“One day….an Autobot shall rise from our ranks... and use the power of the Matrix…to light our darkest hour…” The light from Optimus’ eyes flickered brightly, as though tapped from hidden power cells, but slowly faded away. The Autobot’s greatest leader, Optimus Prime, was gone. As grief for their fallen leader and friend filled the room, Hot Rod suddenly felt a calm self- assurance wash over him, and a tug of conscience whispering of things yet to come. Perceptor couldn’t raise his head, and Arcee sobbed on Springer’s chest plate. Kup looked as if old aches had suddenly resurfaced. Daniel had dropped his helmet to wipe the tears from his eyes. Strange, thought Ultra Magnus, the differences between human and Cybertronian, but yet so similar. “Perceptor, you did all you could.” said Ultra Magnus, laying his hand on the befallen scientist’s shoulder. “We need to tend to our other injured comrades.” “I know. I have a list of…the others.” he managed to blurt out. Ultra Magnus scanned the names on the list. Wheeljack. Windcharger. Huffer. The Marix suddenly felt very heavy in his chest. How in the name of Primus did Optimus deal with this? Ultra Magnus had lost soldiers before, but never the scale of these proportions. What were the Decepticons thinking? And most of all, where were they? First Aid looked up from his scanner as the search party reached the clearing where the shuttle had finally gone down. A massive crater would forever leave a nasty scar on this place of tranquility, he thought. “Kup, there are no life signs in the area.” Kup didn’t need to hear that to know the odds of finding any of the missing Autobots alive were slim, especially if the Decepticons were involved. “I know, lad, I know.” Kup had seen this before, too many times for his old eyes, he thought. The rest of the Protectobots gently cleared the debris surrounding the fuselage, made almost unrecognizable by the crash. It took a moment for First Aid and the others to navigate around the superstructure to reach the cockpit, hesitating before overriding the magnalocks to enter the bridge. With a final groan, the heavy doors opened. Immediately, First Aid knew there was no chance of survivors. Perceptor finally stepped in the doorway of the makeshift emergency room. The landing bay was overflowing with injured Autobots, from critical cases to dozens of miscellaneous injuries. With Wheeljack gone, he had his work cut out for him. Emergency replacements to his medical team were just leaving Cybertron, and would be hours before they arrived. He immediately pulled a hyperscalpel from a tray and set to work. In the next room, Trailbreaker worked feverously to replace Red Alert’s critical components, as more were shorting out faster than he could replace them. Skywarp had suddenly materialized behind him, shooting the Autobot in the back at point blank range. The diagnostics board warning system sounded as Red Alert’s spark was beginning to flatline. “Perceptor!” he shouted, “I’m losing him!” Perceptor bound into the room, and plunged into the mass of tubes and wires, soldering relays, bypassing system after system. Trailbreaker stood back to watch the normally passive Autobot make critical decisions in nanoseconds, each move precise and determined. Finally, Perceptor jammed a makeshift power pack into Red Alert’s central core, and restored the critical balance of energy and Energon to the fallen Autobot. Perceptor collapsed against the wall, mentally spent. Extending his hand, Trailbreaker congratulated the Autobot doctor. “Good job, Doctor P.” Perceptor answered with a weak smile. “Dammit, Trailbreaker, I’m a scientist, not a doctor.” Both friends collapsed to the floor, laughing. It’s all my fault, Hot Rod thought. He stood over the precipice where Optimus had driven Megatron with a last burst of strength, catching the Decepticon leader completely by surprise. The shock resonated in Megatron’s eyes as Prime shattered his torso with the blow and flung him like garbage several hundred feet below. Hot Rod rushed to his fallen leader’s side. “Optimus, forgive me.” Optimus strained to look up. “Forgiveness does not change…the past. But it can…change the future. I sense… much potential in you.” Could that be true? Hot Rod surveyed the still smoldering wreckage of Autobot City. What could I have done differently? Then, a flash caught the corner of his eye. There among the debris, was the laser that Megatron used to shoot Optimus. Suddenly in his mind’s eye, was Kup yelling at him. “Stay away lad, that’s Prime’s fight!” Hot Rod rushed up the stairs, and there was Megatron, on all fours in front of the Autobot leader. Hot Rod smiled, knowing Prime had the upper…No! Was that a laser cannon Megatron grabbed? No time to yell, Hot Rod leapt at the Decepticon leader. That proved to be a fatal mistake as Hot Rod, like many a fallen Autobot before him, underestimated Megatron’s strength. Using the young Autobot as a shield, Megatron shot Prime down. The Autobots weren’t prepared for the carnage inside the shuttle. The bodies of their friends and comrades laid scattered in the wreckage. Everything in the bridge was completely destroyed. The Decepticons had seen to that. The shuttle had missed crashing into the middle of Autobot City as they had planned. It had overshot the city, crashing into the woods beyond. “Maybe we should just bury the whole thing.” said Springer softly. “No. We have to bring them home.” said Kup, “We owe them that.” With that said, Kup kneeled down and gently lifted Brawn’s shattered body off the floor and cradled it for a moment before placing it in the recovery compartment. The stench of Megatron’s fusion cannon was evident in the giant hole of the stout Autobot’s body. Kup could tell by experience the blast was small by entry, which meant Megatron was in gun mode, and his trigger pulled most likely by Starscream. Kup’s fist swung out and punched the wall. If Prime didn’t kill you, I will. Slowly, the other Autobots gathered the other shattered remains from the shuttle. Hardly enough left of Ironhide to bury. So long, you old warhorse. They were comrades from ages past, before Ironhide was asked to be mentor and bodyguard to a novice Prime. Prowl’s body was interred next, one clear shot through his chest and Spark Core, killing him instantly. Young and smart, as well as a cunning adversary, Prowl had worked up the ladder quickly, catching Optimus Prime’s eye. Ratchet was the last Autobot to be recovered, and First Aid stared into his lifeless eyes. A vicious end to a reluctant warrior. We’re not soldiers like the Decepticons, First Aid thought, is this our fate too? He would be hard to replace. Perceptor would have to assume his duties, too. The remaining Autobots had their work cut out for them. “Okay, lads, we’re done here,” said Kup. Solemnly, the recovery chambers were sealed. There would be a long Celebration of the Honored Dead this time. Hot Rod picked up the laser cannon, which Prime had knocked from Megatron’s hand. If I had only listened to Kup. If I hadn’t gone up there, he’d still be alive. “Hot Rod?” Ultra Magnus’s voice startled him. He hadn’t even heard him approach. “Oh. Ultra Magnus.” he said. “Thought you might be here.” “Yeah. Sort of tough to forget you were responsible for killing the greatest Autobot leader in Cybertron’s history.” said Hot Rod, as he thought for a moment Earth’s gravity was going to crush his chest. “That’s not true, son. Megatron killed him. I heard what happened. You were only trying to help.” said Magnus. “Some help I was.” said the young Autobot, his voice cracking. “You don’t know what would have happened. Maybe Optimus would have shot Megatron first. Maybe Megatron would have shot Prime anyway, and this carnage would have continued and we’d all be dead. So maybe, in a way, you were destined to end this.” “Some destiny.” said Hot Rod. “We all have our crosses to bear, Hot Rod. You know what Alpha Trion used to say. The biggest burden is always placed on those that can carry the weight.” Hot Rod smiled weakly. “Is that why you have all that extra armor?” Ultra Magnus smiled back. “Maybe I’ll let you try it on one day. C’mon, we’ve got a lot of work to do.” The two Autobots walked off towards the command center. Hot Rod took one more look over his shoulder. I’ll make you proud, Optimus. I promise.