"Well, there they are." It was, perhaps, the most unnecessary statement ever uttered on the bridge of the Autobot freighter Starwalker. On the other hand, the resigned note in the voice of the captain also told he didn't much give a damn whether it was necessary or not. The gray and slate colored Autobot was named Harbor. He'd been a part of the Autobot Space Force since coming online, before the outbreak of hostilities with the Decepticons. As a result, he'd been around the block - to steal an expression from the Humans - and he knew all too well what the angry red dot on his ship's plot represented. "Can CIC confirm it's identity?" Harbor asked, turning towards the brightly colored yellow and white tactical bot. "Negative Captain." The tactical bot replied with a frown as his optics scanned his monitor's data. "They're emitting a hodgepodge of varying signals - CIC can't confirm which ones are dummies and which ones are legitimate at this time." That monitor, Harbor thought with a wiry grin, was probably the least useful thing for a spaceship filled with robotic life forms. Throughout his entire existence, he never understood why ships on both sides of the current conflict incorporated mundane things such as windows and computer monitors. Or for that matter, monitors on any scale - robotic beings with the ability to plug themselves in to adaptive ports shouldn't have need for monitors at all! Harbor shook himself and forced his gaze back onto the plot. His mind was drifting towards insignificant nothings, trying not to deal with the reality that out of the entire vastness of space, the Starwalker had stumbled upon the worst kind of encounter one could have - a pirate vessel. But the real question, Harbor thought with a little mental grimace. Is whether or not that ship suspects why we're out here, and what she's planning on doing about it. **************** "I don't like it. Something doesn't smell right with this." It was, perhaps, the most unnecessary statement ever uttered on the bridge of the pirate vessel Dead End, and given it came from the overly-cautious exec made it even more unnecessary. "I'll bear that in mind, Sharkticon." The captain said irritably, before returning his single working optic's attention back towards the main plot and squared his massive shoulders. And the shoulders were massive, as well they should. They only carried a whole portion of his vehicle mode on them. But that vehicle mode was distinctive different then most of the others around him - distinctly...terrestrial. As a rule, most spacers of the Cybertronian race adopted forms that could function in zero gravity. This allowed not only a greater degree of flexibility when it came to repairs and space walks, but it also ensured every crewman was his own personal escape pod. However, the Captain of the Dead End seemed to think differently. His boxy form and massive shoulders screamed out the fact he turned into a standard Earth SUV configuration. That in and of itself was not a huge deal, merely marking the bot as having visited Earth sometime in the past. But what was a huge deal was the fact if something were to happen and the captain were to get sucked out into the vacuum of space - he couldn't function. Unable to maneuver or even transform into something remotely useful, he'd either rely on the efforts of his crew to save his hide, or he'd drift forever - lost in Primus' own emptiness. Cannonball suspected if that day ever came, he could figure on the latter. He rubbed the nub that was the sole remainder of his right hand and gazed at the yellow dot on his plot - a big, fat, juicy Autobot merchantman. And he and his crew held warrants from the Decepticon High Command to commandeer any Autobot ships for a high bounty. Which still didn't explain why exactly an Autobot Merchantman was here. "What in the name of Primus do they think they're doing?" Cannonball asked as he eyed the dot. "They have to know the Prateus Colony is only a few light years away." The Prateus Colony being one of the Decepticons frontier conquest bases, and recently one of the final bastions of Decepticon power since the Autobots reclaimed Cybertron after the Unicron fiasco. Decepticons from around the galaxy had converged on Prateus, and unless Cannonball was completely ill informed, a few Decepticon war cruisers had even managed to turn up there. All of which meant that for a Autobot Merchantman to be out here now meant either the Captain had gone completely off his processor, or there was a reason. "A scout?" Sharkticon offered as he gazed at the dot along with his commander. "Perhaps to feel out the defenses of Prateus?" "Possible." Cannonball said absently, then shook himself. "Not just possible, but more then likely. I can't imagine that wet nose Prime managed to cook up a force of Autobots capable of seizing Prateus. Even if he did, there'd be more ships. No, this is probably a probe to see if the rumors circulating about the Decepticon war cruisers is accurate." "So if we snatch her up, it'll likely just confirm the rumors for the Autobots anyway." Sharkticon said with almost a faint trace of relief. Sharkticon was a book keeper and a bit of a pacifist, why he chose the profession of a privateer and pirate was beyond Cannonball's processing power. "And it's not like Prateus can pay much for the thing, even if we did seize it." Cannonball agreed. "But they still honor the warrants, and what do we care if we bleed them of every last Energon Cube? They're the only game in town." "We could always offer our services to the Autobots." Sharkticon commented quietly. "They do seem to be the winning team nowadays anyway." Cannonball barked a laugh. "Give me a Autobot who will deal with a pirate and I've got some beautiful countryside to sell you on Quintessa!" His expression sobered. "Pass the word, we're going in." ************************ "Well, looks like she's made up her mind." Harbor's tone was deliberately light as he settled into his command chair. The pirate had spent nearly a megacycle hovering at extreme range, like a terrestrial shark contemplating a prospective swimmer as it's next meal. But there was no hesitation any longer, and the pirate screamed into Starwalker's wake, leaving absolutely no room to maneuver or evade. "We're receiving a message." The Autobot at Communications reported. "We're to heave to and prepare to be boarded, or we will be fired upon." "Is that so?" Harbor asked quietly, with a lurking predatory grin. "Tactical, unwind the aft launchers. Let's show them this prize isn't going to be taken quite so easily." "Aye, Captain." From just above the Starwalker's main engines, two elongated tubes extended. They weren't much to look at, those two cannons. Developed during the darkest days of the Great War, the cannons were chase armaments designed to swat incoming Decepticon boarders. When their energy was unleashed against the hull of another starship, there was barely a quiver to the superstructure. But what it did do was super heat that section of hull...making the second, more powerful shots able to puncture through. The Dead End lurched as a hammer struck her bow. *************** "Slag it!" Sharkticon roared as the ship heaved upwards. "They're armed!" "Swing us about Helm!" Cannonball bellowed. "Unleash the fury!" The Dead End was a true pirate vessel - a lightly armored ship with customized ordinance taken from various prizes. As a result, the Dead End mounted a considerably heavier throw weight then her size might suggest, and on each broadside of the ship she boasted an insane twelve guns of varying size and quality. Factor in the front and aft chaser weaponry were on pivots, and the amount of energy fire crashing back onto the Starwalker was more then even those Decepticon war cruisers could pump out. ****************************** Harbor clung to his chair's arms as his ship bucked like a wounded petro-rabbit. Despite his own ship's...interesting....nature, it was still a Merchantman at heart, which meant even the weakest of beams were shredding through his hull. "Snap back! Snap back!" Harbor shouted over the scream of damage alarms. "Whip us around!" "Sir, I've got casualties on the troop deck!" Tactical replied. "Nothing serious so far, but a portion of the bulkhead is open to space and the troops are trying to keep the equipment from going through the cracks." "Get an engineering team down there, stat!" Harbor responded. "Helm, kill forward momentum - but stagger the power levels for a bit. Let's make them think they got a chunk of our drive." Starwalker suddenly snatched herself away from Dead End's furious broadside armament, but she did so awkwardly, lurching .and stuttering as reaction thrusters fired, and ceased firing. She began a slow tumble that she couldn't break herself out of, and began rotating on her axis, careening out of control. ************************* "We must have gotten a piece of her engine. Her power levels are dropping and her speed is almost at zero." Sharkticon commented. "Shall I roll out the boarders?" Cannonball nodded. "Let's hope the damage to the engine is repairable, or this whole effort has been for naught." Sharkticon nodded, then reached up and flipped a switch, turning on the Dead End's public announcement system. Then, in total defiance of his earlier, cowardly demeanor, he broke into a deep, booming baritone. "Yo Ho. Yo Ho." Cannonball joined in after a moment, as he knew, elsewhere on the ship, the boarders lined up at the airlocks were also breaking into the ancient chant of pirates everywhere, which after the Unicronian disaster, had been slightly altered. He'd heard reports that the Decepticons on Prateus had even adopted it as sort of a new national anthem for the Decepticons - not that he could complain. It was a catchy tune. Yo Ho. Yo Ho. The Dark One and its Men Stole the Conquerers from their beds. And bound them in its bones. The stars be ours and by the powers. Where we will, we'll roam. Yo Ho. All hands Hoist the colors high. Heave-ho Scraplets and Dregs Never shall we die. Yo Ho. All together Hoist the colors high. Heave-ho Scraplets and Dregs Never shall we die. Suddenly, it was quiet through the Dead End. Then, Cannonball gazed at the burning yellow dot on his plot, and completed the ritual. "Through Fire and Mud, Steel and Blood," The Captain of the Dead End intoned. "Drink Up me Sparkies, YO HO!" ********************* "Oh...slag." Harbor smiled without humor at the outburst. He couldn't blame whomever uttered the oath. The multiple angry red dots that erupted from the vessel was enough to turn even the most hardened spacer into a pessimist. A pity that those pirates didn't quite realize the gravity of the situation. "Inform General Ironsides that we have incoming." Harbor said calmly. Poor bastards. He thought with a trace of actual humor. ******************** The crew of the Dead End were the most ruthless, vicious, amoral, and disciplined pirates in deep space. Drawn from all walks of Cybertronian life, be it Autobot, Decepticon, or Neutral, ex-soldiers, civilians, and criminals. They were the scourge of the space ways, their reputation for violence second only to their ruthlessness. General Ironsides troops, on the other hand, were a hand picked, elite force of Autobots drawn from all branches. Regular Cybertronians stood ankle to shoulder with the Neublans and Humans who made up the ranks of Target, Head, and Powermasters. This was no probe at the defenses of Praetus. This was an all out invasion - the plan being the seizure of the two Decepticon war cruisers by Ironsides' forces followed by orbital bombardment of Decepticon facilities. Every Autobot had been ruthlessly drilled on ship-to-ship combat and boarding actions. Thus, when the first of the Dead End's boarders breached Starwalker's hull, they didn't find helpless Autobot civilians and merchants scurrying around in a panic. They found battle hardened and trained military units bunkered down in defensible positions and kill zones. And with them, Death culled a rich harvest. ************************** Cannonball was escorted through the hallway under the watchful eyes of two Powermasters. He didn't care to recall their names, nor did he really care to recall why he'd been brought out of his holding cell in the brig anyway. Thirty of his crew lay dead at the hands of Ironsides ambush, over a quarter of his crew. Another quarter filled Starwalker's medical bay with injuries that may or may not be recovered from. At least the Autobot doctors and medics had no qualms with treating patients of an enemy faction. If the boarding action had been a total disaster, then the counter-assault had been even worse. Cannonball hadn't considered scuttling the ship and denying the Autobots their troops for the invasion of Prateus - he was still a businessman, after all. But he took pleasure in knowing at least some of those laid up in the Medical Bay were Autobots. Still, Cannonball didn't expect to be let out of the brig until the Autobots returned to Cybertron. He also didn't expect to find the gray and slate colored Autobot seated behind a desk when his guards escorted him from the hallway into this room. "So, the Dread Pirate Cannonball, is it?" Harbor asked in a neutral tone as Cannonball was ushered in before him. "The former Dread Pirate Cannonball, is more like it." Cannonball said harshly. "I must admit, I was surprised to discover it was the Dead End I was facing." Harbor said calmly as he tipped his chair back. "I was also equally surprised to discover you'd be taken alive. That's not what our dossier on you suggests." "There's no profit in dying, and frankly I'm a mech who'd like to increase his fortunes." Cannonball remarked. "Even if I am going to have to start from scratch again." "Mhm." Harbor nodded, then leaned forward. "Or, you could continue as you have. Oh we can't replace your deactivated crew members, obviously but your ship and the survivors." Cannonball's working optic widened in astonishment. "You're joking. Just give me back my ship and crew? No conditions?" "I didn't say there were no conditions." Harbor replied. "But let's face it Cannonball, your operations are about to run extremely dry. After Prateus, the only Decepticon outpost we have left to worry about is Char. And what are they paying you? I.O.U.s? Come now, isn't it about time you started working for the winning side?" "I work for pay, I don't work for patriotism." Cannonball said. "Fair enough." Harbor nodded. "But look at it this way: You either lend me your ship and your men to help us take Prateus, or you go back in your cell and get to face a court of justice back on Cybertron for your multitude of crimes." Harbor shrugged nonchalantly. "Your choice." *********************** The Decepticon war cruisers Kraken and Backdraft had both seen better days. But they were the last two surviving cruisers of the Decepticon fleet, and their crews were ruthlessly drilled and kept at peak efficiency. Which was why, at the moment, every single one of them was frozen in shock as the Pirate Dead End and her supposed prize Starwalker disgourged between them nearly a hundred aggressive boarders that split into two groups and proceeded to advance upon both ships. That in and of itself wouldn't have been enough to shell shock the Decepticons. No, what did that was the general broadcast of the Autobot Commander Harbor saying the following: "Through Fire and Mud, Steel and Blood, Drink up me Sparkies YO HO!"