e mërkurë, 13 qershor 2007

The Storm

Author's Note: This is the second episode of the Skyfire Adventures, written in 1997. In this episode the heroic Autobot Jetfire (now the Maximal Skyfire) lands on a planet torn by war, where he locates a crashed ship with some of his old comrades on board.

The Skyfire Adventures:

The Storm

Chapter One - The Coming

Across a blue sky, an object hurtled towards the ground at near the speed of sound. It crashed into the ground in a patch of tall weeds near a small pond. Tiny waves lapped at it, and a curious crustaceon came up to it. The object was smoking and blackened in spots, but otherwise intact. A weak cry came from it, and the crustaceon skittered away.

The sound of a humming motor overshadowed the cry, followed by something heavy crashing through the grass. Two humanoids stopped at the pond and looked at the object curiously. “Whatever this is, it isn’t natural,” one of the humanoids remarked.

“Then what is it? It isn’t like anything the demons have tried to use on us before,” the other replied.

“Must be a new one. One that disguises itself as a harmless creature and spies on us. We should destroy it now and be done with it.”

“No, we can’t do that, it’s too valuable. If this is a new one, then we’ve got to study it, maybe find something we can use.”

“I suppose you’re right. I’ll call for a lifter to take this thing back to base. You guard it.” One of the humanoids walked away while the other trained a weapon on the object.

The object was a bald eagle that had lost many of its feathers and appeared to have a broken wing. It was covered in blood and strange fluids that mixed together into a brownish color. However faint, it was still alive and breathing. The humanoid guarding the object knelt down to it and felt it. It looked perfectly lifelike, and would have passed as an eagle, if not for the metal and circuitry that was exposed.

A large, boxy hovership arrived at the scene. A claw came out of its bottom and a hatch opened up to receive the cargo. Slowly, the eagle was scooped up from the sandy beach of the pond and placed into the lifter. Then it whoosed away and off into the distance. The two humanoids roared off in their vechicle, and once again the pond was quiet and peaceful.

The lifter landed in a grass clearing that was surrounded by large tents. A hatch opened on the side of the vehicle and the eagle was unloaded on a hovering cart. A trio of humanoids guided the cart towards one of the tents. As they did so, a group of other humanoids rushed up. “What is this thing?” A female humanoid asked.

“We’re not sure. Naf and Haron found it a mile or so from the border. It looks like some new kind of demon,” one of the lifter’s pilots responded.

“Doesn’t look like a demon. That’s what we were afraid of: they’re trying to infiltrate us by mimicking native creatures.”

“Just what we need. So now what do we do?”

“Figure out what this thing is, and what it knows. It’s strange, though, that it was damaged. Ask around and see if anyone shot this thing.”

“Right,” the pilot hurried away as the eagle was brought into the tent. There was nothing under the tent, but a piece of ground moved and revealed a hidden shaft that led underground. The cart, and those around it, boarded a platform and descended down the shaft into a huge military complex that contained thousands of humanoids and weapons.

On the cart, the eagle’s eyes opened slightly. It had no idea where it was, or where it was going. The last thing it remembered was seeing a red sky fading into a blue one, and volcanic mountains turning into snow-capped ones. However, the eagle did know that it had to get away from wherever it was as soon as possible. It was a long way away from any friends and had to look for some way back. The only problem was that it was too weak to move. It tried to flap its wings, but nothing happened; nor could it find the strength to stand up. Until it healed, it was at the mercy of the creatures around it. With that gloomy thought, the eagle blacked out and knew nothing more.

***

It awoke again to find itself on some kind of table, a bright light blinding it. Strange creatures were standing all around it with instruments, poking and prodding it. The eagle vaguely remembered something about that, a word coming to its mind: science. Yes, that word was very familiar to it. A haze seemed to lift, and it knew what was going on: these creatures were experimenting on it.

“Stop!” It cried out weakly. The creatures all seemed to jump back in surprise while the eagle sat up. It flapped its wings, but nothing happened.

“Internal repairs not complete. Remain in beast mode,” a computerized voice told the eagle. Then it remembered that it wasn’t just an eagle, it was more than that. The humanoids around the table took a step back, and most drew their weapons and pointed them at the eagle.

The female humanoid motioned for the others to lower their weapons. “We can’t destroy it, not until we know what it was sent here to do,” she said.

“We can’t just leave it alone, Jalen. We have to destroy it now!” A man protested.

“I said to leave it be. Everyone evacuate the room. I’ll talk to it and if I get into trouble, then you can kill it,” the female ordered and the others left the room. She looked at the eagle and extended her arms so that her palms showed. “I mean you no harm. We just what to know who you are, and who you work for.”

The eagle tilted its head curiously, thinking about who it was. It slowly began to remember how it had gotten into the laboratory. “I am Skyfire, a Maximal from the distant planet of Cybertron. Who are you, and where am I?”

“I am Jalen, commander of the Dexos military forces for this region. Were you programmed by the demons to spy on us?”

“Of course not. I came here from a far away planet in order to rescue comrades that these ‘demons’ had taken. I stayed behind while they got to safety, but by then it was too late for me to return. I was barely able to flee from the enemy when I crashed in your area,” Skyfire answered.

“I see. What is a ‘Maximal’?”

“I can’t really demonstrate now, but two great races of robots live on my planet: Maximals and Predacons. Maximals uphold the virtues of honesty, kindness, and preservation of all life set by our Autobot ancestors. Predacons, although peaceful until late, follow the virtues of deception, treachery, and destruction from their Decepticon predecessors. Maximals are also the keepers of the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, which my comrades and I were able to rescue from the demons and use to destroy their teleporter network.”

“Their teleporter network? Hmmm...that explains a few things,” Jalen’s voice trailed off and Skyfire looked at her strangely.

“When can I leave here? I must try and return home, and there is a long journey ahead of me.”

“I can’t let you leave yet. How do I know that you aren’t programmed to lie to me?”

“I can’t prove it to you, yet. I was badly damaged by the demons, and it will take time for my beast form to repair, so I am stuck in this form for now. When I can transform, I will show you.”

“How convenient. How long will that take?”

“A few hours at least.”

“So I’m supposed to let you have access to my base for that long? I can’t risk it.”

“I understand your concerns. Let me go and I will not return.”

“I can’t do that either. You’re going to stay right here until you can prove to me that you aren’t one of them.”

“Very well, then.” Skyfire sat on the table, waiting for his robot form to repair itself. He closed his eyes and went to sleep, hoping to pass the time until he could transform. Jalen sighed and left the room.

“Is he one of them?” Her second-in-command, Altos, demanded as she closed the door to the laboratory.

“I don’t know. He says he’s a Maximal from the planet Cybertron. He won’t be able to prove he’s not one of them until he can ‘transform’, whatever the hell that means,” she answered.

“Let’s just destroy him now, before he can report to the demons.”

“He can’t do anything as long as he’s in there.”

“We’re in a fight for survival here; he’s too much of a risk to keep here!”

“He’s staying, and that’s an order.”

“You believe him, don’t you? He’s one of them!”

“Maybe. Or he might be a hero responsible for destroying the demon’s teleporter network. He said that something called the Autobot Matrix of Leadership that destroyed the demons’s teleporter network. Remember at Tomir when the demons tried to invade? They reported a strange blue light that hit just as the demons were beginning to teleport in. After it had passed, the demons were gone. So until I know more, I’m going to keep him here under guard. Your men should be able to keep a big bird secure for a couple of hours.” Altos stopped and clenched his fists. Then he turned and went to find his security troops to deploy them around the lab. If Jalen is going to keep that thing, then I’m going to at least make sure it doesn’t see more of the base than it has to, he thought.

***

Some hours later, Skyfire awoke. A guard was standing nearby and raised its weapon as his eyes opened and feathers shifted. “Internal repairs complete,” a computerized voice told him.

“Bring your leader back in here, I must speak to her,” Skyfire told the guard, who nodded and left the room. Skyfire sat up and stretched his wings out. Although some of his feathers were still singed off, he was fully operational once more. Jalen came into the lab and Skyfire looked over at her. “Now you will see that I am not a demon, because no demon can do this. Skyfire, Maximize!” There was a whirring of gears and the eagle unfolded into an enormous robot. Jalen took a step back and the guard raised its rifle.

“What are you?” Jalen asked in astonishment.

“I am what I said I am. I am the Maximal Skyfire. On my planet we transform from a vehicle mode to a robot mode for strategic purposes, as well as to get around more easily. Sometimes, we must mimic the forms of animals in order to disguise ourselves. As far as I know, no demon can do that.”

The door to the lab burst open suddenly. “Commander, the demons are on the move! Thousands of them!” A messanger shouted.

“You betrayed us!”

“No I didn’t. I will help you.” Skyfire pulled out his laser cannon and stomped past the two humanoids. He flew up to the surface and disappeared into the sky.


Chapter Two: The Fury

Skyfire flew high up in the sky, his sensors on maximum sensitivity. He was cruising the red skies of alien territory. He could see thousands of the demons, as the humanoids called them, moving towards the humanoid territory. There were ones of all shapes and sizes, from small brown spiny ones to the massive ones with missile launchers on their arms. It was an army far larger than the one he, Optimus Primal, and Tigatron had encountered previously, and this time he was all alone. Except for the humanoids, he thought. Still, he didn’t know what kind of technology they had or how powerful their weapons were.

He began to swoop down lower, knowing that it was time to begin the fight. “Skyfire, Maximize!” He shouted and transformed into robot mode. “Ultra Combat mode.” He added and hidden weapons and rocket boosters appeared. He armed the missile launchers in his chest and targeted the largest of the demons. He fired the missiles and activated his rocket boosters, streaking down towards the surface. He grabbed his laser rifle and landed in the midst of the enemy, pumping off round after round without mercy into the demon horde. He could see that his missiles had destroyed a good portion of the larger demons, and he hoped that would help the humanoids when the demons reached their position.

As he continued to fire, the demons began turning towards him. A green ball of plasma slammed into him, but he held his ground. A large pink alien with horns slashed at him, but he stepped back in time to avoid its claws and blasted it with his rifle. More and more of the demons tried to take a swing at him, and a few of their claws sliced into the simulated flesh around his robot form. Skyfire knew that it was time to retreat or else be destroyed. He took off, fire from his engines burning some of the demons around him. He dodged the fire and plasma balls thrown at him and then transformed.

He had whittled down the odds a little, but there were far too many of the aliens for a single Maximal to take on all by himself. He would have to hope that the humanoids had the firepower to drive the demons back, or at least halt their advance. Skyfire thought about the humanoids and about the humans he had encountered as an Autobot on Earth. They were much the same in appearance and attitude. He had found the humans on Earth to be brave and honorable fighters, and hoped that these humanoids were the same.

He came over their territory again, and noticed a much smaller horde of humanoids working on setting up trenches and other fortifications near the pond where Skyfire had crashed only hours before. He landed behind their lines and transformed. He saw Jalen directing the troops and went over to her. “I did what I could, but there are still a lot of them heading this way. Can you hold them here?”

Jalen looked at him and shook her head sadly, “There’s not a chance. Most of our firepower is thousands of miles away on the southern front. There hasn’t been much activity around here lately, so we moved it south to protect that area. I’ve got some lifters going to the front to try and get some heavy weapons, but it’ll be two days at least before they’re back. Until then, we’re on our own.” Skyfire looked around and saw that there were only a handful of larger artillery cannons. The rest of the firepower the humanoids had were the few hundred troops on the line with their small laser rifles. With the massive demon horde on its way, he knew that it was going to be a slaughter.

“If you can’t hold them, then why are you here? A last stand is a useless gesture,” Skyfire protested.

“We can’t hold them, but we can slow them down. A fighting retreat is the best strategy we can use at the moment. Try and slowly wear them down until reinforcements arrive.”

“I see, however, you’re only going to wear yourselves down. They don’t get tired, they’re relentless. The best thing you can do is to try and hide and wait for reinforcements.”

“Thanks for the suggestion, but we can’t just let these things run loose on the planet. You’ve seen what happens to the territory they control. Before the demons came, that land was productive and lush, now it’s a wasteland. They destroy everything in their path, including the environment. I won’t add more land to that wasteland if I can help it.” Skyfire could see that he wasn’t going to accomplish anything, so he gave up on the argument. One thing he had always hated in humanoids was their stubborness and gross deviations from logic. His friend Prowl had always said, “These humans are completely baffling. They see the most logical course of action and they seem to purposely do the exact opposite. They are impossible beings.” Right now, Skyfire had to agree with him. He checked the charge in his rifle and then went up to the line. It took some work for him to get down enough for the fortifications to do some good, but he was finally able to do it. The only thing worrying him now was that he wouldn’t have the energon for the running fight the humans intended in his Ultra Combat mode. He would have to fight in his normal mode then. He looked at the line of humanoids in their dull gray body armor and helmets and knew that if those plasma balls could crack his armor, they would easily tear through the humanoids’s. He readied himself and hoped that it didn’t come to that.

***

It took the aliens over two hours to come within sight of the human line. Skyfire, with sensors superior to anything the humanoids possessed, saw them first. “Here they come!” He shouted down the line. He heard something brush the dirt nearby and turned his head to see that Jalen had taken up a position next to him. She held a rifle in her hands and aimed it towards where the demons were.

“I’m going to make sure you don’t betray us. If you do, I’ll kill you,” Jalen hissed. Skyfire doubted that her weapon could destroy him, but he didn’t bother to bring up the point.

“I won’t betray you. I told you that I am not one of them. I want them destroyed just as much as you do.” He stuck his rifle over the fortification and fired a few rounds. He saw a few small explosions, but he doubted that he had done much. The humanoids’s weapons were smaller and didn’t have the range, so they held their fire. Skyfire waited and could see the first of the demons were breaking into a run. The small pink ones were in the lead, the larger pink ones and brown spiny ones behind them to provide fire support. Then in the back were what remained of the larger demons, ready to mix it up with the defenders once they were engaged. Skyfire could see the problem there. Once the humanoids began fighting, the larger demons would storm their positions. What was worse was that when the humanoids tried to run, the demons would use the opportunity to pound them with fireballs, plasma balls, missiles, and any other long-range weapons. In short, it was going to be a slaughter.

“You have to get out of here, it’s a trap!” Skyfire said.

“We can’t just run. We haven’t even fought them yet!” Jalen protested.

“See how they’re positioned? They’ll pulverize you with their long-range weapons if you try to run. If you move now, you can still retreat without enormous casualties.”

Jalen looked down the line of troops and nodded slowly. “I’ll evacuate most of my men, but I have to leave a squad behind to cover the withdrawal.”

“No need. I’ll hold them off. Just get your people out of here.”

“We can’t leave you by yourself, you’ll be killed!”

“No I won’t. Please, trust me. Now go.” He commanded.

“Thank-you,” she whispered and then began moving down the line to order the retreat. Skyfire knew that it wouldn’t be long until the aliens would be in range. He stood up and fired off a few more shots from his rifle. Then he scrambled over to where Jalen was issuing orders to the last of her troops.

“Do you have any explosive devices?” Skyfire asked.

“Sure, we have some grenades and stuff. Why?”

“I know how to distract them. Just put some in a pile and then get out of here real fast.” Jalen nodded and had some of her troops pile up about fifty grenades. Then she climbed into a hovertruck and left at top speed. “Beast mode.”

Skyfire transformed and picked up several of the grenades in his talons. He took off and flew towards the demons. As he neared their front line he dropped a pair of the grenades. He continued over the line and dropped more. Some of the demons turned upwards and hurled fireballs at him. He deftly avoided them and finished dropping the grendades. Then he glided back and took more. He swooped back down on the demons and dropped more grenades. A plasma ball singed a few of his tail feathers and as he headed back for the last of the grenades he could see that they were closing on the fortifications the humanoids had set up. They were still not out of range yet; he had to buy them more time. He scooped up the last grenades and dropped them all along the fortified line.

None of the grenades were armed yet, but that was about to change. Skyfire turned back towards the demons. They were expecting him this time, but they weren’t expecting what he was about to do. He sent out a signal and instantly all the grenades were armed. “Skyfire, Maximize! Ultra Combat mode.” He transformed and then rocketed out of the area, leaving a few missiles in his wake. He landed a few miles away and could see explosions ripping along the demon line.

“Good work, Skyfire. We’re all clear,” Jalen told him over the radio.

He was about to reply, but suddenly felt weak and fell to his knees. “Energon level critical. Transform to beast mode and recharge immediately or stasis lock is imminent,” a computerized voice said. He was going to comply, but something slammed him in the back. He fell forward and rolled to his side just as a large clawed hand smashed down to where he had been. He got to his feet and saw that one of the large brown demons with a missile launcher on its hand was the one attacking him. It must be out of missiles or damaged, he thought, quickly stepping aside as the demon swung at him with its useless launcher. There was nothing he could really do against the big alien: he was low on energon, out of missiles, and his rifle was out of charge. The demon landed a blow to his ride side, sending him back to the ground.

He could try and transform to beast mode, but he had to get clear to take off. He knew that he had to fight it. As the demon came for him he lashed out with his right leg and kicked one of its beefy hocks. As it recoiled in pain he pushed himself up with his left hand and got to his feet. He quickly landed a blow to the thing’s head with his right fist and another with his left. Then he kicked it in the midsection with his right foot. The demond toppled over and went unconscious. Skyfire didn’t want to leave it alive and looked for some way to kill the beast. He spotted a tree and ripped it out of the ground. He hefted it over his head and brought it down on the demon’s head. After several times the head cracked open and Skyfire knew that it was dead.

Now he had to get it to the humanoid’s base. If he could study it he might be able to find something he could use against the demons. “Beast mode.” He transformed and tried grabbing it in his claws. It was too heavy and he knew the only way was to transform and use his boosters. He reluctantly transformed into Ultra Combat mode and picked the demon up in his arms. Then he shot into the air and flew towards the humanoid base. “Stasis lock in two cycles,” the computerized voice told him.

Skyfire could feel himself getting weak, but the humanoid base was nearby. With a cycle to go he landed and a piece of the ground opened up to reveal an elevator. He dragged the demon onto the elevator and collapsed on top of it. The elevator ground downwards and Skyfire saw Jalen rush over to him. “What happened?” She asked.

“I...I brought...a sample. Begin...autopsy,” Skyfire answered weakly.

“An autopsy? Why?”

“Study it.”

“Fine. I’ll have some people get it to the lab and then I’ll open it up. Now what about you?”

“Need...energon.”

“We don’t have any energon.”

“Subsitute...a...power source.”

“What’s wrong with him,” Altos demanded with a sneer on his face.

“He’s out of power. Have a crew bring a lifter recharge unit.”

“I still don’t trust him. We should leave him here before he does more damage.”

“How much more proof of his loyalty do you need? He destroyed a good portion of the demon attack force by himself. He bought us time to retreat. He’s done nothing but sacrifice himself for us.”

“But...”

“But nothing! That’s an order.” Altos growled under his breath and walked away.

“Beast...mode,” Skyfire said quietly and transformed into his eagle mode.

Jalen stroked the feathers on his head and said quietly, “We’ll help you, I promise.”

“You’re getting too attached to that damned thing,” Altos snarled as he returned with a pair of technicians. The technicians had brought a hovercart loaded with a recharge unit for the humanoid lifters. They unhooked a cord and Skyfire opened and access port on his breast. The hose was a tight fit, but it stayed on. The technicians charged the unit and power began flowing into Skyfire. He stiffened and twitched in pain from the transfer.

“What’s wrong?” Jalen asked him.

“Filters...having trouble...handling power. I’ll...be...fine.” His filters had converted some of the power into energon and he could feel himself getting stronger. After three minutes he motioned for them to stop. “That’s all I need for a little while.”

He tried to transform, but the computerized voice said, “Circuitry damage. Remain in beast mode until repairs complete.”

A messenger arrived at that moment and told Jalen, “We’ve got the demon in the lab. Guards are posted outside just in case it’s still alive.”

“Good. Skyfire and I will begin the autopsy. Altos, call our scouts and see what the demons are up to.” Altos nodded and left. Jalen strode towards the lab, Skyfire flying slowly over her. Then went into the lab and guards sealed the doors behind them. “Why don’t you do that thing you do?”

“I can’t transform. That power you gave me was a little unstable. I have to remain in this mode until the circuitry it damaged is repaired. You go ahead and cut into it. I’ll watch from here.” Skyfire was perched up on a shelf where he could see the monitors set up around the demon’s body. Jalen nodded and picked up a scalpel. She carefully cut into it and inserted an instrument that shot a probe into the demon. The probe moved through the creature’s blood stream, mapping its systems. “Everything looks pretty normal. No missing organs.”

“Except for its brain, which we could have been able to examine if you hadn’t smashed the thing’s skull.”

“I’m sorry, there was no other way. What are you doing now?” Skyfire watched as Jalen typed some commands into a keyboard on a computer.

“I’m telling the probe to do a cell count. It will give us a better idea of what this thing is made of.” Skyfire nodded in understanding and watched as the drawing the computer had made of the demon from the probe’s data began to fill out in more detail. After a few minutes the probe finished and the results were displayed on the monitor. “Looks pretty normal.”

“Yes. Wait, I think I see something. Don’t you think its white blood cell count is pretty low?”

“You’re right. It must not have much of an immune system.”

“Exactly. So if we could infect these things with a disease, not one that is lethal to your people, we could destroy them all.”

“A disease would take too long to spread and be effective.”

“No it wouldn’t. Anything over a cold will paralyze these things in short order, because their systems will be too weak to produce enough antibodies to effectively fight the disease.”

“You may be right. I think I have just the thing.”

“What?”

“There was a disease called hiffonitis that used to be lethal. It caused intense fever, joint aches, nausea, and eventually death. We developed a vaccine for it about two decades ago. Best of all, the disease can be spread airborne.”

“Excellent. All you have to do is to vaccinate your people and develop large quantities of the disease that can be spread by the air.”

“What about you? You don’t sound like you want to stay.”

“I can’t fight. I’m too weak. I have to try and find a better power source so I can get the power to get into space. Maybe I can find a ship somewhere and make my way home.”

“You’ll always have a home here, Skyfire.”

“Thank-you, but I can’t stay here. Cybertron is my home, and it always has been. Even when I was on Earth or exploring other parts of space, it was always the place that I would call home. I have to go back.”

“In that case, I think I have something that can help you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll show you,” Jalen said and led Skyfire out of the lab. They went through a long, winding corridor that led underground. The walls were built of stone, and Skyfire knew the area had to have been constructed long ago. They stopped at a large door and Jalen punched in a code. The door groaned open and they went into a dark cavern. Jalen hit a button and dim lights turned on.

Skyfire stared in awe at the massive orange object before him. It was a starship! And not just any starship, it was an Autobot ship.


Chapter Three - The Return

“Where did you find this?” Skyfire demanded.

“You recognize this thing?” Jalen asked in surprise.

“It’s an Autobot ship. It is from Cybertron.”

“It crashed here fifty years ago. No one touched it, because they didn’t know what it was and it has some kind of defensive mechanisms that activate weapons if anyone gets near it. So we left it sealed in here until someone could figure out how to deactivate the defenses.”

“I can. Just stand back.”

“I thought you were a Maximal. This is an Autobot ship.”

“I was an Autobot long ago.” Jalen nodded and then stepped back to the door. Skyfire moved forward until he was at the edge of what he knew the perimeter for the ship was. “Deactivate defense grid. Access code VLK1479.”

“Code acknowledged. Defense grid deactivated.” A computerized voice told Skyfire.

“It’s all clear,” he told Jalen. Then he went to the ship’s side hatch and opened it. He flew into the dark ship and wondered how much power the ship still had. He amplified his sensors to nightvision mode and looked around. He spotted the ship’s engineering station and moved towards it. He wished he could transform, but was able to use his talons to activate the engineering station’s computer. It told him that the ship had taken a lot of damage, but was still able to fly and was still mostly powered. He pecked a button with his beak and lights came on in the ship. He looked around and gasped in surprise.

Sprawled on the deck were 5 of his former Autobot comrades. Wheeljack, Grapple, Skids, Perceptor, and Beachcomber were in various positions. His fluids nearly froze when he also saw the Decepticon Shockwave lying near Beachcomber’s body. “Do you know them?” Jalen asked him.

“Yes, I knew them. They were an exploratory crew. I was supposed to go with them, but there was some Decepticon activity and I was sent to help deal with it.”

“Good thing, huh?”

“Yes. Now I can reactivate them.” Skyfire checked the engineering station and was glad to see that the ship had been a newer model that had a restoration chamber instead of an old-fashioned repair bay. The restoration chamber was an older model than ones used on Maximal ships, but it worked nearly the same. A few pecks and the chamber became operational. “I must complete repairs and recharge. Then I can help my friends. In the meantime, you can work on getting that disease ready and vaccines distributed.”

“Right. I hope your friends are all right,” Jalen said as she left. So do I, Skyfire thought gloomily.

***

Jalen was in the lab cloning vaccines and getting them ready to distribute when she heard the door open. She thought it was Skyfire, but was surprised when it was Altos. “What is it?” She asked.

“I finished contacting our units. They’re all ready to go. Five minutes after you’ve spread the hiffonitis we’ll move in. We should catch them weak and unable to fight. Where is the robot?”

“I showed Skyfire the artifact. It turns out that it was a ship from his home planet. He’s using some of the equipment to repair himself and his friends.”

“Are you insane? You let that monster recharge and repair others like him? They’ll destroy us for sure!”

“No they won’t. Skyfire just wants to get home, he doesn’t want to take over Dexos.”

“You trust him far too much. I will report what you have done to the Council of Leaders and they will revoke your command. Then I will make sure that the robot and his friends are destroyed.” Altos moved to the door, but Jalen stood in his way.

“He’s done nothing but help us. I won’t let you hurt him.”

“You don’t have a choice,” Altos lunged at her, but Jalen ducked and his punched slammed into the door. Jalen slammed her left fist into his midsection, sending him reeling backwards. She kicked him in the face with her left foot and he was sent sprawling to the deck. He lay there panting for a few moments, and then heaved himself to his feet. He charged at Jalen and his left fist hit her in the face. She stumbled backwards and he came back at her, but this time she ducked under the blow. She grabbed his back and slammed him into the door and then pushed him to the deck. The door opened and the guards stationed outside the lab came in.

“Is something wrong?” One guard asked.

“Take him away,” Jalen commanded and wiped blood from the corner of her mouth. The guards nodded and got Altos to his feet. They marched him from the lab and towards a holding cell. Jalen turned back to work, hoping that her faith in Skyfire was justified.

The restoration chamber opened up and Skyfire emerged from it in his robot mode. He looked around him and wondered who he should help first. The chamber could only hold two at a time, so he would have to put his comrades into it in cycles. He decided that Wheeljack and Grapple would be needed first for their engineering skills. That way they could work on the ship while the others were being repaired. He looked down at Shockwave and wondered what to do with his old nemesis.

He knew that he should just destroy him while he had the chance. Shockwave was a Decepticon and would be nothing but trouble if he was reactivated. Still, Skyfire was a Maximal and had vowed to uphold Maximal virtues. Killing an enemy that could not fight back was dishonorable. He decided to just leave the Decepticon deactivated until they got back to Cybertron. Then he could be reactivated and taken back to his comrades. That settled, he grabbed Wheeljack and Grapple and dragged them into the restoration chamber. Then he activated it and left the ship.

He found Jalen in the lab and checked on her progress. “I’m finished with the vaccines. They’re en route to our troops. Now I just have to replicate enough of the hiffonitis to be effective against the demons,” she replied.

“I see. What exactly is your plan of attack?”

“I plan on having a lifter drop the disease in and then after a few minutes my troops will move in and hit them while they’re weak. I was figuring on having you escort the lifter and help with the mop-up operation once the hiffonitis has been delivered.”

“That seems like a sound plan. When do we launch?”

“In about two hours...” The doors to the lab opened and a messenger ran in, ashen-faced.

“Commander, our units are under attack by the demons!”

“What? How is that possible?”

“I don’t know. Our unit commanders report that the demons are storming their positions, charging them with an intense fury.”

Jalen whirled towards Skyfire, tears in her eyes. “You told them! You traitor, I trusted you!”

“No, I did not tell them anything. They must have found out some other way.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“I have not betrayed you so far. Why would I start? Also, I had access to my ship. If I wanted to, I could have used it to destroy this entire facility.”

Jalen pondered what Skyfire had said and then nodded slowly. “You’re right. You could have killed us all long ago and you didn’t. I’m sorry.”

“The question remains: how did they find your troops?”

“I don’t know. We’ll find out later. Right now, though, we’ve got to help them.”

“Yes, I agree. However, I believe we should stick to the original plan. All that has really changed now is the site of the battle. Finish with your work and send that lifter out. We might be able to push the demons back so that we can get them all at once.”

“Right. Where will you be?”

“I’ll go and help. What about the transports you sent to deliver the vaccines?”

“They’re sitting ducks.”

“No they aren’t.” Skyfire quickly left the lab and went up the elevator to the surface. He transformed into Ultra Combat mode and streaked towards the mountains, where the battle was taking place. He only hoped he was in time.

Lieutenant Naf looked down at the demons rushing towards his platoon’s position and knew that he and his troops were done for. They were running low on ammunition after fending off wave after wave of brown spiny demons called imps and the small pink ones. Now the large ones with missile launchers on their arms, called cyberdemons, were storming up the hill at the weakened platoon. Naf fired his rifle at the trio of cyberdemons coming towards him and the trooper next to him hurled a grenade. The grenade sent one cyberdemon rolling down the hill, but the other two kept coming. They opened fire with their missile launchers, and rock rained onto the two soldiers as the missiles hit just over their position.

Naf pushed some rock aside and saw the cyberdemons were nearly on top of him. He wanted to run, but he was pinned down by the fallen debris. As one cyberdemon was about to send a missile crashing into his body, something tore into it and it toppled over. Naf looked around for his savior and saw a shape flying past him.

Sillhouetted against the sun like an avenging angel, Skyfire blasted the demons with his weapons. Fiery tongues mowed down the demons’s front line charging up the mountain and sent them careening into the others below. Naf shouted a cry of joy as he watched the spectacle. The Maximal grimly finished his task and transformed to beast mode, perching himself on a rock near Naf.

“That’s just their first wave. More will be coming soon. In the meantime, three transports are coming in loaded with hiffonitis vaccines. Make sure everyone is innoculated,” Skyfire said.

“Why?”

“A lifter carrying a load of that disease is going to spread it over the area to try and weaken, if not kill, the demons. Unless you want to die, make sure to inject yourself with the vaccine.”

“I got it.” The transports rose towards the mountains and landed on a more level area and delivered their cargo. Skyfire made sure he flew over the mountains, using his sensors to make sure all the humanoid troops were cared for. He could not, however, determine where the main demon force was hiding. He knew that the first strike had been a probe to find out the positions and strength of the humanoids.

It was a standard military maneuver, but the demons did not use military maneuvers. That meant that someone had to be directing their efforts. When he had rescued the Matrix, the demons had been led by a mechanical spider, but Optimus Primal had taken care of him. There had to be someone else in charge now, but who or what it was he couldn’t even guess at. He perched on the limb of a scraggly tree on the mountain and stared out at the valley below.

It had once been lush, but the fighting had turned it into a wasteland. The mountains themselves were devoid of life, save for a few goats and other creatures. The view was nice and he knew that Beachcomber would really appreciate it. Thinking of his friends he began to feel lonely. Since Optimus and Tigatron had left he had not been able to talk to any of his own kind. He had only talked to humanoids, and of them, only Jalen had stood by him. Even when others, like Altos, were telling her that he was a traitor she remained convinced that he was for their cause. Skyfire stopped, his circuits running cold as realization hit.

Altos was the one directing the demons! That’s why he had been so opposed to his prescence, because he knew that he could help Jalen stop the demons. He would also know where the humanoid troops were and would have knowledge of the tactics the demons were using. Worse yet, he knew about the hiffonitis. The hiffonitis that was still in the humanoid base...

Skyfire transformed to Ultra Combat mode and rushed over to where the humanoid troops were. “You must return to base immediately! The demons are going to destroy it!” Skyfire shouted.

“How do you know that?” Naf asked.

“Just trust me. They used this attack to cover up their real intentions: to wipe out your command center and destroy the lifter carrying the hiffonitis before it could be used. We must hurry to stop them.”

“Right. Everyone, we’ve got to get out of here!” Naf shouted. The troops began to jump into the transports and filled them past capacity. They formed up and lifted off.

“Roll out!” Skyfire shouted as he streaked towards base.

“What the hell does that mean?” Naf asked someone next to him.

“Who knows? Must be a robot thing,” the soldier next to him said.

“Commander, our sensors are down!” An officer shouted and Jalen ran over to see what he was talking about. All the sensors were off-line, leaving them completely blind. That could only mean one thing: the demons were nearby.

“We’ve got to evacuate at once. Is that lifter ready yet?” Jalen asked.

“No, sir. They’re still loading the hiffonitis cannisters.”

“Great. Order all troops up to the surface. We’ve got to buy some time to get that lifter ready.” The officer nodded and a messenger handed a report to Jalen. Two guards were found dead in the brig and Altos had escaped. The weird part was that an enormous hole had been blown open in his door. “Have a squad search for Altos. I do not want him to escape.”

It was then that a message came over the radio. “Jalen, this is Skyfire. The demons are heading your way.”

“I figured that when our sensors went down. I’m having our troops engage them to buy some time while that lifter is prepared.”

“The rest of your soldiers are en route. There’s something else you should know. Altos is...” The transmission broke off as something sped through the room and smashed into the radio. Shrapnel flew through the room, killing all in its path. Jalen was thrown to the ground and when she looked up she saw Altos standing over her, a smile on his face. She tried to move, but her right leg was trapped. A brief look around told her that no one else was alive.

“What are you doing?” She demanded.

“I’m ending this right now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your robot pal was about to tell you that I’m the head of the demons.”

“That’s absurd! How could you...”

He motioned for her to be silent and then said, “He’s right. I am. A few years ago a patrol I was in was captured. The demons devoured the rest of my patrol and took me to their base as a sacrifice. However, their leader had other ideas. He decided that I should be made into one of them and then returned as a spy. After the robot and some of his friends killed our leader, the other demons were unable to do anything. They were mindless drones with no one to guide them until I tapped into their neural network. Since I still had my human brain I was easily able to manipulate the others to do my bidding.”

“So now you’re going to destroy our base before we can wipe you out with the hiffonitis.”

“Exactly. And then after we’re done, I’ll go to the Council of Leaders as the only survivor of the attack. I think you know what will happen next.”

“You’ll destroy us from the inside out. You bastard!”

“Maybe. Now then, we must get to the hangar. I’m sure I’ve given that birdbrain friend of yours enough time to get here.” Altos hefted her to her feet and slung her over his shoulder. He quickly sprinted to the hangar through the abandoned corridors. The lifter was still in the hangar as the last cannisters were transferred.

Altos left Jalen against a support of the hangar and turned towards the lifter. As she watched in horror, Altos’s body began to glow with a yellow light. His flesh seemed to melt away until his entire form was covered in yellow fire. He tucked his arms inward and the lifter crews gaped at him as he gathered up the energy to hurl a fireball at them. He fired, but before the fireball could hit the lifter, a brown and white object appeared and took the shot. Skyfire was hit in the chest and fell heavily to the deck. He rose to his feet, a large black hole in his chest.

“Give it up Altos, you cannot win,” Skyfire said.

“Really?” Altos hissed back in a deep, echoing voice that seemed to come from his entire body.

“No. Surrender now and we can avoid more bloodshed.”

“Bloodshed? Like if I, say, killed Jalen?”

“Do not harm her, Altos or you will pay.”

“I won’t harm her, if you destroy that lifter and then deactivate your weapons.”

Skyfire stared at Altos’s fiery body and then looked at Jalen. He knew that if he did not do what Altos said she would die. But if he did do it, then many more would die. “Skyfire, don’t do it!” Jalen shouted. He looked at her again, knowing that she was right. The lives of thousands, even millions of people was more important.

“I won’t do it,” Skyfire said.

“Then you will die!” Altos shouted and hurled a fireball at Skyfire. It hit him squarely in the chest and sent him reeling. Another fireball tore his right arm off at the elbow, sending his rifle crashing to the deck. Skyfire fired back with the cannon under his left arm, but Altos ducked and the shot smashed into the back wall of the hangar. Altos returned fire and a fireball nailed Skyfire in the left knee, causing him to lose his balance and fall.

“Left leg servos destroyed. Critical system damage. Spark will terminate in four cycles,” a computerized voice told Skyfire as he lay on the deck. He knew that he was finished and saw Altos standing over him.

“Now I will destroy you, and then I will deal with the lifter.” Altos tucked his arms inward to shoot a fireball, but suddenly pitched forward as three shots tore into his back. The fire around him extinguished, leaving only a broken and blackened lump of flesh. Skyfire managed to sit up and saw Grapple standing near Jalen, a smoking rifle in his hands.

“Thanks...Grapple,” Skyfire said wearily.

“We thought you could use a hand. Turned out we were right,” Grapple replied. Wheeljack appeared next to him and they hurried over to their friend’s side.

“What happened? You look like you tried to take on Megatron all by yourself,” Wheeljack commented.

“I feel like I did.”

“Well,” Grapple began as he examined Skyfire’s wounds. “I think we can fix you enough to get you to the restoration chamber.”

“We’ll have to take you off-line though,” Wheeljack finished.

“The lifter...the demons,” Skyfire could feel himself fading, but the demons still had to be stopped. Even with their leader gone they were dangerous.

“Don’t worry,” Jalen told him. “We’ll take care of them. You just let them repair you.” She hopped into the lifter and its crew emerged from their hiding places and climbed aboard. Soon it was streaking through a tunnel to the surface and heading for the battle above as the demons and human soldiers slugged it out.

After it had gone, Skyfire sighed, satisfied that the demons would be defeated. “Repair mode,” he said tiredly and blacked out in the arms of his comrades.


Epilogue - The Calm

Skyfire awoke two days later and emerged from the restoration chamber. He was greeted by the five Autobot explorers and Jalen. “What happened?” He asked.

“Once we sprayed the hiffonitis, the demons were weakened and easy to clean up. We’ve sent word to our units all over the planet and they’re going to replicate the disease and vaccines and use it. We have them on the run, thanks to you,” Jalen smiled at him and Skyfire was glad.

“The ship is fully operational and we are ready to depart,” Perceptor told him.

“We were just waiting for you to come to,” Skids said.

“Thanks guys,” Skyfire told them, feeling a surge of happiness run through his circuits.

“No, thank-you. If it weren’t for you, we’d still be off-line,” Wheeljack replied.

“And we’d still be fighting the demons with a spy in our midst,” Jalen added.

“You’re all welcome. I suppose it’s time to leave now. Could I have a moment alone with Jalen?” The Autobots nodded and Skyfire was left alone with the humanoid. “I guess this is good-bye. It has been an honor fighting with you against this menace.”

“You’ve been invaluable to me, Skyfire. I really hate to lose you. But you have to get back home. I’ll miss you.” She stopped and then said, “Bend over.”

“What?”

“Get down on the deck.” Skyfire complied and with some doing, Jalen kissed him on the mouth.

“Thanks for everything you’ve done for us. No one on Dexos will ever forget you. And when you get home, be sure to tell your people about us. We’ll be happy to welcome any Maximals who want to visit.”

“I will, I promise.”

“Good. That being settled, I’ll leave you so you can take off. Good luck on your journey, Skyfire.”

“And to you. I will not forget you, Jalen.” She nodded and then slowly left the ship, a tear in her eye. Skyfire watched as she disappeared through the door leading to the cavern and then signalled the others it was all clear. They took their stations and Skyfire took the helm. He revved the engines up and then launched the ship through an opening Grapple and Wheeljack had created. The ship rose higher and higher into the air and Jalen watched it leave from the surface. Soon it was just a faint light in the night sky and then it disappeared for good.

On the ship, Beachcomber turned to Skyfire. “We’ve got two questions for you. Why did she call you Skyfire and what is a Maximal?”

Skyfire laughed as he put the ship on a course for Cybertron. “It’s a long story. And since we’ve got about fifty years before we reach Cybertron, I’ll tell it to you. See, after the Great War, there became two groups, the Maximals and the Predacons...”

The Skyfire Adventures continue in Mutations...

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