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"The Gift"

Chapter 1: Death Averted

As he fell, images flashed though Terrorsaur's metaprocessor--images of his short time spent on this unknown planet. Deposing Megatron, and taking command of the Predacons. Duking it out with Airazor shortly after her creation. Watching the viewscreen as Optimus Primal's makeshift escape pod explodes in space. Acquiring his pterodactyl beast mode in the restoration chamber. But no R-chamber could save him from this...!

He hit the red, glowing lava that submerged almost half of the Predacon base, and sank slowly. The lava oozed around his body, seeping into his pores, enveloping him. He struggled desperately to do something--anything to save himself--transform, order the computer to engage emergency download, whatever it took. A calmer robot might just have pulled it off. But Terrorsaur panicked, and his frantic lashing of robotic limbs only served to pull him completely under the molten surface. Terrorsaur had never dreamed that the end would come like this... Defeated, resigned to smoulder into slag, he shut off his optics and prayed by the Pit that it would be over quickly. And relatively painlessly...

Nano-kliks passed, and while he could feel his body being pulled in by the undertow, he registered no pain at all. His first thought was to thank the Inferno for small favors, but a quick self-diagnostic revealed all sensors, including sensory input, were all functioning. By now he should have been little more than a boiling pool of superheated alloys. I must be delirious, he rationalized. In a moment I'll realize the magma is eating away at my skin.

But that realization never came.

Terrorsaur sunk like a ship caught in quickmud, drifting steadily, almost serenely, to the bottom of the base. His toes touched bottom, but even with his optic sensors reactivated and on full intensity, the lava obscured his vision. He dwelt for a moment, motionless, but survival instincts kicked in and he began a combination walk-swim to the main shuttle bay. The base was still a ship--the Darkside--and he knew it by energon pump, even half-submerged in a lava pit.

It seemed to his chronometers like an eternity, moving in slow-motion through a red death; time all but stopped; space non-existent. He finally recognized the cargo door controls, groping, half-blind, for the instrument to release the emergency lock. Predacon ships were designed to withstand temperatures far greater than this lava, so it was no surprise to Terrorsaur that the doors opened effortlessly. The sound of heavy machinery activating, then stopping, rippled through the lava. The lava gushed out into the open air, spilling into the gigantic pool in which the Predacon ship had crashed nearly a gigacycle ago.

A moment later the emergency lock reactivated, and the cargo bay doors sealed themselves shut. Terrorsaur took a breath, more out of reflex than the need for air. He was lying on his back on a granite embankment on the outer edge of the lava. He brushed the magma off his left forearm with his claws...

His... claws?? He tripped the internal reset on his optics, wiped some lava away from his face, and looked again: He stared, disbelievingly, at his arms. And then his legs. And then his entire body. What had happened?

Even if the lava hadn't killed him, it should have disfigured him horribly. No normal robot's armor could have withstood that temperature for long... and a robot with organic musculature covering his body fared far worse. Being of the latter category, Terrorsaur firmly expected to see the melted remains of his robotic armor, and no sign of the pterodactyl flesh that covered parts of his robot mode.

Instead, Terrorsaur was changed...completely changed. His body actually had more organic tissue than he started with, and it covered his arms, legs, even his face (he could feel the hot wind from the magma pool blowing on his cheeks). It was a pallid purple color, and it provided him with more sensory input than he'd ever known. He might as well be an organic being, for the sheer sense of touch he possessed. How the slag could the lava have done this to him?

His immediate instinct was to re-enter the base and find Megatron. Predacon procedure was to report anything unusual, and this certainly qualified as unusual. But no...this was different. He'd been given a gift, and beore anyone else found out about it, Terrorsaur wanted to examine it more closely. He needed a temporary refuge to find out exactly what had happened to him. He spied a mountain range about half a grid away--he'd been there a few times before, searching for energon. That was where he'd camp out.

"Beast mode!" he commanded, without a second thought. Before it occurred to him that he had no idea how his alternate-mode had been affected, internal gears wound as the transformation sequence he had initiated with his activation code automatically kicked in. Sounds he didn't recognize issued from his body, and a moment later he found himself transformed... but it wasn't his beast mode.

Terrorsaur was beginning to understand what had happened, if not how or why. While his robot form had taken on most of the organic attributes he possessed as a dinosaur, his beast form was now almost entirely mechanical. He stood up on his rear talons to admire himself. Now this he liked; it was closer to his old transformation on Cybertron (without the beak and talons, of course). He took off, and after teetering a few times, found that flying no longer required any sort of aerial lift. Where once he had used anti-gravity motivators to aide his flight in beast mode (even with huge leathery wings, he was too heavy to fly depending on those alone), these antigrav systems were now solely responsible for his aerial locomotion.

Most of this Terrorsaur gleaned from his onboard computer, which had been shut off from the main Predacon computer while he was in the lava flow. He'd need to reboot his systems in order to reestablish a link, but he still had his personal database to work from. This information presented itself in the form of a visual readout displayed to him through his optics.

Before he could examine the data further, however, his audio receptors picked up a thick splashing sound coming from the lava.

"Terrorsaur--TERRORIZE!" he shrieked, his robotic pterodactyl form obediently changing shape into his newborn robot mode. He instinctively whirled around and summoned his weapon. Instead of his hand-blaster ejecting from his backpack, however, the wing extensions on his arms shifted position, appearing in his clawed hands. This stunned Terrorsaur only for a fraction of a nano-klik, as he wielded his weapons like scythes, studying the pool for signs of Maximals. He saw none.

Just then, a figure emerged from the pool, lava oozing off of it as it stood up to its full height. It was clearly staring at Terrorsaur, and started moving towards him, its massive arms swaying like pendulums. This creature was considerably taller than Terrorsaur and, judging by its sheer mass, appeared to possess at least twice as much strength.

"D-don't come any closer, or I'll shoot!" exclaimed Terrorsaur, forgetting he no longer carried a projectile weapon.

Then the figure cocked its head to one side, shrugged its shoulders and said, "Hey, it's me!"

Terrorsaur didn't recognize the physical form, but the voice was unmistakable: "Scorponok!"

***

Chapter 2: Power Unearthed

Once the lava from the pool surrounding the Predacon base began to drip away, Terrorsaur realized it was, indeed, Scorponok. Or more precisely, Scorponok in a new, altered form, much the same as Terrorsaur had been changed. His basic design remained intact: but Scorponok's new, organic musculature was highly pronounced. Maroon, purple, and gold hues, the colors of his true armor, were visible now that his original scorpion shell, a pale black, was gone. It was, at least in Terrorsaur's opinion, a considerable improvement.

Scorponok put a claw on one hip and exclaimed, "Terrorsaur?! What... what happened to you? For that matter, what happened to me?"

Terrorsaur took a moment before responding, "A better question might be, has this happened to all of us?"

"The Maximals and the Predacons?" Scorponok asked.

"Or just the Predacons?" Terrorsaur added.

Scorponok just shook his head.

"Or..."Terrorsaur said in a harsh whisper, as though sharing a secret he had been forbidden to tell, "what if it's... just us?"

***

Terrorsaur had carried Scorponok to the mountain range he had spied earlier--just close enough to observe the Predacon base, but far enough away that he wouldn't be detected. Scorponok had been reluctant to go, but Terrorsaur had convinced him they'd need a fresh supply of energon for their new forms. He had bet that Scorponok would be too dumb to check his database and discover that their new forms would actually need less energon, and the gambit had paid off.

Scorponok was in his new beast mode--an awesome mechanical facsimile of his scorpion mode--looking for signs of raw energon crystal. He skittered along the ground, swaying his upper body like a metal detector, occassionally making "hmmmmmm, nope" sounds.

Terrorsaur was also in beast mode, surveying the landscape. Something had happened to the planet, not just Terrorsaur and Scorponok. Terrorsaur hadn't realized it until he had gotten airborne, but the surface of this world had undergone a drastic change. Long gone were the green grass, the lush foliage, the blue skies, and the warm sunlight characteristic of this world. In their place were blackness and death.

Suddenly Terrorsaur remembered the explosion of the alien device moments before he had fallen off his hover-platform. There had to be a connection. Who knew what kind of technology the aliens possessed; if they were capable of masking an entire planetary demolition device as a small moon, they'd most likely have no trouble bringing about this kind of widespread devastation to a mudball planet... or altering a Transformer's body.

"Hey!" Scorponok suddenly called from behind a rock face. "There's energon here!"

Terrorsaur rolled his optics and transformed. "Of course there's energon, you dolt, that's why we came here." Scorponok tended to push the boundaries of stupidity--if there were any boundaries at all, in his case.

"No, no," he said, "I mean energon cubes. No crystals!"

That couldn't be right. Terrorsaur sauntered over to where Scorponok was pointing with his beast-mode claw. Amazingly, he was correct: the vein of raw energon crystal Terrorsaur had occasionally used to refuel himself had also been transformed, into natural, stable energon cubes. Ready-to-recharge; no refinement necessary.

Suddenly it was no longer a matter of having a new body. Terrorsaur had, in his possession, a nearly inexhaustible power supply. This had even more potential than the time he had found an energon crystal so unstable he had absorbed its power directly into his energon core. No, this was his one big chance, and he recognized it--the chance to control the Predacons, destroy Megatron, eliminate the Maximals...and, of course, Terrorsaur's ultimate goal: resurrection of the Decepticons.

***

Chapter 3: Fate Inexorable

Rattrap's daily routine was pretty much shot to the Inferno.

Take today. Normally he'd wake up, take a big stretch, scratch himself, and grab a piece of cheese before he reported to ol' Donkey Kong. Yeah, sure, things were the same--except, since he'd become a Transmetal, he didn't have to sleep anymore; stretching (and scratching) was pointless; he was back to a basic energon diet; and the boss monkey was in a zillion pieces floating somewhere about 20 quads straight up.

Well, Rattrap thought to himself, SOMEBODY'S gotta run this show. He hopped off his bed, unhooked the energon tap from his arm, and flicked a switch on the wall to make the cord retract back into its socket.

It hadn't been easy, accepting command again. It's not that he didn't think he could handle the responsibility--he had always hoped that once the Maximals got back to Cybertron, he'd get some sort of field promotion, maybe to a general. But the last time he had assumed leadership of the Maximals, it hadn't exactly been under ideal conditions. Primal had been sucked into an alien probe and evidently destroyed, but later his intact consciousness was able to contact the Maximals and elect Rattrap as commander in his absence. The whole ideal had been very frustrating, and the situation now wasn't much better.

With ol' Magilla blasted to smithereens, Megatron had already launched one attack on the Maximal base, the Axalon. Rattrap knew it was only a matter of time before he tried it again. The Preds had never had it better since they'd crashed on this slimeball planet.

So the first order of business, it seemed, was to reassure the rest of his crew. Rattrap was no good at being a cheerleader, but he had to do something to keep the guys happy...

On the bridge of the ship, which now served as the control room of their base, Rhinox was extracting a tissue sample from Cheetor. Cheets and Rattrap had been the only ones to mutate after getting hit by the aliens' beam, and Rhinox, the crew's resident mystic-genius, wanted to know why.

Cheetor flinched a bit as Rhinox slowly drew a cyber-syringe from his left forearm. "Ow! Next time," he quipped, rubbing his arm, "why dontcha just draw mech-fluid?"

"I'll need to do that, too," Rhinox said with a deadpan expression.

Rattrap sauntered in and propped himself up on the main control dish with a metallic elbow. "So, eh, you figured out what took the 'disguise' outta 'robots in disguise'?"

"That's just it," Rhinox said, hovering over a computer monitor, waiting for the test results. "You're still organic--at least partly. Whatever hit us altered your DNA on the sub-nucleonic scale. It's like you've become fuzed with the animals we scanned and replicated for you."

"Heh," Rattrap uttered, examining his fingernails thoughtfully, "why couldn't I a' been fuzed with a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster?"

Just then Dinobot entered the room, eyeing each of the other Maximals. He stood at attention before Rattrap and gave him an exaggerated salute.

"Reporting for duty... commander," he sneered, as though the last word made him physically ill.

"We gotta get to Bad Guy Central and see what kinda condition they're in," Rattrap announced.

"We already know their status," Dinobot countered, kneeling down and taking a step closer to Rattrap. "Megatron survives, and even now plans to destroy us all. A real leader would not be scurrying around the enemy, he would be amassing a strike force to take his foes down!" He emphasized his point by producing his cyber-saber and thrusting it to within a mini-inch of Rattrap's face. Rattrap didn't even flinch.

Rhinox added, "We may have lost Optimus, but we do have one advantage: You two."

He gestured at Rattrap and Cheetor, who gave each other confused looks.

"We have two Transmetals to Megatron's one," Rhinox said. "And with the kind of power you guys now possess, that's bound to tip the odds in our favor."

"If, that is," Dinobot mused, "you are correct in your appraisal."

"Which is why we gotta find out!" Rattrap implored. Without another word, he transformed into his new robotic rat form, hopped into the auxiliary hatch and left the ship. Dinobot grumbled something profane and followed, taking heavy steps.

Outside, the once-rife vegetation had become a barren valley. The waterfall close by had all but dried up, now only offering a few trickles of runny mud, and the familiar sounds of nearby wildlife were no more.

"Every day, I come to worship this planet more," Dinobot said dryly.

"Hey, look, I admit it's no vacation spot--but at least we're alive," said Rattrap.

Dinobot reverted to his velociraptor mode and turned away. His eyes shut for a moment, as if in contemplation. He suddenly spun around and exclaimed, "And what good does that do us? Megatron will eventually destroy us, one at a time, just as he destroyed Optimus.

"And even if we triumph, what do our remaining days hold? Cybertron will not come for the Maximals again. We have but three centuries remaining, until--" He stopped short and began examining the landscape, as if suddenly distracted.

"What? What?? C'mon, X-Acto Mouth, spill the wild beans! We're all Maximals here."

Dinobot nodded. "Indeed, we are... in allegiance, if not in heritage."

Rattrap only nodded. There were times Dinobot seemed almost ashamed when his former Predacon career was brought up.

"This planet," Dinobot continued, "is not unknown to Cybertron as we once assumed. The changes inadvertently created by the aliens have proven that."

"Huh?" Rattrap scratched his head with a metallic claw.

Dinobot let out a low snarl. "Earth, Rattrap. This is Earth--not in the time Megatron had originally intended to find it, but Earth nonetheless."

"Whoa, whoa, hold up, here!" Rattrap interrupted. What about the energon--and those alien gizmos--and the second moon?"

"All of them destroyed," Dinobot explained. "This is now the Earth described on the golden disk... And in three hundred years, our predecessors--the Autobots and Decepticons--will awaken. They will find us here, on this planet... in one state or another."

"Well hey, 300 years ain't that long of a wait," Rattrap spouted cheerily. "I can get a nice tan, maybe catch up on my reading--"

"Don't you see?!" Dinobot exploded, shaking his claws in the air. "We have destroyed our own future. If the Predacons destroy us, here, in this time, they will join with the Decepticons, three centuries from now. With the Predacons' might, the original Megatron will have no trouble conquering this world, and then Cybertron. The Autobots will be defeated; the Maximals will never come into existence!"

"And if we kick Megatron's shiny purple butt now..." Rattrap pondered, "The Autobots will find us Maximals, and we can do the same to those slaggin' Decepticons. Sounds okay by me!"

Dinobot, however, realized the implications full well. "Then the Predacons will never exist. I will have excised... myself... from time."

Rattrap only stared in stunned silence as Dinobot trotted off into the wasteland.

***

Chapter 4: Scheme Mismanaged

"Yes, this will serve nicely," Terrorsaur announced, fondling a hyper-missile in his claws like it was a newborn protoform.

Terrorsaur may not have been a scientific genius like Tarantulas, but he was extremely clever in his own right. After all, Megatron had chosen him for part of the Darkside's crew. His specialty was improvising; what Megatron hadn't realized at the time was how well Terrorsaur could turn his skills against him.

Terrorsaur had only recently realized why Megatron had originally wanted to reach Earth so badly. At first he had assumed it was the energon, but it seemed a long way to travel--through time and space--just to find a new energy source. No, Megatron must have had other motives.

So Terrorsaur began doing research. He studied everything the Predacons knew about Earth--which, admittedly, wasn't much--until he found a copy of the very first report of the planet on record. To his utter shock, he discovered that this was the planet the Autobots and Decepticons had crashed on, some four million-odd years ago. Not quite ancient history to present-day Predacons, but the location of Earth wasn't a well-known fact, either. And that could only mean the Autobots' ship--the Ark, as they called it--was on this planet.

All Terrorsaur had to do was find it, and he could bring his ancestors back to life, millennia before the Autobots would ever be reactivated. He would completely rewrite the history that the Predacons knew so well: The Autobots awakening and attacking the Decepticons, nearly destroying them--that would become little more than the shadow of a memory.

Imagine the glory! Terrorsaur, singlehandedly, restoring the Decepticons to greatness. Almost every night, Terrorsaur had dreams about Decepticon Leader Megatron awarding him with a badge of honor for his deeds. This had been an ambition of Terrorsaur's for quite some time, but in his mind, could never become a reality... until today.

Scorponok scratched his head and whistled. "That's as big as they get, y'know," he said, emphasizing each word like a child. "You could blow up a space tower with one o'them missiles."

Terrorsaur snapped back into the present, and grinned insanely. "Maybe later. Right now I'll settle for knocking a stasis pod out of orbit."

Terrorsaur was taking a calculated risk: Megatron was undoubtedly still alive, and Terrorsaur might not be a match for the remaining five Predacons. His only hope was to find some new allies... And the only source for new troops right now were the few remaining protoform comrades-in-arms of the Maximals, orbiting the planet in stasis lock until they were needed. Most of them had tumbled to Earth when the alien wave washed over the planet, but a few had been on the other side of the planet and had escaped the quantum surge.

"Computer," he ordered, his link to the Predacon central command re-established, "engage targeting system into Scorponok's weapons systems. Voice code recognition: Terrorsaur."

"Does unit Scorponok accept computer override?" the pleasant-sounding female voice asked, issuing from Scorponok's comlink.

"Huh?" Scorponok said.

"Just say 'yes,' you twit," Terrorsaur hissed.

"Oh! Uh, yes."

"Link established," the computer announced, and Scorponok's visor turned a red hue.

"All you have to do," said Terrorsaur, loading the missile into Scorponok's open claw, "is aim into the sky. The computer will take care of the rest."

"All right," Scorponok shrugged, and fired into space.

Terrorsaur tracked the missile until it was out of his scanner range, then stared into the dark grey sky for a few moments.

"Target acquired," the Predacon computer announced, and there was a tremendous burst of light from inside the haze. A deep, distant rumble made the two Predacons' audio receptors vibrate.

A few moments after that, a few flaming, charred chunks of metal and poly-alloy sporadically rained down from behind the clouds. It was truly a shame--they were the remains of Serpentor, a military strategist who would have made a brilliant Predacon.

"You--you destroyed it!" Terrorsaur shrieked.

"Hey, I just did what you told me to, Beak-Face!" Scorponok retorted, shaking a claw at Terrorsaur menacingly.

"Never mind!" Terrorsaur said, frantic. He took a long breath and gazed into the sky. We'll try one more time--but this time we'll make a few alterations to those missiles of yours..."

***

Chapter 5: Confrontation Inevitable

Megatron's optics burned like a hot iron as he studied the readout on his situation monitor. Despite his recent transformation, things were not going well. Most of the energon in Predacon territory had been dissipated by the aliens' visit. Two of his troops were evidently dead, and another two had vanished. Even the thought of Optimus Primal's demise no longer brought a smirk to his face plate.

This would be the perfect time to wipe out the Maximals forever--if only he possessed the resources to launch an attack! The irony of the aliens' legacy was not lost on the Predacon leader.

For now, he had Inferno searching for stasis pods to replenish his troops, and Waspinator was repairing some of the damage incurred upon the Darkside. Ideally, Tarantulas and Scorponok would be the assigned to those respective tasks, but--

Just then the perimeter alarms went off. "Warning!" the Predacon computer announced, "Maximal signatures detected outside base. Units: Rattrap and Dinobot."

"Ah," Megatron breathed, his face suddenly lighting up, "Maximals! This should prove quite entertaining. Yess." Finally, a change of pace. Megatron relished changes--especially if it involved changing Maximals into slag.

He pressed a button on his computer globe and called for Waspinator. Together they left through the main hatch in robot mode, weapons drawn.

***

Outside, Rattrap and Dinobot lurked behind some granite boulders, creeping around the base. They had planned to enter through the same breach Tigatron had a few weeks ago, assuming the Predacons hadn't sealed the opening yet. Given all the recent activity of the aliens, it was a strong likelihood they simply hadn't had the time.

"Stealth is of the essence, vermin," Dinobot hissed between his velociraptor teeth. "It is a wonder they have not already detected your malodorous emanations."

Rattrap, in his rat-dragster mode, only waved a claw in Dinobot's direction. "You wanna shut your toothy trap, Lizard-Butt? Or do I have to shut it for ya?" he whispered harshly.

Just then a missile exploded about five meters to the left of the Maximals' location.

"Uh-oh! Guess we weren't stealthy enough!" Rattrap exclaimed.

"MAXIMIZE!" Rattrap and Dinobot commanded in unison, converting to battle mode.

"I'll tight-beam Tigatron and Airazor!" Rattrap shouted, tapping his chest. Nothing but static issued from his comlink.

"Oops! Waspinator missed," Waspinator said, casting an accusing look at his weapon. "Bad gun! Bad, evil, naughty gun!"

Megatron sneered. "But I shall not miss, no!--"

Just then an explosion threw both Maximals straight into the air, hurtling them into a rock face. They were both knocked unconscious.

"What??" Megatron demanded. He hadn't even charged up his weapon yet.

A shriek filled the sky, and a gigantic robotic pterodactyl swooped in from behind the clouds. He had a malicious grin on his beak and was cackling madly. He dropped Scorponok from his claws, who transformed to robot mode in mid-drop and landed with a thud.

Terrorsaur transformed but remained aloft, hovering just above Megatron and Waspinator.

"Dactyl-Bot??" Waspinator said, grinding his fists into his optics several times and blinking.

Terrorsaur grimaced. "Greetings, Megatron. I see you've been given The Gift as well."

"Ah, yes. I have. An excellent display of firepower, my dear Terrorsaur. You may now reaffirm your loyalty to me by vaporizing these Maximals." He shifted his stance a bit.

Terrorsaur exploded into a fit of evil laughter. "Do you seriously expect me to follow you?" He said the last word with obvious disdain. "I have much greater plans than being your lackey... yess."

If there was one thing Megatron despised, it was being mocked. "And what do you expect to do, Terrorsaur? Fight me again?" He took a few casual glances around, as though surveying his troops' positions. "Are you prepared to battle all four of us?"

"I think you'll find Scorponok is on my side, now," Terrorsaur announced, still smiling.

"Oh, really?" Megatron chuckled, sounding quite delighted. "Let's put that to the test. Scorponok!" he beckoned.

Scorponok stepped obediently toward Megatron.

Terrorsaur stopped smiling.

"To whom do you pledge allegiance, hmmm?" Megatron asked.

"I serve Megatron, leader of the Predacons," Scorponok recited proudly.

"Whaat?! But--but you and me--we're partners!" Terrorsaur yelled.

Inferno and Waspinator took this as a sign of reassurance and tightened their formation around Megatron, weapons trained on Terrorsaur.

"So, you see," Megatron gloated, "you really can't win. No. I suggest you recant your independence... or die."

"I have a better idea," Terrorsaur replied thoughtfully. "TERRORCONS--ASSEMBLE!"

Megatron found himself being flanked: one misshapen creature buzzed in from the sky, while another slowly crawled out from behind one of the energon geysers surrounding the base. They were obviously Earth creatures of some kind, but Megatron couldn't place the species of either of them.

"Terrorcons, transform!" Terrorsaur screeched.

The flying creature landed on the ground and flexed his insectoid claws. "Buzzclaw--TERRORIZE!" He shifted shape into a hideous, vaguely reptilian robot form.

The other beast, resembling a crocodile with a turtle shell, bore his teeth menacingly. "Terragator--TERRORIZE!" He quickly changed form into a wiry but heavily armored robot.

Terrorsaur giggled drunkenly. "Their beast modes leave much to be desired, but what they lack in aesthetics they more than make up for in raw power. So, still think I should serve you?" he gestured languidly with a purple claw.

"Ah," Megatron said, stroking his chin, "perhaps not. No. I believe I will simply destroy you instead!" His gun-arm jerked up and let out a blast that hit Buzzclaw squarely in the chest, knocking his wings off and sending him flying into the hull of the base. He bounced off and collapsed into a heap.

Terragator responded by kneeling in front of his shell-shield, letting loose a volley of shells from his semi-automatic blaster.

Waspinator's body was riddled with bullets, causing him to dance almost like a marionette. Pieces sprang off his body in every direction. He fell, limp.

Megatron didn't even look back. "You missed your target," he quipped, shooting at Terragator. His armored shell took the full force of the blast, dissipating it.

"I miss nothing," Terragator grunted. He transformed and lunged for Megatron's throat, knocking the Predacon leader to the ground.

"Mark this day, Megatron!" Terrorsaur said, flying around Inferno to avoid the blasts from his flamethrower. "For today, Terrorsaur gains control of the Predacons--and after that, the Decepticon Army!!"

***

Chapter 6: Paradox Solved

With the Predacons busy with their insignificant power struggle, Dinobot had managed to sneak away from the battle and was now lying low on a precipice overlooking the Predacon base. He hadn't wanted to leave Rattrap--waste of fibers though he was--but there was nothing he could do for the rodent in the midst of the battle, which still raged on below him.

Dinobot had seen Terrorsaur demonstrate this kind of insanity a few times before. The stupid bird had nearly botched the theft of the original Golden Disk by wrestling some Maximal to the ground and trying to strangle him, while the other Predacons had already made their escape. Dinobot had had to go back into the Hall of Relics and pry Terrorsaur loose from his victim and drag him out by the skid plate. This he did, not because he cared for the piece of slag, nor because he was ordered to by Megatron, but because he was bound by honor not to abandon a comrade.

Rattrap still lay at the bottom of the cliff, turned onto his side, his optics dark. Dinobot pushed aside the suspicion that his optics would not light up again...

Dinobot listened as the verbal exchanges between Terrorsaur and Megatron continued--he was able to make out most of the words. Dinobot already knew about Terrorsaur's so-called ambitions. On board the Darkside, Terrorsaur was constantly quizzing Dinobot about the Decepticons, particularly Starscream--a hero of Terrorsaur's, Dinobot supposed. As a student of military history, it was flattering, in a way, for Dinobot to be able to impart his knowlege.

When Megatron had finally revealed his intended destination to the crew, most of them assumed he would be traveling to present-day Earth. It would not be an impossible target. But Dinobot suspected there was a special reason Megatron had stolen a trans-warp ship, capable of traveling through time. He was right.

It was not difficult to realize, then, why Terrorsaur had requested a post on this mission: it would be his chance to meet his idols, whom otherwise were only reachable through the ancient Decepticon crypt.

It mattered little to Dinobot which of the two power-hungry Predacons won this battle. It was clear whichever of them was the victor would spell doom for the Autobots... and the Maximals...

Why should Dinobot care whether the Maximals ever came into existence? He was born a Predacon. But another thought dawned on him: If the Decepticons won the war before it ever began, they would go on to conquer Cybertron and rule for stellar cycles. The Decepticons... not the Predacons. The Predacon Alliance was only formed after the Decepticons were defeated in the Great War. The Decepticons must lose the War, or the Predacons would never come into being.

This hideous realization sunk into Dinobot, leaving a cold, empty feeling within him. "Time must not be altered," he said to himself, "or all will suffer."

He had been struggling with the question of who the victor would be in the Maximal-Predacon conflict. Now it was clear to him: It must be a stalemate. Whomever won the fight in the past would change the future... one way or another. Dinobot couldn't allow that to happen.

And there was only one way to prevent it.

***

Chapter 7: Contention Resolved

"Tell me, Megatron!" Terragator growled, "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?!" He pinned the Predacon leader to the dirt by his weapon-arm, Terragator swishing his tail violently.

Megatron struggled, but wore a knowing smile. "I have a question for you, my dear Terragator. How well do you swim?"

Megatron suddenly shifted into beast mode faster than even Transformer eyes could follow. Terragator now held Megatron to the ground by the tail, but that was soon rectified when Megatron twisted his powerful dinosaur torso, sending Terragator flying into the lava. The alligator-turtle creature kicked and lashed and writhed, but he sunk in a matter of nano-kilks... and Megatron did not see him resurface.

Inferno hissed as he fired burst after burst with his flamethrower at the super-agile Terrorsaur, evading him effortlessly. Then, when Inferno's weapon sputtered and let forth only sparks, Terrorsaur swooped in for the kill, slicing Inferno in two with his scythes. His upper torso dropped to the ground, his optics wide with disbelief. Pieces of Inferno spasmed, then ceased.

"Now, Megatron," Terrorsaur said, mostly to himself, as he dove toward the one obstacle in his path to supreme glory.

Megatron found himself experiencing a sensation that was entirely new to him: fear for his life. He converted to his VTOL mode, but before he could take off, Terrorsaur struck. He lopped off one of Megatron's turbines; the remaining engine spun him in circles until he retracted the remaining turbine.

Megatron returned to robot mode and began running. He wasn't as agile as Terrorsaur, and Terrorsaur had the advantage of flight. He managed to herd Megatron into a corner of the rock wall. Megatron had no intention of losing the battle, but he refused to let go of his dignity. He halted, digging his heels into the ground. He spun around and fired with everything he had.

The blast bounced of Terrorsaur's chest armor like a rubber band. Terrorsaur threw his head back, laughed maniacally. "This is the end, Megatron!" His voice had nearly reached another octave. "No fancy speeches, no chance to surrender. Just: GOOD-BYE!!" His optic sensors charged up, the glow reflecting on his entire face. He raised his clenched fists victoriously--

The explosive blast rocked the cavern walls, sending rocks and dust showering the immediate area. It took several moments for the smoke to clear.

Megatron was uninjured. And Terrorsaur was no longer standing.

Terrorsaur had been thrown onto his back and half-buried in the rubble. Hurriedly, he dug himself out and coughed, gaping at Megatron.

Megatron allowed himself an almost inaudible sigh of relief, but then his face turned to stone. "Care to try it again?"

Terrorsaur lacked Megatron's wisdom: he did, in fact, try again... but the blast was so weak it barely reached his target. His energy was nearly depleted.

"It--it's not possible..." he said, choking on the words, "I had you... I had you in my sights..." With a start he transformed into pterodactyl mode, then a second time into a vehicular variation--a jet mode. He blasted off, breaking the sound barrier, and left a trail of dark brown smoke.

"You did well, Scorponok," Megatron said, turning to the only other Predacon left standing. He added, almost as an afterthought, "Welcome back."

Scorponok lowered his head, shaking it and muttering to himself.

"I didn't quite catch that. No."

Scorponok turned to Megatron and spke slowly. "I pledged allegiance to you because you were the most powerful of the Predacons," he explained with an apologetic tone. "But that's not true any more. Terrorsaur is stronger. I will follow him!"

Megatron was utterly speechless.

Scorponok transformed to his beast mode, then shifted again into a helicopter transformation. He lifted off slowly, raising a dust cloud that obscured him from Megatron's view. He trailed after Terrorsaur, shakily but steadily.

"So," Megatron mused, "your loyalties were not as everlasting as I had supposed. I will be... more circumspect in the future. Yes." With that he gathered Inferno's parts and carried them up the ramp back inside the Predacon base.

***

Back up the ledge of the precipice, Dinobot stood, his arms crossed, his optics white. "As it should be," he said to himself contemplatively. He deactivated his targeting systems and his optics resumed their normal red hue.

Rappeling down the rock face to the battle ground, he kicked some of Waspinator's components out of the way and knelt beside Rattrap.

He administered some emergency energon rations, and Rattrap's optics flickered, finally resuming their normal illumination.

"Are you able to roll... rat?" he asked gently.

Rattrap grunted and sat up. "Yeah, yeah... My axles are a little skeewampus, but nothin' a trip to the R-chamber won't fix."

"Good," Dinobot said, clearing his throat, then in his usual gruff tone, "then let us return to base. Rhinox awaits our report."

"Hey, just a minute, clone breath," Rattrap demanded. "What about Megatron?!"

"It is Terrorsaur we have more to fear from," Dinobot explained. "He, too, has been transformed, in the same manner as you and Cheetor."

"Oh, great--he's a Transmetal too?? All we need now is a visit from Unicron, and I'm set for life!" He stood up. "But... if we was both out cold, then who won the fight?"

"It was... a draw. Terrorsaur atacked Megatron, but was... driven off," Dinobot said.

"Then where the heck is Megatron?! You know, Dino-Butt, you never make any sense to me."

"Megatron did not defeat him," Dinobot said, with just a touch of pride in his voice. "I did."

"YOU... did? You mean you just saved Megatron's life??"

"And, perhaps, all our lives," Dinobot said cryptically.

Leaving Rattrap with a conpletely befuddled expression, Dinobot transformed to beast mode and walked slowly, but assuredly, back to the Maximal base... back home.

THE END

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