Profit and Loss
A Transformers: Armada Story
By William Rendfeld
The Earth, a shimmering sphere in the void of space. A shining blue world, teaming with life and energy. Unbeknownst to the majority of its inhabitants, the human race, they are no longer alone. The Transformers have arrived.
“Y’know Dave, I’ve been thinking...”
“Oh, don’t start with me, Aaron.”
“No no, seriously, try to follow me here,” Aaron continued. “Y’know that chopper that went around Portland a couple weeks back, scared a bunch of people, chased an SUV out of town? Who else would have something like that?”
“The military would not waste its time scaring the crap out of people, Aaron,” Dave noted. “It’s got bigger things to do, you know that.”
“Still, it could’ve done it,” Aaron argued.
“You and your wild theories,” Dave replied. “Look, as long as we’re working on this old base, so long as there are tanks and missiles and large guns capable of blowing anyone or anything to pieces, I say you keep your theories to yourself and just do the job, okay?”
“Okay, but I’m saying...” Aaron continued as he flipped on the large drilling truck, tearing through the ground before Dave and himself. After a few seconds, however, the drill began to screech loudly, as if it were connecting with something other than the Earth. “Whoa. That’s weird.”
Dave sighed. “Better get the foreman.”
Thrust winced slightly as he asked, “How long is this supposed to take, anyway?”
“It will be taken care of much faster if you stop asking me about it,” Starscream reprimanded as he continued work on a replacement arm for Thrust.
In their previous battle with the Autobots, Thrust had taken on heavy damage during his brief exchange with the young Autobot soldier Hot Shot. Now, Starscream was diligently working upon a suitable replacement for a damaged limb.
“There,” he noted silently, fitting the last connection in. “How does it feel?”
Thrust lightly flexed his new arm, and noted, “Better.”
“It’s about eight percent less powerful than your previous arm unit, but there are a few cosmetic differences that I think you’ll enjoy,” Starscream noted as Thrust flexed his new fingers.
“Yes, this is much better,” Thrust said approvingly. “And my other arm?”
“Almost finished,” Starscream replied. “I just need to...”
Starscream was interrupted by a loud klaxon. He quickly rushed to a monitor and began typing in commands as Thrust asked, “What is it? Are we under attack?”
“No, it’s something else,” Starscream explained as a readout appeared. “A Mini-Con stasis unit is online on Earth.”
“Ah, good news then,” Thrust noted. “Megatron will be pleased.”
“Yes, he will,” Starscream mumbled, slightly distracted.
“...Now based on modern historical records, we’ve been able to determine that Greek culture first began to arise on the island of Crete around 3000 BC with the founding of the Minoan civilization, named for the mythical King Minos,” Diana recounted as she jotted down notes on the chalkboard. “Beyond the apparent dates of settlement and city construction, however, all we know of the Minoans is financial transactions and...”
Diana turned around briefly to look over her class. Much to her chagrin, most of her students were beginning to nod off or start to lose attention; Alexis was one of the few exceptions.
Grabbing a rather large book off her desk, Diana continued, “...that sometime around 2000 BC a marauding horde of Zakus showed up and destroyed every last trace of civilization with a loud ‘boom’!” She punctuated her word by slamming the book down onto the desk, instantly regaining most of the class’s attention. “Glad to see everyone’s paying attention.” With a quick glance towards the clock, she noted, “As you all know, in a few weeks we’ll be taking a class field trip. I’ll need ten dollars from each of you by the end of next week; otherwise you won’t be able to come.”
“Miss Masters?” Billy asked as he raised his hand. “What exactly does a car race have to do with some old culture that died out thousands of years ago?”
“With the Greeks? Nothing,” Diana answered. “By the time the field trip comes, we’ll be dealing with the Romans. By then it’ll have something to do with it.” The bell loudly chimed as Diana declared, “Class dismissed!”
As the rest of the class began cycling out of the room, Diana walked over to Alexis and her two friends, Rad and Carlos, and said, “I hope you three didn’t find the lecture too boring.”
“Oh no, we were fine,” Carlos noted. “So, on this trip...”
“Don’t even think it, kid,” Diana replied. “Optimus and the others are already busy enough as it is. And you three’d be better off not bringing the High Wire and her team with us. We’ve already got enough problems with this trip.”
“The pod itself is situated in a desert area; low ground, very easily reached, about seven clicks away from here,” Red Alert recounted to his commander. “The major problem is that it’s situated at a human military base.”
“Which means that it’s a high activity area,” Optimus Prime noted as he looked over the satellite feed. “Is there any good news?”
“Yes, thankfully,” Red continued. “The base is going to be expanded shortly. We might be able to sneak Scavenger and Smokescreen onto the site, but it’ll be extremely tricky.”
“Yes, but we don’t have much choice,” Optimus noted. “Have they been briefed?”
“They’re just waiting for your approval to head out,” Red replied.
Optimus considered his options for a moment, then turned to Red and said, “Tell them to roll out.”
“So we pulled the drill out, and found this thing at the end of the tunnel,” Aaron explained. “It’s some strange metal, can’t easily identify it.”
“Pretty damn dense stuff,” Dave noted. “Like this thing was poured or something.”
The foreman silently looked over the large patch of metal that had been uncovered. “Better get the bigger equipment out, boys. This thing looks like it could be seriously important.”
As the three construction workers silently exited the makeshift tunnel, a large green bulldozer and orange utility truck rolled onto the site, almost unbeknownst to those present, who were more concerned with the unusual thing found underground. Also unbeknownst to those present, a small orange bird-like robot fluttered out of the tunnel towards a few of the more common construction vehicles...
“The base itself, despite being old and undergoing renovation, is well protected by a small ground unit,” Starscream noted as he briefed his commander, Megatron, on the human military base’s defenses. “Several large artillery units are stationed on or around the base, most ready for combat at any time.”
“Thus a frontal assault would only cause high amounts of damage and expenditure of Energon that we don’t really have,” Megatron mused. “Very well. What do you suggest, Starscream?”
“A subtle approach,” Starscream recommended. “Three of us, aided by our Mini-Cons, can provide fire from several different directions at maximum weapons range, dividing the human forces and keeping the majority of their attention away from the base. The two remaining Decepticons can enter the compound, locate the Mini-Cons, and quickly make our escape.”
Megatron considered the plan before him, and decided, “An intriguing proposition. Very well, Starscream; you and Cyclonus shall enter the compound, while the rest of us provide cover.” The massive Decepticon tyrant rose from his throne and walked to the door as he continued, “But don’t consider this anything else, Starscream. I expect results, not excuses.”
“Results, yes,” Starscream noted as he followed his leader out of the room. “Results...”
As the gathered humans began digging through the rock, attempting gain specifics on what they had just discovered, a red bar of light pierced the darkness inside the makeshift tunnel, accompanied by a pair of yellow lights. The twin sources of light receded into the tunnel, returning to the small stasis unit uncovered by the human workers.
“Report?” Dualor asked from within the stasis unit as Longarm and Drill Bit re-entered the pod.
“We’re situated in what looks like a human military outpost, undergoing renovation and expansion,” Longarm replied. “That explains the unusual choice in alternate modes at least.”
“I read about fifty or so human life signs in the immediate area,” Drill Bit noted. “Whole bunch of vehicles, but nothing we can’t get past with a little muscle.”
“Sounds simple enough,” Dualor noted.
“Now hold it one minute!” another Mini-Con, Refute, quickly spoke up. “The humans are innocents here. If we have to fight our way out, then fine, but we’re minimizing casualties. On both sides.”
“We have concerns beyond casualties, Refute,” Dualor noted. “Our brethren are scattered across the planet. If these humans capture us, what will that mean for them?”
“I’m not saying they aren’t important, Dualor,” Refute argued. “I’m just saying that we shouldn’t go ripping this place apart just to get away from people who could potentially help us.”
“He has a good point, Dualor,” Longarm replied. “A stealthy escape, if possible, is the best option we have. The less we’re seen, the smaller our chances of capture.”
Dualor looked to the last two occupants of the stasis unit, Buzzsaw and Liftor, as the latter of the two spoke up, “I’m with Longarm and Refute. The less chance of being seen the better.”
Dualor grimaced, then relented, “Very well. We’ll do our best to sneak out of the base, without harming any humans. Now, we’ll have to get...”
Dualor was interrupted as the familiar roar of explosions tore through the air, catching their attention.
“Looks like those precious fleshlings aren’t quite so innocent,” Drill Bit noted, barely disguising his glee at the prospect of a fight.
“No, this is something else,” Refute realized, recognizing the explosions. “Decepticons!”
Outside, the human construction workers panicked a bit as artillery fire rained down upon the base, destroying vehicles left and right and causing those present to scatter. As human tanks turned their attention to the origin of the attack, a large red and silver jet and a blue and off-white helicopter arrived near the makeshift hole, shifting into a pair of large, familiar Decepticons.
“Looks like you’re plan’s working, Starscream,” Cyclonus noted with a chuckle. “Not bad.”
“Congratulate me once we’re out of danger,” Starscream chided the smaller Decepticon. “The stasis unit’s within that range. Send Crumplezone in, and quickly.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” the Mini-Con connected to Cyclonus’s arm replied as he separated from his partner, transforming to robot mode and rushing into the man-made tunnel.
“Well, we’re in the clear now,” Cyclonus noted cheerfully.
“Not quite yet!” a voice cried out as an orange utility truck slammed into Cyclonus from the side, sending the Decepticon to the ground hard as a large green bulldozer rumbled up and transformed into a humanoid form, a red Autobot emblem proudly displayed upon his chest.
“You honestly think we’d let you get away with this?” Scavenger asked with a smirk as Smokescreen transformed to robot mode to join him.
“Actually, no,” Starscream replied, readying his Energon blade. With a smirk of his own, he added, “In fact, I was looking forward to this.”
“What do you mean; the Decepticons and Autobots are right outside?” Refute asked at last.
“I mean they’re right outside! Literally!” Crumplezone cried out. “Listen, you guys have to get out of here, now!”
“We aren’t going anywhere with the Decepticons,” Refute boldly stated, Longarm and Liftor with him. “Starscream can only keep up an act for so long; we’ll go with the Autobots, thanks.”
“The Autobots may not be able to do much good,” Crumplezone exclaimed. “We have to go and we have to go now!”
“We aren’t leaving,” Refute replied.
“But the-!” Crumplezone pleaded.
“Crumplezone, take Buzzsaw and get out of here,” Dualor ordered. “If we aren’t with you in a cycle, then beat it.”
Crumplezone looked at the Destruction Team leader for a hard second, then slowly nodded and turned around. Buzzsaw, looking at his commander in slight doubt for a second, soon followed.
“Dualor, what are you thinking?” Refute asked at last. “Last I checked, Megatron and his Decepticons were the enemy.”
“You don’t get it, do you Refute?” Dualor asked. “It’s about survival. Not ideals, not who’s better than who, but who survives. And I plan on making sure the Mini-Cons survive this war.” His twin cannons flipping down underneath his arms, he finished, “Whatever it takes,” and fired.
Refute was hit and damaged by twin cannon blasts, while Liftor and Longarm were both knocked back by a second salvo. As the three Mini-Cons fell to the ground Dualor beckoned, “Drill Bit, clean up.”
“Got it, boss,” Drill Bit chuckled with manic glee as he started up his drill weapon, priming it towards Refute.
As Dualor walked out of the stasis unit, he could hear the grinding and tearing of metal, mingling with screams of terror. He finally exited to find the battle continuing, Crumplezone and Buzzsaw waiting for him.
“Where are the others?” Buzzsaw asked as he noticed his commander.
“Drill Bit’s tying up a loose end or two,” Dualor casually replied as a form zipped past them, heading back into the tunnel.
“You’ve been hanging around that slagging medic for too long, Longarm,” Drill Bit noted as he scraped the badly-damaged Mini-Con off his drill. “Gotten soft on us.”
Longarm had jumped in at the last moment, pushed Refute aside mere seconds before Drill Bit’s weapon could make contact. He’d paid a high price, however; his left arm was barely hanging from his shoulder, and a good chunk of his torso had been torn out.
“It’s every ‘bot for themselves in this world,” Drill Bit noted with a manic look in his optics. “Should realize that by now.”
“Sorry,” a voice said as a pair of strong hands took hold of Drill Bit’s stubby left arm. “I don’t quite see it that way.”
Drill Bit soon found himself being thrown out of the cave, tossed out with a mighty heave by Rollbar.
“Slag spouting maniac,” Rollbar grumbled under his breath before he turned his attention to the injured Longarm. “Hey doc. You holding up?”
“Barely,” Longarm groaned as sparks issued from his chest.
As Liftor and Refute got to their feet, Rollbar gently took the wounded Longarm into his arms. “Rollbar? The others made it?”
“Prime managed to get to us shortly after arriving on Earth,” Rollbar explained. “Red’s with him. Scavenger and Smokescreen are outside, but we have to make tracks now if we plan on helping Longarm.”
“Got it old friend,” Refute noted with a smile in his voice.
“What happened?” Dualor asked as Drill Bit got to his feet.
“Got...sucker-punched,” Drill Bit explained.
Meanwhile, Starscream continued to hold Scavenger at bay as Cyclonus grappled with Smokescreen. “Forget the Autobot, Cyclonus! Get the Mini-Cons and go, now!”
Smokescreen looked down to see Crumplezone and the Destruction Team appear in plain view, then cried, “Oh no, you-!” before Cyclonus pushed him away and transformed to vehicle mode.
“Link up!” Cyclonus called out.
Crumplezone shifted around a bit, assuming his form as Cyclonus’s secondary cockpit as Dualor, Drill Bit and Buzzsaw locked in on three of Cyclonus’s four primary Powerlinx points.
“So much for Autobot fighting abilities!” Cyclonus cackled. He quickly blasted away from the other Transformers and declared, “Adios, losers!”
Smokescreen growled lightly as he got to his feet, his thoughts interrupted as Starscream quietly chided, “Make sure the other Mini-Cons are safe. I’ll keep an eye on those three.”
“We’ll hold you to that,” Scavenger declared as Starscream broke off and transformed, flying out and away from the base.
“Scavenger, Smokes, we’ve got wounded!” Rollbar yelled as he half-carried Longarm out of the tunnel, Refute and Liftor limping after him. “We need to get out of here, now!”
“Right,” Scavenger declared, transforming to vehicle mode. “Get Longarm into me and Powerlink. Refute, you and Liftor link with Smokescreen.”
As Rollbar carefully draped the semi-conscious Longarm into Scavenger’s small driver’s compartment, Refute and Liftor both Powerlinked with Smokescreen as he called in, “Smokescreen to Ark, we’ve got wounded! Requesting immediate beam-out, now!”
“Understood,” Red Alert’s voice replied through the comm.-channel as Rollbar linked up with Scavenger. Within seconds, the six Cybertronians vanished into the night.
“Three...Mini-Cons...out of six...” Megatron recounted.
Some time had passed since the battle at the military base. The five Decepticons and their Mini-Con contingent, now increased with the recovery of the Destruction Team, had since returned to base. Now, however, the Decepticon tyrant was quickly considering his gains from the battle with Starscream and Cyclonus. The red and silver Seeker was the only one not displaying any measure of relief.
“Light damage to our troops, and minimal resistance from the Autobots during the attack,” Megatron continued to recount. “However, we recovered only half of the Mini-Cons from the pod.”
“Yeah boss, but one of the ones we didn’t get is pretty much scrap, according to Drill Bit,” Cyclonus eagerly pointed out. “And there’s no chance the Autobots’ll be able to repair him.”
“A deactivated Mini-Con is a wasted Mini-Con, Cyclonus,” Megatron quickly noted. “And I hardly trust the word of Dualor or his associates. They still have a reputation on Cybertron from the First Great War, as you may well recall.” He considered his options, then ordered, “Starscream, I want you to devise some way of keeping them under control. I don’t care what, but do it. Is that understood?”
“With great clarity, Megatron,” Starscream replied, attempting to keep his voice neutral.
“And as for you, Cyclonus,” Megatron continued, “keep in mind that if the Autobots do manage to repair that Mini-Con, you will be the one to pay the price for Dualor’s stupidity.”
“Uhh...right Megatron, sir,” Cyclonus accepted, worry clear in his voice.
Elsewhere, in the Ark’s medical bay, Red Alert worked diligently on the heavily-damaged Longarm, numerous status displays and medical screens dotting the wall around him. Watching from an observation room in somber silence was Refute, keeping an eye on his ally with increasing worry in his optics.
The nearby door slid open, and a familiar voice said, “I heard about what happened back there.” As Refute turned to face him, Sparkplug continued, “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Refute turned back to face his injured comrade and said, “That doesn’t help much, Sparkplug, but thanks anyway.” As Sparkplug walked up alongside him, he continued, “That was nearly me down there, y’know? If Longarm hadn’t pushed me out of the way, I’d be down there now, torn apart with my spark hanging on by a thread.”
“There was nothing you could do, or anyone could do,” Sparkplug said, attempting to soothe his friend’s spiritual wounds. “And moping around won’t help anyone. He’s in the best of hands; Red’s put back together more ‘bots than I could ever hope to keep track of. He’ll be okay.”
“I hope so,” Refute replied. “But even if he does pull through, Drill Bit and Dualor will pay for this.”
Sparkplug could easily detect the anger in his comrade’s voice. It was more than justified; Longarm was his friend as well, and no Mini-Con should ever have to purposely injure another Mini-Con, or worse, kill them. Still, to have that much anger...
“...They will, Refute,” Sparkplug promised, resting a hand on Refute’s shoulder. “They will.”