Disclaimer: The Transformers and all related material belong to Hasbro, concept originally created and licensed through Takara Co. LTD. All original characters (c) C.R. Majors.

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Running the Gauntlet

Chapter 13: "The Bigger They Are..."

"So let me make sure I'm clear on this... Your spark was extinguished during the attack on Autobot City, the same battle that resulted in the death of Optimus Prime? You weren't just in stasis the whole time?"

"Deader than a doornail, as humans tends to say, yeah. I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth. Right now, though, I need to concentrate on making sure the rest of my crew members don't end up as corpses a second time."

Sitting down in the command chair on the Wayfarer's main deck, Ratchet programmed the autopilot to set a course for Tashk's space station. Nearby, Devcon glanced over the empty chairs and lit consoles, frowning and still trying to make sense of the claim he'd been presented with moments earlier. Both of them were still a bit damp and sporting teeth marks where the Scraplets attacked, but there was no time for repair work at the moment.

"You were a friend of Smokescreen's, weren't you?" the medic inquired as he input the commands.

"I'd like to think I still am," came the reply. "I don't get back to Cybertron much, since my hunting jobs take me far and wide. Last time I spoke to Smokescreen, he was trying to convince me to join him for a few drinks and a game of cards on Earth."

Ratchet glanced up from his work, fuel lines suddenly tingling with a rush of hope. "Would you know how to get to Earth from here?"

"Yeah. He sent me the coordinates then, even though I didn't accept the invite."

"Which is closer then? Cybertron or Earth? Time is crucial, here. If we can't get the others infused with Cybertronium in time, their insides will burn out completely!"

"Earth, easily," Devcon responded. "If you want, I can upload my star charts to your shuttle's navigational system."

Oh, thank Primus! Ratchet couldn't help but think at the other's offer. "Devcon, if you can do that for me, I'll ask nothing further of you! I know I already owe you one for pulling me out of that mess on Ivix, as it is."

The bounty hunter smirked. "Heh, I lead a lonely existence on the job. I'd be lying if I said I didn't appreciate running into other friendly Cybertroians out here, even if you're not actively identifying yourself as an Autobot right now. Although if what you're saying about Tashk is true, I might be able to get a few credits for his mangy hide. He's not exactly popular among our kind and he's made a number of enemies." He paused, glancing back at the Junker thoughtfully. "By the way, I never got your name."

"It's Ratchet."

"Ratchet? The Ratchet? Autobot Chief Medical Officer?" Devcon was blinking his shutters in surprise.

Allowing himself a small smirk, the red and white nodded. "The same. Guess you didn't figure on who I was by looks?"

"Heh, don't flatter yourself too much," Devcon joked with a low chuckle. "I'm so out of the way most of the time, news reaches me without a lot of detail. When I heard about the attack on Autobot City, the only name I got in terms of permanent casualties was Optimus Prime's. I knew others had been sent on their way to the Well of All Sparks, I just didn't know who exactly. I do remember your name from the earlier vorns of the Great War, though. Never met you, obviously, but some names are the stuff of legends. Ratchet, Prowl, Jazz, Ironhide..."

"Prowl and Ironhide are two of the mechs in the medbay right now, depending on me to get them to Earth in time. As I said before, we need Cybertronium to fix them permanently and the zaphite I took from Ivix will hopefully slow their system deterioration long enough to actually get said Cybertronium. I just don't know how exactly to apply the stuff without Veras' help. She's the one who was forced to create the virus by Tashk and if we don't get her onboard, making back to Earth in a timely manner will be a moot point."

"I take you know there's stash of Cybertronium on Earth?"

"I hope so. We needed it once before and after that, I made sure to keep it stocked in the Ark and then in Autobot City when we changed base sites. Do you by chance know who is current acting CMO for the Autobots under Rodimus Prime?"

"I don't, no," Devcon admitted with a shrug. "And I hope that stash is still there after the raid that took your life. I'd say we could try to radio in to find out, but we're too far out of range right now. How'd you know about Rodimus Prime if you've been out the loop so long, anyway?"

Ratchet hesitated. If he revealed his source of information... Devcon was a bounty hunter who tracked and captured Decepticons for the most part, as far as the Junker knew. Then again, it wasn't like Devcon would never find out if he stayed on long enough to reach the space station. "Blitzwing. We bought him from some intergalactic slavers on Krux and got him to tell us everything he knew about what happened after we were killed. Just...don't take him into custody along with Tashk! He's not really a 'Con anymore. I probably still wouldn't be functional now if it wasn't for his help in the middle of this slagstorm."

Devcon's optics widened considerably. "So that's where the fragger ended up! Galvatron put a bounty out on him a while back, though I never answered it personally because I don't work for Decepticons, not even if it's hunting one of their own. I heard Blitzwing turned on their lot. Gotta give him credit for having the internals to pull that on the likes of Galvatron. He is one crazy Decepticon from all I've heard."

"So you've got no interest in turning Blitzwing in? Good."

"Not to Galvatron. If you're heading back to Earth, though, I don't know what kind of welcome he'll get even if he is with you."

"We'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it," Ratchet sighed as he finished setting course. "Right now, one thing at a time."

"True enough." Sitting down at one of the terminals, Devcon plugged into the main computer system. "I'll get your star charts uploaded on the way. Then we'll see how much that filth pile Tashk likes it when he's got a hunter on his tail."

Unable to suppress an optimistic grin, the first he'd managed in a long time, the medic fired up the Wayfarer's main engines and set the craft in motion. "Then let's get moving. I never did like being the last one to the party!"

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Windcharger ducked behind a corner as laser fire hammered the corridor, leaving black edged holes in the walls and floor. Behind him, Veras huddled in the small maintenance alcove, the only one unarmed in the middle of a vicious firefight as Junker and Tarthan attempted to hold a mounting army of drones at bay. Across the way, the pirated drone fired into the advancing line, knocking back two more guards into their fellows. The hall was already choked with more than a dozen destroyed drones, their bodies twitching, sparking and occasionally exploding while their still functional fellows attempted to get over them to continue the assault.

The door directly behind them was sealed shut; Windcharger had closed it and smashed the controls only moments before to keep more guards from reaching them. How long the barrier would hold the mindless soldiers was a concern surpassed only by how long they could hold out against those enemies still actively firing on their group from the opposite direction.

"I'm almost out of ammo over here!" Jaraxis called across the way before dispatching another drone with a well place shot to the head. "At this rate, we'll be overrun!"

"Slag! I feel like Han Solo, pinned down in the middle of a firefight! The only things missing are the Ewoks," Windcharger growled as he checked his own firearm and found its energy nearly depleted.

"Who with the what?" Jaraxis exclaimed.

"Never mind! Old Earth culture thing," came the irritated response. Glancing back at Veras, the minibot presented her with a pleading expression. "Not to pressure you or anything, but if you have any ideas at all on how to get out of this situation 'Rax and I are definitely open to suggestions!"

The female glanced between the two and tried to focus, tried to think...

Suddenly, a yellow-orange hot spot appeared on the door to their rear. Something on the other side was trying to cut through with a laser.

"They're going to break through!" Jaraxis cried in defeat.

"Fraggit all! I--" Windcharger stopped, gaze falling on the maintenance console beside the Occan. It looked to be still intact for the most part. He thought back to the off-hand reference he'd made earlier. That Earth movie... "Veras, can you hack into the space station's systems?"

"I...I might be able to, but it would take some time!" she responded, voice shaking with panic.

Windcharger considered that. The situation was already going to the Pit in a hand basket. "Try, then! See if you can get in and call the drones off! Shut them down, send them somewhere else, make them attack their own. Something, anything! Jaraxis and I will do everything we can to buy you time!"

As Veras got to work the other two attempted to make every shot count as the drones continued to advance further down the hall...

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"Get back here, you little freak!" Brawn shouted as he grabbed a retreating Silth by one back leg, effectively pulling the cybernetic mess to the floor with a loud clang.

One of the beam daggers in his free hand, the minibot leapt forward to bury it in the Kruxan's back, only to take a fist to the face as his target managed to roll over and counterattack. Recoiling but refusing to release his hold, Brawn shook off the hit and hauled Silth over the floor, attempting to throw him off balance again. As more drones closed in around them, readying their weapons to fire on the Junker, Brawn stabbed Silth in the side before hauling him upright to use him as a shield.

"Hold...hold your fire!" Silth shrieked, wincing in pain as purple blood oozed from his wound.

"No! Kill the Cybertronians!" Tashk bellowed as he crossed blades with Blitzwing, the two clashing back and forth across the hallway a mere fifty feet away. "SHOOT THEM!"

"Tashk!" Silth's tongue lolled from his mouth as Brawn strengthened his hold. "They'll shoot me! Us!" Unable to abide by his leader's command, he waved one arm at the drones. "Hold your fire!"

Confused by the conflicting orders, the guards raised and lowered their weapon arms repeatedly, unable to determine a clear course of action.

"Shoot th--!" Tashk grunted as his adversary forced his blade aside and shoved him into a wall, hand wrapping around his throat.

"You'd better keep him from calling orders, bucket head!" Brawn called, struggling to keep his enemy captive.

"I'm working on it, runt!" the triple changer snarled back, dental plates gritted as Tashk tried to use one hand to free himself. "How about you worry about your end and kill that abomination!"

Before Brawn could offer a retort, Silth retaliated, sinking his metal fangs into his captor's arm. Howling in pain and indignity, the Junker let go and lashed out with his dagger. Sparks flew as Silth was relieved of his right arm, the limb severed at the elbow. Screaming in agony, he fell backwards onto the floor. An attempt to finish what he started earned Brawn a vicious kick to the chest, however, sending him back into the wall with several long gashes across his armor.

"You...won't...win!" Taskh gasped, finally removing the hand from his neck and straining to force Blitzwing back. Bringing one clawed foot up, he slammed it into the triple changer and threw him against the opposite wall. Free at last, Tashk swung his sword about and leapt to strike. "This ends NOW!"

Blitzwing rolled to one side, narrowly avoiding a blade through the middle of his chest. As Tashk's weapon sliced into the metal flooring, the former Decepticon returned the favor and landed a kick squarely to his foe's side, sending him sprawling. Kicking back up, Blitzwing rushed to attack again, intent on keeping his foe from reaching his discarded sword.

On the other end of the hall, Silth rolled up onto his feet and drew a laser pistol from a side holster with his remaining hand. "You'll pay for what you did to me! I'M TIRED OF LOSING LIMBS!"

Brawn staggered back as Silth opened fire, catching the Cybertronian in the shoulders and chest, the shots punching holes through the first layer of armor and eating into the protective housing beneath. As his systems began to warn of damages, Brawn cursed and tried to block himself with his arms, deflecting some of the shots with his own weapon. This was all too familiar. The last time enemy fire had gotten past his tough armor... The Lancet...and Autobot City.

For a split second, Brawn was sure he saw the smirking faceplate of Starscream flash before his optics, Megatron in gun mode held in one hand as he took aim...

"NO!" Brawn hurled the dagger. A sickening thunk followed as it impaled Silth through his left shoulder and stuck him to the wall. The cyborg writhed in pain, struggling to free himself, but failed to escape before Brawn drew Wheeljack's other blade and relieved him of his remaining hand. As blood cascaded to the floor, spattering Brawn's feet, he moved back and away in disgust.

Across the way, Tashk resorted to seizing a nearby drone with one hand and using it as a shield as Blitzwing attacked, Prowl's sword cleaving the smaller machine in half with one swipe. Before the other could recoil to swing again, Tashk ran one half of the drone into the sides of the triple changer's head. Jarred by the sudden blow, Blitzwing staggered back and shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs and get the reverberation out of his audios. The moment of confusion cost him almost immediately. Roaring in frustration, Tashk continued his vicious assault, hammering away on his opponent without mercy. As Blitzwing hit the floor again, Tashk tossed the mangled halves of the drone aside and snatched up his energy sword.

"Too bad! Galvatron will just have to settle for what's left of you, now!"

"TASHK!"

The Commander of the Everdark glanced back over one shoulder, his weapon poised to impale Blitzwing where he lay. Behind him, Brawn raised Silth's dropped pistol and fired. A scream pain escaped Tashk as the shot struck true, hitting him squarely in the back. Blade released by hands suddenly reaching back in shock, the sword plummeted down and bit through Cybertronian armor. Face contorted in anger and pain, but grateful the brief distraction had given him time to slide back and take the blade to one leg instead of his chest, Blitzwing reached up with his free hand and yanked the weapon out of himself. Moving quickly, he struggled to his feet to finish Tashk off while he had the chance.

Black furred hands seized Blitzwing by the forearms and held him at bay; Tashk grunted and wavered under the wound to his back but did not fall. Much to Blitzwing's shock and dismay, the monster Kruxan was still capable of halting what would have been twin killing strikes. Wrenching the triple changer back, Tashk leaned forward and drove the overhanging, talon-like projections on his back into his enemy's shoulders, forcing him to drop both blades. Bent over at the waist, Blitzwing cursed and struggled, feeling his gears grind and hearing his joints whine as his arms were nearly wrenched from their sockets.

"You put up a good fight, but this really is it, this time," Tashk hissed down at him.

Behind him, Brawn fired three more shots into his back. Though he shuddered and grunted, however, Tashk held fast.

"Is that all you have, tiny one?" the Kruxan managed to laugh, eyes narrowing. "Be a good little fool and wait your turn!"

One of the daggers followed; Brawn would not be so easily dismissed. It embedded itself in Tashk's flesh right below his neck. Roaring furiously, he threw a vile curse at the defiant minibot before turning and spitting a mouthful of black blood into Blitzwing's face out of pure disdain.

Mouth pulling into a disgusted sneer, Blitzwing glared up at Tashk through his cracked visor, the blood running down the sides of his helm. "This one's for Veras."

"What?"

The grinding of gears followed as Blitzwing's tank cannon swung into place...and fired.

Brawn dove out of the way as Tashk careened down the hallway and crashed into a wall before dropping like a rag doll to the floor in a smoking heap. With only the station's alarm and Silth's agonized whimpering echoing in his audios, the minibot carefully got to his feet and glanced down the way where Blitzwing was forcing himself back into an upright position, joints creaking as he did so. Retrieving both Prowl's sword and Tashk's weapon, the triple changer deactivated both as he limped down the hallway to where the Kruxan lay in a crumpled, pitiful pile.

"I think he might actually be dead this time," Brawn said with a grimace, the smell of burning fur more than a little offensive.

Blitzwing kicked the body over with one foot to reveal a gaping hole in Tashk's midsection. "You think?"

"K...kill them..."

Both Junker and former Decepticon turned to where Silth was still stuck to the wall, the dying cyborg using what little life he had left to issue commands to the confused drones loitering about.

"Kill them!" Silth managed to call out. "Stop at nothing to DESTROY THEM!"

Snatching the pistol from Brawn's hand, Blitzwing shot Silth in the head, silencing him once and for all. The damage was done, however, the drones already bringing their weapons to the ready position as they turned as one towards the invaders.

"This really isn't good," Brawn muttered as he backed up a step. "How many drones do you think this place has in it?"

"Two, three hundred more, maybe?" Blitzwing forced the pistol back into the minibot's hands and reactivated the beam swords. "And Zivven is still in here, somewhere."

"As if we weren't having a bad day, already," the other grumbled.

Like a moving wall, the drones advanced, their red optics focused on their two targets. There was no one left in the area to call them off. Blitzwing uttered a deep growl, poised to strike. At his side, Brawn took aim with the pistol, wishing he hadn't been forced to trade his gauntlets for daggers. Both of them were embedded in dead bodies.

One after the other, the drone firearms powered up. The sound bounced off the corridor walls, reverberating in a loud, angry hum. All weapons prepped to fire, the drones took aim...

And opened fire on each other. Within seconds, the halls were filled with the sounds of guards falling to the floor in sizzling heaps, the drones turning on each other in a messy, chaotic free-for-all. Overhead, the klaxons ceased to sound and as the last of the drones collapsed, the smoke rising from the jumble of metal bodies, total silence falling over the area.

Brawn shook his head in disbelief. Not a single shot had been fired their way. "What in the name of Primus just happened?"

For a long moment, Blitzwing said nothing. Finally, he shrugged slightly. "Aside from them doing all the work for us, no fragging clue."

A sudden scrabbling of claws over metal caught their attention and both turned toward a pile of freshly ventilated drones that nearly blocked one of the hall outlets. Blitzwing slid forward half a step, already steeling himself to attack.

"Brawn?" Two rabbit-like ears peeked over the drone at the top of the pile, the rest of Jaraxis following a second later. "Blitzwing! By the claws, I was starting to think this whole thing was a lost cause!"

"I think it came close, buddy," Brawn admitted with a relieved smile as his triple changer partner relaxed his stance. "Where are the others? And what happened to the guards?"

"They're coming," Jaraxis replied before climbing over the pile and scurrying down the other side. "We got trapped in a hall with a maintenance console in it, so Veras tried to hack the space station's control systems to take control of the drones. She couldn't quite manage it without a hardware assist, so I used the drone I was possessing to give her a hand."

Blitzwing frowned, blinking behind his visor. "Possessed a drone? Great. That's all we needed, you with the ability to seize control of mechanical things."

"It's pretty useful, though I doubt I could pull that on a thinking machine," the Tarthan replied with a smug smirk. "And don't complain. It was that plus Veras' quick programming know-how that got all these little trigger-happy bots to take one another out."

The sound of metal on metal prompted the trio to take a few steps back, however, as Windcharger's magnetic field forced the drone heap to the sides of the hall, allowing him to limp through with Veras at his side. The Occan exchanged a meaningful look with the former Decepticon in their midst, though neither greeted one another verbally.

"Guess this is where the party is, huh?" the silver minibot managed with a weak smile. He tossed the firearm he'd been carrying aside, glad to rid of it. The blasted thing was completely out of energy charges, anyway. It only took him a few seconds to note the carnage behind the drones, however. "By the Matrix! Was that Tashk? And Silth?"

Brawn looked back at the bodies in disgust. "Yeah, 'was' being the key word. Blitzwing did them in, but I carved Silth up good before he got shot in the head. Zivven's still in the station somewhere, though. We never once saw him in the middle of all this."

"Hey guys?" Jaraxis was standing alongside the prone form of Tashk. "Um, does this guy look odd to any of you? He smells really bad. Like, rotting bad! And what color is Kruxan blood?" He stole a glance at Silth. "His is purple, but ugly here is bleeding black."

Though thoroughly repulsed by the sight of the dead, Veras carefully made her way over and knelt at Tashk's side. Her owlish eyes widened as she examined the corpse, one hand hovering over the hole in the chest. Afraid to actually touch anything, she was forced to settle for pointing here and there as the rest gathered around. "He does not bleed Kruxan blood. It is some sort of foul mix of...a chemical compound, not unlike machinery fluid. The edges of the blast hole are scorched badly, yet I can still make out what may have been parts of artificial organs and...wiring? It looks much like organic material with fur grown over metal plating along here..."

"Well, Silth was a cyborg," Brawn said with a shrug. "Wouldn't shock me to know both of 'em were. That would explain why the hairball was so slagging hard to knock down."

"He's dead. It doesn't matter. Let's get Veras back to the evac ship so she can rendezvous with Ratchet at the Wayfarer and fix your virus infected crew mates," Blitzwing suggested, starting to show signs of aggravation over all the standing around going on.

"No one is going anywhere!"

The sound of doors slamming shut echoed up and down the corridors, indicating that all over the space station, exit routes were being swiftly cut off. Above the group, the ceiling speakers hissed with static, the grating voice speaking again as the metallic clanging faded away into relative silence once more.

"I once had a use for some of you, but you have invaded my space station, destroyed my drones, killed my cyborg and trashed my counterpart body! Enjoy your trip into oblivion, fools!"

Windcharger arched an optic ridge. "What in the--"

"WARNING! Self destruct sequence initiated. Starting countdown to detonation..."

As the monotone, computerized voice began counting down over the PA, Brawn sighed heavily. "Well, at least now we know what Zivven was up to all this time. Who knew the freak show knew how to speak, much less set the self destruct in this Pit hole?"

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Next chapter: Countdown to destruction!