I've been wanting to post my stuff here for a very long time-thanks for the invite! My first Ultra Magnus story: TRANSFORMERS: DIVISION SUMMER: 2032 After several months of unreasonable demands and terse diplomacy, the Quints struck Detras-Zume (Draco-Cassiopeia). They obliterated several of the planet’s largest cities, stealing massive amounts of stolen trilithium crystals. The aftermath left the planet in shambles and the adult population suffered from a non-fatal disease. Struggling at the mercy of the disease, they were too weak to care for their children. While it was too late to do anything about the Quints, several worlds and nations went into emergency action and sent supplies and workers. Unfortunately, many of these ships were intercepted by a small group of pirates that haunted the busiest trade routes in that sector. Determined to help a desperate people, most of those who first sent aid, continued to pour aid into Detras-Zume , some of them simply never made it home. Daniel/Arcee sat in the shuttle, moping next to Jazz. Jazz leaned back in his seat. A private music program kept his foot swinging back and forth, his optics remained dark with relaxation. Springer and Magnus had to route the shuttle around a meteor field, driving them a little off course for about five hours. They remained silent, concentrating on avoiding collisions. Daniel/Arcee sat there and pouted. He didn’t want to come along on this mission. It was a kid’s thing; something the EDC cadets could have done themselves. But SOMEBODY from TOPSIDE thought it’d do him some good to get away for a while, look around. Arcee tricked him into accepting it. She’d been wanting to get away from the house and work for the last few weeks. At every opportunity, she’d pester him to take sight-seeing drives, or go on a vacation to visit one of the other fortress-cities. She went on how she’s been wanting to visit old friends. But Daniel had his family and being binary-bonded, one had to give up some things for the other. Daniel grudgingly supposed he had been a little selfish of late. But after all, he did have a family, she did not. Daniel/Arcee moaned and shifted in her seat. “How much longer, Magnus?” Her voice sounded with Daniel’s impatience. Magnus had been painfully aware of Daniel’s rudeness for the last three hours, but restrained his temper. “Not long now, Daniel.” He promised in monotone. “And how long did you say this would take? Four hours?” Magnus glance around his tall shoulder, trying to keep anger off his face. “No, Daniel. At least three days.” Daniel/Arcee moaned and slumped in her seat. But Magnus caught a light of excitement in the femme’s optic. Three days off Earth! Three days to do something other than attend meetings and register shipment files on the computer! At last, time away from the city and the boredom of Human family life! Magnus turned back to the front and allowed himself a private smile for her. “I thought this was going to be a there-and-back trip!” Daniel again whined. “After all, this is a cadet-type of assignment! Netty’s going to kill me! And can’t this shuttle go any faster? What are you staring at, Jazz? Geeze, I’m bored. Isn’t there any games on this shuttle’s computer at all? How long did you say this was going to take?” They entered the Detras System, passing the first three planets without incident until something hit the shuttle. Everyone but Jazz ended tossed about like so many dolls in a box. Magnus crawled on all fours and tried to straighten their course. But they were hit again. “Blow-out on the third engine!” Springer cried over the noise. “Hang on!” Magnus ordered. The shuttle began to plunge toward a moon and he used the gravity to shoot them back into space, doing a loop-de-loop effect. It worked and he pulled himself back into his chair while the other two Autobots crawled back into theirs. Jazz seemed completely oblivious of the situation. He had strapped himself tight when they took off. The shuttle rose over the moon’s lim and nearly collided into a huge vessel. Magnus’ optics shot brightly and he managed to veer a hard right, throwing Springer and Daniel/Arcee against the roof of the shuttle then against the port wall. “Magnus!” Daniel/Arcee shouted. “You call that piloting!?” “He’s just trying to save our lives!” Springer shouted back. “At the cost of my stomach?!” Daniel retorted. “He can do better than that!” “Then maybe you should do the driving!” Springer snarled. “I just might, micro-brain!” “Be my guest, mush-head! Just be sure to leave 3/4 of the shuttle with the rest of us!” “How about you just float home?” The look Daniel/Arcee gave Springer was enough to make the wrecker almost forget he was a gentlebot. Springer flenched a fist, but remembered it was Arcee’s body he’d be hitting, not the loud-mouth rat inside her head. He turned away and slipped back into the navigator’s chair. Daniel/Arcee opened her mouth wide, displaying gears, rotors and connectors at Springer’s back. Among Autobots it was considered an ugly and rude thing to do; like flipping someone off. Magnus privately wished Daniel/Arcee had just stayed home. He managed to get the shuttle straightened out, but not in time enough to keep out of the nearest planet’s gravitational pull. With the loss of one engine, the shuttle could not evade the field and it was pulled into the atmosphere. “Emergency landing procedures!” Magnus ordered. Springer shut off all the main thrusters and directed all power to the deflector sheilds and retro thrusters. But the planet’s pull proved too strong for the thrusters and all passengers locked themselves in, hoping to walk away from the crash. In a wide desert area, the shuttle shot across the sky like a meteor. It landed in soft ground, fortunately enough, and hissed the evidence of a broken hydrolics connector. Inside, computer panels had jolted loose and seat belts snapped out under the weight of their charges. Magnus came to first and checked his people. Springer’s chair had ripped out of its hold, landing flat on the backside. The Wrecker undid his harness and gave the city commander a thumbs-up and wry smile. Jazz was hung upside down from the roof, strapped by cables and line conduits. Magnus gave him a curious look, but decided not to ask. Jazz gave him a smile, too. “Everything’s on the sunny-side, Mags.” He promised. Magnus found Arcee/Daniel laying on the floor, her chair toppled over her body. He lifted the chair from her and gently turned her over. Arcee/Daniel’s optics flickered on, but she seemed unresponsive. “Arcee? Daniel?” Magnus asked. “Is everything okay?” Arcee sat up and bowed her head, laying a hand over her neck. Magnus suspected she was doing a quick private diagnostic. “Yes.” She whispered. “But, Daniel is unconscious.” “Damaged?” “No, sir. No damage. Just shaken from the impact.” It was her voice. Her lyrical little voice. Magnus hadn’t realized how much he missed hearing it. He helped her to her feet, but without Daniel as the dominate personality stabilizing her, Arcee stumbled forward, forgetting even how to walk. Magnus caught her and gave her the couple of moments she needed to readjust to the suddenness of freedom. She gazed gratefully at him and he sent her a kind smile. “Are you . . . alright?” He asked quietly. She sent him a weary, wary smile. She was free at the moment, but it would not be long before Daniel would come to and once again regain control. “Thanks.” She whispered. He released her and she stumbled a little at first, relying on the nearby consol to steady herself then she gained her balance and moved to open the hatch. Jazz freed himself without damaging any lines or conduits. He landed on his feet like a ballerina and dusted himself off. “Never fear!” He declared. “The Professor of Grace and Style is on-line!” Magnus passed him, returning to the con. “Good. Jazz, outer haul. Springer, check the engines. Arcee, weapons and navigation controls.” He busied himself with communications uplink while Arcee checked on their navigation computer, rations support and weapons damage if any. Jazz exited the shuttle and examined its outer haul for entry ruptures and laser damage. Springer undid several panels in the ship’s backside and flooring to analyze their engine failure. The com uplink worked well and Magnus was able to patch into the Pluto outpost which in turn sent the signal straight to Fort Max. Blaster greeted him with a series of codes then patched him right on through to Rodimus. “Hey, Mags, a bit off course, aren’t ya?” The Autobot leader kindly jeered. “Seems there’s a few space rats out here, Rodimus.” Magnus reported. “I think we just ran into a nest of them in this sector. And what do you mean ‘off-course’?” “You’re two planets short of your destination, or so Blaster tells me. Is everyone okay?” “Daniel’s unconscious. But Arcee tells me there’s no damage.” Springer’s feet stomped from the back of the ship and he cussed in their language. Reading the Wrecker’s mood, Magnus frowned. “Seems the shuttle’s condition isn’t the same, Rodimus. Is there a way you can send someone?” Rodimus seemed preoccupied for a moment then he returned to Magnus. “Yeah. In about five days. Can you wait that long?” Ultra Magnus frowned and thought for a moment. Generally he’d be in the center of the city, drilling their troops. Or maintaining city business. He took this assignment more as a momentary vacation. It was just a routine thing, as far as missions went. No big deal. But something always had to happen, didn’t it? “Let me get back to you.” Magnus answered. “I’m not going anywhere.” Roddi replied casually. He was definitely preoccupied. Probably with Rusti. Magnus frowned. He didn’t see what the connection was between the two leaders and the girl. Since they took on the responsibility of caring for her, Magnus had noted a great improvement in both of them. It was good to see them occupied with more than the hum-drum of their leadership roles. He signed off and turned to his crew of three. “Report.” He said out of habit. He forgot he wasn’t talking to one of his ‘grunts’. But his companions seemed to ignore it anyway. “Weapons fully charged. No damages.” Arcee started first. “Navigation off-line. Rations in order.” Springer handed Magnus a damaged part that looked melted, twisted and contorted by overheating and laser fire impact. “It’s part of the Zeta drive itself. No Zeta drive, no lift-off. Get my meaning?” Magnus sighed. “What about the rest of it?” “Retros need a little discharging. Part of the rear thrusters is bent outa shape. We’ll need a machine shop for the tri-centric piston distributor and secondary ignition sequencers. The parallel hydraulic lines will need a good brush-down and new lining.” Magnus looked impassive. “Any other bad news, Springer?” Springer’s left optic winked, “Not yet, Commander.” Jazz entered the shuttle and tossed a slice of outer haul on the floor at Magnus’ feet. “Looks like we’re gonna be here a while. Whole side a’ the shuttle’s been vaporized.” All three of his companion stared at him. “What?” Magnus managed. “Looks like that laser bolt blasted us naked, Mags.” Jazz leaned against the bulkhead and crossed his arms and one leg over the other. He frowned deeply. Behind Magnus, Arcee shuddered and her whole face went blank, then puzzlement took over. ‘What’s going on?” Daniel/Arcee asked. The other three bots glanced at him/her warily. Not one of them wanted to tell him the bad news. But being the casual one, Springer went first. “Seems we might be here longer than we’d hope, Danno. Oh, did I mention we’re on the wrong planet?” Arcee’s optics widened and she rose and backed up against the wall. “You guys dragged me all the way out here and now we’re stranded?” Magnus didn’t look at the femme Headmaster. “Don’t panic, Daniel. Someone will be here in five days. We have enough rations to last us that long.” Now Daniel/Arcee pushed herself from the wall. “And who’s going to tell that to my family, Magnus?” He challenged. Magnus now glared at him. “I’m sure Rodimus has already done so, Daniel. Just relax.” Daniel/Arcee slapped her arms on her legs, irritated. “Oh! That’s just great! I get tricked into coming, dragged out in the middle of only God-knows-where, stuck with the three of you, eating ungodly emergency rations and facing who know’s what might be out there!” Daniel/Arcee headed for the hatch. “Now where’re you off to?” Jazz asked as she took a step out the shuttle. Daniel/Arcee peeked back in. “To look around.” The Human snapped. “That is procedure, isn’t it? I mean, we should look to see if there’s any intelligent life anywhere nearby, shouldn’t we?” She disappeared and came right back a second later. “Oh, I forgot, I’m stuck on a planet with a bunch of metallic morons. Does this mean we all get to sleep together to stay warm tonight, too?” All three bots were very glad when Daniel/Arcee stomped off the plank. Springer couldn’t restrain himself any longer. “I don’t suppose we have any rat poison on board, do we?” Magnus ignored him. “Jazz, you have the con. Springer, you head northwest. I’m going east.” “In the opposite direction.” Springer growled. The other two stared at him, but did not reprimand him for the slur. In twenty minutes, Jazz was the first to find life and something more than the red mega-thorned cactus that dotted the little plane they crashed on. The village he called about was presently under attack by a dozen rowdy mech-heads. They all stood about Jazz’s height, wearing sheeting armor over smooth silver bodies. They rode about on antigrav motorcycles and took potshots at the locals. Two of them, the worst of the bunch, would grab a native, drag him/her several yards then let go and find someone else to pick on. One local fired at a ‘rowdy’ but ended up dead in three shots from plasma pulse rifles. All of them whooped and hollered rudely, spitting racial and political slurs in a common merchant language. Then they started tossing fire bombs through building windows, blowing the town to rubble. That is until Ultra Magnus fired three missiles in their midst to get their attention. The minute he read shock on their faces, he transformed and bulldozed a good many of them. They took pot shots at him, but Magnus, born and bred of Decepticon military lines, took the punishment like one assaulted by metallic mosquitos. Springer rose above the crowd and stirred the dust. Jazz and Arcee swathed a path through the rowdies and after ten minutes, the rowdies took their injured buddies and retreated. The four Autobot stood in silence watching as stragglers picked themselves up and slowly made their way out of sight. “Great!” Daniel suddenly shouted. “We’re not here more than an hour and already we’re in trouble! What’s the matter with you guys? Can’t you land in a place where you don’t have to use your laser pistols? You’re worse than a group of high school students looking for an excuse to do something wrong! I’m going back to the shuttle!” And away Daniel/Arcee stomped. Magnus and Springer exchanged sour looks and no sooner did they turn away from each other than they heard Arcee/Daniel yell about something and a thud hit the ground. Arcee was locked arm-and-arm with a rowdy and struggled while the slim silver creature tried to crush her neck. Arcee managed to get her foot between them and pushed the alien off her. The attacker fell, rolled backwards over his shoulder and before Arcee could recover and defend herself, she was shot in the face. She flipped backwards with impact and lay very still. Springer fired at the rowdy, sizzling his hand first then blowing a hole through his shoulder. The alien yelped and scampered away. Jazz and Magnus ran to the Autobot femme. The impact could not have been good. They turned her over and found her features were still in tact, but singed and smudged by the laser discharge. Magnus was about to scan the femme for internal damage when Arcee came to and smiled. Jazz returned her smile, glad to see *her* not the . . . Human inside. “Hey there, little lady. Seems somebody had it in for femmes.” “Are you alright?” Magnus asked kindly. She brought up a trembling hand and touched her singed face, making no real sounds. “Daniel?” Magnus asked again. She shook her head, indicating either Daniel was dead or unconscious. And neither mech asked which. “He’s . . .” her voice came in faintly. She managed to sit up on her own. “He’s unconscious again.” Jazz offered her an energon chip while Magnus stood. “Does he need help?” She shook her head and consumed the chip. “Heads up, people.” Magnus called quietly. They glanced around while the locals timidly approached. They were almost human in appearance, but stood somewhere between Jazz’s and Arcee’s height. Their bodies were silver with a soft white sheen. Thorned fins swept down over their heads, replacing hair and fins protruded from the backs of their arms. They had three fingers and a thumb and two toes. Their faces held wide white eyes, a small mouth and a hump replaced what would have been a nose. One male poked Magnus’ arm then his chest. He withdrew and nodded to the group. Someone else ran their hand over Jazz’s shoulder and smiled. Springer transformed and landed outside the group and drew several hands. He gave his commander a shrug. “Guess they’ve never seen a Transformer before.” “I wonder if they can talk.” Magnus mused. “Bah weep graana weep nini bong.” The first male greeted. Magnus turned and smiled. “Bah weep granah weep nini bong.” He answered in kind. “Common Business do you speak?” The male spoke slowly and deliberately. “Yes.” Magnus replied easily. It was a language used by most space merchants and traders. “Ah. Good. Shrimae my name. On Trios we live here. Ofyou and your people it was kind to chase the pirates away. They come harass and kill. Weapons we have, but not effective against pirates.” Springer spoke out of turn: “Our ship crashed out in the boondocks. Is there a way we can get it repaired?” “In space you have a ship that flies?” Shrimae batted his large round white eyes. “Yeah.” Springer answered with a puzzled look. “That’s the type. He questioned their technological status. Shrimae nodded. “Many such ships we have repaired. Under the temple we have a good shop. To our fixers I will introduce you. In return for our assistance there must be something.” Magnus crossed his arms. “Sounds only fair.” “Come!” Shrimae beckoned. “To the rangers I will introduce you.” He took Magnus’ arm and Arcee followed while Jazz and Springer remained with the locals to keep an eye out for the ship. Arcee followed Magnus because if Daniel woke and found them in the middle of a meeting he didn’t decide to go to, it’d really make him mad. And it meant that out of good decorum, he’d have to sit through the whole procession. Shrimae led them down into a canyon bordered by short stalky trees and shrubbery. As heavy as his feet were, Magnus had no problem descending the steep trail. But a time or two Arcee had to stop and regain her foothold. Magnus finally turned and silently offered her his hand. Gratefully, she took it and found his support very thoughtful. At the bottom of the canyon stood a great gong and Shrimae swept up the hammer and struck it three times. Then they waited. After seven minutes, the mountain sides grinded around them and opened. Sliding to the left then slowly rotated, revealing several black and white exo-suites. Three sliver-skinned people emerged from behind those suites. Then eight more. Then twelve others after that. The tallest among them stepped forward. He had a severe scar running along his forehead and on his right shoulder he bore the tattoo of a half-moon, half humanoid face. Possibly the symbol for these people. “Ch’ggk!” Shrimae greeted him with a pat on the shoulder. “Sald, allow me to introduce you to . . .” “Uh, I’m Ultra Magnus. This is Arcee. We’re Autobots from Earth and Cybertron.” Sald patted his own shoulders in greeting. “Welcome to you in Chad’tad. I am Sald, leader of the Valley Rangers. Are you here to assist us against the pirates?” Magnus suddenly felt as though he had been drafted into another babysitting job. “Well, not intentionally. We’d be happy to help however we can.” Sald smiled lightly. “Then, come out of your suite, friend. We will discuss plans.” Arcee and Magnus exchanged glances. The femme took a longer look at Sald. “We’re not wearing suites.” Sald batted his white eyes. “What’s that?” “We’re not people inside exo-suites.” Magnus repeated. “We’re Autobots. Transformers.” The entire group fell to stunned silence. Sald looked from Shrimae to Magnus and back. “Well, this is uhm . . . please, come, tell us more!” Springer finally learned to communicate with enough aptitude to get someone to take he and Jazz to their little shop (or so he thought). It was no little shop. Lifts and bannisters, a small smelter and raw metal were well stocked. There were parts and ways to make parts out of parts. Just about every machine thinkable sat in the underground shop. Jazz peered at a laser reconfiguration table and shook his head. Three different kinds of measurements were available and he thought about how much Wheeljack would loved to have seen such a place. “Lookit this place, Springer!” He pipped. “It’s a veritable mechanist’s paradise, man! Every little miracle and fixer-upper oughta check this place out before rolling a tire inta Jiffy Lube!” Springer turned to their tour guide. “You guys do this sorta thing often?” “Sorta thing often? Do we do it all the time?” He glanced at a co-worker then meekly nodded. Then he shook his head. “Pirates come and take. We try but they come through.” “Hey!” Jazz declared. “Seems they might be the same dudes who knocked us outta the sky on our way ta Detras-Zume. Tell me something, m’man, those guys we chased outta town, were they pirates, too?” “Yes. They come. We loose females to them.” “Sounds like scavengers to me.” Springer muttered. “Uh, uh, Zayer, uh, are you guys the only ones who have this problem?” “No. Problem found in Velos, too. Bad there. No females there now.” Jazz joined them after drooling over an Ataries-Gemini power modulator/adjuster. Something like that could easily boost his own speed by a good forty percent. “What?” He asked. “You mean they just come n’ take yer ladies as they please?” “Sell them to the markets.” “Slavery?” Springer’s mandible about fell through the floor. Jazz shook his head. “Man, this is worse than we thought. We can’t jus’ re’pair our ship ‘nd leave ‘em like this.” Springer smiled. “No. We gotta play heros-to-the-rescue too. Zayer, how often do these pirates attack?” Zayer shrugged. “Always before nightfall. No night vision. They come with their cycles and guns. Very bad. They take the females.” “Yeah, we’ve been through that episode already.” Springer turned to Jazz. “Guess we’d better wait and talk to Magnus about this.” Night fell and with it the stars peeked out around the two tiny moons. Magnus stared at the alien sky line while the rangers and the town leaders discussed issues and then the serious pirate problem. Arcee sat on the porch steps, her legs dangled off the edge, her elbows on knees, supporting her head. She watched everything with a clear mind and enjoyed it very much. No longer did she try to catch things in between Daniel’s constant moaning and annoying comments. It was nice to actually hear someone talk without interruption. She watched Springer as he played with a twig, stirring the ashes of the fire, catching it on fire, then rubbing it out. Jazz poured over their ship’s tech manual, softly muttering to himself. Secretly she hoped Daniel would remain unconscious throughout the rest of their visit. But she knew it was a hopeless dream. Sometimes the femme thought of Daniel as a Human demon possessing her body and she’d think about calling out to someone for help and exorcize the demon within her. He was such a pain in the diodes! “What think you?” The question was suddenly posed on Magnus and Arcee drew her attention back to the group. “We will help however we can. If what Springer tells me is true, that the pirates come only in the daytime, we should try to guess their next visit and set a trap for them.” Shrimae stood and held his hands out. “Grateful we are for your help. We would that the desert blossoms into a landing port. Other ships in space that fly like yours come, needing repair and refuel. This we offer.” Springer smiled. “From what I saw in your shop, you really could rack in the business. Are you guys as good at repairs as your machinery looks?” Shrimae stood and talked on in his broken Common Business language. Arcee gazed over the desert plain toward the ship and realized why these people weren’t willing to just get up and move out; the planet itself was a perfect strategic point for travelers and traders and other space-faring travelers to refuel or attain necessary repairs for the next five local systems. The desert provided the ideal setting for landing facilities and huge shops. It really was worth fighting for. Shrimae finished his dissertation and returned to his place on the ground. And everyone fell silent for a long moment. Magnus kept glancing from one building to another. Bad structures. If they would use metal instead of wood for the exterior, the pirates were less likely to burn them down. But the four Autobots there could not possibly build an entire town over night. Magnus supposed that would have to come later. So he had to think of something other way to help them. Perhaps if they were to just conquer one group of pirates, the other groups might stay away. Shrimae pointed at Magnus. “We who are here ask that you, Autobot Ultra Magnus of Cybertron and Earth, be our sheriff pro-temp until the pirates bother us no more.” Magnus didn’t understand. “Okay,” he said slowly. “Waitaminuit. What does that mean?” Arcee sat up and set her hands on the floor. “I think it means you’ve been elected to be their new sheriff or something.” A crooked smile swept over the city commander’s face. That was just swell. Magnus jumped out of recharge mode by the sound of explosions. He fell backwards in his chair and landed on his back, his arms and legs flaying. He gathered himself together just as Springer came barging in his quarters. “Mags! We got rowdies!” The two bots dashed outside to meet the pirates head-on. Most of the pirates skittered about on antigrav motorcycles, maneuvering about the town as though it were their own personal playground. A couple of them whooped and hollered like a group of mischievous teenage boys looking for trouble. And it wasn’t that individually these pirates seemed to be powerful, but that there were a great many of them. Magnus quickly assessed the situation and pointed at the perpetrators. “Springer, let the others know not to bother with the buildings, just keep the people safe!” At that point, it seemed to be all they could do. Even with the sudden appearance of the valley rangers in their exo-suites, the pirates smashed, slashed and blew everything they could stick a weapon to. The problem seemed to be with the rangers who had no control over their exo-suites. As he watched on, Magnus took note how clumsy the rangers were with their automatic suite- weapons. Perhaps it was borrowed, given, bought or even stolen technology. Whatever the case was, the rangers were still ill- prepared for the attack. The pirates fought on and they tried on several occasions to harass a native by hog-tying and dragging. Arcee deftly shot the chains, then shot the cycles out of commission. It didn’t stop the pirates, however. They’d ride pigy-back with their buddies and shoot while the other guy did the driving. Magnus took a moment to really watch the battle. The pirates invaded from the eastern front. They approached the town in a V-formation then divided in half, each group skimming down either side of the main street. The pirates also tried to stick together, the group being stronger than any of the individuals; which could be their downfall. “There’s too many of them!” Arcee called out. She shot four more, finding their armored hides only dented with the laser impact, the rest of the laser bounced off entirely. That was when Magnus resorted to using two of his rockets. And with their impact, the raiders got the message, plucked up those friends who were dead or injured and left town. All fell terribly silent for a long moment and finally one female stepped out of hiding and glanced about. She caught sight of Jazz who was trying to stop a leak bleeding from his left backside. The female gasped and ran to him, undoing her shawl. She wrapped the cloth about his hips, shaking her head and making a funny noise. “It’s alright, little lady.” Jazz cheerfully promised. “I’ll be okay, as soon as I git a little spit ‘nd polish. You’ll see.” Springer emerged from the other side of town. He had a nasty slice across his left leg and the remains of a broken blade still embedded in his armor. “Magnus,” he called. “Next time we pick a fight, how about we bring a can of Raid?” Magnus did not answer him. He turned to Arcee. “Are you alright? Is Daniel alright?” “Yes. I’m fine!” The Headmaster snarled. “And Magnus, if you and Arcee endanger my life like that ever again, I’m retiring permanently!” And the femme stomped off back toward their damaged ship. But Arcee herself managed to give Magnus one last sad glance over her shoulder. The other two Autobots did not bother to watch her walk away. A few hours later, when the streets had been cleaned up and frightened children put to bed, Magnus called a meeting. He blanketed a huge slice of scrolled paper over the Gathering Table. He and Springer set a few rocks around it to keep it down then the Major-General swiftly drew the layout of the town and surrounding areas. While the town’s elders looked on, Magnus planted several small black rocks in a V-shape formation on the eastern side of the village. Next to him, on the border-edge of the map, he set several white rocks. “Alright,” he called. “This is your town and what I remember of the area. These black rocks represent the pirates. Now, do the pirates attack the same way every time?” Shrimae pointed to the eastern part of the map. “They come. Whoosh down like the wind and take and destroy.” Magnus gazed at Springer. The wrecker looked interested. “Sounds like they might be dropped in from space and let loose, if they’re comin ‘ in from the same direction. “Yeah!” Jazz perked. “They might be comin’ in from that ship that almost made space pizza outta us.” “Entry point.” Springer added. “Right!” Jazz went on from there. “Like a winda that’s got the least bit o’ atmospheric disturbance.” Magnus pointed to Jazz, indicating the other city commander had made the right point. “Right. And since the villagers don’t have a good enough combat unit-“ and here the major-general glanced at the ranger leader- “yet,” he mended, “the pirates have never bothered to look for other ways to attack the town.” Magnus looked to Shrimae whose face reflected confusion. “Shrimae, if you will permit me, I will proceed with a plan that will ensure the pirates will not bother your people again.” Shrimae nodded. “You said to help. People only too glad. Will do what you say.” Magnus proceeded to set the black rocks into a four-way position on the map. “This is how they infiltrate the town by dividing and from there it’s pretty much every bot for himself.” Magnus stood up and swept the white rocks up. “Here’s what I propose.” He began to circle the table and the room as he continued: “I will train your troop for the next twenty-four hours. Your rangers have the fighting power, that much I’ve seen. But your village is out in the open. Your buildings are substandard and your rangers are untrained for battle. What I suggest is you move your village into the canyon which has a better access to water, food and protection. Dig a tunnel to your shops here and fortify the remains of the town as a line of defense.” Shrimae stood erect, surprised. “Canyon as a new home? Rangers here?” Sald laid his hands on the table. “Good!” He declared. “We move. Whole village safe!“ ”Are you willing to let me train your people?” Magnus asked. Sald nodded. “Must learn protect whole area. You show, we do.” Magnus returned to his spot and laid the white stones on the drawn building and in strategic areas about the village. “What we’re going to implement is a closed-in-trap area. We’re going to turn the whole village into a trap and when all is said and done, well ‘Fed-ex’ what’s left of the invaders back to the mother ship.” Daniel/Arcee made it back to the shuttle. Daniel was seething with anger and no matter what the femme said, he remained angry for quite some time. At first he directed her to stomp into the shuttle. He wanted to wreck something to make Magnus angry. But Arcee argued that if he did such a thing, it could keep them here longer. He growled in frustration and shouted a horrible line of curses directly at her. “That does it, you little asshole!” She retorted finally. “I refuse to put up with this!” She yanked off the head and threw it hard against the wall, causing her to automatically revert to car mode. Using an activation sequence, Arcee opened the ship’s plank and sped out, leaving Daniel by himself. Daniel slammed his fist against the wall and jumped after her. “”Arcee!” He shouted. “You get the hell back here!” “Like you Humans say,” Arcee came back through interpersonal comline, “Suck on it, asshole! You want to act like a child, I’ll treat you like a child! Stay in your room and pout!” And she just kept racing back to the village. Daniel punched the hatch’s side frame. Of course, with his size, it made no dents. He did it again and again and again until he was worn out. He turned and collapsed against the frame and pulled off his helmet. He felt lost, alone and very much frustrated. All the Autobots were against him. Arcee raced back to the village, but didn’t approach. She couldn’t go and face her friends. She knew it’d start a fight between them and Daniel. Daniel was her problem, not theirs. So she sat for a while and watched until magnus came out, followed by the local rangers in their ex-suites. She watched how he moved and directed each of them, giving each person a little attention at a time. “Wish I could be there, myself.’ She thought sadly. Drill was repetitive, but she enjoyed it. Drills taught you to be a part of everyone else, to rely on everyone else. The strength of the whole, caring for each individual. Magnus now began to explain battle and the difference between being a hero, and being an idiot. (That was his favorite phrase). Then he showed them certain physical drills and Arcee smiled inside. Magnus was so cute! He was built like a tank and tired to be graceful like one! But it wasn’t until he finally started drilling the rangers that his true side came out. Magnus was a slave-driver. He marched right along the rangers in their suites, pointing out errors in their strides, cheering their efforts or mocking their mistakes. She noted he wasn’t as hard on them as he was with his own people. But he drilled them hard just the same. He made them round the village twice before returning to their training point and there he lectured them on their timing and use of the armor. Then they were off again, and this time Arcee noted a vast improvement in their effort. She sat there until early evening when she found she had fallen asleep. A pair of familiar footsteps crossed her scanners and the femme roared her engines to speed away from Daniel. “Wait! Arcee!” He pleaded like so many times before. “Let’s talk.” And just like so many times before, her faithful, compassionate self won. Her hopeful emotions clouded her judgment, willing to once again give someone the benefit of a doubt. She knew she was only opening herself to get hurt again. But really, Arcee didn’t know what else to do about it. About mid evening Daniel/Arcee returned to the village. None of the three mechs asked any questions. Apparently they assumed Dan and ‘Cee had a fight and Daniel finally won. Magnus was handing out assignments, Jazz gave equipment and Springer kept asking questions while the natives prepared to begin the arduous task of reorganizing their homes. Springer more or less filled Arcee in on the plan. Women and children and ‘older folk’ were being moved to the canyon while half the ranger division were rebuilding the structures and the other half helped move the village. They needed to move fast and get everything set up as soon as they could. And while the Autobots didn’t need to sleep, the natives had to do everything in shifts. Fortunately for Arcee, Daniel too needed food and sleep. She reverted to car mode and helped haul goods and materials to and from the canyon while he ate and later slept. They worked through out the night taking down some buildings and moving them to the canyon where the villagers, rangers and Jazz rebuilt them below. Other structures were reinforced with brick, rock or metal sheeting, leaving the outside untouched for the sake of appearance. A solid brick wall was raised between the library and the dance/meeting hall where the pirates usually come in to town. And Magnus set up three canon atop the roof of the library. Three rangers dug a huge pit at the north end of town and made a cover for it, lining one side with stakes. Springer set up the sheriff’s office with rocket launchers while two rangers dug trenches in the park. Daniel and some of the town’s older children dug a second pit at the south end of town. After that, Daniel/Arcee and Ultra Magnus lined the main street with mini-magnet bombs. Finally bored, Daniel fell asleep and let Arcee continue on her own. She and Magnus filled the shallow pit first with oil then began to lay in a sticky, smelly tar sludge. “This is nasty.” Arcee made a face, reacting to the stench. “Yeah, but it’s pretty when lit.” Magnus agreed. “I’ve done worse than this.” “Really?” “Yeah.” He threw her a smile. “When Optimus had been exiled by the council, I led an underground resistance. We came across a small refugee camp on level twenty-six. We fortified it with a layer of packaged nitrogen and covered that over with sulfur-sludge. You know, the kind found on IO?” Arcee smiled. The stuff on IO was pretty potent, enough to make humans’ eyes water and their stomachs retch. “Did you get any results?” Magnus slopped in another bucket of foul-smelling glop and setting the bucket a few feet from him, he stood away from the stench. “Three cons lost their heads when they fired. Arcee’s smile grew. “Must’ve been quite the sight.” She handed him another bucket and took the last one herself. He paused before pouring. “Well, the ‘cons that survived were covered in the after-effects.” Arcee laughed. Sulfur-sludge never came off very easily. Magnus stomped to the edge of the nasty pit and rather then pouring the heavy glop, he tried to toss it. The sludge went, but sticky as it was, it didn’t go fast enough and it pulled a surprised Magnus in with it. He swung his arm away to regain balance, but fell face-first into the muck. Arcee cried out and stepped to the pit’s edge, still clutching her heavy bucket. “Ultra Magnus! Are you okay?” “Not my pride.” He replied. He tried to crawl out, but the oil-laden surface caused him to slipped and he fell in again. Arcee couldn’t help but laugh. She held her hand out. “Here, let me help.” Even with the weight of the her bucket anchoring her to the ground, Magnus’ bulk still proved the greater and he pulled her in. He fell back the other way while she fell face first, the bucket of ooze now one with the shallow pit. “Arcee?” He tried again to get on his knees, but the stuff had smeared all over his body and started to gum up his joint gears. The stench gave him the surges. She managed to push herself up on her forearms and she glared at him through a muddied face. “Not one word.” She growled. He couldn’t help it. A giggle escaped. Then another. The gunk slid over both their bodies, making them both look like tar babies. He managed to pull himself up into a sitting position and each and every move he made, caused the sticky gooey stuff to make all kinds of embarrassing noises. Magnus even excused himself at one point. He managed to sit, one leg bent under the other. He offered to help her too, but Arcee managed alone, making far fewer noises than he. Magnus lifted his huge hands and tried to squeeze the ooze out between his finger joints. He couldn’t help but giggle at the disgusting sound they made. “Stop it!” Arcee tired to keep amusement out of her voice. “It’s not funny!” “I’m sorry, “ he smirked. “I’m trying to get it out of my joints.” He clapped his two hands together, splattering the muck between he and Arcee and laughed like a mad man. “This reminds me of Goo. Do you remember Goo? Heh, Do you Goo?” He chuckled then he pumped his palm units together and used then stuff to make more farting noises. Arcee stared at him, horrified. Imagine! The Major-General, the Autobot’s army commander sitting in a pit of foul-smelling muck, playing like a three year-old human child in a mud puddle! “Springer?” Arcee called through inter-personal commline. “Could you come to the south-end and bring a chain and something to pull heavy equipment?” She didn’t bother to tell him why. Magnus oozed more of it between his hands then watched with silent glee when it squirted on the ground. Arcee smirked and suddenly realized what was so funny: two responsible people were covered head to toe. She laughed. She laughed again and threw some of the sticky muck at him and he laughed and invented other ways to make gross sounds. “Erm, no to interrupt play-time.” Springer voiced behind them, “but, uh, what are you guys doing?” They both laughed, unable to tell what happened. It took a good two and a half hours before the two Autobots were able to rinse and rub off the remains of the nasty muck. Using straight raw gasoline didn’t leave either of them any prettier or smelling any better. And Daniel had more than a wordto say about it. Arcee stepped out of the machine shop after Magnus had finished and tried to dry off what was left of the gas. “This is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done!” Daniel berated. “Worse things have happened.” Arcee calmly answered. “Look at you!” He raised his voice a little. “Your paint job is completely ruined!” “Not a problem. I can to back to Fort Max and have it redone. I’ve been wanting to do that for some time as it is.” “There’s never any time to get yourself gussied up, you know that!” The Human bickered. “We’re too busy for that kind of nonsense! You’ll just have to wait for a while-“ ”Why? Must everything be such an emergency to you? Can’t you just . . . relax once in a while? Nothing is ever-“ ”Oh, look who’s talking!” Daniel spat. “She who has not one ounce of real insight to a Human’s life! My time is precious, Arcee! What’s the matter with you? My family comes first. Then the job. After that, if there’s time, other things. And here we are, hundreds of thousands of miles away from home and of all times you choose to play in the mud with Ultra Magnus! I thought you were more responsible than this! What’s the matter with you?” Guilt rubbed into her and Arcee suddenly realized how selfish she had been. She fell into a sad silence and slowly finished drying her legs, feeling like a child who had failed her parents. Magnus noted the sudden change in her demeanor and knelt beside her and gently took the towel from her. “Did you miss a spot, Arcee?” He softly asked. “Can I help?” At first she thought he was joking, meaning the spot being Daniel. But when he did not smile, she thought he was only talking about her legs. She allowed him to finish drying off the gasoline while Daniel groaned in her head. He seethed and called Magnus an imbecile. They worked all the following day, trying to move the villagers and their goods and get them settled while they also set the stage for the pirate’s little surprise party. Everything had to be exact and well-hidden. Arcee helped Jazz with what was left of the villager’s belongings. She had a hard time trying to listen to villagers’ needs in between Daniel’s moans and complaints. She did try to ask him to be quiet for a few minutes, but little good that did her. He’d shout at that point, telling her she was the idiot for agreeing to help these people to begin with. She merely mentally sighed and just tried to make the best of it. In spite of Daniel driving her mad, Arcee and Jazz successfully managed to get the villagers and their belongings moved to the canyon by sunset. The rest of the task would be up to the village females. Meanwhile, Magnus, Springer and the village hunters, farmers and rangers worked steadily through the night, pinning down last minute details and rearranging original ideas and/or practicing their moves. The villagers had the best of faith in Ultra Magnus and he carried out his word right down to the letter. He managed to slip a break now and again, directing the village protectors in the use of weapons or other skills. It was hard work, requiring everyone’s greatest concentration. But by the following dawn, the stage was set. All they needed to do was wait. The townsfolk had taken the last three hours sleeping in shifts, hoping they would not be too weary to fight. Arcee couldn’t help but to admire these people. They worked hard, willing to fight for what belonged to them. It reminded her so much of her own home town, how her people fought down to the last-standing Autobot. He ordered those who were either injured, or female to simply make a run for it. He was adamant about it, insisting that no one else should play hero. Arcee didn’t want to leave him. But Etcher insisted that it was better to live and fight later than to lay one’s life down in a victory sacrifice to Megatron. And that was when she, three femmes and two injured mechs ran. She never did look back. Never could. And it wasn’t long after that, that she heard of Ultra Magnus and his little troop of bedlam morons. But bedlam or not, she and one other femme, Corona, joined. The signal from the Autobot’s shuttle scanners alerted the four Autobots and Daniel that something was approaching from the distance. Magnus instantly ordered everyone alert and to their positions. He himself took a place at the far-north end of town as back-up. Springer sat at the building across from him. The rangers hid themselves in camouflage covering in the park and the rest of the villagers took their positions manning cannons and rocket launchers atop a few of the buildings. And with held breath, they all waited. Nothing. Nothing. Sound. A buzzing, the distant thunder of engines. The distant cry of a group of blood-thirsty hoodlums. And down from the eastern sky they swept, all of them, in a drove of at least fifty ‘bikers’. They descended in a predictable V-shape formation and swooshed into the village from the eastern side. “Now!” Magnus ordered through his comline. And two villagers set off their first trap: the brick wall seened to shoot up from nowhere and at least six pirates smashed into its ungiving surface. The ninth pirate shot it down and the group pressed onward, continuing their advance as though nothing had happened. They split up, washing down either way along the town’s main roadway. Those who took a right flew over a nice bed of magnetic mini-bombs and the drivers themselves were bombarded with lasers. Those who didn’t get blown from the bottom, or shot to death from above, lost their anti-grav traction when their bikes whizzed over the tar pit. The ooze slid under the bike’s bottom controls and rather than pumping itself against solid ground, it kicked up ooze and splattered everywhere, causing the bikes to tilt one way or another until the drivers slipped off their seats and plunged into the goopy muck. Those who were lucky enough to survive the barrage before the muck, still had Jazz and Arcee to contend with. Jazz ‘bagged’ two, Arcee shot three. At the other end of town, those who survived the onslaught of cannon fire, met theirs by the rangers. And with Magnus’ training, the surprised pirates proved to be unprepared. The only one to survive that attack met his maker from Springer’s sword. At that point, the battle was pretty much over. The townsfolk slowly emerged from their positions, wondering if it was all for-real, if they had, in fact, won. Magnus stomped toward the square in his long powerful, heavy strides and that was when a collective cheer went forth. The villagers embraced one another and held up pieces of their victim’s bikes, or what remained of their bodies. Shrimae came out from the building whereupon they had mounted canons. “Here we thank. Safe from raiders. You, sheriff pro-temp. What say we do with all remains?” “Package them up and send them back to the ship in space.” Springer gave a wry smile. “Might wanna tie a big red bow on the box with a Christmas card.” “Mmm, not know Christmas card. But will do what you say. If good enough for Mr. Springer.” Jazz patted the head of one ‘lad’ and sheathed his gun. “Sounds like a party’s in order on this side.” “Clean-up first, Jazz.” Magnus reminded. “We don’t know if the pirates will come back soon or not. I’d feel safer if we kept this area prepared for a second attack.” Arcee turned to retreat to their former positions to gather what remained of the five pirates she and Jazz had obliterated. Jazz followed her, softly humming and silently dancing. She pretended not to notice, smiling to herself. They hauled up the first body and set it to one side, laying the refuse of his bike next to him. The next fellow lay in a piece here, one over there. Arcee gathered up his bike while Jazz gathered the pirate’s remains. Then she moved to another bike and had to drag it some feet before catching one pirate actually rising to his feet and point his weapon at an unaware Jazz. “Jazz!” She cried. She jumped just as the pirate fired. With a hand spring, Arcee knocked the gun out of the alien’s hands. He snapped out a vibro-blade and took a swing at her. Arcee jumped back and he drove her back several more feet before she tried to kick him again. He caught her foot and flipped her over. The femme landed face-down and when she tried to get back up, the jerk jumped on her back and with both hands, squeezed her head hard between them. Then he slammed her face into the dirt several times. Daniel fell unconscious by the sixth blow. Jazz recovered enough to send a laser blast at the pirate. He slid off Arcee, squealing from the loss of a hand. That was just before Jazz sent him a final blow, relieving the pirate of his head. Jazz ran to the femme and carefully turned her over. Her features were muddied and scraped badly. Her optics remained dark with unconsciousness. Magnus landed there a second later. “Is she still functional?” “Dunno. I ain’t a doctor. And I dunno nothin’ ‘bout Headmasters.” Arcee came too, though. Surges ran up and down her back and she was quite suddenly very cold. Jazz helped her to sit and she covered her face with her hands. “Don’t seem to be quite to par in my fighting techniques, Ultra Magnus.” She sheepishly excused herself. “Don’t worry about it.” Magnus laid one huge hand on her shoulder. “At least you’re still with us. How’s Daniel?” She hesitated. “He’s okay.” She almost sounded disappointed but neither mech reacted to her voice. “Why don’t you just get some rest, Arcee? The three of us can handle this ourselves.” Magnus gave her a kindly smile and moved to help her up. She accepted his assistance, but withdrew a little, perhaps in shame. “No,” she objected. “That wouldn’t be right.” “Hey!” Jazz called, “Hey, ol’ Mags is right! You got more than yerself ta’ care for there, little lady. Best get some rest.” It made sense. Although privately she could care less about her ‘other half’. But she wasn’t in the mood to argue. She stepped back then turned and began to walk toward the canyon. Arcee gave a final glance over her shoulder. Jazz had resumed the clean-up. But Ultra Magnus kept watching her. The femme tried to offer several females any assistance she could give. But they mostly shoed her on toward the machine shop, saying something about a clean-up job. Not that they were mean, but they were insistent. One female finally led her to the opening of a tunnel and after about a ten-minute walk, they entered a large cavern the size of a space hanger. Arcee marveled at its immense proportions and took several steps forward before the native female dragged her to the right and into another room designed for steam-cleaning equipment. “Here!” She squawked. “Clean!” “Well . . . yes, I suppose anything could get clean here.” Arcee turned and found her hostess gone. The femme set her hands on her hip plates. “How do you like that?” “I don’t like it at all.” Daniel grumped. “What the living hell were you doing back there? Trying to get us both killed?” “Yes, Daniel.” Arcee snarled sarcastically. “I was trying to get us both killed. I was trying to get between the creep and Jazz, not to save his life, but to get shot.” “Come on, Arcee!” He whined. “This is my life you’re taking into battle! You frightened me! What do you think Netty would do if I suddenly died? I know she’d never forgive you. You’re supposed to protect me, remember? That was your vow. But by joining the other Autobots in the fray, you’re not fulfilling your vows, now are you?” “I am an Autobot.” Arcee argued. “I am programmed to work with my people and assist in any situation that demands it. “ Daniel sighed wearily and muttered another string of uncomplimentary words. “Look, obviously, you’re confused. From here on out, I want you to understand that I make the decisions. Okay? I will decide whether or not we take certain assignments. I decide whether or not we go somewhere or do something. Obviously your judgment is impaired-“ ”We’ve been through this before, Daniel.” She growled. “I’ve been stuck doing the same thing for several months. I have needs, too and I’ve been patient-“ ”But you’re an Autobot!” Daniel raised his voice. “You live longer than me. I thought you were my friend.” Same old argument. Same old voice. Arcee mentally tuned him out and stepped round the rest of the shop, taking note a nice selection of paints and finishes. There was also a nice selection of decals and applicable brush work. “You just don’t know what you’re doing.” Daniel finished. He was at it again. All over again. That drive to control every aspect of his life and whether it was through his family, or her, he was going to get it. Not this time, she thought to herself. Arcee unceremoniously slammed her head against a wall, shorting out circuitry and thereby sending Daniel into another world of unconscious dreaming. He’d have a good say about it when he wakes up, but at least for right now, Arcee would have a few hours completely to herself. The villagers, Jazz, Springer and Magnus worked hard for the next three hours. They cleaned up the new front-line defenses and added extra equipment. They boxed motorcycle parts and pirate remains in large crates, preparing to ship them to space. Those pirates that remained alive (all eight of them) were dragged to the canyon to be interrogated by the village elders. Magnus, Springer and Jazz were given a hero’s welcome by the villagers the moment they stepped down from the walkway. Young females with plant wreaths wrapped them around the three mech’s wrists then giggled and kissed Jazz first, then Springer, who smirked in embarrassment, then Magnus who thanked them. “Has anyone seen Arcee?” Magnus asked. “Got me.” Springer replied while another female looped a second wreath about his wrist. “Knowing Daniel, he’s probably pouting in some corner-WHOA!” Both Jazz and Magnus looked at the wrecker then followed his optics toward the tunnel entrance of the underground workshop. Arcee met their gaze and looked quite a bit sheepish. She had cleaned up the dirt and smoothed the dents and scratches to her form. She had completely replaced the paint job from a frosty pink to a suave light blue-green. She couldn’t look at them, really. She felt badly for not having helped with the work. “I-I hope it’s okay.” She finally spoke. “Not bad.” Springer commended. “Not bad at all.” “Lookin’ pretty slick.” Jazz approved with a thumbs-up. “Seems their little shop ‘ll make a great killing for those travelers they’re hopin’ to open business for.” “Speaking of which,” Magnus intervened, “We should bring the shuttle here and get it fixed.” “Great idea.” Springer agreed. “I’ll go talk to Sald and see if he can spare a couple of his boys to tow it back.” The show was over. Arcee felt good about herself, not because everyone approved, but because she did it for herself, without Daniel’s ‘divine’ permission. They brought the shuttle into the hanger by means of an elevator camouflaged above ground. They set to work, keeping a steady pace through much of the day. Arcee and Jazz dismounted most of the outer panels and straightened and resurfaced them. Magnus took a small break from realigning the tri-centric piston distributor and checked on their progress. Jazz had managed to create an audience of children. He dished out a good storyline, punctuating it with noises and/or physical gestures. Arcee ignored him, sending all her concentration to the task at hand. Daniel came to once, asked a question, ignored the answer and went back to sleep. At least she had a breather for a while longer. Magnus approached her and squatted before the huge panel she labored over. “It looks good, Arcee.” He praised. They met optics and she smiled. “It looks real good.” He repeated and Arcee caught his double-connotation, meaning *she* looked good, too. “I guess Springer already told you Jazz is putting on a party tonight.” She took her eyes off him and resumed with her work. “Springer doesn’t talk to me anymore.” She said it so very quietly. “I guess I made one of these decisions you pay for more than one way.” Magnus felt sorry for her. Arcee had made a decision out of kindness but it came back and slapped her in the face. “Erhm would . . . you be uhm, willing to-o-o-o let me take you to the dance?” She stopped sanding and gazed back at him and to the major-general, Arcee looked very pretty at that moment. Sure.” She accepted. She went back to work, but the smile never left her face plates. Magnus silently withdrew. He suddenly wondered why he said such a thing. However, somebody needed to think of her, he amended. The shuttle was completed by nightfall and Jazz managed to set up a snazzy little celebration in spite of having to use ‘stone knives and bear skins’ (since there were no party favors anywhere to be found). But to the Autobot’s surprise, the villagers provided a group of ‘fire dancers’. Arcee and Magnus watched on in silence, neither really knowing what to say to one another outside of small talk. Then one villager stepped out with a pair of broadswords and demonstrated several cleaver moves, fascinating both Autobots. “He’s very impressive.” Magnus started. “I love bladed weapons.” Arcee agreed. “There’s an art to their use that’s so much more fascinating than hitting a simple target.” “Exactly. What’s your favorite manual weapon?” Arcee smiled. “Well, since I have a collection of them, I’d have to say the double-sided battle axe.” Magnus turned to her and smartly set a hand on his hip. “You what? You have a collection?” She smiled, but kept her optics forward. “Hmmhmm. About thirty-seven. I had to start over after the ‘Cons attacked back in 2005.” She fell briefly quiet just then, a frown creased her expression. “I lost my favorite piece in that battle. It was a tou’chatue diemb, the chief weapon of the Gravanoi from Serekus Alpha.” Her face lighted up then and she turned to Magnus, holding her hands out as though measuring the non-existing weapon. “It was really neat.” She began. “It was about this long and had a weight at the bottom. The blades swept up to a fine point and jutted out at the bottom.” Magnus stared at her, amazed. “I don’t believe it. Sweet little Arcee collects weaponry. I would never have guessed.” She looked away again, a devilish smile aided to light her optics. “I also like football.” She added. Magnus shook his head and chuckled. “When Spike, Kup and I were held prisoner by the Quintessons, Spike tried to create a diversion by spitting out a long line of football statistics. I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know what football was-aside from what the Dinobots tried to play. After we were rescued, I made it a point to learn all I could about football.” Arcee’s light smile turned into a grin. “Daniel watches it often. My favorite team is the Lunar Colony.” Magnus seemed a bit bashful for the moment: “I’m-I’m a Cowboys fan.” Arcee smirked. “Figures!” They fell silent for several moments while the fire dancers finished their act after the blade master’s intervention. Then three people in grass dresses and huge metal masks stepped out and began a very loud dance session. Magnus softly set his hand on Arcee’s arm. “How about we go someplace to talk?” She smiled her agreement and the two departed back to the surface. It was still daylight here, and a little warmer. A half-moon peaked over the horizon, but did nothing to detract from the stars. Arcee knew it would not be long before a landing strip would be set in and communication towers and lights and hotels and stores would be built across the desert floor and it would be hard to see the night sky. She took it all in, like a plant dying for water. Daniel was still sleeping soundly and would not rise for a while yet. It had been so nice to be herself among a few members of her own kind. She had forgotten how good it was to be part of a team as opposed to playing the family car. She missed her old life. “Ah, I see a few constellations here. There’s the large Ursatron and Krusher the Tank. I also see Rapture the Archer.” Arcee tried to follow him, but shook her head. “I don’t see anything but stars.” She admitted. Magnus smiled. “It took me a long time to find them, too. I once crashed on a planet and lost my entire squad after a great battle. For several days and nights, all I had to guide me on the planet were the stars. I knew the constellations well enough to tell what direction I was aiming for.” “Even though you weren’t on Cybertron?” The major-general nodded. “I had been on enough worlds to tell what general direction to look for. All I needed to know was where the star of that solar system is located in conjunction to the constellation. For example, the sun here is to the left of us, where we’re standing. The bear star is to the right. So from a three-dimensional aspect, the polar caps are about that way, leading north. There’s other ways to tell, too. But that was how I was able to do it at night.” Arcee shook her head. “I still don’t get it.” “Well, you have to take the planet’s rotation in consideration. Most planets travel about the same way. There’s exceptions, of course, but the general rule is east to west.” A blank expression remained solid on Arcee’s face and Magnus gave a wry smile. “Forget, Arcee.” “No. It’s interesting. It’s just that it would be better if you’d show me.” He smiled lightly and sat down, waiting until she followed suite to say anything more. He stared at her a moment, feeling a bit awkward. Her new paint job looked so nice. He knew, somehow, that she would have to revert to her original colors once they returned to Earth. Daniel would not tolerate such a change without making the decision himself. And he’d brow beat and emotionally manipulate her until Arcee complied. It had been that way for a very long time. “Arcee,” his voice came softer than she’d heard it in a long time. “I know it’s not of my business. But I am concerned for you.” The same old argument. Time and time again. His concern was legitimate, she had to admit that to herself. She remained silent. And Magnus took that as a sign to say something more. “You really don’t have to let a Human tell you what to do. Daniel does not need to be your lord and master. I know how he treats you. I know the things he must be saying and I can tell you that they’re not true. You are a competent, capable person. You are capable of wonderful things. But that . . . little monster controls you by lying about your abilities. He makes you doubt yourself.” “I know.” She whispered. “I know I have the power to tell him ‘no’. I know I have the right to live my own life.” She looked away in grief. “I know it must seem so stupid, an Autobot allowing a Human to tell her what to do. I must be defective.” “No!” Magnus answered firmly. “You’re a kind-hearted, caring person who’s being taken advantage of, that’s all. It sickens me to see someone like you who loves so much get treated so badly. Daniel should be grateful to you for saving his life and thereafter, allowing him to live it. But he repays you with evil.” She still couldn’t look at him. It was one of those times the femme actually wished she could cry. She wanted to release all her pain. Human females often cried to release all their pent-up emotions. Why, why couldn’t she? “I know.” her voice was barely audible. “But, I can’t go back on a promise. I can’t break a promise, Magnus. Where’s the honor in that?” Now she could look at him. But her expression remained shadowed by sorrow. “If I care anything about my honor, I must keep my word. How could I live with myself if I cannot be faithful in all things?” “But you do not need to torture yourself like this, Arcee.” He insisted. “The Autobots are still there for you! You are still one of us.” She looked away, unable to answer him. Magnus secretly wished he could squish the little monster that held her so tightly bound. But the thought was fleeting. If only he could get her to see the situation as he saw it: enslavement. But she could not and his heart went out to her. “Arcee.” He called softly. “If you need to talk about anything, any time, any time at all, I’ll be right here, listening.” Now she looked at him again and the light in her optics warmed him head to foot. He’d embrace her, if he thought he could get away with it. But, Ultra Magnus told himself, something like that would most likely have to wait for several more years. And looking at her optics, the major-general decided he could wait. The following morning greeted the land with a kind breeze and the promise of rain. The people had already sent a rocket loaded with ‘goods’ back to the pirate ship. Whether it actually hit its target or not was not really something they were concerned about. They had interrogated their prisoners and found, to their delight, the pirates would not be a problem, now that most of their arsenal had been destroyed with the bikes. Perhaps now that the rangers were able to protect the village, the pirates would leave entirely. The Autobot’s shuttle lifted off and achieved orbit. Arcee had just strapped on her belt when Daniel woke up. “What . . . what the hell’s going on? Where are we?” “On our way to Detras-Zume, Daniel, to drop off those supplies.” “What? You mean we’re going to be gone a few more days?!” “Maybe another week.” Magnus egged on. “Oh no! I’m floating home at THAT point! What’s the matter with you idiots? Don’t you have something more to do beside run around the galaxy trying to play hero?” Magnus sighed. “I mean, I have a family and a job to get back to and I don’t think I’m getting paid enough for this! What are you staring at, Jazz? Geeze! Where’s a refrigerator? I’m starved! I’m going to get bored, aren’t I? Arcee, what the hell did you do to yourself? Blue-green? That’s gross!” End.