Transporting critical information, Dust Devil must get to the Ark before Decepticons can stop him.
Dust Devils Part I
The Nissan Pathfinder parallel parked on the market street of the quiet mid-western town behind a yellow Jeep. A young man with a goatee stepped out holding a burrito. He walked to the back of the SUV and opened the rear hatch, dragging out a large suitcase with rollers. He then proceeded back toward the front of the vehicle as the Jeep unfolded into a humanoid form.
The mech smiled and exclaimed, Carlos, my man!
The slightly overweight man grinned broadly in return, Dust Devil.
You got the goods?
He stopped and put his hands out to his sides and put on a jovially smug face, Who you askin DD?
Thats what Im talking about. You always come through for me. The yellow Autobot stooped down and delicately gave his smaller companion a high five. You got sour cream on your collar.
Carlos looked down and wiped it up with his thumb and licked it off, Thas nothin.
Wait a minute, a third voice objected. The black SUV then changed panels into another Cybertronian and continued, He only comes through for you because of me. He pointed his gleaming chrome thumb at his own chest, smirking. On it, however, was a purple insignia. An airplane could be heard from the airbase nearby.
The scout and double agent shook hands vigorously. We have really gotta stop meeting like this, Skidplate. I dont know how you keep getting us Con equipment undetected, but sooner or later theyll catch on and youre gonna have to give up that purple badge for a red one.
Soon as you stop giving me that same old lecture about how I should switch up.
Fair enough. Its just that youve been helping us for so long I wish you could meet Prime. I think if you met him that he could convince you to finally come to our side. Its too dangerous what youre doing, Skidplate.
The black Decepticon nodded his head. Soon, my friend. Just take Carlos and this case to- the mech was cut off mid-sentence as his body was thrown forward. His face fragmented and flew apart, shards of glass and metal exploding toward the Autobot. Dust Devil gasped in shock as the bullet whizzed past his audio receptor and fluid sprayed onto his visage.
Then he heard the loud CRACK- of the report of a high powered rifle. He didnt have time to react. Skidplate fell prostrate in the street as Dust Devil stepped backward and looked over to Carlos, who froze in the confusion, still holding the suitcase handle. The deafening thrust of a jet ceased as a shadow loomed over him. Dust Devil looked up to see a red and gray Decepticon emerge from the jet form and land hard on the ground, destroying the pavement. Blue fists hammered down onto the human, crushing him. The suitcase spun off to the side and Dust Devil dove for it as the Decepticon kicked the black husk of Skidplate.
Traitorous wretch, Starscream spat. He then looked over at the yellow Autobot who transformed into his Jeep form and took off down a side street. Youre next, he screeched as he fired his arm cannons, striking a hotel corner. A darker gray F-15 with maroon markings skimmed the rooftops overhead. Starscream jumped to the air and transformed to his own F-15 mode and followed the jet.
The yellow Wrangler swung into a service garage and transformed, crouching down as the echo of jet engines faded into the distance. So many questions spun around in his head. He had to calm down for a moment if he wanted to process what had just happened. He had eluded the Decepticons. Or they had let him escape. Carlos was offlined, or dead, in human-speak. Skidplate was offlined.
It had unfolded so quickly. No time for good-byes. To time to shed a tear for fallen comrades. No time to feel anything other than the rush of trying to survive as he escaped the Decepticons. One must be a sniper, he thought. He hadnt heard the shot before Skidplates face just
He couldnt bear the thought of what he had seen. Wiping Skidplates fluid from his lenses and shaking it off, he shuddered before fighting off the urge to weep. He would have to mourn later.
Moments passed before he blinked his optics and checked his chronometer. Shaking his head, he transformed back to his alternate mode, placing the suitcase in his backseat. Scrambling for traction in the sandy streets as he drove back out into the scorching sunlight, Dust Devil rushed toward Autobot headquarters. Thinking of his offlined friends, he hoped it had all been worth it.
Dust Devils Part II
The roar of jet engines cut off abruptly as two gray F-15s approached, their fuselages splitting open and sprouting robotic humanoid forms. One unfolded with mechanicals that were painted bright red and blue hands clenched into fists. The other was a darker gray and had maroon piping along the wing tips, forearms and thighs. They landed at the top of a ridge overlooking the desert plains.
Thick red liquid dripped from the blue fists and blotted the ground, discoloring the rocks and dirt. The mech looked down and smirked, From the looks of it, that wasnt a holographic driver in that traitor. Too bad for him. I knew I felt the squish of it as I pummeled him and now I've got mess all over my hands.
The darker Decepticon looked at the blood dripping down his comrades form, visibly disgusted by his superior's behavior, Always like to feel them offline dont you, Starscream? Cant get barbaric enough can it?
You say it like its a bad thing. Yes, I do like to see the blue of their optics fade in my hands. Feel the spark dim. You wouldnt know anything about that would you, Conquest? Always from a distance with you. No dirt on your hands. He looked down at the kneeling mech as he unpacked his equipment. Or is there?
Conquest methodically took gear out of hidden compartments. Ignoring the Air Commander, he fastened pieces, folded out handles and twisted on components. Once finished he had assembled his long distance rifle. It was half as long as he was tall and presented a menacing profile.
This, Starscream, is a precision piece of equipment. Not clumsy toys like your machine guns and null rays. When I use this, mechs are offlined before they hear the shot.
Starscream eyed the mech and his weapon, unimpressed, I know mechs like you. If youre so good why havent I heard of you?
Conquest stood, meeting his superiors gaze and slyly responded, I dont look for work, work looks for me. When youre as good as me, you dont need to advertise.
Starscream could feel his oil starting to boil and shifted his stance, Really? That good are you?
Conquest looked away and calibrated the scope on his rifle, Yep. Thats why Megatron called me in to take care of this pest that you and yours cant seem to make disappear.
So you think you can do a better job than me on this mudball? Let me tell you something-, Starscream started as he stepped forward and grasped the rifle, his fingers scraping the barrel.
Conquests optics flared, Get your alloys off the equipment, Starscream!
Touch a nerve did I? he smiled as he gripped it tighter. He leaned into the mechs faceplate, Dont miss this shot then.
I never miss. Conquest growled.
Well see. The Decepticon released the barrel of the weapon and wiped his blue hands together. He motioned his hand toward the volcano in the distance, Go on. Do what they pay you for.
Conquest closed his optics and calmed himself. He had heard of Starscream before and was loathe to have him accompany him on his assignment but he had been outranked in the decision. No matter. Conquest was a professional. He kneeled and looked down the scope, magnifying his target; a small yellow Jeep nearing the Autobot headquarters. At the speed it was traveling, it left a rooster tail of dust behind it obscuring his view.
They had landed thirty kilometers from the Ark so they were out of range of the autoguns. Starscream looked down at the concentrating sniper. Waiting. He was feeling impatient and perturbed by this smug mech. Take the shot already! Starscream screeched as he backhanded the soldier just as he had squeezed the trigger.
The rifles report echoed off the canyon walls and Conquest caught himself from falling over with one hand while still gripping his weapon with the other. He stood and glared at the commander and swung the rifle up.
Starscream quickly aimed his null rays at him, Dont try it, you slaggin freak.
Conquest slung the rifle over his shoulder, Try what? Time for me to get paid. Dust Devil is no longer your problem. He turned and started to walk away.
Thats impossible! Dont turn your back on me! Starscream felt flushed and lowered binoculars over his optics. The dust trail had faded and the Jeep lay in ruins. He was speechless as he watched Conquest quickly disassemble his rifle, transform and thrust away. A cloud of dust blew over Starscream, optics narrowing as he watched the jet shrink in the distance.
Dust Devils Part III
Theyre gone, Prowl. The two jets are off the grid.
Thanks, Hubcap. Ive got the Protectobots out here for perimeter defense until we get this cleaned up.
Ill keep an optic on my scanner, Hubcap out.
Prowl retracted his communications headgear and approached the smoking debris. Hot Spot had doused the wreckage but it was still flaring up and smoldering. He scanned the ground, identifying Jeep fragments and Cybertronian limb components. Ever watchful, he lifted his gaze and looked to the horizon for intruders despite the fact he had deployed a team to do just that while he attended Dust Devils wreckage. They were only 4 kilometers from the Ark but he was taking no chances of a second attack the same day. He shook his head but didnt seem distraught.
Huffer lifted a large piece of burning metal and threw it aside. He shook his hand from the intense heat. As an engineer many of his sensors for detecting metallurgical properties and such were concentrated in his hands and it made them more sensitive than most Cybertronians. That sure smarts, he complained. He then lifted a torn case of luggage and withdrew from it a blue metallic rectangular case. No markings adorned the case as he flipped it over in his hands. The metal was smooth except for lines etched on it horizontally. A handle sprung from the top and he grabbed it as he stood and waved over to Prowl, Ive found something.
Prowl nodded and remarked to the others near him, Keep looking for that orange box. He left them to walk to Huffers position. The smoke wrapped its tendrils around his legs as he made his way through.
Yes, sir, Swerve nodded as he prodded through the chunks of metal and glass, fighting back the urge to weep over the loss of Dust Devil. Swerve felt cheated, as he had not had the chance to get to know the Autobot who had just arrived from Cybertron not too long ago. The few times he had met him, the yellow scout had been very outgoing and friendly. He looked at Pipes who was searching through the debris also and wondered if he felt the same loss.
Prowl approached Huffer and asked, What is it?
Its a case made of an alloy used by Decepticon factories. It wont take me long to figure out how to open it.
Al right. We stay together. As soon as, he was interrupted by Swerve who announced that he had found the orange metallic box that they were searching for. Prowl looked back to Huffer and modified his thoughts, They got the box. Time for us to head back. Autobots, transform and return to base. As his subordinates changed forms, he radioed the defense group positioned a kilometer away , Protectobots, this is Prowl.
Go ahead, Prowl, came the reply from Hot Spot.
We have the box. Head back to base and cover our rear. Put out the remainder of Dust Devils fire on your way in.
Douse the campfire and return to base, confirmed.
No marshmallows this time, Prowl joked.
Wouldnt dream of it, sir. Hot Spot out.
Prowl huffed, Except for the time you were out in the woods and we didnt know where your team was.
One time. One time! You will never let me forget that will you, Prowl?
Its my job to remember, Prowl laughed. Lets go. Prowl out.
Swerve had waited for his commander and overheard the conversation. He was puzzled how Prowl seemed at ease. He didnt understand how anyone could make light of this situation. They had just lost an Autobot and Prowl of all bots was bantering back and forth with the Protectobot leader. It made no sense. Maybe it was just how he was dealing with the stress. Prowl transformed and the team blazed their way back to base as the sun set behind the rocky canyons.
Later back at the Ark, Huffer had opened the case with little difficulty and perused the items inside. He found a few data chips among some unusual looking fabricated pieces. He picked up the fashioned lavender metal pieces and examined them individually before putting the data components into a machine to read them. Each of them came up empty. Nova shells, he muttered.
Whats that, Huffer? Swerve asked as he picked up a rather unique piece of oddly shaped metal. It looked to him like a component for a drive system. His hands told him the structure and the alloy used to create it. He was fascinated by the intricacy of its design as Decepticons were not as well known for their craftsmanship.
Somewhat annoyed, Huffer answered the metallurgist, Its also known as an eraser. They were invented by Bombshell. A Nova shell is a round of electronic ammunition that can be fired from normal weaponry. Anything it hits is charged with a pulse that erases any data or memory component within a system and anything near it. You might think its similar to an EMP, but it doesnt shut down electronics. Just erases. Although not designed to be a fatal piece of artillery, it erases the hosts system to the point that it doesnt even remember how to process energon or even continue the most basic of life support functions, so it does offline bots. This one mus-
Must have been coupled with an explosive because Dust Devils frame was obliterated. Decepticon snipers are nasty mechs, Prowl interrupted. Anything, Huffer?
Nothing we can use. I dont even know what these pieces are for.
Thats what I figured. Maybe Dust Devil will know something. Hand me the orange box.
Swerve seemed puzzled. He looked at Pipes, who shrugged. Did they miss something?
Huffer handed the orange box to Prowl who took it down a corridor to another room. Huffer and the others followed him into the cargo room that had two Jeep Wranglers backed up against the wall among other equipment. One was red, the other green. He opened the hood of the red one and motioned Huffer over to him to insert the orange metallic box with terminals on either side into the engine bay.
Swerve asked, leaning forward from the doorway, Is Dust Devil a clone?
Head under hood, Huffer shook his head, No, but this a waste of time. That was a Nova shell, Prowl.
I know what it was, old friend, but Ive seen him come back from worse, the strategist countered as he held the hood open as Huffer connected the terminals and dug his fingers around connecting a couple other fasteners. When he was done he punched in a code on a screen under the hood and stepped away. Prowl dropped the hood closed.
Moments passed and nothing. Then a low hum started inside the vehicle. Electronic beeping was followed by the inline six cylinder engine firing and revving before the Jeep transformed into a most familiar mech. OOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!!!! the mech screamed.
Prowl assured him, Dust Devil, youre OK. Were back at headquarters, buddy.
Swerve, who was mesmerized by the resurrection, covered his audio receptors. He instinctively crouched down and after a moment peeked through his fingers. The red mechs eyes glowed a bright blue hue and was holding his own head like he had one of those human headaches. Swerves lower lip trembled in elation that one of their own was back. From the dead? How--?
Huffer spoke softly as he explained, Dust Devil was created with the ability to compartmentalize his consciousness in an orange box, for lack of a better word. Its held up to serious punishment and has proven impervious to erasure. It was cracked one time but we fixed it best we could. Weve never been able to replicate the alloy. So we recover the box and plug it into a new shell. He motioned toward the new red mech standing before them.
Prowl stretched his hand out and greeted the mech, Welcome back, Dust Devil. That was a close one, huh?
Hand still on the back of his head, Dust Devil looked around wearily at his surroundings. Last he knew he was full throttle in the desert approaching the Ark. He looked up at Prowl with a questioning look on his visage and shook his superiors hand with his free hand, Close? Id say that sniper was spot on! Sweet Primus, I can still feel that!
Prowl laughed, Well have Ratchet check you out and before you report back for duty. Dusty, what can you tell me of that package we recovered that Skidplate delivered to you?
Nothing. But Ill report to you when I open it and find out.
Prowls face grew stern, "Huffer's already been through it. It's all been erased, Dust. You were hit with a Nova shell. I was just holding onto the hope you had found out something before you were hit.
Dust Devil lowered his head in thought and frustration, his body visibly slackened. Carlos. Skidplate. The package. All for nothing. Nothing? Anger welled up in him and he screamed as he slammed his fist into the orange metallic wall, denting it. He couldnt decide if he should keep screaming or cry.
Prowl put his arm around the scouts shoulder, Come on, lets see Ratchet, he offered as he guided Dust Devil out of the room.
Feeling glum and defeated, Dust Devil shuffled down the corridor. Huffer turned off the light in the room as he and Swerve exited to attend to their own duties. As they left ear-shot Swerve could hear the scout asking his superior a question, Did you have to pick the red one, Prowl? I look so much better in green.
Next time youre offlined, Ill be sure to ask you.
Dust Devils Prequel
CONTROL by G. Donaldson
Crimson optics watched as dust flew and the clouds above dissipated. The gold Decepticon sat perched on a tall rocky formation as the Space Bridge finished its chaotic throes. His systems were sensitive to the electromagnetic interference the device threw out and dared not fly when it was active. He hated the entire concept of the bridge, much less its actual haphazard execution and uncontrolled energy output. It seemed an unreliable device. Random. It's promise of accuracy seemed beyond reach. A shame for such a breakthrough. Above all, Buzzsaw prized precision.
The bleakness of the desert location returned and the lavender doors slid open. Within the circle were three Decepticons. Buzzsaw analyzed their forms and they met the criteria of the visitors he was expecting to help with the nuisance known as Dust Devil:
Seeker Number One- green, black and brown. Designation; Brigand. Function; Sub-group Marauders Commander.
Seeker Number Two- black and orange conehead configuration. Designation; Torch. Function; Sub-group Marauders flamethrower.
Seeker Number Three- charcoal gray and maroon. Designation; Conquest. Function; Sub-group Marauders sniper.
Two of the Seekers he immediately dismissed. Typically Decepticons were blunt abrasive warriors but the third one was closer to his ilk. He squawked, launching from his platform and flew to the trio. He hadn't seen them since coming to Earth.
"Is this Megatron's idea of a welcome? Greeted hand to wing by one of Soundwave's pets?" Torch complained. He waved his arms and grabbed at the air to confound the mechanical condor. "Gonna swat you, ya pest!" he sneered. Buzzsaw found little trouble avoiding Torch's wild antics, even when Torch hovered above the ground.
"Torch, settle down. We're here for an assignment. Just let the jittery cretin lead us to the Decepticon base on this miserable, filthy planet," Brigand responded, wiping his hands disdainfully while surveying the plains. Cassetticons were looked down upon by most Decepticons.
Torch still tried to torment the bird, "Laserbeak? Buzzsaw? Who can tell the difference?" He swiped at the bird and kicked at it, but missed. Buzzsaw screeched in aggravation.
The sniper put out his arm and allowed Buzzsaw to land on it. The bird squawked excitedly and rapidly. Conquest proclaimed, "This, my friends, is no mere pet. Buzzsaw holds many Cybertronian records for precision flying and shooting and has completed many difficult confirmed kills." He bought his arm closer to his face and looked the bird in the optics. "Including a few records I haven't been able to best," he smirked, "Yet." Conquest enjoyed heaping praise on such a respected opponent as Buzzsaw chirped in return. "Oh, yes. I'll get you eventually, Buzzsaw," he responded.
Torch folded his arms, "Disgusting, Conquest. I would have never thought you to be friends to a buzzard. Reformatted or not he's one ugly mech. He's a waste of energon. Scrap metal at best."
"Shut your intake, Torch. Once we get to headquarters I'm sure there will be more mechs to your liking. More
primitive...'Cons. You can all see, um, who can hold their breath the longest. Whatever mechs of your kind do for fun."
"Hold you breath?"
"The base is underwater."
"Just because I don't understand your insults doesn't mean I don't know you're mocking me, Conquest, with your hoity-toity marksman friends. The only way I'm going to like any of these softened Earther Decepticons is if I can flame-broil them!" he retorted as he imagined engulfing his brethren in flames. Intense heat shattering optics and melting frames. Insignias burning off. Screams of agony as napalm shells burst within spark cores. He imagined himself caught in the ecstasy of fire. The thrill of fire curling up his form excited him to the point that his comrades looked at him nervously.
Brigand intervened, snapping his fingers, "Snap out of it, Torch! I know that look in your optics. Remember, best behavior while we're here or I disconnect your personality chip for the duration of our stay. You'll be an automaton."
Clenching his fists, Torch growled, "You wouldn't!"
"Done it before. I'll do it again, Torch. Remember Vora 2? Try me."
Torch sneered and looked over at Buzzsaw. The cassette glared at him in return. He carefully repositioned his feet on his perch in case the need arose to launch and fire at his opposition. He would, of course, be careful not to damage Conquest for the likes of a sloppy mech such as Torch.
Brigand stepped forward and led them out of the circle of the Space Bridge. Although the desert was unbearably hot, the air was not as dry as he anticipated. He deduced that they must be near a large body of water. Turning to his comrades, he commanded, "Buzzsaw, lead us to base."
The gold condor leaped from Conquest's arm and flew in an arc past Torch, scraping his nosecone with his wingtip, squawking triumphantly. He then engaged his afterburners as he headed toward the location of the underwater base. Torch gritted his teeth and threw a fireball at the raptor but missed. "You saw that, right boss? That little-."
Brigand lowered his chin to his chest watching the orange Decepticon. Their optics met and Brigand tapped his forehead, mouthing the word "chip" while nodding. Torch's shoulders slumped and he nodded regrettably, acknowledging his commander.
"Marauders, scramble and follow Buzzsaw," Brigand shouted as he transformed. Having reformatted before leaving Cybertron, they had not been able to scan Earth vehicles. To aid in their disguises, Shockwave had uploaded scans of an F-15 from Skywarp's data-file for Brigand and Conquest. To accommodate Torch's slightly different physique he had used a scan of Ramjet's airplane mode with Delta wings.
The three jets flew in formation, Torch blazing ahead initially, quickly catching up to Buzzsaw. As they soon found themselves flying over water, Torch found it increasingly difficult to control his impulses. Best behavior, he repeated to himself. His grudge toward Soundwave's minion was irrational but would not abate until he had properly fought the smaller mech. Surely they would have time to scrap in the time they were expected to stay on Earth. He hoped.
End of Line