LOST, THEN FOUND
PART ONE

A Transformers Prime tale
written by Stephen R. Sobotka / © 2012

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DISCLAIMER : This story is based on the creation of Tankara/Toei Animation & the Hub / Hasbro Inc. series "Transformers Prime"; all characters - with the exception of the original ones I created for this story and those cheerfully 'donated' by Shanna McLaughlin - are the property of said licenses, and are used here without knowledge or permission of same. This story is an original prose, and 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 : A departure from my G1 Fiction, but no less proving to be just as fun to write. I want to thank my dear 'lil' sister', for being the muse behind this tale. While her character doesn't YET make an apperance, he will soon in future stories.

And with that said, on with the show! - SRS

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O o O

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Outpost Omega-One, Just Outside of Jasper, Nevada . . . .

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"Oh c'mon, Raf! You're not gonna just give up on me now?"

Rafael Esquivel adjusted his red-framed eyeglasses and shook his head. "I'm not beat yet, Miko. This puzzle's just going to take a little more... strategy."

"Strategy-Schmategy, Rafe. You've been at it for an hour straight!" Miko said. "C'mon! You're supposed to be this big, computer wizard."

Looking up from where he was lounging at the far end of the couch, Jack just chuckled softly. "Well, if you can't solve it, I dunno who else can."

"Bumblebee probably could," Miko said. "If he was here... and wasn't out on patrol with Bulkhead."

"Yeah, but Bee's not here," Rafe said, flexing his fingers. "So, I'm gonna do the best that I know how to." He hunched back over his laptop and began to attack the puzzle in earnest.

While the kids were fixed on the problem posed by the computer game, the entrance of the command center was filled with the towering form of Optimus Prime, who crossed over to where the Autobot's master command board was occupied by Team Prime's medic.

"Ratchet," Optimus asked. "Are there any new signs of Decepticon activity?"

With a low growl, Ratchet shook his head. "Nothing so far... in fact, I haven't been able to detect any new Decepticon activity for nearly a kilocycle*." He tapped a few keys and sighed. "If Megatron has anything planned, he's playing it pretty close to the chest plate."

"Well," Jack offered, looking up at both Ratchet and Optimus as he approached the railing. "No 'Con news is good news, right?"

Optimus shook his head. "Perhaps, Jack. However, without any Decepticon activity to attend to, our primary order of business is to locate and secure more energon. For without any new deposits for us to mine and process..."

Rafael and Miko looked up along with Jack, expressions of worry on each of their faces. "Are you guys running out of energon, Optimus?" Raf asked.

"Not yet, Rafael," Optiums said. "However," he glanced at the monitors and added, "further actions against Megatron's forces may very well deplete what little energon we have left, unless a new source is found in time."

Ratchet nodded in accordance, before entering a new command on his control board. "Switching scanner array to search for new energon deposits."

At that point, Miko piped up, "Say, aren't the other Bots around to help out?"

"Bulkhead and Bumblebee are already checking out a source-reading they picked up while patrolling for signs of the Decepticons," Ratchet said.

"Arcee is also investigating a lesser source-reading, southwest of the edge of our base parameters." Optimus added. He frowned at the readout on the main screen. "At this point, our forces are spread out too thinly for my liking."

"Gee, Optimus, can't you call out for help from other Autobots?" Rafe asked.

"If we knew where to locate them, Rafael . . . yes. Unfortunately, those few who survived the battles on our home world are scattered throughout the cosmos." Shaking his head, Optimus said, "Finding them, even at the least calling for their aid will not be feasible with our current resources."

Jack and the others exchanged a look. "Still, it would be nice if some of the Autobots did make themselves known," Jack said.

"Yeah, but how?" Miko said archly. "Not likely for one of them to just fall from the sky, y'know?"

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O o O

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On Patrol, Just Outside of Jasper, Nevada . . . .

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Kneeling down at the side of a fissure in the rocky, desert sand, Arcee grunted as she probed a stretch of the sandy surface with a finger. The soil crumbled away, revealing several crystalline slivers interlaced between the dirt and sand. "Scrap." the blue-and-gray Femme said, a sour look spreading across her face plate as she sifted the crumbling sand. "Looks like another busted lead." She let the sand fall from her metal-clad hand, before rising up on her feet. Reaching up to touch the side of her head, she keyed her comm-unit on. "Arcee to base. Come in, Ratchet."

A moment later, her comm-set picked up with the voice of Ratchet: "Arcee. What is your status?"

"I found the source of that stray reading you asked me to check out," Arcee said. "There's nothing but trace by-product and sloughed off energon shards. If there ever was a deposit here, it's long since been stripped away."

A deep sigh of disappointment filtered through her comm-set. "Understood. In that case, you'd best rendezvous with Bulkhead and Bumblebee," Ratchet said. "They have yet to reach the reading they are closing in on, and it may actually have some energon that we can use."

Arcee nodded to herself. "Considering that the last six trace readings hardly proved to be rewarding . . . and provided the 'Cons haven't located it as well." Stepping back with a sigh, Arcee turned away from the fissure and started walking towards the open expanse of desert behind her. "Bridge me back, Ratchet."

"Transmitting-!" Ratchet's voice cut out into a sudden silence.

Arcee tipped her head in puzzlement. "Ratchet? You gonna send me the Ground-Bridge?"

"One moment, Arcee!" Ratchet's voice sounded tense. "We've gotten an alarm from our long-range scanners. They've detected an incursion, inbound towards the planet."

"Incursion?" Arcee asked. "What is it?"

"Readings are too erratic at the moment for an accurate fix, but Optimus is recalling everyone back to base. Prepare for immediate Ground-Bridge at your location!"

"Understood," Arcee said. Looking skyward, she muttered, "What in the name of the All-Spark is going on now?"

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O o O

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Emerging from the glowing vortex of the Ground-Bridge threshold, the lumbering green form of Bulkhead proceeded his smaller, yellow compatriot, Bumblebee. Stepping clear, they both moved towards the master command board, where Optimus, Ratchet and Arcee were already gathered. "What's the 'sitch, Optimus?" the former Wrecker asked.

"We are still trying to determine the incursion's identity, Bulkhead," Optimus said.

Manipulating the sensor controls, Ratchet said, "There's too much interference due to the density of Earth's atmosphere. What I can tell you, is that the object is captured by this planet's gravity well, and get a projected path to impact."

Bumblebee made an inquisitive warble, to which Arcee said, "It's too big to be just a meteorite. Even if it was, shouldn't we have sensed it long before now?"

"Even the humans should've gotten a head's up, right? They always keep lookin' up to watch out for those things," Bulkhead said.

"Human-contact or no," Ratchet said, "It is imperative that we take some form of action." He nodded to a scrolling stream of data on his screen. "Given the apparent estimate on mass and size that I'm scanning, if this IS a meteorite, the impact of such would cause massive destruction to any local human population caught within the crash-site!"

"So, are we talking an extinction-level event here, or what?" Miko asked from the observation platform.

"Miko!" Jack said sharply.

Shaking his head, Ratchet said, "No, it isn't that massive, Miko. At the most, it will make a moderate-sized crater when it does impact."

"Still, if it does appear to be headed towards a populated location, we should plan to try to divert it or, at the least, warn the humans to evacuate," Optimus said.

"So, where is it now?" Jack asked.

"The object is about to pierce through this planet's upper atmosphere," Ratchet said. "I'm getting new readings on its relative mass. Given what I'm reading now, there is a small chance that it might burn up long before-." He cut himself off, just as a sequence of lights on his console began to flash, accompanied by the hoot of an alarm. "Wait, just a click . . . I'm reading something else!" He adjusted a few controls, and his optics went wide. "It's an automated distress beacon!"

"A distress beacon?" Bulkhead said. Bumblebee let out a short chain of chirps and whines.

"Are you certain, Ratchet?" Optimus asked.

There was silence in the command center, save for the frantic tak-tak-tap of Ratchet's fingers on the key-panel of his console. In short order, a warbled sequence of chirps and di-dip sounds came in over the comm-channel's speaker. "It's somewhat . . . garbled, but it IS a signal!"

Optimus concentrated on the sound, and his own eyes flared. "It is more than just a signal, old friend. That signal is transmitting in Autobot code!"

Arcee asked, "Why would something like that be coming from-?"

"Hssh! A moment more, please!" Ratchet scowled. "Come on . . . give me just a bit more definition! There!" He pointed to the main screen, where a wire-frame image suddenly sprang into existance. "It's not an meteorite at all. It's a spaceship!"

"A spaceship?" Bulkhead asked. "That's good news, isn't it?"

The kids all looked at each other, before they returned to staring up at the screen. "As in, more Autobots?"

"We should not jump to conclusions. However," Optimus looked at Ratchet. "Ratchet, can you determine if there are any Autobot life-signs on board that ship?

Ratchet fiddled with the controls for a moment more, then he scowled. "Nertz! The ships entering the middle atmosphere! With it being shrouded in a thermal envelope, I cannot get any life-sign readings." He squinted at the readouts. "Worse, according to my instruments, the trajectory of that ship is unchanging . . . if there were any functional Autobots on board, they'd surely be compensating to land the ship in one piece."

Arcee looked over at Optimus. "Alive or no, that ship is still coming down. And if we can see it-?"

Bumblebee let forth with a chain of bleeps and growls, to which Bulkhead said, "Right, it's a sure thing the 'Cons are tracking it as well!"

Optimus nodded. "In that case, we should move quickly to make certain that Megatron does not gain anything from the ship, whether it crash-lands or not. Ratchet, do you have a final projection of the ship's imminent landing site?"

Ratchet looked at his readings, before pulling up a map of the Earth on the main screen. "Projecting it's current heading, rate of descent and speed . . . provided nothing changes those to a large degree, the ship will come down . . . ." He reached out and traced one finger across the image of the globe, before stopping over the North American continent. "Here, in the area of what the humans call . . . Texas."

Optimus nodded. "We shall deploy to the projected coordinates then, and prepare for whatever situation arrises."

"Are you sure about this, Optimus?" Arcee asked. "After all, if the ship's falling unchecked, there may be nothing worth salvaging when it hits."

Optimus stared at Arcee. "Our main concern is to prevent the harm of any humans near the crash-site. Even if there are none, the ship may well survive the impact. If that happens, what remains aboard - materiel, parts, technology, even what energon remains inside its tanks - are too valuable to us to allow it to fall into Megatron's grasp." He glanced at the others. "Bulkhead, Bumblebee, you two will accompany me to the crash-site. Arcee, stay with Ratchet and monitor the ship's decent. If we require assistance, we will call for you."

Bulkhead nodded, before turning to glare at Miko. "Stay put. A crash-site's no place for humans. Understand?"

"Aww, but-?" Miko started to whine, but Jack put a hand on her shoulder.

"Listen to Bulkhead, Miko. Do you really want to be in the path of that thing, when it hits?" Jack shook his head. "Be smart. We're better off staying here and watching with Ratchet and Arcee."

As the three 'Mechs began to move towards the Ground-Bridge threshold, Arcee moved to the controls and said, "Just be careful, guys. And if the 'Cons do show up-."

Bumblebee warbled and mimed throwing a punch, to which Optimus added, "We will be careful, and we will also be cautious. Even if the Decepticons do come to claim it, we will do all we can to keep it from falling into their hands."

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O o O

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The Warship NEMESIS, In Sub-Orbit, Over Earth . . . .

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Coming onto the command deck of the ship, Megatron paused to observe the Decepticons manning the various consoles and computers. His red optics slid across to where his communications officer and the resident medical-tech were peering at something on a wide, read-out screen; their one-sided conversation terse and clipped. With a frown, he stepped into the bridge, his tall and menacing form drawing the optics of his underlings as strode slowly forwards.

"Soundwave, Knock Out . . . What is there to report?" Megatron asked, his voice deep and uncompromising in tone as he stopped behind them.

Turning, the red-and-silver Medic said, "Lord Megatron, Our sensors have detected an incursion entering the planet's atmosphere."

"An incursion?" Leaning down, Megatron sneered. "And, why would that interest me?"

"Because of this, my Lord." Knock Out gestured to Soundwave, who turned to bring his blank faceplate around, showing a wavering audio line on the display readout imbedded there. The sounds of several repeated blips and tones filled the air. "These tones are being transmitted by that object, which is why we thought to call you, Lord. Soundwave believes it is an old Autobot distress beacon."

Megatron arched one eyebrow. "An Autobot distress call? Show me this . . . incursion, Soundwave."

The blank-faced spymaster merely tapped a control key, and the main screen on the bridge was filled with the tracking telemetry of the descending object, as welll data on the objects mass and density.

"Facinating," Megatron murmured. "It does appear to be an Autobot spaceship."

Knock Out said, "If it is an Autobot ship, the lack of course correction leads us to believe it could be an abandoned wreck that has fallen prey to this planet's gravity well."

Megatron rubbed his chin. "Perhaps, Knock Out... still, I would be foolish to believe otherwise. Soundwave, are there any active spark-signs aboard it?"

Soundwave tapped another key, and a scroll of data appeared on the main screen.

Megatron made a low hum in his vox as he studied the data. "Apparently not. Pity. I would have relished destroying any Autobots who had the misfortune to be aboard her."

"What do we do with that wreck in the meantime, Lord Megatron?" Knock Out asked. "Shall we simply blast it out of the sky?"

Flexing his pointed fingers, Megatron mulled it over. "No." He gestured towards the image of the plummeting ship. "If that ship has any viable resources still on board, it is better that we allow it to land. Then, gather those resources for our own purpose."

"Is that . . . wise?" Knock Out asked. "After all, if we can detect it-?"

"It is a certainty that Optimus Prime has detected it as well, and will try to reach it first." He chuckled softly. "However, Optimus will learn that nothing is within his grasp, that I cannot pluck it from him! After all, what better way to demoralize the Autobots, than to render their newest hope for relief than to crush it before their very optics?!"

"A sound strategy, my Lord," Knock Out said.

"Indeed." Megatron looked to Soundwave. "What is the ship's projected impact coordinates?" As Soundwave quickly brought up the information, he turned and motioned to Knock Out. "Take a squadron of Deceptions, and head out to those coordinates. Deploy a team of salvage drones as well. While you keep Optimus and his lackeys busy, the drones will strip that ship of all usable materials."

"As you command, Lord Megatron!" Knock Out saluted, before turning to leave the bridge.

Megatron let a poisonous smile fill his face. "Once more, an oppertunity to strike against the last of the Primes presents itself." Clenching his fist, Megatron chuckled. "An opportunity I do not intend to see wasted."

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O o O

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Some 100 Kilometers Near Eagle Lake, Shackleford County, Texas . . . .

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The swirling vortex of the Ground-Bridge vanished, leaving Optimus, Bumblebee and Bulkhead standing on a desert plain. Each Autobot case their gaze skyward, seeing nothing for the moment but clear blue skies against the backdrop of choya, cacti and tumbleweeds.

"Not exactly the best spot for a crash-landing," Bulkhead grumbled. Bumblebee buzzed and beeped, to which Bulkhead sighed, "Yeah, well, no place IS a good spot to crash, I guess!" He looked upwards. "So, where's the ship now?"

Optimus keyed his comm-unit. "Ratchet, status update on the ship's estimated path to impact."

Rachet replied, "Approximately fifteen clicks from landfall, Optimus. At the rate it is falling, it will make a spectacular impact when it hits!"

Bumblebee stepped away from the others, sweeping the area around them with his optics. The twin blue orbs narrowed briefly before they flew wide open in alarm. Pointing towards the east, he warbled a rapid-fire string of tones.

Bulkhead and Optimus both turned to face him, following his finger to where it indicated. "Oh, scrap!" Bulkhead said. "There's a human population center in that direction. That ship crashing down here is NOT gonna make for a good impression on the local humans! We need to evacuate them, Optimus!"

"Agreed, Bulkhead, but even if we contact Agent Fowler for his assistance, we may not have enough time to get all of the humans to safety. We must do something to either divert the ship or slow it down." Optimus said. "Ratchet, is the ship in close enough range that we may try to engage its guidance systems remotely?"

"A moment," Ratchet said, and there was silence over the comm-line. Then, Ratchet broke back in, saying, "I think I can access the ship, via a remote signal, but considering the apparent age of the distress beacon, it is certain the ship will be using a very antiquated security lockout!"

"Then synch me through the comm-line, Ratchet," Optimus said. "I have knowledge of some of the earliest security protocols used by our forces during the Great War. I can transmit an override code to assist you."

Bulkhead and Bumblee both had their optics trained skywards; the yellow-colored scout getting the first glimps of the fiery trail left by the descending ship. He beeped several times in warning.

"Bee's got the ship sighted, Optimus!" Bulkhead said. "Better give up the landing orders, quick!"

"Ratchet!?" Optimus asked.

A moment later, Ratchet said, "Data-synchronization is active, Optimus. Time to impact is now thirteen clicks!"

"Transmitting codes, now!" Optimus triggered his transceiver, and the flow of data could be heard over the comm-line.

In the skies above, the fire trail suddenly twisted as the ship turned from its formerly unchecked path, and headed towards the general area the trio currently occupied.

"That's it, baby," Bulkhead said. "Come on down!"

The closer the ship got, the easier it was for the trio of 'Mechs to get a better look at it; a boxy, hunchbacked starcraft with a quad-wing stabilizing its flight. Still trailing some flames from its entry into the atmosphere, the ship soon loomed close enough for them to make out markings on its hull.

"Optimus, is that what I think it is?" Bulkhead asked.

"I believe so," Optimus replied. "An Axion-class transport shuttle. Ratchet, can you decipher its identity markings?"

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O o O

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The reply from Ratchet was instantly relayed over the comm-unit: "Its codex names it as Tera Maximus, one of the . . . Great Primus! It's one of the Fleet Relief Ships!"

"Fleet Relief Ships?" asked Jack. He, Miko and Rafe were watching the flight-path data on Ratchet's screen from the observation platform.

"The Cybertronian Fleet, in the eons prior to the Great War, was an expansive group of multiple classes of starships," Ratchet explained. "Many utility, cargo and carrier types, but also defensive and warship classes as well."

From where she stood next to Ratchet, Arcee said, "Fleet Relief ships were the types that often worked to maintain and support damaged or disabled ships."

"Indeed, Arcee," Ratchet said. He tapped a few keys, and added as a wire-frame image of a ship similar to the descending one appeared, "The Axion-class shuttles were considered the general work ships-of-the-line for that type. Hauling parts, spares and relief energon to wherever the need was greatest. I had thought that there were none left after we had to leave Cybertron behind."

"So, that ship could be carrying extra parts . . . oh! Even energon?!" Miko said.

Rafe blinked. "Energon? Oh no. If that ship's carrying any energon, if it crashes, then the explosion could-!"

Arcee finished for him, saying, "It could be more devastating that a neutrino bomb!"

Ratchet stiffened, before he keyed the comm-unit again. "Optimus! Did you hear?"

"I did, Ratchet," Optimus replied. "We cannot allow that ship to impact, lest the surviving energon aboard her explodes."

"Apart from shooting it down-!" Ratchet said, only to cut himself off. "No. We need that ship intact."

"Then perhaps there is another option: can you guide the ship down safely, via the remote linkup?"

Working his jaw from side to side, Ratchet said, "I . . . I will try. It is eight clicks out, so . . . here we go. Prepare for imminent landfall, Optimus!" With that, Ratchet put his hands on a new set of controls, and quickly began to manipulate them. On the screen, the trajectory of the descending ship slowly began to change; slowing and leveling so that it was coming down in a more controled rate.

"It's working!" Rafe said. "The ship's coming down-!"

"Rafael, please!" Ratchet said. "I need to concentrate. Optimus, you need to act as a spotter out there! Even with the controls slaved to my command, I cannot insure a gentle landing without visuals!"

"Understood, Ratchet," Optimus replied. "Adjust the ship's trajectory by twenty-mark-thirty-two degrees . . . there is a clear area for landing just a half of a kilometer from our current location."

"Adjusting flight path," Ratchet said, tapping the keys in rapid order, while glancing at the data readouts. "The data link is now reading the ship's altimeter. At six clicks and dropping . . . ."

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O o O

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Optimus, Bulkhead and Bumblebee watched as the Tera Maximus swiftly moved towards the landing zone they'd relayed to Ratchet. The ship was no longer trailing fire, but it was clearly coming in too fast. "Ratchet, activate the landing thrusters and flaps! The ship has to be slowed down!"

Bumblebee broop-bleeped an string of agitated sounds.

"Yeah, she's too steep on her approach!" Bulkhead said. "Level her off, Ratchet!"

"I'm trying! The controls are clearly in disuse," Ratchet's reply came back through their comm-units. "Adjusting . . . beginning landing procedures!"

Eying the change in the ship's decent, Optimus was about to speak again when he caught a flash of light off to the side. Turning, his optics widened in alarm as he realized what was appearing. "Ratchet! Is Arcee using the Ground-Bridge?"

"No, why should she?"

Optimus grimaced. "Alert her to join us at our present coordinates . . . for I fear Decepticons are 'Bridging in!"

True to his prediction, the sudden appearance of the Ground-Bridge nexus was followed up by several large, metallic bodies emerging from within. At their lead was Knock Out, followed by a squad of Worker-Class drones, around which filed several Terrorcons.

"Scrap! It's definitely the 'Cons!" Bulkhead muttered.

Optimus gestured with one metal fist. "Bumblebee! Bulkhead! Intercept them and keep them from attacking the shuttle directly," he commanded. Bumblebee twittered nervously, but Optimus said, "I will only remain here long enough to guide Ratchet in landing it. Go! Quickly!"

Bulkhead nudged his companion. "C'mon, Bee! We've got to let Optimus get the ship down safely!"

As the two warriors charged off towards the Decepticons, Optimus turned his attention back to the shuttle. "Ratchet, adjust glide-path by twenty degrees!"

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O o O

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Back at the base, the kids and Arcee watched with alarm as the data on the screen now widened to include a tactical readout of the fight unfolding in the landing zone. "Great! It always has to be Megatron's goons showing up to spoil the party!" Miko said.

"It would have been nice to not have the 'Cons show up at all," Arcee said. Looking to Ratchet, she asked, "Can't you land that shuttle any faster?"

"And risk a detonation of whatever remains of energon may be aboard her? Even a single Astro-Litre is enough to make a sizable crater, and that would harm our friends in the battle zone!" Ratchet grimaced as he nudged the controls further. "Rafael, activate the Ground-Bridge! Arcee, go! With the Decepticons in play, he'll need your help to secure the ship."

"On it, Ratchet!" Rafe said, moving to the smaller control console on the platform. In a moment, the Ground-Bridge aperture flared to life.

Arcee transformed to vehicle mode and gunned her engine. "Optimus, I'm on my way!"

As she headed through the Ground-Bridge, Ratchet returned his attention to the task at hand. "Optimus, I'm showing 2 clicks to contact. I need a relatively even-grade area underneath the ship, before the landing systems are engaged."

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O o O

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The snap and snark of laser fire through the air only marginally distracted Optimus from replying. "You have a level landing point just a few degrees before you, Ratchet! Engage landing cycle now!" Turning, he caught sight of Bumblebee and Bulkhead diving for cover behind some rocks as the Terrorcons increased their firing rate. Watching as a second group of Decepticons began to move out to the side from the main fighting group, Optimus growled softly behind his battle mask. As I feared, he thought. They're here to either capture or destroy the ship before we can salvage it.

From behind him, the sound of the Ground Bridge opening made him pause briefly. A split second later, Arcee charged into view, flipping and transforming on the fly to land next to Optimus. "What are we dealing with, Optimus?" she asked.

"The Decepticons are moving to flank us and take the ship," Optimus said. "We must intercept them!" His right hand vanished into his forearm as he triggered the internal mechanism; snapping his concussion blaster into place.

Arcee nodded, activating her arm units to rotate her blasters into view. "Works for me!" Together, they charged towards the advancing Decepticons. The few who were clearly laborer-class held back behind the few Terrorcons taking the lead; which were rapidly snapping off blaster shots to keep the Autobots from reaching them. Optimus and Arcee answered them with blasts of their own.

At the front of the Terrorcons, a familiar red-and-chrome figure grinned. "Well, well! Looks like my little boarding party has attracted the attention of Optimus Prime himself!" Knock Out fired off a ranging shot, before he called out to the Autobots. "Back off, Prime!"

Optimus skidded to a halt behind a large boulder, firing off three shots at Knock Out. "That ship is Autobot Property, and as such, WE shall be the ones to recover it!"

"You know what they say, Autobot-scum! Possession is nine-tenths of the Law! We intend to possess ALL of that ship!" Knock Out snapped his fingers, before motioning towards the ship. "Workers! Secure that ship, now! The rest of you... scrap the 'Bots!"

Arcee ducked behind cover, rolling to a stop next to her leader. "We're not gonna stop them like this, Optimus. Got any ideas?"

"Just one," Optimus said, "I'll draw their fire, while you stop Knock Out. Defeat him, and the laborers will retreat." Rising up from behind the boulder, he snapped out his second blaster and began firing. Arcee didn't wait to reply; she dashed towards the shuttle, which had finally come to rest on the level ground nearby, barely dodging several stray shots from the battle.

Her approach was spied by the Decepticon medic. He grinned before waving for the cluster of laborers to stop. "Looks like it's Ladies' Choice," he muttered, flexing his hands as Arcee stopped in front of the shuttle's nose.

"That's as far as you go, 'Con!" She leveled her blasters at Knock Out.

Knock Out sighed. "Autobot bravado. It gets to be so boring!" Snapping out one arm, he flipped his shoulder-mounted blasters out and fired several shots.

Arcee dodged the shots, whirling back behind the shuttle's front landing gear for cover. "Scrap!" She snapped off a couple of shots in return. I've got to keep him away, until Optimus can rally the others!

Knock Out growled at the laborers, which were hunched down in a vain attempt to seek cover. "Get to that ship! She's not going anywhere!"

"You that bored, Knock Out? I always thought you lived for the thrill of battle?"

"At the cost of ruining my finish?" Knock Out rolled his eyes. "Be serious," he said.

"Always the metro-bot," Arcee growled. "You aren't getting this ship, 'Con. You'll have to go through me first!"

"Was that meant to be a threat?" Knock Out chuckled, before calmly aiming his blaster again. "You don't stand a chance, Two-Wheeler!"

Arcee snarled under her breath. "Get scrapped, Pretty-Boy!" She whipped around out from behind her make-shift cover, with both blasters aimed... only to have twin bolts of red slam into her chest. The sheer force knocked her back with a yell of pain, and her body impacted against the side of the ship. She hung there for a click, then slid down to the ground with a final moan.

Knock Out grinned. "As I always say . . . Ladies first." He chuckled, seeing how his Terrorcons were keeping Optimus at bay. "Perfect, time to lay claim to Megatron's prize ship." He turned and stalked towards the front of the shuttle, where his workers were clustered. "Okay, boys. Let's crack this tin-can open and see what we can salvage from-!?" His words were cut off, when a mechanical THUMP! was heard inside the ship's hull. A second later, the main hatch cracked open amid a hssssh! of released atmospherics. In moments, the hatch began to slowly lower itself towards the ground.

"What in the name of the Pit-?" Knock Out glared at the lead laborer . "Who told you to remote-access the hatch?"

"Ah, we didn't do that, Sir!" The lead laborer replied.

Knock out scowled, turning to face the laborers, his back to the hatch as he said, "Well, it couldn't have been the Autobots! They're too busy fighting!"

"Actually, not ALL of us are busy, Decepticon!"

Knock Out stiffened. "Wha-? Who said that!?" He whirled around, only to cry out in alarm when several blue blasts lifted him off the ground and tossed him back over the heads of the laborers. He crashed in a jangled pile of limbs, groaning in pain.

Groaning herself, Arcee lifted her head and stared, trying to regain her equilibrium. From where she was sprawled against the ground, she could only just make out someone stomping down the hatch towards the now-nervous Decepticons. Blinking several times to reset her optics against the glare of the sun, she could only tell this was a Cybertronian; male, large and very ticked-off from the timbre of his voice. "I always say," the male said, smacking his battle fists together with several, sharp slams, "when I come out of stasis lockdown, there's only one thing that will put me in a better mood... and that's kickin' some 'CON TAILPIPE!"

The Laborers started to back away, the sound of their metal footsteps betraying their sudden fear.

"And, look what was waiting for me out here?" the Cybertronian said with glee. "A bunch of 'Cons, who I'm gonna just love KICKING around on their skid plates!" With that, the Cybertronian bellowed a cry of challenge, before he lunged towards the Decepticon laborers, scattering them like leaves in a windstorm.

Arcee struggled to rise, but the double shock of Knock Out's shot and her impact against the ground had robbed her of all strength. With her conciousness fading amid the sounds of hand-to-hand combat, she tried to wrap around the familiar-sounding voice ringing in her audio receptors. It . . . it can't be! she thought. Collapsing against the ground, one word reverberated in her memory-buffers:

Cliffjumper.

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To Be Continued . . . .