The MexiCon saw it coming.
Nachos Belgrande had propped himself upon the rocks, making a chronicle of the situation as his systems repaired themselves. When it looked as though there would be no-one left to save the day, it became important to record events as they unfolded, untainted by the potential evil victor. He'd prepared a message buoy for launch out of the atmosphere, in the hopes that someone passing this planet would pick up the signal and send the message onward.
To let others know about the heroes who fell this day.
It was when his systems were repaired enough to allow him movement and sensors that he'd picked up the large anomoly heading toward the current battle. Reinforcements, perhaps, or something worse? Then, the calls came thru, from Ticker as well as SunBeam, making the situation at once more cloudy yet more clear. There was but one thing Nachos BelGrande could do:
Deploy the Taco of Leadership.
Transforming, he drove down the embankment toward SunBeam, hoping he would arrive in time.
Minerva stepped out.
From a small access port on the leg of the large Pretender Shell, a door swung open. Using her boot stabilizers, she floated gracefully and effortlessly to the ground. It had been awhile since she'd seen action, but Wheeljack had insisted that she go along as Prime's personal medic, in-case there should be trouble (with the technology or with Prime himself, Wheeljack didn't say). Her familiarity with God Ginrai and the associated technology of her past made her the ideal soldier for this mission, so it was a forgone conclusion she would be here once the details were known.
With a mental command, the access port closed. Though Prime fully controlled this technology, she was granted limited access to its controls. For now, she preferred to get out that cramped space and on with her mission. Stepping lightly across the rocks, she transformed into vehicle mode, and sped off.
She had to speak to the Ancient.
SunBeam was out of time.
The lead horse was mere yards from his rear bumper. He knew he couldn't outrun them. Cursing Primus for his run of bad luck, SunBeam transformed, grabbing ahold of PinchBottom as he did so.
SunBeam: "This is it, little buddy. We had a good run. You need to get word to the others. Tell them... tell them I'm sorry, and that maybe I died a hero."
Pulling back, SunBeam threw PinchBottom as far away from the fracus as he could. He then turned, and began to lay down a covering fire. In this strange planet with its desert heat, his one saving grace was an abundance of solar energy that he could tap and turn into laser-fire.
SunBeam shot down several of the horses before sheer weight of numbers enveloped him. The horses flowed over him, around him. Several transformed and started beating him with their stunwhips. Others trampled him as they gallopped past. Enraged, SunBeam did the only thing he could. Pulling off his chestplate, and ripping the lasercore from his body, SunBeam tossed it out into the deepest part of the drones. Shooting it with the trickle of energy he had left in residual systems, SunBeam detonated his very core.
The blast was impressive, leaving a football field-sized hole in the terrain, and taking out a number of the Ass-09 drones in the process.
The flow of beasts halted, as if reassessing the situation. Silence ruled the plain.
Then the flow began again, around the hole where the sparkcore had detonated.
An uncounted number of hooves trampled a lifeless yellow chassis deeper into the sand.
He wasn't in-time.
Nachos BelGrande saw the sacrifice SunBeam had made; or rather, felt the aftermath thru the lifelink that all Transformers of his rank and stature carried. He cursed himself and redoubled his efforts, ignoring the damage the terrain was doing to his systems, knowing he had to be closer to the anomoly in order to do anything meaningful. Hoping he might save at least one person, the MexiCon increased his speed, ignoring the system failure warnings popping up on his display.
Another Dairycon would not die.
Not while he had a chance to save them.
"You killed my friend!"
PinchBottom screamed. He'd lain, stunned, on the sand where he'd landed, as SunBeam made the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to stop Ass-09 and the impending Apocolypse. The drones had stopped, at least for a moment- long enough to give Pinchy time to reflect on what had just happened, on all the times he and SunBeam had gone to the fleshling gambling settlement together, how SunBeam would use his flashy car mode to attract human female specimens just so Pinchy could grab their shapely backsides.
He may have been a Decepticon in allegiance, but PinchBottom was a Dairycon at heart. And even he could not just stand idly by while the only person who'd ever shown an inkling of kindness to him ended up as so much rubbish in the ground. PinchBottom dug deep into the sand, waiting only moments for the drones to come closer to his location.
He didn't have to wait long. When a number of them were overhead, he pulled the rest of his bulk from subspace. Bursting from the ground, the giant robotic scoprion was revealed in all his glory. Looming several times the size of the Ass-09 drones, Pinchy smashed the ground with his massive claws, rendering scores of them damaged and inert with a single punch. His massive stinger jammed the ground behind him, smashing more drones in the process. His anger and rage made him a formidible opponent. The drones paused, then turned from their intended target and massed on PinchBottom. Scores of drones piles onto the giant scorpion. Pinchy gave no pause, continuing to smash them as they came, ignoring their insignificant little stunwhips upon his carapace.
PinchBottom, fuled by anger and rage, might have saved the day entirely on his own were it not for one thing: his instant pulling of mass from subspace destabilized his exo-structure. Had he a moment to pause, and control the expansion, he might have won the day. But in his anger, his expansion was uncontrolled, and ultimately unstable. Suffering a severe systems shock, PinchBottom seized. Unable to move, to process even what was happening, the tide of battle had suddenly turned.
The drones made quick work of him.
"We must speak."
PlotHole turned and faced the indivudual in his presense. Minerva made for a striking 'bot, even in these circumstances. Were he not several timescales her senior, he might have complimented her on her choice of chassis. As it was, the Ancient merely nodded, and turned back to the battle unfolding below them.
Minerva: "You have the power to stop this."
PlotHole: "Young lady, I have the power to do many things. But with great power comes great responsibility. I can't simply interfere because I want to."
Minerva: "That makes no sense. You've been interfering for years. You interfered by bringing everyone here. No less than Optimus himself left the Sanctum on your call to arms. You know the dark force will make its entrance into our realm here. Yet you sit idly by while others do the work."
PlotHole: "You forget your place, child."
Minerva: "I most certainly do not. And I'm hardly a child; I've been around, in one form or another, nearly as long as you. I may not have been there at the beginning of this Universe, but it's likely I'll see the end."
PlotHole: "So you intend to participate?"
Minerva: "It was, in the end, what I was born to do. You saw to that."
With that, Minerva transformed, and sped off into the distance. Despite her pacifist leanings, she knew the battle must be joined.
If anyone in this Universe was to survive, she had to chance it.
No good stinking con.
Heffer took the pummeling MotorMaster was dealing him as best he could. Lousy enemy. It was just like a con to sneak up and hit you from behind.
Having damaged and rendered inert Motormaster's inner robot, the outer shell had taken over, smashing Heffer with blow after blow. Nearly senseless already from the crash, it was all Heffer could do to stay online.
Poor Heffer didn't stand a chance.
The final blow came quickly. MotorMaster's fist swung high and hard. Powered with dark energy, it came swinging down on the senseless 'bot...
And was stopped cold by an equally armored white glove.
Optimus Prime: "I don't think so."
Prime had managed to bring his Pretender shell into the fray. Swinging wide after the near-collision, he made a long sweeping arc, transforming and combing with his armored shell. Running, he aimed to save the little 'bot that had rescued him moments before.
"MotorMaster: "Raah, let me go!" Releasing another pulse of dark energy, he pulled his arm out of Prime's grasp. Kicking poor Heffer out of his way, Motormaster's shell made a run for his damaged inner robot.
A lasso curled around his leg, tripping him and pulling his bulk down to the ground.
Optimus pulled on the rope, allowing the Lasso of Liberty (Wheeljack jokingly called it, 'Optimus Twine') no slack. He physically dragged Motormaster by the leg, drawing him up and literally hog-tieing him. The lasso employed statis-cuff technology; when a 'con was wrapped in the rope, he was held firmly in-check.
Motormaster was, finally, firmly held in-check.
Nachos BelGrande transformed. Not since his days as IGA Agent Pinto Wagon had he felt so helpless. He'd held a special place in his spark for SunBeam and PinchBottom. They reminded him of the friends he'd once had in the Mexican OutBack.
He would not let their deaths go unavenged.
As the Leader of the MexiCons, Nachos BelGrande had various special weapons and abilities at his disposal. He would not need all of them to combat this new threat.
Reaching deep into his chassis, Nachos removed the Ancient Artifact and held it aloft.
"Ahora la luz nuestra hora mas oscura!"
The Taco of Leadership glowed from within, releasing a bright, pure cleansing light. It washed over the Ass-09 drones, dispersing the dark cloud that controlled them. Optics grew dim as the drones powered down and collapsed in the sand.
It took mere moments to shut down The Thousand Asses of the Apocalypse.
The Artifact stopped glowing. Nachos BelGrande slumped to the ground; it had taken nearly all of his power to maintain the effect at the level of power needed. He smiled inwardly, relieved that he had saved most of the Dairycons, yet saddened that he could not save his two favorites.
It was all the more distressing when the dark energy reappeared, containing a new menace within.
Minerva sensed the dark energy surrounding the threat disipate. She paused, wondering what could have halted their progress. Thinking her rush to Prime may have been premature, she paused, letting up on her accelerator.
The dark energy surged again, this time off the charts.
Minerva floored her accelerator.
The Ancient pondered the words of the young upstart.
Perhaps she had the right idea. If things continued as they were, the Dairycon Universe would be destroyed, consumed by the dark entity like so many others before.
He'd spent lifetimes trying to keep the universe in-check. Why would he halt his efforts now?
Perhaps because it was the end.
PlotHole knew, in his spark of sparks, that his own end was near. Oh, it was more than creaking joints; he'd seen the future... all of them. And in all possible futures, he knew his own end would come in a situation like this.
There was simply no stopping it.
It was not fear of that event that halted his progress; merely the inevitability of it. He felt he'd done all he could for this universe; he brought all the Dairycons together at the appointed time. He'd notified the Prime. Involved in this battle or not, he knew his time was done. Why couldn't he, after all this time, take a few moments for himself to rest?
Primus knew he deserved it.
Still, the niggling thought that the child may be right bothered him. Did he want his end to come while he sat here and did nothing?
Of course not. He'd always faced the future with optics to their fullest apeture. He would not change that now.
PlotHole pondered. Wise and powerful, he went thru possible scenerios involving his direct intervention; discarding those possibilities as ultimately damaging to the very Universe he was trying to save, he considered a more creative approach.
He had it.
Pulling his shard of Primus from his subspace pocket, he concentrated. The object glowed, and a figure materialised in front of the Ancient:
Where had the power gone?
A moment ago, he could destroy the world. Now, he could barely move his body.
The power had left him.
PlotHole had come to this Universe to help restore the balance; he could not sit idly by while even the pacifists like Minerva fought for what was right.
But this particular fight required finesse.
The kind that The Leader was known for.
The Shard stopped glowing. The Leader had fully materialised in-front of him.
The Leader: "What the...?!"
PlotHole made it simple: "I need your help."
The Leader paused, and asked one single question:
The Leader: "Why?"
PlotHole: "Because, you care for this Universe as much as I do. If you didn't, you wouldn't be here. And you have a unique ability that I don't possess."
The Leader: "What do you propose I do?"
PlotHole: "I need you to fetch a particular object for me. It's out of my reach in Space; but not yours in Time."
It was True; as one of the Ancients, PlotHole was granted the ability to travel anywhere in Space. He could not, however, travel thru Time, and simply aged along with the Universe. The Leader (because of a previous timetravel mishap in a far, far distant past- editor Ed) had his spark infused with tremendous energy. Stranded in the past, using his own advanced technology (and knowledge of the far, far future), The Leader had subtly altered events over time. If something didn't turn out the way he'd intended, the Leader would simply 'pop' back and try it again.
The eons had passed; PlotHole had become aware of him over time. In most cases, The Leader had the best interest of the Universe at heart, so PlotHole didn't interfere. However, there were times, especially most recently, where they'd been at-odds in their missions. It gave PlotHole a headache to track the divergent streams everytime The Leader called 'do over' and went back again.
There was a time when each of them thought they would have to destroy the other in order to save the Universe.
Hopefully, this wasn't one of those times.
The Leader and PlotHole shared a look. Each knew what the other was thinking. That happened when you were in the business of saving the universe as long as they have. The Leader needed only to utter two words, a single phrase:
The Leader: "The cassette."
The Leader nodded. Concentrating, he teleported from the ridge.
PlotHole hoped there was enough Time.
Exiting hyperspace, UWB entered orbit around a small blue planet. UWB exited the cockpit of his sleek turbojet, which transformed into his partner TB-1. In robot mode, they hover, taking scans of the area.
UWB: "This appears to be the place."
TB-1: "But according to the data, we're early."
UWB: "Not to worry. It's a nice view; I don't mind hovering here until events catch up."
TB-1 agreed. He removed a small polishing rag from his compartment and began to shine his chassis. The accumulated dust from space travel threatened to hide his perfect shine, and he wasn't about to let that happen.
UWB: "Always shining yourself. I swear, you're worse than Sunstreaker."
TB-1: "Hey, it's like I always say, a clean 'bot is a happy 'bot."
UWB didn't get a chance to respond. For out of the distance another ship exited hyperspace and transformed. The green and gold sheen of the robot were unfamiliar to the two heroes, as was the chassis design. It had the look of an advanced Seeker jet, but the markings were off...as was the symbol.
TB-1: "What the hell?"
There was no answer from the newcomer; he merely deployed a blaster from his arm and fired. The shot hit TB-1 directly in the chest; sparks shot out from the entry point just as energon began streaming from the back, turning quickly to icy crystals in the cold of space.
There was no sound; in space, they say no one can hear you scream. But the look of shock on TB-1's face spoke volumes, as did the sudden squak of static over the inter-autobot radio.
UWB: "TB !!!"
TB-1 couldn't respond; it took everything he had just to stay online. Holding the polishing rag to his chest, he attempted to stem the flow of precious lifeblood into space. The shot had been abnormally powerful; no Decepticon should have been able to generate such a devastating single shot. Cracks formed around TB-1's back as he began to lose orbit. His backside began to glow red from the friction. Tough as his cybertonian alloy was, it wasn't tough enough to survive planetfall.
Not while stuck in robot mode.
UWB watched helplessly as TB-1 struggled in the planet's grip. He radioed him, with no response. He was dumbfounded as his friend flexed and flailed as gravity drew him in further. Why didn't he transform and escape? Was he that badly damaged? From only one shot?
He made a move to assist his friend, when the stranger appeared in-front of him. A transmission came across UWB's fieldline:
The Leader: "Never mind about your friend. You have bigger problems to worry about. Namely, me. Now hand over the cassette."
UWB didn't answer; he merely narrowed his eyes, unslung his cryo-shotgun, and fired at point blank range.
The Leader dodged the shot.
The Leader: "Now, now, that won't do. You have a choice: give me the cassette and I'll leave. Or fight me, and your friend dies. And I get the tape anyway. It's your choice, really."
UWB snarled. His friend was too-important to lose. Yet Prime had trusted him with this mission. It was of the utmost importance. And here was this small figure buzzing around him, threatening them...
UWB transformed into his assualt cruiser mode. Though useless in space, it did sport one very important thing:
His heavy armaments.
UWB fired a rapid series of blasts, calculated to hit every concievable escape angle the enemy could use.
What he hadn't counted on, however, was the enemy choosing *not* to escape.
The Leader: "Dear me. You did the same thing last time. I took quite a bit of damage from you and your friend. Do you think I wouldn't have worked it out?"
At this, UWB finally answered him: "What do you mean, 'the last time'? I've never seen you before. Who are you? And why are you attacking us?!"
The Leader: "Sorry, not for me to tell. You and your friend there play a very vital role in my plans one day, and I can't very well have you messing it up." With that, the Leader snatched the cassette, and fired again.
UWB went into stasis lock.
(Editors' note: the preceding events were excerpted from 'The Myth Behind the Moo'. Go there to read more!)
The Leader teleported back.
PlotHole: "You know, it's going to take years for them to sort that out. Uncle Whiskey Breath still doesn't know it was you."
The Leader: "Better that he doesn't. It took years for the anger to fade, and his wounds to heal. Besides, you knew it would work out."
The Leader handed PlotHole the small cassette.
PlotHole: "It still doesn't mean I have to agree. However..."
The Leader: "Yes, I know. I'll make sure his friend finds him. I believe he's still in stasis-lock at that pizza joint. I'll wake him."
PlotHole nodded. Clasping the cassette in one hand, and the Shard of Primus in the other, he teleported.
Moments later, The Leader did the same.
Nachos BelGrande could only watch in horror as the real threat finally revealed itself.
The lone figure paused, as though seeing with new eyes. Glancing at the scores of deactivated drones, he waved his hand; the drones began to glow again, powering-up with dark energy.
Nachos BelGrande had failed; using the power of his Taco of Leadership to foolishly attack a mere part of the dark entity, while the Source remained safely hidden. It was a mistake; a very costly one.
It would cost him his life.
With barely a thought, dark tendrils sprang forth from the entity, enveloping the MexiCon. Everywhere they touched, a portion of Nachos BelGrande dissolved.
It took mere moments for the dark tendrils to completely destroy him.
Another wave of his hand; the Donkeys of the Apocalypse surged forward once again.
Though the rope could stop MotorMaster's movement, it could not stop him from talking.
The 'con continued to rant and rave about destruction. The rope held. MotorMaster continued to talk.
It begged an important question: *had* the rope stopped him? It was only designed to restrict standard Transformer movement. Surely it could not stop the Dark Energy that MotorMaster was employing earlier. Yet the moment he was captured, Motormaster had not emitted a single bolt. Optimus could no longer even sense the dark energy within. Where had it gone?
It was at this moment, the power flickered in the distance. Optimus sensed it. For a moment, it was gone.
Now, it was back. More powerful than before. The power had not just left MotorMaster:
It had joined the unseen enemy.
At last, he had found that which The Ancient had warned him about. The threat that Ticker had warned them about. The Omega-class threat that had been bearing down on them all this time. He had spent precious moments battling a mere appendage of the darkness. It was now all-too-clear that the real threat had been gaining on them all this time.
Optimus Prime wound his Lasso back into his hand, and squared the brim of his hat. The enemy had finally made itself known. But as far as Optimus was concerned, the enemy had miscalculated. By making himself known to the stalwart Hero of Cybertron, he'd as good as sealed his fate.
There would be a fight. But it was a fight Optimus planned to win.
The stakes: the very Universe itself. Nothing would be the same again.
That suited him just fine.
Optimus turned to face The Apocolypse.
To Be Continued in 'Dairycon 2010: Return of Convoy!' Part 3.
Available in 30 days.