Another asked, Mercy?

Another recited, That which is not part of the One shall become Void.

It said, We will make them part of the One.

It said, We who create life should not destroy it.

Another said, But the Experiment ...

It interjected, Will continue. Let the random factors live. They will expire soon, and cause no more damage. When they are dead, they will simply break down into raw material. The Experiment will not be harmed. To sterilise the entire Project just for this would be wasteful. Our work is not so delicate that sixty years will make a difference.

Another asked, But what if they breed?

It said, They are too few for a sustainable colony. They could not outbreed with the native dominants. They are no threat. There is room for mercy.

Another stated, They will be watched. There are ways in which our work is very delicate. If any random factor tries to upset the pattern ...

Then, it said, it will be destroyed.

 

Other Vengeance 2.0
Immediate Survival
( part one )

wayward@insecticons.com
 

Heat. Stench. Pain.

Run.

Megatron struggled to his feet, holding the arm of his chair for support. The world was invisible fire, burning his optics and coiling inside him, pounding in his head and in his chest. "Predacons!" he shouted, and found the act to be agony. "Evacuate the base - now!"

No one answered. Megatron quickly scanned the room, angry to find most of his sensors missing and his vision burning and blurred. There was a tangle of red by one computer station - Terrorsaur.

The Predacon commander stepped cautiously onto a hoverpad, unwilling to trust a jump, and went down to his air warrior. He grabbed Terrorsaur by his upper arms, dimly realised that the pteranodon's wings should have made the action impossible, and couldn't bring himself to care. What worried him more was that Terrorsaur seemed taller and heavier than he should have been. "Terrorsaur! Awaken!"

Terrorsaur's voice scraped worse than usual. "... Megatron?"

"Who else, idiot?" Still holding up the air warrior by one arm, he turned to see where the others were and found Scorponok and Waspinator unconscious on the lower level of the command deck. "Collect up Waspinator. I'll get Scorponok," he ordered.

Sight was hampered by the burning in his optics, blurred as if seeing through fluid, and then he realised he was seeing through fluid ... No time. Get Scorponok. Run. Like Terrorsaur, Scorponok was too big and too heavy, but Megatron managed to wrestle the limp form onto his hoverpad and tear out of the control room.

His sense of urgency and the pounding in his head faded somewhat in the hall, enough that Megatron took a glance back to see if Terrorsaur was following. The air warrior was, and the green and yellow figure on the hoverpad by his feet meant that he'd managed to grab Waspinator. Beyond them, the door to the control room had closed automatically.

Megatron angrily tried to blink then wipe the fluid from his optics in an attempt to clear his vision. It worked, briefly, but the pain increased and with it the fluid. Everything was wrong, seriously wrong, and he didn't have time to think because they were under attack ...

But that's not right either, is it? "Computer, are we under attack?"

"Negative."

"Stop," Megatron ordered, bringing his own hoverpad to a halt.

Terrorsaur obeyed, tried to glare, then dragged his hand across his optics before succeeding. "What 'stop'? We've got to get out of here!"

"Think! We're not under attack. The heat itself was the threat - I believe we were being affected by the proximity of the lava," said Megatron. "Outside is a volcanic plain. Evacuation isn't feasible." He switched his attention back to the base. "Computer, did the energy wave take out our climate control system?"

"Negative."

"Then why is it so hot in here?"

There was a pause. "Temperature inside the Predacon base is normal."

His internal environmental compensators were obviously malfunctioning. "Lower the temperature and scrub out the gases from the lava as much as possible without overloading the system. And increase the lights by fifty percent." Not only was his vision blurred by fluid, not only did he seem to be missing the datascreen that generally superimposed over his sight, but his vision couldn't even pierce the usual gloom of the base. The brighter lights hurt his optics, but the choice seemed to be a bit more pain or the risk of tripping in the dark.

He tried to key in an internal diagnostic, but that system wasn't working either. He couldn't properly assess his damages, only feel them. Most of it was pounding - a pounding in his head and a pounding in his chest, though the latter felt more like an overworked pump than serious damage. It was one of the two systems he could feel within himself - the other was a ventilator, and that felt like it was full of smoke. The rest of him felt like it was a bag full of semi-solid rubber. It was a distinctly unpleasant feeling.

And the heat. Heat shouldn't be like this. Heat shouldn't cling. Heat shouldn't choke. Even away from the lava, even with the base's environmental compensators working as hard as possible, it was still too hot.

With the enhanced lighting, this was the first time Megatron had a chance to really get a look at the situation. Or, more specifically, at Terrorsaur, who had lost his wings, metal, and at least thirty centimetres off his height. He only seemed taller because Megatron was shorter as well. The burns on the air warrior's face and the clear fluid that dripped from his optics did nothing to help his appearance. "We've ... been reformatted?"

"Oh, now you notice," rasped Terrorsaur. No longer fuelled by panic, the air warrior seemed on the verge of collapse. "What now?"

A long soak in a CR tank sounded good, but there were too many questions that Megatron wanted immediate answers for. "To the science lab, I think, yes. The aliens' attack has changed us, and I want to know our limitations."

The room would be crowded with the hoverpads, so they parked them in the hall outside. Terrorsaur touched his fingers to his forehead, then stared when they came back damp. "Either the humidity has jumped or I'm leaking."

"You don't appear to be damaged badly enough for that," said Megatron, hoping it was true since they all seemed to have the same problem. He couldn't identify the liquid, but he also knew that his chemoreceptors were malfunctioning. The whole base stank of lava, for one. He'd known that lava had a strong smell, he'd lived with it every day, but it had never registered as foul before.

Terrorsaur helped Megatron get Waspinator and Scorponok onto two of the work tables, then climbed up on the third himself and collapsed.

"Terrorsaur?"

"I'm still here, I only wish I was going into stasis," groaned the air warrior, lying on his front with his head pillowed on one arm. "This isn't the worst pain ever, but it's a new pain. It's like all my gyros are off but one in my midsection and it's spinning backwards and it hurts. How are you even standing up?"

Sheer force of will, but let Terrorsaur think him strong. Megatron activated the scanners above Scorponok and Waspinator. A full scan would take several minutes.

He inspected his second-in-command's face with his fingers, and was displeased to realise his tactile sensitivity had been damped. Aside from the unconsciousness and some burns on his face and hands, Scorponok seemed undamaged. The burns on his hands were a bit strange - the other three Predacons didn't have them. But then, Scorponok's hands seemed to be made of the same material as his face.

Megatron lifted one of Scorponok's hands and pried open his fist. The technician's palms and the undersides of his fingers were clean. The burns ran partway down his forearms, the material draped around them too loose to protect him from the heated air.

Megatron reached up to touch his own cheek, and found the tactile sensors in his fingers basically useless. The ones in his face worked fine, though, and screamed pain. They all had the same facial burns, it seemed.

He returned his attention to Scorponok. Scorponok's body was far too soft, but then all the Predacons were used to metal scales and hard synthleather and pseudochitin. Yielding flesh might be perfectly normal on a ... mammal, Megatron decided. Scorponok had fur, even if it was just on the top of his head and above his optics.

"This seems to be a beast-mode," said Megatron eventually. "A rather pointless one. Or our beast-modes and robot-modes were switched around so that we turn into robotic-looking animals."

Terrorsaur pushed himself up on his hands then swung his feet over the side of the table. He held out his arms and frowned as he inspected them. "We all ended up with the same form, then - we look alike as the Maximal cats. I'm not sure how all our bits fold up into these forms. Let's see. Terrorsaur - beast-mode!"

Nothing happened. The frown became a scowl. "So this is the beast-mode. Worthless. Terrorsaur - terrorise!"

Nothing happened. "Perhaps you're doing it wrong," said Megatron.

The air warrior lunged off the table to stab a finger at Megatron, but lost his balance and caught himself on the table between them, the one Scorponok was lying on. "It's transformation. There's no 'doing it wrong'. I can feel the trigger in my head, it just doesn't connect to anything. Like when you lose a limb, like ... like my wings."

Terrorsaur stepped back, then tried to step into the air. After a few attempts, he sat on his table again and levelled a black glare at Megatron. "You wanted limitations? I can't fly, either." His expression turned to one of horror. "Oh, Primus. If I hadn't felt so weak back in the control room, I'd have tried to fly, and then ... then ..."

Megatron cut the air warrior off before he could work himself into a panic. "Perhaps we've been infected with a transformation lock virus. That will be easy enough to deal with. Goodness knows we're created enough ways to do such things to the Maximals."

"How can you be so calm about this?" Terrorsaur demanded.

"These are new bodies. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing to panic about."

"We can't transform, we can't fly, and we've been significantly weakened!" Terrorsaur yelled. "The aliens probably turned us into these soft things so they can come and pick us off more easily!" Shouting turned out to be too much for him and he sagged back against his table as a coughing fit overtook him.

If it wasn't lava fumes making his head hurt, it was Terrorsaur. "Then we should remain calm so that we might fight back when they come!"

The voice of the computer interrupted the argument. "Scanning complete."

Megatron checked the screen. There were only trace amounts of metal in their bodies, and the only synthetics were their outermost layers. "By the Pit ..."

"Megatron?"

"We seem to be almost entirely organic. This is flesh."

"What? That doesn't make any sense."

The Predacon commander sighed and tore his incredulous gaze from the readouts to frown at his air warrior. "After all we've seen of the aliens' work, I should think that the complete transmutation of matter is within their power."

"So how come I can still feel my transformation triggers and stuff?" Terrorsaur demanded. "When I went from gliderjet to pteranodon, I lost the wings on my back, but I also lost the feeling of having wings on my back. Now I still feel like I've got wings on my arms. And don't tell me I'm crazy, because I've been watching you and you've been favouring your left hand."

"I have ... Hm." Megatron inspected his right hand - the one that so recently been a delivery system for reptilian teeth in crushing jaws. It had been almost a year since they'd taken on beast-modes, not nearly long enough to become so used to their forms to act as though they still wore them. They'd only worn these flesh-forms for fifteen minutes, but a reformat so soon after the last shouldn't carry any residuals. If anything, he ought to feel like his pre-beast body, and that had two hands. "This is actually reassuring," said Megatron. "Our programming wasn't updated for these new forms. The aliens could only alter our bodies, not our minds."

He turned around to check on Waspinator, to see if he could learn something from the scout that he couldn't from Scorponok, and frowned. "He's not breathing."

Terrorsaur came over and leaned over Waspinator. "That's not right. I don't know much about organic life, but he should be breathing."

"Computer, scan Waspinator for life signs."

"Predacon unit Waspinator is not in the base."

Of course. Being organic meant no energy signature. The computer recognised their voices but not their bodies, and being an insentient computer, didn't see anything odd about that. "Scan the being on this table for life signs, using the fauna of this planet as a reference point."

There was a significant pause. "Contradictory data."

"List it."

"Respiration - none. Heartbeat - none. Electroencephalic activity - none. Cellular processes - normal but increasing speed."

"No." It wasn't a screamed denial, merely a flat rejection. Terrorsaur shook his head. "Waspinator's not any more damaged than we are. He's been through worse. He'll be fine. Just drop him in the tank."

"Oh, yes, and a CR tank would know how to repair an organic being. It would take him apart if it registered his presence at all. Do you ever think or do you just make noise?" Megatron glanced towards the door. "I have some things to take care of. Remain here."

Terrorsaur arched an eyebrow at him. "Where else is there to go?"

He took one of the hoverpads because it was faster and hurt less than walking, and went to his quarters. It didn't have quite the full capabilities of the command deck, but Megatron had controls and overrides for most of the base's systems in his room. He keyed in his codes and took stock. Power levels were good - he'd made sure the base was running at full efficiency in preparation for the alien attack. Repairs would need to be made, though. The energy of the wave had wreaked havoc with most of the base's electrical systems.

"Computer, deactivate the internal security system." It wasn't programmed to attack organics, but Megatron didn't want to continue risking the possibility that it might decide to do so. "Has anyone attempted communication with the base since the energy wave struck?"

"Negative."

"Reroute the communications system so that signals going to the control room go to the lab instead." If Inferno, Tarantulas, or Blackarachnia tried to get in contact with them, he wanted to know.

The important tasks out of the way, Megatron let himself fall into a chair. He agreed with Terrorsaur's assessment - he'd known more pain, but not pain like this, made worse by altered senses and the lack of internal diagnostics.

Megatron brushed dampness from his forehead again. It seemed to only leak from his face and neck - the rest of his body appeared dry. It felt damp, though, the outer layer clinging and moving strangely, which was another worry. Internal leakage couldn't be repaired now.

So, this was organic. A condition deliberately caused by the aliens for no reason he could fathom. Destruction was always easier than alteration, so why did they waste the effort and energy? Of course, these were the beings who thought that a flying island covered in booby traps was a good idea.

He looked over at the Golden Discs, suspended in their force field. The aliens had changed them, and perhaps the secrets of total matter transmutation were hidden on their Disc.

If only his head would stop aching so he could think ...

Megatron returned to the lab, opened the door, and threw himself flat when laserfire lanced over his head. "Terrorsaur, you idiot!"

There was a clatter and footsteps and the air warrior was helping him back to his feet. "I'm jumpy, okay? You might have been an alien."

Once back on his feet, Megatron shoved Terrorsaur away. "Do I look like an alien?"

"Yes!"

"You know what I mean!" snapped Megatron. Terrorsaur. I had to be stuck with stupid, stupid Terrorsaur and not anyone useful. "I told you to stay here and I know that we don't keep guns in here!"

Terrorsaur went back to retrieve the offending weapon. It was his usual blaster, a bit too large for him now, but not so much that he couldn't wield it. "It came with me. I heard a noise, reached back automatically, and found it strapped to my back like usual."

And between my blurred vision and his long hair, I never noticed. Blast. "Why did you keep your gun when the rest of us didn't?"

"I don't know. Maybe because it's not a part of me. The rest of you had integrated weapons."

"Put it away, yes. We don't need any accidents." Before Terrorsaur could protest, Megatron held up a hand. "And before you ask, no, I don't think it would be any use against a species that can cause the complete transmutation of matter. Now, any change in the others?"

Terrorsaur reluctantly set his gun on the counter instead of returning it to its holster. "Scorponok groaned once. I tried to wake him up, but no go."

Waspinator coughed suddenly. Terrorsaur shot Megatron an I-told-you-so look and went over to tend to his partner. Not that he had any idea what that would entail now, so he just patted Waspinator's shoulder and made soothing noises. The scout struggled to turn onto his front, then coughed up a mixture of blood and a clear, yellowish fluid.

Terrorsaur snatched his hands back to avoid getting the fluids on them. "That doesn't look good."

Waspinator turned to track the voice, then saw his wingmate and shrieked. "Help! Waspinator has been kidnapped by squishies!"

Terrorsaur punched him in the arm. "It's me, you idiot!"

A brief, unbelieving pause, then, "Terror-bot!"

"I'm not sure about the 'bot' part now ..."

"Is always something," Waspinator sighed, swinging his feet off the table. His voice had lost most of its buzz, and probably would have been a croon if it wasn't currently a rasping wheeze. "Waspinator feels like slag. If others done with Waspinator, Waspinator would like to go take CR nap."

"Stay put, Waspinator. Terrorsaur, fill him in."

Megatron left his air warriors to deal with themselves, then checked the scanner readings again. Yes, there - almost all of Waspinator's readings had been zero until thirty seconds ago when they all suddenly switched on with no event to trigger it. Cellular processes had dropped back down to the computer's estimate of normal. Perhaps these forms were more resilient than they seemed. That was the first pleasant thought he'd had since he found himself in a new body.

Tired of standing, Megatron sat on Scorponok's table. He watched his two warriors, sitting on the first table, caught up in looking themselves over and poking at each other, trying to figure things out in a rather less than scientific way. The scout plucked at the green on his arm. "... Waspinator thought it was ... don't know. Fur or something."

Terrorsaur reached over and tugged a lock of Waspinator's hair. "This is fur. This stuff is something else. Here ..."

He caught Waspinator's fingers and tugged. When they started to move, Waspinator yelled and tried to shove him away, but Terrorsaur was stronger than him. "Stop struggling! I'm not going to hurt you! Look, the stuff's modular and not even really attached to you." With that, Terrorsaur yanked off Waspinator's left hand.

The outer covering, anyway. The soft green material came off, revealing a slightly smaller light brown hand with short, sharp nails underneath. "Give Waspinator's hand back!" he demanded. "Bad enough when Maximals take bits of poor Waspinator ..."

Terrorsaur ignored him, removing his own red and gray glove and slipping on his partner's green one. "See? Modular. It's a bit tight, though."

"So this is a type of light armour, not an actual part of our bodies," said Megatron. He pulled his glove off partway and twisted the fingers. There was no feeling in the substance. He took it off all the way and inspected his hand. It was dark brown with a faint sheen of damp. So, their true bodies were underneath the coverings. He pinched the skin on the back of his hand. It hurt a bit, even for a few seconds after he released his skin, but it didn't seem inclined to come off. One mystery solved - his tactile sense had been damped by the material. Without the gloves, it was about even with the level he was used to. The material was light and to the touch felt oddly soft, not like plastic sheeting, but not like anything else he was used to.

By now, Waspinator had completely forgotten his worry and was trying on Terrorsaur's gloves. "Waspinator can change colours! Whee!"

"Come on, give those back."

"So this is all removable down to the skin," said Megatron, pulling his glove back on. "I'm not sure what the point is."

"Clothing," said Terrorsaur. He eyed his gloves, but instead of putting them on, laid them aside. "It's just a decorative thing as far as I know."

Megatron raised an eyebrow. "How do you know?"

Sorted out, drained by their brief excitement, the air warriors slumped together. Terrorsaur made a face. "You know where I'm from. My formative years were full of freaks who would do any dumb thing to draw attention to themselves."

Waspinator suddenly looked up at Megatron. "So ... um ... what do Predacons do about Maximals?"

Yes, what will we do? Megatron had been quietly turning the problem over in his mind ever since he realised their predicament. If only the Predacons had been changed, the Beast Wars were over. Possibly Inferno and the spiders had remained unchanged, but that still left the Predacons outnumbered. They still had control of their base, but entire sections were useless to them because of the lava and the rest was only just tolerable. They couldn't wait out a siege.

"Maybe what happened to us happened to them," said Terrorsaur.

If so, things will be even ... maybe. Our injuries have weakened us badly. Still, that is, from the Predacon standpoint, the least devastating situation presented. "We will need to learn if they share our fate without alerting them to our condition."

In accordance with the bad luck that had cursed the day, one of the consoles chimed. Terrorsaur went over to it. "We're getting a transmission. Audio only."

Faint hope stirred in Megatron's spark. "One of ours?"

Terrorsaur shook his head. "It's on the primary Maximal frequency."

"Blast."

Wake up.

"Hm?"

Wake up, you fool!

Blackarachnia grudgingly let consciousness return. Whatever the aliens had been doing seemed to be over. The hall was quiet except for the underlying hum of machinery.

"I can't feel my legs," she grumbled. Her robot-mode legs were right where she had left them, but she couldn't feel the spider's-legs that should have been on her arms. The Maximals must have taken her apart to remove all of her weapons.

Waking up in the cargo section of the Axalon was a surprise. She'd been heading back to the stasis hold when everything went black. Did the Maximals take her weapons then just leave her in the hallway? Were they that stupid? The bigger surprise came when she reached out for the wall to help herself to her feet. She misjudged the distance and came up short because her hand was no longer an articulated claw, but something rather more delicate with five fingers. Her spider's-legs had been reduced to harmless ribbons tied around her upper arms.

Interesting. Total reformatting. I thought things felt a bit strange, she thought, followed by, I didn't think that.

I need to find Tarantulas ... thought Blackarachnia. I need ... What do I need that lunatic for? I need to get out of here!

What good will that do? If anyone can figure out what's going on, it'll be Tarantulas.

It sounded almost logical. Blackarachnia went looking for the holding cells. It was the most likely place that the Maximals had dropped Tarantulas and Inferno.

She didn't encounter any Maximals as she searched. She hoped her luck would hold.

It did. Blackarachnia found the holding cells without any trouble. Two of the cages were active, both with unconscious bodies in them - one red, one purple. They didn't look like her team mates, but Blackarachnia wasn't looking much like herself, so she decided to take the leap. "Tarantulas!" she hissed. "Inferno!"

The purple form didn't stir. The red one did, pushing itself up on its arms and shaking its head. "Blackarachnia?" The voice wasn't as deep, but there was no mistaking the resonance of it.

"Yeah, Inferno. It's me."

He was no longer damaged. When Blackarachnia had last seen him, Inferno had been in pieces. Of course, when I had last seen him, he was a big metal ant, thought Blackarachnia, followed by, When you had last seen her, you mean.

Inferno slowly got to his - her, insisted the voice - feet. "They have taken my weapons," he rumbled. Fortunately, he seemed to have forgotten just who had shot him in the first place.

"We have bigger problems."

Inferno hung his - her! snapped the voice, and Blackarachnia gave up - Inferno hung her head. "We have failed in our mission."

Blackarachnia sighed. "If you haven't noticed, we're not in our right bodies, Inferno."

The warrior finally noticed herself. Inferno frowned slightly, and while she seemed mildly surprised, she didn't appear worried. "The Royalty will know what to do. We must return to base."

Of course. Megatron could solve anything, so thought Inferno. Blackarachnia debated the merits of possibly alerting the Maximals when she deactivated the cages versus simply ditching Inferno. In the end, she found the controls and opened the cages. In this weakened form with no weapons, she wanted the warrior backing her up.

Inferno marched over to her. "We must take Tarantulas. I was sent to guard both of you."

"Forget Tarantulas. We get out of here and return with -" No, you don't forget Tarantulas. You want to get Tarantulas and take his ... hm, her body back to her lab.

She realised that Inferno was staring at her. Blackarachnia snarled. "With reinforcements. We -" Bah, as if Megatron will have any idea how to cure us. You need Tarantulas. Pick up Tarantulas' body and take it to her lab. "Tarantulas?"

"Yes," said Inferno patiently. "It was my mission to protect you and Tarantulas."

Listen to Inferno, my dear. She has the right idea.

Icy drops of suspicion were dripping down the back of Blackarachnia's neck. "... Tarantulas?"

In, heh, your flesh, said Tarantulas cheerfully. So, you'll be wanting to collect up my body now?

"Yes! Fine! Whatever! Inferno, gather up Tarantulas. We're leaving." With that, Blackarachnia stomped off. Inferno slung her burden over one shoulder and followed.

Several minutes later, Dinobot's war cry signalled the end of Blackarachnia's luck.

 

On to Immediate Survival - part two
Back to Other Vengeance 2.0
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