Octane came back online in a great deal of pain, with far too many alarms in his memory queue. He was laying on his right side, with one wing crumpled under him, and his legs crushed underneath Astrotrain. His other wing had been crushed by Blitzwing, and his chassis was badly bent and cracked between his own impact with the wall and Blitzwing smashing into his body. His right arm was pinned under his body, and probably badly bent from the feel of it. His left arm had a Blitzwing on it.
His thrusters were offline, and he couldn't transform with his current injuries--too many things broken, crushed or bent out of place. His optics, audio, radio, cerebro-circuitry and his vital processors were intact. His main fuel reserve was still safely tucked away in subspace, but his fueling interfaces and fuel processor were as damaged as the rest of him. His automatic emergency beacon was squalling on the appropriate frequencies, telling all and sundry that here was a Decepticon ready for the spare parts bin.
"This is... not good. I probably should panic now," Octane muttered to himself. "Except that panicking involves flailing about and running, and I can't do either right now. Why did I come on this mission again? Right, because Megatron ordered me to."
He wiggled his left hand. "Fingers work! That's a start." His upper arm was still pinned by Blitzwing's deactivated body, in spite of the very low gravity--just enough to give him a sense of up and down. Octane tried to roll and shift Blitzwing's dead weight off of him-- and stopped suddenly as bent metal gouged something inside his hips. His legs would not move; he could only twist himself so far. With a painful jerk Octane succeeded in rolling onto his back--but not in freeing himself from Blitzwing. Blitzwing's bent and twisted parts were interlocked with Octane's own torn metal. His legs were still crushed under Astrotrain.
"This is still not good," Octane said to himself. His right arm was smashed and bent, but now free to move--if it could. Octane tried to flex it--and screamed. A little more cautiously, he wiggled his right hand fingers--they worked. His elbow joint was smashed, and his right shoulder didn't work too well, either. "Okay, I can use my right hand to hold things if I move them to it. That's progress. I think."
Something hit the hull with a 'thunk' that Octane could feel through the metal under his back. He froze; something went "scritcha-scritcha-scritch" across metal. "Blitzwing? Astrotrain?" he radioed cautiously.
No answer. He turned his head to look around, cranking up light intensification so that the nebula glow illuminated the chamber.
An articulated metallic tentacle tipped with a four-fingered gripper slithered across the floor, tapping and prodding every few feet. The base of the tentacle snaked out of the gap in the hull and out of sight--no, Octane could see outside the much larger tentacle it emerged from, as a branch does from a tree trunk. That tentacle had the dark, hard scaly armored surface he remembered from the other pyropod--only it was nearly ten times the diameter of those tentacles--and too large to enter the gap in the hull.
"This is very not good!" Octane writhed, trying to twist loose from his entanglement with Blitzwing.
The pyropod tendril whipped around to point in his direction--Octane froze. The tendril surged forward, stopping to prod the floor once or twice--
It grabbed Blitzwing by the ankle, gripping it and pulling the deactivated triple-changer toward the gap in the hull. Metal twisted and scraped past as the tendril pulled Blitzwing almost loose from Octane. Only the weight of Astrotrain and the other triple-changer's wings crushed into Octane's legs kept him from being dragged along with Blitzwing. As it was, the slowly uncoiling towing cable still attached to Blitzwing would soon drag the tanker along to whatever doom Blitzwing was headed for.
As Blitzwing's body started to slide past, Octane shook his left arm free and grabbed Blitzwing's electro-scimitar from its sheath. He rolled violently, trying to push Astrotrain off his legs--Astrotrain rocked and nearly slid off, but his crushed wing, and the other towing cable, welded him firmly to Octane's legs.
Octane swung desperately, cutting through Astrotrain's wing and the towing cable. Again he rolled and pulled--At last, his legs came free! From the feel of it, he had two crushed stumps for legs, but at least he could move.
The pyropod's tendril had nearly dragged Blitzwing to the gap. Octane dragged himself along the floor--more above the floor than actually on the floor in this very low gravity--and hacked desperately at the tendril. Fortunately for Blitzwing, the tendril parted before Blitzwing's ankle did.
The damaged tendril whipped away out of sight; three more tendrils darted in, toward Octane and Blitzwing. Octane thumbed on Blitzwing's sword, and swung the energized electro-scimitar. Three tendril tips dropped slowly to the floor as the severed tendrils spasmed wildly from the electronic disruption effect of the scimitar.
The tendrils withdrew; the monstrous tentacle outside began to move. Octane had a bad feeling about that. With his functional left arm, he guided his damaged right arm to Blitzwing's body and firmly gripped the back of the other triple-changer's neck with his right hand.
Ah! His subspace controls were still working. Octane stuck Blitzwing's scimitar in a loop of towing cable and summoned his flamethrower into his left hand; he gave it a quick squeeze, using it as an impromptu rocket to push him back to Astrotrain. Now how in the Pit was he going to pick up Astrotrain and use the flamethrower?
Octane glanced worriedly at the giant tentacle still moving its seemingly near-infinite length past the gap in the hull. Off to his right was the archway into the next chamber. Dithering--bad. He had to do something--
Octane rolled and deliberately hooked his crumpled wing into the shreds of Astrotrain's hacked-up wing, pulling the shuttle-changer on to his back. Then Octane faced the archway, pointed the flamethrower behind him, and gave the trigger a long squeeze, jetting him into the next chamber.
The bad feeling shivered up and down his conduits; Octane stopped in the adjacent chamber just long enough to orient himself and find the next archway. He jetted himself and his deactivated companions into the third chamber--just as he did so, a brilliant white light flashed in the archway he'd just passed through. Octane fled through the next archway as clouds of hot plasma seethed through the chamber he'd just vacated. Fortunately for the Decepticons, the space-chilled walls of the chambers rapidly absorbed the heat of the plasma clouds and cooled them back down to mere hot ionized gas by the time it reached Octane.
Yet another alarm joined the myriad in Octane's diagnostics queue--'Low Fuel'. His impromptu flamethrower-rocket had just drained what was left of his auxiliary fuel reserve--most of which had leaked out of his crumpled wings.
"This is so very not good."
# # #
In assimilating the juvenile pyropod's memory banks, the giant pyropod had acquired a useful memory--these small metallic creatures counter-attacked by severing tentacle-rockets. When Octane severed its manipulatory tendrils, the great kraken of space adjusted its tactics. The prey belonged to the type that had crippled the juvenile--it was dangerous. The ancient pyropod had not grown ancient by disregarding danger; better to kill the creatures first and worry about their edibility later.
It withdrew all manipulatory tentacles and pulled its tip-rocket around to the gap in the hull. The great pyropod directed the exhaust from the tip-rocket, refocused into a cutting torch, through the gap in the alien hull, playing it around the chamber like a blowtorch.
Fortunately for Octane and the other two triple-changers, he'd gotten them just far enough away, around just enough corners, just in time.
# # #
The next chamber Octane dragged himself and the other two into proved to be the chamber of the mysterious energy source, aka "the drive room". With a bit of maneuvering, he laid Astrotrain and Blitzwing down carefully, in a area free from the fragile, electrically charged white ovoids, and started to check them over.
"Come on, guys, don't be dead! I can't get home without you, and I really don't want to be stuck out here for the rest of my life--which will be real short if I can't get some repairs soon. I really don't want to die, okay?" Octane opened up Astrotrain's ventral access panel. It didn't take him long to figure out that the big shuttle's diagnostic interface was fried.
He panicked. Octane didn't remember exactly what all he did next, but next thing he knew, he found himself staring at the scintillating glow of Astrotrain's lasercore, feeling utter relief at the sight. "You're not dead. You're not dead! Thank you, thank you, thank you Astrotrain!"
Octane very carefully closed up Astrotrain's inner core again. So that was still functional, but a lot of his other circuitry was rather fried. Where in the Pit was he going to find something to replace it with? Not to mention that Blitzwing was probably in the same shape.
His wandering gaze fell on the broken ovoids that had shocked him earlier, and the sinuous coils of circuitry that each had contained. The alien devices couldn't possibly be of use, could they? Could they?
They could. They were electrically-based. Octane unwound the coils, stripping away the tailored microcircuitry for the basic stuff--PALs, caps, wiring, gates, diodes. He could restore basic--very basic!--functionality to Astrotrain. The trouble was, Octane needed to know what was going on in the shuttle-con's internals. Astrotrain's critical systems module held all that information, but without a functional external diagnostics interface, only Astrotrain could read it. Therein lay a conundrum. The only unfried external diagnostics interface module around was Octane's.
He looked long and hard at the buckled access panel in his side. "This is going to hurt... Slag it! I'd rather be hurting than dead."
# # #
Several hours later, Octane leaned back, creaky and stiff, but feeling no pain. He'd turned off his own pain sensors early on, except for the ones in his fingers--he wanted full-spectrum sensitivity there. He suspected that if he turned them back on, he'd feel a lot of things he didn't want to feel. He made the last connection and waited.
Light flickered in Astrotrain's optics. At first, there was only silence as the big shuttle-con looked up at Octane. Finally, he found his radio voice.
"You look like slag--no, dross. Slag looks better than you right now. What in the Pit happened? And what is wrong with my radio?" Astrotrain asked.
"You and Blitzer got EMP-blasted by the big pyropod. I had to rebuild your radio from scratch with this alien scrap," Octane waved a handful of coiled circuitry at Astrotrain, "so you're stuck with simple AM/FM--no spread-spectrum, no encryption. And be careful--you're jury-rigged worse than a Junkion spaceship right now."
"Are you done working on me?" Astrotrain lay still.
Octane glanced at the diagnostics display inside Astrotrain's chassis. "Yeah, until I get some real spare parts--and then someone who's a better repair mech than me can take over," Octane said as he started unbolting the external diagnostics interface module from Astrotrain.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" Astrotrain grabbed at Octane's arm.
"That's my interface module I've got plugged into you. Need it for Blitzwing's repairs," Octane said wearily.
Astrotrain relaxed his grip. "What shape is Blitzwing in? And what happened to you?"
"I'm hoping that Blitzwing is alive in stasis lock, like you were," Octane said, more than a little concern showing on his face. "You both got your circuits fried by the giant pyropod--I tried to tow you guys to the ship, but it knocked out my thrusters, and I hit at full speed--with you guys coming in ballistic behind me." He pulled out the diagnostics module and finished closing Astrotrain's panels up.
Astrotrain slowly sat up and looked around. "Get started on Blitzwing. Someone needs to work on you," he said.
"I figured that out, 'Train." Octane pulled himself over to Blitzwing. Astrotrain watched his painful crawl, frowning.
"Slag it, does anything on you work right now?"
"My left arm is good, and my head's still attached," Octane said.
"How's your fuel supply?" Astrotrain asked, calculating.
"Inaccessible, until I can transform again. Most of my auxiliary store is gone--wings leaked."
Astrotrain stood up and walked around Octane looking him over. "I should be able to bend everything back into place on you so you can transform. How bad are your jets?"
"EMP-fried, nacelles and turbines smashed. Aerospike assembly I can't even check out, but I doubt it's functional." Octane sighed.
"You don't need to be able to fly to transform. As long as I can fly, with your fuel we can get home." Astrotrain hesitated. "Or away from here," he added.
Octane looked relieved, but there was a certain wariness about him. "Yeah. We can get out of here."
Astrotrain laughed grimly. "Yes, once I get you transformed and drain your fuel, I could just leave you here. And Blitzwing. Less mass to transport home, more delta-V for me. Just take this toy," he waved at the black egg, "back to Megatron and report your tragic loss." He faced Octane. "That's what you're afraid of!" He laughed cruelly.
"Not like it hasn't happened before, with other Cons," Octane said.
"You had no choice but to repair me, since you're too damaged to escape on your own," Astrotrain said, looking down at the fallen tanker. "Even if you're sure that I'll abandon you--or cannibalize you for parts for Blitzwing. Maybe I won't, you're thinking. Maybe you can trust me to make a best effort to get us all home. Maybe you have a chance to live through this, you hope." His voice was a sadistic, predatory purr over the radio.
"Well, it's either hope, or pop a photon blast through my lasercore," Octane said, his voice dropping to a low, dangerous snarl. "See, if I die now, nobody gets my fuel, and you two starve. If the pyropod doesn't eat you or vape you. It's tried both already. If I'm going to die because of you, I'll take you with me!"
Astrotrain put his hands on his hips, tossed his head back and laughed, the great sky god of Titan proclaiming that all was right in his universe. "You've found your courage, Octane! That's one good thing out of this colossal cluster-muck!"
Octane started opening up Blitzwing's access panels. "See, I figure if you were planning to drain me and run, you wouldn't have put me on guard like this--you'd have been nice and reassuring, making sure I trust you. So you plan to get us all out of here in one piece," Octane concluded.
"Haven't I just made you trust me by deliberately putting you on your guard?" Astrotrain said, an evil smile on his face.
"When did I say I was going to give you all my fuel? Once I can transform again, I'll fuel you in stages, as needed," Octane said as he pulled out Blitzwing's fried diagnostic interface module and inserted his own. "Hook up to one of those white egg-things, drain the charge and hand it here. I need to strip out the wiring and stuff."
Astrotrain laughed again as he attached power leads to one of the glowing white ovoids. "You're not a fool, for all your easy-going ways." He shook his head. "Why so many people think that, I don't know."
"Because I'm the guy who'd rather cut a deal than blow holes through people?" Octane chuckled as he wired the diagnostics module into Blitzwing's systems. "I think only Swindle understands my point-of-view--you can only kill people once, but you can scam them over and over again. Besides, live people are much more interesting than dead wrecks."
Astrotrain handed him a broken white shell along with its contents. "What's Blitzwing's status?"
Octane studied the diagnostic outputs. "'Bout the same as yours was. He's alive and half-fried."
"Good." The relief in Astrotrain's voice was obvious. "As soon as you get Blitzwing back online, I'm going to start repairing you. For now, let's see about Megatron's toy here."
"One thing you should know--it's not the same technology as these circuit-eggs I've been cannibalizing," Octane said.
"That's... interesting," Astrotrain said as he studied the cylinder supporting the black egg with its spiral crystal shroud. He circled around it, studying it from several angles while Octane continued to work on Blitzwing. "This may be removable." He lifted a hand toward the spiral crystal wrapping.
"Uh, before you start playing with it, remember that if you fry yourself, we all die."
"Good point. Blitzwing can handle it, when you get him back on his feet," Astrotrain said.
"Sure. I'll let you tell him he's the expendable one," Octane said.
"Just get him functional!" Astrotrain growled.
Several hours later, Blitzwing's optics lighted up again. "Slag it, what'd that damn squid do?"
Octane sighed; at least Blitzwing's diagnostics were stable. He stared unplugging the module. "It EMP-fried both of you. I got smashed when my jets failed while towing you guys into the ship. I rebuilt your radio from scrap, that's why it doesn't work right. You're mostly jury-rigged with alien salvage right now. And, this is my diagnostics module, which is why I'm pulling it. Yours got fried. Any more questions?"
"Yeah. Where in the Pit is that monster?" asked Blitzwing.
"I don't know--yet," answered Astrotrain. "First we get functional and secure Megatron's toy. Octane, get over here! Time to start bending you into shape. Blitzwing, when you get on your feet, try rotating the crystal shroud over there," he pointed at the black egg, "counterclockwise and lifting."
Blitzwing somewhat unsteadily got to his feet. "Frag it! My gyros are glitched." He leaned his head slightly to one side; Astrotrain was twisting and bending Octane's right arm back into shape. "Octane, you look like scrap."
"Yeah, I--unnh! That joint goes the OTHER SLAGGING WAY, 'TRAIN!--know."
"He is scrap, mostly," rumbled Astrotrain. "However, he was the only one left conscious, and he had the sense to jury-rig us back online." Astrotrain pulled the panels off Octane's arm and hammered them flat against the floor.
"Good job, Octane. We'd have been really foobarred if all three of us had gone into stasis lock." Blitzwing warily approached the central pedestal holding up the black egg and its crystal shroud. "Counterclockwise and lift, eh?"
"Yes," answered Astrotrain. "Octane, test your right arm articulation now."
Octane flexed his right arm gingerly. "Elbow is working, shoulder is still catching on something."
Blitzwing set himself and grabbed the crystal spirals. Nothing happened. He didn't explode, no sparks flew, no odd lights blazed. He twisted; it moved, the apparently seamless metal at the cylinder top turning under the egg. Blitzwing felt an almost imperceptible 'chunk' as of a bolt sliding home. He stopped and lifted. The black egg and crystal spiral assembly came free, along with the top inch of the pedestal.
"Got it, 'Train!" There was undeniable satisfaction in Blitzwing's voice.
"Excellent!" Astrotrain also sounded pleased. "Now stow that and help me get Octane straightened out."
About ten minutes later, Blitzwing noticed something moving at the edge of his optics. "What the slag is that?"
A metallic tentacle with a bulbous tip snaked through the far archway. It was larger than the tendrils that had snared Blitzwing, and moved more deliberately, like the owner knew exactly what and where it was reaching for.
Blitzwing reached for his electro-scimitar and stopped short, noting that it was no longer at his side. He looked at Octane and saw it. "Gimme that, you glitch!"
"So that's the thanks I get for using it to chop those tentacles off your deactivated chassis?" Octane handed the scimitar to Blitzwing. "Next time I'll let it drag you off and eat you."
"Unh." Blitzwing dodged back as the tentacle tip zigged across the room. He raised his scimitar to strike--
"Hold!" Astrotrain held up one hand. "Wait--I want to see what it's after."
The tentacle tip darted to the wall where one of the white ovoids had been, before Octane cannibalized it for spare parts. It prodded at the location, and then moved to the next gap and the next, until it found an intact, glowing ovoid. The bulb opened into a bell and enveloped the ovoid, closing around it and pulling it from the wall. Then the tentacle snaked back the way it came.
"Huh?" Blitzwing was the first one to speak.
"Ewww," said Octane. "There was something just... gross about that."
"Hmmmmmm. Interesting," said Astrotrain.
# # #
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