Transformers Fanfics, Essays, Author Interviews and More...! Established 1996!

Ground Zero by Ivy_Bohnlein

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Based on characters created by Hasbro and the Admin/Players of the Transformers 2k5 MUSH.

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I left my small chamber and entered the brighter lights of the Femme base, smiling at the familiar sights and activities that greeted my optics. After my return from Iacon, the others had insisted that I take a rest cycle. To recover from my exhausting adventure, they said. And of course they didn't talk about me at all while I was asleep. Ohhh, never.

"Whiz, you're up again!" Arcee said cheerfully. "Feel better?"

"I felt fine before, but thanks," I grinned. "What's up, folks?"

"Same old, same old," Firestar replied. She looked up from some adjustments to her flamethrower. "Rickety equipment and fritzing machines."

As if to agree with her, the computer made a loud bleeping sound and the display changed to show a spike in our dampening field.

"Yeah, Whiz, can you fix that thing? It's been bugging us for the last few cycles," Sunrunner said, waving an irritated hand at the display.

I headed over for a closer look at the readouts. "Who's been messing with the settings?"

"I changed them," Chromia said as she came over to join me. "It stopped the field spikes for a while."

I shook my head slightly. "It's no good to get rid of the symptoms if you don't know the cause. It always comes back."

Chromia frowned. "So what's the problem?"

I adjusted a few dials, then scanned backward to the records before each spike. "Look at that pattern of interference," I said, following with my finger on the monitor. "Starts out very slight, but regular. The strength increases with each cycle of interference, gradually working up to these kinds of spikes."

"Like some kind of cumulative feedback," Chromia mused, studying the record.

I nodded. "As if someone's emulating our signal and throwing it back at us..." Chromia and I looked at each other, and I could see the dawning of my realization reflected on her face.

"Sunrunner, check the external cameras! Have all our tunnel sensors sweep all frequencies. Firestar, check our armament level-we don't want to be unprepared. Arcee, you check out our readings topside. Make sure our surface exit is clear." Chromia began directing everyone to their duties and my insides hardened. Decepticons. Right outside our gates.

Elita-I hurried out of her quarters. "Chromia, what is it?"

"Whiz and I detected an anomaly in our dampening field. It's still concealing our presence here, but it looks like there's another one right outside our door concealing someone else's too," Chromia explained grimly.

"Whoever it is, they've been emulating the energy signature of our own field, so we won't notice. What we've been detecting is feedback," I continued.

Elita's optics narrowed thoughtfully. "I see. Whiz, get me some information. How big is that field, and how many could it be hiding? We need to know who and what we're up against."

"Already on it," I told her, turning to the console. It would be tricky at best, though. After all, a dampening field tones down the patterns of electrical emission and thus disguises the presence of those within. Obviously, an easily detected field wouldn't be of much use-so the fields themselves are nearly impossible to find. Still, there are ways and ways.

I threw myself into the challenge, manipulating our field signature and throwing out electron bursts that would cause their field to 'ripple' and be visible, briefly, to our sensors. Unfortunately, it made our field visible too, but I had a feeling it was too late for secrecy. I pulled up a graphic representation of the electronic readings and my optics widened.

"Oh boy," I said in a low voice.

Chromia and Elita ran up to me to take a look. "What did you find?" Elita asked tensely.

"It's big," I said, pointing out the representation on the screen.

"It fills the tunnel at least back to the first junction. They've got
some pretty powerful equipment in place to sustain it, but judging by the energy fluctuations here," I moved my finger over slightly, "I'd say this is where it's located. I think we could hit it with one of the laser emplacements in the wall, but..."

"That would tell them we've found them," Chromia finished.

Elita nodded. "And touch off an attack before we know what we're up against."

"It could be an army," I said hollowly. "The field is big enough to conceal half of the Decepticons in DHQ."

Arcee approached hesitantly. "Topside sensors have been disabled-all except one, and it's heavily damaged. From what I can tell, we've got at least a squadron of unknowns wandering around up there, and they're staying close to the escape hatch."

Firestar walked up. "We can fight our way through one 'Con squadron easy."

Arcee frowned. "That's not all. The cover of the suspension tunnel itself is jammed shut. Looks like it's got some kind of heavy weight on top of it, too. It'll take some blasting to open it, and that'll be hard to do from inside."

Chromia shook her head. "I don't think we'll have that kind of time."

"So, basically, we're trapped," Firestar said, her optics narrowing.

"We're not trapped. We can get out of this-we know the tunnels better than they do. I just don't want to give up the base," Elita said thoughtfully.

"We've got plenty of energon from that last raid," Firestar suggested, "So why don't we stack some of it in front of the doors to blow when they try to come through?"

"Good idea. Whiz, can you rig it to explode outward?" Elita asked.

I pondered. "Energon explosions are so uncontrolled... maybe a regular charge..."

"Do what you can, Whiz," Chromia interrupted. "But hurry, we don't have much time."

I nodded vaguely. If I could direct all of the power of an energon explosion... hm. I pulled out one of my electronic datapads and began to sketch. Maybe, if I could just get it into the middle of their troops somehow, I could let the explosion run its course. First, though, have to get them out from in front of the doors, and then get the energon in their midst. With an initial explosion at the doors....

"Whiz! Quit standing around daydreaming!" Firestar shouted.

"I'm not dreaming! I'm planning!" I yelled back, putting away the notepad.

"Whatever! Just get moving!" she replied. Arcee gave me a commiserating look from her station at the sensor array, monitoring what was happening outside.

I growled to myself, then headed over to examine my demolitions equipment. After selecting a couple of charges and two timer arrays, I sat down at my lab table and began to assemble my little surprise package for the Decepticons.

When I finally felt satisfied and looked up, Elita, Chromia, and Sunrunner were in the middle of a hushed conversation. I meandered over to tell them that I'd finished putting together the bomb.

"... hard to say because of the field," Sunrunner was saying, "but there's at least five squadrons out there. And I don't think they're all drones."

Elita's expression hardened. "Why do you say that?"

My optics widened. Five squadrons? That meant we were outnumbered ten to one! And if they were real Decepticons, not just drones...

"Look at their distribution on the schematic. Only two squadrons are lined up evenly, like you'd expect from drones. The others are just milling around."

Elita nodded. "Looks like the plan is to send the drones in and soften us up, then pour in the real troops," she said grimly.

I piped up, calling attention to myself for the first time. "My bomb can probably take out that initial wave of drones."

"Oh, Whiz! I didn't see you there," Sunrunner said, flashing a smile my way.

Elita turned to regard me. "You've got the explosives rigged up?"

I gestured over to my setup. "An initial blast in the doors will clear the area right in front of us and trigger the cart, loaded with the energon and the second charge, to launch out into their midst as the doors close. >Kaboom<, a huge blast knocks them all back against the nearest wall."

"Good idea. We'll probably prompt the attack when we open up the tunnel lasers to knock out their field generators, so you'll have to be ready," Elita warned.

"Firestar, how are we doing on weapons prep?" Chromia called.

"We're all set. Wish we had some more ammo for some of the specialty weapons, though. We might be falling back on straight energy weapons earlier than we should be," Firestar reported.

I felt myself quiver with apprehension. This was insane! We could never beat these odds! "Elita, we have to call the Autobots. We're trapped in here and facing a full-scale assault!" I pleaded.

I only got a round of glares from everyone else as a response.

"No, Whiz," Elita said firmly.

"But..." I began.

"She said no. Now quit your complaining," Firestar said in a warning tone.

Fine, fine. You'd rather die than admit you need help. Great, we'll finally become Cybertronian Myths again-for good. I had no intention of letting them all kill themselves with stubbornness, though. I headed back over to inspect our equipment, and while I was near the communications terminal, I set it up so that a short code from me would immediately send an emergency message, including our coordinates, to the Autobots. Didn't want to run out of time once we really needed it, after all.

Feeling a little better, I headed over to set up my explosives in front of the blast doors. This time, it had an automatic setup, but I had a remote hookup as well -- just in case. There was no more room for mistakes.

Tension in the room was rising fast as Elita and the others worked out defense strategies and escape routes.

"When you're finished with that, Whiz, come over here too," Elita beckoned, and I nodded in agreement. I checked everything once more, then made my way over to them.

"Okay, we're all assembled." Elita looked around at our faces and grimaced slightly. "This is not going to be easy. We all know that. But we've been preparing for something like this for a long time, and I know we can handle it. Listen closely, because we won't be able to go over this twice.

"Sunrunner, I want you to handle the weaponry in the tunnel. I expect them to turn their fire on those systems as soon as we go on the offensive, so get your shots in while you can. Destroy their field generators first, then aim for clusters of targets. Try to herd them forward into the bomb's blast radius."

Sunrunner nodded gravely.

"Whiz, throw the explosives at them as soon as they cluster at the doors. That should at least cost them the front ranks of drones, and if we're lucky, it'll put some of their other troops down with injuries. Once that's taken care of, though, fall back to the main computer. If they manage to damage the base controls, we need you there to fix them up. Got it?"

"Got it," I replied. And as an added bonus, that put me right in front of the radio equipment. Convenient.

"Arcee, we'll need you to monitor escape routes and keep an eye on the topside sensor. We can't afford to have them dropping in from above while we're unprepared. If we do have to flee, it'll probably have to be through one of the other tunnels-we can break through the walls if we have to. You need to make sure we know which ones are clear. Take up your defensive position by the monitors and just keep your optics open."

"Understood," Arcee agreed.

"Firestar, you're our heavy artillery. Stake out a position near the armory and keep pounding anyone who tries to come through the doors. You also need to distribute extra ammunition to us as we run out."

"Yes'm," Firestar replied with a smile, hefting a rocket launcher over her shoulder.

"Not yet, Firestar," Chromia smirked slightly.

"Just practicing," Firestar said with a broad grin.

Elita turned her gaze on us each in turn, and conversation stopped. "Moonracer, I want you to take your shots more carefully. Try to stay out of sight and get good beads on whoever looks like they might have some authority. Don't get yourself in trouble, but use those sharpshooter skills of yours to the fullest."

"Of course," Moonracer agreed in a soft voice. She was the only other Femme who sounded like she might be as scared as me. Well, almost.

"Chromia, I want you to take your position close to Firestar and help her pour on the attack. If you can see any openings, make sure we take advantage of them. Help me coordinate the battle plan, and, as always, be prepared to take over if anything should happen to me."

"You keep saying that, Elita, but nothing ever does," Chromia said with a wry smile. "I'm starting to feel useless."

Elita cracked a smile in response. "You make very useful cannon fodder." She looked at us all in turn, slowly, and her smile faded. "I know we face daunting odds. I know we've all hoped that this day wouldn't have to come. But now it has, and we have to stand firm. We're ready for this, even if we don't want it. We will prevail. Till all are one."

"Till all are one," we echoed solemnly.

Yeah. They'll put that on our tomb.

"Now take your positions. It's time to show the Decepticons what we're made of," Elita urged, and we all rose from the table for some last minute checks. I stockpiled my fragmentation spheres and armor-piercing spikes at my defensive position, then double-checked the status of the explosives. Everything was fine. Everything would be fine. We were Femmes, after all, we could live through anything. Even this. Right?

"Is everyone ready and in position?" Elita asked tensely, taking her place behind a wide support column.

"All set," I replied nervously, as the others made similar signals of agreement.

"Ready to kick some Decepticon aft," Firestar grinned.

"May Primus and the spirit of Alpha Trion watch over us all. Whiz, prepare to launch the bomb. Sunrunner, open fire!" Elita commanded.

I brought the bomb's systems online as the sound of laser-fire and explosions came from beyond the doors. A cold knot formed somewhere deep inside me, but I tried hard to push it away even deeper. Panicking wouldn't get me anywhere.

"Their anti-detection dampeners are down!" Sunrunner reported.

"Putting them on visual now!"

One of the larger screens flared to life, showing the tunnel walls in green and our enemies as spots of red. The regimented spots hadn't moved much, confirming our suspicions that they were drones, but the others were in a flurry of activity. Many of them were pressing forward, and a few were right next to the doors.

"Looks like they're at the gates! Prepare for impact!" I shouted.

A groan of protest came from the doors as they were forced back along their sliding tracks. Once they had opened about halfway, they snapped fully open, startling the two large Decepticons who had been struggling against them. They weren't surprised long. The first of my charges went off with a loud roar, blasting the Decepticons backward and causing their companions to move back on either side of the doors as fire scorched an aisle though their ranks.

This couldn't be more perfect, I smirked as the second phase went into motion. An air-cart laden with energon cubes shot forward through the Decepticon ranks, and as it passed the doorway, our iron portals flew shut. Soon, there was a soft crumping noise, quickly followed by an armor-jarring wave of sound as the energon was ignited by the smaller explosive. The red dots on the screen were thrown back in all directions by the blast, leaving a strange empty space in the center of the schematic. Many of the drone-dots were tossed up against the walls and doors like toys, and their lights winked out as they were crushed.
"Estimated twenty percent actual losses for the Decepticons," Sunrunner reported. "And there could be more injured."

"Great, Whiz, your bomb went off without a hitch!" Arcee said excitedly.

"This time," Chromia muttered to herself. I wasn't sure if it was a joke, or just something I wasn't supposed to hear.

"Got another one of those handy, Whiz?" Firestar asked, then pointed at the screen. "If you do, get it ready, 'cause here they come!"

I looked up at the red dots advancing on us and paled. It looked like there were still over three dozen of them out there, and now they were mad. Plus, those weren't just pushover drones.

"Femmes, prepare for combat!" Elita barked.

The railgun on my arm felt far too light, suddenly. I wished, not for the first time, that I'd bothered to learn something more about combat. One of those great big rocket launchers sure would make me feel better right about now. I checked over the gun, though, and made sure my ammo was within reach. Make the most of what you've got, Whiz. But make a mental note to build something a lot better when you get out of this.

Correction: if you get out of this.

The huge doors were pounded inward by a rocket barrage, then finally knocked down by a line of five big, heavily built Decepticons. "Surrender!" one of them shouted.

"Open fire!" Elita called as her response. As one, we turned our weapons on the intruders and began to shoot. One of them staggered backward-the others weren't so lucky. They fell where they stood, one of them with a large hole in his chest from what looked like one of my explosive darts. I pushed the thought from my mind, instead concentrating on defending myself. Guilt could wait until after the battle was over.

A hail of laser fire forced me to duck down behind a console for cover. The blasts peppered the walls and equipment all around me, but fortunately the main computer kept working away. They didn't know what they should be aiming at, so for now they were just trying to pin us down. And not doing such a bad job, either.

As the barrage slowed a little, I heard the low whine of a rocket being fired and then an explosion in the doorway. When I peeked up, Firestar was reloading her launcher and there was a lot of smoke and twisted metal where there had once been Decepticons trying to get in.

"Keep pouring it on! Am I the only one in here?" Firestar roared.

Guiltily, I snapped off a few more shots and ducked back down to reload. If only I could aim without being exposed to enemy fire, I thought, then had a brainstorm. Eagerly, I started digging though my toolkit for the parts I would need.

"Sunrunner, what's the status of our emplacements in the tunnel?" Elita demanded.

"We're at about ten percent right now, boss! Only the most difficult ones to reach are still operational."

"Keep harrying them!" Elita encouraged.

Done. I fit the new scope over my usual sight, took a look inside, and smiled. Amazing what you can do with mirrors. It functioned much like a periscope, allowing me to put my gun up above my bunker and see
what I was aiming at, without ever getting into the range of enemy fire. Heh. I'm genius. I started slamming shots into their front ranks, trying not to notice the ones that fell down and didn't get up. The others, who were just injured-and probably very irritated-looked around angrily for who was firing on them, but of course they couldn't see me. It was perfect!

Each time I looked up at the schematic showing the Decepticons, though, any good feelings I had disappeared quickly. We were still desperately outnumbered, and all of those red dots just kept getting closer.

A barrage of blasts meant to connect with me all sailed over my head, but unfortunately that also meant that some arced straight into the main computer. Suddenly, our lighting failed and the monitor screens went blank.

"Whiz! Get that fixed!" Chromia shouted.

Elita helped me out by yelling, "Give her some cover fire!"

The darkness was eerily lit by a haze of light from beyond the door and the crackling energy of laser and plasma bursts. Firestar's exploding rockets provided occasional flashes of daylight that quickly faded back into the hauntingly lit darkness.

Primus, I hated this. I pulled off some of the protective panels, then got to work on the ruptured circuitry inside. Luckily, the shots hadn't hit the main processors, but there was a lot of split wiring to try to put back in one piece. I worked as fast as I could, and was soon rewarded by the renewal of the monitors' glow and the reappearance of the lights. But now that they knew one of our weaknesses, this was bound to happen again, and next time it might not be so easy to fix. Unless I did something about it.

On my hands and knees, I crawled over to my medical equipment and began releasing the bolts that kept the forcefield generator attached to the floor.

"What on Cybertron are you doing? Get back to your post!" Chromia shouted.

"Trying to save the computer!" I yelled. No time to explain.

She nodded distractedly, focusing her attention back on the surging Decepticons beyond the doors.

Once the bolts were released, I pulled hard on the big cube of equipment and managed to shift it about a foot. I opened my mouth to yell for help, but realized that everyone else had their own jobs to do. What was the smart way to do this?

My optics fell on my spheres. Bingo. I scattered them in a pathway over to the main computer, then heaved the heavy generator up just enough to get one edge on the leading row of spheres. Then I began rolling it along the little carpet of metal balls, finally bringing it to a rest on solid ground in front of the computer. I wired it into the power supply and snapped it online, then established a protective field over the main terminal.

As the Decepticons spotted me at work, a hail of shots flew toward me.

I threw myself on the ground, but couldn't avoid being peppered across my shoulder. A scorching pain lanced through my arm and back, but I ground my jaw hard and didn't cry out. At least the computer is
protected, I thought grimly as I saw the blasts deflected and neutralized by the forcefield.
Chromia noticed too, and nodded. "Good idea, Whiz!"

Despite the ache in my shoulder, a goofy grin pasted itself on my face. I switched my gun to my other hand and directed my self-repair systems at the injuries, then gathered up my scattered ammunition and
went back to firing. As long as we kept them from getting through, we'd be safe. Once they broke in, though, they'd be able to use their numbers against us and things would get tricky.

So why weren't they attacking us with anything bigger than lasers?

After all, a few rockets could blast our cover to shrapnel, and probably leave us helpless as well. A bomb, or a few grenades, could make us all mere memories. Why were they holding back?

I remembered something Shockwave had said back in the tunnels when I was his captive. 'Megatron wants the females captured and destroyed'.

If they had just wanted us dead, they wouldn't have needed an assault force like this. They could have just sealed the exits and pounded us with heavy artillery until we were scrap metal. They wanted us alive, at least temporarily. Probably as bait in another trap for Optimus Prime. Well, we'd show them. The Femmes aren't worms for anybody's hook.

A rocket flew into a wave of invaders, then Firestar's launcher fell to the ground. "That's it for rockets," she announced, "Switching to the plasma cannon!"

I groaned. There were too many of them left for us to start running out of artillery. A cautious check on my own ammunition stores told the same story, though. "Toss me a laser rifle!" I called out. "I may need it soon!"

Firestar took time out to snatch one of the anonymous black weapons from the armory wall and pitch it to Chromia, who lobbed it in something approximating my direction. I snatched it from the air and laid it beside my dwindling pile of darts, shaking my head. Scrap, she throws like a girl.

As I was turning back to my position, a metal box came sliding over in my direction. "You're always bragging about your pitching arm," Chromia yelled as I looked up. "Just get those in the middle of the Decepticons."

I opened the box to see eight energy grenades nestled carefully inside. Whoa! I looked up again, surprised.

"More useful than a plasma rifle," she said with a grim smile. The black trails of laser burns were visible on her head and shoulders, but she didn't betray any pain. "So what are you waiting for? Use them, already!"

Embarrassed, I pulled one from the box, yanked its pin, and blasted it out the door like a fastball. There was a bright flash and a roar of sound, followed by the groans of injured Decepticons. Not a bad shot, not at all...

I was surprised to hear a low groan from Elita. What the... how could she have been hurt? I turned to look at her, and saw that she was staring at the image on the monitor screen. We had cut the number of red dots at our door down to a quarter of their original strength, but that wasn't what she was looking at.

She was looking at the reinforcements.

Another mass of red was marching into sensor range. Another fifty Decepticons were on their way right toward us. We all went silent, since there really wasn't anything to be said. No words could deny what was heading down the tunnel. As we watched, two groups peeled off from the main body to march down side tunnels.

"They're blocking our possible escape routes," Arcee said, the quiver in her voice audible in the hush.

Elita paused, looking around at us. Even the Decepticons outside stopped shooting as they ran back to regroup with the oncoming army. It was unnaturally still, though the pounding of energon through my servos was echoing in my audials.

"We'll just have to hold them back. There still aren't as many of them as there were in the initial assault," she said, her soft voice laced with steel.

Sure, but there's no more bombs, the doors are down, and we're out of rockets, I wanted to say. But as I looked around, I could see that everyone already knew. Saying it would only destroy hope. I couldn't do that.

"Yeah," I agreed, trying to keep the fear out of my voice, "Here comes the next class of Decepticons to learn a lesson in Femmes 101. Let's make them pay their tuition."

Low chuckles came from the others, along with the sounds of weapons being armed.

Primus, I was scared.

"Here they come," Chromia said harshly.

I thought briefly of the radio message, but I was still more afraid of the others than the Decepticons. After all, the Decepticons were still on the other side of the doorway.

There was the sound of laser fire from the corridor, and Sunrunner announced, "The last of our emplacements are down."

And the Decepticons kept coming, in orderly ranks around a single figure. I had no doubts who that was, unfortunately. This time, Shockwave had come along to oversee things himself. The others must have come to the same conclusion. "Moonracer," Elita said, "If you get a chance at Shockwave, take it."

"I copy that, Elita," Moonracer responded from the shadows.

I picked up one of the grenades and turned it over in my hand. Carefully, I wrapped my knuckles around it and tried to steady myself. There was a lot more riding on these next seven pitches than a baseball game...
Shadowy shapes loomed in the doorway, then ducked to the side as my sisters began firing. I pulled the pin, rose to my feet, and threw the world's most perfect curveball.

The grenade hurtled through the doors, then curved aside into the midst of the Decepticons hiding from the gunfire. It exploded before they even reacted to its presence, throwing them aside and scattering
them into panic. I reached down for the next one and rocketed off another curve, this time to the other side of the door. It was enough to make them fall back and rethink their strategy.

"Whiz, I'm never going to make fun of you trying to learn human games again," Arcee said shakily. Firestar and Sunrunner murmured agreement.

"Don't swell her head," Chromia said seriously, but she grinned at me.

"It'll only make her an easier target for the 'Cons."

As the Decepticons began marching forward again, I grabbed two more grenades and prepared for a new strategy. When the enemy moved into range, I pulled the pin on both of my little hardballs and lobbed them forward in quick succession. This time they were ready for the first one, but as they moved back to avoid the blast, they stepped right into range of the second. Shouts and groans came from the passageway, but there were way too many of them still on their feet, and I only had three grenades left.

We braced ourselves for the next assault, which came sooner than we had expected. With a roar, ten Decepticons charged forward in two closely packed lines of five. We opened fire on them, blasting away at the front line, but somehow they kept coming. A glance up at the monitor confirmed my horrified guess-we were actually being charged by five Decepticons. They were using the bodies of fallen comrades as shields. I stared, horrified, as the squad grew closer.

"Whiz, drop one behind them! We can't let them break through!" Elita shouted.

I shook off my daze and made an underhand pitch that arced upward though the air and fell behind the advancing group. The explosion knocked them forward through the doors, but it was too late for them to enjoy any triumph.

"Heads up!" Firestar shouted, and I jerked my gaze back to the doorway. More Decepticons were charging at us, trying to take advantage of the temporary opening.

"Hit them hard!" Elita shouted, leading by example and loosing a barrage of firepower.

I looked at my last two grenades and shrugged. "No time like the present," I sighed darkly, and yanked their pins. I tossed out two curveballs again, one to each side, which trapped many of the charging
Decepticons in a fiery crosscurrent. Those who escaped ran headlong into Firestar's plasma cannon and were thrown backward into the faces of those behind them.

But they just kept coming. I don't know how long we held them off -- time stopped being important. My focus was on the railgun on my arm, and once I ran out of ammunition for it, I picked up the laser rifle and kept firing that. I got scorched more than once, but I just had to bite down and bear it. I knew the others were probably feeling even worse.

Firestar suddenly yanked the plasma cannon from over her shoulder and threw it hard at the doorway, just before it exploded in a burst of white light and a wave of heat like a blast furnace. "Cannon's slagged!" she announced belatedly.

"Do what you can!" Elita shouted back, driving a hole through a Decepticon's shoulder with a laser bolt.

So this was it. We were down to our reserve weapons and the Decepticons outside still outnumbered us by at least four to one. Well, then again, we'd kept them out so far, right?

But the loss of the serious firepower hurt. A wave of Decepticons charged in again, and cold panic gripped my whole body and squeezed.

"Femmes, we've been breached!" Elita shouted. A rush of Decepticons followed in the wake of their trailblazers, and soon my sisters were engaged in close combat.

By Primus, if I don't send that signal now, it'll be too late. I leaped over to the radio console and tapped in the code I'd devised, but before I could hit 'send', I was grabbed roughly and my arms were pinned to my sides.

"Well, if it isn't our little friend from the tunnels," an all-too-familiar voice sneered in my audio receptor.

Windfinder. Of all the luck...

"Where you going to run to now, little girl? Did you think we wouldn't find your precious base? Did you think I would be so easily fooled?" he snarled.

I growled. "A girl's gotta have hope..." How could I get my hands to that button?

"You humiliated me! And you're going to pay for it now, I promise.

See, we knew better than to stick around Iacon once you'd run there. We just had to look at the tunnels you didn't take, and then wait for your little friends to come home. And now look. You're all doomed."

I looked helplessly at the others, feeling embarrassed. I could've at least been harder to catch. And all for that message, and now I didn't even have a way to send it...

"I'm going to make sure Guillotine does his worst to you before you die, Autobot," Windfinder promised hoarsely. "Cutting off your little fingers and feet will just be the beginning."

Of course! The idiot. "Please," I pleaded, carefully shifting my weight to my left leg. "Don't hurt me." Only one chance at this. Gotta make it count.

"Idiot! I'm going to do nothing but hurt you!" he shouted.

I swung my leg up as high as I could and stomped down on the control panel, mashing the send button with my heel. The screen burst into life and words and numbers scrolled past, followed by the beautiful words "Message sent."

"What the..." Windfinder gasped, spinning me around to face him and backhanding me across the cheek.

"What did you just do?" he demanded.

I glared at him. Well, it works in the movies, I thought as I slammed my head forward to crash my helmet against his forehead. He reeled back, dropping me to put both hands up to the area of impact. I wasn't able to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction, though. My head hurt like crazy, and through my confused haze I remembered exactly why I don't use those kinds of street-fighter moves.

The computer bleeped, shaking some of the confusion from my brain, and words appeared on the screen. "Message receipt confirmed."

Well, I hoped they would get here in time to save more than a shelled-out wasteland of a base. I didn't have much time to think about it before Windfinder was after me again. "She's sent some kind of message!" he bellowed out to his companions.

"Decepticons!" Shockwave's voice drifted over the battle. "Quickly! Capture them!"

"Whiz!" Chromia shouted angrily, "If we get out of this, remind me to kill you!"

I didn't have the luxury of a snappy retort. Instead, I scooped up my rifle and drove the butt-end into Windfinder's waist. He grunted and doubled over, so I bashed him over the head with it for good measure. He dropped, and I turned just in time to see another Decepticon looming behind me. I kicked him away in a panic, then fired a shot that blew out his knee and sent him tumbling to the ground with a growl of pain.

An angry roar behind me proved that Windfinder wasn't quite out of the battle yet. I spun on my heel and fired a blind shot. The blast went through his face at point-blank range, and his head exploded in a shower of sparks. I screamed in horror and fear as the headless body collapsed forward, arms still outstretched to grab me. I stepped away, shivering violently, unable to take my gaze off of the macabre sight.

"Whiz! Slag it, snap out of it!" Firestar shouted, her voice strained.

"Primus, she's too young to deal with this..." Sunrunner gasped.

"Well, I'm too old to deal with her!" Chromia shouted, "Whiz, for the Matrix's sake, stop daydreaming and move!"

The comfortable familiarity of the command snapped me out of my daze, and I looked around in confusion, then stared at the rifle in my hands. As I looked up, I saw Shockwave stepping into the base behind his invading force. And right into the range of the best sharpshooter on Cybertron.

I doubt he even saw the blast coming, but Moonracer's shot flew straight into the Decepticon symbol atop his chest. He staggered backward, his optic flickering with what might have been disbelief. The sight made my energon boil. He's the one invading my home, I thought angrily, he's the one who has to pay!

My plans for revenge were proven premature when a heavy blow thudded into the small of my back. I sprawled forward onto the ground, the rifle skidding out of my grasp as I tried to catch myself with my hands. I shook my head, trying to clear it, but a big hand closed over the back of my neck and lifted me off of the ground.

"You're mine, Autobot," a malevolent voice growled as the grip tightened around my throat. "Any false moves, and Shockwave's got one less prisoner to watch."

I tried to choke out a call for help, but I couldn't get it past that crushing grip. When I raised my hands to pull ineffectually at the fingers circling my throat, it was like trying to move Cybertron out of orbit. To make matters worse, with my air intake blocked, my systems were starting to fade. Darkness started creeping into my peripheral vision, no matter how I struggled.

A low chuckle met my efforts. "You're a feisty little one, aren't you? Just give up, Autobot worm. There's no hope for you."

Just then, a concussion shook the room and was immediately followed by the blaring of alarm klaxons.

"We've been breached topside!" Arcee shouted in a panic.

My spirits sank to a new low. More of them? By the Matrix, talk about overkill. Might was well let it all go, then...

A blast of air gusted into the base, driving out some of the smoke and stinging me back into consciousness. My captor's grip even loosened slightly as he turned to look into the open tunnel with a gasp of surprise. I turned my gaze upward, waiting for the executioner's axe to fall.

And then I saw the red form drop through the breach and into the base.

I made a strangled but joyful noise as I took in the yellow flames, flaring spoiler, and angrily flashing blue optics of the Autobots' most well-meaning gate guard. And behind him, others were also falling into position. The cavalry was here.

"Whiz!" Hot Rod shouted anxiously, searching for me through the batlefield haze.

My captor's grip tightened again as my squirming doubled. "Your friend's too late," he hissed.

"Whiz, I really am going to kill..." Chromia began, but as she looked at me, she saw my desperate position and gasped. "Moonracer! Get that creep off of her!"

A jolt rocked the Decepticon behind me, and he dropped me to the ground with a pained roar. I collapsed to my knees, clutching my throat and trying to draw air into the crushed intake. A shower of laser bolts flew past me and up at Moonracer, keeping her from finishing off the job, so I ended up looking helplessly right up the barrel of a very nasty looking gun. The big Decepticon loomed over me angrily, his injured arm dangling at his side, and shouted, "You're dead!"

I closed my optics, trembling with fear and the desperate wish that I could do something to stop him.

"Whiz!" The shout broke through my despair and I looked up just in time to see Hot Rod barrel into me. I could only stare at him in surprise as his arms enfolded me and he rolled me out of the way. A blast of electricity erupted from the Decepticon's weapon and slammed into my former position, catching Hot Rod in the leg. Grimacing, he dropped me and rolled onto his back, pointing his fists at the Decepticon. "Choke on this!" he shouted, as laser bolts leaped from the chrome piping on his forearms.

Explosions blossomed on the Decepticon's chest and he fell backward with a surprised gasp, then was silent.

Hot Rod rolled back and got to his knees beside me. "You okay?" he asked in concern.

"I'm... I'm going to be..." I gasped, looking up into his worried blue optics. "You saved my life..."

He shrugged, that irreverent grin creeping back over his face. "I owed you."

"Where Shockwave hide?" a roaring voice demanded from over by the hole in the ceiling. "Me Grimlock teach him to pick on little Femmes! Me show him real fight!"

Hot Rod looked over at Grimlock and started to get up, then collapsed back to his knees as residual electricity from the blast crackled around his ankle. He growled in frustration, then pulled twin silver guns from subspace. "Guess I'll stay here to cover you," he grinned.

"Push them back, Autobots!" Ultra Magnus shouted over the din of battle.

I swept my eyes over the room as I got up to a sitting position and retrieved my fallen rifle. The Decepticons were beginning to fall back through the main doors, pulling their injured and unconscious comrades with them. I was especially pleased to see that Shockwave was among the wounded. And the Femmes were grudgingly fighting side by side with the Autobots, accepting their help in driving the invaders out.

"We've got 'em on the run now!" shouted a big green and grey Autobot who was helping Arcee defend her position.

"Decepticons!" Shockwave ordered weakly. "Set the charges and move out. Bury them!"

Ultra Magnus stopped in his tracks as he heard the order. "Evacuate! Now! Move it!"

"Arcee, can you get the suspension field working?" Elita demanded.

Arcee punched some keys furiously. "Not enough power!"

I was crawling for the main computer even before the call came.


"On it," I tried to shout, but it came out as a strangled gasp.

Hot Rod protested, "You're still hurt!" as he tentatively put his weight on his injured leg.

I waved dismissively at him, then hoisted myself up on the computer bank. I worked as fast as I dared, and routed all of the available power to Arcee's terminal. The lights faded and went out as the golden glow of the suspension field appeared in a straight column to the surface.

"Let's go, Autobots!" Elita shouted.

Hot Rod ran over to me, limping only slightly. "That means us too," he said, trying to pull me behind him and then just trying to hold me up as I staggered. "Not working. Oh well," he shrugged, then hoisted me up to sling me haphazardly over his shoulder.

"Hey!" I protested as he began to run for the glowing column. My upper body was dangling uselessly over his back, giving me a great view of the ground. With some real contortions, I could get a slight glimpse of where we were going.

"Don't wiggle so much," he said, tightening his grip on my ankles. "I'm saving your life."

There was an entirely too amused tone in his voice that I didn't like.

"Oh, is that what you're doing?" I rasped, trying to get enough air to give him a real earful.

He snickered. "Hey, I could drop you and leave you here."

I growled in frustration, but I didn't argue. Then he stepped into the field and I felt curiously weightless as we were pulled up to the surface. He stepped out and ran clear, and I caught brief glimpses of other Autobots evacuating the area. A streak of blue motion passed us by quickly, and I could have sworn I heard the trace of laughter from within.

CommanderOr..." Blurr reported from nearby.

Ultra Magnus cut him off with a quick, "Thank you Blurr," then said to Elita, "He expects to be interrupted."

Elita made a very noncommittal noise.

"You can put me down now," I grouched at Hot Rod.

He chuckled again. "I guess I can," he said cheerfully, setting me carefully on the ground and steadying me with his arm.

I opened my mouth to respond with something suitably witty, but was immediately distracted by a tremor building under my feet. I turned in surprise just in time to see a hole open up in the ground, collapsing a large swath of Crystal City's wreckage. I watched in dismay as everything we had was swallowed up by the Decepticons' destructive charges, buried by alloy and plasteel and all of the other remnants of a destroyed city.

Hot Rod turned to look at me and said gently, "Look, at least everyone made it out okay."

I nodded to him vaguely, then looked for my sisters, picking out the other horrified faces in the cluster of sympathetic ones. I moved weakly over to Elita, reaching her at about the same time as the others. We came together in a knot of support, putting our arms around each other for the reassurance of contact.

"We've lost much," Elita said gravely, her rich voice soothing and gentle, "But we're still together. That's all that matters."

We separated, and I got a closer look at my companions. We were all burned, beaten, and exhausted, but Elita was right. We were still together. We were still alive.

Chromia turned to me, her optics bright despite her fatigue and her injuries. "I still have an issue to settle with you," she said in a low voice.

"Come on, if it wasn't for that message, we'd all be toast!" I protested, coughing hard as air rushed through my crushed throat.

"Toast or not, at least I wouldn't have to listen to you say that you were right all along!" Chromia argued, a smile dawning on her face.

Elita smiled too. "Come on, Femmes, let's go to Iacon. We've got a whole new adventure ahead of us now."

Hot Rod wandered up. "We're heading out," he said tentatively, looking at my sisters with a mixture of curiosity and awe. "Ultra Magnus can carry anyone too injured to drive back."

Sunrunner pushed me toward Hot Rod suddenly and told him, "I think Whiz needs you to carry her again." She chuckled gleefully, especially when she saw my blank look.

"Yeah," Arcee agreed, "She deserves to be carted around like that for a while longer. She disobeyed a direct order, after all."

Hot Rod hesitated, looking at them in some confusion.

"Come on, lighten up," I prodded with a wide grin. "We don't bite."

He rolled his optics. "Just for that..." he said in a warning voice, then grabbed me and hoisted me headfirst over his shoulder again.

I yelped in protest as my sisters began laughing.

"I live to serve," Hot Rod told them smugly, then headed off toward Iacon with me draped helplessly over his arm.

Things were never going to be the same again.

The End