Echoes and Fragments Part 4 - Matrix Quest!
Part 4 - Matrix Quest!
Back on GoBotron, Twister stared at the strange mech Vec-Tor had asked him to guard. "Don't take your eyes off," was the exact phrasing the mysterious old Guardian had used. Sideways didn't look like any GoBot he'd ever seen before. Something about him gave the Guardian the willies. Fortunately, his shift was over any minute.
The door chime announced that his relief was here. He turned to let Heat Seeker in. "Got a live one, I hear," his relief remarked.
Twister nodded, and gestured to the energy cage with his thumb. "Yeah, really creeps me out too. Good luck!"
Heat Seeker looked baffled. "What really creeps you out... an empty cage?"
Twister turned, and sure enough, the energy cage was empty! "Oh, no no no!" He ran over, but there was no sign of Sideways. "How could he have gotten out? I only took my eyes off him for a minute!"
Heat Seeker entered the security office. "Maybe there's a clue in the cage." He reached for the controls.
At the last instant, Twister realized his error. "Nooooo!" he cried out, but Heat Seeker's fingers inevitably made contact with the power button, de-energizing the controls.
Sideways dropped his trans-phase mode and reentered perceptible reality. Unpowered, the bars of the cage were simple steel, and he battered them aside as if they weren't even there. The two Guardians fired off bolts at him, but he grabbed Twister and slammed him into Heat Seeker, knocking both unconscious. Then he slipped out of the GoBotron Fortress, enveloped himself in trans-phase energy, and transited to another universe.
- * * * *
Kup and Hot Rod stood at the end of the platform over the Dactyl pit, having been led here by two more Monster GoBots, Vamp and Creepy. Klaws stood ready to drop them to their doom, but took the time to explain that they could beg for their lives if they liked. Kup whispered to Hot Rod that he couldn't transform, a side-effect of the energy bonds no doubt.
From his platform, high above the proceedings, the Master Renegade looked down on them. "If you won't play the game, little Autobots, I'll have no choice but to terminate you now."
"Game?" Hot Rod's reply was pregnant with contempt. "I'll give you games! Let me go and we'll see how tough you are!"
The Master Renegade gave a deep laugh. "I suppose we will! Klaws... destroy them!"
Klaws pulled the lever, and the platform fell out from under them. As it did, their bonds released, but they were now surrounded by countless hungry Dactyls. Hot Rod converted to his Cybertronian car mode and began to drive the perimeter of the pit, using centripetal force to drive up the very walls themselves and escape the pit. Kup, meanwhile, landed on the back of a Dactyl, infuriating it. The Autobot hung on for dear life as the beast followed its fellows in climbing each other's backs to escape the pit and pursue their escaping prey.
As the battle spilled into the absurd parody of a courtroom, the Monster GoBots did their best to flee the ravenous beasts. Hot Rod derived some small satisfaction from that, but didn't see how he was going to escape becoming Dactyl chow. He fired off charge after charge at the beasts, driving them back or destroying them, but more kept coming. As his weapon ran out of power, he converted to car mode, smashing into Dactyl after Dactyl. Sooner or later, he knew, he'd get the angle wrong and cause himself serious damage, and that would be that. Kup, meanwhile, had learned to direct his Dactyl by creating two small wounds on the creature's carapace, one on either side, and applying a mild pressure. His beast was proving quite effective against its fellows. "I think I'm starting to like this guy!"
Hot Rod converted back to his robot form and picked up a piece of a Dactyl's leg, using it as a makeshift flail. "Glad you're having fun. May as well go down swinging!"
Hot Rod backed away from a Dactyl whose beak got within a fraction of an inch of decapitating him, only to get jumped by several Dactyls who had maneuvered behind him. "DESTROY THEM!" bellowed Klaws, only to get crushed by the enormous door of the compound bursting inward.
The Dinobots, each of them ridden by a RoGun, tromped into the melee. Slag took a moment to apologize to the pinned Monster GoBot. Grimlock also had Squirt in his undersized tyrannosaurus rex arms, and was firing indiscriminately at the Dactyl horde. The Dactyls immediately turned their attention from Kup and Hot Rod to these much larger intruders. The Dinobots used their bulk to good effect, kicking, stomping, smashing, and burning any Dactyls that got near.
From atop his dais, the Master Renegade shouted down at the suddenly recalcitrant Dactyl swarm. "What are you waiting for, mindless beasts? Obliterate these Cybertronians!"
Grimlock roared, and stamped his foot, sending tremors throughout the compound. "Me Grimlock say obliterate HIM," pointing to the scrawny cyborg. The Dactyls looked left and right, their tiny processors weighing this new option that had suddenly presented itself. With a shrill CAAAW, they started swarming the walls, climbing the bodies of their fellows to get at their former master and current target.
Kup, still on Dactyl-back, smiled with satisfaction. "I think the problems on this planet will be solved very shortly."
Hot Rod looked up. "Yeah, cowboy, but what about our problems? We need a ship."
Pistol jumped from Grimlock's back. "That's where we can help each other. The Master Renegade has a craft close by. We can take you there, if you get us off this planet."
Hot Rod leaned down to get a better look at the diminutive mech, hands on his knees. "Who are you guys?"
Grimlock answered, proud to know something Hot Rod didn't for a change. "Them RoGuns. Them friends!"
"Great," quipped Hot Rod. "Any friend of Grimlock's is a friend of mine. This ship, it'll get us off this rock?"
Scope nodded. "I've scouted it out. It's a bit, um, grungy, but it'll do."
Kup urged his Dactyl towards the ship. "To the Grungy!"
- * * * *
In the bowels of Cybertron, Gong was bored. He had expected more movement from Sideways, more alterations to the Omega Locks. OK, sure, there were a few minutes there where things were in crazy flux, but Sideways hadn't touched them since. Gong had half a mind to just completely overwrite the reality Sideways was inhabiting with this one and see how the two-faced Decepticon liked that.
Then Gong heard Sideways urgently cry his name. "Well, speak of the devil! I was just wondering what was up with--"
"Save it, Gong! Vector Prime is onto us."
Gong froze. "Oh, scrap!"
- * * * *
On Quartex, Bullseye managed to locate the battered and dented form of Major Mo. The Autobots and Guardians gathered around him. Arcee was the first to his side. "He... he's alive, thank the Last Engineer. But... but he's lost the Matrix."
Motosan's head fell into his hands. "Without the Matrix, we have no chance against that planet smasher."
Springer bent down next to Major Mo. "Well, I guess we start by repairing our leader, and--"
Nick interrupted him, pointing at a ridge which was now festooned with living rock. "LOOK!"
Magmar, realizing he'd been spotted, sounded the battle cry. "Rock Lords... ATTACK!"
The Autobots and Guardians were in no shape for a fight. Wordlessly, they began to flee, Springer hosting Major Mo's battered form onto his shoulder. They were surrounded, though, with two camps of Rock Lords on either side of them and hordes of treaded rock drones cutting off their retreat down the valley.
With little choice, they stood and fought. Arcee fired off several shots, hitting Brimstone and Saberstone, but they merely converted to their boulder modes and rolled backwards with the shot, before converting back to their humanoid configuration and advancing again.
"It's not hard to knock em down," observed Springer, "it's getting them to STAY down that's the trick!"
More boulders converted to humanoids, and soon Rock Shot and Stone Hook were grappling with Motosan and Bullseye.
"They're indestructible," worried Arcee, as Spearhead managed to snag her blaster.
"And they've got us surrounded," observed A.J, who had to take several steps back, lest Sticks N' Stones grab her. At their failure, they began grumbling at each other.
Springer spied Magmar, directing the battle from atop his Stone Wing jet, and charged with his sword, knocking aside Stoneheart on the way. Magmar barely had time to raise an axe, and the two engaged in a brief but savage melee.
Things seemed hopeless... until three huge bestial shapes rode over a hillock. Two were rock creatures, the Rockasauruses Terra-Roc and Spikestone, the third was... Kup, riding his pet Dactyl.
"I'm thinking I'll name this guy... Gnaw," he said. They weren't alone. With them came half a dozen friendly Rock Lords, charging into battle, three Jewel Lords, hanging back and directing the Rockasauruses, and the enormous Fossilsaurus. Boulder directed the battle, riding his Rock Pot vehicle. Action Shock Rock drones, of Blast Rock and Stun Stone varieties, rounded out the reinforcements.
Magmar wasted little time in sounding the retreat. The Autobots and Guardians looked at the new rock faces before them, stunned. Hot Rod hopped off of the Rock Pot.
"Autobots, Guardians... allow me to introduce Boulder!" He gestured up at the tungsten Rock Lord. "We tracked your Command Center module to this planet, but had to put down on the other side of it. Luckily, when we bumped into Boulder and his pals, we decided to try out the old Universal Greeting. Boulder had been wondering what drew Magmar out of Stonehead in such force. Turns out, it was you."
Boulder stretched forth a hand, and Springer took it gladly. "Never been so glad to shake hands with a rock!"
Boulder introduced his fellow warriors. "I'm the leader of this tribe. This is Granite, Nuggit, Marbles, Pulver-Eyes, Crackpot, and Rock Roller. The Fossilsaurus up there is Rib Cage, Jaw Bone, Hip Bone, and Tail Bone. And the Jewel Lords are our trusted allies, Solitaire, Flamestone, and Sunstone." At that moment, a narly jumped into Arcee's arms. She was startled for a moment, but then stroked its soft fur. "Oh, and that's our pet Narlihog. Unlike most of the Narlies on this planet, he's tame."
Grimlock stomped forward, Pistol still riding him. "Me Grimlock bored of handshakes. Me say we need big party!" The Autobots, Guardians, RoGuns, and Rock Lords laughed, happy to be able to take a moment to catch their collective breaths. Crackpot converted to his boulder mode, and Pulver-Eyes began to play him like a drum. The Dinobots began dancing with Fossilsaurus, who soon separated into his component parts. Rib Cage waltzed with Grimlock, Hib Bone boogied with Sludge, Tail Bone tangoed with Swoop, and Jaw Bone broke it down with Slag. Flamestone took Arcee's hand and Springer took Sunstone's, before they traded partners. Nuggit tried to imitate the breakdancing style of the RoGuns. Kup was somehow able to make his Dactyl, Gnaw, do a two-step, and Hot Rod spun Rock Roller around. Motosan and Bullseye showed off their moves to Granite. Marbles even kissed Grimlock on the nose, much to his consternation.
The moment was soon broken, though, as Major Mo returned to a weak consciousness.
"You... you're all alive."
Hot Rod asked the question on everyone's minds. "The Matrix?"
Major Mo confirmed their fears. "It's gone."
Kup shook his head, sadly. "And with it, all hope."
Autobots and Guardians bowed their heads in grief, convinced that their world was forfeit. Only Hot Rod remained defiant. "No. I refuse to believe that. There's only one place Galvatron would take the Matrix... Cybertron. We've got to get to Cybertron!"
Solitaire coughed. "Quartex is not without recourse when it comes to space travel." She pointed to a beautiful, gleaming crystal spire close to the horizon.
"That's a ship," Kup exclaimed?
Hot Rod had a broad grin. "Who cares, as long as it flies?"
And so, four races, Guardians and Autobots, RoGuns and Rock Lords, made their way to two ships to do battle with Galvatron, retrieve the Matrix, and defeat Unicron.
- * * * *
Vector Prime entered the Omega Lock chamber cautiously. Gong may be more a prankster than a villain, but this close to the essence of Primus, he was still incredibly dangerous. "Come out, Gong, you know not the forces you're playing with."
The ancient Autobot attempted to sense Gong's presence, but the overwhelming energy of Cybertron's multiversal frequencies drowned out all lesser noises. The shadowy corridors, dating to Cybertron's very formation, filled Vector Prime with an unaccountable sense of dread. Something was very wrong here.
He turned a corner and spied Gong's back. Perhaps this could end without undue harm. "Gong. You've had your fun. Now, it's time to come with me." Gong remained eerily motionless. Vector took a tentative step forward. "There's no reason to belabor this, Renegade. Come quietly, I promise you fair treatment." No reaction. Tentatively, Vector Prime reached out a hand.
The instant he made contact with Gong's shoulder, Gong's head spun 180 degrees around. "Let's get this party started, hehehehe!" Gong's whole body magnetized, and Vector Prime found himself stuck.
"What are you hoping to accomplish, Gong? You'll have to release me if you want to take any significant action."
At that moment, Sideways stepped from the shadows. "He might, but I won't." Vector realized his predicament, immobilized in the face of Sideways' wrath. Sideways fired off a missile and struck Vector in the side, causing damage and throwing him and Gong backwards.
'I need a miracle,' thought Vector Prime.
Then the world shuddered in the largest cyberquake it had ever known. Instantly, Vector knew what had happened. Galvatron had attempted to use the Matrix and failed, and Unicron was beginning his assault on Cybertron. If the Omega Locks were to be fixed, now was the time.
Fortunately, the juddering walls afforded Vector Prime the opportunity to push Gong into a suddenly-exposed power conduit. The resulting surge shorted out Gong's electromagnet and allowed Vector Prime to wrench himself free. Gong was unconscious, at least for a few minutes, but Sideways still stalked the tunnels. Vector was torn, but opted to head back for the locks. Ensuring Cybertron survived the next few minutes had to take priority!
- * * * *
The Grungy and the crystal ship emerged from hyperspace, confronting the inhabitants with a clash on the scale of the gods. Unicron, now in his humanoid form, straddled Cybertron and was engaged in a pitched battle with the entire Renegade and Decepticon armies.
On board the Grungy, Springer voiced what they were all thinking. "I don't believe it."
Hot Rod nervously attempted to lighten the mood with a joke, asking what this reminded Kup of, but, for the first time anyone could remember, his endless repertoire of war stories had nothing remotely close. A.J. swallowed. "Moonbase 2 is gone... do you suppose Matt--"
"That's what we're gonna find out," Hot Rod vowed. He grabbed the controls and the Grungy engaged Unicron, raining fire on the titanic figure. He retaliated with a huge torrent of energy, blasted from his mouth, which clipped the crystal ship but caused little damage the industrious Rock Lords couldn't repair. A glancing blow on the Grungy proved more damaging, and Hot Rod had little choice but to aim for the eye and hope for the best.
- * * * *
At the Omega Lock controls, Vector Prime forced himself to be calm. Though Cybertron was wounded, the controls still seemed to be responsive. One by one, he eased each constant of this reality back to its nominal state. Seven constants remaining... six... three... one...
Before he could repair the final constant and sever the link between this reality and the Gargent world of Vec-Tor, he sensed and incoming missile and dodged. Sideways wasn't letting him succeed without a fight.
"Sideways, think, if Unicron destroys this reality, he destroys you with it!" Vector's optics darted, trying to catch sight of his adversary.
A voice echoed from the darkness. "And you think I fear death? I WELCOME death! The sweet embrace of oblivion is a nectar most dear to me."
Vector slowly circled away from the controls, "Did Gong realize that was the goal all along?"
The echoing staccato of Sideways' laugh filled the dusty corridors. "Gong was an idiot. He had no clue what the endgame was."
That's it, thought Vector, just keep talking. Out loud, he shouted, "You are too late, knave. Reality is saved. You may as well depart this dimension and hope for better luck in the next world."
"YOU LIE!" roared his adversary.
Vector had moved so he could observe the Omega Lock controls without being seen. He put as much arrogance into his voice as he could. "Try me."
- * * * *
As Sideways and Vector Prime battled deep inside Cybertron, so too did Galvatron and Hot Rod struggle over the Guardian Matrix of Leadership. Galvatron was immensely powerful, and Hot Rod did his best with hit and run tactics, but found himself getting the life choked out of him. "I will crush you with my bare hands," growled the Decepticon. "Die, Autobot." As he felt his life slipping away, Hot Rod found an absurd thought in his head. What's a Guardian?
- * * * *
Above, the Junkions and Dinobots faltered, the last bit of resistance Cybertron had against the Chaos Bringer crumbling. Below, Vector prayed Sideways would fall for his bluff. Come on, he though, you can't risk that I might be telling the truth. Just as he began to despair, Sideways cursed and ran for the controls. Vector summoned the Rhisling from subspace and charged, putting a large gash in Sideways' side. Death he might seek, but pain... pain was another story. Sideways yelped, converted to motorcycle form, and drove away.
Vector ran to the controls, praying he could unlink this reality from the Gargent stream before disaster struck.
- * * * *
"First, Prime, then Ultra Magnus, and now, you," growled the Decepticon. "It's a pity you Autobots die so easily, or I might have a sense of satisfaction now." At that instant, Hot Rod's fingers closed around the Guardian Matrix of Leadership. He tugged at it, but nothing happened, and he felt his spark slipping away...
No, he resolved, one more try, I have to open the Guar--the--the Autobot Matrix! Incredibly, Hot Rod felt the power of the artifact coursing through him, invigorating him, making him invulnerable, filling him with wisdom. From the depth of its interior, he felt as much as heard the voice of his beloved fallen leader, Optimus Prime, urging him to rise as Rodimus Prime.
Galvatron panicked and fired off several shots, shots which bounced off Rodimus Prime's chest but did knock the Matrix from his hand.
Rodimus was undaunted. "This is the end of the road, Galvatron." Rodimus charged to Galvatron and, seemingly effortlessly, lifted him off the ground and hurled him out of Unicron and into deep space. Almost serenely, Rodimus retrieved the Matrix and willed it to open. "Now, light our darkest hour," he reverently intoned. Its cascading energies ripped through Unicron, destroying the dark god from the inside out.
Somehow, Rodimus knew he had only minutes to locate his friends and lead them to safety, and he set forth to his task.
- * * * *
From the surface of Cybertron, Vector Prime observed another death of Unicron with equanimity. What should have been a straightforward battle had nearly turned into disaster, thanks to a nihilist and a trickster. Who knew when or where the next multiversal disaster would arise, or what might precipitate it.
Vector Prime converted to his starship mode and roared off into the night.
- * * * *
With Unicron defeated and the Decepticons in retreat, the Autobots and Junkions pledged their friendship as Rodimus Prime declared victory over a broken planet. It wouldn't stay broken for long, Rodimus vowed. He would take the momentum he had this day and clear the planet of all Decepticons, rebuild, reaffirm the Autobot alliance with Earth, and generally make the galaxy a safer place.
Below the surface, Sideways willed his nanoswarm to repair his injuries, but the bite of the Rhisling was resistant to his normal methods of autorepair. "So close," he muttered, "I was so close to victory. Ah, well, maybe next time."
A shadow fell over him. He glanced up, but it was only Gong. "Hey, Renegade. This was a fun effort. Maybe next time..." He trailed off as he saw fury in Gong's eyes.
"So I'm an idiot, am I? Well, this idiot is going to teach you a thing or two, hehehehe!"As Gong advanced on his still injured form, one thought flitted through Sideways' processor: 'oh, scrap.'
- Jim Sorenson (w). "Echoes and Fragments" Ask Vector Prime (February 10th, 2016), Fun Publications