Cold Ride In

by Dragoness Eclectic

Deep space, 2005

As the hijacked Autobot shuttle cruised through warp space, Astrotrain pondered the joys of being transportation--backup transportation at that. Though he was one of the toughest, strongest fighters in the assault force, he hadn't had the job of taking this shuttle--that honor had gone to Starscream, Megatron and the Constructicons. As a result, he was one of the last 'Cons aboard, and wound up squeezed in the back of the shuttle behind the Insecticons. As a result of the hull breach, the shuttle was cold and airless, rendering normal conversation impossible. Instead, everyone chattered on radio, mostly in their own little cliques and channels. Astrotrain was cold, bored and lonely.

Blitzwing's radio crackled on the triple-changer's private channel. "See anything yet?" Astrotrain asked.

Blitzwing roused himself from his state of semi-hibernation--a habit he picked up on long space voyages, particularly on ships with bad life-support. This flight wasn't supposed to be but a few hours, but the habit stuck with him.

"Well," he said, sitting up straight and lifting his feet off the dead black and white Autobot he'd been using for a footrest, "There's still four dead Autobots decorating the deck, Screamer strutting and preening like an Earth peacock, Megatron looking happy as if a plan just came together, 'Cracker and 'Warp doing whatever it is they always do just before a battle, the 'Structies are having some kind of meeting, Soundwave looks like he's listening to everyone's conversations, and you tell me what the Insecticons are doing back there."

"Playing poker with Thrust and Ramjet," said Astrotrain. The human card game had proved quite popular among Decepticons assigned to Earth. "No, I meant outside!"

"Still in warp space, which looks a lot like space, only twistier." Blitzwing leaned back and propped his feet up on Prowl's dead shell again.

"What am I doing here, anyway?" Astrotrain said grumpily. "Megatron wouldn't let me carry the assault!"

"Well, you're the escape plan if the slag hits the rotors... Maybe he was afraid your delicate hide would get scratched, and then you wouldn't be able to fly out. Either that, or he knows the two of us would have just slagged half the bridge in the process. Starscream can shoot straight when he wants to--nicest shooting I've seen in a long time! Took 'em out without any missed shots hitting the controls--he even held his fire until the Autobots got up and charged him!"

"Whoopity-doo for Starscream," said Astrotrain. "Wish I could have seen it, though. The expressions on those Autobot faces must have been priceless!"

Blitzwing looked down at his current footrest and shrugged. "Nah, shock and pain are kinda dull to look at after a while. If you're bored enough, come up and look for yourself--though Ironhide doesn't actually have a head left to look at."

"I'll pass. It's not as amusing when someone else had all the fun," Astrotrain replied. "So, what's our plan, groundside?"

"I figure we'll kill Autobots, blow things up, avoid dying, and generally have a fine old time," Blitzwing replied. "The third item is actually the most important part of this here evolution. Oh, and watch out for when Screamer decides to have a go at Megatron--make sure you're not in the line of fire, coming or going."

"I would ask how you know Screamer is going to do that, but that's a lot like asking how you know the moons will rise. Some things are just laws of nature," Astrotrain said, chuckling. "I see we're agreed on The Plan."

"Of course we are. What's the Stupid Orders Provision this time?" Blitzwing asked.

"Random choice per incident: commo failure, 'sorry, we're out of range', 'sorry, we're already engaged', 'Hey, there goes an Autobot, get him before he escapes!'", Astrotrain answered.

"What happened to, 'Starscream gave us different orders, I can't imagine why he's denying it'?" Blitzwing asked, overly innocent.

"Don't want to torque him off. He might come out on top today," Astrotrain answered.

"Think he'll have a real go at it?" Blitzwing asked.

"As opposed to one of his old 'I'm bored, I think I'll shoot Megatron in the back for fun' go-rounds?" Astrotrain hesitated for a moment. Finally he said, "If he goes for it, it'll be for real. This one's for all the marbles; either we smash Autobot City, or we're hurt so bad that either Megatron or Starscream rate to go down. The orders I got from Megatron are to keep myself intact, but we don't pull out unless he goes down and someone else gives the order to retreat. As long as he's standing, we aren't retreating."

"So whose side are we on?"

"Wait and see; it only matters if Megatron falls, which I can't see happening."

"Basically, we're on Megatron's side while he stands, but if he should go down, all bets are off, all sure futures are in the Pit, and the slag has hit the rotors," Blitzwing colorfully summed their position up. "Just make sure we're in agreement as to whose side we're on. I'd hate to start shooting you by mistake."

"Copy you on that, Blitzer," Astrotrain said. "We side with whoever's left standing, obviously. And Stupid Order Responses get blamed on the other guy."

Blitzwing smirked, feeling a bit mischievous from the before-battle tension. "So which one of us 'accidentally' shoots Soundwave before he can spill what he's been overhearing about our plots?"

Blitzwing's smirk changed into a grin as Soundwave twitched almost imperceptibly, then turned his head to keep Blitzwing and Astrotrain in view.

"Damn it, Blitzwing! Will you stop pulling gags like that when I'm stuck back here and can't see a slagging thing?" Astrotrain grumbled. "You do it again, and I'll have an 'accidental' weapons discharge next time you fly by."

Blitzwing chuckled over their private channel. The almost imperceptible shiver of the shuttle returning to normal space presaged the blaze of solar light through the forward viewports and the gaping hole in the hull. They had arrived--the blue world called Earth spun below them.

"Standard approach vector, Soundwave. We wouldn't want to alert them," Megatron said sardonically.

Blitzwing rose to his feet with the rest of the warriors, and made sure his weapons were ready and secure. They'd ditch the shuttle at the last minute and fly in shooting--only about twenty interminable minutes to go, and anything could happen.

Soundwave executed a slow, powered re-entry; with the hole in the hull, they dared not a fiery, ballistic plunge into the atmosphere. Even so, de-orbit and re-entry were rough, very rough--Soundwave fought the controls as atmospheric drag tore at the ragged gash in the hull, nearly sending the shuttle into a chaotic tumble again and again. Blitzwing rode the bucking deck of the shuttle like a surfboard--so did the Seekers, he noted--while the Constructicons clung desperately to bulkheads and overhead piping.

"Blitzwing," the private channel crackled with Astrotrain's voice, scarred by static from the ionized atmosphere outside, "be ready to bail. If Soundwave doesn't get that yaw under control, this ship will come apart when we hit denser air."

"Now that would be just a bit inconvenient, what with Autobot City Flight Control watching us come in," Blitzwing replied.

"Very inconvenient," Astrotrain said. "Possibly fatal to the weaker hulls here."

The hull lurched and shuddered as the denser air got a purchase on it. Blitzwing could see Megatron look sharply at Soundwave as the dark blue 'Con struggled with the controls. Whatever he said was lost in the roar outside, but Megatron looked worried.

Starscream lunged forward and slapped the control panel in front of Soundwave, and said something to him that was lost to Blitzwing. The ship lurched, and suddenly steadied. A thin siren wail that grew steadily louder penetrated the hull.

"Blitzwing, what's happening up there?" Astrotrain shouted across the radio channel.

"I'm not sure, Soundwave looked like he was losing it, and Starscream jumped up and did something, and suddenly we stabilized. What in the Pit is that noise?" Blitzwing said.

"Hah! The two best pilots on this barge are myself and Starscream, and Megatron lets Soundwave pilot! What you just saw was Starscream correctly refusing to let Soundwave's mediocrity doom us all," Astrotrain rumbled.

"Gonna tell me what happened before I have an 'accidental' weapons discharge?" Blitzwing said.

"It should be obvious--Soundwave couldn't compensate for the port-side drag caused by the hull damage with the shuttle's normal control surfaces--that's why he was losing control. Starscream saw that, too, and engaged the starboard air brakes, compensating for the drag."

Blitzwing sulked in silence for about a minute. "Thanks for making me feel like an idiot. I should have recognized the sound of the air brakes."

"Yes, you should have," Astrotrain said. "I at least have the excuse of being stuck in the back and unable to see a slagging thing--oh, good, the poker game is breaking up and moving to the hole."

"You know that's why Starscream isn't piloting--Megatron wants his best combat fliers to take the lead with him," Blitzwing pointed out.

"Nobody would have taken the lead if this shuttle broke up and spilled us all over half the continent on the way down," Astrotrain growled.

"Yeah, can't argue with you there," Blitzwing said, taking his position near the hole. The mountain spine of the continent that sheltered Autobot City was clearly visible. He could have said more, but didn't--half of Astrotrain's grumbling was pre-combat nerves, the other half was anger at being threatened with death before even getting in sight of the enemy. Glancing around, Blitzwing noticed that most of the rest of them seemed equally keyed up.

"Ready?" Blitzwing asked Astrotrain for the final time. To his left, Starscream moved in front of the hole, readying himself for action.

"Ready. Don't forget item three in The Plan, Blitzer; as you say, that's the important one."

"Watch your own aft, 'Train."

"I will. It's in my orders."

Blaster fire seared into the shuttle from below, blasting a new hole in the side of the shuttle. Starscream ducked as hot photons sizzled past his wings--

Megatron instantly assessed the situation. "Decepticons, ATTACK!"

Blitzwing laughed out loud and leaped through the hole right behind Megatron, bringing the brilliant orange and yellow form of the attacking Autobot into his sights as he fell and transformed.

"Cold ride, hot LZ--Come on, 'Train! We've got 'Bots to slag!"

-- FIN --