"I can't believe Wheeljack was here and you didn't tell me!" Once upon a time, Bulkhead would have found the notion of being scolded by a fleshling absurd. Once upon a time, the giant mechanical lifeform's first instinct would have been to squash the tiny insect. Once upon a time, as it turns out, was quite a long time ago. Instead, Bulkhead looked down at the tiny human with an affectionate smile on his face. Miko saw his smile, crossed her arms over her chest, and pouted. "It was just as well," Bulkhead's voice was filled with good-natured humor as he sat himself on the floor himself on the floor. "I wouldn't want you to see me getting my skid-plate handed to me by a big ugly clone of Skyquake." "Ugh. I miss everything." Miko continued to pout. Leaning against the second story guardrail in the Autobot's underground base, she still only reached up to Bulkhead's shoulder. The massive Autobot had somehow formed an odd and enduring friendship with the little human troublemaker (though why and how was anyone's guess), and they were often inseparable. "So..." Miko said, tapping her hand on the railing, "'Tell me about 'Jackie! How's he doing? Is he still awesome? Did he save you? What brought him here?" Bulkhead's warm smile instantly vanished, replaced by a dour look. "He was chasing Dreadwing." He paused, hesitant, then added, "The 'Con ... got a friend of ours - Seaspray. He'd been a Wrecker too." Miko didn't seem to notice the mood shift. "You've never mentioned him! I thought only you and Wheeljack were Wreckers? Were there others? Why don't you ever tell me about them? Tell me about the Wreckers!" Bulkhead was uncharacteristically silent in response. That finally caught Miko's attention. "Bulkhead?" She questioned, eyes firmly on her big friend. "Sorry, Miko." Bulkhead said softly. "I don't talk much about my time there, do I." "Why? "Because Miko," Bulkhead's optics gazed vacantly into the distance, "when you tell a story about the Wreckers, it rarely has a happy ending..." ***Cybertron: Many Lifetimes Ago*** "Hey Seaspray, Catch!" A moment later, an immense boulder caught the enormous blue Autobot square in the chest. He stumbled backwards, barely gripping onto the thing, before hoisting it back, and sending it spiraling to a much smaller white Autobot, who sent it back again to the big green recipient. To a casual observer, the three titans hurling the boulder would have seemed a dangerous pastime, but to three bored 'Bots in the meanest unit in the United Autobot Front, 'Lobbing' was the best way to release stress between battles. Bulkhead - big, thick, round and dark green, grabbed the ball and with a mighty heft, sent it toward Wheeljack. Almost half the size of his big buddy and cloaked in white with red and green highlights, Wheeljack returned the ball again toward Seaspray. Taller than Bulkhead by a head, Seaspray's blue and white form returned the ball, his blue visor glinting with enjoyment. All 3 continue the pattern rather aimlessly, laughing when someone missed, and laughing harder when someone got hit with the boulder hard enough to fall down. A massive hurl from Bulkhead caught Wheeljack unprepared and sent him sprawling, causing raucous laughter from all three. From the sidelines, two other Autobots watched with detached levels of bemusement. "Between you and me, Pyro, I think Lobbing is the stupidest thing ever invented." The smaller of the two glanced up at her companion. Breacher was small, with blue and white highlights in patterns that inverted the colors on Seaspray, her longtime partner. Pyro, on the other hand, was the tallest of the five by far, and wrapped in red, white and blue. His faceplate was up, as it almost always was, and he again had that distant look in his optics. "Hello?" Breacher said, elbowing him in what was actually his thigh. Pyro glanced down. "Oh, sorry. I was just contemplating the role of freedom in a sentient society." Breacher groaned. "Not this scrap again. You really need to work on your idol worship, big guy." Pyro shrugged. "It's food for thought." "No, it really isn't." Breacher muttered. "Optimus Prime says-" "HEY PYRO! HEADS UP!" Pyro barely had time to react before the boulder pegged him square in the head and sent the titan sprawling to the ground. Bulkhead, Seaspray and Wheeljack rushed over, their humor at the situation only barely being contained by their (slight) concern for their squad-mate. "He's fine." Breacher said, giving the felled Autobot a hand. "Maybe you knocked the Prime out of him." "Very funny." Pyro grumbled as he pushed himself to his feet. "It was, actually." Wheeljack said with a big grin. Even Breacher had to agree. "Are you five done horsing around?" At once, all five Autobot's snapped to attention, both fear and respect focused on the mechanoid in front of them. With one hand replaced with a spiked harpoon, and a face that wore the scars of a thousand battles, Impactor, nominal leader of the Wreckers, was not a mechanoid to be trifled with. Impactor stepped up, glaring at each of them in turn. "Now," He said grumpily, "Who wants to venture a guess as to why Ultra Magnus called us out here to the middle of slagging nowhere?" "To kick some 'Cons from here to Moon Base 1." Seaspray promptly answered, his broad smile hidden behind the heavy particle filter that always covered his face. Bulkhead and Wheeljack both started to laugh, until a glare from Impactor silenced them both. Breacher shook her head. Pyro remained perfectly stoic, as he always did. "I like your attitude." Impactor said, a quick smirk crossing his face, "But you're WRONG. We've got a job to do, a job a bunch of stuck-ups are scared of, and some don't want to do." "Oh goody," Wheeljack whispered, elbowing Bulkhead, "One of THESE assignments." Impactor continued, "We're escorting-" He couldn't get another word out before he was drowned out by a series of groans. "Escort duty?" Seaspray demanded, as Breacher growled, "You've got to be slagging with me." "It was Mathela Pass, wasn't it." Wheeljack said accusingly. "Ultra Magnus didn't like us blowing the place, so now we're getting the scrap assignments, is that it?" "With all due respect sir," Bulkhead protested, "Escort duty isn't us. We break things, not deliver them." Pyro, of course, remained stoic. But the fact that he wasn't defending the order spoke volumes. Impactor waited patiently until the grumbling died down. "You all done? Good. Now here's the part I left out. Megatron personally wants this one dead. As in, he blew up a city -state to try and make that happen. We're lucky he failed." The five Wreckers remained silent. "We're pulling out all the stops on this one. All active duty Wreckers are participating in this mission, plus anyone else crazy enough to volunteer. Ultra Magnus himself is leading a big slagging caravan to act as a decoy, while Leadfoot's taking Squad B to act as a secondary decoy. You will be taking the real thing. Magnus is expected to draw most the fire, while we already know there are Decepticon Commandos hot on Leadfoot's trail." "Whatever this 'Bot has must be really worth something." Breacher murmured. Impactor glanced over them again. "All right Wreckers, I'd like you to meet the highest profile Decepticon traitor thus far." He motioned them to turn around. It wasn't what they were expecting. "I really don't know what they're so afraid of that we have to do this." Seaspray muttered for the fourth time. "Prime's got some good guys, why don't they send them?" "Quit whining." Breacher snapped. "We do what we have to." The five Autobots had transformed into their vehicle modes and formed a convoy. Seaspray's wide and bulky form hovered a few feet off the ground while the others - Bulkhead's boxy transport, Wheeljack's sleek and slim vehicle, Breacher's small amphibious assault vehicle and Pyro's immense armored truck - formed a circle surrounding him. The convoy was making good time across the barren wasteland that bordered the immense molten body had been named the Sea of Rust. The gases rising from the heated liquid formed a red mist that stretched for miles, was both a blessing and a curse for the Wreckers - while their Convoy was well hidden, seeing attacks would be impossible. It was a long way to Iacon, following the shore of the Rust Sea through the metal mazes of the Sonic Canyons, and finally skirting the lowlands of the Maganese Mountains toward the Autobot Capitol. Despite the seeming triviality of escort duty, all 5 Wreckers were nervous about the outcome of the mission. Before he left to join Ultra Magnus, Impactor had mentioned that the Decepticon's had sent 'something new,' whatever that meant. Though used to overwhelming odds and impossible situations, driving through the mists of the Rust Sea, with the threat of Decepticon attack, or worse, Devastator Winds, set all the Wreckers on edge, though they all showed it differently. From the rear, Pyro spoke up. "It is an honor to be given such an important task. This is a chance to truly redeem one who was lost. Why, Optimus says-" A small voice from Seaspray's open-air cargo hold interrupted him with biting snap. "If you think this is in any way about redemption, you are sorely mistaken." Flamewar was small, thin, and jet black with red highlights that danced in flame-like patterns across her chassis, and her optics gleamed brilliant red. Reportedly, she had been one of Soundwave's key advisors, and when she had fled the Decepticon's, whatever information she took had sent the Decepticon Overlord Megatron into a rage not seen since Optimus Prime had taken the chance of becoming Prime from him. The Wreckers, of course, were not privy to such information, and knew only that Flamewar was carrying it. She currently lounged in the bed of Seaspray's hold, her face frozen in a look of contempt as her optics lazily watched the mists roll off the Sea of Rust. From the rear of the convoy, Pyro managed to give the impression he was staring at her. "If you do not mind me asking, why then did you leave?" "It got to the point where I hated Megatron more than the Autobots." Flamewar answered distantly. "I'm doing this to hurt him personally. Not for you, not for anyone else." Her eyes sharpened suddenly on Pyro. "Got it, 'Bot?" Pyro's response was silence. "At the moment, I'm rooting for the 'Cons on this one." Wheeljack muttered. "Easy Jackie." Bulkhead replied, "Better we get whatever she's got than Megajerk." "Did you really just say 'Megajerk'?" Seaspray asked incredulously. That sent several chuckles through the ranks of the Wreckers. "Are you going to tell jokes or get me to safety?" Flamewar called. The five Wreckers lapsed into a resentful silence, but trundled on. Winds from the mist piped up, faint howls indicating the presence of the metal mazes of the Sonic Canyons far distant. It was believed that once, many eons ago, the shores of the Rust Sea had been a place of beauty. Whether it was age, war or decadence that had turned the metalscape into a craggy wasteland was up for debate, but the current war between the Autobots and the Decepticons was hardly helping matters. Several large battles had already been fought on these shores, and if one cared to look, the rusting and ruined bodies of the victims could be seen remaining in a few crevices or in the molten shallows of the Sea. War wasn't a pretty thing, but it was certainly the Wreckers business. Up front, Wheeljack suddenly jerked to a halt. "Deceptions?" Bulkhead asked, transforming immediately, arms transforming into thick cannons and scanning the area. "Worse." Wheeljack growled. "The weathers going bad. Think we've got winds coming." All the Wreckers (excepting, of course, the ever-stoic Pyro) made audible gulps at the mention of Winds. Breacher turned toward her partner. "Seaspray, this is your home turf! Any shelter 'round here?" "Up ahead, on the right. Used to be a Lighthouse, I think." "We'll head there then." Wheeljack called back. "Seaspray, take the lead!" "Where the pit do you think we're going?" Flamewar suddenly demanded. "You can't stop now!" "Unless you want to find out why exactly those hulking brutes of yours were named after the Devastator Winds, we're finding shelter." Seaspray retorted. "Wreckers, move!" The five sped off, optics roving for the desolate tower Seaspray mentioned. The howling wind grew louder and more intense, and before long the corrosive red mists from the sea filled the air with dust and rust. Flamewar gave an indignant cry as tiny flakes of corrosive metal began to tear across the group, the winds intensity increasing in magnitudes with each passing second. "It's up here!" Seaspray called. The tower barely managed a presence against the mists being whipped about in a frenzy by the winds. Seaspray transformed as they drove up, ejecting Flamewar ungracefully to the ground, and ran toward the tower. A doorway had been carved into its side, but the door was shut, rusted tight by ages of exposure to the corrosive mists. With a grunt, Seaspray slammed his fist against it, but it didn't yield. Pyro and Bulkhead were beside him in an instant, and with a mighty shove the three immense Wreckers broke the seal and pushed the door open. The six Cybertronians pulled inside, and not a moment before the howl of the winds gave way to an enraged roar. With a grunt, the three giants pushed the heavy door back into place, darkness engulfing them all. With a quiet whir, Pyro's hand transformed and a small flicker of flame burst forth, and he gently knelt down, setting a tiny fuel cell on the ground which he then lighted. As one, the Wreckers quickly fanned out, searching the confines of the towers base for threats or opportunities. The tower may have once been many floors, but they had long since collapsed, leaving a tall, empty husk. Debris and construction were strewn about, hiding nothing but a rogue Scraplet that was quickly exterminated. Satisfied the tower was secure, the five wreckers seated themselves around the flame and relaxed, the screaming of the wind forming a symphony in the background. Flamewar stayed near the entrance, far away from the flames and the Wreckers, all of whom were happy enough to ignore her. "I've never seen anything like those winds." Pyro said quietly. "Ha! That was nothing." Seaspray chuckled. "You should see them when they get really bad." "It's not fun." Breacher interjected. "I didn't know you guys were from here." Bulkhead chuckled. That elicited another good-natured laugh from the pair. "Duh. Sea. Spray. Rust Sea? See?" Breacher groaned at the pun, then elbowed him in the gut. "Yeah, Seaspray's from around here. I'm actually from above the Maze, but since I've been with this lug so long, I've seen my fair share of the scrap around here." "Doesn't seem like a pleasant place to settle." Wheeljack said dryly. "It's got its charms." Seaspray said cheerfully. "What about you and Bulky?" "I did construction over in the Tagan Heights." Bulkhead volunteered. "I met 'Jackie there." Wheeljack nodded. "Was visiting from Tyrest. Bulk here saved me from a falling beam. I still think he's the one who knocked it off." "If I'd have wanted to off 'ya, I wouldn't have missed." Bulkhead chuckled, playful socking the smaller Autobot in the shoulder. Wheeljack pitched forward enough to get another round of raucous laughter from everyone. "How 'bout you Pyro?" Bulkhead queried the stoic Autobot. Pyro began to answer, but Breacher cut him off. "Lemee guess, Iacon, Hall of Records, then the chamber of Primus himself, right?" That got another burst of laughter from all but Pyro, who was staring quietly at the flame. Breacher was the first to notice that his look was grim, even for him. "Pyro?" His answer was soft. "Praxus." The other four Wrecker's exchanged knowing glances. Praxus had been leveled early on by Decepticon forces. Bulkhead's had landed on his shoulder knowingly. "Sorry, man. Were you there when-?" "Yes. That's why I'm here now." "Was that before or after you started worshiping upon the altar of Optimus Prime?" The Wreckers heads all snapped up as Flamewar pushed herself up and forward, glaring at Pyro. Pyro, rare emotion registering on his face, attempted to keep his response measured. "No, I joined the Autobots after Praxus fell. Optimus Prime saved my life later." Flamewar sniffed, and muttered something about "typical Autobot hero worship." But the Wreckers all heard Pyro's next, quiet words. "At Simanzi." A hush fell over the assembled Wreckers at that name. None could manage a word, other than a quiet "Damn" from Wheeljack. Flamewar, however laughed. "Oh, is that all it takes to send a Bot over the edge? Can't handle a little bit of the cost of war, big guy? No wonder you joined the Autobot Suicide Squad." Wheeljack was on his feet, swords almost immediately unsheathed. "Watch it, Con." he snarled, a storm raging on his his face. "I lost friends at Simanzi." "Oh boo slagg'n hoo." Flamewar snorted. "Simanzi was a waste of a good weapon. If Megatron had listened to me, we'd have dropped the Crucible in Iacon and ended the war right then and there. Too bad he wasted it on a thousand useless grunts. It wasn't Wheeljack who moved next - it was Pyro, who was on his feet, rage filling his spark to the brim. With a strangled cry, he charged forward, fist clenched and arms raised, but Bulkhead and Seaspray leapt up, grabbing the larger warrior by his arms and holding him back. "You better shut up, Con." Wheeljack hissed, his voice filled with loathing. "Or what?" Flamewar mockingly. "You'll kill me? Trust me, you'd be doing Megatron the biggest favor he's ever asked for. You saps think only the Autobot's have problems?" "We didn't murder millions!" Seaspray yelled, still holding back Pyro's efforts to charge. "You've done enough." Breacher threatened, rising to her feet, her hand transforming into her weapon. "So I suggest you back off." Bulkhead finished. Flamewar didn't seem impressed, but to her credit, she didn't say anything further, retreating back away from the light of the small lamp. Pyro remained on his feet, still poised for attack, flames casting shadows across his body. "Easy buddy." Bulkhead said at his side, relaxing his grip slightly. A soft smile crossed his face. "What would Optimus Prime think?" That got through to him. Pyro almost collapsed back to a sitting position, then buried his face in his hands, saying nothing. The other four Wreckers glanced at each other, but none offered to speak again. The conversation was well over. The three stood atop a mesa, red eyes staring out into the boiling turbulent winds that could be seen in the distance. One sat crouched, his hands flatly on the ground. Another paced, long arms clasped tightly behind his back. The third stood erect his clawed hand to his head, talons pressed through the metal tendrils that hung from his temples, listening. He cocked his head. "Dirtbag reports that the second group does not have her. She must be with this group. The second group sent someone to warn them - we should greet him accordingly." The squatting ones dog-like face twisted into a terrifying smile, and he leapt of the cliff, his comrades following in hot pursuit... The cacophony of the winds finally died down, allowing the convoy to leave the tower and continue on their way. Flamewar still lounged in the bed of Seaspray's alt mode, eyes glaring hatefully at the Autobots that accompanied her. Wheeljack took point, speeding ahead in a not-so-subtle attempt to put distance between himself and the Decepticon, while Bulkhead and Breacher drove alongside. Pyro brought up the rear, but it didn't take long for his companions to note how far behind he was falling. Bulkhead briefly radioed Wheeljack to pull back, then both he and Breacher dropped their speed, falling back to pace with the largest of the 'Bots. "You ok, big guy?" Breacher asked softly. Pyro didn't answer. "Don't let her get to you." Bulkhead stated firmly. "She's a jerk. We'll be rid of her soon enough." "It isn't that." Pyro answered, his voice strained. "Back there, in the Lighthouse... I was going to kill her. I was ready to extinguish her spark." "And not a one of use would have blamed you." Breacher answered. "I would have blamed me." Pyro snapped. "I was ready to violate everything I believe in, right then and there. Every ideal I ever held, I would have traded it all in for a chance to rip out her beating spark. And... I hate myself for it." Neither Breacher or Bulkhead could bring themselves to answer. Pyro continued, his voice strained, "Ever since Simanzi... I wanted to be like Optimus Prime. I've done everything I could - I've studied, I've trained, I've memorized, I've followed... But now, what would he think of me?" "Even a Prime has bad days." Bulkhead answered. "Look, I know you respect him - heck, I respect him. If I wasn't in the Wreckers, I'd love nothing more than to serve alongside Optimus Prime. But Pyro, you ain't Optimus Prime. You don't have to be." "And that's ok." Breacher continued. "You're a valiant and noble warrior. That's all you have to be." Pyro's silence indicated that he didn't buy it, but he sped up slightly, and they rejoined the convoy, driving up and alongside Seaspray under Flamewar's hateful glare. The group continued to track the shores of the Rust Sea for some time. The empty metal plains began to be dotted with odd steel formations and fortifications, towering mesas and twisted spires stretching up toward the sky. On the horizon, they faint outline of the rising Maganese Mountains could just be made out through the thinning red mists, and below that, the former fortifications that made up the Sonic Canyons. It was shortly after they came into view that Wheeljack came to a sudden, screeching halt. Flamewar yelled in protest, and peeked over the edge to where the other Wreckers were gathering, all but Seaspray transforming. "Sweet Primus..." Pyro whispered. They were staring at what had recently been an Autobot. What was left was a shredded, twisted tangled of limbs, and a detached head, face formed into a twisted, agonized scream. Through the center torso was a long pike that had been doused with Energon and lighted, forming a small flame over the body. Breacher looked pale. "I think that is... was... Blocker." "What's left of him." Bulkhead growled. "Who could have done this? Even Insecticons don't... do this." Pyro leaned in closer, brow furrowed. "The arrangement of the limbs... do they look like letters to anyone else?" "Yeah." Wheeljack growled. "They say 'war'." He cast a look at the letters, then at the flickering fire of the torch, before turning a meaningful glare toward Flamewar. The Decepticon stared wide eyed at the body, and began to quake. With a sudden scream, she pushed herself away from the edge of Seaspray's bed, and as far back into the corner as she could manage. "Get out of here!" She screeched, panic ripping through her voice. "Go leave, hurry!" Wheeljack whirled on her. "What do you know, Decepticon?" He spat out the final word. "They shouldn't be ready." Flamewar said, her lips trembling. "Shockwave couldn't have finished them on his own. Could he? No, he couldn't!" "What are you blabbering about?" Seaspray demanded. "He sent them..." Flamewar gasped, not as an answer to his question, but in a strange, almost sorrowful resignation. "They shouldn't be ready..." "I think we should go..." Breacher said suddenly, transforming. "Yeah, I think you're right." Bulkhead did likewise, and the Convoy started off, much more harried this time. All the while, Flamewar's eyes searched the horizon, wide in terror. "You going to enlighten us?" Wheeljack demanded. "He sent the Dreads..." Flamewar moaned. "You should leave me, you might have a chance. I'm done for..." "The Dreads?" Bulkhead demanded. "What the slaggin heck are Dreads?" "Prototypes. Monsters. Demons!" "Whatever it is, we can take 'em." Seaspray boasted, weapons flipping out of his altmode. Breacher, Bulkhead and Pyro followed suite, cannons all unfolding from panels on their forms. "It doesn't matter." Flamewar snapped. "They'll kill me all the same. I'm a dead 'bot walking. Don't you simpletons get it? The Dreads... they were our answer to units like yours!" Pyro spoke up. "What do you mean?" "We took them, Hatchet, Crowbar and Crankcase, and changed them, ripped them apart and put them back together. We disabled pain, fear, inhibitions... turned them into monsters that won't stop, cannot stop until they are dead! They'll kill me, and it doesn't matter if you hurt them or not, they'll keep going as long as their spark beats." "They're why you left." Pyro said, traces of accusation in his voice. Flamewar laughed bitterly. "No, I helped create them! That's what I've done, design weapons to kill. You were at Simanzi? I did that. The Crucible was my design. I've designed more - the Spark Extractor, the Immobilizer... Even Shockwave's stuff is lightweight by comparison. And that's why Megatron wants me dead. I wouldn't implement his failsafes, I wouldn't follow his orders to make them less dangerous! I was frightening even to Megatron!" Her laughs escalated into hysterics. "And now he set my own hounds loose against me! They'll kill me, they'll kill us all! Autobot fools, are you ready to die?" "Shut up!" Bulkhead roared suddenly. "You should leave me." Flamewar practically pleaded, eyes sincere for the first time. "Leave me to my fate." Breacher barked a short laugh. "As tempting as that offer is, we're sticking with it." It was Pyro who spoke up next. "We were given a charge, and we shall complete that charge even if it risks our lives." Flamewar's sole answer was a long, crazed laugh that quickly subsided into nervous, bitter chuckles as a strange howl echoed across the wind, followed closely by a second. "Everyone keep an eye out!" Wheeljack called. "My scanners aren't working, but I'm betting that was then!" "Form up around me and increase speed!" Seaspray called, weapons scanning the horizon. "If we can make it to the Canyons, we'll have a good fighting position." The group tightened, speeding through the dusts and mists, weapons scanning nervously, for contacts approaching from the sides. But the attack came first from above. As the group passed between two tall spires, a sudden roar of engined ignited above them, and a pair of identical, angular but wide pitch-black hover vehicles shot off the top of the towers landing with a thud and a cloud of dust on either side of Pyro. As one, the two slammed into the Autobot. His vehicle mode buckled and he transformed, thrown forward by his own momentum as the two Dreads raced on. Pyro attempted to push himself up, and was promptly flattened as a third vehicle identical to the first two ran straight over him in its rush to catch up. Flamewar gave a strangled cry at their sudden appearance. Breacher saw them, and transformed, throwing herself into the air and landing in Seaspray's trunk, pushing Flamewar behind herself as she transformers her arm into her gun and opened fire on their pursuers. In response, one of the three transformed, and Breacher couldn't help but stare. The creature was unlike any Cybertronian she'd ever seen, gangly and spiky with massive fangs dripping from an oversized mouth, and exceedingly long tendrils flapping out from behind it. It simply ran, it's speed actually increasing in its bipedal form over its blocky vehicle mode. It's arm morphed into a cannon as it ran, and it began returning fire between its long strides. Breacher ducked behind the walls of Seaspray's bed, answering shots as best she could. Another of the two transformed, looking much like the first but with larger fangs and shorter head-tendrils, and elongated and sharpened claws on its fingers. Wheeljack and Bulkhead came around suddenly, driving straight toward the monstrosities, and slamming front-end-first into the two of them, all four becoming a tangle of robot parts as the two Wreckers Transformed. The third and final Dread leapt over them, transforming into a bulky form completely unlike the others - four-legged, bestial and fierce, a spiky mane on its neck. The four legged beasts great leaping strides pushed it closer and closer toward Seaspray and his passengers. "Do these things have a weakness?" Breacher demanded as she opened fire, the beast coming closer with each bound. "No." Flamewar answered, eyes staring in terrified admiration at the form. "Hatchet is more beautiful in motion than I ever imagined..." Hatchet's leaping strides caught him close as he continued to deftly doge Breachers shots. Then with a massive leap, he threw himself into the air - sailing straight over Seaspray and crashing into a landing. The Autobot attempted to veer away, but Hatchet rose up, clawed forelimbs reaching up and tearing gashes into Seaspray's side. The hover-vehicle Autobot spun out of control, ejecting his passengers from his bed as he crashed cockpit first into a rocky outcropping. Flamewar rolled on the ground, and didn't have a chance to get to her feet before Hatchet leapt on her, massive fangs snapping at her throat. But before the jaws could connect, Breacher tackled the much larger Decepticon, grabbing onto his bulk and desperately firing her small guns into his side. Hatchet gave a scream that was more than a bestial howl, and began attempting to buck her off. Breacher managed a whoop as she held on, allowing Flamewar to scramble away and transform into her own, small, two-wheeled vehicle mode and race off toward the canyons. Hatchet stumbled in his frenzy to get the small Autobot off his back, and pitched forward, throwing Breacher clear. She landed flat on her back and groaned, as four more Transformers raced past her after Flamewar, the two remaining Dreads on foot, and Bulkhead and Wheeljack close behind. Breacher didn't have a chance to call out after them, as Hatchet shifted his focus to her, and attacked again... "Flamewar's heading for the Sonic Canyons!" Bulkhead cried suddenly. Indeed, the Decepticon had made a sudden turn, heading straight for the looming metal cliff faces that indicated the maze of the Sonic Canyons. Wheeljack activated his com, "Flamewar, don't! They'll trap you in there-" If the Decepticon had heard them, she paid no attention. Her small form raced into the canyons, Crankcase and Crowbar hot in pursuit. Wheeljack and Bulkhead formed into a line as they headed in after them. The Sonic Canyons weren't made by Cybertronians, as far as anyone could tell, but neither were they natural formations. Solid steel walls shot straight up, forming a curving maze that spread out in chaotic patterns. Debris lined the walls of the canyons from battle previously fought - and from the Devastator Winds that gathered speed from the neighboring Maganese Mountains through the maze. It took all the speed of the two Wreckers to keep Flamewar and her pursuers in sight. "Wheeljack, you got a map?" "Already on it. Flamewar, can you hear me? We need to get your out of the maze. And unless you want to die here, I expect you to listen. Keep making left turns - it'll take you to an exit on the Rust Sea's side of the Canyons. Seaspray, Breacher, Pyro, you guys need to get there ASAP." "Little busy!" Breacher's voice protested, overlapping with Pyro's "Affirmative." "And what'll we do?" Bulkhead asked. "Try to keep her from dying before she gets there." Wheeljack answered, increasing speed. Bulkhead followed suit, flipping his weapons out of vehicle mode. As soon as the two Dread's came in sight, both still running in robot mode, he open fired, smashing on in the leg. The Dread stumbled and spun, but managed somehow to keep moving. With a grunt, his arms reached out, grabbing hold of the debris lining the Canyon walls, and with one fluid motion, he spun about, throwing it behind him at the Wreckers. Wheeljack and Bulkhead swerved, and Wheeljack took point, firing with small cannons of his own as the second Dread joined the battle. The long-tendriled one morphed his arm into a cannon, and shot backwards as the other continued to throw debris. Wheeljack took a hit on the side, and Bulkhead charged forward, his armored form absorbing the blasts with little damage. The Dreads kept up the rear-facing assault for a few moments as the two Wreckers drew ever closer. Then with a shout that was more of a roar, the shorter-tendriled one's arm turned into a missile launcher, and let loose with two shots - not aimed at the Wreckers, but at the canyon walls. The explosions echoed through the Sonic Canyons as the walls gave in, collapsing down atop the two Wreckers. They barely managed to transform before they were half-buried under the rubble. Bulkhead glanced warily at Wheeljack, and groaned out "Aw, Scrap." "Tell me about it." Wheeljack muttered, as he began to work himself free. Breacher kicked Hatchet as hard as she could, but the quadrupedal Transformer didn't seem to notice her blows. His jaw closed around her left arm, and with a sickening crush, severed it entirely. She gave a strangled cry, and attempted to drag herself away as the Decepticon began tearing apart the dismembered limb. It was to that strangled cry that Seaspray awoke. He groaned and look up, taking a moment to figure out where he was, what had happened, and why his leg hurt so damn much. As it came rushing back to him, he realized that Hatchet's attack on his vehicle mode had shredded the part that turned into his left leg, and that had sent him out of control, when he had hit the outcropping, which meant- Breacher's scream interrupted his train of thought and replaced all his concerns entirely. Hatchet pounced, massive jaws grabbing Breacher by the midsection and shaking her about as she futilely pounded on his head with her remaining arm. Hatchet threw her body to the ground, and lunged for her neck and a killing blow. It was then that Seaspray managed to get hold of his gun and fire. The tethered harpoon lanced out from his cannon and speared Hatchet through the lower jaw. With a groan, Seaspray grabbed the tether and yanked with all his might. With a yelp, Hatchet was pulled off of Breacher. "Got you, beast!" Seaspray whooped. But then Hatchet pulled back. The monster got two his four limbs and started pulling, straining against the harpoon firmly anchored in his head, trying to get toward Breacher to finish her off. Seaspray pulled as hard as he could, but Hatchet resisted, each step brining him closer. Breacher looked up at her partner weakly, then grinned. "Give him slack!" She called. "You kidding?" Seaspray demanded, straining with all his might. "Shut up and do it!" Seaspray obeyed, and as soon as the tether slackened, Hatchet leapt. Instinctively Seaspray yanked back and Hatchet was drawn back on his hind legs for a moment as he strained against it. Then, with a wild yell, Breacher transformed her remaining arm into it's cannon form, and shoved the blaster straight into Hatchet's open mouth. EIght shots went off before the blasts finally tore through Hatchets body, and the beast collapsed, it's red eyes flickering out of existence. "Let's not do that again." Seaspray said weakly. Breacher didn't answer, and it took Seaspray a moment to realize she wasn't moving at all. Flamewar's wheels took her faster than she had ever moved before, careening around the edges of the Sonic Canyons and dodging debris where it lay. But Crankcase and Crowbar dogged her, ever creeping closer. Occasional blasts rocked the Canyons around her, but panic and desperation drove her on. She only barely remembered to follow Wheeljack's instructions as the Canyon walls seemed to close in on her as her pursuers gained... Then she burst free of the oppressive canyons, her engine roaring in triumph as she prepared to take off at full speed, fleeing as far and as fast as she could. But she never got the chance to even begin acceleration. A burst of gunfire tore through her back wheel, sending her swerving. A second explosion blew her off balance, and Flamewar found herself tumbling out of control, transforming into robot mode before landing in a heap on the barren steel of the wastelands. Flamewar groaned, staring up as Crowbar and Crankcase advanced on her, misshapen mouths twisted into sinister grins. She weakly pushed herself to her feet and with weaken breath, yelled out, "Stop!" Crankcase and Crowbar paid her words no mind, tearing free short-handled morning stars from slots on their backs, the spiked weapons dripping spilt Energon from their own carriers. Flamewar drew back. "Stop!" She repeated, desperation in her voice. "I am your creator! I gave you life! You must obey me!" The two Dreads stopped for a moment, then both began laughing, their cackling sinister and deranged. "Oh yes, you created us all right." Crowbar snarled. "And we remember every painful moment of it." "If Megatron hadn't ordered us to kill you, we would have done it anyway." Crankcase added as he advanced. "I only regret that we can't make you suffer enough." He drew back his weapon for a fatal blow - then froze as an immense vehicle hurtling at full speed bore down on him with a roar. Pyro was on them seemingly out of nowhere, transforming and hurtling himself into the two Dreads, grabbing both of them around the waist as he transformed, and throwing them aside. His hand transformed, and a gush of flame spread out from it, cutting a line between Flamewar, and himself and the Dreads. He yelled out a command to run as he turned facing his two opponents. "You shall not take her this day." He announced, his booming voice sounding far braver than he felt. "Freedom is the right of all Sentient beings, and you shall not take that!" "Did you hear that Crowbar?" The Dread with the larger fangs chuckled, "This bot thinks he's Optimus Prime!" "I did indeed, Crankcase." Crowbar answered, his long head tendrils whipping about in a frenzy. "But I suspect he'll be a poor warm up for the real thing." Pyro faced them warily. "I may not be Optimus Prime, but I will give my life to stop you." Both Dread's took that as invitation, and leapt as one upon their larger opponent. Pyro swung his fist, catching Crankcase in the chest, as Crowbar attempted to streak after him, in pursuit of the fleeing Flamewar. Pyro grabbed his head-tendrils, and yanked him back, sending him sprawling. Crankcase took the opportunity to attack again, leaping onto the large Autobots back, large claws on his hands seeking deep into the Wrecker's armor. Pyro gave a cry and twisted about, grabbing Crankcase by the head and pulling as hard as he could. Crankcase's claws tore through the mesh with a sickening shriek, but it gave Pyro the leverage to throw Crankcase to the ground. Before he could act, Crowbar was on him again, followed quickly by his fellow Dread. Pyro grabbed one by the leg and cast him off, only to have the Dread latch onto him again. The two ripped and tore with their bare hands as Pyro flailed about, trying desperately to get them off. Crankcase's claws tore into his faceplate and pried it off with a shrieking rend of metal as Crowbar tore into his torso and hips. With a cry, Pyro's left leg gave way under the assault, and the Autobot pitched forward. Crowbars hand transformed into a gun, and he shoved the weapon into Pyro's side, and fired repeatedly. With a scream of pain as his inside began to burn, Pyro went down. Crowbar glanced at his companion. "After her. I will finish this one." Crankcase nodded, and transformed, his vehicle speeding away to catch their target. Crowbar pushed Pyro onto his back, and planted a foot triumphantly on the Autobot's chest. "If Optimus Prime were twice the warrior you are, we would have an easy time with him." He laughed, and leaned down, clawed hand. "But you are not Optimus Prime." He hissed. "Optimus Prime would not die so easy." His spark fading, Pyro nonetheless managed to speak. "Optimus Prime wouldn't do this either." With a last burst of energy, Pyro grabbed the Decepticon in a tight embrace, transformed his hand into its flamethrower mode, and shot fire straight up through Crowbars interior, scorching both the Decepticon and the Autobot. Crowbar gave a howling scream as he began to burn from the inside out, flames consuming his spark and all within. After a moment, he ceased to move, nothing more than a charred husk. Pyro shoved the body aside and fell backwards with a final groan. His chest and arms charred by his own flames, his eyes faded to black. Flamewar ran, but with her leg damaged from the Dread's she made very poor speed. It did not take long at all for her creation to catch up with her. Transforming as he closed in on her, Crankcase whipped a clawed arm out and sliced through her already damaged leg. Flamewar fell with a cry, rolling to her back, but even as she did, her arms transformed into small cannons and opened fire. The blasts impacted Crankcase in the chest and shoulder, but didn't even slow down the Dread. He grabbed one of the gun arms and twisted, bending it backwards with a horrible screech. Flamewar kept firing with the other, but it did her little good as the claws sheared that arm away at the shoulder. Disarmed and defeated, Flamewar collapsed backwards with a moan. Crankcase chuckled evilly, drawing the morning star forth. "It's such a pity I can't make you suffer longer." He growled. He raised the spiked end of the weapon, and with all his strength, drove it straight through the chest of his creator. Flamewar let loose an agonized scream as the weapon pierced through her vital circuitry. "You feel that?" Crankcase hissed, twisting the weapon inside her, forcing out another scream. "That wasn't even close to the pain we endured." "And it won't be close to the pain you'll endure right now!" Crankcase whirled as Bulkhead and Wheeljack shot forward, transforming and opening fire as they charged. Crankcase dodged the shots and returned fire, backing up. "You're too late Autobots!" He yelled. "Her spark is already mine!" He whirled and transformed, fleeing into the distance as the two Wreckers kept a stream of shots aimed at his retreating form. Bulkhead gave up shooting first and hurried to Flamewar's side. "We'll get you help." He said quickly, "Just tell me what you need." "It's too late... Autobot." Flamewar wheezed, her eye's flickering. "Megatron... got what he... wanted... today. But so... did you..." "What do you mean?" Wheeljack asked coldly. "Ultra Magnus... and Leadfoot... have copies of the data... All my weapons... in Autobot hands..." Bulkhead stood up, backing away suddenly. "We were the bait." He said quietly. "We were the diversion..." "You're not as... dumb as you look..." Flamewar's eyes flickered out, and she managed a final wheeze, "Take that, Megatron... This what you... get for... crossing..." Her spark faded out of existence, and Flamewar ceased to be. Wheeljack stood staring glumly at the carcass, as Bulkhead stepped forward and gingerly collected it up. The two slowly headed back to where they had seen Pyro's and the Dread's remains. As they approached Pyro's unmoving form, they saw another shape heading toward them - Seaspray, dragging one leg and carrying Breacher ever so gently. Breacher looked up and waved weakly at them as they approached. "So," She asked softly, "Did we win?" Wheeljack glanced down at Pyro's body, at Flamewars corpse, at the burned Dread and at Breacher and Seaspray's injuries, and shook his head. "I don't think anyone won today." He said bitterly. "Hatchet... Crowbar... come in!" Crankcase growled. His comm remained silent, mocking him. "Scrap," he swore, turning away. He was one of a kind now. He didn't much care for his comrades, but they were better then nothing. But now they were nothing, Crankcase thought ironically. He shrugged and turned away. There would be more work to do, more people to kill - he liked that part the best. The killing. Seeing Flamewar in agony had been immensely satisfying. He turned, ready to head back for Kaon, when his leg suddenly exploded. He went down, grunting and whirling to face his assailant. Marching toward him were three Autobots - one stocky, old with rusted red paint showing around his thick body, and two thinner green ones that could have been twins. The stocky one stepped forward. "So you're the one." He grunted. "We saw what you did to poor Blocker, and we ain't happy 'bout it. Right guys?" The twins nodded, and one slammed his fist into his palm. "Now, Decepticon, you're gonna see how Leadfoot dispenses justice. Wreckers - tear him apart." They did. Crankcases last thought was about the irony of it all. Breacher had never been quite the same after that mission. The brush with death mellowed her (and by proxy, Seaspray) greatly. Both left the Wrecker's behind shortly afterwards. He hadn't realized it at the time, but Bulkhead knew now it was also the beginning of the end of his time with the Wreckers. Though he had suffered through many missions that were worse, he could recall few that were as horrible. Using a traitor as a live decoy, and what Leadfoot had been accused of doing to the surviving Dread after, just never sat right with him. After Impactor, Rotorstorm and others had died - never mind what happened to poor Rack N' Ruin - it had been too much for him to take, and he had joined Optimus Prime. And that had lead him here, to Earth... "Bulkhead?" Miko called, looking up at him. "You ok big guy?" Bulkhead started. "Huh? Yeah, of course. Was just thinking... about a story without a happy ending." "Want to talk about it?" Miko asked, failing to hide her eagerness. Bulkhead smiled sadly. "No Miko, not today. Maybe... some other time."