Transformers: Legacy, Chapter Nine
Into the Spider's Lair
Oracle sat, quietly, on her berth. She didn't much feel like practice, today, so she didn't go. No message, no warning, nothing. She just didn't leave. In fact, she barely moved. She laid back down, staring at the ceiling. She couldn't even find the motivation to move. Her limbs felt leaden. She let her eyes go unfocused, and willed herself to relax, cold, metallic air sighing through her vents.
For nearly an hour, she just lay there, letting her thoughts wander aimlessly through her mind. Finally, her berth gave a soft chime. A message arrived. Fighting her excitement, she plugged in, to receive a message from – Thundercracker. She frowned, and opened it.
Waited on deck. No show? Will be there, tomorrow.
She gave a slight grunt, and closed out the message, and another message arrived immediately afterward.
Oracle, they're keeping a pretty close eye on you. Be careful. Keep in line. If you poke your head up much more, they'll take you down. I'm not sure how much longer I can cover for you, but I'll keep trying. Stick to a routine, don't push your boundaries too much.
She nodded, and tucked her head to her chest, letting another sigh course through her. Keep my head down. She nodded, to herself. I can do that.
She stood up, shaking herself out, stretching, despite the fact that her body doesn't need it. It still felt good. She paced, a few times, up and down her room. Just as she was preparing to leave, another message arrived.
I know what I told you, but I have an idea – See about taking over Starscream's Trine. I have things worked out – It should be fairly easy for you to do. Take over as Trine Leader, and knock Starscream out. If you do this, you'll be beyond Soundwave's reach. They can't touch you, if you're heading up a Trine, especially if you take it from someone as powerful and influential as Starcream. Whatever you do, don't talk to me about these messages. There are eyes and ears everywhere.
She blinked, puzzled, but a plan started forming in her mind.
She went, and sought out Thundercracker. "Sorry I wasn't around this morning. Practice anyway?" He looked at her, thoughtfully, but nodded. "Sure." He gestured toward the deck.
During practice, he was uncharacteristically quiet, going through the routines somewhat mechanically, which she simply put down to her absence, earlier. Finally, during hand to hand, she began speaking, quietly. "So. I'm going to challenge for your Trine." He seemed surprised, but not very. His response was quick, "Alright. And?" She continued both fighting and talking, turning her back toward the command tower, and Soundwave, hoping to hide the conversation from him. "I want you to make a good show, but let me win. It's going to be a tough fight, but I think I can do it." He grunted, in reply, "And why should I let you do that?" She laughed, short, sharp, "Because I'll take Starscream out of the Trine, and keep you and Skywarp. If you don't, I might need to find another Trine for Skywarp." She smirked. "Or for you." He grinned, in return, "You wouldn't."
Abruptly, she was struck by that thought, "… Maybe. We'll see. Or won't we?"
He stopped, and stood, fully, taking a step back to disengage from the fight, "Yeah. Yeah, alright. You gonna talk to Skywarp, too?"
She shook her head. "I don't trust him. He spends too much time with Soundwave."
Thundercracker glanced over her shoulder, where Soundwave and Skywarp sat, together, atop a stack of crates, near the bridge. "Yeah. I guess so. Any idea when?"
She nodded. "Soon." Then, louder, "Tomorrow morning, we'll meet here, usual time. Guess you could say I overslept today."
"Overslept?" He laughed, out loud. "I'd believe it, if you were a better liar. Don't get too lazy, huh? Else I might start beating you, out here – And then who would I learn from?" He waved, and walked off, back toward the door into the ship.
She laughed, but her eyes were set on Soundwave, who watched her, still and impassive as a statue.
The next morning, the early morning silence was shattered by the sound of six pairs of jets firing up, two Trines launching off from the Nemesis' foredeck. Three paired surges, the air crackling with the sheer power screaming across the deck. The low rumble of the catapults launching them forward. The slow, grinding hiss as they reset, hydraulic pressure building. Seconds later, three more paired surges, and the low rumble of the catapults firing them into the sky, once more.
She stood, and stretched, luxuriously, simultaneously running a systems diagnostic, and scanning the new information feed she'd received, overnight. Trines two and three were leaving to retrieve the rogue Decepticon, Airachnid, from her lair, some distance away. Despite being nearly an hour early, she stepped out onto the foredeck, her olfactory sensors taking in the scent of burnt fuel, scorched rubber screaming across metal plating; the faint, burnt scent of ionization, from the plasma-based thrusters. She began stretching, relaxing herself, according to a mental routine left over from her human days. Despite the fact that such things were unnecessary for her new body, she still took some comfort from the familiarity. A few minutes later, Thundercracker's soft voice encroached on the morning silence. "I find it odd that you do that. I have tried, but I cannot analyze a certain purpose for it. The nearest analogue is human calisthenics."
She frowned, and ended her stretching early, taking a moment to clench her fingers into a fist, and then unclench, canting her head to look at him. "Early for training?"
He canted his head, in response, in a mockery of her, "Couldn't sleep."
Her frown deepened, "Right. May as well start early."
Practice that day only ran for an hour, ending early. He was catching up to her. Had learned everything she'd taught him; But she'd been careful to keep a few specific advantages back, though he had forced her to fight at her full speed. He smiled at her, visibly about to speak, to take up their earlier conversation - And stopped, abruptly. In the distance, she heard the faint tremor of engines in afterburner. She turned to look, and saw one member of Third Trine flying back. Alone. His right wing appeared to be holed, and a thin stream of smoke trickled from a larger puncture on the left side of his fuselage. She responded first, tapping into the Nemesis' comms, "KnockOut, get up here. We have an incoming. Badly injured - Third Trine. Looks like Chaff. Trailing smoke, multiple piercing injuries." A moment later, the crisp, flat reply, "On my way."
Nearly a minute later, KnockOut walked out of the Nemesis, his lips a thin, flat line. Chaff was only another minute or so away. Thundercracker leapt off, shifting into his Jet form. Chaff was coming in exceptionally low. Thundercracker slipped in underneath him, and carefully nudged upward, lifting his listing right wing, and helping him keep enough altitude to get over the deck, and shift down. He collapsed, his body heaving, shaking with the exertion and drain of a long, injured flight. Droplets of fuel dripped from his torn left shoulder, dribbling into a little rainbow slick that trailed behind his every step. Around his neck, a fine, silver-white cord bound him, tightly. His eyes opened, dull, listless, barely clinging to consciousness, and the voice that spoke through him was not his own, "You thought you could take me back, so simply? Just tell me to come back… Or else? Or else what, little machineling." "Megatron," Thundercracker murmured into his comms, "You may wish to see this." He calmly drew his gun, and pointed it at Chaff's core. Taking a hint, Oracle slid out her blade. After a moment, she looked at Thundercracker, incredulous, "Do you see how badly wounded he is? We don't need to make it worse."
"Oracle? Meet Airachnid. Airachnid, Oracle." Despite pointing the gun, his tone was carefully polite. "Oracle," the voice hissed in response, low and sinister. It sent chills through her circuits, and she felt her fluids run cold. Chaff held out his hand with an uncharacteristic haughtiness. He smirked, sly, and edged, "If we meet again, you won't like it very much. Aren't most humans afraid of spiders?" Chaff canted his head, but there was something unsettling about the angle. She shuddered, "I wouldn't know," she remembered to reply, after a moment. Thundercracker gave her an odd look. "Of course." Chaff's laugh was cold, sharp, brittle, like broken glass. Suddenly, the laugh cut off, and Chaff went completely limp. The fine silver thread around his neck shivered, and abruptly burned itself to ashes, so hot that the heat blistered the armor of his neck, and left a rainbow sheen on the metal where it warped the surface. Megatron frowned, looking at the thin streamer of smoke sizzling from the scorch marks. "Airachnid?" Thundercracker nodded, frowning deeply. "The others?" "No mention," Thundercracker replied. He sighed, heavily.
Megatron stepped back, and tapped into the Decepticon's comms aboard the Nemesis, his voice filling the ship, "All Decepticon Seekers, prepare to move out. We pursue Airachnid."
Within ten minutes, all the Decepticon Seekers - Trines one, four, and five, Soundwave, and Megatron himself, all lined up in their groups. Soundwave stood, still and silent, beside her. "Fifth Trine, you have the honor of Vanguard. First Trine, ahead of me. Seeker Soundwave, Seeker Oracle, we will remain at the center.
He frowned, deeply, "Interrogator Airachnid is very skilled, and very powerful. We've already sent ahead the Vehicons. We'll be waiting for them to signal that they've reached the target point before launching our attack. Fifth Trine, fly carefully. She uses webs as traps and sensors both. She's going to know we're coming from the moment we get nearby. Strike hard, strike fast. Take her back alive. Fifth Trine, fly first. Decepticons, bring her down!"
Half an hour later, they abruptly tilted down, and, as if a flock of birds, sprinted downward toward the cave entrance, entering sensor range, all at once. Glistening silvery strands covered the whole area, like a massive spider's web. Several strands waved in the air like pale, silken ribbons, twisting and writhing in the wind. Soundwave twisted aside, and struck out, tentacles emerging from his fingertips, long, and slender, like whips, and neatly sliced through the waving strands near them. The strands burned away, sizzling and sparking as they drifted with the wind. Fifth Trine accelerated, and dove into the cave, weapons blasting away at something inside.
When Oracle came around the corner, she almost panic-shifted back into her robotic form. A thick cable, several strands wound together, nearly ripped her wing off. A careful jerk to the side dodged past it, and then underneath another cable, frantically swerving side to side, up, and down, to avoid the cabled traps. She saw a member of Fifth Trine, wing neatly severed from his body, grasping his injured, seeping shoulder. Beneath, the Vehicons fired upward at the anchoring clusters of silvery cables. With a heave, one cluster snapped loose, and whipped down with enough tension to shatter several large rocks, and split one Vehicon in half. More carefully, they advanced again, blowing apart chunks of rock, while the tendrils of fiber optic cable clung possessively to their rough faces. In the main chamber, she had enough room to actually turn a circle, around the edges, and do a full flip in the sheer height of the cleared space; except for the silvery tendrils which criss-crossed the open space like a spider's nest. She abruptly realized, from a sting of pain, that one of the cables had neatly trimmed off the tip of her right wing. She winced, shivering from the keen agony of the cleanly clipped wing. An angled cut snipped a little off her tail-tips, causing her flight path to waver, narrowly avoiding another cable that would have bisected her. Frantically, she fought to find enough of a gap to buy herself a moment to think.
Beside her, Soundwave easily dodged every strand, his narrower form easily dancing between the cables with practiced ease. Suddenly, he wrenched backward, and vanished from her sight, as she fought herself back to the main tunnel, where the Vehicons had made good progress clearing space. They advanced to the door to the main chamber, blasting away with precise shots at the anchors of the various lumps of cables. A cluster of cables twisted, as it fell, and tore through the back of Thundercracker's wing. Skywarp was almost constantly teleporting, attacking the ceiling of the chamber from various angles, dancing around and between cables with stutter-flashes of light. A pair of missiles leapt from underneath his wings, and twin thundering explosions dropped chunks of rock, and pillars of dust, from the ceiling. Suddenly, a tendril snapped down in front of him, and just briefly kissed across his fuselage. The metal split open like an over-pressurized can, and with a scream, Skywarp plummeted into the ground, rolling and tumbling. Starscream fought, but abruptly pulled back, barely avoiding that same tendril, as it lashed across the chamber, toward him. Oracle dove back into the fray, firing at the lumps of tendrils where they crossed or clung to the walls, attempting to fight a path through to the wounded Thundercracker.
Abruptly, Soundwave dropped into sight right behind Thundercracker, a quick whip-strike of tentacles severing a swinging tendrils, which burned and spun aside, thrashing on the ground, as it dissolved. He wrapped his hand around the broken cable, and yanked himself upward. Airachnid threw the severed cable aside, hoping to rob Soundwave of his momentum, but he was relentless. The tentacles reached from his right hand, and wrapped around one of her long, spidery limbs, as he struck forward with the other bundle. She narrowly deflected that strike with a reaching limb, turning it aside, and striking back with a thin, silvery cable. Held abruptly still, she unleashed a hail of violet pulses toward him. He twisted aside, and parts of his chest fell away, a couple of them lightly struck. Suddenly, they turned around, and began blasting away at her, shooting for the tips of her spidery limbs. Soundwave sliced into the leg he had grabbed, and whipped at her chest. She tugged one limb away from the wall, hissing at the sparking stump of the other, and deflected his attack. A moment later, however, two of her legs broke loose, and she swung precariously away from the wall. A snake-swift strike pulled another leg from the ceiling, and she began to fall. Her legs grappled onto Soundwave, and he twisted away, yanking her underneath him. They fell through a steady succession of silvery strands, which broke against her falling mass, slicing deep gouges in her armor. Finally, just before striking the ground, her momentum dissipated, she landed across a cable, and slid off of it; the friction against the razor-thin cable cut two of her spidery limbs from her back, and, finally, screaming with pain, she struck the ground, and went silent. One of Soundwave's tentacled fingers extended, and plugged into the base of her neck, salvaging memory data from her unconscious form. He stood, almost as if only just now noticing the damage Airachnid had wreaked upon them, completely unconscious of the savage cuts and slashes which marked his forearms, and the little pockmarks on his chest plating where his drones had been damaged. He calmly knelt, and pulled Airachnid over his shoulders, walking toward the cave entrance. Oracle landed next to him, switching up into her robot form. "What about the others?"
Soundwave glanced back at them, dismissively, and then kept walking, as if to say, Who?
She walked over, and pulled the injured Skywarp over her shoulder, Thundercracker limping alongside, and the Vehicons did what they could to help lift the other injured Decepticons. The other five members of the two Trines were found nearby, bound tightly in Airachnid's cables. Megatron frowned at the damage, and tapped to the Nemesis' comms, "Bring the Nemesis in closer. And tell KnockOut his services are needed groundside."
He glanced at the lined up, heavily injured bodies, and grunted in disapproval. "And we'd best pray there's no incidents with the autobots." Genesis, standing nearby, frowned, and nodded in response.