TFE

C17 - Rage

Copyright 2007, masterfwiffo. All rights reserved.

Jazz's optic flickered back to life, and with it brought a wave of pain to his systems. He groaned something incomprehensible out, and then tried again. His vision restored to a pleasant sight - his two closest friends smiling down on him.

"Hey guys." He said weakly. "'Sup?"

Crosswise threw her arms around him with a happy cry, nearly crushing Chris's small body in the process. Jazz attempted to return the hug, and affectionately put his hand around Chris too.

"Feeling better?" Chris said cheerfully. "If you're up to it, I brought you a bag-load of new tunes. Fortunately, the feds haven't put a hold on my card yet."

"You're the greatest, little buddy." Jazz answered, stopping to cough as his systems tried to expel dust and debris from his internals.

"I'm glad to see you're all right." Crosswise said gently. "Don't ever do that to me again."

"Believe me, if it's at all possible, I won't." Jazz answered with a laugh. He glanced around the sparse little room. "Say, where's everybody else?"

Chris and Crosswise both went silent. Jazz stared at their solemn faces for a moment, and then frowned. "Ok, spill it."

"Jazz..." Crosswise said quietly, "Something's happened..."

-----

Optimus Major stared quietly at the dim, flickering screen, unable to sort his thoughts and emotions into anything coherent. The only reoccurring themes in his processors were sorrow... and rage.

An image burned permanently into his mind - Aidia's wail as she beheld a shattered body lying there, alone and forsaken in some back-strewn alley of a world where he did not belong.

Optimus had seen the dead before. He has seen the dead many times - he was a soldier in a war that had lasted a thousand years, and he had known many that died - too many to count. Seeing one dead was never easy. But this... this was different.

He had been a young soldier, inexperienced and foolish, and he had made mistakes. But he had also been a bright beacon to his command, intelligent and resourceful - he could have been a commander some day.

He hadn't died fighting valiantly for what he believed in. He hadn't died against an army who threatened his home-world. He hadn't died to the hands of some Decepticon. He had been brutally murdered, by humans, alone and in the darkness.

Prowl was dead. His spark was destroyed. He was gone. And that was it.

"I'm sorry."

Optimus eyes went dark at the voice. Of all the voices in the universe, that was the one he did not want to hear. He refused to face Evac, who stood behind him patiently, waiting for a reply.

"I'm sorry." He repeated.

"Yeah." Optimus responded quietly. "I'm sorry too."

"We have to go back out there." Evac continued. "I can't leave her-"

"Forget it Evac. It's over." Optimus replied quietly. "We're not going out there again."

Evac glared at him. "You would abandon her-"

"If it costs me the lives of my men, she can rot for all I care!" Optimus roared. Through red optics, he saw Evac staring back at him with shock and anger at his sudden outburst, and he turned away in shame, gripping the computer console hard enough to crack it as rage flowed freely through his system.

"I'm sorry. Forgive me." Optimus said after a long moment. "Evac, you don't understand my position."

"Then help me to try." Evac said quietly.

Optimus contemplated that in silence for a long moment before speaking again. "I have commanded this ship for years now. I've lost a lot of men. Jetfire once told me that these were the hardest decisions to make. And now- I made the wrong one." He turned back toward Evac. "I'm sorry, I never should have let my men get involved. We cannot help you anymore."

Evac scowled at him for a long moment, then turned and marched out of the room. Optimus sighed, and collapsed onto what had once been the command chair, defeated. His eyes continued to peer at the dimly flickering screen, thoughts elsewhere, on one bot's shattered spark...

----

Another mind was on an another affected spark, for entirely different reasons.

Red Alert had been protecting Aidia for years, ever since he had first found her alone in the ruins of Iacon Halls, trying desperately to revive a bot that would never come back online. Since then, he had sheltered her and guided her, petitioning her to join him in Optimus's crew so that he could keep a careful eye upon her. For the longest time, he had watched her grow and mature, and yet she always had a sadness in her eyes. For a long time, Red Alert could not remember seeing her smile. Until...

He had never liked Prowl. He was young, inexperienced, and foolish, if not stupid. He had annoyed Red Alert to no end. When Aidia developed this strange, sudden fondness for him after the crash landing on Earth, Red Alert had been just as confused as Prowl had been. For a long time he had tried to come between the two, but love, if it could be called that, had a way of passing around obstacles. As Red Alert had watched from the sidelines, he had felt resentment at first - but then, a strange sense of wonder as Aidia, for the first time in his memory, had seemed truly happy.

But now she was robbed of that happiness. Huddled up into a shuddering ball in the back of her quarters, she had refused the presence of comforts of anyone. Even Red Alert. And to his spark, the sight of such sorrow was more devastating then any Decepticon weapon.

He stood alone, outside her quarters, arm's crossed against his chest, lone optic staring at the floor.

"Ain't yer fault, you know."

Red Alert glanced at Ironhide now standing next to him. "Never thought it was." He said grimly, returning his gaze to the floor.

"I know what it's like to have these regrets." Ironhide continued quietly. "Yer thinking, 'I never should have been so hard on him,' but now you don't got a chance to tell him."

"No, my friend." Red Alert answered quietly. "I'm no stranger to death. It's not his loss affecting me. It's hers."

-----

Jetfire was staring solemnly at the screen when Optimus walked in. Jetfire didn't bother to give his commander a nod, but continued his gaze at the scrolling numbers and letters in front of him.

Optimus glanced over his shoulder, and then shrugged. "Jetfire, I want the whole base locked-down. We won't get Aris back, and I'll need you to see if you can't get a decent AI workaround on the system. Get Red Alert's help, if you need it."

"So that's it then." Jetfire said quietly. "You're giving up."

Optimus whirled on him. "Don't you start on me Jetfire. We've already broken more Prime Directives then any other commander I'm aware of, and lost a man in the process. I won't make the same mistakes again."

Jetfire's response was dull. "If you say so. Commander."

Optimus glared at him for a long moment, then turned away. "Just get to work on it."

"There's something you should see first." Jetfire said, indicating his screen.

Optimus glanced at it. "And?"

"Well... it appears to be Aris's signal. Only, it's coming in at a pattern three clicks off from the norm."

Optimus paused, then rushed toward the screen, intently watching the continually scrolling numbers. "Her distress signal." He muttered. "Where's it coming from?"

Jetfire hit a button, pulling up a large map. "A warehouse, sixty or so miles from the- from where Prowl was killed."

Optimus continued to stare quietly at the map.

Jetfire continued, "Furthermore, Aris's signal seems to be slightly altered from what I would expect. Not by much- slightly longer wave-lengths - and of course, the off-pattern. Either she's got a virus or-"

"It's fake." Optimus announced. "A trap. Ignore it."

"What's a trap?" Optimus froze as again he heard Evac's harsh voice. He turned toward the Earthbound, who was staring back with cold, unforgiving eyes. "What's a trap?" Evac repeated, his optics never breaking contact with Optimus's.

"An energy signature from Aris." Jetfire spoke, to his commanders annoyance. "However, it doesn't seem to be exact-"

"They're there." Evac announced with no further provocation. "She's there. I know it."

"It's obviously a trap." Optimus growled, eying Evac warily. "You can't possibly think-"

"If it's a trap," Evac continued, "The best thing would be to spring it- and take back our friends."

"No."

"Fine, you Autobot cowards can stay here. Open a Warp gate for me and-"

"I SAID NO!" Optimus yelled, far louder than he intended. His voice echoed through the ship, repeating far into the abandoned areas. Evac stared down Optimus, the look of his face contorting to one of pure rage. Optimus steadfastly faced him, unmoving and solemn. They stood off for a long time as most of the ships other occupants clattered in. Ironhide, Red Alert, and Crosswise, escorting Jazz and with Chris perched on her shoulder, all came to Jetfire's side.

"What the blazes is going on?" Ironhide hissed at Jetfire. Jetfire leaned down, and quietly explained it all to them. Optimus felt the optics all focus in on him, and he shifted uncomfortably. "I will not allow you to go." He finally stated.

Evac scowled at him. "Oh, am I your prisoner now, that you can keep me here against my will?"

Optimus flushed, anger sending his logic circuits into turmoil. "Primus damn you Evac!" He roared, "I won't let your obsessiveness over her endanger any more lives. And that includes your own, even if I have to restrain you personally!"

"You would, if you could." Evac growled quietly. "But my friends will stand with me. Whether or not it is trap, Jazz and Crosswise will help me." He turned toward them. Crosswise glanced at Jazz, and shook her head. Evac stared at her in shock. "Crosswise- you would leave her-"

Jazz coughed, expelling more dust from his systems as he straightened up. "Evac, we care about her almost as much as you. But man, you saw what they did to me, to Prowl. What makes you think it wouldn't be one of us next? We can't just charge them, not like this."

"He's right, Evac." Chris spoke up. "I don't know what's possessed Smith to do this, but he'll stop at nothing to do what he wants. Charging in there might endanger her life, as well as ours."

Optimus turned on Evac, eyes narrowed and marched up to him. "Evac, I will not endanger any more of my men. No more rescue attempts. This conversation is over." He snapped.

Evac stared at him his eyes wide. he turned pleadingly toward Jazz and Crosswise, but no friendly eyes met his own. Desperation took over. ""You would let her die?" He cried.

"I would have had Prowl live." Optimus answered coldly.

"His death would be for nothing!" Evac roared.

"It already was for nothing!" Optimus shot back.

Evac stood, trembling with rage and anger for a long moment, his maddened optics searching pleadingly for support from any eye in the room, but finding none. He turned for one last pleading glance at Crosswise and Jazz. Crosswise shook her head again. "No, Evac. Don't. Not now." She said softly.

Evac's eyes narrowed. "It appears I have poor taste in friends." He hissed, turning on his heels and marching toward the door.

Optimus sighed and turned away. He caught the other occupants' eyes fixed on him. "What are you looking at?" He snapped. Finding no response, he headed the opposite direction out of the room. Jetfire hesitated a moment, then followed him.

Crosswise glanced at Ironhide. "Does it get this bad every time you lose a guy?" She asked quietly.

"Nope, can't say that it has." Ironhide answered. "This hit Optimus hard. We'd best leave him alone for a bit while he works things out. Evac too. They both need to be alone fer awhile." He turned, and Jazz, Crosswise and Chris followed him out.

Red Alert remained, staring intently at the door Evac had marched out of, a faraway look in his lone optic.

------

Evac stood outside the remains of the ship, staring dully at the faraway moon in the sky above. Behind him, a massive form shifted, and stared down at him.

"You are disturbed." Omega Supreme rumbled.

Evac glanced up at him, his eyes cold. "What do you want?"

Omega didn't bother to answer.

Evac turned away, resuming his gaze. Then he paused for a moment, as a thought hit him. "You!" He cried, turning back toward Omega Supreme. "You can open a warp gate and send me there!" He said excitedly. "Quickly, I'll get you the coordinates to-"

"No." Omega rumbled.

Evac halted, looking up at him pleadingly. "Omega, please... I have to rescue her. Only you can get me there. Optimus won't listen, and my friends have abandoned me. Your the only hope Michelle has-"

"No." Omega's deep voice repeated.

Evac stared at him for a long time, unprepared for a negative from his huge companion. "Can you not do it-"

"No. I will not do it."

Evac's eyes narrowed. "You too then. I should have known."

"I am here to protect you." Omegas deep voice was surprisingly soft. "Not to take orders. I do what is in your best interest."

"And what about hers!" Evac cried.

Omega didn't answer. Evac glared at him intently for a long time, then turned away. "Some help you are."

Omega glanced at him. "I cannot protect you forever, Evac. Should you go, you will be alone."

Evac ignored him, turning, and heading toward the other side of the ship, where he could be alone.

Omega's eyes followed him solemnly. "If you only knew..." He said softly.

---

Red Alert returned to Aidia's room, careful to make as little noise as possible. She was right where he had left her, huddled in the corner, alone. He reached out, hesitating for a moment, before gently reaching outward to put his one good hand on her shoulder.

"I'm here." He said quietly. "Please, let me know you'll be all right."

She withdrew from his touch, pulling away.

"Aidia, please..." He whispered. "Tell me all I've done for you hasn't been for nothing. All I ever wanted was your safety and your happiness."

She refused to answer him.

Red Alert stared helplessly at her. "Please..." He said, his voice lowering, as he again called for her with a name he hadn't used in years, since the first time he had found her. "My Child..."

No response.

Red Alerts turned away, leaving her alone once more. His eyes narrowed, and energy began to crackle from the implement that was all that remained of his left hand. "Then the die is cast."

---

Evac stared at the sky, alone with his sorrow, bitterness and rage. Omega was the last of them. Ever since his reawakening, one by one his friends had turned against him. First Hightail, then Smith, then Sideways, and then Jazz, Crosswise and Optimus. And now, even Omega Supreme had abandoned him. Why couldn't they understand? None of them, not one had bothered to give Evac's care for Michelle a second glance. They were all against him. They were all becoming enemies. The only one who had never shown any doubts was... her.

His optics closed, the thought of losing her forever becoming unbearable. Michelle had become the focal point of his life, all he had ever cared about was represented by the small human form - one now captured and held by ones he had once called friends, and now he was being held back from saving her- again by those he once called friends. It was as if the whole universe was against him.

"And if that's my fate..." He spat, his voice carrying into the wind, "Then let the Universe rise against me. I will not give up on her, no matter the cost!"

"You don't have to."

Evac whirled, and found a lone red optic staring back at him. He stared back at the Autobot for a long moment. "Red Alert?" He said in surprise. "What do you want-"

"Arm up." The veteran Autobot answered. "We're going to war."

---

"Optimus, while I understand your position, I cannot help but feel this is the wrong course of action."

Jetfire's tone was anxious, but Optimus continued to brush him off. "For the last time Jetfire, my decision is final. I won't risk anyone else for Evac's insane obsession."

"Would you give up if they had one of our men?" Jetfire asked quietly.

Optimus whirled on him, grabbing him and pulling him close. "For the last time Jetfire, this isn't the same situation. Stop trying to pretend it is, or so help me, I'll throw you in the brig for insubordination."

Jetfire glared at him for a moment, but then the anger turned to sorrow. "Optimus, you aren't yourself. Perhaps a brief rest would-"

"No, Jetfire. That is all. You are dismissed."

Jetfire continued to glare at him. "Yeah, I guess I am." He muttered. He turned and left Optimus's glowering stare. He sighed as he headed back to the main control room. He was faced now with a myriad of choices, none of which he liked. It would be a small matter to get Red Alert to declare Optimus insane, and then his command could be revoked, but Jetfire knew inside Optimus hadn't lost it entirely. The old Optimus was in there somewhere, he just needed to get it back out. On the other hand, Jetfire could disobey direct orders, but his own nature prevented him from doing that, even if the orders were unjust. For once in his life, Jetfire simply didn't know what to do. And that irritated him to no end.

He entered the main control room, and glanced at the screen, noting the fake signal from Aris was still arriving. And then his optics caught two huddled over the main control system. And from the looks of it, they were poking at the warp gate controls...

"Hey!" Jetfire cried, rushing toward them.

One turned, his one optic narrow. "Sorry old friend." He said, and then violently jammed his tipped arm into Jetfire's chest, sending a shock wave through his systems that caused Red Alert to spasm, and then black out. The Autobot Second in Command's vision faded to black around the image of Evac and Red Alert preparing to open a warp gate...

----

"They aren't going to fall for it." Duke muttered, once again peering through his binoculars. His MAESETR was settled within a small crevice, well hidden in vehicle mode between two huge stacks of construction beams.

The ambush site was perfect, a long abandoned warehouse at the edge of town, with nothing but desert in front of them, and a wall of buildings behind. The only entry way was from the desert side, with large concrete fences blocking the other access points. In the area of the warehouse itself, abandoned construction materials littered the area, marking many good places for an ambush.

But that's not where the ambush was.

The warehouse itself had been emptied, and its hanger door hastily converted to close at a moments notice. Anyone or anything who went in would not come out. And inside, his two comrades waited, with weapons fully charged, hidden in the darkness behind the various materials. It would be certain death for any who came in. Dukes job was simply to drive them in there.

Of course, that required them to show up first.

"They'll show." Fairborne's voice came over the com-link. "Smith's report said that 'Evac' one would do anything to get her back, and they said that our decoy makes a perfect replication of the signal. They'll come all right."

"And then we can shred them." Powers' voice added.

Duke sighed. Powers had been on a huge ego trip after confirming the first kill one of the alien machines, and he was eager to add another mark to the side of his machine. The notion disgusted Duke, for reasons he did not fully understand himself. Perhaps, it had to do with the pitiful wail one of the other machines had made after seeing its companion dead...

Duke shook his head, trying to clear it of that awful wail. He was under orders in a major operation. He would get his job done.

The wait crawled on. It seemed like hours. Duke couldn't help but notice how hot it was, and how uncomfortable this damn seat was. He sighed and rubbed his eyes. He looked back out, and blinked. For a moment, he swore he had seen a bright flash. He rubbed his eyes again and stared for a long moment before his eyes made out two distant clouds of dust approaching. He grabbed his binoculars for verification, then grabbed his com. "We have visuals. Get ready guys. This is it."

----

"I don't understand why you're helping me." Evac said, keeping his copter form just above Red Alert.

"Let's just say I owe them something." Red Alert answered.

"Vengeance doesn't seem quite like you." Evac said quietly.

"It's not that." Red Alerts voice was barely audible. "I saw her happiness destroyed, the only happiness I've ever seen her have. I won't let that happen again."

Evac didn't answer. The two continued on for a short time, and then both stopped and transformed.

"There's the source of the sounds." Red Alert muttered, frowning at the barren warehouse ahead. "Good place for an ambush."

Evac surveyed the grounds. "Undoubtedly a trap." He growled.

"One thing Evac." Red Alert said softly. "If they attack, you can't hold back. Doing so will only get you killed - and then it will all have been for nothing."

Evac cast a glance at him. "Very well. Let's go."

The two moved toward the warehouse carefully, both wary of the trap they knew awaited them. They reached the entry and Evac glanced inside. "I don't see anything." He muttered, looking over the stacks of boxes that waited within the cavernous entrance. Seeing nothing, he motioned at Red Alert. "I'll go in first. Watch my back."

Red Alert nodded, and Evac stepped inside. As soon as he did, there was a sudden rattle that turned into a roar, and Red Alert was forced to leap backwards as an iron wall thundered down from inside the warehouse, sealing off the entrance entirely, and trapping Evac inside.

"Evac!" Red Alert yelled, pounding on the door. But a sound behind him caught his attention, and he dove to the side as laser-fire scorched where he had been standing a moment before. Red Alert whirled, and faced down one of the human machines, all weapons pointed straight at him...

---

Evac barely had a chance to react as the iron wall closed behind him, sealing him inside darkness. It took his sensors a moment to adjust to the lack of light in the area, but as they did, all he could see were towering stacks of abandoned steel and construction. He edged up against the wall, wary of the attack he knew was to come. He heard mechanical whirring echoing through the cavernous walls, and he turned toward them, prepared for a long fight.

Suddenly, almost as one, two lasers shot from different directions at him. He dove through them and spun, cannons on his back coming to life, and whirling around to fire spastically at his unseen enemies. They hit nothing but steel. Another salvo shot at him, and Evac dodged again. Now, the rotors on his arm activated, and the helicopter blades began to spin, forming a rapidly-moving wall to protect him from the assaults. Another two blasts lanced toward him, impacting on his spinning blades and exploding harmlessly.

Evac turned, taking a moment to get a better grasp of his situation. He could hear his unseen opponents moving through the warehouse towards him, but he still could not see them. So with a cry of frustration, he opened fire again, his beams firing wildly in all directions. Though his enemies remained unharmed, one shot hit something combustible and exploded into fire that bathed the entire room in a red glow. Evac saw something moving out of the corner of his eye, and he turned on it, charging forward, his blades still spinning rapidly. The mech in front of him met his assault head on, firing a salvo of missiles and a wide laser shot. Evac slammed into him, the force of his weight throwing the smaller human machine backwards, its occupant giving a cry.

The second mech slammed into him, and they tumbled together to the ground in a flailing of mechanical limbs. Evac kicked wildly at the mech, sending it sprawling. He brought his blades up, cutting a gash in its armor, an then grabbed it, hoisting it into the air. But as he did so, his eyes focused in on its sole occupant. A young human male, who was staring back at him with a hatred far deeper than his own.

Evac could not tear his eyes from the human, and could not bring himself to make another strike. Then suddenly, he was engulfed in fire and pain as his back was split open by a rain of energy from the first mech. Evac cried out and stumbled forward, dropping the other mech. Its cannons came to life too, raking across Evac's chest and arms, his armor swelling and exploding wherever they touched. Evac gave one last cry of desperation as the energy beams continued to assail him, ripping his armor to shreds, before he collapsed into darkness...

---

Optimus Major practically tripped over Jetfire's body before he even realized his friend had been missing. He stared at Jetfire for a moment, dumbfounded, before he grabbed him and started shaking him in an attempt to revive him. "Jetfire! What in the slagging heck happened to you?" Getting no result, he turned, his deep voice bellowing throughout the ship. "Red Alert! Get in here!"

But no response met him. He turned back toward Jetfire, and then glanced up at where he had fallen. The controls for the warp gate. "Impossible," Optimus muttered. "Evac didn't know how-"

He started typing at the controls furiously, bringing up the ID code of the last person to use the machine. "Red Alert..."

"I'm going to kill them both." He hissed, and activated the controls again.

---

Red Alert found himself pinned down behind a large stack of beams, unable to move for fear of being hit. Every so often he would risk a shot or two, but the attacks seemed highly ineffective, and that irritated him to no end. One of the beams above him exploded, sending debris and several full beams cascading down on top of him. One landed squarely on his head.

"That's it, I'm done." He growled, and transformed. With a wild whoop that echoed with his siren, he shot straight out of the debris and straight into his enemy. The mech staggered away, firing wildly as Red Alert transformed and slammed his fist into it. Several more blows sent the human machine stumbling backwards, it'\s pilot cursing loudly. Red Alert brought his own guns to bear, and a solid hit to the shoulder sent the machine flying backwards.

Red Alert paused for a moment, letting his weakened systems take a brief rest. And at that moment, the warp-gate opened behind him, and a very angry Optimus charged through at him.

"What the slagging hell do you think you're doing?" Optimus demanded.

"Don't mind me." Red Alert wheezed. "I'm fine."

"Get back to base!" Optimus ordered.

"Like hell." Red Alert answered.

"Red Alert, I swear I will have you court-martialed-"

"And let Evac die?" Red Alert yelled. "Let them murder them, like they did Prowl?"

"What's Evac got to do with anything?" Optimus demanded.

"He's trapped in there." Red Alert answered, pointing in the direction of the warehouse. Optimus groaned, "Oh slagging-"

He was interrupted as the human mech clambered back to its feet, and opened fire with everything he had. Red Alert and Optimus dove back behind the shelter of the beams.

"You get back to base!" Optimus ordered, as explosions rocked the area around him. "I'll pull Evac out-"

"Like hell!" Red Alert repeated, his face flushing with anger. "I won't sit around and let another mechs happiness be ruined."

"Listen to me Red Alert, if you don't-"

"No, YOU listen. I remember a time when you wouldn't have given up, when you would have kept fighting, because you knew it was right." Red Alert paused as explosions sent more debris their way. "I'm not retreating Optimus, and neither are you. I am not about to lose another friend on my watch."

Optimus stared at him angrily and let out a cry of frustration. Then he turned. "Cover me." He ordered.

"Now that's the Optimus I know!" Red Alert smiled, and promptly dove out into the fire-fight, releasing a barrage of lasers at the human mech, who was forced to scramble out of the way. Optimus charged forward, transforming and barreling at full speed toward the warehouse, and the iron gate that held Evac within...

---

"The damn thing scratched my toy!" Powers complained, observing the deep gash that was dangerously near to his cockpit. "I say kill it now, and get it done with."

"Hold your horses Powers." Marrissa Fairborne snarled. "Smith said he wanted one of them captured. I'm pretty sure this is the one he specified."

"Who cares?" Powers sneered. "It's more dangerous alive then dead. Let's just blow it open, and sort it out later."

"Stand down Powers." Fairborne ordered. "Or, so help me, I'll see you Maesetr shut down."

"You wouldn't dare."

"Don't try me." Fairborne answered, leaning down to inspect the damaged transformer. Powers glared at her, but then paused, cocking his head. "Do you hear something?"

There was an ear-shattering rending sound as iron gave way to a moving steel wall, a massive red truck ripping through the trap that had been so carefully laid. The truck leapt into the air, flipping over into a robot that landed, and without hesitation, charged forward. Fairborne didn't have a chance to react as the Autobot leader slammed into her at full force, throwing her machine backwards. Optimus's weapon leapt into his hands, and a blast shore off one of her machine arms, exploding it at the elbow joint. Fairborne shrieked as heat from the explosion blasted her face, but she didn't have time to give another reaction before Optimus' fist sent her mech flying against the wall. Her head hit the back of her seat with such force that for a moment, everything was bright white. And then darkness.

Optimus noted with satisfaction as one of the human machines ceased to move, but then a blast tore into his arm, exploding it and throwing him off his feet. A young human voice cried, "You'll pay for that robot!" Optimus barely managed to roll himself out of the way of the second machines fist, pushing himself to his feet, and turning to face his remaining opponent.

Optimus cautiously observed the human piloting the machine, rage in the humans eyes readily apparent. "One on one," The pilot said quietly. "This should be fun!" Then with a laugh, the human launched himself at Optimus, firing all his weapons at the same time. Optimus plunged right into the explosions, feeling the heat grace his body with pain. He whirled on the mech, bringing his wounded arm around to catch it. But the mech was prepared - a blow from his laser exploded Optimus's arm further. Optimus stumbled, his right arm hanging uselessly at his side now.

The human machine came down on him, its pilot laughing with glee as it continued to let loose torrents of missiles and energy. Optimus transformed, spinning his wheels in an arc as the weapons nearly missed him. He transformed again, bringing his own weapon to bear and returning fire. The human mech ran to the side, strafing the area with its laser. Optimus dove, but the laser ripped through his leg. He gave a cry and collapsed. Then a second laser caught him straight in the chest, exploding it outwards and sending him flying backwards to the ground. Pain overwhelmed his circuits as smoke poured freely through the wound. And through the haze of his own internals vaporizing, he could see the human advancing on him...

---

Duke swore again, his blasts going wide as his persistent opponent continually dove and rolled. He had yet to score one decent hit on the mechanical being. Giving up on his lasers, he transformed his mech down into the vehicle mode, charging forward to match his rolling opponent speed. Seeing him transform, the Autobot did the same, switching into a rescue vehicle, and skidding circles around him. Duke gave chase, firing wildly but continuing to miss the alien's deft movements. Then suddenly the vehicle in front of him spun, and transformed, leaping at him with a cry. Duke skidded to a stop and changed too, just in time to be hit head on. He saw the enemy mech reach up and grab his primary laser, and rip it off if one smooth motion. Duke struggled, working the controls mainly in an attempt to throw his enemy off. The Autobot's left hand, only a spike now, began to glow as energy was pumped into it. Duke reached up and grabbed it, keeping it away from his MAESETR's delicate interior. Pods on his chest opened up revealing a few last-ditch missiles, and he fired them at point blank range, throwing the Autobot off him.

Duke brought his mech to itos feet, but found the damage had thrown off its balance, so he was having difficulty standing straight. The Autobot to seemed to have difficulty getting up, but managed to push itself to its feet, weapon drawn. Duke armed all his remaining missiles and pointed back at it. And both stood still, facing off.

Then, to his surprise, the machine spoke to him. "So, is this it? One final salvo, then we see who's left standing?"

Duke hesitated for a moment, then fired up his external speakers to respond. "It appears that way."

"All-right then." It answered, eyes narrowing. "If that's the way it's gonna be."

Duke's eyes narrowed too, but his thoughts ran contrary to his actions. For a brief moment, the picture of the wailing mech came to his eyes, and then the one who embraced it. Was that- this one? It had held her like a grieving child - was this some robot father fighting to protect his young? The thoughts shook his mind and his hands, and he could not bring himself to pull the trigger.

The robot facing him saw his hesitation, but made no move to attack. And that realization shook Duke even further.

Then soldier training took over. Duke wiped all doubts from his mind, dropping back to the base kill mode. He had orders, he would carry them out, and damn the consequences. He aimed, and fired. The machine saw and fired too. The shots raced past each other toward their targets, and then the entire area seemed to become one large ball of fire...

---

Optimus Major struggled to move, but to no avail. Pain seeped through his circuits, and it seemed as though his very spark was drained out.

"Is that all?" Powers' voice spoke, disgust and contempt drowning his words. "It's a pity you robots die so easy, or I might have a sense of satisfaction now."

Optimus stared helplessly up at his opponent, helplessness and despair filling his being.

"At least you put up a fight." The human continued to march toward him. "I'll give you that. That yellow one went down easily. And that white one - heh, he never even raised a finger."

At that, Optimus's eyes narrowed, and his fingers clenched into a fist. "How dare you..."

"You robots don't deserve to live." The human continued, oblivious to Optimus's expression. "Just like that white one. He let me kill him easily, couldn't do a thing against me. Guess he knew who was the superior being after-all. Good to find out you're all as useless and weak as him. Wiping out the rest of you will be a piece of cake." His weapons raised, aimed straight at Optimus's head. "Bye now."

A burst of energy from reserves he didn't know he had filled his systems, and Optimus launched himself at his opponent with a war cry. The human mech grabbed him, and threw him aside, but Optimus's hand grabbed on to its laser cannon, taking it off in the process. Powers let loose a salvo of missiles that ripped into Optimus's body, but he charged through the pain, rage filling every fiber of his being.

Powers yelled out in surprise and his mech stumbled backwards, and with desperation he launched everything he had. The room was lit with dozens of explosions, fire washing through the entire complex. And from the flames, the mechanical beast leapt forward. The impact of the two machines colliding ripped apart Powers' mech, its limbs flying.

Powers stared into the face of the machine, its eyes blood-red accented by the flames that surrounded him as it stared down at him. He opened his mouth to scream, and the scream never seemed to end...

---

Fairborne stirred. Heat brushed against her face, and she awoke with a start, realizing that flames seemed to engulf her entire surroundings. She grabbed her MAESETR's controls and tried to bring them to life, but to no avail. But then her eyes were drawn to the center of the room.

Surrounded by fire were the remains of Powers' machine. Hunched over it, the figure of the Autobot who had attacked her, staring at his hands, from which red liquid was dripping freely. She gasped involuntarily. The robot turned, the blood-red eyes staring straight into her soul. Then it charged, crossing the room in a few great strides. It was upon her in seconds, the hands wrapping around her cockpit and yanking the shield free, casting it aside carelessly. It glared down at her and with a voice like thunder, roared "WHERE ARE THEY!"

The sound burst her eardrums, and blood freely flowed. She stared at the monster, shaking, unable to speak Again the beast roared, "WHERE ARE THEY!", but the sound seemed faint and distant.

"Tell me now!" The robot continued, its voice seeming forever fainter. "Or I will rip you limb from limb until you talk!"

"You wouldn't." She whispered.

"I've done a lot of things I'm going to regret today," The machine hissed, reaching for her. "One more will not make a difference."

Fairborne closed her eyes, and then swiftly reached out and grabbed a lever, yanking it down. A light on her console began flashing, accompanied by a beeping she could not hear. The robot scowled at her.

"You have 30 seconds before my machine detonates, taking this warehouse with it." Fairborne said cooly. "You can kill me. Or," She then motioned toward the body of the yellow robot that still lay on the ground, "You can save your friend. Your choice."

The robot stared at her for a second, then with an angry snarl, turned and broke into a run, grabbing its fallen comrade as it retreated. As it fled, Fairborne relaxed, grabbing for her eject lever. It had been no bluff, but she knew she could escape the detonation easily enough. She pulled the lever, and shot straight up out of the machine - to get caught in the rafters, which she had entirely forgotten were there. She turned back toward her own machine in horror, just in time to see it explode.

---

Red Alert pushed himself to his feet, his joints aching. The human machine was on the ground, unmoving. Red Alert grunted, and walked over to it, his weapon drawn. He watched the cockpit grimly, where he could see the pilot stir, and look back up at him. He aimed his weapon downwards.

"This is for the happiness you stole from Aidia." He muttered. The human inside closed his eyes, and waited for the end.

But an explosion distracted Red Alert, and he turned in time to see Optimus stumble out of the warehouse, holding Evac's fallen body. All thoughts of revenge gone, Red Alert dropped his weapon and ran toward Optimus. Behind them, the warehouse collapsed in on itself, smoke and flames arching skyward. Optimus's optics turned toward Red Alert, but they seemed blank and unfocused. Red Alert knelt down looking at him quietly, and shook his head. It would take a long time to repair him. He glanced over Evac quickly, and verified his life signs as well. Both were alive. But seeing the burning warehouse behind them, he guessed he could not say as much for anyone inside.

He quickly radioed the base, a general distress call for help, and then turned back to where the human machine lay so that he could finish it off. But it was gone - it had disappeared entirely...

---

All-to-familiar darkness surrounded him for a long time. Then, the barest hint of light broke through it - then another and another, and soon the full glorious spectrum of light surrounded him, and he looked into the anxious face of Sixshot. He frowned for a moment - the scanners and data he was used to receiving failed to appear, but for a quick repair job, what could one expect?

"How do you feel, my Lord?" A familiar voice spoke.

Skywarp's face appeared in his field of vision, and beside it, the youthful Hightails'. A smile crossed his face. "I feel well." He answered, pushing himself up. "In fact," The smile deepened, "I feel it is high time for another assault."

Megatron stood, and flexed his arms. "For too long have I been without the taste of battle. And with a new goal in sight, I will be stopped by nothing." Megatron glanced throughout the room, for the first time in a long time, seeing the face's of his entire command - Demolisher, Shockwave, Cyclonus, all attentive, ready for his every whim. "Decepticons, prepare yourselves for battle!"

The rousing cheer that met his audials was music to his spark.

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