviously he had ended up on this planet, alive and well. If so, where were the rest of his forces?

Scarecrow fired at Skyfire, who managed to avoid the shots. He circled back around and said, "Skyfire, Maximize!" He transformed into his robot mode and pulled out his rifle. He fired at Scarecrow, but the Predacon nimbly moved aside. Scarecrow attached his sword blades and stabbed Skyfire in the chest as he moved past. Skyfire tore himself away and plunged towards the ground.

He landed in a heap on the ground and didn't move for a few seconds. He shakily got his feet, fluids dripping from his wounds. Scarecrow landed in front of him, standing as tall as the Maximal. "Ultra Combat mode," Skyfire said and instantly parts of his chest opened and revealed racks of missiles, laser cannons moved into place below his arms, and rocket boosters appeared from his back.

He fired his missiles at Scarecrow, and the Predacon stumbled backwards from the onslaught. Skyfire fired his rifle and laser cannons, knowing that he couldn't get close to Scarecrow or else he would be sliced to ribbons. Scarecrow fell onto one knee. He fired his gun and hit Skyfire in the chest, sending the Maximal to the ground.

"Internal damage. Systems critical, return to beast mode," a computerized voice told Skyfire.

"No!" He shouted and rose to his feet just as Scarecrow plowed into him. Both Transformers tumbled to the ground and Skyfire could feel his rifle fly from his hand. Scarecrow pinned his arms down and poised his blades to strike. As he brought his arm down, Skyfire was able to raise his right arm and smashed Scarecrow across the head. The Predacon fell off and Skyfire got to his feet. Before he could blast Scarecrow, something strange began to happen.

Scarecrow's entire body shimmered and his form seemed to melt away. In a flash his body had changed and become the purple form of the Decepticon Shockwave. Shockwave had been found on the shuttle, but Skyfire had placed him in stasis so he could not cause any harm to the Autobots. He didn't know how Shockwave had gotten free, or how he had been able to turn into Scarecrow, but he knew he had to stop him.

Shockwave fired with his gun arm and Skyfire ducked to avoid the shot. He returned fire with his cannons and Shockwave was hit in the leg. He went down and transformed into a huge gun. Before Skyfire could do anything, Shockwave fired and hit him in the midsection. Skyfire fell forward and hit the ground. He tried to move, but couldn't. He could hear Shockwave moving away, but could do nothing to stop him. "Beast mode," he whispered and transformed. Then he blacked out, knowing that the others were doomed.

***

"He's been gone too long," Skids said.

"I'm sure he's fine," Grapple replied as both sat inside the transport. "Reconnaissance work takes a while. Be patient."

"I just have a bad feeling that something has happened to him."

Grapple was about to reply, but suddenly Perceptor's voice came over the comlink. "You've got to help...Skyfire and Beachcomber. I tried to raise them...but couldn't."

"You sound hurt, Perceptor. What's going on?" Skids asked worriedly.

"I don't know. Hurry...I'll give you...the coordinates." The navigation computer came to life as Perceptor sent both locations to them.

"You fly the transport to Beachcomber, I'll go on the ground to find Skyfire," Skids said and opened the hatch. He transformed and streaked away as fast as he could go. Grapple took the controls of the transport and prepared it for flight. It moved away in the opposite direction, and it wasn't long before Grapple saw a small building alone in the desert. Functional design, but not very artistic, Grapple assessed the building as he landed. He hurried out of the hatch and into the building.

It was completely dark, so he shined his headlights around. He saw something blue reflect in the light and hurried over to it. Beachcomber was sitting up against a wall, his chest nearly laid open. Grapple reached up to his friend's head and Beachcomber's eyes lit up. "What's going on?" He asked.

"Perceptor told us you were here. Looks like you ran into some trouble," Grapple replied.

"I don't know what happened. I was downloading data and then there was this intense pain. When I came to I was in this place and this enormous robot was standing over me. He said his name was Scarecrow, but I don't know anyone by that name."

"We'll find out later. Right now, we have to get you back to the ship to get repaired." Beachcomber nodded and Grapple helped him to his feet. Then they slowly left the building and Grapple helped his friend into the transport. He deactivated Beachcomber and the transport took to the air to rendezvous with Skids.

Skyfire slowly came to and heard the sound of squealing brakes. He looked up and saw a blue minivan stopping near him. The minivan transformed and Skyfire looked up at Skids. Skids knelt down and looked Skyfire over. Skyfire was leaking fluids rapidly and many of his feathers were singed off, exposing circuitry. "What happened?" Skids asked.

"Scarecrow...Shockwave. Others...in danger," Skyfire replied slowly.

"All right, we'll help the others just as soon as Grapple arrives with the transport." Skyfire nodded weakly and closed his eyes once more.

When he reopened them, he saw a yellow construction vehicle sitting nearby. He felt himself rise in the air and slowly realized that Grapple was using his crane to move Skyfire to the transport. Skids helped guide Skyfire through the hatch and then moved him next to Beachcomber, who was also badly damaged. Then the transport rose into the air and headed for the shuttle. Skyfire only hoped that the others could find some way to stop Scarecrow and Shockwave before it was too late.

***

Wheeljack heard a clanging sound coming from an airlock and ran to investigate. He was horrified to see that something was banging away at the hatch. There was an explosion and the hatch blew open. Wheeljack was thrown against the wall and looked up to see Shockwave storming through the hole he had made. Shockwave stopped and his body shimmered with a silver light and his exoskeleton seemed to turn to liquid. Then Shockwave became a black and gray robot. Wheeljack stared at the robot in dismay and picked himself up. "Hold it right there," he said.

The robot laughed and slashed Wheeljack across the chest with his sword blades. Wheeljack was thrown backwards a few feet and rolled over onto his rear. He fired a missile at the robot, but it had no effect. He stood and ran. A shot hit the wall to his left, but he kept going. He ran to the bridge and found Perceptor lying on the deck, unconscious. Wheeljack turned him over and saw a hole in his chest. He reactivated his friend and helped him sit up.

"There's an intruder alert by the engine room," Wheeljack said.

"Is it...is it Beachcomber?" Perceptor asked.

"No. It was Shockwave and then he...he changed into some other robot. We have to stop him."

"I contacted Grapple on the surface. Skyfire appears damaged. Perhaps the same individual is responsible."

"If he beat up Skyfire, then there's no way we can stop him." Wheeljack stopped and idly rubbed his jaw, a gesture he had picked up from being around humans. "I got it! In my lab I was tinkering with a hyperpulse plasma rifle. If I could get it, we might be able to fight back."

"What is a hyperpulse plasma rifle?" Perceptor asked.

"It's a gun that shoots plasma at an extremely fast rate," Wheeljack answered.

"I'm sorry, I'm unfamiliar with weapon design."

"So am I," Wheeljack joked and looked around for some way to get to his lab.

There was a beep from the sensor station and Perceptor stumbled over to it. "The transport is returning." He contacted it and asked, "What is your condition?"

"Skyfire and Beachcomber are hurt bad. We need to get them to the restoration chamber at once," Grapple replied.

"I've got bad news for you guys: Shockwave is aboard," Wheeljack told the transport.

"Can we dock?" Skids asked.

"I doubt it. I'm not sure where he is right now, but I'm sure he's up to no good."

"There has to be a way to get them aboard!" Skids blurted out.

"There is..." A weak voice interrupted. Skyfire hopped up to the front of the cockpit. "I'll distract Shockwave, and the transport can dock."

Skids and Grapple stared at Skyfire in disbelief. "Skyfire, there's no way you can fight Shockwave in your condition," Grapple said as calmly as he could.

"I'm not going up against Shockwave. I'm going up against a Predacon named Scarecrow. I can buy enough time to evacuate the ship."

"Evacuate? That would leave this Predacon in command of it!" Wheeljack shouted in disbelief.

"Wheeljack, while I distract him, sabotage the engines. Make sure he can't go anywhere."

"I've got a better idea," Wheeljack began. "I was telling Perceptor that I have an experimental weapon in my lab that might be able to slow him down. If I can get it, we might be able to use it to at least cover our escape."

Skyfire thought for a few moments about what Wheeljack had said. "I'll distract Scarecrow while Grapple shuts the engines down. Wheeljack, get that weapon. Skids, go in and help Perceptor out. Everyone got it?" Skyfire looked around the shuttle and saw his comrades nod in agreement.

"Just be careful, Skyfire," Wheeljack warned. Skyfire hopped up to his feet and the hatch of the shuttle opened. He flew the hatch and into the shuttle. He looked around and headed for the bridge. His sensors told him that Scarecrow was nearby.

He transformed and slowly crept up on his nemesis. He had his rifle in his hand and gloomily noticed that its charge was low. He would have to make his shots count. He could see the black and gray form of Scarecrow in the corridor that led to the bridge and knew that he had to stop the Predacon from reaching his friends. He aimed his weapon and fired. The shot hit Scarecrow squarely in the back and some feathers flew.

Scarecrow turned and scowled as he saw Skyfire standing in the corridor. "I thought I had finished with you," he growled.

"Not quite," Skyfire replied. He ducked just as Scarecrow fired his gun. Then Skyfire took off running, heading down the winding corridors of the ship. He made sure to stay away from the transport and the engine room. He activated his comlink and asked Grapple, "Are you there yet?"

"I'm in the engine room," Grapple replied. "I'm working on shutting the engines down."

Skyfire was going to reply, but a shot hit him in the back and he fell forward. He rolled and saw Scarecrow approaching him. "Ultra Combat mode." He activated his rocket boosters and tore down the corridor at full speed. Scarecrow transformed into Shockwave once more and went to gun mode. He fired a shot that flew past Skyfire and hit the ceiling. The ceiling gave way and rubble pounded Skyfire and knocked him to the deck. He skidded along the deck until he deactivated his rocket boosters and slowly came to a stop.

"Damage critical. Return to beast mode or spark will terminate," a computerized voice told Skyfire. Scarecrow was back in his robot mode and stomping towards Skyfire, eager to finish him off. Skyfire knew there was little he could do to fight back in his current state. He had lost his rifle somewhere along the way and his other weapons were too depleted.

"Beast mode," he ordered and took to the air. His wings were weak and he flew sluggishly. Scarecrow tracked him like a hunter to a duck and fired a single shot. The shot tore into Skyfire's left wing and he fell limply to the deck. He was beginning to go unconscious and heard heavy footsteps coming for him. A hand closed around him and held him high in the air.

"You fool. You are no match for me. Now I will crush you with my bare hands." Scarecrow began to squeeze and Skyfire knew he was finished.

***

Skids transformed and leapt out of the transport, tires squealing. He tore down the corridors and reached the bridge doors. He transformed back to robot mode and opened the doors. He saw Perceptor on the bridge, looking dazed. "We've got to get out of here," Skids said.

"I know," Perceptor replied. Skids transformed and opened his side door. Perceptor jumped towards the open door, transforming into his microscope mode as he did. He flew inside and bounced off a wall and landed on the padded interior. Skids shut the door and took off for the transport.

"How are you doing, Grapple?" Skids asked.

"I'm almost done," Grapple replied. "I'm shutting the engines down and blocking the starter systems with a code that Shockwave or whoever he is will never break."

"Need any help?"

"No, I'll be all right. Just get Perceptor back to the transport. I'll join you shortly and see what I can do for him."

Skids broke the connection and reached the transport. He drove inside and opened the side door. Perceptor slowly moved out the door and transformed. He lay down next to Beachcomber, staring up at the ceiling. Skids took the pilot seat and waited. He knew that their escape would have to be quick, so he had the engines on stand‑by. He just hoped that Skyfire and the others made it back.

Skyfire felt the life draining out of him as Scarecrow slowly squeezed him to death. He squawked feebly and his eyes closed. He waited for the end and suddenly heard a low humming that was followed by a pounding noise. The next thing he knew he was flying through the air. He hung there for a few seconds and hit the deck. He opened his eyes and realized that he was free. Wheeljack stood behind Scarecrow, a large gray weapon in his hand.

Wheeljack could see that the hyperpulse plasma rifle had worked, but it had only stunned Scarecrow. The Predacon was already stirring and Wheeljack knew that he had to hurry up and get out of the area. He transformed and revved his racecar's engine. He let his brakes go and flew over Scarecrow and landed near Skyfire. He opened the passenger door and Skyfire weakly hopped in. Wheeljack shut the door and took off, shots hitting the corridor around him.

"Thanks," Skyfire said.

"Not a problem, Skyfire. I've been wanting to test that thing out, that creep just gave me a chance to do it," Wheeljack replied. He tore along the corridors and towards the transport, Scarecrow far behind.

The ship rumbled for a moment and the lights dimmed. Wheeljack turned his headlights on and saw that they were near the engine room. A yellow construction crane turned out of the room and pulled behind the racecar. "The engines are down and I cut main power," Grapple said.

"Great. Ol' Shockwave or whoever he is will be dark and adrift," Wheeljack joked. They reached the transport and Skyfire climbed out of Wheeljack. The two Autobots transformed and Wheeljack carried Skyfire to the back with the others. The hatch of the transport sealed and it sped away from the shuttle. Skyfire watched the shuttle retreat from view and knew that somehow they had to find a way to beat Scarecrow and retake the ship.


Chapter Three

The transport landed at the small building where Beachcomber had brought Shockwave. The Autobots carried their wounded comrades inside and Grapple and Wheeljack worked to try and repair their damage while Skids examined the computers in the room. After a few minutes he turned to the engineers and asked, "How are they?"

"We should be able to patch Beachcomber and Perceptor up pretty easily. Skyfire..." Wheeljack's voice trailed off sadly.

Skids understood and turned back to the computer. He fiddled with the wires and was surprised when it came to life. Data flashed across the screen as the system rebooted. After a few minutes, the screen separated into several mini‑screens, each labeled as a different sector. "Wheeljack, Grapple, take a look at this," Skids called out. The two engineers hurried over and gasped as they saw the terminal screen.

"Well, I'll be a Garmalian squid," Wheeljack said. "This machine controls all the computers on the entire planet."

"How? Why?" Grapple stammered.

"I don't know, but I'd better find out," Skids replied. "It might help us save Skyfire."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I have to talk to the people of this planet and find out why a Cybertronian is in charge of their computer network." Skids transformed and raced out the door, heading for the nearest city. Wheeljack and Grapple went back over to their comrades and Wheeljack closed Perceptor's chest up. The scientist's eyes lit up and he got to his feet.

"What's going on?" Perceptor asked.

"We had to abandon the ship, remember?" Grapple asked.

"Oh, yes. Sorry. Where is Skids?"

"He went to go investigate something," Wheeljack answered. "Maybe now that you're activated you can help us with Skyfire."

Perceptor nodded and transformed. He examined Skyfire's injuries and went back to robot mode. "His condition is very serious, but there is little even I can do for him. The technology that makes up his construction is beyond Autobot technology. We need to get him back to the restoration chamber."

"We can't. That Scarecrow guy is in control of the ship. We would have to hold the bridge for hours against him."

"Then there is no hope for his recovery."

The two engineers looked glumly at the scientist and nodded. They looked down at their friend and then went to work on repairing Beachcomber.

***

Skids tore into the city and transformed. The inhabitants of the city screamed and ran away from him in terror. Skids knew they would react like that and wished he could have been more subtle, but time was of the essence. He grabbed one of the aliens and hefted it into the air. The toad‑looking alien garbled some unintelligible sounds and then shouted, "Let me go!"

"How do you know my language?" Skids asked.

"The Great Provider taught it to us many years ago," the alien replied.

"The who?"

"The Great Provider. He was one like you. He came here some time ago and taught us many things. He spoke to us of this planet called Cybertron and that someday he would leave us and go back there."

Things are beginning to make sense, Skids thought. "How did the Great Provider communicate with you?"

"Through those," the alien gestured to computer screens that were located all around the city. Skids nodded, more pieces of the puzzle falling into place."

"Thank‑you," Skids told the alien. He put the creature down and transformed. He headed back for the others, knowing what he had to do. "I got some good news, guys."

"What is it?" Perceptor asked.

"I know a lot of what's going on with this planet. Start accessing their database and look up something called the Great Provider. That may be the key to what's going on, and maybe it will give us some clues on how to help Skyfire."

"I will try and locate the information you requested. I will inform you if I find anything." Perceptor broke the connection and accessed the records of the planet. He searched for the data Skids had suggested. Hundreds of records came up and Perceptor glanced through the titles. He started with one on the origins of the Great Provider.

Perceptor heard Skids enter and motioned for him to come over to the terminal. Skids read the file and was shocked. "So a ship crashed here years ago and this Scarecrow guy, the Great Provider was the only survivor," Skids stated.

"Yes, except that his body did not survive the crash for long. So he downloaded his consciousness into the planet's computer network and took it over. In exchange for control over the planet, he gave them advances in technology."

"So that's why the probe was destroyed when it accessed their network, he didn't want us to discover his secret."

"And why Beachcomber attacked me and released Shockwave."

"So how does any of this help us?"

"It doesn't, but it tells us what's going on. That may be useful later."

"All right!" Grapple shouted and the scientists looked over at him. Grapple helped Beachcomber to his feet and smiled. "We finally got Beachcomber back together."

"Excellent. Beachcomber, we need your assistance," Perceptor said.

"With what?" Beachcomber asked.

"How did that Scarecrow fellow make it so he could be himself and Shockwave?"

Beachcomber rubbed his head for a few moments and replied, "I don't really know. I remember taking off Shockwave's exoskeleton and then pouring this liquid metal onto him."

"Liquid metal?" Wheeljack asked.

"Yes, it was this weird, silver substance."

"That's it!" Wheeljack blurted out.

"What is?" Skids asked.

"How that guy can be Scarecrow and Shockwave. He's using that liquid metal to alter his exoskeleton. Everything underneath is the same, but his outside becomes different. Ingenious."

"Great. How does that help us?" Beachcomber asked.

"Think about it, if we can find some of this stuff, we might be able to rebuild Skyfire."

"But Skyfire doesn't have two forms."

"Yes," Grapple smiled as he understood what Wheeljack was proposing, "he does."

***

Skyfire looked around the dark dreamscape and suddenly saw a blue light. It was a spark! He could see the face of the greatest Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, in it. "Optimus," Skyfire breathed.

"Yes, Skyfire, it is I," Prime's voice rumbled. "You do not know why I am here, do you?"

"No," Skyfire stammered, feeling in awe. He had not seen Optimus Prime in many years, not since he had become a Maximal.

"I have come to remind you of who you were. Once you were the Autobot Jetfire. You served under my command and helped me win many battles against the Decepticons. Now you have adorned yourself with Maximal flesh and changed your name. You have turned your back on your heritage."

"No, it wasn't like that," Skyfire protested. "The Autobots were almost nothing after the Great War. There were so many scientific opportunities with the Maximals that I couldn't pass it up."

"I understand, but you have regretted being who you were. You have felt ashamed of being an Autobot."

"Never!"

"Don't lie to yourself, Skyfire!"

"No!" Skyfire shrieked in horror. He reached out and smashed the spark with his hand. "No!"

He sank to his knees and then saw the spark begin to reform. It turned itself into two smaller sparks. In one he could see himself as Jetfire, the Autobot, and in the other himself as Skyfire, the Maximal. "Choose," Optimus's voice called to him.

"I won't," Skyfire replied. "I am a Maximal and an Autobot. I have never been ashamed of who I was, or who I am now. I am Skyfire now, but I am still like Jetfire in many ways. I have never forgotten who I was, but I have also accepted who I am now. I am both, and I always will be."

There was silence, and then Optimus Prime appeared before Skyfire. "Then, Skyfire, you truly have become wiser," he said. He grasped Skyfire's hand and a light shone in his eyes. "Never forget what you have learned here today."

Optimus disappeared and Skyfire was left in the darkness for only a few seconds. His eyes flashed open and he saw Wheeljack and Perceptor hovering over him. "You're awake," Wheeljack observed. "Good."

"What's going on?" Skyfire asked weakly.

"We've figured out how to repair you, but we need you to transform. Can you do it?"

"I'll try. Skyfire, Maximize."

"Unable to comply. Systems damage critical. Remain in beast mode," a computerized voice told Skyfire.

"I can't do it."

"You have to," Perceptor responded. "We cannot perform the procedure if you do not."

Skyfire nodded and commanded, "Systems override. Authorization: Skyfire."

"Override acknowledged."

"Skyfire, Maximize." Slowly, and painfully, Skyfire began to transform. Sparks flew as his damaged gears and joints moved. He screamed in pain, but continued to unfold from his beast mode. When it seemed he could take no more, it was all over. He collapsed to the ground and stared up at his comrades. "There."

"Good. Now we're going to work on you. Deactivate yourself while we work," Wheeljack replied.

Skyfire nodded and ordered, "Repair mode." His eyes went dark and he lay limp. Grapple transformed and used his crane to hoist Skyfire into the air. Wheeljack and Perceptor guided him into the tube where Beachcomber had reported Shockwave had been disassembled in.

"While we tear him apart, Skids and Beachcomber, you find some of this liquid metal stuff," Wheeljack ordered.

Skids nodded and turned to the terminal, searching for any records of the substance. "Let me try," Beachcomber suggested and Skids let him use the computer. Beachcomber began searching through the planet's geological records and stopped. "Looks like this race uses that stuff for just about anything. Getting some should be pretty easy. There's a mine not too far away. Let's go."

The two Transformers headed for the transport and took off. They flew to a large pit where many of the aliens were working. There were silver tubes sunk into the ground, presumably carrying the liquid metal. The aliens stared up in surprise as the transport flew over and landed. Skids and Beachcomber stepped out and the aliens scattered at their approach. "Let's get it," Skids said. "We mean you no harm, we just need a supply of your material to help a friend of ours."

One of the aliens stepped up to Skids and pounded his leg with a tool. "Leave here, you brute. This is our mine and our supply of Acqualevine." Skids turned to Beachcomber, who merely shrugged.

"They can't stop us. Let's just get what we need and leave." As Beachcomber finished the sentence, something hit Skids in the chest and he fell to the ground. Beachcomber turned and saw three black, robotic beings standing nearby, each with a Predacon symbol emblazoned on its lower torso. He raised his pistol and returned fire. Those must have been what we saw earlier, he thought. His shot caused one of the robots to fall to the ground, but the other two remained.

"Don't be foolish," one of the robots called. "Your puny weapon is no matched for the firepower of our Mechanoids."

"We'll see about that," Beachcomber heard Skids say. Skids was on his knees and fired, knocking another of the Mechanoids to the ground. "Draw the last one's fire so we don't hit any innocent creatures."

Beachcomber nodded and transformed. He took off in the opposite direction of the mine. The third Mechanoid stomped off after him. The other two had recovered and Skids transformed and charged them. He avoided their shots and transformed when he was a short distance from them. He punched one in the chest and wheeled around and nailed the other one in the head, knocking it off. Satisfied that the two Mechanoids were going to be of no further trouble, Skids went to help Beachcomber.

Beachcomber weaved back and forth, seeing the giant Mechanoid in his rear view mirror. Shots flew past him and kicked dirt up all around him. Beachcomber looked around him and was sure that he was far enough away so that no bystanders would be hurt. He turned towards the Mechanoid and transformed. He was about half the size of the alien machine and ducked under its attempt to punch him. He came back up with its own fist and hit it in the midsection. A blow hit him in the side and he fell to the ground. He could hear a weapon powering up and knew his end was near. There was a shot and then a crash as the Mechanoid fell to the ground.

Skids helped Beachcomber to his feet and they headed back for the mine. Beachcomber examined the mine and had Skids lift one of the pipes. Beachcomber took out a container he had brought with him from the building where the others were and filled it with Acqualevine. He capped it and safely put it in a compartment inside of him. Skids put the pipe back and they headed back for the transport.

"I feel like a Decepticon," Beachcomber joked.

"If we were Decepticons, we would have taken every drop of that stuff, not just what we needed."

"So you're saying that as long as we're not greedy, it's all right?"

"Yes," Skids replied as they entered the transport and he took the controls.

"Good," Beachcomber said as they rose into the air. "I'll remember that the next time we're dividing energon rations."

***

When Skids and Beachcomber entered they were surprised to see Skyfire standing in the tube, his exoskeleton completely disassembled. Metal and flesh lay all over the floor and the two Transformers were careful not to step in anything. "Here it is," Beachcomber began and took out the container.

"Thank the Matrix!" Grapple breathed and took the container. He handed it to Wheeljack and smiled. "Here goes nothing."

"Let's hope not," Wheeljack mumbled as he opened the container. He poured the substance on Skyfire and everyone watched as it slowly began to move. It covered Skyfire's entire body and took shape. It hardened and Skyfire looked as though he had never been damaged. Wheeljack opened a panel on the back of Skyfire's head and looked over at Perceptor. "You have that algorithm finished?"

Perceptor typed a few keys and nodded. "It is completed." He plugged a cord into Skyfire's head and went back to the terminal, hitting a few more buttons. Over a minute later Skyfire's eyes opened.

"What's going on?" He asked.

"We fixed you," Wheeljack answered.

"I feel...different."

"We've made a few modifications..." Grapple began to explain, but Beachcomber cut him off.

"Scarecrow's coming!"

"Guess you get to field test your modifications sooner than expected," Skids said.

Skyfire nodded and turned to Wheeljack and Perceptor. "Just briefly tell me about these modifications." Wheeljack nodded and began to explain as quickly as he could.

***

Scarecrow leapt out of the hatch of the shuttle. He transformed into Shockwave's gun mode and headed through the atmosphere of the planet. It was a rough trip, but he made it through without injury. Then he transformed back into his bird mode. He swooped through the sky, heading for where he knew the Autobots were. He would get access to the ship's systems back, and then he would crush them.

He used his long‑range sensors and could detect the Autobots below. Excellent, he thought, they are all in one place. They would be much easier to destroy like that. Scarecrow's sensors buzzed and he wondered what was going on.

Something tore into his back suddenly and he looked up in surprise and saw a brown and white object streak by. He turned and tried to catch up to it. There was a silvery shimmer and then the bird turned into a white aircraft. Jet engines spat flames that singed Scarecrow's feathers. The plane came around in a turn and fired on Scarecrow. Lasers hit him the wings and the plane darted past him. Scarecrow began to fall towards the ground in an uncontrolled plunge. He landed in a heap and transformed.

He looked up and the jet lined up for a strafing run. Scarecrow transformed into Shockwave's gun mode and lined the plane up in his sights. He fired, but the fighter nimbly avoided the shot. It flew over Shockwave, and hands suddenly appeared from its bottom and knocked him to the ground. Shockwave went back to Scarecrow's robot mode and saw the fighter streak high into the air. It flipped around and headed straight for the ground. Scarecrow gasped in surprise as the jet transformed and landed on its feet.

The robot that stood before Scarecrow looked like the Maximal that he had trashed earlier, only it was white, red, and black and had no feathers. There was also a large Autobot symbol emblazoned on its nosecone. "Who are you?" Scarecrow demanded as he drew his sword blades.

The Autobot raised his weapon and fired it. A stream of green smashed into Scarecrow's chest and sent him to the ground. He heard heavy feet running across the ground and the Autobot reached down and hoisted him to his feet. He hung above the ground and stared into the fiery red eye of his attacker. "I am Jetfire," the Autobot hissed.

Jetfire threw Scarecrow and leveled his weapon. He fired and a continuous stream of plasma hammered Scarecrow. Scarecrow screamed in pain and hurled his blades. They sliced into Jetfire's gun arm and his rifle fell to the ground. He held the arm and was hit in the face as Scarecrow charged and nailed him with a right cross. "Die!" Scarecrow screamed. Jetfire staggered and Scarecrow hit him again. Jetfire punched Scarecrow in the midsection and brought his left leg up. He kicked the Predacon in the side and Scarecrow tumbled to the ground.

Jetfire's body seemed to turn to liquid for an instant, and then it reformed as Skyfire. "Ultra Combat mode," Skyfire commanded. He fired a stream of missiles into Scarecrow. Scarecrow lay dazed for a moment, and then transformed into Shockwave.

He fired the cannon that served as his left hand and hit Skyfire in the chest. Skyfire stumbled backwards and Shockwave fired again and again until Skyfire fell.

Shockwave transformed back to Scarecrow, who stood over Skyfire with a grin on his battered face. "Now I will finish you, forever."

"No you won't," Skyfire replied and brought up his left arm. He fired his laser cannons and smashed his left leg into Scarecrow. Scarecrow took a few steps back and Skyfire stood up. He stood in front of the bloody, mangled form of Scarecrow and drew his right arm back. It smashed into the side of Scarecrow's head and the Predacon hit the ground. He twitched a few times and then was still. Skyfire stood over him for a few moments, making sure that his opponent was finished. Then he turned and retrieved the hyperpulse plasma cannon that Wheeljack had given him in place of his laser rifle. "You're the one who is finished, Scarecrow." Skyfire looked towards the building where the others were and saw clouds of dust forming as his comrades approached.

"You really did a number on him," Beachcomber observed.

"What do we do now?" Grapple asked.

"Let's get out of here," Skyfire replied. Parts of his chest were laid bare and his feathers were stained with blood, and he felt terribly tired. He sank to his knees and transformed into Jetfire. He then turned into his jet fighter mode and shot into the air, his rocket boosters blazing.

Grapple hoisted Scarecrow's beaten carcass into the air and laid it on Skids's roof. They loaded it into the transport and took off after their friend.


Epilogue

Skyfire stared out into space as the shuttle left the planet behind. Wheeljack came up beside him and said, "We got Scarecrow aboard and into the restoration chamber. What do you want us to do with him after he's repaired?"

"Install the same algorithm you programmed into me, so that we can get Shockwave activated. Then...leave him active."

"Are you nuts? We can't leave a Decepticon active aboard this ship!"

"We can't leave him in stasis the whole time either. Shockwave and Scarecrow may prove to be useful in their own way. Besides, they aren't going to do anything. I know Shockwave, he will understand that it won't be logical to destroy us all so far from Cybertron. There's no way he could run everything by himself."

"Scarecrow's not that logical, though."

"We have to at least give them a chance, Wheeljack. That is what we heroes do," Skyfire replied wryly.

Wheeljack nodded. "I understand, but I still don't like it." He patted Skyfire on the shoulder and joked, "You're getting more like Optimus Prime everyday. Pretty soon we're going to have to start calling you Skyfirimus Prime or something like that."

Skyfire smiled and responded, "Let's just keep it Skyfire for now." He transformed into Jetfire and then added, "Now let's go do some reminiscing. Remember that time on Earth you, Bumblebee, and I were fighting some Decepticons in that glue factory…"

"And Bumblebee fell into that vat of glue. It took Ratchet weeks to get all of that out!" The two Autobots laughed heartily and turned from the stars, their laughter continuing to echo down the corridors as they headed for the bridge to join their comrades.

Look for Part Four: The Skyfire Adventures: Vortex (Part One of the Apocalypse Trilogy) Coming Soon!

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