A WILL OF STEEL - PART 3
by Stephen R. Sobotka / ©2011/2018
DISCLAIMER : Transformers are the creation of Tankara/Toei Animation & Hasbro Inc.; all characters - with the exception of the original ones I created for this story - are the property of said licenses, and are used here without knowledge or permission of same. This story is an original prose based on situations and themes from the original "The Transformers" animated series. This story is the rightful property of the author; all original characters and the plot depicted within are protected by copyright law.
This story was produced to entertain fans of the original show, and is in no way, shape or form intended to be published for monetary gain. Please do not sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE : This is my take on an often-used theme in Transformer fan-fiction... but you'll have to read on to see what it is, and hopefully you'll stick around for part 4! Enjoy!
"A Will of Steel - Part 3"
Last time on Transformers...
The Autobots have undertaken an unusual task. After a confrontation with the Decepticons during a high-speed chase through Rapid City, a young Human girl, Cassidy Griffin lies in Rapid City Hospital; the victim of a hit-and-run by the Stunticon Dead-End. In danger of dying from the injuries she sustaned, the Autobots plan to subject Cassidy to a process that was once used to save the life of their human friend, Spike Whitwhicky; by separating her mind from her body to allow human doctors to repair the damage, then returning her mind before her physical being expires.
Meanwhile, in the Decepticon base-ship, deep under the ocean, Megatron learns from his forces on Cybertron that Autobot gurrila fighters have attacked the Decepticon's main base within their city of Polyhex. During the assault, the Autobots managed to steal the plans for the Decepticons' Space Bridge technology. Realizing what this would mean between the power struggle between their forces, Megatron orders Starcream to take an attack force back to Cybertron, to find and destroy the rebels and recover the data. At any cost.
Now, our story continues with "A Will of Steel", Part Three of our gripping tale of "The Transformers"!
# # #
On Approach to the Decpticon City of Polyhex,
Coasting down on a descent angle, the Decepticon Astrotrain broadcasted down to the main field control tower rising from the metal surface of the airfield. "Astrotrain to Polyhex... Astrotrain to Polyhex. We're on final. Requesting transmit of landing vector."
Coming in over his transceiver, the voice of the Force Commander spoke loud and clear, "This is Shockwave, Astrotrain. Proceed on vector one-four-mark-seven. Landing grid has been cleared for your immediate debarkation."
"Roger that," Astrotrain replied. With a flare from his booster rockets, the boxy shuttle-form of the Triple-Changer soared down through the thinner upper layers of Cybertron's atmosphere. The leading edges of his wings and nose glowed hot for a few moments, before he corrected his angle and resumed his downward progress towards the massive base complex below. Speaking to his passengers, Astrotrain said, "Stand by for landing. Last stop . . . Polyhex!"
Moments later, the Triple-Changer touched down with a chirp! of rubber against the metal surface of the landing pad. Rolling to a slow stop, he came to rest before opening his rear hatchway to allow the cluster of Seekers to emerge.
Looking around, Skywarp said, "Home, Sweet Cybertron."
Beside him, Thundercracker snorted. "Never thought I'd see this place again. Not after Megatron commited us to that mudball of a planet-."
"Enough talk about Megatron and Earth, warriors," Starscream said archly. "We have a mission before us. Focus on that, and the sooner we can get back to the real buisness of conquest!." He swept the area beyond the landing grid with his optics, a dour look spreading across his faceplace as he took in the sights. There were still lingering smoke trails coming from some of the buildings of the sprawling Decepticon base. A few of the smaller buildings showed blast damage and signs of tremendous explosions. Here and there, damage-control teams labored to restore the damaged portions of the base.
"Disgraceful! The Autobots will pay for causing this much damage to our home," Starscream muttered.
He got rumbling growls of agreement from his two companions. "I'd like a little personal payback myself, after seeing all of this!" Skywarp said.
The approach of a cluster of Decepticon warriors cut off any further discussion between the trio; a mixed bag of aerial and ground types trailing behind a tall, alien-yet-humanoid form, who ordered them to a halt in front of the Decepticon Seekers. "Hail, Air Commander Starscream," Shockwave said, his single optic flashing in his cyclopian face.
"Greetings, Shockwave," Starscream said. "We are here to undertake hunting down the Autobots who attacked you, and stole the Space Bridge data," Starscream prompted. "What information do you have for us on the rebel forces that pulled off the theft?"
"Come with me," Shockwave said. "We have a recording from the internal security system that might help with your mission." Together, escorted by his warriors, Shockwave lead the Seekers back towards the main complex . . . .
The doors to the command center slid open, allowing Shockwave to proceed Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker. At first glance, it didn't appear that any of the attacking force had touched this vital nerve-center of the base. It wasn't until Starscream got a look into one of the side annex-rooms - where several massive computer banks and data towers were stored - that he saw more scorch and blast marks along the walls.
"I see the Autobots were bolder than expected," Starscream said darkly. "When we find them, they shall pay dearly for this trespass."
"The important matter is the recovery of the stolen data, Starscream," Shockwave said, as he stepped up to a master control board near a bank of monitor screens. "Megatron will not be pleased if the Autobots use it to make their own Space Bridge."
"Agreed." Starscream stepped up next to the base commander. "What can you tell us about the attack, Shockwave? It might give us some clues as to whom we need to search for."
"Yeah, the Autobots didn't exactly leave a standing army behind when we followed them off of Cybertron, mega-cycles ago," Thundercracker said.
Working the controls on the command panel, Shockwave said, "The attack came during a lag-period between security changeovers, during night-cycle. As I told Megatron, we thought it was merely a gurrilla raid to grab energon from our storehouses. Yet, when the attack spread across several quadrants of the base, it was clear there was something more to the attack." He looked at Starscream and muttered, "Had I even suspected they were after data from our command center, I'd have ordered more reinforcements here."
Starscream said. "It's clear they've had Polyhex under constant watch, if they managed to crack your procedures and security routines, Shockwave." He raised one hand and shook his head. "Blameless though, we need to focus. You said you had recordings from your security network?"
"Not for the lack of the Autobots' trying to disable that system. They tried to smash or destroy every sensor and recording device on their way in," Shockwave explained. "Still, one of my more secure camera systems recorded this much of the act in progress." On the screen, a static-touched image of several Cybertronian forms moving quickly through a hallway appeared. Pressing a button, Shockwave paused the images, then he pointed to one of them. "There. That one we've identified as the main gurrella force leader. I believe Convoy is his Autobot nomen."
Starscream peered closely at the Autobot in question. "Hmm, the name is not familiar to me. Yet, I can tell this one has been at his... business for some time."
Shockwave advanced the images, before stopping at one with two smaller, almost identical looking Autobots. "These two are the ones we believe actually perpatrated the acquisition of the data," Shockwave said. "They actually managed to hack into our data systems with seemingly relative ease."
At that, Skywarp blinked and stiffened. "Hey! I know those two!"
The others turned to look at him. "You do, Skywarp?" Shockwave asked.
"Yeah... yeah, I do!" Skywarp pointed a finger at the image. "Those two are called Roll and Bounce. They were skilled decryption techs back in the day." Skywarp's face twisted into a sour smirk. "Guess you can call them 'deckers now. Used to be pretty against any form of order or such." He snorted. "Looks like they decided to work for the Autobots after all."
Shockwave said, "There were two others with them. We haven't been able to identify them, but one clearly is built for long-range assault attacks. He managed to pick off several guards in the opening phase of the assault . . . and went further to stop key reinforcements from assisting our defenders."
Thundercracker frowned. "So, we've got a sniper to deal with, eh?"
Starscream looked at his fellow Seeker hard. "Can you counter such an Autobot, using those sort of weapons and tactics, Thundercracker?"
The blue-trimmed Seeker merely shrugged. "Won't know for sure, 'till I see what he's using. But, given enough warning, I think I can take him out easy."
"We shall see." Starscream said. "Now, more importantly, where do we begin searching for these rebels?"
"After all, Cybertron's pretty much our planet now," Skywarp said. "There can't be too many places those Auto-Boobs can hide."
"As much as you might think otherwise, Skywarp," Shockwave said, "The Autobots have managed to successfully hide their presence from any overt sweeps and even from my best tracker teams. They operate out of smaller, easily-concealed bases just below the surface sub-structure." He toggled several controls, making a rough schematic appear on the viewscreen; showing off a cross-section of Cybertron's surface layers. "It's only after we found a few of these abandoned, that I began formulating a strategy to find them. These bases can be found, using intense radion-beam scanners."
"However, such active sensor sweeps can be easily sensed by the Autobots," Starscream said.
"That is true," Shockwave agreed. "Unless they are totally unprepared for us, they manage to elude capture and escape deeper into the lower structures."
"So you have captured some of the Autobot scum?"
"Not often. It is not the easiest means to find them, but it is a start," Shockwave offered.
Starscream crossed his arms and scowled. "As unreliable as a radion-beam sweep is, we only need to find one of these bases to get information to uncover the rest of their underground network."
"You have a plan, Air Commander Starscream?" Shockwave asked.
"I do, but we'll need to get more information first," Starscream said with a smug look on his faceplate. "Now, tell me Shockwave, just what direction did the rebels head off into when they broke off their attack . . . ?"
Inside the The Autbot Base, formerly the starship Ark
On the slopes of Mt. Rainer, Oregon, 1987...
". . . and so, that is why we are here," Optimus Prime said, winding down his long diatribe of the Autobot's story. "To protect Earth and Humanity from becoming victims to the Decepticon's plans for conquest. As well, to prevent them from draining Earth's rich resources of energy, thus leaving behind a delapitdated husk of a world."
The focus of Prime's oration listened, while standing under a scanner array that Wheeljack was controling as Ratchet walked around her metal body with a hand-scanner. Taking a moment to collect herself, Cassidy Griffin asked, "So . . . this is all real? I mean, I'm not in the middle of some, deep-rooted, inner dreamworld while I'm actually laying comatose in a hospital bed somewhere?"
"I wish it were otherwise, Cassidy Griffin" Optimus said.
From the gantry nearby, Cassidy's father asked, "Are you . . . well, are you okay, baby?"
Cassidy looked down at her father - small against the sheer scale of the entire repair bay, where he stood with the Autobot's human friend, Spike - and sighed. "Well, for all that I nearly died in a collision with another car . . . who turned out to be an alien robot from another world? Sure, I . . . I guess."
Ratchet asked, "Do you have any memories of the incident, Cassidy?"
Cassidy gave herself a mental shake. "Last I remember . . . I was getting into my car after my afternoon work-out with Coach Brickhauser. Then, the sound of some revved up engine, and then-." She stopped and looked down at her arms and hands. "Level with me, um . . . Ratchet? Am I going to be all right?"
The medic looked over at his fellow Autobot. "Well, Wheeljack?"
Wheeljack looked up from the console he was looking at. "According to our readings, everything both physically and spark-wise is checking out, so far."
Ratchet nodded, looking back to Cassidy as he said, "No matter the case, you're in the best hands in the entire world; both medically and mechanically. As soon as Doctor Dicola can finish with the repairs on your original body, we'll transfer you back into it, so you can finish healing completely. We're just fortunate that we had the procedure to separate your mind from your body in the first place."
Cassidy nodded numbly, looking down at the floor of the repair bay.
Ratchet noticed her silence, taking a moment to tap the sensor-rod of his hand-held scanner against her shoulder assembly. "Are you feeling any pain or discomfort, Cassidy?"
Cassidy turned her head to look at the Autobot medic. "No, not really. I guess I expected to wake up to a whole world-full of pain . . . but, nothing really feels like it hurts."
Ratchet nodded. "Well, the fact that you're feeling anything at all is a good sign. Your mind appears to be adjusting well this proto-shell we build for you."
"In the mean time," Wheeljack said, stepping around to power down the array, "we'll keep you under observation and monitor your core-spark. Doctor Dicola said their repairs should be over in a couple of your Earth hours, which should give you some time to recover before we put you back into your body."
"Yeah . . . I, I guess so." Cassidy looked down at herself; seeing the blue-colored metal torso and limbs, which reacted to her every though as if it was a part of her. "I mean, I feel . . . I dunno. This body feels like I was born to it, but . . . also weird." She looked down at her father. "Daddy?"
David looked up at her, seeing the metallic faceplate of her robot shell twist into a grimace. "Baby, Dr. Dicola is the best at this sort of surgical repair. He's told me point-to-point that once all the work is done, your real body will heal with no trouble at all." He paused. "Well, it'll heal as fast as it can, I guess."
Cassidy frowned. "But, Will I be able to . . . you know, walk? Do gymnastics, again?"
David sighed deeply. "We haven't . . . that is-."
Spike spoke up. "Let's not get too wound up about all of that. At least until we're sure that Cassidy is out of the woods. Right?"
Both father and daughter looked at each other bleakly.
"Whatever can be done after you are restored to your organic form, will be done, Cassidy," Optimus said. "Should anything more be required, the Autobots will be more than happy to provide it."
Cassidy nodded, and sighed. "Well, I guess I have no choice. I mean the alternative-?" She raised one arm and made a fist with the hand attatched to it. Blinking, she turned towards Ratchet and asked, "Hey, if this body you put me in is like yours, then, shouldn't I be able to do that, that trans-mog-thingy you guys say you do?"
At that, the Autobots as one chuckled. "No, no," Ratchet said at length. "This 'shell-form has only the basics for life-support and interaction. It doesn't even have a T-Cog - that's a Transformation Cog - and that's very essential for transforming. Why, we'd have to modify this 'shell extensively to make it able to do that."
"As well, a T-Cog's not something we can just slap together in our repair-shop," Wheeljack said. "A Transformation Cog is more mecha-biological than mechanical. It's something that comes with every Cybertronian, when their first created." Looking at Cassidy squarely, he could see the wheels of thought turning in her eyes. "To be honest, Cassidy, even if you did have a T-Cog, I don't believe you could handle in the act of transforming. After all, you're still only a human in your mind-set, and the sheer complexity and stress of trying to transform-."
"Okay, okay! I get it. It's like a 'don't try this at home' thing." Cassidy nodded, her shoulders drooping dejectedly. "Ahh, Damn, it would've been cool to see if I could do it."
Stepping in a bit closer, the small, yellow Autobot called Bumblebee said, "Hey, for what it's worth, Spike couldn't transform either, when we had him in a shell-form too."
"In any case," Spike said, "You shouldn't get too used to that proto-shell. It's not like you're going to be in there, forever."
Cassidy said, "Yeah, I know." She stepped away from Ratchet and Wheeljack; walking for a few paces as she proved her equilibrium was now fully stable. "It's just, well . . . I don't like the idea of just standing around here, waiting for the Doc to finish." She looked up at Optimus. "I'm . . . not much of a patient person, really. Part of my being an athelete." She mimed walking on a balance beam. "I have to keep moving or else, I just feel . . . trapped."
Optimus nodded with understanding, "Doctor Dicola said the surgery would not be time-consuming. In fact, he should be able to-."
The chirp of the intercom-system interupted him. "Optimus, this is Jazz! We got a high-level priority call from Cybertron, comin' in like a screamin'-demon on Teletran-One's emergency channel!"
Optimus stepped over to the comm-panel on the wall, and thumbed a switch. "Understood, Jazz. I'm on my way to the command center." Releasing the switch, he turned and looked to Ratchet. "Keep me informed of Dr. Dicola's progress. I will return shortly.
"Understood, Prime." Rachet nodded, watching as the Autobot leader left the chamber. "Great Primus, what could be happening now?"
Cassidy muttered, "Took the words right out of my mouth, buster."
As Optimus arrived in the command center, Blaster and Jazz turned from the wide viewscreen that dominated the main computer center. "It just came in, Prime," Jazz said. "Scrambled over the Zeta-Two codex!"
Optimus blinked. "That's the command code for battle leaders and unit command! Patch it in, Blaster, quickly!"
"Will do an' Will-Co, Boss-'Bot!" Blaster's fingers flew over his command console.
In moments the main screen flashed, and the image of a familar, feminine face appeared. "Optimus . . . can you read me?"
"Elita-One!" Optimus moved closer to the montior. "I . . . we weren't expecting a transmission from you for a while now. What's your status?"
The pink-hued femme-bot nodded, before replying with a wry twist of her lips, "Things have transpired on Cybertron that merited this transmission. You recall that our forces have been coordinating gurrella attacks on the Decepticon holdings here on home-world?"
Optimus nodded. "I am aware, though I voiced my strong opinions against such actions. There's too few of us that remain on Cybertron to risk such extended activity against the Decepticons."
Elita said, "Well, recently six of our brethren commanders launched a large assault on Polyhex, and-."
"Polyhex!?" At that, Jazz, Blaster and Prowl - who had just entered the command center - gasped along with Optimus. "The Decepticon captial? Why, Elita? The Decepticons would have never allowed a blatant attack on their central holding!"
"Not to mention it," Prowl said, "but that nexus is a veritable fortress! There's not enough our forces left on Cybertron to lauch an attack big enough to hurt them."
The image of Elita-One shook her head. "We weren't planning on a massive battle. The attack was actually part of a two-point battle strategy," she explained. "Point one, was to hit Polyhex at its weakest point in the Decepticon's watch-cycle. That way we minimized any potential losses, while also giving us ample time to strike at the Decepticon's energon and supply stores."
Prowl nodded, rubbing his metal chin in thought. "Makes sense. Taking those would not only upset the Decepticon's over war-footing, but give our forces some much needed relief.".
"Agreed . . . but, the risk invloved-?" Optimus cut himself off, asking, "What was the second point of the attack?"
"Point two was to get a specialized strike team in under the Decepticon sensors, so they could raid the primary computer core." Elita said.
Jazz whistled low. "Aww, man! The 'Cons wouldn't have expected that, but I can imagine they'd be madder thnt a nest o' robo-hornets, considerin' what those Decepti-creeps carry in their data-banks!"
Optimus hard at Elita's image. "What were you hoping to gain from such a raid, Elita?"
"We were hoping for schematics to create new generators, fabricators . . . things we need desperately, but we got more than what we were expecting, Optimus." Elita's face spread with a grim grin. "We received a smash-transmit from the squad leader who performed the actual hack-and-grab . . . and, from what he tells us, they managed to get ahold of a full schematic and technical readout of the Decepticon's Space Bridge!"
At that, Optimus jerked back from the screen in shock. "The Space Bridge?! Elita! Are you certain of this?"
Elita nodded. "We managed to get a small data-gram of the bridge-prototype with the strike leader's transmission. My best technicial mind has worked it over, and confirmed it."
Prowl shared a look with Jazz and Blaster. "If that's true, then your strike team just gave us the means to put us on equal footing with the Decepticons! With a functional Space Bridge under our control-."
"It would mean we could receive supplies and energon from you on Earth," Elita said. "As well as give you access to whatever resources we can find here on Cybertron for your efforts against Megatron, as well."
Optimus nodded slowly. "The plans, Elita! Where are they now?"
"Still with the strike-team, unfortunately. Since the attack, they were forced to go underground to avoid capture by the Decepticons." Elita crossed her arms. "Battle-protocol demands that they remain silent under a comm-blackout, until they can safely return to a friendly base. I had hoped they would have returned before now, but we've heard nothing from them. Worse, we've recently detected increased activity from all Decepticon bases around Polyhex and Kayon."
"It is certain that the Decepticons realize what the strike-team took from their computer core," Optimus said. "No doubt they're conducting a massive search to recover the plans before your strike team can reach you, Elita."
Jazz muttered, "Uh-oh! That sounds as good as a rusty fender, Prime."
Prowl asked, "What can we do about this, Prime? The Decepticons will certainly slag the raiders when they catch them."
Optimus straightened his shoulders. "That is IF they catch them." He turned to Jazz. "Bring up a list of Autobots that we can spare for a long-range mission, at once. We're sending a rescue and recovery team to Cybertron," Optimus said, before turning back to Elita's image. "Elita, if you can get a message to that strike-team, tell them to stay out of the Decepticon's eyes until we can find a safe point to retrieve them."
"I can try, but if the team leader follows blackout-protocol, they may not answer."
"So long as the message gets out, that is all that matters." Optimus said.
"I'll get right on assembling the team for Cybertron, Prime," Prowl said. "Jazz, we need a recall order, now!"
Looking to Blaster, Jazz ordered, "Call up all 'Bots on th' toot-sweet! We gotta crew an' some plans to recover!
"Can do, Jazz!" Blaster said.
Optimus nodded in satisfaction, telling Elita, "We'll contact you as soon as our team is assembled, and ready to go." He held out one hand towards the screen, adding, "Until then, stay safe."
"Until you and all Autobots can return home," Elita said, lifting her own hand in return. "Elita-One, out." The screen went dark as the signal was cut.
Before Optimus could add more orders to his command crew, an urgent signal came from Blaster's command console, filling the chamber with flashing amber lights.
"Uh-oh! That's the alert signal from Hound," Blaster said. His hands flew over the controls, quickly patching a new communication signal. "Ark to Hound, c'mon in m'man! We're patching you through!"
A squawk of static preceded the reply of the Autobot's primary scout. "Hound to Base, come in! I've picked up some info that Optimus needs to hear at once!"
Optimus stepped up to stand next to Blaster. "This is Prime, Hound. What do you have to report?"
"I've been scouting around the general area that those Decepticons were found, near Rapid City," Hound said. "Seems they weren't there for the scenery. There's a military base, disguised as an fuel depot just on the outskirts of the town . . . and, from the looks of things, they're doing some heavy, secret research. Energy research!"
"Energy research? What kind of energy research are the humans performing, Hound?" Optimus asked.
"Not sure at the moment. I can't get close enough to do more than just perform terciary visual scans and monitor mostly un-coded audio traffic." Hound paused. "Though, it's a sure bet that if Megatron had his spies out here, it has to be worth something to him!"
Optimus nodded. "Which means that we have to discover exactly what that 'something' is, and keep it out of reach of Megatron's oily fingers!" Optimus folded his arms and looked at the main monitor. "Hound, do you require any backup?"
"Not at the moment, Prime," Hound said. "But, if I can get inside the base's main compound . . . close enough to find a linkup with their computer systems, I might be able to determine just what they're keeping under wraps. If you can spare Blaster and his team, I might be able to break their encoding and encryption. We'll have the best chance later, when they go onto their night-watch routine."
"Do whatever you can, Hound. Just don't alarm the humans, or tip off the Deceptions. I'll send Blaster to you as soon as we're able," Optimus said.
"Will do, Prime. Hound out." With that, the transmission was cut once more.
Optimus looked down at Blaster. "Finish the recall of our warriors, Blaster, then go and join Hound at Rapid City."
"Roger and Will-Co, Prime!"
Turning away, Optimus walked towards the exit, followed by Prowl, who asked, "What's the plan now, Optimus?"
"We have to learn what the Decepticons are after, and quickly. I have a feeling in my gut-processor that tells me Megatron may already have more scouts in the area."
Prowl nodded. "With our forces split between two missions, we may not be able to counter the Decepticons effectively."
"Agreed, but until we know more about what the humans are researching, we dare not sit by and do nothing . . . or, perhaps that may be the best move we can make," Optimus said.
Prowl gave Optimus an questioning look. "What do you mean?"
Optimus turned to his security chief. "It's a small thought I just had, however-."
The speaker on the comm-console suddenly crackled to life, cutting Optimus' words off. "Wheeljack to Prime! You'd better get back to the repair bay!"
Everyone turned towards the console. "What's wrong, Wheeljack!?"
"Just hurry, Prime! Cassidy's going into some sort of seizure!"
Prime turned to Prowl. "Continue assembling the mission crew, and hold Sky Fire on stand-by." He called out over his shoulder as he set out from the command deck at a run. "I'm coming, Wheeljack!"
As Optimus entered the repair bay, he skidded to a halt at the sight before his optics: both Wheeljack and Bumblebee were trying to restrain the writhing body-shell of Cassidy's, while her cries of pain filled the air. It was clear that her contortions had been hazzardous - from the damage done to the nearby gantry table and the walkway - as both David and Spike had retreated to a far corner for their own safety.
Grunting with the effort, Wheeljack called out, "Ratchet! Hurry up with that neutralizer!"
Ratchet was trying to quickly assemble something on a nearby tool bed, fumbling with a multi-tool on a device in his hands. "Just a click longer . . . almost-! THERE." The medic turned and eyed his two compatriots. "Prime! I need access to her dorsal-cervical neural port!"
Comprehending, Optimus stepped in and helped Wheeljack and Bumblebee turn Cassidy's body around. Not too ungently, he gripped the back of her head and nodded curtly. "Ratchet, now! Quickly!"
Darting in, Ratchet placed the muzzle of his hastily-constructed neutralizer against an exposed segment on Cassidy's neck. There was a short, bright burst of light, and Cassidy's body stopped convulsing imediately. When she relaxed, Optimus let her go, stepping back to give the others room to move. With a heavy sigh, Ratchet leaned back and shook his head. "Wheeljack, get her over on that table. Now."
"Right, c'mon, 'Bee!" Together, both he and the scout carried Cassidy's limp form over and placed her on the flat slab.
Running up from where they had been crouched in fear, both David and Spike looked up at the towering table - which Ratchet and Wheeljack were surrouding with readout machines and repair gantries. "What happend, Ratchet? Why did Cassidy go-?"
"I don't know, Spike. Not yet anyway," Ratchet said. He quickly attatched several plugs onto Cassidy's shell, before turning to punch a sequence of buttons on one of the machines.
"What exactly did happen in here?" Optimus asked.
"We don't know, Prime," Bumblebee said. "One milli-click, Cassidy was just talking to her father without any problems-."
"The next minute, she started complaining of a sudden pain!" David said. "Then, she started . . . well, shaking and vibrating all over, and then-."
"It was like she couldn't control her body, Optimus!" Spike finished.
His brow furrowed in concern, Optimus turned to his medic and technical-wizard. "Can you find the cause of this affliction, Ratchet?"
"I'll need a quartex or less, Prime," Ratchet said. "The scanners are giving me some preliminary info-."
"Ratchet, quick! Try the main cortical socket," Wheeljack said. "I've got a hunch . . . !"
Moments later, Wheeljack turned away from the readouts on the console and shook his head. "Maker of us All . . . the one time, and I wish this time I was wrong."
"What? What's wrong with her?" David asked.
"The scanners are picking up a degradation in the core-spark that Cassidy's mind inhabits," Wheeljack said.
"A . . . a what?" David looked up at Ratchet. "What does he mean?"
"It's what Wheeljack said," Ratchet said, his shoulder struts slumping. "Something is causing a breakdown in the core-code of Cassidy's spark. It began as soon as her mind was brought back online, and we didn't catch it because it was cycling just below her mainline vitals."
"What is causing this to happen?" Optimus looked down briefly at David - who was looking more worried as he listened - before he locked eyes with Wheeljack.
"I can only speculate, Prime, but . . . my best guess is that the trauma caused by her physical body's injuries could be the factor in this," Wheeljack said. "As badly as her organic body was injured, the neural trauma transfered over when we made the switch to this shell."
Ratchet said, "What we do know, is that if something isn't done to stem the breakdown, her spark will fail and-."
"Fail? As in . . . she could shut down, for good?" Spike asked.
"Shut down, no. Her spark could be extinguished," Ratchet said. "If that happens, her mind will be gone. Forever."
David went white with shock. "Gone? My daughter . . . ?" He slowly knelt on the catwalk, dropping his chin to his chest as he groaned.
Seeing David's distress, Optimus looked at his fellow Autobots. "Can this malaidy be repaired?"
Ratchet rubbed the back of his head. "I can't be certain, Prime. We're working with a human mind, here. It's far different from Cybertronian memory-patterns and source code. If we had time and the resources we had back on home world-." He paused and sighed. "Aside from that, the best thing we can do is transfer Cassidy's mind back to her organic body. Doing that might keep her memory patterns from degrading further."
At that, David jerked upright, staring hard at Ratchet. "Wait. So, in order to save my daughter, she's got to be put back into her body? Doctor DiCola is still operationg on her right now," David said.
Spike said, "Mr. Griffin's got a point. Isn't it risky to put Cassidy back in her body, before their finished?"
Both Ratchet and Wheeljack looked hopelessly at each other, and David's expression turned bleak.
Optimus spoke up, "Mister Griffin, we will do all that we can to save your daughter." He looked to his teammates. "Wheeljack, work with Ratchet and try to forstall Cassidy's core breakdown. We must give Doctor DiCola time to finish the repairs to her organic body."
Ratchet said, "We'll . . . do what we can, Prime. It just, well . . . ."
"It won't be easy, but we will try our best," Wheeljack added. "Maybe there's some of our data-recovery techniques we can try?"
Ratchet nodded. "It's a start, at least."
"In the meantime, we should impart on Doctor Dicola to work as quickly as he can," Wheeljack said. "The sooner he finishes-!" He was cut off as the sound of someone pounding slowly on the repair bay door echoed through the air.
"What the-!?" David and Spike both turned to face the door. "That's not one of your people, is it?"
"No, it is not." Reaching out, Optimus pressed the door release switch and the door slid open, revealing the scrub-and-labcoat clad form of Dr. Dicola. "Doctor?" Optimus blinked. "Why are you here? Has the repair work on Cassidy's body been completed?"
Dr. Dicola didn't say anything at first. He took six steps into the repair bay, then he turned slowly to face David. "Mr. Griffen . . . I-." He reached up and slowly dragged the surgical cap off of his head. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" David's voice went soft as he stared at the surgeon.
"We just . . . we tried! We tried to work as quickly as we could," Dr. Dicola said, his face a drawn mask of sorrow. "The injuries were just . . . too great. As much as we tried to prevent it, she just . . . ."
"Oh no!" Spike said.
Shaking his head, Dr. Dicola straightened up and said, "In all my years of practicing medicine, I've never lost a patient. That is . . . until now." He looked at David and said with sympathy. "Your daughter's body ceased all vital functions just ten minutes ago. We tried to revive her, but it was too late. Again, I'm sorry."
At that, David Griffen slowly sank to his knees and looked back at Dr. Dicola in total shock.
Optimus lowered his head, before turning away to face the repair gantry and the now inert shell it held.
From where they both stood beside it, Wheeljack and Ratchet both exchanged a sorrow-tinged look. "Well," Ratchet said at length, "that may be the end of it all. Without her original body, Cassidy's mind and spark won't survive."
Wheeljack sighed. "The best we can do . . . for now, is just try to hold off the spark degredation. There's little else we can do."
"No. There is something else."
At that, both Autobots looked up at their leader. He was staring at Cassidy's comatose form with an iron-locked gaze. "What? Optimus-?"
"I said, there is something else we can do," Optimus said sharply. "Mister Griffin." Turning, he looked to where Spike was standing with Dr. Dicola and David, and all three humans looked up, startled at sudden tone in his voice. "I promised that the Autobots would do everything in our means to restore your daughter . . . and we shall." Optimus stepped over towards the command panel on the wall and thumbed the comm-switch. "Prowl!"
"Prowl here, Prime," came the reply.
"Assemble all available warriors that have answered the recall order in the command center. Then contact Sky Lynx and have them return to base immediately!"
There was a pause. "Understood, Prime, but why-?"
"I will explain shortly. Optimus out!" Cutting the channel, Optimus turned to Ratchet. "How soon can you prepare Cassidy for transport?"
Startled, the medic looked at Wheeljack, who gave him an expression of alarm. "Prime, we only just got her calmed down. We need time to work on stabilizing her and slowing her decline as much as we can," Ratchet said.
"Besides, Prime, Cassidy's condition would deteriate more quickly if she was transported," Wheeljack said. "We're not even sure if we can make her last past the next quartex, much less-!" He looked his leader in the eye. "Prime, where exactly are you planning to take her?"
"The only place I know where we have the best chance of saving Cassidy's life," Optimus said. "Cybertron."
Near Approach to the City of Glass,
Starscream swept his eyes over the vista of gleaming metal, leading down into a massive fissure cutting deep into the surface of the planet. He let his optics drift across it for another sweep, sighing disgustedly as he couldn't pick up anything. "Thundercracker, Skywarp," he said into his comm. "Report."
"Nothing from my viewpoint," Thundercracker growled over the comm-channel. "Pretty much just desolation for hundreds of clicks."
Starscream nodded to himself. The area they were scouting was once one of Cybertron's most beautiful locations. A virtual plane of polished crystaline-steel once existed here, out of which ancient Cybertronians had build a complex city of structures, bridges and spires. It was a unique feat of construction, which had been dubbed the City of Glass; due to a semi-transparent effect when the city's materials were struck by light at the proper angle. It had also be a locus of higher learning and peace for ages . . . until a Decepticon force literally decimated the area in the early stages of the Great War. Now, the ruin of the former "jewel" of Cybertron spread out for kilometers - craters, crags and blasted crystaline-metal rubble - covering the lanscape as far as the optic could view.
"A waste . . . not just of resources, but of a vast storehouse of knowledge." Starscream shook his head. "Skywarp, what about you? Any signs of our quarry?" Starscream asked.
"Negative on my end, Starscream." The reply came amid the howl of Seeker jets as Skywarp was airborne. "You sure this is the right place?"
"According to Shockwave, the Autobots who raided the main complex in Polyhex headed off in this general direction," Starscream explained. "Considering ground forces would have reached the end of their operational radius, they'd have certainly planned to have a cashe of energon or even a safe haven in place." He glared at the wrecked vista before him. "That makes this location a logical choice to search. It's in the most direct line with their departure vector."
Thundercraker muttered. "But, we're not picking up anything. This place is a dead-zone."
"That is why we are getting a little help with the search." Starscream said, before raising his arm to tap a command on a hidden control panel build into it. "I had Shockwave give us the control codes for one of our orbital sensor platforms. We'll use it to saturate the area with a high-level radion beams. If there are any Autobots hidden in this blasted-out zone, that should reveal them to us."
"Eh, provided if it works . . . still, I doubt those Autobots are just gonna be up near the surface," Thundercracker muttered.
"We won't know until we try," Starscream said archly. "Megatron expects results, and by the All-Spark we shall succeed!" He tapped on a panel on his forearm, and a remote command dish emerged. "Now, let's get our orbital 'eye' to shed some light on our misbegotten targets. Initiating radion scan." He looked up briefly, his sensors attuned to the high-orbital platform that was passing hundreds of clicks overhead, before returning to the small readout screen build into his forearm. "Hmmm . . . a few trace energon readings . . . wait! Something more," he said sharply. "Control! Focus on Locus Hex-Two-Seven-Seven by One-Eight!"
There was a pause, then Shockwave's voice came over their comm-line: "Positive Autobot lifesign detected! Surface reading is faint, but it is confirmed!"
Starcream turned to Thundercracker. "Get your optics on that location, at once!"
Stepping forward from the half-melted "lip" of a rise he was standing on, Thundercracker extended his optic array into long-range mode and swept the distant ground ahead. "Searching . . . searching . . . wait! Got a mini-con here, Starscream," he said tersely. "Looks like an older Diaclone model."
Skywarp voice snorted. "Probably some scavenger holdout! Hardly the 'Bots we're looking for-!"
"Wait!" There's something else . . . I think," Thundercracker said, tuning his focus down to a tighter setting. "More movement! Confirmed! There's an Autobot down there!"
Starscream scowled, then snapped, "Can you identify them!?"
"Scanning . . . got it! It's the leader of the raid! He's moving towards the Mini-Con," Thundercracker reported.
"Must be picking up some intel or something!" Skywarp said archly. "Why else would they be out in a dump like this!?"
"We'll soon find out!" Starscream snapped his scanner closed and ordered, "Decepticons! Into the air! We'll take them alive and find out what they did with the Space Bridge data!" With that, he jumped into the air and converted into jet-form, before his engines powered up to full. "Form on me, Warriors!"
From their positions in the wasteland, Skywarp and Thundercracker followed suit, transforming and racing to join their team leader. As one, they swept down from the heights, speeding towards the lone Autobot signatures on the surface. In moments, it was clear the Autobot had detected them, as several stray blaster shots rose up to try to hit them.
"Pathetic fool! His weapon cannot match our speed!" Starscream sneered as he aimed his jet-form down towards the ground. "Increase speed and lay down suppression fire! I'll hit the Autobot simpleton with my null-ray, and-!"
"Wait! Starscream!" Skywarp cried out. "I'm picking up multiple heat blooms-! Oh, scrap! I've got missile-lock! Dozens of sources on the ground!"
"What!?" Starscream barked, unable to check his descent in time. In that instant, all around the trio the ground lit up with the smoke and fire of launches; scores of fast, high-powered rockets boiled up from the ground in a school of lethal destruction. He and his fellow Seekers tried to counter them, but they were too quick to be picked off by either of the Seekers, and too numberous to simply avoid. Several scored hits, and the Seekers were sent reeling away from their intended targets.
"Blast it!" Skywarp growled. "It's an ambush!"
"Decepticons, fall back!" Starscream ordered, turning on a wing-tip to outrace the clusters of rocket-propeled projectiles.
"But, why didn't the radion beams pick them up?" Thundercracker growled. Both he and Skywarp were juking and twisting to avoid the deadly missiles, which were now exploding around the retreating Seekers in a carpet of destruction.
"Blasted Autobots must've used some form of camoflage! It was too good for even my sensors," Skywarp snarled.
Starscream cut across their crosstalk sharply, "Worry about that AFTER we're clear! Retreat back to Polyhex," he ordered. "We'll re-examine our strategy and return with a larger force! Move out, now!"
With the last of the missiles detonating without scoring a major hit, down on the ground something moved amid the acrid smoke lingering around a set of crudely-assembled box-launcher platforms. Rising from cover, the lone blue-on-gray colored Cybetronian squinted at the retreating contrails of the Seekers. "Well, that worked pretty well . . . all things concidered." He let out a gusty sigh, before turning to look at the fissure's leading edge. "Yo, Bucket. You okay?"
From where he was crouched in the lee of one of the boxy, remote launchers, a lanky Mini-Con peered up at his tall companion. "I, ah . . . I-I-I think s-so, Convoy." Lifting himself in an awkward stance, the Mini-Con looked down at the bulky data-cylinder he carried. "A-at least the data d-d-doesn't appear to be d-damaged."
Nodding, Convoy holstered his blasters and moved down the slope. "Good job, Scrubber. We need that data intact, or that last assault on Polyhex wouldn't have been worth a lead ingot." Reaching up, Convoy tapped the side of his headpiece twice. "Convoy to Squad, everyone square out there?"
A pair of voices replied, overlapping one another in his receiver, "All square, and fair Boss-bot! / Just sorry only bits of those 'Cons / Are the only things they left behind."
Convoy chuckled. "A bit bloodthirsty, aren't we Twins?" He faced another direction and said, "Breakaway, you copy?"
"Any sign of more 'Cons coming our way? It's a sure bet they'll want find out what attacked those Seekers."
There was a pause. "Neg. Those three bugged out faster than hexasheep being chased by a Liger-tron, and the area's clear for nearly thirty clicks all around."
"Good, then we've got a mission to finish. All Bot's pull back and form on me," Convoy commanded. There was a scrape of metal on metal behind him, which made Scrubber squeak in fright and duck back under cover. Convoy turned, his hands halfway to his blasters before he recognized the source; an older, green and tan colored Cybertronian who was limping up the incline leading down into the fissure. "Damnit, 'Trak! What have I told you about sneaking up on me?"
The crusty, old Cybertronian grunted with the effort, before he came up to stand in front of Convoy. "Sorry . . . old habits." He paused and stared past Convoy's shoulder. "You spooked those Decepticons good. Using those auxillary rocket pods to make those Seekers think we were a larger force . . . good strategy." Before Convoy could reply, Halftrak reached up and rapped the younger 'Bot soundly on the back of his headcase. "Just don't think that's gonna work twice. The next time they come at us, they're gonna be prepared."
"Ow!" Shaking his head, Convoy muttered, "Those Decepti-crumbs, they'd fall for anything."
"Wise up, Rookie. We're not dealin' with the usual store-house guards and checkpoint bums!" Halktrak glared at him. "I got a good look before they bugged out. Those bruisers were loaded for techno-bear. Probably Elites. I could tell."
Convoy frowned. "Oh, you're over-reacting, Old Soldier."
Halftrak grimaced. "Maybe . . . but, why take chances? We're too far off from the main base to consider makin' a laser-line back to it. Too much of a chance of another Decep-patrol finding us."
Looking back at the fading contrails, Convoy sighed. "That'll put more time on our reaching Elita-One . . . still, can't be too careful, considering."
Halftrak snorted. "Glad you agree."
Scrubber was back out into the open now, looking all wide-eyed at the older 'Bot. "B-b-but, do we h-have to? W-we've been pretty good a-at hiding from them, so far!"
"Only because they weren't exactly looking for us, Bucket," Convoy said to Scrubber. "Besides, Halftrak's got a point. After that raid, we should have expected a more intense search for us."
At that moment, three more Cybertronians appeared, approaching from the other side of the fissure. Two smaller, youthful types in off-set blue and orange - one male and one female, yet bearing a striking resemblance to one another - and a taller, lanky type in dark colors that craddled a long-range rifle in its arms. "Intense is pretty much the word I'd use, Convoy." the dark-colored warrior said. "Those Decepticon Seekers were using a relay from orbit to sweep the area. A high-end radion beam." He held up one hand when the others looked alarmed. "Beam's been long since turned off. Ended when that lead Seeker sounded retreat."
"You sure about that, Breakaway?" Convoy asked archly.
Breakaway tapped the side of his head. "When am I ever not sure, Boss? I keep a passive up-link on all satellites when we're above ground."
Stopping next to him, the twins both crossed their arms and snorted. "Handy / Fancy that . . . At least you / Could have told us before now."
"Okay, knock it off, Roll and Bounce," Convoy said. "Right now, we're wasting time standing around here. We're the lucky Sods who got the ball this mission." He pointed to the data cylinder Scrubber was holding. "If we can't high-tail back to Elita-One, we've at least got to get to a safe place to transmit it to her techs. Then we can get back to our jobs . . . stopping the Decepticons from subjugating more sectors before they overun the entire planet."
Halktrak grunted. "We're not exactly doing that job very well, Youngin'," he said. "Nearly two-thirds of Cybertron belongs to the 'Cons."
"About Seventy-Nine / Point Nine-nine five, to be exact," Roll and Bounce said.
The older Cybertronian glared at their cheeky expressions. "Showoffs."
Convoy looked at Breakaway and they shared a tolorant look between them. "Be that as it is," he said, "we've got to deliver this data. Now, let's stop squawking and let's get going. 'Trak, you know this area. Know where the closest safe-point is?"
Halftrak rubbed his chin for a second. "Yeah, I think so. There used to be an old energon processing plant, about one-hundred clicks from here," he said. "I'm certain a part of the underground warehouses might do the trick."
"Fine then." With a shifting of his body's component parts, Convoy transformed into an armored, heavy-duty hover-vehicle. Popping the back hatch of his vehicle-form, he commanded, "Get in, Bucket. The rest of you, form up and caravan!" As the rest of his team shifted into their Cybertronian vehicle-forms, Convoy gunned his power-plant as Scrubber clambered inside and closed the hatch. "Let's roll for it, Warriors!"
With that, the entire team roared away, heading down the deep incline of the fissure, into the depths of Cybertron itself . . . .
TO BE CONTINUED...