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Lithone: Prologue

“Two hundred cycles to the Selezen system, Captain.”

“Acknowledged, Bika,” Perceptor cheerily replied. He swiveled in his captain's chair to face the science station. “Thesys, begin final checkout of sensors, please.”

“Yes, sir,” Thesys responded. He glanced up just in time to see a glint in Perceptor's eye, the one that he had grown to dislike quite a bit, but only because he himself knew all too well why it was there. He and Perceptor shared the same feelings about these planetary surveys. No matter how boring they were to him, he couldn't help but feel a little flutter in his spark on final approach to a new system. There could be something there something exciting.

But, after scores of disappointments, Thesys stopped consciously hoping for anything more than some new kind of emission from a star or some other random scientific anomaly. Hardly thrilling, really. The fate of a scientist like Thesys was the relative obscurity of having your name attached to dozens of survey reports, filed away somewhere deep in the Cybertronian archives. He pressed on with his final checkout as the crew's guest walked up to his station.

“You've got this job nailed down like a roto-hammer, kid,” Kup said, perusing the science displays. Thesys winced a little, although the gravelly, curmudgeonly tone of Kup's voice made it hard to get annoyed at him. Even though he had just pigeon-holed him into his lackluster career in one compliment. “Won't be long before you move up to the main office, I'll bet.”

“One can only hope, sir,” Thesys replied flatly as he continued the checkout procedures. He was having a hard time imagining the transition from explorer to librarian as advancement.

“Starstreak, prepare to launch,” Perceptor said into the comm.

“Acknowledged,” came the burly reply.

Perceptor turned to face Kup. “Whenever we are about to enter a new system this close to Decepticon territory, I dispatch Starstreak on patrol. This should give us a tactical edge if we encounter any difficulties.” The captain managed to sound bubbly, even when discussing the potential for combat.

“Always a good idea,” Kup reassured him. “I don't think we've ever known so little about what those thugs are up to. Reminds me of that time when we ”

weren't so vigilant on Fierias II

“Excuse me, sir,” Bika interrupted, “but we are now entering the Selezen system.” Thesys quickly followed with, “All sensors check out, sir, ready for primary scans.”

“Excellent,” Perceptor twittered. “Starstreak, launch! Thesys, begin scans of the system.” He interlaced his fingers and gazed at the viewscreen. The orange Selezen sun appeared in the center of the viewscreen and began to wax above the rest of the surrounding stars.

A hatch opened underneath the Alafex , and Starstreak fell out into the vacuum. He transformed into a heavy starfighter and rocketed ahead of the ship, taking up point. Meanwhile, back on the bridge, Thesys's fingers danced

across his controls as he orchestrated the standard primary scan sequences.

Perceptor continued his banter. “I'm glad you decided to pay us a visit, Kup. It's nice to see that the Council takes such interest in our efforts.” He was enjoying the feeling of importance that Kup's presence brought.

“Oh, yeah,” Kup replied. “Teams like this are the first point of contact for anything new out here. Everything that happens back on Cybertron eventually traces back to these exploratory missions, after all. And besides, this is a great vacation for me. Dealing with bureaucrats all megacycle makes my gears grind. A little boredom is good lubrication for the spark.”

“Ah, yes, well,” Perceptor mumbled, a little let down by the “boredom” comment.

Thesys smirked as he continued his scans. Soon the orbital data popped up on his monitor, and he began reporting the findings. “Sensors indicate six

primary planetary masses orbiting the star. Five are in orbits that correspond

to natural processes, but one is following an eccentric orbit

planet. It's unusually small, too. Focusing scanners.” He redirected the sensor arrays toward the fourth planet just before Perceptor commanded, “Redirect the sensor arrays toward the fourth planet, Thesys.”

The bridge was quiet as Thesys continued his report. “The planet is oddly shaped, Captain. Not spherical - oblong. And it seems to be almost entirely Cybertronium!” Now this was something. A potential gold mine, as it were, of the valuable metal.

Perceptor literally bounced in his chair. “Bika, set a course for the fourth planet! Starstreak, fly escort! Now this is something! Yes, indeed!” The captain was practically shedding energon from his face plate, he was so giddy.

As the Selezen sun wheeled out of view, a small white form clonked its way onto the bridge. Natalie Witwicky still had not quite gotten the hang of her exo-suit contraption, but at least she could walk without falling over. Mostly. At this point though, she was too annoyed to notice even her own clumsiness. “Captain, have we arrived at Selezen? Was there a reason I was not informed?”

Perceptor glanced over his shoulder at the Earth government science representative, then turned excitedly to face her. “I apologize profusely, Miss Witwicky, it was an oversight on my part. But please, have a look at these readings! We have quite the find here, I believe!”

Natalie's interest was piqued by Perceptor's enthusiasm. She half-forgot her annoyance as she made her way to Thesys's station. She could just peer over the edge of the Autobot-sized console to make out the readings. “Ninety-eight percent cybertronium! But it's too large to be a ship. Maybe a planetoid? But that's an awful lot of metal.”

“We're coming into visual range of the planet, Captain,” Bika reported. She leaned back as she eased up on the controls. A small dot in the center of the viewscreen started to grow. It took on an orange hue, and its shape began to elongate. Smooth surfaces of orange and gray metal became visible, gleaming with reflected light from the Selezen sun.

Soon the object grew even more defined. It bulged somewhat in the center, and at one end had four pointed features that stuck out at angles. It was

the fourth

becoming evident that this was not a natural object.

Thesys studied the shape and tried to extrapolate what it could be from his

databanks. Morphological analysis indicated a high correlation to the shapes

of heavy transport ships and tankers. It also looked like a sort of colossal

weapon

fit. In the end, the object's sheer size defied his analysis.

Then he noticed the looks on the faces of Kup and Perceptor. He had never really seen Perceptor appear grave before, but there it was. The glow of his optics was muted and his mouth was drawn down and agape. Kup was leaning forward on the captain's chair, fingers practically dug into it, with the same look of doom. “I don't believe it,” he rasped. “That can't be what it looks like it is.”

Bika, Thesys, and Natalie all turned to the stunned pair of veterans. “What does it look like, sir?” Bika innocently asked.

Kup replied grimly. “One of Unicron's legs.”

A wave of dread washed over Bika and Thesys upon hearing that name.

Despite this, Thesys noted how much differently he beheld the just-recently- planetoid as it began to dominate the viewscreen. Had it been an ordinary hunk of rock floating in space, anyone would have considered it quite small. But seeing the smooth orange paneled skin spanning the leg, and the white foot-talons tearing into empty space, it was mind-boggling in its enormity. His fascination with the discovery, though, did little to quell his fear.

Natalie looked at the gawking Autobots around her and asked plaintively, “Unicron? Who's Unicron?”

his spark flitted for a moment

but the bulge in the center did not

Kup didn't answer her, but slowly said, “This may be a good time for us to

head back the way we came, and report this to Fleet Captain .”

Perceptor could only stammer out his orders. “Starstreak, re-return to the

ship

Before either crewmember could execute their orders, warning klaxons began blaring. “Unidentified ships approaching. Unidentified ships approaching,” the ship's computer stated as the bridge plunged into redness. The noise and lights shocked the Autobots out of their stupor. Perceptor now managed to sound even less sure of himself as he gave new orders.

“Starstreak, never mind what I said! Stay out there. Get ready for whatever is Thesys, what is coming?”

Thesys shook off the distractions of the last few seconds and spun back to face his console. He configured a close-range target sweep, and saw three blips heading in. “Three ships, sir,” he said as he continued hammering on the controls. “They are closing quickly.” He focused scans on one of the ships for further details.

At that point a concussion rocked the ship. Natalie fell straight over as the rest

of the crew braced themselves. A voice began speaking through the comm

system.

“Unidentified vessel. You are within a restricted area. Surrender or you will

Captain.

at once! Bika, p-p-plot a course away from here at best speed.”

be destroyed.”

Perceptor clicked on the hailing frequency of his comm controls. “This is Captain Perceptor of the Autobot exploratory ship Alafex . We come in peace and mean no harm.”

The voice of Starstreak now sounded. “Captain, just give the word and I'll start slammin' and jammin'!” Any dread Starstreak may have felt was swiftly replaced by the excitement of a prospective battle. As Perceptor ordered Starstreak to instead move closer to the Alafex , Thesys observed the scan reports as they scrolled on his display. Soon a schematic of the unknown ships appeared, and he recognized their design with a start.

“Sir, the ships are Prometheus-class Decepticon battle cruisers. The same class of ship that Unicron created for Galvatron's army.” This was not good news; Prometheus cruisers long were the foremost battleships in local space, and a small science vessel like the Alafex wouldn't stand a chance against just one of them, never mind three.

“Decepticons,” Kup grumbled with distaste, to no one in particular.

The distended purple shapes of the three cruisers were now clearly visible on screen, and their weapon ports burned bright violet. “ Alafex , you will surrender and prepare to be boarded. Comply or be destroyed!”

All eyes turned to Perceptor, who seemed much too bewildered for a captain's own good, or the good of his ship. Kup paused for a moment, then clocked him in the head. “Captain, do something or we're all space dust!” he growled.

Perceptor fumbled for his controls, then pressed them firmly. “Acknowledged! We surrender!” he exclaimed. “We surrender!” He flicked off the controls and, after a beat, slumped back in his seat.

The crew all slowly stood up as the ships approached the Alafex , while Starstreak still tried to convince Perceptor that they had a chance. “Captain, c'mon! We can't surrender! Captain?”

Lithone: Prologue © 2005, 2011 Bill Havanki

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