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Transformers Classified: Switching Gears
By Windham, Ryder
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2011 Windham, Ryder
All right reserved.
The three robots ignored the large metal signs that said RESTRICTED AREA. NO TRESPASSING. PHOTOGRAPHY PROHIBITED. The signs had been posted along the road so they could be read clearly by humans driving across the Nevada desert, but they didn’t have the same impact for walking robots who stood more than thirty feet tall. Even if the robots had bothered to read the signs, they had no interest in stopping or turning back. When they left the road that evening, crushing the signs beneath their massive feet, they were determined to reach their destination.
As for photography, none of them had any interest in that, either.
“I’m just itching to test my new gun arm,” said Tracer, a robot armored in sky-blue plating. Without breaking his stride, he flexed his right arm and his blunt metal fingers slid back to rearrange themselves around his wrist, revealing his built-in wide-barreled cannon.
“You call that a gun arm?” challenged Bombshock, whose highly reflective armor was dark green. “Check this out.” Bombshock threw both of his bulky arms forward, and they rapidly shifted into missile launchers.
“We’ll all get to use our weapons soon enough,” chided the third robot, Dropshot, who was clad in gunmetal armor with white streaks and spoke in a grinding metallic voice. “After we’re done with this job, you can compare firepower all night long. But right now, I’m telling both of you to keep your jaws closed and your eyes open.”
Clenching his metal jaws tightly, Tracer mumbled, “ ’S hard to tok wid yer jawz closed.”
Without moving his metal lips at all, Bombshock replied clearly, “That’s okay. I can understand you.”
“Shut up and walk!” Dropshot growled.
Dropshot, Bombshock, and Tracer were Decepticons, living beings from the planet Cybertron and followers of the ruthless Megatron. Their longtime enemies were another Cybertronian faction, the Autobots, who were led by Optimus Prime. Since arriving on Earth, the Decepticons had also managed to become the enemies of all human military forces.
The three Decepticons lurched forward, continuing onto the Nevada Test and Training Range, one of the largest Air Force facilities in the United States. The vast grounds contained several air bases, and the trio were heading for one in particular. They were so confident about their mission that they didn’t care about the trail of large footprints they were leaving behind, or about the series of thin trip wires that stretched a few inches off the ground ahead of them. Even after their feet swept through the trip wires, they just kept walking.
Just beyond the end of a long airfield, a young airman stationed inside a wooden guard shack that had been painted white saw a light flashing on his security console. He looked closer at the monitor and saw a winking red line, which indicated that someone or something had just broken one of the many trip wires along the air base’s perimeter. Noting the location of the broken trip wire, he grabbed his night-vision binoculars and stepped outside the shack to see if he could spot the trespasser. He began raising his binoculars to his eyes as he looked to the north. Seeing huge, hulking forms silhouetted against the sky about a half mile from his position, he realized he didn’t need binoculars after all. He needed help.
Like most Air Force personnel, the airman was acutely aware that alien robots had arrived on Earth and that they could disguise themselves as ordinary cars, trucks, planes, and other vehicles. The aliens’ ability to shift and change physical form down to every minute detail, creating vehicle and weapons forms, led some humans to call them Transformers, but most people who saw all the walking metal simply referred to them as giant robots.
Some robots were friendly, but others hated humans. The military worked in partnership with a few, but they had also engaged in recent deadly battles with others. Because the airman had not been notified about any robots visiting the airfield, he had to assume these three were hostile.
Keeping his eyes on the approaching forms, the airman tapped his headset and said, “Cactus station nine to base. I’ve got a visual on three giant robots approaching from the north. I repeat, three giant robots approaching from the north.”
A siren began blaring behind the airman. Then he heard a familiar noise of engines. He glanced back and saw the headlights of armored personnel carriers moving past the blinking lights of the airfield, and then a trio of F-22 fighter planes buzzed above him, heading north. Keeping his eyes fixed on the fighters, he turned his head to watch them race toward the approaching robots.
The first F-22 opened fire, launching a missile that streaked toward the lead intruder. The robot shifted his massive upper body with surprising speed to dodge the missile, which sped past him and grazed the leg of one of his companions before it traveled an additional five hundred feet and smashed into the ground. The F-22s had already peeled away from the robots when the missile detonated. The power of the blast was close enough that the airman felt the shock wave, which sent him stumbling backward into the door of his guard post.
When the airman recovered, he looked back and saw that the robot who’d been struck was down on one knee. The robot was close enough that the airman could see he was green. The airman watched the other two robots turn their huge heads to look back at their fallen comrade while they continued walking. The green robot rose, tested his leg, and then moved after the others to rejoin them as they continued their steady march toward the airfield.
“Cactus station nine to base!” the airman shouted into his headset. “Strike unsuccessful! Repeat, strike unsuccessful! They’re still coming!” Knowing that the metal giants would not have any difficulty reducing the guard shack to splinters, the airman ran for cover.
Dropshot paused to scan the night sky, then raised one long metal arm. His fist blossomed into a fireball of energy that launched into the darkness. The brilliant projectile streaked toward the jet fighter that had struck Bombshock. Dropshot leered with pleasure as the projectile struck its mark and blew it out of the sky.
The two remaining jets veered away from the explosion. Bombshock adjusted his targeting sensors as he raised his arms and crossed them in front of his armored chest, then fired two heat-seeking missiles to the left and right. The missiles zipped through the night sky, racing after the fleeing jet fighters. A moment later, two explosions rained shattered pieces down upon the desert.
“I hate organic life-forms,” Dropshot muttered.
“Nice shooting, Bombshock,” Tracer said.
Bombshock chuckled. “Swatting insects is fun!” Seeing human soldiers approaching from the air base, he said, “Oh, good! Here come more!”
“Let’s move,” Dropshot said. “Remember, those organics aren’t the only ones watching us.” The machines lowered their arms and continued to the base.
Far away from the battle in the desert, on a small rise that overlooked the distant airfield, a man named Simon Clay lowered his high-powered binoculars. He was smiling because he’d just seen the robots shoot down the three F-22s.
Clay stood a short distance from his van, which was parked behind a wide rock formation. The van had a matte black paint job that made it hard to be seen at night and also difficult to find on satellite photos. It had a tough suspension and armored tires that would allow him to race across rough terrain if he needed to clear out in a hurry. The van was filled with communications gear, and a small but powerful satellite dish stuck up through a hatch in the roof. Clay’s equipment was as good as anything the U.S. government possessed. He knew the Air Force officials would have been very interested to know why that gear was trained on the battle unfolding on the outskirts of the Nevada Test and Training Range. He was equally sure the Air Force would never know about him or his van.
Clay’s walkie-talkie buzzed. He knew the transmission was from Dropshot. He was still smiling as he held the walkie-talkie up to his mouth and said, “This is Stealth One. Go ahead.”
Dropshot replied, “The organics are scrambling ground units to engage us.” The walkie-talkie’s encryption software made Dropshot’s metallic voice sound even harsher than it did in person.
“Roger that, Dropshot,” Clay said. “Stay on objective. Eliminate anything that gets in your way.”
“The organics are delaying their ground deployment,” Dropshot said. “They may be preparing carbon-fiber encasement canisters.”
Clay thought he heard concern in Dropshot’s voice, and his smile vanished. He understood that refrigerated carbon fiber could trap a robot’s metal limbs in a rapidly hardening shell, immobilizing them, and that it was one of the more successful defenses against hostile Cybertronians. He also knew the robots didn’t have all night to do what needed to be done. “Your emergency heat couplers were tested this morning, Dropshot,” he said impatiently. “Quit stalling and complete the mission. Stealth One out.”
“Acknowledged,” the Decepticon grumbled.
Clay returned his walkie-talkie to his belt clip and raised the binoculars to his eyes again. He didn’t trust the Decepticons. They frightened him. Considering that they were giant armored robots with destructive weapons built into their bodies, he believed his fear was justified. However, for the moment, he was the one giving them the orders.
Peering through the binoculars, he watched the robots in the distance as they moved closer to the airfield, where a few dozen military vehicles were driving toward a guard shack. When he saw Dropshot shatter the shack with a single kick, his mouth twitched back into a cruel smile.
The airman who’d abandoned the now-ruined shack jumped onto one of the armored personnel carriers moving across the airfield. In the APC turrets, grim-faced gunners targeted the invaders who had already brought down three jet fighters.
Five hundred feet away from the APCs, Dropshot’s lenses whirred as his ocular sensors scanned each vehicle. His infrared sensor showed no cool spots that could be refrigerated carbon-fiber tanks, only the crimson blobs of frightened, sweating organics. In a nanosecond, Dropshot’s onboard data processors assigned threat levels to each target and relayed the information to Bombshock and Tracer.
Bombshock and Tracer grinned. According to Dropshot, none of the pathetic species of insects called humans could hurt the Decepticons, including the ones in the armored vehicles.
“Fire when ready,” Dropshot growled. He raised one arm, bracketed the lead APC in his sights, and unlocked his trigger actuators. He opened fire, and the soldiers fired back.
On a service road that ran along the outer perimeter of the Nevada Test and Training Range, a white SUV came to a sudden stop. The driver had been startled by the bright bursts of light in the black sky over the desert. His family was already upset with him because they were pretty sure he had taken a very wrong turn for Las Vegas, but he couldn’t be faulted for failing to see the Air Force’s warning signs that had been recently crushed by enormous trespassers.
His wife followed his gaze to the distant bursts of light. The driver yelled, “Cody! Stop watching that DVD for a minute!”
“Aw, Dad,” complained the boy, who sat in the backseat. “Not more nature.”
“This is better than nature! It’s fireworks!”
“Where?” The boy turned his attention away from the DVD player secured to the back of his father’s seat just in time to see a series of bright explosions ripple across the sky. The explosions illuminated three giant robots striding across the desert.
“Whoa,” said the driver’s wife. “I don’t think those are fireworks.”
Taking a sudden interest in the world outside the SUV’s air-conditioned interior, the boy in the backseat set his cell phone on video mode, rolled down his window, and began recording the distant robots. “I can’t wait to post this on my blog!”
“The heck you’re posting it on your blog!” the boy’s mother said as she reached for her own cell phone. “TV networks will pay for this video!”
And then the family saw something else in the sky: the lights of an approaching aircraft.
The Decepticon called Tracer was firing at the Air Force’s fleeing armored vehicles when he spotted the incoming plane. He transmitted a data burst to Dropshot, who turned to face west, his ocular sensors whirring as they focused on the rapidly approaching airborne target. It was a large military transport aircraft. The aircraft was almost directly overhead when its aft section opened and two large vehicles tumbled out. The first vehicle was a dark blue semitruck with red flames painted on the cab. The second vehicle was a black medium-duty pickup truck.
Dropshot recognized both vehicles immediately and knew they were more than just trucks. He switched over to his external comm channel, the one he shared with the arrogant human named Simon Clay. Dropshot made no attempt to conceal his anger as he growled, “You told us we would not encounter Autobots!”
The dark blue semitruck that fell from the military aircraft was actually the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, another sentient being from Cybertron. His companion, the black pickup truck, was Optimus’s friend and Cybertronian compatriot, an Autobot named Ironhide, a weapons specialist who enjoyed exercising his trigger fingers. Their aircraft had been supplied by NEST.
Only military personnel knew that NEST was an acronym for Non-biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty. The Autobots were working with the U.S. armed forces to defend Earth against Decepticons such as the three giant robots currently attacking the Nevada air base directly below Optimus Prime and Ironhide.
Still falling from the aircraft, the two disguised Autobots began changing, shifting and flipping metal panels as they rearranged their physical configurations to reveal themselves as large robot-looking figures. Although each Autobot body had a head atop a torso with two arms and two legs, the Autobots were amused that people referred to their anatomy as humanoid because the Cybertronian species predated human existence.
Optimus Prime and Ironhide activated the parachutes they’d secured onto their backs. The chutes deployed with loud pops as they caught the air, and the two Autobots maneuvered to land on the ground between the three Decepticons and the human soldiers. Descending alongside his larger friend, Ironhide flexed his two arm-mounted cannons and said, “This is gonna be fun.”
“Watch out for the soldiers,” Optimus Prime said. He had known Ironhide for many years, and they had fought side by side in battles on dozens of worlds. Although he trusted the scarred old Autobot with his life, Optimus was still quick to reproach Ironhide for getting overly enthusiastic in a brawl.
Optimus radioed a quick transmission to the authorities at the Nevada Test and Training Range, warning them to pull back their APCs and not to fire on him or Ironhide. He then directed his sensors to sort through the babble of transmissions that were being broadcast across the area. In mere seconds, his cognitive modules sifted through millions of telephone calls, radio feeds, e-mail conversations, and text messages. He discarded the usual human chatter that made up more than 99.99 percent of the transmissions and focused on what was left.
His human allies at NEST had supplied him with the U.S. military codes encrypting their communications, saving him several seconds of computing time. That left two communications channels to investigate. The first one featured three sources of nanoburst communications generated by the Decepticons and guarded by quantum encryption ciphers that his processors estimated would take an Earth computer 1.4 million years to crack. The other channel was encrypted using human technology. Optimus broke all the codes in less than two seconds. He reviewed the last ten minutes of communications he had recorded in that vulnerable channel, prioritized the interesting material, and transmitted details to Ironhide.
“Thanks for the info, boss,” Ironhide replied as he adjusted his descent. “How do you want to play this game?”
“The Decepticon called Bombshock has suffered slight to moderate damage to the right knee. Leave him for last. I will take Dropshot. Tracer is yours.”
“Aw, boss,” Ironhide groaned. “I could take all three of them while you buffed out some dings.”
“Overconfidence is not the soldier’s way,” Optimus said. “And remember, do not harm the humans.”
Ironhide chuckled. “Their job is to stay out of my way!”
Decepticon missiles whizzed past the Autobots as they neared the ground. Both Autobots cut their chutes and hit the airfield running. Optimus went straight for Dropshot while Ironhide ran toward Tracer. Bombshock was two hundred feet away from his allies, but the Autobots saw him limping toward Dropshot.
The lead Decepticon had just enough time to assume a defensive stance before Optimus’s giant metal foot caught him in the chest plate, driving him into the ground and sending a wave of dirt and tumbleweeds skyward. Dropshot rolled as Optimus hit him and managed to launch a kick that hit Optimus’s back. Losing his balance, Optimus stumbled and somersaulted across the airfield.
“Rough landing, boss!” Ironhide said as he ducked a swarm of missiles that Tracer had fired. Ironhide rushed the sky-blue Decepticon and tackled him. The motors in their arms strained as they wrestled. Tracer’s forearm cannon spat fire, blasting craters into the ground around them.
Optimus rolled up from the ground just in time to see Dropshot coming at him fast. The Autobot leader extended the barrage cannon housed in his right shoulder and fired at Dropshot, who flung himself sideways. The blast sailed past Dropshot, but as he swung his body around to resume his attack, Optimus’s fist caved into the armor protecting the Decepticon’s left shoulder.
Dropshot howled in pain. Optimus grabbed his opponent’s right forearm with both of his metal hands. Motors screamed as Dropshot tried to bring his left arm up but found it blocked by his now-buckled shoulder armor. Without losing his grip on Dropshot, Optimus shouted, “Ironhide! Bombshock is closing ground!”
Ironhide chuckled. “Let me know when you’re done playin’ with your friend and we’ll take Bombshock out together.” With a roar of servos, Ironhide brought a knee up into Tracer’s midsection. Tracer squealed as his feet left the ground. Ironhide seized Tracer’s torso, lifted him overhead, and then turned and hurled him into the limping Bombshock. The two Decepticons crashed to the ground.
Dropshot tried to wriggle out of Optimus’s grip, but the Autobot wrenched his opponent’s left arm up behind his back. Optimus said, “It doesn’t have to be like this, Dropshot. You don’t have to believe the lies of Megatron.”
Dropshot let out a mechanized snort, then wrenched his right arm free and aimed his cannons at a cluster of soldiers standing on the far side of the airfield. As Dropshot charged his cannons, Optimus did not have to make any calculations to know that soldiers would die if Dropshot fired. The mighty Autobot recalibrated his own right arm into the form of a large blade, which he then drove down through Dropshot’s chest.
“No!” Tracer screamed as he saw sparks explode from Dropshot’s body. Dropshot’s right wrist spun wildly before the light in his eyes winked out and his limbs went limp. Tracer jumped to his feet, leaving Bombshock as he tried to run past Ironhide to get a clear shot at Optimus. Bombshock’s damaged knee whined in protest as he tried to get up.
Before Tracer could bring his weapons to bear, Ironhide pivoted at the waist and head-butted the Decepticon, knocking him down again. Tracer tumbled and rolled, but when he came to a stop in a crouched position, he was staring up into the barrel of the large fission chamber on Ironhide’s left arm.
Large metal chunks of Tracer’s shattered armor whipped through the air, and a few bits went soaring over a stranded APC. Seeing a frightened soldier huddled beside the APC, Ironhide commented, “First rule of the battlefield: Know when to duck!”
Leaving the remains of Dropshot, Optimus walked across the airfield to join Ironhide. Bombshock looked from one Autobot to the other as he tried to decide his next course of action. Hearing Optimus approach, Ironhide said, “You’re not going to try negotiating with this hopeless loser, are you, boss?”
“There is always hope,” Optimus said as he retracted his blade and extended an open hand to the remaining Decepticon. “Bombshock, you can stop—”
Bombshock fired one of his missile launchers. Three projectiles went wild into the night, arcing over the air base. The missiles were still soaring when Bombshock, with a desperate gleam in his red eyes, swung both arms out so his missile launchers were aimed at structures on the far side of the airfield. The three already-fired missiles descended and smashed into the desert floor, causing a large explosion that kicked up sand in all directions. Jutting his narrow metal chin at the airfield’s structures, Bombshock faced Optimus and said, “Take one more step, and I’ll destroy those buildings and everyone in them!”
“Remember how we did it at the Battle of Polyhex?” Ironhide asked his leader.
Polyhex had been a province on Cybertron, and the site of several battles. Keeping his blue eyes fixed on Bombshock, Optimus answered, “Which Battle of Polyhex?”
“The second one,” Ironhide said as he cycled through his weapons systems.
Optimus nodded. “I remember.” Optimus assumed an offensive stance, catching Bombshock’s attention, at the same moment that Ironhide dived to the Decepticon’s right side. In an effort to keep both Autobots in view, Bombshock turned to his right, too, but his damaged knee locked with a screech. Before Bombshock could fire, Optimus deployed his battle blade again and charged.
Excerpted from Transformers Classified: Switching Gears by Windham, Ryder Copyright © 2011 by Windham, Ryder. Excerpted by permission.
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