Chapter 18: The Endgame Begins


Journal of Captain Marissa Fairborn, United States Air Force
Earth Date November 28, 2012 (approx.)

History always remembers that one big battle that ends a war, or at least turns the tides so decisively that the outcome is never again in doubt from that moment forward. In truth, though, it's never that one big battle. It's the dozens or hundreds of smaller battles that come before it that set the circumstances that allow one side to go for that one big push or force them to risk that all-or-nothing gamble.

It's been over seven years now, as best as I can tell. Seven years of fighting a war on an alien world for the one in a million chance to maybe one day go home again. Hundreds of battles, some bigger, some smaller. And in a strange sort of way I have Shockwave to thank for my newfound patience. As traumatic as my second encounter with him has been for me, I never forgot what he told me. The Decepticons will lose this war, he said, not because the Autobots are the better fighters or have the bigger guns, but because they have better logistics and industrial efficiency. So in a way Optimus Prime's strategy has always been the correct one. No undue risks, no one big push, no suicidal assault. Play it safe, let the Decepticons run themselves ragged, win through attrition.

Which is just what we've been doing these past five years, though at a more accelerated pace than the one the Autobots originally operated on. After all, I don't have the kind of time that immortal machine beings do. And as amazing as it sounds, the fact that the little fleshling in their midst has – by Cybertronian definition – so little time and yet hopes against hope to achieve so much, seems to have inspired the Autobots. Sometimes I feel more like a mascot than an actual participant in this war. But if it works, I don't care. So we fight and we win. One small battle at a time. A little bit here, a little bit there, and it begins to add up.

And now it seems we're finally at the point where even the most stubborn and ideologically-blind Decepticons begin to realize that – unless something truly drastic happens and soon – they will lose this war. The coup attempts against Megatron have multiplied and he has to grow desperate by now. Small win by small win we have manoeuvred him into a place where he is now the one who has to take that big all-or-nothing gamble. Megatron needs a big victory in a big battle – both for strategic and morale reasons - otherwise he will not be Decepticon leader much longer.

Jazz has gathered the Intel, Prowl has analyzed the data, and with a little false information here and some highly visible troop movements there we will give Megatron exactly the kind of opportunity he needs. Or so he'll think. All we need now is a little luck and, of course, bait.

Optimus Prime shook his head. He had listened as Prowl, Jazz, and Marissa laid out the plan, but the moment they got to her part in it, he intervened.

"Captain Fairborn, while I admire your initiative and courage, I would never..."

Marissa interrupted him. "That's just the point, Prime! You! Would! Never! And Megatron knows that."

Taking a deep breath, she looked at the assembled Autobot officers around her, all of them dwarfing her with their presence despite her standing on top of the briefing room table in her Headmaster suit, and continued to speak.

"You've all fought in this war longer than my race has even existed. But we humans have a little bit of experience with warfare ourselves and more importantly, with a lot of different kinds of war against a lot of differently operating enemies. You have fought against the same enemy all this time. You know their tactics and strategies inside out and the reverse is just as true. You've fought against the same people on the same battlefields for eons and there is nothing either of you can do to surprise the other side anymore.

"Optimus, Megatron knows you. Probably as well as he knows himself. He knows that you would never, ever, under any circumstances expose someone under your protection in this way, especially as the entire war is very much going your way. The very thought that you might take that kind of risk just to lure him into a trap is so far out there, it will never even occur to him. Which is why it can work! He will never see it coming."

There was silence around her for a moment until a huge grey fist came down on the table beside her, hitting it with just enough restraint not to take her off her feet.

"Meat puppet's right, Prime," Grimlock growled. "Megs knows all your tricks. Won't expect this kind of trap! Especially not at this point."

"We have calculated the odds over and over, Prime," Prowl added in a much calmer manner, "You yourself said that an outsider's perspective might help us come up with new ideas and if it works, we might actually make great strides towards ending this conflict."

"From Megs' point of view this is the golden opportunity," Jazz put in his bit. "Not only will he be able to strike a decisive blow against us, he will also be able to capture that annoying little flesh creature that has eluded big bad Shockwave for nearly a Vorn now. Big morale blow against the Autobots, trumping a potential rival for Decepticon leadership, plus possible location of an energy-rich planet ripe for plunder. He'll go for it."

"And the risk to our side is acceptable, too," Prowl took up the ball once more. "If Megatron doesn't take the bait, we lose nothing. And if he suspects a trap, well, we will monitor all possible routes to the engagement zone and will be able to call for a general disengagement if things look suspicious. While a certain element of risk no doubt remains, of course, I believe the possible gains more than make up for it."

Prime carefully considered the words of all his trusted advisors, then turned to look at Ultra Magnus, his second-in-command.

"Magnus? Your thoughts?"

"We decide where, when, how, and if," Magnus simply replied. "Like Prowl said, the possible gains far outweigh the risks. If Captain Fairborn is willing to play bait, then I say we go for it."

Prime looked at her again. "You are aware of the risks, Captain," he stated.

"Of course I am, Prime. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit scared. Still, this could be one giant step on my voyage home. As much as things have been going our way lately, the odds of me living long enough to see the end of this war are still slim. Anything I can do to speed it up, I'm willing to give it a try."

After what seemed like an eternity, Prime finally nodded. She could see how it went against the grain for him, but she figured the odds of bringing that so very elusive and distant goal of putting and end to the war one giant step closer had to appeal to him as well.

"Very well, I am authorizing this mission. Grimlock, Magnus? How long will your troops need to move into position?"

"We'll want to move them in small groups, so I'd give it six solar cycles."

"I'll need about as long to set up the data trail," Jazz chipped in. "I'll also need Blaster to make sure it all looks authentic."

Optimus nodded. "I assume Wheeljack has created the necessary blueprints and outlines?"

"Sure thing," Marissa said. "And he had lots of fun doing it, I believe. Any Decepticon who picks it up will be certain that the 'Targetmaster Process' is the next big thing, despite it being completely and utterly bogus."

"Very well, I want regular updates on all preparatory work every six mega-cycles! Jazz, no data gets sent out without my final approval! Prowl, double-check everything! Then triple-check it! Magnus, make sure all participating troops get a full Energon and ammunitions load! If we're doing this, I want it done right."

"Finally," Grimlock mumbled, clearly looking forward to the big battle.

"Your squadron knows the risks, too?" Optimus asked Marissa.

"Yes, Prime. They all volunteered regardless."

After several years of being under the command of the 'Squishy' – as had become her popular nickname among squad members thanks to Swoop – as well as being the front runner for the field testing of each new generation of Headmaster technology, Maverick's Maniacs had a reputation of insanity that rivalled that of the Wreckers. Thankfully she had nowhere near the casualty numbers of the Autobots' elite Special Forces unit.

"Very well, then you all know your tasks. Primus be with us!"

Marissa nodded and jumped off the table. The preparation work would largely be done by others. Come to think of it, the actual fighting would also largely be done by others. Her job – and by extension that of her squadron – would mostly be bait. She smiled. If this was some kind of science fiction movie, she no doubt would be at the very front line of every battle, would have faced Megatron at least twice already, and would kick his skidplate but good in the big battle to come. Reality, of course, was far different. She had a small but important part to play and if it worked, and everyone else did their part, too, then...

She swallowed hard, tears coming to her eyes. If it worked, then… maybe… just maybe…

No, she resolved, clenching her fists. Not yet! It was still too soon to get her hopes up. She'd made that mistake once after the victory on Animatros and the plummet had been bad. She wouldn't put herself through that again. In six (Cybertronian) days they would go into battle. They would win.

And then... then she'd see where they stood.

Still... she couldn't quite stop herself from raising her head and looking in the general direction where Perceptor had calculated her home world probably was. No way to tell if any of the many, many stars she could see was her sun. Heck, even if they did beat the Cons completely and totally, they would still need to figure out how Shockwave's space bridge worked and where to point it. The odds were still very, very long.

Still... she looked at the sky where she believed her home was and couldn't help but imagine.

"I'm going home," she whispered, her voice full of resolve.

End chapter 18