This is the next Ultra Magnus story. Actually, I think it was the first, rather than *Division*, but no matter. They're seprate stories. Hope you guys enjoy! Tams! THE DIPLOMAT Summer, 2022 “Negotiator?” Magnus stared at Prime as if the Autobot leader had ingested poisoned energon. Optimus leaned against the front of his desk, his arms crossed. “Roddi’s on a mission. The baby’s sick, so I have to stay and take care of her. The Gordradon and Therskani governments will not deal with someone who’s not in authority. When I told them I’d send you, they accepted the offer.” Magnus stared, disgusted. Optimus easily leave Rusti in the care of an EDC official and go himself. It was odd how something as small as a baby could bring about so much change in a person. “Prime, I’m not a diplomat. Send Springer. At least he can talk his way out of a bad situation.” “You’ll do fine.” Prime purred. He drew a digipad off his desktop and handed it to his city commander. “This has all the information you need: tricks, ideas, things to say in difficult situations. There’s added items we can offer in case they’re after more than titanium sheeting.” Magnus reluctantly took the digipad. “Demoted from drill sergeant to sales manager. Am I going to get a raise for this new position?” Prime sent him a smile “I could raise your position to care provider and you could take care of Rusti while I handle the negotiation.” Magnus frowned. “No. I’ll take the job.” Autobot femme Indigo was supposed to accompany Magnus on the journey. Supposedly she was a diplomat specialist. For that, at least, Magnus was glad he was going with some back up. But Indigo was late and he waited for her in the shuttle fifteen minutes. He pulled out the digipad and glanced over its contents, picking up bits and pieces of things to say, or other materials and services the Autobots were willing to offer in trade for isotrype and beryllium conductors. He checked his internal chronometer. She was now twenty-five minutes late. He growled inwardly. He wasn’t meant for this . . . baby sitting job! He was a drill sergeant and commanded city staff and, and he was going to kill Optimus Prime upon his return! Magnus radioed Indigo. No answer. Irritated, the city commander left the shuttle for her quarters. She wasn’t there, either. He checked the mess hall. He asked Chromedome, Blurr and Delta, but none of them saw any sign of her. Magnus tapped his thigh with the digipad and left. He trailed down the bridge between Central Command and Training. No sign of her there either. The water rushed madly under the bridge, and normally, Magnus would linger a moment or two just to take in the pleasing white noise. But he had no time today. He swung around, irritated, and someone slammed into him. The impact did little more than forced him a step back. But the impacter lost her wind and fell right on her caboose. Magnus frowned. “Indigo.” “Uh, gosh, I’m sorry, sir for being so late. I mean, I really shouldn’t have been running anyway but I thought you had heard me and you know how things are. You’re preoccupied and the time just goes on-“ ”We need to leave before we’re any later.” “Oh, uh, yeah, okay.” He helped her up like a gentlebot and tried to think of the best, quietest way to kill Optimus Prime as Indigo prattled on and on about her crazy morning and chores and how her girlfriend called her up and moaned about stiff joints and how she’d have to go through a two-week lube and how it would affect her social life for a month. The negotiation took place on an asteroid in the Choove System, approximately three light years from Earth out toward the Orion Nebula. It was as neutral as neutral could get. The asteroid floated around a dead planet that encircled nothing. Magnus was glad for Indigo’s company, although she said nothing the entire time. She read a digi-novel, her whole body scrunched up in the navigation seat. Magnus had selected a piece of traveling music to help pass the boredom. He finally stirred and sighed. “It’s a nice trip.” Indigo finally piped. She unfolded her body and smiled at him. Magnus didn’t like the way she was smiling, but remained cordial. “Uneventful.” He grunted. “But uneventful is a good thing.” She added. “I mean, it’s a great way to read a good novel or strike up a conversation with someone you know absolutely nothing about. I mean, it’s a lot better than trying to sneak a little time away from work, and getting to know your fellow Autobots better, don’t you think, Commander? Have you ever been on really, really long and boring trips where you wish you were some place other than where you presently were? I’ve been there many times myself and I always remember to take something to read along with me. Reading really passes the time especially a good biography. I’ve always liked those.” Magnus eyed her through the corner of his optics. “Do you know Blurr?” “We’re good friends.” She cheerfully answered. “Figures.” He muttered. They landed two hours later. A building of flimsy construction stood in the center of a dry dusty airless valley. Magnus and Indigo entered a vestibule which pressurized and oxygenated the moment the front door closed behind them. Another door yawned into a large well-lit room. A long table stretched the length of the room and chairs of all imaginable sizes and strengths dotted round about. Pitchers of water, oil and methane sat on the table itself. There was also a small table on top surrounded by small chairs designed for Human-sized species. Magnus and Indigo entered the room and were greeted by a tall slim alien resembling a stick figure. It stood headless with a red sheen Magnus assumed acted as a sensor. A metal bracelet wrapped its handless left arm and it lit up just before the alien talked: “Good you came. Quiet here. Sit. Meeting not long.” The door opened again and a twenty-foot half-insect, half-reptilian creature entered. Its black exoskeleton shimmered incandescently in the room’s light. Its enormous head was punctuated by a pair of pincers that came out about eighteen inches beyond its beaked mouth and spikes trailed from the bridge of its muzzle to the back of its neck. It also sported a powerful tail and huge triple-joined legs, obviously designed for rough terrain and steep climbing. A cape drooped down behind its great shoulders and a belt clung fast to its middle, a small pouch hung at its side. It also wore a metal bracelet. “I am Gresman of Sumanoi. What be you, one of bright eyes?” “I’m Ultra Magnus of Earth and Cybertron. This is my assistant, Indigo. Are we waiting for anyone else?” “More. Here.” The stick-figure answered. It pointed a tapered arm to its body. “Min.” Magnus merely nodded, not wanting to sound dumb enough to repeat the name. The door opened again and a hulking boulder of a creature in a space suite stomped through. In one arm he held a travel case, his space helmet in the other. A shorter, dark creature wheeled behind him; a species Magnus had never seen before. It had no form recognizable as far as a robotics went, that is to say that it maneuvered on a set of wheels, sporting a short tail-like structure at the end and a short body with four arms. Its head was triangular in nature with sensors and optical appitures and a set of lip components. Colored only in greys and darks or reflective surfaces, it looked nothing like a Transformer at all. “Bah weep grahnah wheep ni ni bon!” It greeted with a nice feminine voice. “I am Raeshantzanshap of Y’dor. You may call me Rae.” Magnus smiled. It didn’t matter what the creature looked like, she was friendly and that was good enough for him. “My name is Keptal-Duath. I am from Gordrandon in the Sagittarius-Solatus sector. I’ve come in hopes of attaining a trade agreement between the Autobots and the Chaprionites. Hello, Min.” Magnus and Indigo stared at the Gordradon who looked so primitive, but talked very coherently. “Greet for you.” Min’s reply came mechanically. Rae wheeled a little closer to the table, her shorter body barely peeked over its edge until she stretched her neck so that her head rose a good two feet from the surface. “Oh, that’s better. Bad accommodations for someone so short. Who’s going first?” “Therskani always proceed in such meetings.” Gresman hissed. “We have two hundred astro-liters of energon available for trade with the Autobots. We need plasma grenade launchers. If need more, Autobot Ultra Magnus, we provide.” “I am not authorized for the sale of weapons.” Magnus answered bluntly. “Not acceptable. Offer goes up.” Magnus fumbled about for his digipad and found to his horror he must have left it in the shuttle. He glanced at Indigo. “Uh, I don’t have my notes.” “I’ll see if I can find it.” Indigo jumped from the table and exited the room. “Just like Therskani.” Keptal-Duath sniped. “Always looking for ways to blow things up.” “You talk.” Gresman pointed one of two fiercely sharp fingers at him. “Gordrdons have heads in computers more than in space. Too busy copulating to find places for over-expanded offspring.” “Uhh,” Magnus cut in, “We’re not here to fight, gentlebeings. “Let’s just keep our focus on the trade of goods, not insults.” “Ha!” The Therskani scoffed. “Autobots have no say in anybody’s business! Not when they prove biggest sissies in the galaxy!” Magnus stood, he tried to keep his temper in check. “That was uncalled for.” He growled. “But true.” Gresman continued. “Autobots want peace but they harvest sorrow. If you put your weapons where your words lie, you’d not have all problems.” “We are a peaceful species by nature-“ The Therskani leered forward, dark eyes transfixed on Magnus. “You mean ‘pacifist.” It spat. “You claim be lovers of peace. What you say is you’re cowards, not willing to fight for what you believe. You want freedom, but not willing to die.” “I have known great warriors who died in the name of freedom and it is because of their sacrifice that our people still exist.” Magnus began to loose his cool. Who did this lout think he was? “You mean ‘fortunately’.” The Therskani challenged. “Everybody knows Autobots weak sisters, running to other worlds save their metallic hides because they unwilling take up arms and defend themselves.” “We will not become like the Decepticons-“ ”No.” Gresman mocked. “You will become their slaves.” Rae finally flashed her optic sensors. “Enough, Gresman. You’ve made your point that you do not wish to trade with the Autobots. I’m sure that Min would be willing to give you the weapons you require.” Gresman withdrew, but did not look at Magnus again. Min’s slender frame flowed from right to left, giving Gresman his attention. “Give you bombs. Warning. Market closely watched by Galactic Rangers. May not like us trading with you.” “We’ll take that chance.” Gresman snarled. Indigo stepped in finally and sighed, returning to her seat. “I couldn’t find it!” Indigo whispered. “I must have turned that entire ship inside out but I didn’t find your notes. Are you sure you don’t have it on you?” “Yes.” Magnus sighed gravely. Now that he thought of it, he may have dropped it when she ran into him back at Maximus. “Lose your notes?” Keptal-Duath asked. “Just some things my commanding officer wanted me to remember.” Magnus brushed. Rae moved a little closer to the table. “Do you remember what you came here for?” “We’re in need of beryllium conductors and isotrype.” Here he gazed at the Therskani. “But not at the price of someone else’s destruction.” He added with a growl. Rae nodded. “I can supply you with the needed beryllium conductors. It may be a bit on the expensive side, however.” Magnus turned to her with some measure of delight. “And that would be?” “Twenty-five turnmas of gold-pressed latinum.” Keptal-Duath whistled. “That’s a load. Are you just trying to earn a profit, there, Rae?” “Not for me, you over-sized pin ball. There’s a private company that specializes in beryllium conductors and they would be more than happy to supply the Autobots for their needs. But beryllium is not cheap.” Magnus thought it over carefully. With the loss of the digipad, he had no idea what else to offer, if there was anything at all. It was important, to be sure. Without the conductors, construction on the new base on Mars could not begin any time soon. “Fine. It will do.” He agreed. He figured any goof-ups he’d commit now could be rectified by Rodimus’ more brilliant methods later. Min moved his finely-lined body and took his turn for trade agreement while Indigo sketched out notes for someone else to type up and contract later. “Seeking lead-encased metal sheets.” No one spoke for a long moment. Lead was rarely used now, and it would be considered rude to ask the reason for needing it. But finally Keptal-Duath spoke. “I do believe I know of someone who can contact Smat Industries to fill that order. But the manufacturing facility is two whole parsects from our own territory. We may have to ask permission of the residing Governor lord/overseer.” “Price unimportant.” Min brushed. “Lead sheeting imperative for operational purposes. Deep space shipping.” Magnus stared at Min in surprise, but still kept silent. Whatever Min’s people were shipping, must either be very volatile, or easily spoiled. Perhaps that’s what the lead was for; to protect against harmful solar rays. A brilliant flash of light blinded everyone and they withdrew from the table. In the center floated the holographic projection of a Quintesson. Indigo gasped and reached for her weapon, forgetting she and Magnus did not bring any ‘serious’ weaponry. “Ahh . . . Major Ultra Magnus. It’s good to see you are still functional.” Magnus stared at the Quint, trying to recognize the voice. “ . . . Ogunsheye-Dymoth?” He guessed. “I’ve come to thank you personally for those Quintessons you killed during the raid in the Kounctance System.” “Wait,” Magnus objected. “Let’s settle this elsewhere-“ ”Are you suggesting I spare the lives of those around you and deal with you alone?” The Quint paused. “Hah. All species are bothersome at one point or another. What’s a few more casualties added to your list, Ultra Magnus? Give my regards to the Matrix.” As the Quint finished, the floor broke up from under them. Keptal-Duath donned his helmet and tried to activate his oxygen. But not before they fell into a deep chasm. Magnus hated the dark. He wasn’t afraid of it, he just hated it. He woke with a swift systems check and found everything was in working order. His body lay sprawled like a forgotten doll. He couldn’t see, even with night vision. “Light, anybody?” Rae’s little voice perked through the lightless little world and in another moment, the world around them changed. Gresman tested the walls. “Seems your Quintesson adversaries feel you owe them a debt, Ultra Magnus.’ He mused. “Yes.” Magnus replied in monotone. “There was a small Laquine outpost and colony outside the Vega system about four months ago. The Quintessons discovered tresellium under the colony and decided to take it for themselves. But the Laquine weren’t willing to give it up; they fought three weeks straight before calling for help.” Magnus gazed over his shoulder at Gresman. “We blew them sky-high.” “Indeed.” Gresman approved. “But it seems you still make enemies, Autobot.” “Ah . . . I have friends for enemies.” “Here!” Indigo cried. “There’s small enough a cave that might lead to a passage way that might take us back to the surface. But how did all this exist, Commander? I mean, there’s never been any mining here on the asteroid, there’s nothing here but nickel-iron and-“ Gresman stalked beside her and lightly pushed her aside. “Silence, Autobot.” He snarled. Let me through first. I know rocky terrain.” “Not to trust.” Min harrumphed. “Speak yourself, Chaprionite!” Gresman growled. “I know of secrets you keep!” Magnus frowned and gazed at Rae who merely shook her head. They waited a boring two hours before the Therskani returned. Magnus smelled liquid carbon dioxide on him. “What did you find, Gresman?” “A series of caverns and an underground river of carbon dioxide. But I’ll say that we are not alone on this asteroid.” “What?” Rae gasped. “But this place was guaranteed to be completely uninhabitable. There’s no oxygen on the surface and very little gravity. How could there be life on this asteroid?” Gresman took a step into the adjoining cave and signaled the rest of the group to follow him. “I didn’t say the life forms were indigenous. I said we are not alone. There are traces of carbonide radiation along the rocks. Something is eating the tunnels as it moves through the asteroid.” “That’s impossible.” Magnus denied. “There’s no registered life forms capable of ingesting solid rock.” Gresman suddenly back-sprang right over Min and Keptal-Duath to face Magnus eye-to-optic. Magnus had to admit the move was very impressive. “And to date, there is still no proof of there being life outside of the boundaries of the universe, Ultra Magnus.” Magnus stared back, determined not to be intimidated by this annoying . . . person. “There!” Rae called. “Is that the river you were talking about?” “Yes.” Gresman slipped back to the front of the line and led them down a series of smooth, sloping rock formations. Magnus wondered how the caverns could be so incredibly smooth. Gresman was right, something was ingesting the rock. Indigo screamed and backed into her commander. “What?” Three of them chorused. “I-I saw a face . . . something in the rock . . . it moved there.” She pointed to the rock face and Rae shot a second light at it. But all they saw was the grey rock, rippled as though smoothed by lapping water. “Advance from here.” Min suggested and he took the initiative to lead the rest of the group away. Magnus covered their backside and kept a keen optic out for any other such events. But for several hours, nothing happened. “Wait!” Keptal-Duath called. He was puffing at this point, his large size sought for a place to sit and rest. He checked his oxygen and shook his head. “How far are we below the surface?” “Difficult to guestimate.” Gresman answered. “Asteroid thick.” Min added. “Seeking exit not so easy.” His thin frame bent slightly backward as though seeking through the rock to the sky above. “Good grave here.” Magnus knelt before Keptal-Duath. “How much air do you have left, Keptal-Duath?” “Only an hour more. Maybe two. I brought this to travel between the ship and the building, not to go carousing under the ground.” Movement to his right caught Magnus’ attention and he followed a ripple in the rock some inches before the rock itself bulged and festered. Rae shot a light at it and the group moved back in unison as the rock crumbled away revealing a creature with a large head and hot-red skin. It had hideously large black eyes and opened a mouth full of sponge-like material. It crawled out, bearing with it two legs attached to flippers and a very long tail. “Primus, what is that thing?” Indigo whispered. But no one answered her. It inched toward them and they drew back a little further until Min pointed at it and shot a bolt of electricity. It didn’t work. “Not stay.” Min warned. “Go. Backwards, go.” Magnus helped Keptal to his feet and the group made their way as fast as they could along the darkness of the cavern. But they really could do nothing against this bizarre creature. Behind them it rose high, stretching its form like a trail of smoke and its mouth opened like a great black hole. Someone screamed and Magnus turned in time to watch as Min was enveloped by the creature from the topside. Indigo fired at the creature, but she might as well have used a Nerf gun. Gresman dashed out in front of Magnus, sniffing and tasting the dirt and rocks as they ran. Rae wheeled after him at top speed, her light providing just barely enough for the others to see. Several minutes and many yards later, Gresman was forced to a dead end. He scratched at the rock, sunk his dark sharp form into the freezing carbon dioxide and kept searching for a way out. Indigo collapsed next to Keptal-Duath and rocked back and forth, terribly frightened. “What was that thing? What was that thing?” She softly pleaded. “It could not have been responsible for this cavern.” Keptal-Duath surmised. “This place is too big for it.” “You never know.” Rae added softly. She kept the light on Gresman, hoping he’d find something soon. Magnus watched it all in silence, sorry he could have done nothing for Min. This asteroid had been used many times in other meetings and conferences, and never was there any indication of native life forms. He turned to Rae and Duath. “You don’t suppose the Quints could have planted that creature here, do you?” The two ambassadors gazed at him, their faces solemn, tired. “I don’t know.” Rae spoke while Duath closed his eyes, trying to conserve his oxygen. “What can you say of the Quintessons? Are they capable of such feats? What knowledge do they have of this galaxy and its inhabitants?” Magnus nodded. “You’re right. I guess I still tend to compare them to other life forms.” He sighed and sat down on a ledge close to the river. “And they really aren’t anything like any other life forms here.” Indigo plopped next to him, hugging herself. She was just a diplomat, not accustomed to these types of situations. Magnus sent her a reassuring smile. “We’re going to make it, Indigo. Don’t worry.” “It’s so easy for you to say.” She bit back. “You’ve been in these kinds of problems. You’ve fought and survived and you’ve been stranded and survived. I only know of Paradon and Earth and Cybertron and cooperating with other people. None of this phases you at all. But I’m terrified I’m going to die.” Magnus had to think hard on that. He wasn’t the preachy-teachy type; that little job belonged to Prime and Rodimus. They were good at ‘making noises’ and coming up with little sayings that so many people easily bought. Magnus frowned at himself. He really shouldn’t be quite so hard about it. After all, he wasn’t like most of the other Autobots and Prime and Roddi used tactics that worked best for their people; to put their fears to rest, their worries at ease. It was a Prime’s job to take care of their necessities. It was Magnus’ job to see to their safety. “It seems easy.’ Magnus finally answered, trying to choose his words carefully, “but only because I’ve done it for so long.” She stared at him a long moment before offering a light smile. Magnus shrugged inwardly. He didn’t know how she interpreted that, but whatever he said, seemed to work. “This way. Come.” Gresman invited. Rae’s light shined on him as he crawled up a steep cliff side and disappeared into a adjoining tunnel. Magnus and Indigo exchanged smiles and Magnus helped each of the others up the steep cliff first then with a power jump, lunged and crawled after them. Magnus counted two hour’s worth of steady climbing before Duath finally fell unconscious. Gresman only glanced once before moving on. “Wait!” Indigo called after him. We can’t just leave him here like this.” Gresman slithered back to them and shoved his huge insect-like face, pincers and all, in her face. “And what shall we do for him, Autobot? Shall we all take a deep breath and blow into his nose? I don’t know about you, but my species doesn’t require oxygen for long periods of time. That’s why we can do space travel.” Magnus arranged the Gordradon’s body in a more comfortable position. He knew Indigo could not believe he said nothing in her defense. “But-“ she started. “What?” Gresman interrupted. “He’ll die? All things die, Autobot. Or hasn’t your superior commander explained that to you? The only thing that separates one person’s death from another is HOW they die. Come along! We should waste no more time!” And he moved on, his tail snaked on after him, waving gracefully up and down. Indigo stared at the poor creature who would no doubt hit comatose at any time now. Magnus laid a hand on her shoulder. “There’s nothing we can do, Indigo.” He said softly. “Really. Let’s just move on and inform his people when we get to the surface.” Rae went on ahead of them now. Magnus still brought up the rear. Guilt ate into him. He was the initial cause of all their suffering. He had to play hero and save that colony-that’s right, he reminded himself. He was doing his job and the Quints did theirs and . . . and always in war there were innocents who died. That was what made war horrible. That was the worst part of his job. They traveled in solemn silence for another hour. The terrain became more narrow, more difficult to maneuver. Magnus had to crawl on his hands and knees for the most part. Indigo could walk, but had to bend her figure over in order to do so. “How much more of this do we have to do?” She asked Gresman. “Don’t know.” Gresman answered flatly. “Have no maps of terrain, or planetary features.” He suddenly stopped and waited until Indigo had caught up with him. He leaned over Rae and tilted his head with a grin. “Perhaps you’d like to try to go back and ask for directions.” Indigo frowned at his rudeness. “It’s just that we could be going around in circles, or end up in a dead spot or-“ ”yes, Autobot.” Gresman interrupted. “This could be your grave. This could be the place you die. And all for what? For a chance to maintain peace at the price of exchanging goods and services among other races and worlds? I find it amazing, really, that despite the fact that the rest of the galaxy despises you, you Autobots continue to delude yourselves with the notion that you’re here to save us! If it weren’t so funny, I’d say you were all rather pathetic.” “Let’s just move on, Gresman.” Magnus growled. “Ah, someone who believes in a little action!” Gresman turned and did just that. Magnus had grown impatient. Either Indigo did her job right because she talked too much, or he himself just wasn’t fit for diplomacy. Prime should have known Magnus was not right for such things as ‘common ground’ discussions and ‘table top affairs’. Ironhide had it all straight from the very beginning; actions speak louder than words. Gunpoint diplomacy had always been Magnus’ trademark, even as a Decepticon. Well, especially as a Decepticon. Gresman startled and from what Magnus saw by Rae’s light, the Therskani fell off a cliff with a frightening yelp. Rae went right to the edge and looked down. “Oh dear! Gresman!” She cried. “Gresman!” She turned to Magnus. “What will we do?” It wasn’t easy to decide. Magnus wanted to see where their guide had fallen. Perhaps he wasn’t too far and Magnus could use a grappling hook and bring him back. But the tunnel they had been moving along was too tight to allow him passage around the other two. He felt defeated. If they had lost Gresman, there seemed to be only one alternative. “We’ll have to head back to the point of our fall.” Both femmes stared at him in shock. Indigo shook her head. “Ultra magnus, no! That can’t be! You can’t say that! All that distance? You and I don’t have reserves for that!” “We do what we can to survive, Indigo.” He answered sternly Rae wheeled back to the broken cliff side and tried to gaze as far down as her little light allowed. But it brought her no comfort. It just would not penetrate the thick darkness. She didn’t see the rock under her ripple as something made a path under it. But Indigo felt something as Magnus turned away from her on his hands and knees. She lifted one leg, then the other, feeling something press up against the bottom of her feet. “Ultra Magnus,” she called. I think I just felt something trying to make solid rock give way, though you and I both know most of the asteroid here is nothing but rock. But how do you think-aaaaggggghhhhh!!!!” Magnus could not turn around on all fours in time to save her. A large head and a body of hot-red skin stretched from the rock and completely engulfed Indigo’s form in a plasma cocoon. Magnus tried to crawl back, but he could not get to the femme before her exo-structure inflamed and melted right off her endoskeleton. Indigo’s scream could not break through her own personal prison. Rae turned from the sight, whimpering in grief. And when Indigo’s lithe form had melted completely away, the red creature slid back into the rock and disappeared altogether. Rae’s little form trembled with fear. Magnus sat there on his knees, wondering how he could have let it all happen. Where did he go so wrong? First the trade conference, now this? He had sworn to protect his people and he had just lost one right before his optics. He remembered Rae and was going to lead her back when the ground beneath them shook and began to give way. The two stared at one another, frozen with indecision. Magnus began to turn around, commanding himself to remain calm when the whole cave fell apart and they plunged down, down, down and splashed in a dark lake of carbon dioxide. Magnus managed to push his way to the surface, grateful enough there was an air pocket. No sooner had he broken the surface than he heard Rae’s little plea for help. “Magnus . . . “ she gurgled. “I’m not designed for swimming!” All he could see was her little light and he swam over and grasped a hold of her small form and sought the nearest, shallowest place he could find. There were no islands, no places to sit above the dioxide. They were trapped in a well. Magnus kept circling all around them, searching for a place to sit above the liquid but finally he had to stop. It was a waste of energy. “I’m sorry, Rae.” He said most sincerely. “I’m sorry for everything.” “It isn’t your fault, Ultra Magnus.” She clung to him with her four arms and rested her head against his back. “Someone else committed this crime.” “It’s all a question of decisions and consequences.” Magnus moaned. “If I hadn’t tried to play hero, none of this would have happened.” “You’re talking about the incident at Kounctance.” Rae assumed. “You think that if you hadn’t saved those people, we’d still be sitting around that table right now.” She waited and heard nothing. Magnus blamed himself for the three now dead. Rae patted him on the shoulder then hit him alongside the head. “Ridiculous Autobot!” She snapped. “What’s the matter with you? Are you a god of some kind that you can control events, situations and people? If so, then you are an idiot. As it stands, I know you are no greater than I and you are still an idiot for taking responsibility for something you have no control over! Who do you think you are?” Magnus couldn’t suppress the smile. “Major-General Ultra Magnus, Commander sir!” He replied. Something splashed the water a few yards from them and Rae flashed her light. They hoped it wasn’t another alien. From the water Gresman leapt and his powerful legs and arms attached themselves to the side of the well. “Ah, here to join me, are you? Decided moving was good?” “What happened?” Magnus had forgotten all about his moment of apathy. “I fell and plunged here. The dioxide threw me into shock. It took time to adjust. I have exo-skeleton, but still feel hot and cold. Found exit way here. Where I am from, all rivers are fed from underground streams. I assumed the same here.” “And underground passage?” Rae echoed in hope. “Where does it lead?” “To another cavern.” Gresman replied. “But then a dead end. No further tunnels leading in or out. Once we go, there we remain.” The news was grim. But Magnus was willing to take the cavern over this dioxide. “It’s better than bobbing like a buoy here.” He decided. He followed Gresman under the watery substance and through a tunnel leading several yards through solid rock. At one point, he thought for sure he was going to end up stuck. He managed to worm through, but not without scraping and bending some areas on his arms and legs. Finally they made it to the cave, wet and in Magnus’ case, very sore. He let Rae off first, she being their only source of light. Magnus sat on a rock ledge and sighed. The Autobots should have despatched a rescue team by now, but they would see nothing but a wrecked building and their shuttles sitting outside. He tried his radio several times, but the nickel-iron of the asteroid made communications to the surface impossible. And unless they could use scanners to detect Therskani life forms, they were as good as buried. Nickel-iron and metal made the same noise on scanners. And they would be looking for Ambassador Keptal-Duath for life signs. But by now his body would be cold and a thermal scan would be useless. The three of them sat there in the darkness for quite a long time. They really had nothing to say. They would most likely cease to function unless one of them came up with a really brilliant plan. Not one of them had any weapons to speak of. You don’t bring things like that to trade negotiations; it wasn’t considered friendly. Magnus picked up a rock and twirled it between his fingers and stared out at the dioxide for the longest time. One thing he liked about Earth was the water. It made the most beautiful sound. It gurgled and churned so peacefully. It rushed and thundered in a manner never as clumsy as any life form he had ever encountered. He recalled working on a planet where most of the life forms were water-dwellers. That was a fun assignment because Magnus learned he had a knack for swimming; something he really didn’t know he could do. Gresman stood and walked alongside the bank of the little river. An idea did come to him: “We could try dig our way upstream. A long shot, a lot of work. But something to do.” “And when our power reserves run down?” Rae asked politely. Magnus stood. “Well, it’s better than sitting around waiting to go into stasis lock.” He tossed the rock and moved to join Gresman. But their attacker returned again, this time aiming for Gresman. Gresman tried to fight it off as the creature opened its mouth and began to devour his hand first. Nothing Gresman did would tear the creature off. He screamed and cried out, his voice filling the cavern with agony. Rae turned away, unable to look at another death. Magnus, on the other hand, took a second to think. Each time the creature had attacked, it had been while they were on solid rock. Was that right?” He took a shot at it by suddenly shoving Gresman into the dioxide. Sure enough, the creature’s form hissed and made a horrible stench as it wailed. Then its form bubbled and oozed over the surface of the dioxide, only to be swept by the current and taken downstream. Magnus waded and pulled Gresman out. The Therskani’s arm had been eaten away. Bits of soft flesh were exposed, leaving the poor creature in terrible pain. Magnus laid him on a flat rock and Rae handed him a small towelett. The Autobot gave her a curious look. “No.” She returned. “Don’t ask.” He kept silent and wrapped the wound and kept Gresman very still. Another three hours wafted on. Magnus had drifted off to shut down, trying to reserve power and pass the time. He awoke when Gresman stirred and brought his uninjured hand to his chest. “This is a most entertaining trade agreement I have ever attended, Major Ultra Magnus.” He spoke quietly. “Save your strength, Gresman.’ Magnus ordered. “Most different trade agreement.” He repeated. “You still are unwilling to trade beryllium conductors for grenades. I say, ha, you have no choice now.” Magnus looked very small, very lost at that moment. He was not only out of his league, he was out of strength. He had just lost one of his people; an unpardonable mistake in his book. “Look, Gresman,” he answered, his voice kept rather quiet, “let’s lay our guns on the table. I’m not a diplomat. I don’t negotiate and I can’t stand politics. I’m a warrior, plain and simple. I fight for what I believe in, at any cost. That’s what I know, It might not be much, but it’s all I have to offer.” “Hmm.” Gresman’s voice was grim. “Sometimes, it’s all you need. Sometimes words fight, sometimes guns fight. In end, it’s just the person behind words or guns that counts.” He didn’t understand what the Therskani was actually saying. At first. Then it dawned on Magnus; the point of diplomacy wasn’t to tip-toe around other races in hopes of gaining allies, but to gain a sense of mutual respect, to learn to rely on one another in times of distress. Trade agreements were just as important as gunpoint policies. The difference was one protected the other. Talking to invaders never stopped invasions, but guns did. Guns never solved a commodity crisis, but trade agreements did. But he still found himself way out of his league. Magnus wasn’t one for talking. He couldn’t say ‘please and thank you’ without stumbling over his own words! And he felt Optimus Prime did a very unfair thing by sending him here. Prime should have known that Magnus would have failed on this mission. He should have known. “I was wrong about you, Ultra Magnus.” Gresman’s voice was fading. “I’m not looking to be right, Gresman, just to survive.” Magnus objected. “It is that the universe needs less aggression . . . more compassion.” “But compassion will not save my people from extinction.” Magnus denied. “No. Someone else’s compassion for you will. Your people’s strength not in warfare like cousin Decepticons. You not cultivate hospitality like Centarians or culture like Earthlings. But your people have compassion. You’re willing to sacrifice yourselves to help someone else- total stranger, even someone antagonistic. That, to me, worth saving. I thought your people weak, but it is a strength all together different. Should someone rescue us, I shall recommend my government any assistance your people require for ventures you wish to endeavor. You will need assistance and protection. Just . . . ask.” A great whirring sound thundered in the rooftop above them and an artificial light shone down into the little cavern. The sounds of an Autobot transforming echoed against the rock walls and Twin Twist’s head peered in through the darkness. “I FOUND THEM!” He cried a bit loudly. “Waaa-hooo! Am I good or what? Hey, Rodimus, you owe me three radium drinks!” Magnus smiled. He’d help Roddi pay for those drinks! End.