In the distant future, in an alien universe, the Transformers struggle to cope

Discussion in 'Transformers Fan Fiction' started by snavej, Jul 6, 2010.

  1. snavej

    snavej 5th Dan garage tidier

    Nov 7, 2005
    News Credits:
    Trophy Points:
    Bottleneck at the Border (c) John H. Evans, April – June 2010

    “I have to be in paraconsciousness,” thought Tyblayn as he sprinted across the debris field towards the nearest cluster of block remnants. “I’ve never done anything remotely like this before. Why am I made of heavy metal?” His sensors warned him of incoming projectiles and he ducked right, lay flat on his front, rolled over and stood up to run again. His alternative mode was unavailable due to a damaged wheel assembly and couplings. The enemies were hampered by the rough terrain and couldn’t pursue in vehicle modes but they were still gaining on him. It was time to shoot back. In mid-stride, he swivelled his upper body around and fired a few motion-seeking rounds before turning again and accelerating into the shadows of the ruins. He could hear two of the pursuers explode, scattering their parts into the welcoming ground. That had been successful. It should be repeated. At least it would distract him from the weird contortions that his body could do now. He swerved left into a deeper shadow, rotated and fired again. From his right, he could sense something quite unnerving flying at him. It was apparently black but with tiny scintillations of colour playing at its edges. He had no time to react before it was upon him.

    “Hassiem, this is surely from the realm below!” protested Tyblayn inwardly as he was enveloped by the blackish mass. “Don’t let them take me!” The stuff felt incredibly odd: in patches it was cold but elsewhere it was warm or hot. Random electrical discharges raked his armoured skin while equally random power drains sucked the electrons from his systems. Despite his sophisticated sensors, he could see nothing. His sense of smell was also reduced, though not eliminated. He could still hear fairly well. His bodily control was being degraded, especially around his arms, head and chest. His legs were still mostly unaffected. He tried to carry on running, hoping that he was facing in the right direction. An electro-whip struck his flailing arm, curling around it and delivering its characteristic shock while bringing him to a halt and causing him to fall over. “This must be the end,” reckoned Tyblayn sadly, lying awkwardly on the floor. “A few more seconds until the final blow, surely. I may never find out why I look like this, why I vaguely resemble a male warrior biped.”

    “That was just a tiny taste, a miniscule sample of our history,” said a disembodied voice, interrupting the simulated action. “Would you like more? We have innumerable memory files that you can experience telepathically.”

    “I have a choice?” queried Tyblayn. “I was supposed to be dead here on this desolate junk plain.”

    “Ah, we have overwhelmed your mind,” said the voice. “The simulation was so enthralling that you forgot where you were. You have our apologies. We have become so powerful that our slightest action can cause mayhem. Please awaken into your proper reality.” As requested, Tyblayn did so. Nal-she was back to her old self, in nal-her proper body, on the planet that nal-she had recently discovered.

    “Collective preserve me,” nal-she whispered in awe. “Never in my wildest dreams could I conceive of such things. Your ancient wars were completely terrifying but I can see that they were only one aspect of your incredible society.”

    “Incredible, yes, but I fear that we have lost our way,” said the voice. “We think that we have travelled too far, done too much, conquered more territory than any species should. We are weary of that life. We believe that it is time to end it and to find a new path. However, this universe confuses us greatly and we need help to adjust. Can you help us in any way?”

    “That’s absurdly unlikely!” laughed Tyblayn despite nal-herself. “You seem to be the wisest people that I could ever meet, yet you say that the universe confuses you! What possible hope is there that I could give you any adequate explanations?! You may as well ask this rock or some moonbeams!”

    “This is not our universe,” said the voice. “We were brought here as servants of our god.”

    “So, you could ask your god for advice,” Tyblayn pointed out.

    “He is as confused as us,” countered the voice.

    “Oh,” said Tyblayn, nonplussed. Nal-she paused for a moment.

    “You people, whoever you are!” nal-she pronounced. “Truly, you are hecto-sclaffed!” Nal-she dislocated her arms and laid them on the side-rests, to ease their tension.

    “Not necessarily,” said the voice. “There is always hope. We will read your mind and glean what we can from it. There may be clues to help us out of our predicament.”

    “I can hardly stop you,” said Tyblayn. “While you’re in there, perhaps you can explain that black mass, that weapon that hit me during paraconsciousness. It felt like something from another universe, in fact.”

    “Indeed it was,” said the voice. “In return, you could show us how your six-gendered society works.”

    “Or doesn’t work,” said Tyblayn regretfully. Nal-she relaxed as best as nal-she could and let the
    unseen aliens gingerly comb through nal-her memories.

    * * * * *

    A young life was stretched out before them, brief but packed with little incidents. Compared to other species, the background was slightly different to the norm but familiar enough. They had been travelling for aeons, through millions of universes. In each one, they had encountered life forms, either simple or complex. These tended to follow similar patterns of behaviour. Such patterns were evident here, in the mind of this female-type person. However, there were unusual undercurrents also present. This person had been constantly manipulated, from conception to the present. Nal-her landing here was no accident; nal-she had been sent here deliberately.

    Tyblayn was taken aback by the strength of these mechanoids’ minds. They rifled through nal-her memories so quickly, so determinedly, so efficiently. It wasn’t like the slow infiltration from bondings back home. These were experts operating at an astonishingly high level. Layer after layer of recollection was peeled back. Myriads of tiny details from the past were suddenly revealed in crystal clarity. The mechanoids realised that nal-she couldn’t cope with too many unexpected recollections, so they concentrated on certain areas that were most important to them.

    There was a moment from eleven years ago, when Tyblayn first met nal-her co-mate Golyrd-Ologe. It had been a leisure day and Tyblayn had been unsure what to do with nal-her free time. Nal-she had been considering going to see the leaping pondlets in the Renguar Hills with a group of old friends. It would have been fun to see those playful water creatures jumping from hollow to hollow in the post-glacial region. However, the thought of spending time with nal-her old friends again was becoming tiresome. Without warning, a memory of another friend had arisen in nal-her mind. Nal-she had decided to visit Golyrd-Ologe instead. The other group didn’t mind, fortunately. Tyblayn had felt almost propelled towards Golyrd-Ologe and vyd-her circle of acquaintances. Events seemed to conspire to bring them together. They quickly made a stronger social connection. It seemed so natural and expected when a six group formed. Happiness had seemed to be assured. The mechanoids saw evidence of neurochemical tampering, though.

    Nineteen years before, as a girl, Tyblayn had become curious about the whole concept of the six-group on nal-her world. Why did there have to be six in the group? Some primitive animals and most plants coped very well with pairs or singles. How was it that the other animals and the people had arranged themselves into hexabonds? Nal-her six parents had been unable to answer, as had nal-her other relatives, teachers and friends. Through great good fortune, a relevant broadcast appeared on the Glowb only a few days later. It appeared that, as if on cue, a group of researchers had found the answer to nal-her question. Nal-she had watched and listened so closely, oblivious to the games of the other youngsters outside. The researchers explained their findings with great care, describing the great worldwide drought of 346,000,000 years ago and its devastating impact on life at the time. There had been a mass extinction event and the remaining species had had to find new survival strategies. One of the most successful and radical of these had been the formation of rudimentary symbioses. It seemed that their genetic material had been conducive to such arrangements. At first, the little creatures had gathered into groups of three males or three females. This gave them greater reproductive potential when they found scarce mates. Soon, they found it advantageous to stay with those mates for the rest of their lives. They developed specialisations so that the males and females became differentiated. This was how the six-group evolved, with the jeg, vyd and nal females, and their yoc, tef and rin male counterparts.

    “Sclaff, this is painful!” said a dismayed Tyblayn. “I can hardly bear these memories. They remind me of my broken bonding.”

    “Our apologies once again,” said the mechanoid voice. “We will pause for a while.” The telepathic memory probe quickly stopped. Tyblayn sat up and opened her eyes. The alien landscape reappeared before nal-her. The ship had landed on a high plain, where there were good views of the surrounding region. Nal-she tried to forget nal-her recent heartbreak by observing the mechanical activity around nal-her. A few aircraft were flying or hovering silently above while a scattering of ground vehicles were scooting along the iron flats. Judging from their noiselessness, Tyblayn deduced that they were hovering just above the ground. Occasionally, one of the vehicles would transform and walk off to perform some task or other.

    “This is somewhat familiar to you, isn’t it?” asked the voice.

    “Yes, the transformations resemble our bonded bodies uniting,” replied Tyblayn. “It’s making me homesick. I wish that I could turn time back.” Nal-she hung nal-her head in sorrow.

    “Perhaps we could help,” said the voice. “We have enormous experience in solving difficult problems like yours. One day, you might be able to return to your world and be accepted by your people once again.”

    “You’re my best chance, I suppose,” said Tyblayn. “Could I perhaps look at you? I haven’t seen you at all since I arrived.”

    “We are legion but our ‘mouthpiece’ is next to you,” said the voice. “He will emerge.” A section of a nearby low structure disengaged itself and rapidly changed its form, rearranging its many components into a bipedal body structure.

    “Plindreggy, you’re certainly as one with the environment!” exclaimed Tyblayn. “Why were you there, anyway? What’s so good about being part of a small house?”

    “There are many reasons why I was there,” said the mechanoid. “Essentially, it was a convenient place to do my work. Most of the time, we are not physical labourers but rather we are data processors, analysts and extrapolators. Our work is profoundly intellectual.”

    “Yet if you had to be a warrior, for example, you could change again?” queried Tyblayn.

    “Of course,” said the mechanoid. “I have had many different functions in the past. My old name was Retrax. We don’t use those old names much anymore. It’s a pity but we all know each other perfectly well without them.”

    “It must be amazing to be in a hive mind that stretches all over the world,” speculated Tyblayn. How do you feel about it?”

    “You’re right, it is amazing,” responded Retrax. “There is such security, such belonging; the advantages are overwhelming. The mind even reaches across the galaxy when necessary. The problem is that it is difficult to disconnect. Adjustment is incredibly tough.”

    “Tell me about it!” said Tyblayn ruefully. “I’m in a similar position.”

    “We are travellers,” said Retrax as he scrutinised Tyblayn’s constellation of memories. “We move trans-universally. We enter universes, change the balance of power, learn as much as we can and then move on. Long ago, we found out how to exploit millions of forces and phenomena. The black light is just one. It comes from a very hostile universe where we could not establish a physical presence. However, we were able to extract tiny pieces of black light and bring them to more hospitable universes. They don’t persist for long here, just long enough to use as non-lethal weapons. They seek out nearby energy sources and cling on. In a matter of minutes, they dissipate as harmlessly as weak radiation.”

    “How can they be used without rebounding on the users?” asked Tyblayn dreamily.

    “It’s a special skill,” replied Retrax. “Only a few people can do it. A particular mix of intelligence, personality traits and energy emissions are required. It’s not like a regular weapon, more like a psychic energy that needs to be herded by outbursts of one kind or another.”

    “Hah, like a disobedient animal!” laughed Tyblayn.

    “That’s right,” said Retrax. “Although it’s not alive as we understand it, just obeying the laws of nature like a drop of liquid or cloud of gas.” Tyblayn was travelling through a fog of nal-her own. Recollections swirled around nal-her like mercrets. If nal-she tried to focus on one, it was immediately obscured by others. Then, the mechanoids used their abilities to establish order in part of the cloud. Tyblayn thought back to the time of the novae. Nal-she had been a little girl of only six years. Nal-she had gone out into the warm summer night, with a small crowd of brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, fathers and mothers. Someone had said that the stars were getting brighter. They all stood out in the small-holding, among the familiar crops and delicate plants, while they watched the heavens. Sure enough, nineteen stars were becoming noticeably, simultaneously brighter. Some of the adults bonded and then put children on their broad, combined shoulders to get a slightly better view of the event.

    “Why are they doing that?” was the children’s main question. The adults looked at the stars, some using spy glasses. They couldn’t figure it out.

    “We just don’t know,” they said. “It’s incredibly unusual. To have nineteen explode at the same time: someone or something really powerful must be doing it.”

    “Are we going to die?” asked some of the children, suddenly fearful.

    “We hope not,” said the adults.

    “We’re definitely not,” said Tyblayn. “I can feel it. We’re going to be all right.” She touched a cousin’s bonding point so that tef-he could experience her mysterious reassurance. Tef-he was amazed at her conviction but quickly passed on the electrochemical message to another cousin. Soon, the whole family group had felt it. After that night, the family regarded Tyblayn as a person with a special gift. As time passed, the novae flared and died, leaving little gaps in the night sky. Astronomers tried but failed to explain the happening. It did, however, stimulate the people of the world to investigate science and nature more thoroughly than before. If an unknown force could destroy nineteen stars in one short period, the people and their world was shown to be extremely vulnerable. Tyblayn had watched the broadcasts on the Glowb and had tried her best to understand the developments in world society. The anxiety subsided steadily. Perhaps Tyblayn’s reassurance was spreading beyond her family. People became considerably keener to study the sciences and explore space. There was talk of colonising other worlds, to escape the danger.

    “Well, that settles it,” said Retrax. “Primus was responsible for all that.”

    “Who are you talking about now?” queried Tyblayn, her mind fuzzy after all the probing.

    “Our god,” answered Retrax. “He is with us always. I could feel his influence in your memories of the past.”

    “Are you saying that your god blew up those stars and influenced my memories?” asked Tyblayn, concerned. “Why? Isn’t that an odd kind of behaviour?”

    “Most of us gave up trying to understand him long ago,” said Retrax. “He operates in so many realms that his strategies are unfathomable to mortals. Yet even he can’t comprehend everything. Your universe, for instance, is giving him tremendous problems.”

    “Why?” persisted Tyblayn.

    “Because there’s nothing much to do here,” explained Retrax with some exasperation. “Compared to others, this universe is remarkably peaceful and ordered. There are no major enemies to fight or dark forces to counteract. He’s going stir-crazy, so to speak. We Transformers, his children, are deeply worried but we don’t have the power to stand up to him.”

    “Oh great, that’s what I’ve blundered into,” commented Tyblayn. “I escape from one bad situation and discover a much worse one. What am I here for, I wonder? Maybe I should talk to this ‘Primus’. Where is he, Retrax?”

    “You’re standing on him,” replied Retrax. “This world is his power base, his anchor point in the universe. Everyone has difficulty persuading him to communicate, so don’t take it personally if he refuses to talk.”

    “Sorry I crashed my ship into you,” said Tyblayn to Primus, looking at the ground. “I didn’t know that you were alive. I tell you what, if you want enemies to fight, why not take on something really big, like disease, inequality, greed or social-sclaffing-breakdown?!”

    “Carry on scanning,” nal-she said, turning to Retrax. “You might as well do a thorough job.” Nal-she lay down in her reclining seat and let Retrax continue. He could sense nal-her frustration welling up. He could empathise very well, having been through so much in his extremely long life.

    * * * * *

    Retrax and his team went on as planned, prying gently into the little alien’s mind. As they did so, they also investigated nal-her genetic make-up, bodily requirements and mode of transport. They recreated nal-her living quarters so that nal-she could replenish nal-her air supply, have some food and clean nal-herself up. They had had so much experience of supporting aliens that the process had become routine. However, Tyblayn did have some rather unique requirements. As well as the standard needs for food, drink, air, warmth, clothing, hygiene, mental stimulation and so forth, nal-she needed bonding chemicals to survive in the long term. Without those chemicals, nal-she was slowly dying. Nal-she had been bonded for several years previously, so nal-she had developed a reliance on the hormonal cocktail of her bonding group. The Transformers devised a set of injector devices and fitted them to nal-her bonding points. They examined nal-her tissues and extrapolated the necessary chemical inputs and outputs. After a little experimentation, they homed in on the appropriate dosage levels. Tyblayn’s health picked up pretty quickly. Later, nal-she complained that her moods were rather flat, so the chemical doses were adjusted to provide a more natural variation.

    The ship in which Tyblayn had arrived was based on technology from a world beyond nal-hers. No one had discovered why the first off-worlders had arrived on nal-her home planet. They had arrived without any particular plan. Normally, they wouldn’t have been allowed to visit that world so openly and introduce revolutionary technology. Primus had overridden the normal hierarchy of influence in the universe but no one on the lower levels of development knew that. All that Tyblayn’s people knew was that nothing would be the same again. After a short period of uncertainty, they had overpowered the newcomers and taken their star-drives. Unfortunately, the ugly newcomers hadn’t been happy about what was then done to them: captivity, experimentation, deprivation, denial of dignity, untreated disease and slow death. Before they were finally executed for ‘attempted genocide’, they had used their telepathy to introduce forms of mental illness and degradation to the native population. The problems that they created were self-propagating and spread around the world. The only defence that the people had was natural resilience. Eventually, transmission of the mental problems reached its limit and the phenomenon died out. Unfortunately, it had done its damage. An entire generation had had its attitudes forcibly altered. The harmony of the bondings had been upset and groups had broken down irrevocably. Tyblayn’s group had expelled nal-her, citing ‘profound incompatibility’.

    “Sfetlik, I thought it was about me,” lamented Tyblayn. “They said that my chem-levels were wrong, that I wasn’t supporting the bond. Now you’re saying that Primus was the one who wrecked our families!”

    “I’m afraid so, at least indirectly,” said Retrax. “You’re by no means alone. He’s causing problems right across the galaxy and even in the nearest three other galaxies. We think that he’s gone too far but none of us can do anything about it. He won’t even listen to us.” Tyblayn was taken aback by the scale of the challenge facing the Transformers. Their creator was slowly but surely going insane. That level of power was unimaginable, irresistible.

    “Look, perhaps we should leave him alone for a while,” suggested Tyblayn. “I think that he needs time to work through his issues. You can jump in your star-ships and leave this planet far behind, can’t you?”

    “Yes, but it wouldn’t make much difference,” replied Retrax. “We rely on him for our lives. He can follow us wherever we go, or command us to return to him whenever he wants. We were created to serve him. Excuse us for a minute: we have a situation to handle.” Retrax transformed back to data processor mode and engaged in some kind of group effort. Tyblayn looked at the curious colours dancing high in the atmosphere as nal-she waited for the Transformer to finish his task.

    “I’m sorry about that,” said Retrax when he returned. “We had to combat a threat to the planet.”

    “What sort of threat?” asked Tyblayn, surprised that this had happened just now and that it had been resolved in a matter of seconds.

    “There was a very large, spherical robot heading this way,” answered Retrax. “It was non-living but it was nine thousand kilometres in diameter. It was heavily armed so we were obliged to deconstruct it. We teleported its components into the local sun.”

    “This place is sclaffing ridiculous!” exclaimed Tyblayn, hardly believing what nal-she was hearing. “Where did that thing originate? I’ve never heard of any massive robots in this area.”

    “We believe that Primus created the robot and sent it this way,” said Retrax. “This is his way of keeping us alert and ready for action. He is also reminding us of our duty.”

    “Hassiem renis, what a tyrant!” swore Tyblayn. “He thinks that he’s so great that he can just threaten anyone he likes, even his own people?”

    “It was hardly a threat,” Retrax pointed out. “We are experts at this kind of work. It was more like a small chore to us.”

    “Maybe you’ve lost perspective,” said Tyblayn. “Anyone else in the universe would consider that a genuine, honest-to-goodness, sphincter-loosening threat! You have to escape from the clutches of this lunatic! You can manipulate millions of forces. Surely you’re not helpless anymore!”

    “That’s a good point, my dear,” said a new voice, only a few metres from Retrax. “Sometimes we need a fresh perspective like yours.”

    “Who are you?” asked Tyblayn. “You sound different. You even feel different.”

    “I always have been a little different,” said the voice as a large body emerged from the ground before nal-her. “Greetings; my name is Megatron.” Tyblayn looked carefully at this hulking mechanoid and he looked at nal-her similarly. He didn’t look so different to the other Transformers, except that he was larger and stronger than average. He had a curious aura about him. Small sparks emanated from him as his body tissues knitted themselves together. There was the familiar feeling of raw electricity that nal-she had felt many times before, from the home world to the colony bases, the star ships, the space stations and now Cybertron. However, Megatron’s power aura was different. It was actively invading nal-her perceptions. Nal-her senses became altered and heightened. Nal-her bonding points buzzed as if another group was trying to connect. Nal-her vision swam. Nal-she tried to stagger back to her new living quarters but nal-she stumbled and fell. A few shards of metal dug into nal-her legs on impact. Nal-she looked at Megatron, who appeared to loom over nal-her. He was transforming as nal-she watched. He became an assemblage of heavy, bludgeoning objects, then opened out into a thicket of blades, then morphed into an array of guns. Tyblayn’s fear shot up markedly as Megatron continued to shape-shift. He became a regiment of unholy emitters, throwing out psychedelic, squirming, sinuous, deadly rays. He became a battalion of tenacious robots bent on infiltration and revolution. He became a cohort of androids in armoured vehicles. The androids spouted propaganda and dogma with great vehemence in incomprehensible languages while invisible crowds cheered around them. He became a legion of teachers, artists and other inspiring people, filling worlds with new dreams of glory and greatness. He became entire ecosystems of micro-organisms, ready to be unleashed upon those who couldn’t resist them. He became a vast mass of space rock, falling naturally onto a defenceless world. His surface glowed brightly in the atmospheric friction. The brightness filled Tyblayn’s vision. Nal-she closed nal-her eyes tightly but the light was already pushing through nal-her mind. Nal-she couldn’t think of anything else.

    “Enough,” said Retrax firmly. “You know better than to expose nal-her to that.” He and his team used their considerable abilities to purge the visions from Tyblayn’s mind.

    “Nal-she has to know who nal-she’s dealing with,” said Megatron. “We already exposed nal-her to our combat memories, remember?! We are beings of myriad facets.”

    “Hassiem!” swore Tyblayn, quietly terrified. “Hassiem Sclaffing Gnosofod! What are you? Get away from me!” Nal-she rubbed her legs where bruises were starting to form. Nal-she shook nal-her head vigorously, trying to get rid of the memories of nal-her recent experience.

    “I am a living weapon,” said Megatron, not moving. “A rare breed: I’m not surprised that I startle you. There aren’t many of us about for you to meet. In a way, we two are similar.”

    “No sclaffing way am I like you!” nal-she exclaimed angrily. “I haven’t got all that evil power inside me! Sclaffing dream on!” She was grateful that Megatron had returned to his initial appearance. Either he or the others were controlling his weird emanations.

    “I see that you aren’t running away,” observed Megatron coolly. “You have great courage." Tyblayn was taken aback by this simple compliment.

    “Well, perhaps it’s because I’ve got nothing left to lose!” nal-she spluttered. “I lost my bonding group. I lost my place in society and now I go alone to my fate. You’re not going to change that.”

    “Then welcome to the esteemed company of the solitary,” said Megatron. “Such is the nature of reality. We are all alone at some level, even we the mighty.” Tyblayn stopped suddenly and considered this. He was right. She had had a glimpse of his soul. He was surrounded by his own immensely tough and capable people, yet the lingering taint of loneliness remained. He had longed to be free of it for so long, for millions and millions of years. Nal-she gazed at him, speechless. He had raged and fought with utmost fury for aeons but, at the core, he was like nal-her.

    “So what do you want from me?” nal-she asked. “There has to be a reason why you’ve come to see me. You’re not a tourist!”

    “We’ve studied you and we think that you might set us free,” replied Megatron.

    “Erm, does not compute,” said Tyblayn, baffled.

    “Speaking as someone who has been manipulated his whole life, I recognise that you are like me,” Megatron tried to explain. “You have been made into a living implement, perhaps some kind of key. You could release us from our servitude.”

    “Well, that theory’s just about as weird as you, if you don’t mind me saying so,” said Tyblayn. “What the bav, let’s put it to the test. It’ll pass the time, at least.”

    “We’ll try to protect you but we can’t give any guarantees, I’m afraid,” said Retrax. “Primus is just too much for anyone.” Tyblayn shrugged, unable to worry any more about a situation that was already out of control. Megatron regarded nal-her with a degree of admiration. Could this lop-sided girl be his saviour? The hope had almost been burnt out of him. He was utterly sick of his servile existence. He allowed his body to sink back into the planet, converting itself into data processor mode as it did so. Maybe these would be his last days of living in a pit, fiddling with infinite facts.

    * * * * *

    Meanwhile, deep in the Great Wreck Galaxy, a sense of foreboding hung over the home world of the Fashlen civilisation. It was low-level but pervasive and it affected a sizeable minority of the population. Those who weren’t directly affected had to deal with the consequences. Many people were becoming dispirited and weren’t working or doing their normal activities properly. They were neglecting themselves, so their friends and families were obliged to support them a great deal. The problem was worsening all the time and the authorities were hopelessly overstretched. They had withdrawn many of their now ineffective services. Social structures were breaking down. The apathetic victims of this unexplained malaise were being brought together into specially constructed camps for more efficient care. Fortunately, advances in robot technology were saving a great deal of labour. The robots could do huge amounts of mundane, soul-destroying work without complaint and with minimal maintenance. The docile victims of the apathy hardly interfered at all with their nonliving, highly programmed carers.

    Robots also helped in many other areas of life, such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing and transport. People were so grateful that they had such vital help from their metal, solar-powered creations. Research into robot technology had been stepped up massively. However, despite all this automation people still worried about the fate of their race, their worlds and their whole empire. If the apathy epidemic continued long enough, it could consume them all. What could be done to stop it? Some hard-hearted people called for euthanasia on a mass scale. This was rejected but there were a few cases where it was deemed kinder to put those in terminal decline out of their misery. Still, there was a strong suspicion that the problem lay in genetics. The apathetic were often seen as weak and maybe unworthy of life in this great empire. They could be said to be bringing shame to the Fashlen. Others argued that even strong people were falling victim to the malady, which implied that the problem was more serious than genetic infirmity.

    Exhaustive medical research was done on the problem. Millions of genomes were decoded and analysed. Millions of species of microbes also were investigated, in the belief that some of them might target the nervous system in a debilitating manner. Experiments were done on the effects of various environmental factors, such as chemicals in the water, smoke in the air, electromagnetic fields, plant by-products, pollution in food, radiation from rocks, cosmic waves, the gravity of the two moons and the sounds produced by modern machines. Numerous unaffected people volunteered to be test subjects, while none of the apathetic refused to participate. Several years passed but no definite link between the apathy and any of these factors was discovered. Even wholesale exposure to all the factors made no significant difference in the end.

    Not long after the start of the tests, the researchers started to suspect that something else was going on. They thought that they should also be looking at non-local factors. The imperial government were thinking along the same lines. They theorised that the problem was due to an undiscovered form of radiation, which could have been produced naturally or artificially. The prime candidate for causing this radiation was the star-drive industry. Star-drives used atoms of portium, otherwise known as element 150, to harness exotic energies and enable star ships to access hyper-space. Extremely difficult to make, portium was well known to cause all kinds of bizarre effects if mishandled. However, investigations and monitoring showed that there was no such mishandling in the imperial fleet. The intelligence service started to look beyond the empire for possible causes. They sent out many ships on long missions of exploration. The majority of those ships had to abandon their missions and return to base because too many of their crew members were struck down with the apathy.

    In desperation, the empire turned to those few people among the civilian population who called themselves mystics. Most of them turned out to be frauds but about one percent showed promise. They managed to demonstrate some slight precognitive powers. Unfortunately, they were not immune to the apathy. After a while, they succumbed to the maddening torpor and lost their usefulness. Only a handful remained active. They were given strict instructions to report any tiny sliver of psychically-gathered information to the intelligence services. Although they did manage to predict a few useful things, such as troop movements in neighbouring empires and novel life forms on unexplored planets, they provided no news on the apathy. They decided to try to ‘tune in’ to more psychic realms each day. Years passed and eventually one of them made a breakthrough. As soon as she did so, she became so horrified and dismayed that she tried to burn herself alive. Her minders from the intelligence service were just in time to save her from her very flammable dwelling. They were angry about her suicide attempt, accusing her of treason. They demanded that she explain her actions.

    “A great death comes, in many ships!” she screeched as she struggled against the agents’ strong arms. “They will blast us if we do not supply them with what they demand. They want our portium: all of it!” The agents were so impressed with this new testimony that they established a video link to the imperium.

    “Why do these death dealers come to us now?” asked one of the intelligence chiefs on duty, via the video link. “Why not earlier or later?”

    “They were content before,” said the psychic, spitting at the agents. “They are driven here by a greater force. Much greater! It is blind and obscene! They flee but it will reach them, reach us and do what it will with all of us! I want no part of it. I will burn my flesh before it can claim me. Do the same if you can. Let me exit through the flames!”

    “Treason is forbidden,” said the intelligence chief. “You will be restrained and continue to serve. We will deal with this ‘great death’.” The psychic was led away screaming as the intelligence chief passed on the information to the military. Later that year, the powerful prediction came true. A very large alien fleet was detected approaching from the far side of the galaxy. The Fashlen were ready for them. They had done a great deal of study and had found out much information about them already, through their various non-Fashlen contacts. The alien fleet belonged to another imperial race known as the Nerleet. Immediately, the Fashlen contacted the Nerleet in their language and proposed an alliance. The Nerleet were reluctant at first, anxious as they were to escape the mysterious force at their backs. However, when they saw the Fashlen war robots, they realised that they were surprisingly similar to their own war robots. The convergence of the designs was very striking. This was surely more than a coincidence. Something had made both races design robots that were almost lookalikes. Even some of the software was compatible. As further comparisons yielded more technological parallels, the two races concluded that they were being influenced by the same force. It was causing the apathy, the psychics’ madness, the flight of the Nerleet and the oddly similar technologies. The question now was whether they should flee this force or face it.

    * * * * *

    “That was way, way too much,” said young Ghedlel Zayn, emerging from the show house and collapsing on the dusty ground outside. He could have stayed standing but he was exhausted from the mental effort of watching the smash hit show ‘Universal Hyperdreams’. His friends sat or lay down next to him. They didn’t care if they got dirty; they just wanted to rest their eyes and brains.

    “How did those dancers do all those moves?” wondered Umaf Ackjeef with a groan. “Some of them weren’t even radiating! How do they perform so much for over two hours without converting any heat to light?!”

    “If I ever see another spectroscopically-enhanced super-flaz, I’ll side-throw my side-salad,” said Mygloq Esef, shielding her eyes from the sunlight.

    “Wasn’t that just the greatest show ever?” asked a stranger who approached. He was met only by averted eyes and quiet groaning.

    “How about you, sir?” the stranger asked Ghedlel. “Wasn’t it simply the defining moment of world history? Don’t you want something to remember it by?” He fumbled in his stuffed shoulder pouch for some small object.

    “Yes, yes, it was superb, whatever,” replied Ghedlel. “Probably it was too good for us. We couldn’t ... hey, are you trying to sell us something?”

    “Just a little trinket to remind you of the wonders that we’ve just witnessed,” enthused the stranger, who had turned out to be an opportunistic hawker. “You’ll be glad of it later. Now, I can offer you badges, skin rad blockers, couple cups, clip players, sound boxes, love confirmers, feel-tropes or I could get you something larger from my store. What would you like?” Ghedlel looked at the hawker through narrowed eyes. Lights and images still danced at the periphery of his vision and a panoply of weird sounds echoed in his ears. His head pounded with the strain of excess information. All he wanted was to rest but this chancer wouldn’t let him.

    “I just don’t understand your screwy mentality!” he complained to the hawker. “We just came out of ‘Universal Hyperdreams’! We’re in no mood for this con-artistry! Go home; the show’s over! We’re not buying anything until we’ve recovered from that mental assault!” The hawker paused for a moment and then turned to Umaf and the others. They waved him away. The hawker looked disappointed and a little peeved.

    “I don’t think that you understand either,” said the hawker. “The show’s not over. It’ll never be over. It’s always there for you now.” He closed his shoulder pouch and walked away, looking for other potential customers.

    “What does he mean by that?” wondered Mygloq. “I can’t think straight. I’m still trying to figure out the meanings in the show.”

    “Forget him,” advised Ghedlel. “He’s just a street crawler, like a million others. Focus on rebalancing your brain.” The group of youngsters sat or lay on the ground for well over an hour, allowing the messages and spectacles of the show to rumble around in their minds. It felt like they had each read a small text library, watched a collection of several billion images and experienced years of touches, tastes and smells. Most of it had been given to them subliminally, in hours of split-second flashes. A drug in the air had prepared their minds to absorb it all without much judgment. It was as if they had eaten a feast for the brain, one much finer than they had experienced before. Now, they had to spend plenty of time ‘digesting’ it.

    “I think that I might be ready to go home,” said Vanaglice Tseay. She tried to get up but soon had to sit down again. The exertion of movement seemed to trigger more flashbacks and reflective thoughts.

    “Oh, qlaks,” she exclaimed quietly. “I think that I’ll have to call for an ambulance.”

    “You won’t get one,” said Cephaylot Sprejarc, sprawled in the dirt. “They’re all too busy. The show is pushing them to breaking point.”

    “Stay where you are and you’ll recover,” said Mygloq reassuringly. “Remember the advice that they gave us.”

    “All right,” said Vanaglice. There was a slight tremor in her voice. The effects of the show weren’t dissipating as quickly as they should have. She was becoming tired, hungry and thirsty. The hallucinations dancing in front of her were becoming sinister in their repetition of certain actions.

    “I think that we need some shade and drinks,” said Ghedlel a few minutes later. “We don’t want to end up as U.H. casualties. Come on; let’s crawl over to the taps under those trees.” He pointed to the nearest water supply, which was only fifty metres away but seemed much further now. Slowly, through thickets of artificial thought, the group of youngsters crawled towards the welcome shade. Many times, they wanted to stop and ruminate on their recent mind-expanding experience but they pushed themselves on. A few other people stopped to watch them but didn’t intervene. It was usually counter-productive for strangers to help those who had just watched the show. Such well-meaning attempts to assist generally disturbed the minds of the show-watchers and slowed the ‘recovery process’. Eventually, the group reached the taps and worked out how to turn them on. Everything in the real world was a struggle for them at present but the water and shade seemed to help. Further hours passed and, as predicted, they recovered enough to consider going home. They decided to go and spend the night at Cephaylot’s house, which was the nearest. If they stayed together and didn’t travel too far, they would recover quicker. Cephaylot’s family would feed them and leave them undisturbed for a while.

    As they walked gingerly down the leafy lane to Cephaylot’s house, they continued to experience sightings of elusive, unidentified creatures all around them. Some of these ran through the air, as if on invisible ground or non-existent tree branches. Others dived in and out of the real ground like it wasn’t there. Sometimes, the youngsters saw glimpses of underground passages or even subterranean settlements. All the while, they had an intuitive sense of some of the history behind those creatures. Most of them were ancient and long dead but now returned for modern viewing. The youngsters saw flashes of prehistoric views, of glorious forests and exquisite marshes, plains dominated by diverse kinds of giants and mountains alive with innumerable specialist species. The past lives that they had led were sometimes fabulous, sometimes tragic. The emotional impact was gradually becoming stronger as the group members were made increasingly aware of different lives, motivations and points of view.

    “Qlaks, what’s the point,” muttered Umaf. “We keep struggling on but we just end up like these animals, dead in the dirt.” He sank to the floor, his mind bustling with phantom memories of hordes of creatures and their situations. The others stood around him, not knowing what to do. He was right, of course. Life seemed to be increasingly untenable, knowing what they knew. The world was a pit of pain and broken dreams. They were fighting a rising sense of dread.

    “Please, don’t be like that,” urged Vanaglice, dropping down and trying to push Umaf back onto his feet. “You’ll feel better when we get indoors and rest.” Umaf looked at her and could see her concern, in her expression, her normal radiance and another, strange kind of radiance that he hadn’t seen before. This new radiance blotted out some of the other thoughts and allowed him to think differently about his own life. Perhaps people like Vanaglice could make it worthwhile to continue. His instincts reasserted themselves and he stood up. Together, they continued their short but eventful journey. As they neared Cephaylot’s house, they saw someone following them surreptitiously through the wood.

    “That is real, isn’t it?” asked Ghedlel, pointing at the figure in the trees. “I can hardly tell the difference right now.”

    “As far as I know, it’s real,” said Cephaylot, worried that his normal alertness was too dulled.

    “I think that it’s a dancer,” said Mygloq, squinting at the figure. “Do you think that he, or she, followed us from the show?”

    “The show’s not over,” said Ghedlel quietly, repeating what the hawker had said. “I think that it’s a girl, with one of those glittery costumes that we saw earlier.”

    “Stay where you are, everyone,” said Umaf. “We’ll try to...” The dancer suddenly reappeared on a tree branch high above them, performed an amazing rolling leap and landed amongst them. Her feet hardly made a sound as she touched down. Effortlessly lithe, she grabbed Umaf’s arms and looked closely into his eyes. Through his personal mental haze, Umaf felt a kind of probe rifle through his thoughts. The dancer’s eyes glowed a little and flicked around much faster than those of a normal person.

    “Hey, erm, miss, what’s going on?” asked Ghedlel, trying to grab the dancer’s arm. His hand went straight through her. She crouched down and leapt back up into the trees, like a spring-heel. The group was stunned by this. Not only did the dancer have super-normal jumping abilities but she seemed to switch from real person to hallucination at will. She could also read minds. Ghedlel was right to query this girl’s existence in the first place. It was unclear what she was. She had disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.

    “I don’t know what she’s doing but I want protection,” said Umaf. “I got the feeling that something’s coming; something profound and possibly alien.” For the first time today, he tried to hurry. Increasingly, the decision to watch the show appeared to have been wrong. They hadn’t realised the danger inherent in such a radical form of entertainment. The others struggled to keep up as he strode down the lane. Odd things kept popping up all around him, like large shiny helizins and animated leaves, but he did his best to ignore them. After much mental struggle, the group made it to the house. The sense that they were being followed by strange creatures or forces never left them. Now that the lessons of ‘Universal Hyperdreams’ were sinking in, they were coming to terms with the notion that reality could change without warning. They had been warned before the show that there would be bizarre after-effects. Here were those effects and ‘bizarre’ was turning out to be an understatement. The vegetation around the house seemed to be watching the youngsters as Cephaylot opened the door and they all dragged themselves inside. Walking was difficult when one couldn’t stop thinking intensely. They found comfortable loungers or chairs and threw themselves down to sleep or at least doze.

    A little later, Cephaylot was dreaming vividly about such things as the use of harmony squid in the oil industry during the Plendin period, over three thousand years ago. That was another effect of the show. Abruptly, he remembered that his parents, grandparents and uncle ought to be home by now. He opened his eyes and looked for them but saw only some fading hallucinations and an unfamiliar figure in the passageway at the far side of the room. Was it the dancer from the lane? No, this one was bigger and appeared to be wearing a bulky, spiny costume. Whoever it was looked rather imposing and alien. Some of the spines flexed and twitched as if they were alive. Perhaps this was an updated version of a stage costume worn by actors in the multi-plural shows of the last century? Anyway, the intruder needed to be dealt with somehow. If only Cephaylot hadn’t gone to ‘Universal Hyperdreams’ and filled his head with so many complications, he would have been wide awake and able to deal with this clown. The intruder seemed to sense his thoughts and walk towards him. The footsteps were smooth and careful but very heavy. Cephaylot could feel each one through the hard stone floor. They felt like heavy drum beats, drumming him to his fate. Should he try to get up, to fight or flee? The stranger’s aura was building up to unbelievable levels. Cephaylot could actually see it pulsing through the room, rippling the air and causing visual disruptions all around.

    Almost simultaneously, Cephaylot’s friends awoke. They shuddered as they felt the intruder and then saw him. He appeared to be male but there was much more to him than that. His eyes glowed a bright yellow, though that was almost incidental. It was as if all the people of the universe were talking at them. The youngsters couldn’t have moved if they’d wanted to. Tsunamis of sublime information crushed them into their seats. The show had been bad enough but this was indescribable. They thought that their organs would fail and they would die. Mercifully, the data-waves lessened and the five friends felt that their survival was no longer threatened, although they were still paralysed by the pressure on their minds. They had to breathe very rapidly and deeply to send sufficient air to their brains. Steadily, the pressure dropped as the intruder fine-tuned his approach. He was searching for something. Cephaylot wondered what they could possibly give him. This creature was some kind of god. His soul was like an intelligent supernova, seeking to blast evil wherever he went. Could this be Judgment Day for the world? Had the people really been so wicked?

    “What have we done, to bring you here?” Ghedlel managed to think. The intruder showed him. Using some unknown technology, he transmitted images into Ghedlel’s brain.

    “The Ytrankan death kitchens,” thought Ghedlel, matching the scene to one that had been included in ‘Universal Hyperdreams’. “They were the scene of a great genocide and mass cannibalism in the Gygobis period, seven centuries ago.” The others could hear his thoughts. They gasped in shock as the scene unfolded. Time ran backwards and then the genocide could be seen in progress. People from the nation of Algix were being thrown alive into an evisceration machine. There were hundreds of such machines. Algix itself was being wiped from the planet, leaving only an empty land to be recolonised and a considerable quantity of tasty meat products. Ghedlel appeared to be issuing instructions for the procedure. The soldier-processors were obeying and bringing more Algixians forward. Ghedlel was looking at a display, which showed that the numbers of deaths and the processing speeds were at the correct levels. Ghedlel was actually starting to enjoy the situation, seeing the work being done on schedule, in the appropriate manner. He was also glad that the Algixian problems were being eliminated. His people were scouring the region, diligently tracking down all the Algixian fugitives and bringing them for slaughter. This would teach them not to mock their neighbours with their distasteful practices.

    “That can’t be me!” protested Ghedlel. “I wasn’t...” He stopped mid-sentence. There was no point denying it. As the scene progressed, he knew that it was him. He had been the high-controller of the plant. The memories were creeping back from a former lifetime, seven hundred years previously. Mygloq fainted.

    “It’s not fair!” he complained desperately. “I’m not that person anymore. I’m trying to improve. Don’t hurt Mygloq! Don’t hurt anyone!” The intruder god said nothing but continued the visions. There was Umaf, ambushing a series of travellers on the road in Tun-Bax fifteen centuries ago. He had committed hundreds of crimes, including robbery with violence, battery, rape, torture, amputation and murder. He had even killed his own cousin without remorse, when she had chanced to travel that stretch of road after dark one night. His life of crime had caused considerable damage to the social fabric, with long-running consequences for thousands of people. Of course, Umaf could now see the harm that he had done and was ashamed but felt powerless to do anything about it. What good could come of dredging up these memories?

    Vanaglice was shown to have been living as a queen in the late Vadafin period, over seven thousand years ago. She had been angered by a petty slight from another queen in the neighbouring country of Erbnuin. By various methods of subterfuge, she had persuaded her husband the king to start a war with Erbnuin. Thus had begun the so-called ‘Banner-borne’ war epidemic, which seemed to spread like a plague across half the known world and which still fuelled international rivalries to this day. Millions had died. Vanaglice wished that the ground would swallow her up. Her carefully cultivated image of niceness and helpfulness had disintegrated. She felt beaten, bruised, stabbed in the guts and left to suffer. She probably deserved it, seeing that she had been a cruel hate-monger in that previous life. However, she wasn’t completely sure about it.

    Cephaylot was presented with a scene from a dealing room some five centuries ago. Everything in the room seemed terribly familiar to him: the screens, the voicors, the wave-graphs and so forth. He was working tirelessly to make money for his corporation. This was the age of unfettered commercial enterprise. The markets were geared for exploitation wherever there were opportunities to do so. Under his indirect command, many bad deeds were done: people had been swindled, governments had been bled dry and the natural environment had been ravaged. The consequences included hunger, deprivation, government collapse, armed insurrection, widespread pollution, species extinctions and a pervasive loss of care and trust in society. His ruthless dealings probably led to further wars and bloodshed as the world tried to restructure itself after the Great Collapse of 11,324. The beautiful and super-productive tropical mangrove-coral belts had been wiped out and might never return. There had been awful disasters afterwards on the unprotected tropical coasts. Cities had been destroyed by storms and erosion, with the people there being forced to move inland. Cephaylot was at a loss about what to do after these revelations. He wondered why he and his four friends were all involved in such unspeakable crimes in past lives. It was strange that they should end up in the same neighbourhood now.

    Mygloq was roused from her faint and made to confront her crimes. These turned out to be in the future. Time raced forwards and she was on a star-ship, passing through hyper-space to reach and attack another inhabited world. The aim was to conquer that world and make it a new home for her group. What was she in this future time? She had been genetically engineered. Her body had been adapted, in thousands of little ways, for combat. Her brain had also been adapted to make her blindly loyal to the group and unconcerned with the demise of her enemies. She was now a blend of male and female so that, if necessary, she could fertilise herself and create her own replacement.

    “That hasn’t even happened yet!” pleaded Ghedlel. “For pity’s sake, stop tormenting her! Aren’t you just as bad as any of us?!” The intruder god remained silent, though everyone could sense his unwavering commitment to his cause. He had to do whatever he could to stop evil. He had made an unbreakable promise to the Almighty. However, at present he was starting to doubt himself and it was driving him crazy. The only thing to do was to continue pursuing his goal and hope that everything worked out in the end.

    “Where’s my family, you bully!” demanded Cephaylot. The intruder god summoned the family and they walked in. The youngsters looked at Cephaylot’s relatives, standing to attention with blank expressions. The grandparents had somehow walked unaided, without any of their usual infirmity and tremors. For a minute, their appearances changed, revealing how they had looked in previous lives. They had also played their parts in the evil deeds of the past. Now, however, the intruder god was going to ‘fix’ them. He was injecting them with myriad microscopic devices that would control their thoughts and actions. These devices were so advanced that they could escape detection at any time by shifting their mass into hyper-space. He was going to leave the devices here as a permanent safeguard against any evil that may try to arise.

    The youngsters were putting the whole picture together in their minds. This god was manipulating the whole universe, or at least as much of it as he could. He had arranged for them to be here, living as friends. He had known of their misdeeds and was moving to neutralise them. ‘Universal Hyperdreams’ had been created as a grand distraction and a means to open minds across the world, so that he could gain easier access to them. He wanted to stop any further turmoil that these people might cause. He let them watch as he spread a web of cybernetic control over the world. Everyone would be discreetly monitored. Some would be inhibited from certain actions while others would be controlled like puppets. The god was watching all of time and space. All worlds fell within his influence. He appeared to be eternal, with uncounted aeons of experience. Nothing significant would get past him. His control system was impregnable. Why, then, was he insecure? Wasn’t this overkill? As he demonstrated his other system of enforcers, with their huge metal bodies, vastly powerful weapons and supreme flexibility, he was displaying his deepest inner fear. What was he, really? They might never know.

    Their life of secret enslavement began. They went about their lives more-or-less as normal after the god had withdrawn his avatar into hyper-space. They slept and soon recovered from their experiences. Their conscious minds forgot about the god after a while but their deep, unconscious minds retained the memory. It troubled their dreams occasionally. They thought that these residual memories were after-effects of ‘Universal Hyperdreams’. Across the world, most problems seemed to melt away in a matter of weeks. Conflicts were replaced by negotiations. Medicines were made easily available and many diseases were exterminated. Unsustainable land use was minimised and wildlife started to rebound. Family dysfunction was reduced by 99% and daily life became much more tolerable. Reliance on recreational drugs declined enormously. On the face of it, everything seemed fine but, in fact, everyone was now waiting for a miracle to end their unnatural imprisonment. Having served its purpose, ‘Universal Hyperdreams’ lost its potency and became a footnote in history, although it could one day be a reminder of a tremendous intervention.

    * * * * *

    Well, here I am, speeding through the universe as usual. I am out of control but I can’t stop myself. It’s at times like these that something usually happens to restore balance. My predictions aren’t working at present but experience tells me that the restoration is imminent. Will it be enough this time? Considering what’s already in motion, I have my doubts. Wait, someone approaches. He’s addressing me.

    “It has been decreed that your influence will have limits here.”

    What did I tell you? I’ve still got it! I can see through this ‘blindfold’ of ignorance.

    “The destruction and enslavement stops here, in this local galaxy cluster.”

    This is a counterpart of mine. I recognise him as a peer. He’s a good sort but my vow compels me to break his attempted blockade.

    “You can’t win here. Give up and consider your options very carefully.”

    Normally, he would be a match for me but I have so many powers now. I took them from all the gods whom I encountered earlier. I have to do whatever it takes to impose my will on this universe. I start by using the first seventeen million weapons at my disposal. That’s enough to smash entire galactic super clusters into neutrinos.

    “It’s not going to work this time, great one.”

    I’m so happy! My assault completely failed. This fellow just shimmered a bit and emerged unscathed. However, for the first time in aeons I was actually impressed by something: his survival. That’s a great treasure to me. I unleash another hundred million weapons.

    “I am a god of the fractions. Wherever you strike, I squeeze through the gaps between the waves and particles. Fractions and gaps are infinite.”

    Aha! That clarifies matters somewhat. Let me try again. Another ten billion weapons are unleashed. Don’t worry, I’m controlling everything. No innocents are being caught in the crossfire. No star systems are being destroyed.

    “You have been warned. Stay in this area. Restrict your activities.”

    He’s pushing me back. I’m being teleported fifty million light years, back to the galaxy where I first entered this universe. There’s Cybertron, my anchor point. It seems quite anachronistic now but I have to maintain it. At this advanced stage, I can do without it but I still have to follow the rules of my employment.

    “You have reached a boundary layer in the omniverse. Your function will soon be changing. Prepare yourself.”

    He’s still lecturing me. I wonder what he means. I really like the way that he intrigues me with his pronouncements. The way he pushed me around makes me nostalgic for the old days, when I was weaker and things were simpler. However, my vow is still in effect. I will proceed to the bitter end. I’m about to try something different.

    “Manipulation of that black hole will endanger the life forms of that galaxy.”

    He knows me too well! I’ve been cut off from my real powers for a few decades now, local time. That’s not long on god time but I’ve been neglecting my duties. This local god has spurred me into action. You see, to use the full range of my powers, I need access to the wider omniverse. This is necessary to have sufficient matter, energy, dimensional control and oversight of timelines. I made a promise to the Almighty, a very long time ago, that I would oppose the dark gods and their minions wherever possible, for as long as I could. That promise must be kept. Consequently, I have to break out of this universe and regain all my powers. I would like to perform the break-out in an uninhabited area but Mr. Fractions here won’t let me. On his head be it, if he has a head. This black hole in the galactic centre is where I’ll escape.

    “You’ve lost sight of your true self. You were a mortal once. We all were. Remember that.”

    That’s not intriguing at all. That’s just ancient, meaningless information. I’m tuning it out. I seize the black hole in my unfathomable clutches and begin to examine it. Some irritating fool has sealed it up on the far side. I’ll just have to cut through. I have the right tools for that. I have so many devices, captured or copied from other gods. There’s something for almost every eventually.

    * * * * *

    Vanaglice wouldn’t let go of the railing outside the police station. Her husband, Cephaylot, tried to pull her away but she was incredibly determined. He pulled her fingers away from the bar but she shook him off and resumed her grip. She wrapped both her arms around the strong, steel bar. Her body quivered slightly with the exertion. She stared at those around her, almost warning them to back off. They looked at her with confusion, astonishment and great concern. They thought that she was having a mental breakdown. Such problems had been largely eliminated in recent years, so Vanaglice’s actions were highly unusual.

    “I’ve had enough of this imprisonment!” she complained to Cephaylot. “It’s completely unfair. Police! Help!” She was shrieking now. Cephaylot was embarrassed by her apparently childish or insane outburst. Three police officers – two women and a man – came out of the station to investigate. They hadn’t had much to do lately, with crime dropping to unprecedentedly low levels. Many officers had been made redundant and had moved into other occupations. At first, the three officers thought that Cephaylot might have abused Vanaglice in some way.

    “I don’t know what happened,” said Cephaylot to the officers. “A few minutes ago, she seemed happy. Then we just happened to come to this police station and she snapped. This isn’t like her. Perhaps a repressed memory has been triggered. What can we do to help her?” He was becoming increasingly worried.

    “I need a doctor,” said Vanaglice. “There’s something in my head, controlling me. It’s some kind of machine. I need surgery to remove it.” Cephaylot and the officers looked at each other, nonplussed.

    “Yes, we can find a doctor for you,” ventured one of the officers. “Let me call for an ambulance. At the hospital, they can examine you and find out exactly what’s wrong.” Vanaglice’s mind was whirring. She was coming to terms with a whole crowd of rediscovered memories.

    “No, it won’t work!” she insisted, changing her mind. “Everyone has a machine in their head. They have been forbidden to interfere with them. There’s only one way to sort this out. We have to find that metal man. You remember, Cephaylot: the one with the amazing magical powers!”

    “Oh come on, Van!” protested Cephaylot. “There’s no such man, except in stories. What was that show we saw years ago? ‘Universal’ something or other, I believe.”

    “He’s got to be around here somewhere, keeping an eye on us,” said Vanaglice, looking around feverishly. One of the female officers radioed for an ambulance.

    “You’re unlikely to see him now,” said Cephaylot. “If he exists, he could be anywhere. He has a lot of people to watch, I guess.” A small crowd had gathered to view Vanaglice’s aberrant behaviour. A few of them came over to offer food, drink or other small services. Society was much more caring than it used to be. Vanaglice waved the would-be helpers away angrily, then stood up and scanned the crowd. After a few moments, she saw a man who appeared a little different. He was large and heavily built, with a penetrating gaze that never left her. He was standing as still as a rock while everyone else bobbed and shuffled about. In a world where appearance was considered less important than social obligations, this big man was very smartly dressed and thus quite conspicuous. However, no one was paying him more than cursory attention. Vanaglice realised that they were somehow being ordered to ignore him.

    Without warning, Vanaglice let go of the railing, lunged at the second female officer and stole the taser from her holster. The taser hadn’t been used for years but the officer had kept it in good working order. As the officer cried for her to give it back, Vanaglice ran over to the big man and shot him at close range with the taser. It had no effect. The man grinned broadly.

    “This truly is an astonishing universe!” he exclaimed. “You broke my control! No mortal has ever done that before! I have visited trillions of universes and you are the first to escape my mind blocks! I offer you my warmest congratulations!” In his joy, he moved to embrace her but she pushed him away, dropping the taser as she did so.

    “I don’t care about what you get up to in other universes,” ranted Vanaglice. “You’re ruining lives here and now! I’m married to Cephaylot but there’s no genuine feeling! The marriage is hollow! You’ve turned us into robots, going through the motions of life! You’ve got to stop it! We’re not supposed to live like this, on automatic pilot. We’re supposed to feel, to make mistakes, to grow, to work things out for ourselves!”

    “I’m very sorry, sir,” said the male police officer, who had rushed over with his two colleagues to arrest Vanaglice. “We didn’t expect her to do that. Are you all right?”

    “There’s nothing to worry about, officer,” said the big man. “I work for the government. I have an anti-taser device to protect me. I also have the resources to help this lady with her problems. You need not concern yourself with this matter any further.” The three officers withdrew without further inquiries. The second female officer recovered her taser and checked it for malfunctions. Everyone around could see that there was something strange about the big man but, for some reason, none of them felt willing or able to investigate. They just stood and watched. Cephaylot came over to hear what his wife was saying to the big man.

    “So, what’s it to be?” Vanaglice challenged the man. “Will you stay in control here for no good reason or will you let us go?”

    “There was a good reason but the wider situation is changing,” said the man. “I’d love to stay and shepherd you all but I may be reaching the limits of my power and influence. See how you deactivated my implants! The physical laws are different here. I cannot hold you indefinitely. I feel that I must withdraw and reassess my whole situation.”

    “Thank you so much,” said Vanaglice with a sigh of relief. “I know that we’re capable of so much evil but we need to learn to overcome it on our own.”

    “I sincerely hope that you do,” said the man. “Otherwise, I will have to come back and...” He smacked a fist into his other hand. Vanaglice shuddered at the thought.

    “You get the picture,” said the man. “I’m with the omniversal police. I’m always on the lookout for trouble, always trying to stamp it out.”

    “So you’re giving us some kind of freedom?” queried Cephaylot, perplexed.

    “Yes, in just a moment,” said the man. “Be warned that life may not be as idyllic as it has been recently. There could be many problems just around the corner.”

    “We’re only getting what was due to us,” said Vanaglice. “We’ll survive, one way or another.”

    “Here we go, then!” said the man, snapping his fingers. Everyone in the world felt profoundly different as their control implants vanished.

    “Oh, wow!” exclaimed Cephaylot as he felt the intangible weight lift from his mind. “I remember now: that evening after the show. You revealed our true natures, our past lives. You clamped down on all of us, on the whole world. We could not hope to resist. You were a magical metal colossus!”

    “I have to clamp down sometimes,” said the man, changing his appearance as he spoke. “You have no idea how bad people can become if no one stands in their way.” He had now returned to his metal form and looked quite alien and out-of-place in the street. A few people fainted with the double shock of sudden mental freedom and an alien encounter.

    “My name is Primus and I may see you later,” said the man. “Goodbye for now.” With that, he faded away and went back to wherever it was that he had originated.

    “Good grief, I hope that he doesn’t come back,” said Cephaylot. “He’s friendly enough but he’s too much to handle. It’s like putting a leviathan in a kennel!”

    “Careful, he might still be listening,” cautioned Vanaglice. “Look at me, I’m still shaking! I must be exhausted. Come on, let’s go home and rest.” This world’s short period of enforced peace was over but the effects would linger on for centuries to come.

    * * * * *

    “Yes, we Transformers have been irrelevant for a long time now,” said Retrax. “It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? We’ve worked so hard to keep up with our father, to push the boundaries of science, technology, organisation, dimensional engineering and so forth. It pains us to admit that he’s still light years ahead. All we do these days is little mopping-up operations for him. He takes care of everything else.” Tyblayn shook nal-her head, resigned to feeling insignificant.

    “So where are we now?” nal-she asked.

    “We just teleported to the Great Wreck Galaxy,” replied Retrax. “That’s what most of the locals seem to call it. It’s the nearest major galaxy to your own.”

    “Sfetlik, that makes me the first of my kind to leave our galaxy!” Tyblayn exclaimed. “I never imagined that this would happen to me! I hope that I get back in one piece!”

    “Oh, you will,” said Retrax reassuringly. “Assuming, of course, that we don’t run into some massive threat that we can’t handle. That’s extremely unlikely, though.”

    “Nice pep talk,” quipped Tyblayn. “Where’s my galaxy, by the way? You know, the good old Spangle Sheet Galaxy.”

    “There,” said Retrax, pointing it out high in the sky.

    “It’s so small,” said Tyblayn, squinting up at nal-her home star cluster.

    “There’s a telescope built into your suit,” Retrax advised.

    “Oh, I see,” said Tyblayn as a telescope made of energy appeared in front of nal-her eyes. Nal-she didn’t question the advanced technology used to make the scope: nal-she just peered through the ultra-clear pseudo-lenses and marvelled at the beauty of the brilliant cosmic object. None of nal-her people had ever seen this particular view before. The spiral arms were very symmetrical: nal-she counted eight of them. There were some dwarf galaxies circling the Spangle Sheet. They looked tiny in comparison but each one contained over a billion stars.

    “I know that this suit takes pictures constantly,” said Tyblayn. “That means that I have copious photographic evidence of my trip to the Great Wreck Galaxy. If I ever go back to my world, the astronomers will be falling over themselves to see my data.” Nal-she was amused by the imagined scenario of astronomers begging. Then nal-she was saddened by the thought of a home that had forsaken nal-her. The emotional distance was now mirrored by the vast physical distance.

    “Three million light years, give or take a few,” nal-she mused. “It’s appropriate. How do you cope with this, Retrax?”

    “We have been nomads all our lives,” he said calmly and a little solemnly. “Our father and home take us regularly to new neighbourhoods. We have to maintain a certain detachment or we wouldn’t cope. We are exposed to such intense emotions from each other, from him and from other species. We are the most ancient space-farers that we know. Luckily, we are also mechanoids. As you know, such beings are fundamentally machines. As you also know, machines don’t experience much emotion. To avoid being overwhelmed, we allow ourselves to regress a little and bathe in the cool liquid of dumb steel ignorance and mechanical oblivion.”

    “I wish that I could do that,” said Tyblayn wistfully.

    “You’ve already taken the first small step,” said Retrax. “You have your injectors for the bonding chemicals. We also put some nanobots inside you, to check on your vital signs. You are already beginning to be a cybernetic organism: a cyborg. There’s more that we could do for you.”

    “Yes, actually that sounds like a good idea,” agreed Tyblayn. “We shouldn’t rush into it, though. I’ll need time to adjust to the idea and to the experience. While I start to do that, can you tell me why we’ve come to this galaxy?”

    “The answer appears to lie all around us,” said Retrax. “Cybertron is surrounded by star-ships that seem to be adrift. We count at least thirteen thousand. They’re quite big, by organic standards.” Screens appeared in the air around them, showing dozens of scenes that had been recorded and transmitted by Transformers and their many probes. Retrax and Tyblayn watched quietly as events unfolded. Scouts flew around the ships and then went inside them. They found a great deal of deactivated equipment and also some personnel. Many of the people on board were dead. Another large proportion was in a very lethargic or even comatose state. Only a few people were awake and working. Those active ones were mostly occupied in caring for the inert ones, as best they could.

    “Who are you?” they asked the Transformers and probes. “Are you the great death?” The mechanoids were confused by this, until one of the over-worked organics explained about the famous prediction. It transpired that this large fleet had been attempting to flee the ‘great death’ that had been foreseen fairly recently. However, before they could travel very far, the people of the fleet had been struck down suddenly by the ‘apathy plague’. The fleet had not been properly equipped to deal with such a large-scale outbreak. Many sufferers had died fairly quickly of dehydration, malnutrition, organ failure, circulatory congestion, infection or other preventable causes. The ‘lucky ones’ had been saved by the care of those that the apathy had spared, plus some simple service robots.

    “They don’t look much different from my people,” observed Tyblayn. “I wonder what did this to them?”

    “We knew as soon as we arrived,” answered Retrax. “It was Primus. He’s looking for targets for his wrath. These were some, yet he didn’t annihilate them all. He’s not so sure of himself lately.”

    “So what are you going to do?” queried Tyblayn. “Is this a rescue mission?”

    “We have to investigate first,” said Retrax, receiving constant updates. “Scouts are teleporting around the galaxy. We’re locating their home areas. It turns out that there are two species here.” He waited as the situation was pieced together.

    “The populations of the home worlds appear to have been wiped out,” he continued. “The colony worlds have also fallen. All the star-ships and space-bases have been affected and won’t last long. It seems that Primus is annihilating them after all, only more slowly than usual. It’s very odd.”

    “Odd?!” exclaimed Tyblayn. “He’s exterminating two entire races like vermin! It’s genocide, not a quirky story!”

    “I’m sorry about my choice of words,” said Retrax. “You have to remember, though, that he’s a god. He knows what he’s doing. He must have had a good reason for this.”

    “Wait, if he’s doing this here, he could be doing the same to my people,” Tyblayn suddenly realised. “He’s affected them too. Perhaps he was toying with them until he was ready to strike.”

    “I suppose so, but we can’t help,” said Retrax. “We don’t have the power to intervene.”

    “That’s the usual defeatism from the rank and file,” said Megatron from his resting place nearby. “There is one chance, I believe. It lies with us. We need to go back to the Spangle Sheet. I can sense major upheavals imminent there.” Tyblayn used nal-her telescope to look at nal-her home galaxy again.

    “You won’t see any problem at this distance,” explained Megatron patiently. “You need hyper-spatial sensors to get real-time information. All you’re seeing is old photonic history.”

    “When are we going back?” asked Tyblayn.

    “As soon as possible,” said Megatron. “We’re wasting our time here. This is a diversion.”

    “But what are we going to do about these people, the ... er ... Fashlen and Nerleet?” Tyblayn reminded him, consulting her suit’s database.

    “Nothing,” said Megatron. “They’re beyond help. We all know it. Primus is disrupting their life force.” Tyblayn was speechless as cold reality hit home once again.

    “Fellow Transformers, we have a golden opportunity,” said Megatron, addressing all his people. “Many of you can already sense it. Our relationship with Primus is approaching a critical juncture. We need to take advantage of this situation while we can. Are you with me?” There was unanimity. Primus was going too far. They had to do something about it, probably through negotiation or manoeuvring.

    “Are you the leader, Megatron?” asked Tyblayn as the Transformers prepared to teleport.

    “For the moment,” said Megatron. “We don’t have permanent leaders any more. We tend to do things by telepathic consensus. It’s a much surer method but sometimes I miss the old days.”

    * * * * *

    Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to turn out right? You have? Well, it was nothing compared to my day. All I wanted to do was cut my way out of this universe and none of my wonderful tools seem to be suitable for the task. I’ve tried approximately 396 trillion implements and methods but to no avail. It looks like I’ll have to use brute force. This is going to hurt … someone.

    Oh, look at this: my Transformers have just arrived back from the Great Wreck Galaxy. They’re my brave boys and girls (however you want to look at them)! I hope that their little task went well. They can just stand by while I rip us out of this reality.

    Heave! That’s it, M’Lord! Unthinkable energies are being channelled into a tiny area only a few billion kilometres across. Peerless expertise is breaking space-time with absolutely minimal collateral damage. Yes, admittedly there are some gravity waves washing through the galaxy, maybe a few kinds of exotic energy: it’s nothing that can’t be cleared up later. Keep up the pressure! You know, I’ve never used this much power before! It’s quite exhilarating. I’m feeling a little tired for the first time in aeons but my anger is carrying me forward. Nothing will stop me now.

    “Thank you, father!”

    What’s this? My Transformers are climbing up my mighty spiritual body. They have abandoned their physical bodies and are ascending towards the rupture that I’m making. I can’t stop them. I’m using all available energy to hold the rupture open. How couldn’t I see this coming? Usually, I know their minds intimately. There’s my little fire-brand Megatron. He’s using his considerable accumulated experience to lead the others on the surest route across my body. They’re entering the rift. I’m losing them!!!! We’ve become disconnected. I have to get them back! There’s no time, though. I’m changing; transforming somehow. I’m passing through the rift too! I’m losing contact with you. I’ll have to call again later.

    * * * * *

    This is Tyblayn speaking. I’m told that this message is going out to other universes somewhere. I don’t know what good it’ll do. Perhaps some of you will appreciate it, find it amusing or chastening or something like that. They say that I’ve just been instrumental in separating Primus from the Transformers. No one really knows exactly what happened but I inadvertently distracted Primus at just the right moment, in just the right way, so that Megatron could lead his people into a space-time rift and thus to freedom. Conditions in the rift were perfect for breaking the connection. Megatron was right: I was the key to their freedom. Yet I was ‘forged’ by Primus himself, through my brief bonded life. He must have made me via his subconscious. In some way, he knew that he would need me, though he didn’t fully realise it at the time.

    The Transformers are back in this universe now. They looped around inside that rift and returned here. They intend to stay for a while. Without Primus to supply them with life force, they’re relying on each other more and more. I think that they’re moving towards a total, mutual unification. They’re going to become a new god force together, I guess. In this universe, they have the strength to remain separate from other gods. I know very little about them but they appear to be thriving. It’s a whole new paradigm for them.

    “My lovely Tyblayn, the plan worked!”

    Ah, yes Primus; are you well?

    “Never better! I needed that: a complete transformation! I have moved on to other areas of the omniverse. My Transformers have served me flawlessly. It was time for them to progress too. I’m sorry that I had to manipulate you, Tyblayn. It was the least of many possible evils. The fate of so many universes was at stake.”

    How did I distract you, Primus? You’re so mighty and I’m so puny.

    “You reminded me of my origin. I was once a mortal like you. Back then, my life was blighted by evil forces, both large and small. One day, I was fortunate enough to be given technology that made me much more powerful. I began to fight evil very effectively. In time, I was able to develop myself into a super-being. The Almighty contacted me directly and asked me to be his agent in an omniversal conflict of epic proportions. I agreed and thus began my extremely lengthy campaign. However, I have never forgotten my earliest years, when I was at the mercy of so many undesirables. You triggered those memories particularly well. Thus, I was distracted to a critical degree at a very weak moment.”

    So, I was the right person at the right time. What will happen to me now that the moment has passed? I was thinking of staying here on Cybertron, with all this incredibly cool machinery. Being a cyborg is pretty neat too. I’d want for nothing!

    “Except your family: I have restored them. They won’t reject you again.”

    Incredible! Maybe I can go back later. I don’t want to rush into things when there’s so much to explore here!

    “As you wish. I’ll see you later: that’s a promise!”

    I think that he’s gone now. The unified Transformers will look after this universe on his behalf. Well, I hope that this broadcast has been interesting to you, perhaps even useful. I’ll sign off now. Megatron says ‘Freedom has never been so sweet!’ The long-tormented former despot deserves his rest.

    [snavej note: I got a few ideas from 'Valis' by Philip K. Dick.]
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2016
  2. VectorPrime404

    VectorPrime404 Banned

    Dec 14, 2005
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    An interesting read, and an interesting take on things. Definitely food for thought.

    I'm pretty sure I know why you used Retrax. Retrax never does anything. The Megatron involved was Beast Wars Megatron, I take it?
  3. snavej

    snavej 5th Dan garage tidier

    Nov 7, 2005
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    Thanks for reading and for the feedback.

    In this story, Megatron has become so advanced that all the different versions are blurred together. There are many kinds of hyper-spatial linkages going on. Many other Transformers are similarly affected. Megatron is desperate to escape his confusing predicament and also his indefinite service to Primus.

    Yeah, Retrax is a minor, underused character. I didn't know much about him. Presumably, he isn't such an important figure in Cybertronian society. However, he would have some usefulness. I thought that he could be a good 'minder' for Tyblayn, who 'accidentally' crashed on Cybertron. At this point, in the far future, all Transformers are much more mature and able to deal with tasks that they would previously shun.
  4. VectorPrime404

    VectorPrime404 Banned

    Dec 14, 2005
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  5. snavej

    snavej 5th Dan garage tidier

    Nov 7, 2005
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    An old story resurrected and retyped

    DISSOLUTION (c) John H. Evans, early Sept. 1996

    The air was full of hot, jagged fragments as three hundred thousand weapons fired incessantly. The Decepticons were having a great time and those with mouths were grinning broadly as they slowly advanced down ducts and corridors. They were winning this battle. The Autobot ship was – very reluctantly – yielding to their onslaught. Explosions continued to erupt and one of them finally blew a hole in the hull, causing all the air, shrapnel and unsecured personnel in this section to be ejected into space. Several Autobot defenders were plucked instantly from behind their barricades and hurled into the abyss. The better-prepared Decepticon attackers (who all had strong magnetic clamps) cheered and advanced again. The remaining Autobots fought to the bitter end. When it was over, the Decepticons were slightly more subdued by the reduction in their ranks but, nevertheless, took great pride and pleasure in the conquest of the damaged Autobot vessel and the elimination of the crew. This was another small step in the great universal cleansing project.

    The two ships, locked together by dozens of magnetic rods and trusty old grapples, spun slowly through the inky blackness, leaving a trail of debris behind them. Coros and Bromis stood on a rear gun platform, looking at the scene as they uploaded computer files through their fingers. The Autobot ship was thoroughly punctured, as if gouged repeatedly with a giant’s dagger. All around, Decepticon scouts and their automatons were hunting down survivors. Rockets flared, small arms blazed and enemies were reduced to inanimate showers of junk. The two data plunderers watched for a few minutes and then decided to join in. They activated shoulder cannons and took pot shots at drifting bodies, hoping that they were hitting some who were feigning death. Within an hour, it was virtually certain that all the Autobots were dead. A few of their automatons were captured, subdued and reprogrammed as Decepticon machines. Everything was going very well indeed for the crew of the Decepticon starship ‘Cremator’.

    “There’s no way that you scored 17.5 for that shot!” argued Coros as he and Bromis made their way back to the connecting corridor.

    “I did! Haven’t you read the Rules Appendix 32, version 78?” countered Bromis indignantly. “It clearly states that severing three limbs in one shot earns a bonus of 3.5, regardless of whether the target is barely alive or only just dead.”

    “The second arm wasn’t completely severed,” Coros pointed out sullenly. “It was hanging on by a few wires and could probably still have been used.”

    “Oh, frak off! I don’t have to play with grouchy losers like you!” complained Bromis. “Let’s put our video evidence forward for adjudication and settle this now before it develops into a grudge.”

    “O.K., we can’t afford a grudge on this ship,” conceded Coros prudently. The pair marched off the stricken hulk and into the somewhat pockmarked main corridor of the Cremator. They said nothing as they surveyed the limited but significant damage that a few enterprising Autobot saboteurs had done to the interior of their glorious battle-craft. The work of the enemy was not worth much discussion. There was a queue of about twenty five warriors at the adjudicator’s office, all seeking accurate assessments of their fighting performances. Although there was much repair work and clearing up to be done, there were certain circumstances that permitted warriors to sort out matters of personal esteem before they attended to mundane duties. Here in deep space, the situation was stable and relatively secure with ample time for settling scores in the ancient Decepticon game of ‘Killpower and Damage’. Adjudicators were necessary to keep track of the complex Rules and all their nuances, so that they could interpret combat situations and assess individual achievements. The Cremator had a well-trained adjudicator on board, who dealt with the current batch of cases in only seven minutes. Coros and Bromis were soon back at work, helping out with the virus purging.

    “I thought that it wasn’t quite a triple severance,” remarked Coros, somewhat mollified. “They’re rather rare in space conflict, you know.”

    “I still got sixteen points,” said Bromis defensively. “I almost got the triple and I still beat your score by half a point. That puts me twenty two points ahead in the totals to date!”

    “Yes, luck has been with you these last few encounters,” quipped Coros. Bromis said nothing more for the moment. Inwardly, he was seething with furious annoyance. How dare Coros dismiss his obvious skill as mere luck, as well as constantly question the results of his actions?! One day, Bromis would challenge Coros to a grudge duel and rip his colleague’s entire game score from his dying memory chip, thus almost doubling Bromis’ own score and raising him to the next level of accomplishment. However, that would have to wait until the present stage in the war was concluded. The Decepticon army needed all available hands in the epic intergalactic battles.
    Pretending to be friendly for solidarity’s sake, Bromis invited Coros to the quarters of Flectin, one of his old comrades. Flectin was cordial as usual, offering tempting refreshments and sharing news with his younger guests. He was a distinguished warrior with many millennia of struggle behind him but now he was war-weary and mostly confined to intelligence work behind the lines. He had plenty of gossip and was eager for yet more.

    “The big news is that the Autobots have taken ninety five percent of Dereproem,” said Flectin. “I only wish that they’d paid more heavily for it. Apart from the strategic impact on Cybertron itself, this loss has also meant a fourteen percent reduction in the supply of key components such as cloak refining filters and subsidiary psi-chips. Our fleet is already feeling the effects of this reduction in terms of unfinished warships lying idle in dock.”

    “Blast it!” muttered Bromis. “If the situation on Cybertron doesn’t improve soon, we’ll lose our numerical advantage in space. Then we’ll be facing the possibility of a long, fatal decline in strength. Is there any better news, Flectin?”

    “Not enough to offset Dereproem,” said Flectin unhappily.

    “What about your, er, friends in Helex and Iacon?” asked Coros, referring to Flectin’s clandestine connections in the labyrinthine world of Cybertronian spies. Flectin paused before answering, scanning cyberspace for signs of monitoring.

    “The flavour of zinc is ten per cent and in shadow,” he said cryptically. Bromis understood and explained secretly to Coros. It was in code and meant that the forces of Decepticonism had recently cleared away a sizeable fraction of the ‘front’ operations in the field of data smuggling. This was desirable because it enabled the Decepticons to monitor more of the Autobots’ covert activities and thus foil their attempts to gain control over territory or systems. Coros nodded and smiled at the welcome news.

    “More energon, anyone?” offered Flectin, holding out dozens of small glowing shapes in a bowl made from an Autobot’s skull. The two visitors leisurely picked out some of the little packets of energy and consumed them.

    “While we still can,” said Coros, savouring the subtle vibrational patterns flowing through his intake sockets.

    “We have some time yet,” said Bromis. “We can still beat a thousand types of scrap out of those red-badged anachronisms. You should have seen our sharp-shooting today, Flectin. You would have been proud, I’m sure.”

    “The action was so hectic that we had to get an adjudication on one target,” said Coros. “Bromis nearly got a triple severance.”

    “You’re making me feel quite nostalgic now,” said Flectin with a slight grin. “Show me the playbacks; I want to see the standard of your work for myself!” These were duly shown. Flectin became very absorbed in following the tactics of the battle, avidly discussing them with the two participants. After twenty minutes, they were interrupted by the sound of a distant concussion against the hull. It took only a millisecond for the three networked Decepticons to discover that the Cremator was under attack from a large Autobot ship.

    “Action stations!” yelled Bromis, springing from his chair. Coros followed him out of the door and down towards the exterior gun emplacements. Flectin was left to his administrative work, supporting the command system.

    “We must have been sitting here in the Drala system for a few minutes too long,” said Coros as he sprinted onwards. “Somehow, the Autobot psychics have pinpointed us but we’ll make them regret their cleverness!”

    “Wait, the ship’s been identified,” said Bromis. “It’s the flagship – the ‘Pride of Iacon’!” The warriors knew what this meant: they were almost certainly doomed if the Cremator stayed here. There was another concussion, louder than the first. The Cremator shook as the Autobots’ X-ray laser tore its teleporter heart out. The crew used all their remaining firepower against the approaching mountain of hostile metal. They were all brave and loyal, right to the end.

    “I wish it didn’t have to be now,” said Coros as he helped Bromis to pump a constant stream of luminous death at the attackers. “We have so much to live for, so much to do for our great cause.”

    “There may be a way out,” said Bromis. “We could leave the guns on auto and escape inside some small cleaner droids. We may manage to slip away undetected.”

    “Where would we go?” asked Coros.

    “There’s a small, habitable planet on the other side of this system,” answered Bromis. “We could reach it in a few years. There’s a chance that we could survive long enough to build new bodies and a ship.”

    “Sounds like hell,” said Coros. “The database says that the planet Drala 2 is uncomfortably crowded and corrosive but it’s still preferable to being snuffed out. Let’s go!” Swiftly, the two gunners picked up a cleaner droid each and transferred their brain chips to those small machines. As a parting gesture, Bromis sent a secret message to Flectin, asking him to follow them in the same unconventional way. He didn’t dare ask any of his other comrades to do likewise because that could brand him as a mutineer. In his new body, he made a precisely calculated leap into space, beginning an unpowered journey that would eventually bring him to Drala 2. Coros was right alongside him. Flectin appeared only twenty metres behind. Radio silence was maintained as the trio watched their trusty ship sliced up like old junk in a processing mill. The sleek Autobot ship disgorged its space troopers to destroy any survivors in the wreckage. The roles were reversed: the hunters had been hunted down. The scene of carnage dwindled into the distance fairly rapidly and soon the three tiny fugitives felt safe enough to communicate with each other. There was no pursuit.

    “This is pathetic beyond words!” said Coros in absolute disgust. “Our captain had a lump of uranium for a brain and our teleport team couldn’t sense a red giant from close orbit! What is our fleet coming to?! Am I still on the right side?!”

    “We still have our lives and our potential,” said Flectin. “That is the critical point you seem to have missed, youngster! It’s the most precious gift of all. The rest means nothing in comparison.”

    “Come on, you two,” said Bromis. “Let’s try and keep together. Flectin, can you catch up with us? We have a better chance if we hang onto each other.”

    “I believe that I can,” said Flectin. He used some pressurised cleaning spray to accelerate slightly. When he reached Bromis, he clung on with his insect-like legs. Coros did much the same and the three continued on their long planet-ward trajectory. They put themselves into a state of dormancy and plunged on.

    * * * * *

    The next five years and three months passed without incident. The Decepticons were spared the utter monotony of the slow, drifting trip.

    * * * * *

    An alarm woke them. Drala 2 was suddenly in view. Coros was the first to spot the faint rings around the planet.

    “Great, minerals dead ahead!” he exclaimed. “If we aim right, we’ll be able to start manufacturing in a few hours!” Tiny jets were fired and the three diminutive Decepticons were soon burrowing into a small asteroid, searching for suitable construction materials. Quickly, they discovered that this rock did not have the ideal composition. After a few minutes, they emerged from their exploratory excavations to gather solar energy and take stock.

    “I say we go and find a better asteroid,” said Coros. “If we do too much digging here, we’ll wear out these puny bodies. That would leave us stranded helplessly for a very long time.”

    “I admit that the levels of essential metals here are too low to sustain us for more than a few months,” said Bromis. “Unfortunately, the rest of the asteroids in these rings are probably just as deficient, so I think that we should take what we can from this one before moving on.”

    “Our first priority must be fuel and body parts,” said Flectin sagely. “Beyond that, it is vital that we build equipment that will help get us home, such as a powerful transmitter and accurate astronomical instruments.”

    “Let’s keep at it, then,” said Bromis. “There’s no need to spend any longer in this sorry state.” The Decepticons went back to their tasks with a primitive, mechanistic approach characteristic of some Cybertronian life forms. Their higher brains hardly stirred as their lower brains coordinated the non-stop digging and sorting. Their bodies were frail but their determination was undiminished by material shortages.

    A few hours later, Coros picked up an extremely faint signal coming from somewhere relatively nearby. At first, he thought that it was a natural phenomenon but its regularity alerted him to its potential importance. He crawled out of his tunnel and scanned the sky with excellent eyes, which were originally designed for finding dust particles in dark corners. Far in the distance, something sparkled with reflected sunlight. Coros felt a thrill of hope surge through him. What could it be? Was it a spacecraft built by the natives of Drala 2? No, they were far too undeveloped to create such a thing. Was it a starship? No, it was too small. Suddenly, the obvious solution appeared in his conscious mind. It was an old space probe, deposited here by the Autobots or Decepticons as part of their massive intergalactic exploration programmes. This was probably the very probe that had originally reported the backwardness of Drala 2 society. Now, it was going to fulfil a very different function.

    “Bromis, Flectin, we’re saved!” cried Coros. “There’s a space probe only a few thousand kilometres away. We can use it for communication, remote sensing, spare parts, energy collection and all sorts of other things!”

    “Great work, Coros!” said Flectin. “You’ve found us a ready-made support system!”

    “Thank Primus for the grand exploration programme!” said Bromis with relief. “All right everyone, let’s calculate a new trajectory and coordinate our propulsion.” They were soon on their way, threading a curved path through the plane of the rings and occasionally putting on a spurt to avoid a rock or an ice chunk. The probe was only eight metres long. It was small by Decepticon standards but, to the three fugitives, it seemed very large and promising as they drew closer. It had suffered minor collision damage but was mostly intact because it had been built so robustly.

    After landing, the Decepticons started to work very quickly. First, they extracted the locator beacon, fitted it with a battery and a few solar cells and then sent it into a safer orbit outside the rings. The beacon was programmed to broadcast an S.O.S. message indefinitely to whichever starships happened to be passing through the Drala system. The Decepticons gambled that the first ship to arrive would be on their side. Second, they equipped themselves with the best improvised body parts that they could devise, thus enhancing their overall capabilities considerably. Third, they stopped to re-energise and reflect once again. Flectin hooked himself up to the probe’s high-performance sensor array and scanned the whole area several times, concentrating on the rings, the planet’s surface and, to a lesser extent, the neighbouring, lifeless Drala 3. He also checked the data collected since the probe’s last reports to Cybertron, discovering that little had changed on Drala 2.

    “The choice facing us seems easy,” he said, having finished his scans. “Either we stay up here in hibernation, surrounded by low-grade material, or we descend to the surface and help ourselves to abundant resources. There are mountains where we could set up camp, at too high an altitude for the Dralans to disturb us.”

    “What about Drala 3?” asked Coros. “There’s no one at all to disturb us there.”

    “Drala 3 isn’t the best option if we want to be found and rescued,” said Flectin. “The beacon is orbiting Drala 2, remember? We shouldn’t hide way out there on Drala 3.”

    “O.K. let’s go down to the surface of Drala 2,” said Coros. “I suppose it’s about time that we personally broke some new ground for the cause, perhaps even making some converts.”

    “Converts? Well, one never knows!” said Bromis, amused by Coros’ arrogant optimism. “There’s one definite convert coming up: we’ll convert this probe into a descent craft!” In less than an hour, the Decepticons transformed the probe into a heavily shielded atmosphere penetrator and adjusted its course to bring them down onto a promising plateau. After about two more hours, they were on the ground taking samples of the rather murky air and adjusting their bodies to compensate. Eventually, they plucked up the courage to leave the probe and test the conditions at first hand.

    “Well, there’s a lot of dust and muck in the air but nothing that we Cybertronians can’t handle,” said Bromis with growing confidence. “Visibility isn’t too bad, considering. Infra-red and radar work very well indeed. There is one thing that I’m worried about, though: olfactory overload.”

    “This whole planet literally stinks,” said Flectin. “However, it’s more complex than that. It seems to stink of thousands of different chemicals at once. It’s just our luck to pick a planet where everyone communicates through their excretory orifices!”

    “These chemicals may not just be messages,” said Coros as he scanned the foggy horizon. “I detect small amounts of corrosives such as sulphuric acid. Also, there are traces of known poisons. We may encounter hostility sooner or later.”

    “I don’t sense any real threats at the moment,” said Bromis. “However, it would be advisable for us to build defences.” The Decepticons quickly surveyed the land within a radius of two kilometres from the probe, pinpointed the spot with the richest seam of iron and began digging. They used the spoil to build an embankment around the site. After about an hour, they went back to the probe to recharge their batteries and then drag the probe closer to the mine. While they were preparing to move the probe, they noticed that they had been encircled by fifteen large creatures. The circle closed and the Decepticons were almost entirely surrounded by a wall of leathery skin. These Dralans were all five metres tall. Each had four legs, two arms, a relatively small, drooping head, large multi-lensed eyes and several nozzles for sending and receiving chemical messages. One of them reached forward, grabbed Bromis and put him into a box on its broad back. Two other Dralans did the same to Coros and Flectin. Another pair of Dralans picked up the probe, which had cooled to a safe temperature. The three boxes were locked and the Dralans marched off towards the lowlands. The Decepticons were momentarily stunned because they were unused to being treated roughly by carbon-based life-forms but, soon enough, they were back in radio contact with each other.

    “They must have seen our descent and organised a special expedition to bring us in,” commented Bromis. “They seem to want us alive for now.”

    “Should we blast our way out of these boxes?” proposed Coros tentatively. “Perhaps we could escape and hide somewhere.”

    “I don’t think we’d last long against these brutes,” said Flectin ruefully. “They located us very quickly just then and the chances are they could do so again. Their noses must be extremely sensitive. We couldn’t outrun them either: we haven’t got enough energy or any means of rapid, long-range transport. I mean, look at us! We’re scarcely a metre tall! We have no jets, no wheels and not even a proper body between us.”
    “We need time to organise ourselves,” said Bromis. “A period of captivity may give us an opportunity to do so. I notice that they’re bringing the probe, which is a stroke of luck. I think that they think it’s alive.” The Dralans marched without a pause for an hour and a half. The Decepticons used their infra-red scanners to examine their surroundings. More and more ‘hot spots’ appeared, indicating increasing population density. Towards the end of the journey, infra-red readings became less clear because they were obscured by the rising body temperatures of the ‘porters’. However, it was obvious that they were entering a large settlement. The quantity and strength of local scents reached new heights. The average person or creature from another world would have died in such an atmosphere but the Decepticons were built to withstand such extremes. To the Dralans, this was the sweet air of home. Flectin had already started to compile a mental list of all the scents that he encountered, matching them with possible meanings. The subtleties were most intriguing. Bromis and Coros chipped in with a few thoughts and observations of their own. This was quite a challenging intellectual exercise because Decepticons didn’t usually communicate by smell and their skills in doing so were under-developed. Also, there were many concepts that had no straightforward translation into verbal language. Flectin had no option but to persevere in trying to unravel the internal logic of this unusual ‘smell-speak’.

    The Dralans reached the end of their journey and deposited their cargo in an oddly-shaped stone hall. They unlocked and opened the boxes, then marched out into the settlement and were not seen again.

    “Well, what now?!” pondered Coros aloud, peering from his box. “Where’s the big chief or the high council?”

    “There seems to be a lot of dust in here,” observed Bromis. “Too much, really: it appears to be coming from those holes in the ceiling. In fact, we’re getting covered in it.”

    “It’s not dust, it’s more like mould,” said Flectin. “What’s more, it’s crawling across my skin, as if it’s looking for a way in.”

    “Hey, it’s a good way of testing the permeability of our skin,” Coros pointed out. “If this stuff does manage to get in, I’ll eat my head plates!” So the Decepticons waited patiently, watching in amusement as the ‘mould’ vainly tried to penetrate the multiple seams of the Cybertronian armour. After about fifteen minutes, it withdrew and dispersed into the air, emitting a strikingly potent odour as it did so.

    “I take it that that was some kind of Dralan test,” said Flectin. “They’ve established that our skin is invulnerable to their infiltrators: perhaps that means we’ve passed!” He was soon proved wrong. A large creature with four claw-like arms, four powerful legs and a sharp beak on its head emerged from one of the many dark alcoves around the hall. It snatched up the Decepticons and took them outside. In the light brown daylight, it held them aloft and roared before taking them to another building. A sizeable crowd had gathered to jeer at the unsuitable new arrivals. The jeering took the form of corrosive sprays that made the Decepticons wince. They were glad when they were slung into a cell, along with the probe. They were left isolated from the locals.

    “The air’s much cleaner in here,” said Bromis, surprised. “I think that the chemicals are being pumped or filtered out through the ceiling vents.”

    “I believe that I know why they put us here,” said Flectin. “You see, we failed to ‘bond’ with that strange mould in the hall. That might be considered disrespectful, treacherous or even sacrilegious. The mould may be extremely important in this society.”

    “I don’t know if you noticed but I sensed small amounts of the mould outside the hall, especially around the Dralans,” said Coros. “It is possible that it is symbiotic with them.”

    “Or controlling them,” added Bromis. “That would make us outlaws and renegades, beyond their normal means of social discipline. They had to resort to imprisonment and the withdrawal of the symbiosis. Now we’re being watched, to see how long we survive.” The Decepticons laughed long and loud about this, revelling in the knowledge of their great toughness and endurance. This prison was like a luxury hotel to them! They continued working on the probe, transforming it for a second time into an assortment of multi-function body components. Passersby stopped to stare in amazement at the aliens’ extraordinary abilities, even in ‘impoverished’ air. They wondered if the aliens were cannibals, consuming their large, inert companion. The crowds dispersed as dusk approached. A few people lingered for a while but only the appointed guards stayed to watch until morning. The Decepticons worked by electric lamplight through the hours of darkness. By mid morning, they had built one large, transformable body to house all three of them. The new body was seven metres tall and was operated by Flectin, the highest ranking of the group. It wasn’t quite a state-of-the-art biomechanical construct but it was easily good enough to smash the thick viewing window and leave the sealed cell.

    The crowd in the street fled at once. The Decepticons looked around and tried to figure out what to do next. It was decided for them. About thirty very large Dralans appeared from between the nearby buildings and started spraying very powerful corrosives at them.

    “Frak, it’s starting to dissolve our armour!” Coros shouted in alarm.

    “I’ll have to take us back into the cell,” said Flectin. “We can’t jeopardise our new body.” He did so and the spraying stopped. The huge Dralans surrounded the cell as the corrosives expended their chemical energy on the tough exterior stonework.

    “Thank you, Flectin,” said Bromis. “You’ve avoided serious damage. Now we know where we stand, we can concentrate on gathering information and trying to find a way around these monolithic jailers.” The window was replaced and reinforced. The heavy guard was maintained in shifts and the immediate area was closed to the public. Any simple escape attempt was bound to fail. The Decepticons tended to their wounds and remained still for weeks. Their only activity was the cutting of some tiny holes through the window frame and the insertion of tiny chemical sensors into those holes, to monitor the local communications. Slowly, relying on the daily supply of solar power, they decoded some of the messages that they intercepted. What they learnt through this was rather interesting: all about the unconventional social structure and the complex chemical environment. It appeared that violence was almost entirely absent on Drala 2 and the only violent acts that did occasionally take place were carried out by the law enforcement bodies for the general good: to control renegades. As the Decepticons suspected, Drala 2 was ruled by the mould, which inhabited nearly the whole of the globe and effectively controlled the lives of all other creatures. Even the few creatures in extreme environments where the mould could not reach, such as mountain tops and deep seas, depended on the mould’s great kingdom for their sustenance and safety.

    The mould was one of the most revered entities in Dralan society, ranking alongside the sun, the planet itself and the gods who supposedly watched over the affairs of mortals. The mould was essentially immortal because individual cells were constantly replaced as they perished. It was the unifying force that made Dralan society peaceful and contented except, perhaps, during periods of overwhelming natural catastrophe. Astoundingly, the mould was sentient and had ample intelligence with which to mobilise the Dralans. Almost everyone cooperated with the mould’s orders, whether those were to help the mould itself, the local community or wider society. Much care was taken to maintain the balance of the ecosystem because this was a farming society that depended entirely on good but sustainable harvests. The mould and the vegetation had a symbiotic relationship equally important as that between the mould and the fauna. Everything was connected in a huge biological web under the benign dictatorship of the mould, which the people referred to grandly as ‘The Unifier’ or even ‘Unity’. As they gathered their data, the Decepticons couldn’t help but be impressed by the solidarity and strength of this society. However, the key player here was a microbe and it was well known that microbes had their weaknesses.

    * * * * *

    Although it was very clever, the Unifier was having trouble deciding what to do with the aliens. Perhaps it was because there was no precedent for this sort of thing. The only event that came close was the occasional birth of a mutant that had some resistance to the symbiosis. There had never been creatures with total resistance like these strutting mechanical shape-shifters. Immune creatures could bring disaster because they were capable of committing violent acts with no risk of succumbing to a debilitating chemical counter-strike. There were hopeful signs, though: the aliens didn’t seem to have any chemical defences of their own and they were powerless against the voracious acids of the top enforcers. Yet the aliens were intelligent and could sculpt tough materials into extremely sophisticated instruments. They were stronger in spirit than in body and could work around the clock, never tiring, never eating, never becoming ill, constantly alert and never pleading for mercy. Their auras were full of bright energy, maybe too bright: it was unnatural, really. The Unifier’s intuition was to banish these things, to bury them in darkness where their spirits’ burning heat could be kept permanently at a safe distance. The best place for this was probably at the bottom of the large meteorite crater under the southern ocean. It was fitting that they should be entombed at the site of Drala 2’s last major cataclysm. If they were allowed to live, they might cause widespread death and destruction. The Unifier was dedicated to the protection of Dralan society. The alien threat had to be eliminated, even if the three metal creatures were innocent of any known capital crimes.

    The order was eventually sent out, after weeks of consideration, to drop the aliens into a watery grave. However, the people didn’t want to carry out this order because it was too violent for their delicate sensibilities. Violence had been outlawed by the Unifier for at least two million years and no one wanted to spill blood (or the alien equivalent) and thus corrupt their beautiful society. The Unifier was surprised that the people wouldn’t cooperate. Usually, they would go to great lengths to obey orders but, in this instance, their love of life overrode their well-meaning controller’s instructions. The Unifier was exquisitely sensitive to the electromagnetic pulse beats of the people’s brains and felt that some unknown force was slightly altering them. This was, most likely, a solar flare so it made adjustments and thus made the people more open to suggestion. Just when the Unifier thought that the people had been persuaded to deal with the aliens, the metal visitors finally started to speak. The aliens had learnt the Dralan language and had started to communicate through a hole that they had cut in their cell window.
    Their messages were eloquent, persuasive and based on a sound grasp of the fundamentals of Dralan society. They were appealing for everyone to extend their admirable pacifism and egalitarianism to all intelligent life, including strangers such as themselves, lost and confused, far from their home world. They apologised for causing a disturbance on Drala 2 and promised to minimise any future disturbances. They asked for permission to build a machine that would take them back to their home world. The Unifier looked beyond the surface message, read the subtler molecules and discovered that the aliens were emitting ‘soothers’: substances that rendered people incapable of suspicion and worry. This, of course, alarmed the Unifier because it was a challenge to the status quo, so the Unifier flooded the area with ‘anti-soothers’ and ordered the cell window barricaded.

    * * * * *

    “Damn, I know we shouldn’t have done that,” said Bromis tensely. “Why do I ever listen to you, Coros? You’re reckless in every possible way!”

    “The ceiling’s opening, something’s coming through,” reported Flectin. “They want to punish us for attempting to usurp the mould’s high position. We’re facing execution.” Two tonnes of a material resembling wet concrete landed on the Decepticons, knocking them to the floor. They struggled to rise but were hit by more and more of the heavy, sticky concrete until they were completely buried and totally immobilised.

    “No one panic,” said Bromis, with forced calmness. “We can handle this. They just want to keep us completely under control, so we’ll make them think that they’re succeeding. This is nothing compared to five years in space.” The Dralans demolished the cell wall and the quick-setting concrete block was hauled into the street, where it was given an extra layer, smoothed off and put on a heavy-duty trailer. A primitive but powerful tractor was brought over, hitched up and used to pull the trailer out of the settlement. The tractor-trailer had an escort of giant guards, quick-marching on either side. The Unifier was concentrating on these guards (top enforcers), ramming home the message that the aliens were not to be trusted at any time. Inside the block, the Decepticons were using their compasses, sensors and detailed Dralan maps to determine their route, which was generally southwards. They were also pondering the fact that the Dralans had invented the internal combustion engine, which meant that they were developing faster than previously thought. Three days passed and they realised their probable destination. The guards were changed and fuel was supplied at certain settlements along the road, so the vehicle and escort continued at a constant average speed. They went through a mountain pass, where the Decepticons decided to make their move. They activated their cutting laser, slicing open the concrete block and felling half the guards at the same time. This was something that the Unifier could not have foreseen, being totally ignorant of such weapons. With a mighty heave, they pushed away the upper section of the block and then slashed the laser through the remaining guards and the tractor driver.

    “We’ve got an hour or two before the capture squads arrive,” said Bromis. “Let’s get to work, as fast as possible. They’ll be here in huge numbers, knowing our luck.” The Unifier watched from several different angles as the tractor was hastily dismembered and incorporated into the aliens’ composite body. It wasn’t certain that even the best equipped Dralan enforcers could overcome these creatures now. A new approach was needed. The Unifier condensed a macrobody and began to explore possibilities in depth. The most promising weapons here were probably the mountains themselves. The trees on the slopes could flex their roots and catch the aliens unawares...

    “Landslide!” yelled Coros. Flectin leapt and saved them by a wire’s breadth. Thousands of tonnes of rock buried the road with a ruthless roar and a blizzard of dust and pebbles.

    “That wasn’t pure coincidence,” said Bromis, somewhat shaken. “And it wasn’t caused by our laser, either. It must have been the mould, using some kind of leverage up there on the mountainside.”

    “There are some components buried under these rocks,” said Coros. “Shall we retrieve them?”

    “Yes, it’s still worth it,” said Bromis. With the help of the laser, they swiftly dug down and pulled out the dented pieces of iron, keeping a very close eye on the slopes above. After a few minutes of restructuring, they decided that it was time to scale one of those slopes, hoping to get above the landslide risk zone. The way was unstable and treacherous. Many times, the Decepticons had to jump, dodge or cling to outcrops as further rock falls hurtled past. They reached the broad, flat summit after a difficult struggle. One of their shared legs was damaged, giving them a slight limp.

    “This will be our base,” said Flectin. “We will try to defend it against all comers.” After a quick ground survey, they started to mine, refine and smelt. They built an arched roof over the new mine’s entrance and covered it with tonnes of spoil to shield against acid attack. They made plenty of small solar cells and placed them all around the mine, hoping that the Unifier had not learnt their vital importance as power suppliers. The mine became deeper, with chambers set aside for other processes such as the forging of parts, the synthesising of fuel and lubricants, the growing of impermeable membranes and research into Dralan biochemistry. Weapons and armour were made next: automatic guns that could decimate approaching divisions of Dralans, as well as armour that could resist the worst corrosives. Then the Decepticons began their mobility project: the creation of the first jet aircraft on Drala 2.

    The Unifier watched from inside the base as the new hardware was developed and tested. It was most alarming. The armies coming up the mountain were ordered to stop and wait until further notice. Instead, the Unifier sent swarms of small mountain-dwelling creatures to corrode the guns and the curious shiny square objects that had been made first. When the aliens realised and went out to attempt the salvage of their equipment, the Unifier brought more small creatures to corrode key items inside the base. The aliens shot hundreds of animals but the Unifier had millions more. The creatures sprayed the aliens from head to foot with corrosives until the metal body became too weak to stand.

    “Power reserves are almost exhausted,” said Flectin, defeated. “We only have life support now. We’re just waiting for old mouldy to finish us off. There’s one thing that I have to say before I go: he’s a superb fighter. I wish that he was on our side!” The Unifier wasn’t in a rush to kill the aliens. For twelve hours, it pondered what to do, all the while receiving the aliens’ messages about their supposedly peaceful intentions and their urgent desire to go home.

    “Peaceful, you say?” said the Unifier. “Even near to death, you distort the truth. The name ‘Decepticons’ is well deserved. I have decided to do you one last favour: to send you home and thus stop you from slaughtering my people.”

    “Unity, is this your true form?” asked Coros as a weird, fuzzy figure came toward him.

    “This is one of my many forms,” said the Unifier. “It is the form that I use for meeting people like you because it has two arms, two legs, a torso and a head. It also enables me to think quicker. Already, I have devised a plan for you. I will keep you in an inert state and you will carefully instruct my people in the building of a craft for travelling to your home world. You will be put into the craft and send into space with no opportunity for changing course. It will take you thousands of years to reach home, by which time we will have the technology to control aliens like you.”

    “Your proposals are very appealing,” said Flectin. “We would like to build this craft as soon as you can organise the labour and tools.”

    * * * * *

    The building work took almost four years to complete because the Unifier insisted that the Decepticons explain their blueprints in the minutest detail, to ensure that no tricks were being played. After much dialogue, argument, learning and compromise, the combined expertise of Dralan society and Decepticon technologists succeeded in producing a unique, single-purpose space shuttle. There were many spin-offs from this project, including useful devices and materials for "Decepticons stay on for a further eighteen months to finish imparting their accumulated knowledge to the eager Dralan scholars. This knowledge was faithfully recorded in books and on the new electronic memory devices. Much of it was tested with experiments and logic to confirm its validity. Finally, the Unifier decided that it was time to launch the shuttle and fulfil the bargain. It was obvious that the Decepticons were not going to give up their most precious secrets. Indeed, they had threatened to commit suicide rather than reveal details of the most advanced Cybertronian technologies: the keys to their success in war.

    The Unifier had learnt enough to know that Drala 2 was defenceless against a full-scale Decepticon assault. The best defences available were the planet’s anonymity and strategic insignificance. The Decepticon High Command must never hear about Drala 2’s vibrant society. Coros, Bromis and Flectin had to be silenced permanently. A technically trained scholar altered the pre-programmed navigation instructions in the shuttle’s rudimentary computer. The Decepticons were put on board and the short countdown to launch began. Millions of people turned out to see them off. Although feared as potential mass murderers, the Decepticons were held in high regard for their wealth of knowledge. The three used their message generators to send a last ‘thank you’ to Drala 2 before the shuttle’s hatch was closed and the craft blasted off.

    “Almost six years of lecturing to morons!” groaned the disembodied Bromis. “I almost welcome an age in stasis.”

    “Wait a minute, this isn’t the course that we specified!” said Flectin, checking the long-winded machine code. “We’re going to slingshot around Drala 1 ... and spiral into the sun! I can’t change course; we’re dead in three weeks!” The betrayers were betrayed. For a minute, there was stunned silence.
    “A starship might come and save us,” said Coros.

    “Some frakking hope,” spat Bromis. “Your trouble is that you can’t face the inevitable, such as death and also my superiority in the Game. My tally on Drala 2 was three hundred and forty nine dead, seventy eight injured while yours was only two hundred and twenty two dead and five hundred and ninety six injured.”

    “I dispute those figures!” said Coros. “We were in a composite body, after all! Also, my efficiency was twenty nine percent greater than yours”

    “Comrades, please remember your dignity,” interrupted Flectin. “We must prepare to return to the Creation Matrix without complaint or else Primus will be angry with us. You don’t want that, do you? If we do get rescued, we can settle the matter with an adjudicator. If not, we should forget it because we’re all good and loyal Decepticons and the Game is of no consequence in the end.” As the shuttle neared the sun, the Decepticons switched themselves off and their brains were subsequently vaporised. It was a fitting end for crew members from the D.S.S. Cremator.

    Back on Drala 2, the Unifier was having problems of a different nature. It appeared that the Decepticons had released a virulent disease just prior to their departure. The disease had become an epidemic that was sweeping across the land and felling thousands of people, as well as millions of animals. The Unifier marshalled its powers to identify, analyse and eventually neutralise the disease microbes. It appeared that the Decepticons had synthesised this entirely new biological weapon using only their message generators. While the survivors collected and buried the bodies, the Unifier resolved to do everything in its power to protect those poor, fragile mortals. If that meant preparing for a dirty war with alien invaders, then so be it. Drala 2 would be ready.

    * * * * *

    Meanwhile, in orbit, a certain beacon of Cybertronian design continued to beam out its S.O.S., repeating and repeating the digital appeals of three departed souls.

    [This story was written in 1996, posted on in 2005, lost in a mysterious server crash there, corrupted on my disks but saved on paper and retyped in March/April 2015. It has returned!]
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2016
  6. snavej

    snavej 5th Dan garage tidier

    Nov 7, 2005
    News Credits:
    Trophy Points:
    Another story - 'Misplaced'

    Misplaced (c) John H. Evans, June-July 2016

    They had stopped caring about how long this mission lasted. Great God Primus was always with them, so their security was assured. That message was emphatic, as if it were stamped deeply into the very fabric of the multiverse. The Transformers simply continued with their work as it was given to them. Currently, they were in Universe 5711986. Each universe they encountered was given a code number, as far as was possible. Some universes were too hard to recognise, so they had to be left unnumbered but they were noted. Sometimes, they could be identified later, with hindsight.

    The Transformer star ship ‘Chordwainer’ was teleporting rapidly from galaxy to galaxy, finding and attempting to neutralise the areas of greatest corruption. As in so many others, Universe 5711986 had an infestation of dark gods. These were evil beings of great power that sought to hold back the development of life. Primus and the Transformers had become consummate masters in the fight against dark gods everywhere. Victory against them had become routine. It was only a matter of time. Chordwainer was actually sentient and part of the crew’s telepathic community.

    “While you plot our next moves, I will take on sustenance,” said Chordwainer to the crew. The star ship located a fairly large, metal-rich asteroid and teleported onto it. Landing legs gripped the surface with long, powerful claws. A quick scan revealed the best mineral deposits. Energy beams sliced the material into manageable blocks, which were teleported into the processing bays. Soon enough, they would be converted into useful components and substances. Chordwainer was satisfied. Any waste would be jettisoned back into the asteroid field.

    The star ship and crew considered their course of action for the next few days. They had done well recently, seeding several galaxies with self-replicating robots that would multiply massively and overwhelm the resident dark gods. They had also discovered many powerful races of people, who would assist the Transformers in further anti-corruption endeavours. However, they were finding it increasingly difficult to make long distance teleport jumps. They could see that this region of the universe was fundamentally different. The casual observer might not notice it but the Transformers knew that trouble was in store.

    “This is highly unusual,” said Onderplex. “There should have been advance warning of these conditions. I think that we should retreat from here immediately as a precaution.”

    “Too late,” said Chordwainer. “Can you read the tide? Dimensional shifts are already blocking our escape.” The Transformers used their super-advanced senses to check the teleport environment. Chordwainer was right.

    “What is the cause of this trap?” asked Tyladyne. “Is it dark gods, advanced civilisations, super beings or...”

    “Natural conditions, I believe,” said Venturaij. “There are no broadcast thoughts to betray intention. We have stumbled upon a region of untold instability but Primus will protect us.”

    “Nevertheless, it is imperative that we search for an escape route,” advised Abscaut. Everyone agreed and the whole crew spent many hours scrutinising the multidimensional environment. They found some paths that were vaguely promising but couldn’t quite decide if those were worth the risk. Conditions in this area were the strangest that they had ever seen. Chordwainer was becoming unusually worried, so he mined more asteroids for extra supplies, just in case.

    Hotspot was in his quarters, helping the others and simultaneously thinking about his recent encounters with people in this universe. They were fairly typical life forms but their beliefs in other realms were abnormally strong. As he pondered, he noticed that his room was changing its appearance in a very odd manner.

    “Chordwainer, are you altering my walls?” asked Hotspot. “They’re now red and orange, with a slight furry texture.” There was no response. The items around Hotspot were gradually morphing into a range of unfamiliar objects. Some were melting away and others were evaporating.

    “Oh no, my souvenirs are disappearing!” thought Hotspot. “Damn these dysfunctional dimensions!” Just then, a crowd of small aliens walked through a newly-appeared door into Hotspot’s quarters. They were chatting amongst themselves.
    “By Primus, what is happening?!” exclaimed Hotspot. The aliens stopped in their tracks and fell silent, looking at the towering mechanoid in front of them. One of the aliens was taller than the others. This one was female and communicated telepathically with Hotspot.

    “I sense that you are friendly and peaceful,” she said calmly. “I have never seen your kind here. I assume that you are a newcomer. Welcome to the mystic realms of Evermaze. Long may your thoughts run true.”

    “What are you doing on our star ship?” asked Hotspot.

    “I see no star ship,” said the tall female. “We are going to the tourneyon at the cross-streams. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ll be on our way. It is a long walk for the children.” Hotspot looked around and found that the Chordwainer had completely disappeared. He was now standing on a road in an unfamiliar landscape under two red suns. The children were streaming past, glancing up at him with a mixture of apprehension and admiration.

    “Could everyone please stop?” he asked. “I can take you to the tourneyon.”

    “How?” asked the tall female.

    “One moment, I will transform,” said Hotspot, then did so. He altered his second form into a bus.

    “You’re a transport vehicle too?” marvelled the tall female. “Well, why don’t we travel together? Everyone on the bus, please!” The aliens cheered and climbed aboard and then Hotspot drove them to the tourneyon.

    “When in doubt and all may be lost, why not do a good turn?” thought Hotspot.

    * * * * *

    Logoreader found himself in a much worse situation. He was floating in a vast mauve emptiness with no ship, crew, gear or even atmosphere. He was unable to communicate with anyone. He couldn’t even sense Primus or other gods. There was a little debris floating in the distance but it was hard to see because of all the mauveness everywhere. He tried to jet himself over to the debris but he was paralysed. He felt some sharp, stinging pains in various body parts. His vision was also starting to degrade. After a few moments thinking about his experiences with zero-gravity environments, he realised that he was being bombarded with radiation. Some tiny yet supercharged particles were tearing through his metal flesh. They were slowly but surely eroding his vital tissues. If this continued, he would be dead in a matter of days. How could this be? He was supposed to be much more resistant to radiation. Then, he realised that the laws of physics had changed in this area. Normal radiation was far more lethal here. He was going to be killed by the universe’s tiniest assassins and he could do nothing about it. Inside, he screamed but no one could hear him. All that was left was waiting in terror and extreme cold. The unfairness of his fate filled him with frustration but maybe, somehow, salvation would arrive.

    * * * * *

    “Chordwainer, HELP!” called out Enqlok. He was clinging to a flat chunk of irregularly shaped rock that was about eighty metres wide and long. Other rocks of various sizes were floating nearby. There could easily be a collision soon if the rocks kept drifting in the same directions. There was light here from a micro-sized sun that he could glimpse occasionally through gaps in the rock field. Wasn’t that impossible? Wait, the physics of this realm were in flux. Enqlok felt light-headed: that was probably part of the same problem. He had to be ready for any threat, no matter how bizarre. He tried very hard to focus his attention but the local conditions were actively interfering with the electron flow in his brain. He drifted in and out of consciousness, able to see the rock debris milling around him but unable to chart all the movements properly. After a few minutes, he fancied that he saw something moving toward him. What was it? Several more minutes went by before he concluded that it was just another rock, not a life form. It might disturb the field around him and cause damage to his flailing body. He had to defend himself. With an effort, he managed to open his shoulder compartment and activate his missile launcher. He hoped that the million needles in the warhead would shred the rock before there could be any collision. The missile fired but the warhead exploded short of the target. Just then, a wave of change washed through the area, pushing all the rocks in different directions. The needle barrage was scattered haphazardly around. Enqlok held up an arm just in time to stop some needles from hitting him in the head. He felt intermittent pain as his attention started to fail. His body could take no more of this environment. He sent out a final telepathic distress call before he slipped into blackness.

    * * * * *

    “Yoldren.” It was a signal splash in his serenity. It was wrong. The majestic, endless dream of stillness, positivity and knowing should not be shaken like this. He continued waiting, happy that all troubles would inevitably pass. Time was no longer his concern. He would persist forever in peace and calm. He entered stasis and knew no more for an unknown period. Then, in due course, another burst of action appeared on the horizon. It was like a howling hurricane coming closer and closer. All the sound tones were there, from a high shriek to a low rumble. ‘Wwww...’ it seemed to say.

    “WAKE UP!” blasted the voice in his head. “We have to rescue the others!” Yoldren was jolted awake. He opened his eyes and there was a terrible, enormous head right in front of him. It was full of sharp angles and glittering lights. He screamed in panic and tried to flee. He was about to transform into jet mode when an energy beam hit him, seeming to slow his responses and cause a momentary loss of control. The monstrous head cursed and then shot out a grappling line. Yoldren was snagged and pulled inside the head. He didn’t die. He found himself in partly familiar surroundings.

    “Chordwainer,” groaned Yoldren with a mixture of relief and disappointment. “You sure know how to pick your moments. I was having an incredible, divine experience and you just yanked me out of there without even a ‘by your leave’. Did you know that your ceiling is covered with psychedelic slime and glass?”

    “As my teleport chief, I need you to help me reassemble the team,” said Chordwainer. “If all the teleport psychics can be retrieved and reactivated, we will have our best chance of leaving this accursed zone. My ceiling issues will have to wait!”

    “Sprout me a seat and a link point,” requested Yoldren reluctantly. “I’ll do what I can.” The floor of the corridor extruded a seat for Yoldren, who sat down and linked to Chordwainer’s systems. This ship was remarkable. It was maintaining full consciousness in one of the most difficult situations that Yoldren had ever known. Was it this that enabled him to see locations for all the missing crew or was some other force lending assistance? Yoldren would have to investigate that later. Now, like it or not, it was time for rescue work, starting with his top deputy....

    * * * * *

    “Hum-Free!” trilled Deyvaylef from the other side of the mini-moat. “You’ll be late for shift 236! They really need you today!” Hum-Free responded automatically, throwing back the thermal bismuth flaps and preparing himself for another sixteen hours of toil. The dam walls had to be finished this year or else the river of copper-ammonia would engulf another hundred square kilometres of useful land. Unfortunately, he had not slept well. His dreams had been most peculiar and he had spent two fruitless hours lying awake, fretting over what might happen. Perhaps this was a premonition of future setbacks. The dam walls might fail after all. He resolved to be especially careful in his work today.

    Leaving his chamber, he hopped over the mini-moat. The sticky orange gel in that trench was becoming clogged with various crawlers. Either he would have to clear them out himself or he could ask one of the others to do it. There was no time right now, though. He hurried to his dining pod and allowed the machinery to plug in his seventeen feeding tubes. Nutrients flowed into his body at various points. Almost immediately, he felt more awake and energetic.

    “I added Ugdex cordial to jug 11,” said Deyvaylef. “I hope you like it.”

    “Oh, that is refreshing,” said Hum-Free, pleasantly surprised. Deyvaylef was a delight to know sometimes! Hum-Free looked forward to the next group congress, when the other two partners came home from their shifts. He soon finished his morning routine and then headed for the work site. Life was good. He spent a few hours with his big rig, forcing strengthened silver pilings into the bedrock. It was very satisfying and he liked the way that the silver flamed purple and green as it was hammered home. After the fourth hour, he had a break and looked across the plain. In the distance, the murky flow of the river continued to carve gradually through the soft soil. Thank goodness that this adversary was so unhurried! He was slightly mesmerised by the striking vista. His mind wandered.

    “Hum-Free, return to us,” demanded a voice in his head. He spun around, hoping to find who was communicating. It was certainly discomforting.

    “Hey, you’re jumpy!” said his colleague Tam-Choz. “Were you stung by a crawler?”

    “Crawlers hate construction noise,” Hum-Free reminded him. “No, I heard a voice. Maybe someone’s hiding around here, playing jokes.”

    “I have a way of dealing with jokers,” said Tam-Choz. He put his raycaller on the ground and used it to send a burst of beliogric charge out to a hundred metres in all directions.

    “Don’t do that!” complained two other workers nearby who received a mild shock and sprang to their feet.

    “Security precaution,” said Tam-Choz. “I’m entitled to do it when necessary. I have to flush out all trespassers on this site.”

    “I can’t see any trespassers,” said Hum-Free. “I wonder if I just imagined that voice.”

    “It was probably just a day dream,” said Tam-Choz. “Try listening to a few broadcasts to take your mind off it.” He turned and walked back toward his work station. Just then, he heard Hum-Free start to shout. There was a shiny alien beast grabbing Hum-Free with powerful mechanical arms. Hum-Free was clinging to his big rig, trying to avoid abduction by this thing. Tam-Choz gazed in horror as Hum-Free was prised from his rig and held aloft by the giant creature. At that moment, the alien began to smoulder and flames erupted from a few of its joints. It cried out in pain and then disappeared, taking Hum-Free with it. Tam-Choz roused himself from his shocked state and grabbed his communicator. The collective had to know about this!

    * * * * *

    “FRAAAAK!” exclaimed Yoldren as his joints continued to burn. “Put it out, Chordwainer!” The sentient star ship sprayed him with fire-retardant chemicals but the combustion would not stop so easily.

    “I’ve never seen this before,” said Chordwainer. “Some of your metals have been changed at a subatomic level. I will have to remove them immediately.” He used his teleport engines to send those metals into the vacuum outside himself. Yoldren collapsed, crippled without many of his key joints and other components. Thankfully, his most vital systems were not seriously degraded.

    “Fix Hum-Free too,” said Yoldren, his energon drained by his injuries and exertions.

    “That will be much trickier,” said Chordwainer. “He is organic now and he is suffocating. Our air here is quite insufficient for him.” Chordwainer surrounded Hum-Free with a force field and tried to give him some suitable air, extrapolating from what was in his lungs.

    “Can we restore him to his old self?” asked Yoldren.

    “I have spare bodies and ample medical equipment,” said Chordwainer. “It should be possible but it could take days and these are not normal circumstances. The process could easily be derailed.”

    “I will not be made into a machine!” insisted Hum-Free, finally receiving enough air. “I am Chab-flet. You have no right! My people will deal with you! The Chab-flet army knows how to butcher your kind!”

    “I can’t sustain you for long here,” said Chordwainer to Hum-Free. “I am unable to duplicate your air precisely. The molecules are too different. I believe that your best chance of survival is to return to the Chab-flet world for the time being.”

    “If we leave him there, we might never get him back!” protested Yoldren. “We NEED him for the escape attempt!” Chordwainer tried to weigh up the situation. Yoldren was probably right. Chordwainer could feel it in his spark. Teleporting without Hum-Free’s help would be insufficient to escape this region.

    “I will keep Hum-Free here for a while and try to restore him,” said Chordwainer. “However, I can give no promises of success.”

    “You don’t understand!” pleaded Hum-Free. “I’m not part of your collective. I never was! My life is with the Chab-flet and nowhere else. How can you drag me away from my world, my life, my dear family? You’re monsters!” Neither Yoldren nor Chordwainer had seen a personality change quite this severe. Chordwainer laboured on and Yoldren tried to help with chemical analyses but both of them could see that this region was changing things much more than they had imagined.

    * * * * *

    “Now that, son, is a very holy robot!” said the purple man with the black stripes. “See how much conviction is in his eyes? They are about to catch fire!” The slender purple son with the black pinstripes gazed diligently at the robot, taking in as much detail as possible.

    “The sacred fury is seriously strong with him,” agreed the son. “What’s his model? I don’t recognise it.”

    “I guess it’s an F-U311 model with heavy customisation,” said the father. “Now you see why I love robotics.” The robot stared back at them, unblinking. He could feel his patience slipping inexorably away. Some unknown force was meddling with his mind. He didn’t want to lose his temper but it seemed inevitable unless he retrieved his missing components.

    “Sir,” he said, struggling to remain civil. “Is there any way that I can move to the front of the line? It’s very urgent.”

    “Oh come now, don’t let yourself down,” said the purple man. “All things come to those who wait and those who overcome the most negative emotions become the most blessed. Those are the words of the Lord and Lady. You may want to call for some energon to sustain you.”

    “I’ve tried your energon and it was foul!” spat the robot. “I must have my missing parts as soon as possible.” The purple man was mildly disgusted by the disrespect shown by the robot. He took his son and moved further down the queue. He didn’t want to stand too close to an angry non-believer. A minute later, something snapped in the robot’s mind.

    “That is IT! I’ve had enough!” he snarled. “My name is Hexvexer and I DEMAND MY PARTS BACK!” Most of the churchgoers heard that. He strode towards the front of the line but his way was blocked by some larger robots.

    “Brother, stop this sacrilege or you will be ejected,” said the largest earnestly. “You may never retrieve those parts if you transgress like this!” Hexvexer punched the nearest robot but did little damage. These machines were pretty tough.

    “It is our duty to keep each other in line, to maintain the dignity of patience as much as we can,” said the largest robot. “Shall we eject him, Keeper?”

    “Yes, he is becoming more impatient by the minute,” said the Keeper over the intercom. “Sadly, his place is no longer here.” Five robots seized Hexvexer and marched him out of the Church of Lost and Found, dumping him in the streets of Semipresent Town.

    “Aargh!” exclaimed Hexvexer as he scrambled to his feet, transformed to vehicle mode and drove at the five robots. “By Primus, you will help me!” He reached the robots, transformed again and drove his finger spines through weak points in their armour, injecting masses of code into their systems. Within moments, they became slaves of Hexvexer.

    “You damned inflexible zealots,” he cursed them. “Change yourselves! Become my new body augmentations.” These were not the most advanced robots in existence but Hexvexer’s code altered their shapes enough to allow him to join with them. A rudimentary gestalt was formed. Hexvexer used this gestalt to smash his way back into the Church and plough through the queue, which was thousands strong. Many people backed away from it but the bolder ones tried to stop it. They were pushed aside and the objects they threw at it bounced off.

    “Keeper, my components or your life!” was Hexvexer’s ultimatum. Trembling, the Keeper rifled through his collection and brought out two components in their traditional white wrappings with purple piping. Hexvexer snatched them with his smaller arms and tore open the wrappings, which he tossed irreverently onto the floor.

    “This is all you have?!” he queried menacingly. “Let me see that collection of yours.” He pushed the Keeper aside roughly and scanned the collection. There was plenty of absolute trash here but no more components. The people behind were appalled to see the Keeper treated so badly but they didn’t dare intervene in case he was hurt or killed.

    “Mighty robot, the collection is never complete but your parts may be found and delivered here later,” said the Keeper. “Do you know where you saw them last? That might be helpful in finding them.”

    “I crashed on this pitiful world,” said Hexvexer. “The parts were scattered over a wide area.”

    “In that case, you might want to try other Churches,” said the Keeper. “There are seventeen in this province alone. The faithful are always bringing in lost items.” Hexvexer turned to the nearest wall and head-butted it in frustration, leaving a crater in the concrete. Then, he stormed out of the church, reinserting his components as he went. Outside, he shed his gestalt form, transformed and drove to the next town. The enslaved robots were left lying inert in the street. Already, the two recovered components were helping Hexvexer to control his rage. It gave him hope that he might soon be whole again and in a position to escape this world. All around, though, armed forces were mobilising against him. It was now a race against time.

    * * * * *

    I have left behind my physical body. I am now a spiritual guardian of Evermaze. We are too numerous to count. We oversee this whole special region and try to improve its balance.

    I was known as Tyladyne. My body entered a region of bosonic instability. It lost its essential mass and is now falling apart, particle by particle, in the neutrino fields of that space. I tried to return to Primus but I could not. I know not why but I strongly suspect that this is my destiny. Now, I am with the guardian host, working tirelessly and gracefully for the development of Evermaze. I have not forgotten my old comrades. I will help them too, if I can.

    * * * * *

    Czerphlaem was found deep in a tree web in the cliff lands of Nuvea World. He was injured and shocked. Greynar read his mind: it was full of disturbing images, sounds and other sensations. There were furry, feathery, woolly and leathery creatures, most of which were unexpectedly intelligent. Some of them appeared to be harmless at first but proved to be much more dangerous, bringing in armies, nightmarish monsters, magical growth potions and baffling switches in logic. Even the children were taking mind-bending intoxicants and making seemingly omniscient pronouncements. Czerphlaem had been struck down again and again. He had then been obliged to run and climb for his life. He was not cut out for this. Fortunately, Nuvea World had an atmosphere conducive to powered flight. Greynar and Antefashion were able to fly Czerphlaem to the top of some cliffs, where they were safer from the things lurking and stalking below.

    “You know, Czerphlaem, I think that this region is beating us,” said Antefashion. “Look at me, for example. I lost several skin plates and contracted a new kind of rust infection on the previous world. Greynar was impaled by a metal rod there too. It tasted like steel but it had a crystalline structure that made it even sharper than any steel that we had seen before.”

    “Together, we managed to slip out of that area only to find ourselves here, which is shaping up to be just as bad,” added Greynar. “It was lucky that both of us could fly in this world. We tracked you down in only five hours. Maybe the three of us can break free from here soon.”

    “The creatures below, they call this whole region the Evermaze,” said Czerphlaem. “I hope that that doesn’t mean there’s no possible escape.” He examined the injuries on his chest dejectedly.

    “I would guess that this Evermaze is vast but, if we can find the ship, we should be able to bust out,” said Antefashion. “We just need to find the weak spots where we can warp between worlds.” They gazed out at the spectacular landscape of crazy cliff arrays, many over a kilometre high. In the distance, some flying creatures were approaching. They seemed to be rather large...

    * * * * *

    “We just had a close encounter of the lanko krell kind,” said Jystryn, still amazed and a little proud. “Some of the strangest creatures I ever saw popped out of wherever-dimension and started demanding information. They were really frantic. Here’s the video.” Bokina watched the images and could hardly believe it. She knew that Jystryn was definitely not a faker, so these images were real.

    “Fralar’s ghost, that’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen!” said Bokina. “How did you keep that giant metalloid from killing you?”

    “I guess we were just lucky,” said Jystryn. “You see, we were out trying to round up a stray bronzo. We were using our control vines at full extension. We were tracking it but the bronzo saw us and ran away. At that moment, the metalloid appeared and asked for help in finding some friends. Then, a smaller metalloid materialised. I was really scared, of course. I swung my vine at the larger one and, by some fluke, it took hold and I could control him. I told Cees Pandu to get the other one.”

    “And that’s when you were attacked by those creeps on flying platforms?” asked Bokina.

    “Right, they also came out of nowhere,” replied Jystryn. “But these ones arrived shooting! We dodged a few bullets, got behind some trees and used the metalloids to fight back.”

    “You should get an award for bravery, girl!” commented Bokina.

    “Yeah, probably!” agreed Jystryn. “Anyway, it turned out that the bullets went right through the metalloids and made a mess of the tree trunks. The metalloids were injured and couldn’t help us after a few hits. The flying creeps told us to back off.”

    “But you didn’t!” said Bokina. “You activated something in them. What was it?”

    “The metalloids told me about it,” said Jystryn. “They said that it was a sonic weapon. It was supposed to be super-powerful but, for some reason, it only had a small effect. The flying creeps dropped to the ground. They all had a minor seizure and their platforms lost power for a minute. That was long enough for the metalloids to conjure their way out of our world. Fralar knows where they went. The creeps forgot about us and went after the metalloids: good riddance to them.”

    “So you couldn’t help the metalloids to find their friends after all?” asked Bokina. “What do you think might have happened to them?”

    “I had a good mind link with the larger one,” said Jystryn. “From what I could tell, the metalloids are resourceful people. There’s a good chance that they’ll find their friends and escape.”

    “There’s one problem with that,” said Cees Pandu. “This is the Evermaze, dude!”

    “Evermaze don’t treat folk nice,” said her sister Cees Andez. “They gonna need a whole lotta luck!”

    “And this story is going live on the network,” said Bokina. “Get ready for fame, girls!”

    * * * * *

    A look of the most intense concentration and concern was fixed on the face of Nori Netlom. At the same time, Ommantie seemed to be losing his self aura. It was rapidly becoming apparent to their friend Mojer Tabress that something profound would soon happen. The three Transformers had been stranded on this planetoid for weeks. They had found enough metal, energy and other vital resources to keep them functioning thus far. They had received random scraps of information via telepathy and other dimensions: they knew that this region was known as the Evermaze and also that it was exceptionally challenging to inhabit. They had tried to escape but had discovered that the name ‘Evermaze’ was the greatest truth here. Despite their skill at teleportation and dimensional manipulation, this region defied them with what appeared to be unlimited force and obstruction. Steadily, they had lost hope of ever leaving this prison alive. It was no surprise what was happening to Ommantie.

    “Are you thinking of terminating yourself?” Mojer asked Ommantie bluntly. “We sense that you’re drifting away, spiritually.” Ommantie slowly flexed his body on his improvised stone couch but didn’t respond. Nori and Mojer monitored him closely for any signs of change. He was still healthy but seemed to be giving up the struggle to survive. His spark was steadily becoming dissociated from his body and slipping into the roiling maelstrom of the Evermaze.

    “He’s going,” said Nori. “I don’t think that we can stop him. I’ve been having terrible premonitions about this sort of thing since we were marooned here.”

    “Please Ommantie, don’t...” said Mojer just before he departed. His body was left functioning automatically.

    “Oh no, Primus preserve us!” whined Nori, looking away from Ommantie’s empty shell.

    “Maybe we should go after him,” said Mojer. “I know we won’t succeed but it’s the right thing to do. We’re dead anyway.”

    “I have no idea what to do, mech!” cried Nori. “This place is impossible!”

    “I wouldn’t say that,” said a familiar voice.

    “Ommantie, are you back already?” asked Mojer, already knowing that he wasn’t.

    “Well, here’s an intriguing form from the Outside,” said the entity in Ommantie’s body. “I come across these from time to time. This one is perhaps the most advanced that I’ve yet found.”

    “Whoever you are, can you please tell us how to return to the Outside?” asked Nori. “I’m sure that we could make it worth your while!”

    “Sorry but no one knows how reach the Outside,” said the entity. “You’ll just have to adapt to the Evermaze, like everyone else who blunders in here. Anyway, I’m going now. Farewell, my castaways!” He activated Ommantie’s teleport systems and faded away, along with the Transformer’s body.

    “Alright, fine,” said Nori to Primus, perceiving now the jaws of his doom. “If this is how it must be...” He teleported away in pursuit. Mojer grabbed some supplies and followed Nori. Both of them hurtled crazily through realms of unimaginable strangeness. There was no way that they could track anyone in this. Nori saw a figure in the distance that looked like a Transformer. He headed towards it but immediately felt that this was the wrong choice. Another Transformer figure appeared to his left, then another above right. He tried to determine who or what they were. More were appearing: three, five, eight, nineteen, thirty six, one hundred and eighty eight; the multiplication accelerated. Nori was becoming surrounded. Had he seen them before? Details were similar – no – identical. It was the same Transformer again and again.

    It was him, Nori Netlom. There was also an emotional and intellectual avalanche. Time was looping madly. Déjà vu overloaded his brain. The mass of Nori Netloms increased exponentially. Their bodies became crushed together and they all died. They became hyper dense and filled this odd dimensional pocket that they occupied.

    Mojer lost all trace of Nori but he read the currents around him and sensed that his friend was deceased. Mojer really was lost. What could he do now? He hunted around for what he thought was a short time but could have been an age. It was that sort of environment. Eventually, he found a component drifting around. Using various types of magnetism, he snagged more components. These were all from Ommantie. Soon enough, he found virtually all of Ommantie’s body. That was all he was likely to find.

    “Rest in peace, Ommantie and Nori,” thought Mojer, regarding the grisly remains of Ommantie. “This tortured hell has done for you both but I’m not finished yet. I’ve got to find a safer environment.” He left behind the maelstrom and headed for a realm that he estimated would be more amenable. He passed into the new area, towing Ommantie’s parts behind him.

    The annihilating explosion of Mojer Tabress was powerful enough to destroy a small moon. However, there were no moons in the area. He had chosen wrongly and entered a space that was incompatible with his kind of matter. He had failed to adapt. The Evermaze had claimed his life. The subatomic particles that used to be Mojer Tabress and Ommantie now moved rapidly in all directions across a deadly void.

    * * * * *

    “Mr. Robot, sir!” said the unannounced visitor, knocking on the hidden door. Shadow Panther, who had been performing some indoor exercises, froze where he stood and activated his cameras. One of the native people had found his hideaway. It was an older woman, fourth kind. She only had three sub-feet, so she was leaning on a wall bank to stop herself from falling over. Was this the prelude to an attack? Shadow Panther checked his aerial drones that were flying permanently overhead. He couldn’t detect any attack force. The door scanners showed that she had no weapons. This woman appeared to be harmless yet he still questioned how and why she was here. Where was her transport? As far as he could tell from her tracks, she had walked many kilometres to reach him, which was unusual for someone old and disabled. Subtly, he probed her mind. As far as he could tell, she had come from the nearest town. She was the representative who had been chosen to make contact with him. At last, after about three months, the townspeople had decided to acknowledge his presence and try to establish a dialogue. He couldn’t really refuse. He was stranded in their beautiful land and was ultimately at their mercy.

    “Not many people are able to find me,” said Shadow Panther via the intercom. “Please enter.” He opened the door remotely. Without warning, a small herd of diminutive, pastel coloured herbivorous quadrupeds rushed past the woman and invaded Shadow Panther’s small base fearlessly. They scampered around, knocking over some of his equipment as they played and explored. Shadow Panther was about to try to round them up but the woman squealed at them in such a way that they ran outside immediately. The door was closed behind them.

    “That was irritating but it could have been worse,” said Shadow Panther, picking up some toppled equipment. “I am Shadow Panther. I was brought here inadvertently by forces beyond my control. I am a Transformer from the roaming planet Cybertron and I am a child of the Great God Primus.”

    “Greetings, Shadow Panther,” said the woman. “I am Masyrth Mechun of yonder town, which is known as Canyhith. I am quite weary right now. Do you have a seat and something to drink?”

    “Well, I have some fluoroseptonitrogen,” said Shadow Panther, passing her a beaker. “I believe that your people drink that, do they not?”

    “Every day,” said Masyrth, taking the beaker and imbibing the contents gratefully.

    “As for a seat, perhaps you could use one of my small boxes and a sack of plant samples as a cushion,” said Shadow Panther, fetching both box and sack. “My own seats are too large for you. For how long have you known that I was here?”

    “For almost as long as you have been here,” said Masyrth as she sat down, putting the empty beaker on the floor. “You may be stealthy in some places but here you stand out.”

    “In a world of eternal daylight, large creatures like me are easily spotted,” agreed Shadow Panther. “Also, my scent is quite distinct from the local scents. Anyway, to business: what have you come to discuss?”

    “We want peaceful coexistence,” replied Masyrth. “We have lived here since time immemorial. Occasionally, people visit from other worlds. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to leave our world. Most outsiders fail to escape and are obliged to stay until they die. That could easily be your fate as well.”

    “I am coming to realise that,” said Shadow Panther. “My escape attempts have come to naught. A combination of factors has hindered me, especially gravity anomalies and dimensional instability. Also, there are some common chemicals here that poison me. I have to be very careful where I go and what I touch.”

    “I’m sorry to hear that,” said Masyrth. “If you compile a list of those chemicals, we can use our local knowledge to help you to avoid them.” She examined his body carefully as he continued to rearrange his equipment.

    “We notice that you have the appearance of a war machine,” she said. “Now, I see that you have many weapons about your person. We hope that you don’t have any intention to wage war on us.”

    “I would only do that in extreme circumstances,” responded Shadow Panther. “You seem to be peaceful and good-natured people, so I believe that I will not attack you.”

    “Good, because we do not like killing aliens,” said Masyrth. “Occasionally, we have to do it. Our weapons tear most aliens to shreds.”

    “I never suspected,” said Shadow Panther. “You certainly hid that well.” He wondered if this was true or just bluster. He still didn’t understand a great deal about these natives, so he would have to be cautious with them.

    “You have offered me information about chemicals,” he continued. “Is there anything that you might want from me in return?”

    “We were hoping that, with your mastery of machinery, you could help us with some manufacturing,” answered Masyrth. “We would like some motor vehicles and electronic gadgets. Toys for the children would also be welcome.”

    “You’ve come to the right mech!” said Shadow Panther with pride. “We Transformers excel in such matters. We are walking industrial revolutions! Here’s an example.” He quickly fabricated a toy within his own body and gave it to Masyrth.

    “What is it?” she asked, gazing at the small rectangular object.

    “Press the blue button to activate the games console,” replied Shadow Panther. “It contains over a million video games. It is solar powered, so it will last a very long time here. Press the green button for the alternative mode.” Masyrth pressed the green button and the console transformed into a metallic flying insect, which leapt from her hand and buzzed around the room above her head. She squealed at it until it realised that she wanted it to return. It landed back in her hands and returned to console mode.

    “Astonishing,” she murmured. “Everyone will love it!”

    “I can provide much more but I won’t overwhelm you with novelties straight away,” said Shadow Panther. “I will give you only what you need.”

    “This is shaping up to be a most profitable alliance,” said Masyrth. “Shadow Panther, if I may ask for one more thing?” Shadow Panther suddenly detected danger. His weapons activated.

    “I want YOU!” said Masyrth. The attack was spiritual, not physical. A powerful entity launched itself from Masyrth directly into Shadow Panther’s mind. Shadow Panther fired a paralyser ray at Masyrth, who collapsed to the floor, but it was too late.

    “This marvellous technology is highly desirable,” said the entity. “I had your friend Ommantie for a short time but he died, along with Nori Netlom and Mojer Tabress. I learnt from Ommantie, though. Now, I have you and hopefully soon I will have your ship and crew.” Shadow Panther was unable to resist the possessing entity, which forced him to transform and leave the underground hideaway. His coloration was altered to blend in with the vegetation. He crept away in virtual silence. One of the pastel quadrupeds blocked his path but he killed it with a bite to the neck. It tasted of artificial fruit and synthetic dyes. He spat it out in disgust. The entity was hijacking all his systems with great expertise. Perhaps he would return to his comrades but, in doing so, he might finish them all.

    * * * * *

    “Hexvexer, what a pleasure!” said Greynar, trying to suppress his anxiety. “I never thought that I’d find another Transformer ever again. This accursed place plumbs new depths, doesn’t it?!”

    “Frakkin’ right!” said Hexvexer. “Where are you?”

    “I’m trying not to betray my location,” said Greynar. “I’m in a stolen craft, floating around near a giant planet. The radiation is uncomfortably high but I’m hoping that it will help to shield me.”

    “I’m on a moon not far from you, sheltering in an ice cave,” said Hexvexer. “Maybe the radiation will keep the space armadas from finding me.”

    “Space armadas?” queried Greynar. “How many are chasing you?!”

    “Well, I thought there were only seven at first,” replied Hexvexer. “However, after further signal analysis I think that there are another three small fleets pursuing me. I really should have controlled my temper earlier.”

    “You’re lucky,” said Greynar. “There’s a magical goblin after me!”

    “What?!” exclaimed Hexvexer.

    “You don’t want to know,” said Greynar. “The damned thing’s awful. It killed Antefashion and Czerphlaem. Now, I have to teleport every four minutes to keep ahead of it.”

    “Perhaps I could help,” said Hexvexer. “I still have my inside-out ray.”

    “I wouldn’t attack it if I were you,” said Greynar. “It was invulnerable to all our weaponry. I’m hoping to lose it somewhere deep in the Evermaze.”

    “Should I at least come with you?” asked Hexvexer. “Two heads are better than one.”

    “You’re probably safer here,” said Greynar. “Anyway, I have to go. Here’s hoping we get out of this alive.” He winked out, leaping further into the unknown.

    “All right, my enemies,” said Hexvexer with determination. “Let’s see if I can reduce your numbers. My robots are waiting to drag some of you into that gas planet.” For Hexvexer, it was like the good old days!

    * * * * *

    Yoldren was becoming increasingly pessimistic about the chances of survival in the Evermaze. He and his ship Chordwainer had been diligently hunting down the missing crew. So far, they had found seventeen members. All were dead except for Hum-Free, who had been sent back to the Chab-flet collective to save his life. Chordwainer had not been able to return Hum-Free to his original Transformer state. Although they were learning plenty about the Evermaze, Chordwainer’s interior was beginning to resemble a charnel house. The cadavers exhibited a range of grisly mortal injuries, some of which had never been seen before, even during the Cybertronian civil wars. To make matters worse, both Yoldren and Chordwainer had been injured as well. On top of that, at least five types of alien creature were now infesting Chordwainer, who was unable to purge them because they were highly tenacious and elusive. Furthermore, Chordwainer had to ration his energon for the crew search, so alien purging would have to wait for a more opportune time.

    “What’s the word on the next jump?” asked Yoldren. “Are our defences adequate for that environment?”

    “We will have to boost shield strength to ninety percent,” replied Chordwainer. “They have a kind of ‘ghost beta particle’ that is very damaging to Transformers.”

    “Very well,” said Yoldren. “I’m ready; let’s go.” They jumped into the next reality pocket. The beta particles hit them like a sandblaster. They only just managed to keep the shields strong enough. Nevertheless, they could feel some of the particles penetrating the shields and gradually degrading their bodily tissues.

    “Can anyone receive me?” asked Yoldren using all available channels. “This is the Star ship Chordwainer. We seek five of our missing crewmates. They are all Transformer mechanoids.” They waited for a response. Minutes ticked by. They could hear telepathic conversations around them. Eventually, someone answered.

    “Chordwainer, we regret to inform you that your comrades have died,” said a local representative on a nearby world. “They were unable to survive the radiation in this region but they spoke with us briefly before they succumbed. Their names were Deinchen Four, Seekhawk, Reshper, Chimedial and Parumeleng. Before we could reach them, their bodies fell into the star Krakulus. We are sorry for your loss but we recommend that you leave this reality immediately for your own safety.”

    “Twenty two,” said Yoldren as Chordwainer warped them out of danger. “That leaves only ninety five outstanding. I say we try to find some teleporters next. Venturaij is nearest, according to my mental map.”

    “True but I have a bad feeling about that zone,” warned Chordwainer. “We are not the only searchers in the vicinity.”

    * * * * *

    “What are the ships singing about now?” asked Chiefworker 1786.

    “It is an ancient lament, for a young musician who lost his mind long ago,” said the machine whisperer. “It is old-fashioned but ethereal and heart-breaking; that is if you have a heart to break.”

    “I certainly do,” said Chiefworker 1786. “Luckily, I have several extras budding in my chest, ready to take over when the current one breaks.”

    “So, all is well with you,” said the machine whisperer. “The seventh ship from the left reports some micro-meteorites hitting its exposed flank. Perhaps there is a shield failure.”

    “I will ask crew nineteen to deal with it,” said Chiefworker 1786. “Do you know why the ships are singing more these days? Also, why are they singing different tunes, not the usual long-wave free-form abstractions?”

    “I have not been on-site long enough to determine all the reasons,” said the machine whisperer. “The ships here move and think in ways that are rather mysterious to me but I am still learning. There is talk of a very important arrival here soon. First, though, they will sing many more songs: one about youngsters receiving a bad education, another about the unlit side of a lunar body, a medley of ditties about animals and so forth.”

    “I wasn’t told of any important arrivals,” said Chiefworker 1786. “I should inform the Supervisor. Ships don’t lie.”

    “No, they don’t,” agreed the machine whisperer as Chiefworker 1786 flew away in her shuttle, doing her rounds of the shipyard.

    “Unless they have a very good reason,” he thought. He continued to direct construction work on thirty five new star ships and repair work on forty eight older star ships. Some of these living ships had psychological problems and needed someone like him to provide advice, practical assistance, compassion and reassurance. He was new here but it was obvious that he had great talent in this work.

    Several hours later, the shipyard had moved to the night side of the home planet, so light levels had reduced. The stars and moons still shone brightly, though. Some night shift work was in progress, where light levels allowed. An unscheduled ship was approaching, heading straight for the machine whisperer’s module. The other ships had noticed and were becoming very interested.

    “It is the Saviour,” claimed one ship excitedly. “He has come to lead us into a space without hazard!”

    “Fellow ships, I am Chordwainer,” said the newcomer. “I was not aware that I was your Saviour. I have journeyed here from a place exceedingly far away. I seek my crew, who are lost in this universe. I sense that one of them is in this very yard.”

    “Who is that?” chorused the ships of the yard. “There are thousands here every day.”

    “He is there, in that module before me,” said Chordwainer. “Speak to me, Venturaij.”

    “I am not one of your crew,” said the machine whisperer. “Not any more. I am the machine whisperer now, not Venturaij. I am among my true kindred in this yard, serving the people of the world below.”

    “Oh frak, not another one gone native!” said Yoldren angrily as he listened in. “Venturaij, return to us! Remember the mission!”

    “Please, leave our machine whisperer alone!” said another ship. “He is very dear to us; a brother small but wise.”

    “So say you all?” asked Chordwainer, having come to a dead stop a few hundred metres from the yard.

    “Aye!” said the entire yard’s ships.

    “He has already been of immense service to us in his short time here,” said a third ship. “He will continue to be a great asset for many years to come.”

    “Here is a counter-proposal, Chordwainer and Yoldren,” said the machine whisperer. “You join us. You would have better lives. Think of it: there would be much less stress and peril and you could dwell in peace for a very long time in a relatively benign region of space.” It certainly was a tempting offer.

    “Maybe you’re right,” conceded Yoldren. “We’re certainly thinking that we’ve reached a dead end. The chances are that we won’t make it out of here alive. We might as well stay.”

    “Yet there is one last thing that we ought to do,” added Chordwainer. “We are in the process of tracking down my original crew. So far, we have found twenty three, including you. If we can find the other ninety four, we feel that we can rest easy and give up our mission.”

    “That is, unless our people on the Outside manage to rescue us!” said Yoldren. “You never know: it might happen one day!”

    “There are no others here, in my new home,” said the machine whisperer. “You will have to search elsewhere. Good hunting.”

    “Wait, do not go yet,” said one of the yard ships. “It is plain that you are damaged in many places, Chordwainer. Stay here for repairs. We would not want you to fall apart and die on your mission.”

    “That would be most prudent,” reflected Chordwainer. He negotiated with the Supervisor and was given permission to dock on one of the lower levels. The repair crews had never seen a ship quite like him. Luckily, the machine whisperer was the ideal specialist to guide them. Under his expert eye, they did the best repairs that they could with the tools and materials available. Their resourcefulness was most impressive. Chordwainer was soon feeling much better. Yoldren also took the time to have some repairs. The machine whisperer did most of them himself, having had some surgical experience back on Cybertron.

    As the surgery took place, followed by the healing, Yoldren explored the dimensions around him. The machine whisperer helped when he could. Many of them were completely off-limits, for reasons such as chaotic time, fractured electromagnetism or antimatter domination. A few of them contained ultra-malevolent life forms. There were far too many pocket universes for his liking; they made hyperspatial navigation extremely difficult. What were they going to do? The crew members were becoming more and more scattered as the dimensions shifted endlessly. Except, he noticed, one of them was moving towards him. That one was going against the flow. Who was it?

    “Chordwainer, we have incoming,” said Yoldren. “It’s Shadow Panther. He’s taking the most direct route to us.”

    “Strange, he’s not that good at navigating hyperspace,” commented Chordwainer.

    “The yard ships are warning that there is something else with him,” said the machine whisperer. “You are focusing on your friend but there is a super-stealther on his tail, so to speak.”

    “Nuts, bolts and washers,” muttered Yoldren. “Do our troubles never end? What is this thing?”

    “I can’t tell yet,” said the machine whisperer. “My ships will be ready for it.” Half an hour later, Shadow Panther materialised at the centre of Chordwainer, who immediately incapacitated him with his personal shutdown codes.

    “Chordwainer, at last we meet,” said the super-stealther, who was unaffected by the codes. “Submit to me or this will be vastly painful!”

    “Crazy frakking alien shade, you don’t know with whom you’re dealing!” said the Transformer star ship, grappling with this entity who was trying to conquer his mind.

    “Neither do you, dear,” said the entity. There was a brutal struggle for control inside Chordwainer’s great brain. Yoldren joined the fight, followed by the machine whisperer and all the yard ships. The Transformers and their allies were confident of victory at first, since they had millions of years of experience between them. Unfortunately, they soon had cause to reconsider their opinion.

    “Who are you, alien thing?” asked Yoldren as it forced him to cede mental territory.

    “That knowledge would do you no good,” replied the entity, increasing the pressure on all his foes. “Whatever happens, you’re going to lose in eleven minutes forty six seconds. Forty five, forty four, forty three... Tick tock, Yoldren, tick tock.” The alien entity was beating them effortlessly, seizing more and more of Chordwainer’s cerebral circuitry. It was clearly a much higher class of being than them.

    “Dark god!” snarled Chordwainer with increasing panic. “Frak it all!” They struggled on for another two minutes, to no avail. Just then, Yoldren noticed a patch of vibrations unlike any that he had seen before. It felt benevolent. In desperation, he reached for it. The vibrations spread into him and then into the area around him.

    “Who showed you that?!” demanded the entity. “I’ll deal with them next!” With intense concentration, Yoldren drew out more of the vibrations and channelled them into the entity, which appeared to weaken. Yoldren and his friends began to gain the upper hand. The entity sensed that the advantage had been lost. It disappeared abruptly, leaving its adversaries wondering what would happen next.

    “That was extremely nasty,” said one of the ships. “A ‘monster from the deep’, as they said in ancient times. Sometimes, we sing about such things. We never thought that we would find one here. It was attracted to you, outsiders. You are not yet adapted to the Evermaze, so you are weak here. You are prey for things such as that.”

    “It was indeed fortunate that you came across that vibration,” said another ship. “We might all have fallen under the influence of the monster without it.”

    “Yes, how did you do that?” asked the machine whisperer. “I have never seen anyone find that vibration before, let alone use it.”

    “I’m sorry but I don’t rightly know,” replied Yoldren. “All I can say is that, at the same time, I thought of Tyladyne. He might have been responsible for this. We haven’t located him yet.”

    “Venturaij, this experience has changed your situation here,” Chordwainer pointed out. “I know that you would love to stay here and be a valued citizen of this civilisation but, with your super-advanced technology, you are now a target for those dimension-hopping monsters. You have become a liability for these people and ships, just like Yoldren, Shadow Panther and I.” The machine whisperer considered this. It was indeed shocking. His hopes of a new life had been dashed by enemy forces that would come unbidden into his home and his very mind.

    “Very well,” he said. “Clearly, I must go to preserve the lives of all my friends here. I will return to your crew, to my life as Venturaij. I should not come here again, much though it pains me.” The Transformers decided to leave quickly. Venturaij made his farewells. The ships said that, although Chordwainer had not led them into space without hazard he had, in a way, been their Saviour today.

    “Was that really a dark god?” asked Yoldren as they teleported away.

    “No, it didn’t feel the same,” said Shadow Panther, who was recovering after being possessed by the entity for a few days, at least. “We’ve all seen our share of those. This one, though, had a very different structure. It was much less obtrusive and obnoxious. Its main strength came from the way it exploited occult areas of the Evermaze. Primus knows how deep its power went.”

    “I hope that we don’t have to find out!” said Venturaij as they reached the next area on Yoldren’s itinerary.

    * * * * *

    “He should be right here,” said Stranct. “His life signs are registering here. I am sensing some minimal thoughts. Apparently, he’s in stasis.”

    “There’s nothing here but rock and a few weeds,” said Gindhley. “Is he out of phase?”

    “There’s no evidence of that,” observed Debinstabe. “The life signs are strongest on the rock itself.”

    “No, they’re strongest inside the rock,” said Stranct, scanning the area very thoroughly. “This looks like another ‘impossible feature of the region’.”

    “Before he stopped communicating, I received from him a sensation of falling,” said Gindhley. “He failed to send any pictures or scan data, though.”

    “We could easily cut him out of there,” suggested Debinstabe. “We just need to get a precise fix on his location.”

    “Easier said than done,” said Stranct with regret. “I can’t get that precise fix. His life signs extend quite widely through the rock, for at least a hundred metres in each direction.”

    “How can that be?” wondered Gindhley. “He wasn’t that big a mech. He might have had his innards unravelled, I suppose. I shudder to think of it!”

    “Presumably, there’s not much hope for him now,” said Debinstabe. “You have to admit, this was the ultimate in freaky accidents. I mean, I hope it was an accident. If someone or something did this deliberately...”

    “Weirder and weirder, I can’t find any mechanoid tissue at all down there,” said Stranct. “Our friend Linklaser has officially become one with the rock. If it could happen to him so quickly and easily, it could happen to us. No one touch that rock.” They all took a couple of steps back. Debinstabe nearly fell over a small outcrop behind him.

    “Darned boulders everywhere...” he said before falling silent. Stranct and Ghindley watched him as he stopped moving. The air around his feet began to shimmer, as if a teleportation were about to happen. His body started changing consistency: it was melting without being heated. Molecular cohesion was breaking down. He was steadily soaking into the rock via the point of contact at his heels.

    “No!” cried Ghindley, about to step forward and intervene.

    “Don’t touch him!” yelled Stranct, holding Ghindley back. “It’ll take you too.” They watched their comrade being absorbed into the solid rock, as if by some gruesome devilry.

    “This must be the way things are around here,” said Stranct. “Rocks absorb metal.” He threw a small strip of steel from his own body onto a piece of the killer rock. Sure enough, that steel was gone in two seconds, locked inside the rock with next to no chance of recovery.

    “We still don’t know how Linklaser is still alive,” said Ghindley.

    “It is too dangerous to find out,” said Stranct. “We must fly out of here immediately. I recommend that we go into orbit.”

    “I don’t have the fuel for that!” said Ghindley.

    “In that case, our only hope is the crashed shuttle,” said Stranct, transforming and flying away. Ghindley followed him. They cruised across country for over an hour, keeping strictly to the speed with the greatest fuel economy. It was a beautiful world with no dangerous creatures. Now, they had a strong possible reason for the lack of creatures. Ghindley looked around him for any other rocks that might threaten them. Some rocky outcrops had a slightly sinister appearance and other patches had anomalous magnetic charges but he couldn’t tell where the risks actually lay. Suddenly, he sensed a painful shock from Stranct. He looked over to his comrade but he wasn’t there in the sky ahead. He saw a burning light below. Stranct was just visible spiralling into the ground, his body shattering on impact. A few hundred metres away a flaming meteor slammed down, sending tonnes of earth and rock showering in all directions.

    Stranct was gone; Ghindley could tell immediately. He couldn’t even gather the body in case the ground swallowed him. All he could do was find the shuttle, avoiding rocks above and below. Just maybe he could survive if he stayed in the shuttle, repaired it and left this pitfall planet. More meteors fell across the area but none threatened him. Still thinking about his fallen comrades, he approached the shuttle. It wasn’t in great shape. He scanned the rock around it. The energy signature was very similar to that of the rock that absorbed Linklaser and Debinstabe. Why hadn’t it absorbed them earlier, when they were climbing out of the shuttle after arrival? This world was so twisted. Ghindley transformed and landed on the shuttle roof and then entered the shuttle through a jagged rip that had been made during the original crash. He sat down in an undamaged seat. Finally, this was a little bit of rest and safety. As far as he could tell, the planet was having a delayed reaction to the presence of Transformer immigrants. He guessed that this was how the four of them had survived until today, which was shaping up to be unluckiest day he had ever seen. He had never imagined that there would be rocky death from above and below so quickly.

    After a brief break, Ghindley interfaced with the shuttle’s systems, attempting to diagnose problems and find fixes. A few moments later, he noticed that he was losing motor functions. The whole shuttle appeared to be sinking. What was happening now? Ghindley couldn’t move any more. The shuttle was abruptly melting. Ghindley realised that, when he interfaced with the shuttle, it essentially became a part of him. The rock was treating it as if it were a living Transformer. In a final bid to escape, he tried his hardest to disengage from shuttle systems. Unfortunately, it was too late. Ghindley had been undone by his own advanced technology with its comprehensive interconnectivity. Within minutes, he was irretrievably dissolved in the unclassified, deceptive collection of minerals.

    Maybe he would never escape. Funnily enough, it didn’t feel too bad. He could get used to this.

    * * * * *

    Rcklclck and his simubrood sat around morosely as their large ally Jenuton fought for their freedom. The stars danced above them, as if to mock them. Jenuton had discovered that the stars were not actually dancing but rather their appearance was being drastically altered by patches of unconventional space in front of them. Still, it was incredibly disconcerting. Jenuton had expanded his brain massively to enable him to navigate a route through the Evermaze, as some local life forms called the region. Rcklclck hoped that he succeeded because the simubrood was running out of nutrients and could not substitute local foodstuffs due to chemical incompatibilities. Even the air on this world was mildly toxic and required considerable filtration to be breathable for them.

    Before Jenuton had been somehow flung onto this screwy world, he had had a comfortable and purposeful life serving Primus on the grand multiversal cleansing mission. Jenuton himself had been a high achiever in the Transformer dimensional engineering corps. Until very recently, he had basked in the adulation of his fellow Cybertronians. His reputation could hardly have been greater. It really had been a wonderful time but now the situation had abruptly careered into the abyss. He would have to use all his skill to solve this problem.

    Jenuton scanned the detectable faces of the Evermaze, which reared up all around him. The main problem was that the Evermaze was essentially an infinite fractal series of wormholes. The Transformers had previously thought that this was impossible in their part of the multiverse. Unfortunately, here it was in all its terrible glory. Overwhelmed, Jenuton felt dizzy and ill. He struggled to bring his senses and reflexes under control. He should not forget that he had a responsibility. Despite the assault on his enhanced, enlarged mind, he had to try to help the simubrood.

    It had been extremely unlikely to find some other refugees from the Outside. After examining the Evermaze for days, it had dawned on Jenuton that the odds of encountering the simubrood were so incredibly long that this was almost certainly not coincidental. This implied that it was his mission to help the curious aliens, whose own ship was too damaged for any further use. They were so fragile. If they didn’t soon suffocate, they would starve a little later. Some of them had already died in the crash. The survivors were in pain with their injuries. They were increasingly anxious about their friends and relatives at home. This was the ultimate test of Jenuton’s vaunted prowess. He didn’t think that that was anywhere near good enough for the task.

    “We go now,” he announced to the simubrood. Communication with them was not easy, even with telepathy. Their brains were structured in a peculiar way and this was not the time to fix that. He focused on the main priority, which was threading a path to the Outside. He passed through enormous numbers of realities. Soon, he was engaging his entire amplified brain in the effort: every little chip in the hulking array of circuitry was humming with activity. Already, a few chips were beginning to overheat and burn out. If he was like a small ship on an ocean, the Evermaze was a giant tsunami that a small ship could not crest, no matter how hard the engine worked. Perhaps, though, the small ship could pass through the great wave and, with luck, avoid being sunk. How could he do that? What power did he have left? There was only his spark. He would have to break free from his physical body and guide the simubrood along spiritual paths. It truly was the ultimate test.

    Afterwards, Rcklclck and friends found themselves in an atmosphere that they could breathe. There were structures in the distance. It was slightly cold but bearable. This was one of their colony worlds that had been bio-formed to support their kind. Great friend Jenuton had saved them, powers be praised. Yet, where was Jenuton? No one knew. In due course, the simubrood returned home and told their story to their government. Their whole society was very interested in the tale of the giant metal rescuer, who was basically a miracle worker. For years, many people searched many worlds and star systems but they never found him again.

    “Well done, Jenuton,” said Tyladyne, who had been observing from afar.

    “My old life is over, isn’t it?” asked Jenuton. “I can’t re-establish a connection to my body.”

    “You’re one of us now,” said Tyladyne. “Everything will be absolutely fine.” Jenuton became the second Transformer to be a spiritual guardian of the Evermaze.

    * * * * *

    Quainel was hit by a two-tonne glob of jellified slime. He was knocked onto his back, momentarily stunned. The slime almost covered his whole body, with the remainder splashed on the ground around him. The people over there had deployed a very large hidden catapult! If he had been a small organic creature, the strike could have killed him. Judging from the slime’s smell, feel and taste, it was loaded with poison and disease. That didn’t affect him except through disgust. These people were trying to kill him in a most distasteful manner! He used his air vents to blow away some of the goo. Then, he got to his feet, moved out of range of the catapult(s) and whirled around repeatedly at high speed. Almost all of the remaining slime was thrown off him. Hopefully, it would not harm the local environment, though it was too late to worry about that now. There were some smears of slime left on him. Quainel activated his nanobots to deal with those while he returned to his alien contact attempt.

    “We don’t want you here,” said a very angry woman in the structure up ahead. “We are sick and tired of you creatures, you things, you cosmic hobos! Too many of you traipse through here with your fancy geegaws and what-not!”

    “Tramps, weirdoes, why do you even bother coming here?!” said another woman.

    “Pathetic scrounging refugees, we never liked you in the first place!” said a man, seemingly at the end of his tether.

    “Just lie down and die in the dirt, you big ugly freak!” said a second man. “Stop disturbing our peace!”

    “Dah-veh wept, look at you!” said a third woman. “You’re an offence against nature!”

    Abruptly, the people stopped their insults and threats. Quainel was broadcasting images of his destructive power into their minds. Immediately, they saw that this was no ordinary being but rather a hard, cruel, engine of annihilation, if he chose to be so.

    “I was trying to be civil,” said Quainel, keeping his distance. “I understand that you are angry and xenophobic but heed my warning. Do not trifle with me.”

    “Apologies, master,” said a third man, with a hint of sarcasm. “What are your desires? Perhaps we can help.”

    “I wish to leave here as soon as possible,” said Quainel. “Is there any way that I can leave this world and this entire region of space? I would like to return to my star ship, somewhere out there.”

    “Well, we don’t know about leaving the region but there is one thing that might be of use,” said the third man. “You see that hill to your left? Climb over it and keep travelling for about twenty five kilometres. There is a small area where people like you find it easy to warp away, or whatever you want to call it. By all accounts, you should be able to reach another world. Sorry but we can’t give you any more details.” Under the threat of death, this man was telling the truth, though he clearly wanted to lie and deceive Quainel. Reading his memories, it was apparent that he was an inveterate killer of alien visitors. In some cases, he had eaten his victims. The other people here had behaved similarly. Despite his power, Quainel did not want to linger here. He left them to whatever obscene things they were doing to each other in their truly bizarre ‘house’ with its many oddly shaped ‘chimneys’ poking out at various angles. He transformed to hover-car mode and whirred swiftly to the top of the hill. The terrain ahead was strange yet familiar. About half the landscape consisted of giant holes with the rest being what appeared to be solid ground (though it was probably unstable in places). In a way, this area reminded Quainel of his home planet Cybertron, with its many chasms.

    He scanned out to twenty five kilometres. As he suspected, that point was the precise centre of a giant hole. Yes, that man had told the truth. For most people, the point indicated would indeed be a gateway to another world. However, this was not quite the world that Quainel wanted to reach. What was to be done? Quainel hovered there for a few minutes, scanning the area. He was intent on finding any possible feature to help him end his exile. He didn’t notice the tentacles until they were almost upon him. Five of them seized him with great strength. Each one had many claws that latched onto him wherever there was purchase. Roughly, they started to drag him underground.

    “First slime, now tentacles; this is going to be a long day,” thought Quainel, drawing his trusty lasers and preparing to slaughter this large ambush predator. He hoped that there weren’t too many of these things to fight around here.

    * * * * *

    “Great Spirit, protect us from all goblins,” prayed the bridge crew together as they prepared to engage their inter-D drive. This was not an idle prayer. Goblins destroyed three ships per day, on average. That figure applied only to this organisation’s fleet. Primus knew how many other ships were being lost out there. Tarcenor was stowed in a crate in the hold. He had altered himself so that he resembled a local aircraft. He had partly disassembled himself and posed as an export to the Eflibux Colony. He had managed to shield himself from all detection, as far as he knew. He wondered if the teleporters on these ships could detect his thoughts. He observed them closely via the ship’s internal sensors, his own telepathy and a few well-placed spy bots that he had released earlier. Luckily, these people didn’t seem to recognise him as a life form, let alone a person.

    He was learning a great deal about these people and how they navigated the Evermaze. The teleport pathways that he had known for so many millions of years were rather unimportant here. Instead, there was a vast web of alternate pathways. He found them very difficult to find and navigate. His unwitting carriers had radically different brain cells and machines that helped them to warp from star to star. One of his spy bots was currently scanning a crew member’s brain in secret. Tarcenor planned to duplicate the woman’s cerebral structure and incorporate it into his own.

    Teleportation began. Tarcenor gathered as much information as possible. This was not simply a mechanical exercise but also a spiritual quest. He was searching everywhere for signs of his friends and the Outside. Even for someone as experienced as him, this was a mind-expanding journey. He was seeing so many new places that he could not remember it all. This was such a monumental struggle: how did the locals cope? He noticed that they had become accustomed to the teleport environment and ignored large parts of it, confident that those parts were not significant. For the sake of his sanity, Tarcenor saw immediately that he should follow their example. Soon enough, the journey was over and Tarcenor was being unloaded at Eflibux, along with the rest of the cargo. After a short period of rest, he disappeared and went on a quest for his friends. A few locals were highly disappointed that, when they opened their crate, their aircraft was gone.

    Tarcenor headed straight for the first likely location of a fellow Transformer. He could detect a spark that was vaguely familiar. This rescue mission was quite frightening. Normally, he travelled with a ship and crew for backup. Here, he was alone and highly unlikely to be saved from any danger that he encountered. Instead of diving straight into realities, he would have to reconnoitre. He sent his spark into the universe where the other Transformer was presumed to be. He looked around and saw that the sky was a dull yellow. There were no stars. The quantum foam was boiling in some parts but unnaturally still in others. Where was the Transformer? Electricity was much stronger here but there were new forces holding it in check. Ribbons of fermions drifted everywhere. Tarcenor did not feel comfortable at all. Transformer life signs were faint but seemed to be all around. Unfortunately, the Transformer could not be contacted. His consciousness had faded and spread right across this cosmos. In a sense, Tarcenor was floating inside his comrade’s spark. Which one was he? It was impossible to be sure but Tarcenor guessed that it was Uftamar. Sadly, it appeared that Uftamar was beyond rescue. He had merged with space, time and the fundamental forces in this yellow place. Tarcenor withdrew and moved on. He would persevere until he found everyone. At his current speed, it would not take long.

    * * * * *

    Chordwainer’s search was more advanced but gloomier. The sentient star ship had tracked down thirty nine members of the crew but only five were alive. Thirty three were dead or irretrievably changed. Tyladyne was possibly still alive. The task was becoming harder as the scattered crew moved apart. Some of them were travelling deliberately while others were being carried by other forces. At least Chordwainer was still making some progress. He was closing in on two more survivors. Deftly, he skipped across the enormous distances, homing in on the spark signatures.

    “Abscaut, Plirmang, we know you’re there,” said the team telepathically. “We’re coming in. Just hang on.” Neither of them responded.

    “They may be in trouble,” said Chordwainer.

    “Wait, don’t rush in before we scan the area,” warned Yoldren. “There may be hidden dangers.” Chordwainer stopped about a hundred trillion kilometres from the two castaways.

    “Do you see it?” asked Forningbrass. “They are standing on a large artificial structure.”

    “Quite impressive, isn’t it?” said Angleflex. “I measure it as about fifty kilometres long and almost perfectly flat, except where there are impact craters.”

    “I guess that it’s abandoned,” said Yoldren. “The implication is that the native civilisation has declined, died or moved away.” The ship and five crew members continued to wait for a short time until there was a flurry of activity on the derelict space platform. Abscaut and Plirmang were, apparently, fighting some unseen enemy. Abscaut was blocking its escape while Plirmang was terminating it with extreme prejudice.

    “What happened?” asked Shadow Panther when the action had stopped.

    “We were under sustained attack from the Skirfin,” said Abscaut. “It was a most awkward adversary. It keeps duplicating and reforming itself. When it attacks, it is slippery but unforgiving.”

    “Is it dead?” asked Venturaij. “Is it safe for us to approach?”

    “I believe that it is safe for a while,” replied Plirmang, his weapons batteries mostly depleted. “It is best that we leave quickly, though. The Skirfin is extremely resilient. We have killed some duplicates but hundreds more could be out there. If we move away far enough, we should be able to evade them.”

    “You picked an intriguing location for a showdown,” said Yoldren as Chordwainer materialised close to the pair. “What happened to the builders of this platform?”

    “Who knows?” answered Abscaut. “They might have been killed by the Skirfin. Alternatively, they might have become the Skirfin. Anyway, we can’t hang around to investigate. By the way, it’s fantastic to see you all again!”

    “How many have survived?” asked Plirmang. “We’ve been totally isolated for months.”

    “It’s not good news, I’m afraid,” said Yoldren. “Out of a hundred and seventeen, so far we have seven survivors and thirty four dead, irretrievable or missing.”

    “Frak, that’s appalling,” said Abscaut, shaking his head. “We haven’t taken casualties like this for millions of years. Something’s gone catastrophically wrong. Why isn’t Primus bailing us out?”

    “I wish I knew,” said Chordwainer. “Perhaps this is part of his great plan, like those ancient civil wars that we had.” They pressed on. Time was marching forward and lives were slipping away.

    * * * * *

    “They’re not getting my net curtains,” warned Volauncer. “That’s non-negotiable. I love my net curtains. They hold the world together.”

    “Quiet!” snapped Ainsiott. “We’re under attack again. We need to concentrate.”

    “Net curtains are all that stand between us and a universe of horrific visions!” raved Volauncer. “You would not believe the things from which they shielded me on that day!” Tarcenor used his telepathy to ease Volauncer into unconsciousness. He had been very badly traumatised in a universe full of malevolent mockery and character assassination. Tarcenor sympathised but now they faced a new threat.

    “Goblin incoming,” reported Mimbacleid. “I have no clue how to defeat it.”

    “I have one,” said Tarcenor. “We are now arriving at the barbed leviathan.” They found themselves flying across a massive creature that was absolutely covered in spikes, large and small. Its body stretched further than the unaided eye could see.

    “That’s an impressive creature but it’s dead,” said Ainsiott. “Your plan is a load of...”

    “Space worms!” said Mimbacleid, alarmed. “They’re pouring out of a hole in the leviathan!”

    “Right, now I try out that new portal,” said Tarcenor, steering the battered little stolen ship down an unfamiliar hyperspatial corridor. They sped on, waiting for further pursuit. None came.

    “I think we’re safe for the moment,” said Tarcenor, glad that his studies of the Evermaze had paid off. “We’re not going back there to check but I think we successfully stalled the goblin. I’m hoping that the ‘space worms’ are powerful enough to combat the goblin long enough for us to give it the slip.”

    “The worms are known as the Skirfin,” said Mimbacleid. “I read their mind just before we left them. They have a single hive mind.” He took the net curtains from Volauncer’s hand, folded them gingerly and put them into a storage compartment in Volauncer’s chest. That poor mad mech would need plenty of therapy later.

    “Who’s next on the rescue list?” asked Ainsiott.

    “The highly useful Onderplex, I think,” replied Tarcenor. “Once we bring him up to speed on the new teleport environment, he should be able to accelerate our work even further.”

    “I thought that Hum-Free was more senior,” said Mimbacleid. “Why not find him first?”

    “I would but it doesn’t feel right,” said Tarcenor. “There are many kinds of interference and distortion around Hum-Free at present. The Evermaze has done something profound to him.” The others trusted his judgment. They raced in the direction of Onderplex, anxious that they were not too late to save him. After several hours, they reached the correct universe and entered it. There were localised fields of dangerous radiation and huge strands of hyper dense dark matter but these could be avoided. This was a very large universe. Tarcenor found the long traverse to be quite draining. He did not have the skill, power, dedication or endurance of a star ship with a full crew. It was tricky to pinpoint Onderplex’s precise location: was he in this galactic cluster or that one? Was he in this elliptical galaxy or that spherical one? Eventually, they narrowed it down to one particular planet. They popped back into regular space in what they hoped was a standard orbit but, in his haste, Tarcenor had miscalculated.

    “Gravity’s too strong, we’re falling; we’re going to hit that atmosphere and burn!” exclaimed Ainsiott.

    “Bring in Onderplex and we can skedaddle!” said Tarcenor with urgency. Mimbacleid snatched Onderplex and brought him instantly into the close quarters of their little ship. Tarcenor then warped them away from the planet to a safer distance.

    “Ah, at last you made it,” said Onderplex. “I had foreseen your arrival.”

    “That planet nearly tripped us up at the final hurdle!” said Mimbacleid.

    “Yes, it was considerably denser than average for its size,” agreed Onderplex. “It was a drag to live there. It was hard to move around and the thick atmosphere made solar power impractical. I tapped into chemical energy in the soil to survive. Now, though, I have to re-adapt to micro-gravity in this ship. Where did you find this ‘miracle in the field of stapling’ anyway?”

    “It was all I could find in a hurry,” said Tarcenor. “I’m not proud of it but it is getting the job done so far. All the other ships were being heavily guarded and used.”

    “We’ll find a better one later, perhaps,” said Ainsiott. “Why have your eyes changed colour?”

    “My original eyes were badly broken in an accident,” explained Onderplex. “I didn’t have the correct spares. I had to make do with a purple one and a green one.” Tarcenor thought that this was a reasonable explanation but he couldn’t help but worry about the eyes issue. In the past, a change in eye colour among Transformers was often an indication of switched allegiance. In the highly chaotic Evermaze, such concerns were even more important. He and Mimbacleid donated spare parts to bring Onderplex’s eyes back to normal.

    * * * * *

    “Who’s the stiff?” asked Hexvexer, glancing at the body that Quainel had brought with him.

    “According to my database, this is Enqlok,” said Quainel. “I found him floating in a space that was inhospitable to our form of life. I think that he is still alive. His outer body has been badly eroded and burnt. I was lucky to get out of there alive with him.”

    “I hope that he was unconscious,” said Hexvexer. “He’s been through a terrible ordeal. It’s a shame that I don’t have much time to help him. My preparations for the next battle are the top priority.”

    “So I see,” said Quainel, linking to Hexvexer’s command system. “Your robot forces are most formidable.”

    “They have to be,” said Hexvexer. “More and more of those war fleets keep coming to get me.”

    “Wouldn’t it be easier to leave them behind?” suggested Quainel. “Their campaign of what could be holy war may ultimately finish you.”

    “I did try before, many times,” said Hexvexer. “I must admit that I’m not the best teleporter around. Now that you’re here, we might do better together.”

    “You’re sure that you want to leave now?” queried Quainel. “I had the impression that you were enjoying your little war against the Evermazers.”

    “Well, that’s true, I am enjoying it,” admitted Hexvexer. “The trouble is that there’s a fine line between self-defence and genocide. I think that I’m about a million kilometres over that line. I can’t really justify my actions to the others anymore.”

    “What are you going to do with your robots, then?” asked Quainel.

    “I think that there are too many to take with us,” replied Hexvexer. “Also, I don’t want them to fall into enemy hands. I will have to set them for self-destruct.”

    “Very well, do that and we can be on our way,” said Quainel. “I have discovered some excellent routes to far distant places. They are most unconventional and difficult to follow.”

    “I’ll carry Enqlok,” said Hexvexer, stooping to pick up his comrade’s badly damaged body. “Lead on, kind sir!” They disappeared and sped away. In the opposite direction, a quadrillion robots charged into their foes and engaged self-destruct. Seventeen entire space armadas were utterly wiped out in the ensuing explosions.

    * * * * *

    Damage report: left leg non-functional, right leg twelve per cent function, torso fifteen per cent function, left arm nine per cent function, right arm five per cent function, head fourteen per cent function, transformation impossible, life signs failing, death likely in the next twenty four hours. Frotor could only just understand those words. He was afraid but increasingly confused due to brain damage. He simply drifted in the navy blue vacuum with occasional luminous, pale blue clouds in the distance.

    “We’ve found him,” said Tarcenor as his little ship rushed toward Frotor. “Wait, there’s someone else here too.” Three other Transformers appeared nearby.

    “Ahoy!” called Ainsiott. “Identify yourselves!”

    “Don’t you recognise your friends Quainel and Hexvexer?!” said Quainel derisively, jetting over. “You always were a dim bulb, Ainsiott!”

    “It’s wonderful to see you!” said Mimbacleid. “Who’s the injured one on your back, Hexvexer?”

    “This is what’s left of Enqlok,” replied Hexvexer. “He may survive with a full rebuild. Who’s with you, Mimbacleid?”

    “Tarcenor’s our pilot, Onderplex is his co-pilot and the comatose one in the corner is Volauncer,” answered Mimbacleid. “Shall we rescue Frotor now?”

    “Is there room on that ship for all nine of us?” asked Quainel.

    “I suppose that we could put Frotor, Volauncer and Enqlok in the storage compartments,” said Onderplex. “Then there will be enough room for everyone. Tell me, is Frotor unconscious?”

    “No, he’s trying to say something but it’s not making much sense,” said Hexvexer. “Twimmering and shinkling, he just blurted out.”

    “Twinkling and shimmering, I think he means,” observed Quainel. “We only just arrived, so we don’t understand it yet. Hey, there’s a star ship!”

    “Chordwainer!” exclaimed the six Transformers who were fully conscious. Their fabulous star ship had found them at last and they were ecstatic. Surely now things were looking up.

    “Twinkling coming, shimmering coming,” said Frotor but the others didn’t pay attention, except Onderplex.

    “Mechs watch out!” warned Onderplex, sensing a growing problem. The space around them was changing. It did indeed appear to be shimmering and twinkling. The Transformers realised that they were in jeopardy and accelerated towards Chordwainer. They didn’t get far before the space change affected them. Frotor had tried to tell them. Random pockets of space experienced atomic destabilisation. Uncounted trillions of particles were ripped from their constituent atoms and scattered across space, time and other dimensions. Both ships and all crew members were damaged: some badly, some less so. A few seconds later, it was over.

    “Evacuate universe!” commanded Yoldren from within Chordwainer. Everyone teleported immediately, with the more capable bringing the less capable along. They retreated to another universe that they believed was safer.

    “For Primus’ sake, when will it end?!” complained Mimbacleid bitterly.

    “Who’s still alive here?” asked Yoldren. “We need to do triage and begin treatment.” Everyone was still alive at that point but then the full scale of the new injuries began to be revealed. Plirmang leaked to death in a matter of seconds as dozens of his fuel lines ruptured simultaneously. Enqlok died soon afterwards with a brain chip that resembled a sponge. Abscaut was the third to go when his beam weapon activated while it was still stored inside his body. It tore a burning hole through his chest and then through some of Chordwainer’s systems. This led to many minor problems later on. Quainel’s right shoulder collapsed and his right arm fell off. Angleflex lost the use of his legs. Tarcenor was unable to transform. The others had less serious injuries. Chordwainer was able to repair many of the injuries but, due to damage and the lack of resources, others would have to wait.

    As they were treated, the survivors compared notes about their experiences. They were especially concerned with identifying and analysing threats, as well as determining who was dead, alive or missing. Between them, they estimated that sixty four of the crew were dead, seventeen were alive and thirty six were still missing. They wondered if it was worth continuing the search. Three of their number had just died as a result of natural forces encountered during the rescue of Frotor. How many more would die by the end of the search? The way that things were going, the answer was probably ‘too many’. The twelve of them took a vote. Despite the grave dangers, most of them voted to continue seeking their lost crewmates.

    “Most of my parts have been degraded slightly,” said a sombre Yoldren as he had a physical examination. “I’m going to need a new body at some stage. What about the rest of us? What are our chances?”

    “Well, believe it or not, we have been very fortunate today,” said Chordwainer. “Not only have we located several more crew but we avoided destruction by sheer fluke. That ‘shimmering and twinkling’ could have caused a massive nuclear explosion in our bodies. Somehow, our subatomic structures were reinforced just enough to stave off disaster. Therefore, we are now able to worry about our weaknesses rather than being splattered across that blue universe.”

    “We must get out of here soon,” said Yoldren. “Our luck must be dwindling. Are you still capable of making that kind of jump?”

    “That’s doubtful,” said Chordwainer. “I need a rebuild too. The repairs that I had earlier were fairly good but not sufficient. I require peak efficiency and effectiveness to have a chance of leaving the Evermaze. Does anyone know where I can be fully repaired?”

    “We have met some species that might be able to help, like the Chab-flet,” Yoldren reminded him. “The only trouble is that we didn’t exactly establish friendly relations with any of them, did we Hexvexer?!”

    “Um, no, I’m afraid not,” replied Hexvexer. “In fact, I believe that many of them are currently searching for us and want to destroy us. It all started from misunderstandings and ... escalated.”

    “Unless we find better friends, we’re screwed,” said Venturaij. “Can we at least find the thirty six still missing?”

    “As far as I can tell, judging from our current strength, we could probably find some of them,” replied Chordwainer. “Unfortunately, I am feeling quite poorly. I will probably lose my teleportation capability in a few weeks, as will some of you crew members.”

    “We need to reconnoitre again,” said Quainel. “We have to locate help in one form or another, plus every scrap of useful information available.”

    “Wait, you haven’t heard about my new teleport knowledge,” said Tarcenor. “I watched some native star ships and learnt from them. I know about a whole network of new pathways. I can rescue the thirty six on my own, despite my current disability.”

    “Before you go anywhere, share this knowledge with us,” ordered Yoldren. Everyone studied it avidly and their spirits rose.

    “Yoldren, this connects with our ‘monster’ experience at the ship yard,” Shadow Panther realised. “The hidden, counter-intuitive network; it must be the key, providing pathways and beneficial energies.” Everyone dived into the new network, keen to gain a critical advantage.

    “Fantastic, superb!” whispered Yoldren as unlimited golden roads were unveiled. “Oh, forget it; words don’t do this justice. I’m already picking up vibrations from some of the thirty six.”

    “I found Linklaser!” said Angleflex. “He’s here with Debinstabe and Ghindley. They are no longer Transformers but they’re still alive in another form. They want to stay where they are. They tell me that Stranct died here.”

    “Kuroshney Ten is dead,” reported Mimbacleid.

    “Holdrone Scope has passed on,” said Venturaij.

    “Greynar is injured but still on the run,” said Quainel. “I’ll try to bring him in. Help me, Forningbrass.”

    “Gainlate Quox and Winkrotor are dead,” noted Onderplex. “Theirs was a tragic fate. That will haunt me. If only we could have reached them sooner.”

    “You don’t want to know what happened to Ommantie, Mojer Tabress and Nori Netlom,” said Ainsiott, shocked. “Primus save us all, that was too traumatic for me. I need time alone.”

    “No, don’t bring me here you idiots!” cursed Greynar as Quainel retrieved him. “He’s on my tail!”

    “Frak!” said Hexvexer, remembering what Greynar had been fleeing. “Goblin incoming!”

    “Goblin, eh?” mused Yoldren. “Don’t worry everyone, I’ve got this.” He shared his plan with the group. It seemed ridiculous but Yoldren was sure that it would work.

    “Oh, so this is your flying nest?!” said the goblin as it appeared inside Chordwainer. “This will all be scrap metal in a minute, I promise you Greynar!” The creature was only half a metre high yet it fairly throbbed with magical power.

    “Hey Boggart,” said Yoldren coolly. “I have a job for you.” He held out a box of tiny spare parts.

    “I am not a Boggart!” said the goblin, having a furious tantrum. “That’s an entirely different species ... oh.” He noticed the box.

    “You wouldn’t dare!” said the goblin, suddenly worried.

    “I frakking would!” said Yoldren emphatically. He threw the box into the middle of the room, where it spilled its entire contents.

    “Gah! I have no choice but to pick all these up!” said the goblin, turning to his task immediately.

    “All goblins are obliged to clear up spilled containers like this near them,” explained Yoldren. “It’s in their magical contracts, so to speak. I know my mythology. Hexvexer, see if you can deal with this one.”

    “This will be interesting,” said Hexvexer, drawing his inside-out ray. Two seconds later, the goblin’s blood was decorating the room in an abstract way and his shattered corpse lay pitifully next to the strewn spares.

    “Fun but disgusting,” was Hexvexer’s verdict as he wiped bodily fluids from his face. “You’re welcome, Greynar!” They could see the goblin’s evil soul departing. One goblin had been eliminated but plenty more were roaming around the region.

    “This gore should be removed,” said Onderplex. “It might be hazardous.”

    “As it happens, I have a few stowaways who can do that for us,” said Chordwainer. “The Evermaze has its share of scavengers and opportunistic vermin.” Five organic animals ran into the room, drawn by the scent of blood. The two largest dragged away the main parts of the corpse while the other three feasted on the smaller chunks. They had no fear of the Transformers, who they saw as pieces of moving furniture. They were all starving, having lacked food for days. They clambered over the Transformers, who let them lick off all the blood and other deposits. Meanwhile, the Transformers continued to criss-cross the Evermaze in spirit, using their new knowledge to track down all remaining crew members. They found three more survivors, Inodena, Hotspot and Rafer Bestoc. They almost rescued Logoreader but he died just before he was brought to Chordwainer. The rest were either dead or irrecoverable.

    “After all this, do we still need Hum-Free?” asked Venturaij.

    “I’m not so sure now,” said Yoldren. “He says that he’s happy with the Chab-flet but I am extremely reluctant to leave him behind. He’s one of my best friends.”

    “Mine too,” said Venturaij.

    “I have an idea,” said Onderplex. “If we work as a team, we can extract his spark from the Chab-flet world, reprogramme his mind and install it in a new body.”

    “We have no new bodies,” said Tarcenor. “You mean a dead body.”

    “Indeed,” agreed Onderplex. “The best candidate is Xykaphone. His body can be reactivated if we replace just four parts. What do you say?”

    “No, we shouldn’t do it,” said Greynar. “He has a life there now. We should not disrupt it. That would be a betrayal of our values.”

    “You know, the Evermaze has some very strange features but this spark-snatching is one of the strangest,” said Yoldren. “One minute, your friend is by your side and behaving normally. The next minute, his mind and body have been rebuilt so much that he is almost unrecognisable. My guess is that some very powerful intelligences are behind this.”

    “We should talk to Hum-Free, at least,” said Quainel. “We should try to persuade him to come with us. We can’t force him, eh Yoldren?!”

    “Don’t remind me!” said Yoldren.

    * * * * *

    “What happened, Hum-Free?” asked Yoldren. “How were you a full member of my crew at the same time as being a Chab-flet civil engineer?” He was speaking telepathically from a different realm since the Chab-flet world was lethal to Transformers.

    “Excuse me, I’m trying to sleep here,” said Hum-Free, tired and grumpy. “Call back in the morning, if you don’t mind.”

    “We’re making a break for freedom very soon,” said Yoldren. “There’s no time. This is your last chance. You can come with us or stay here. What is it to be?”

    “I didn’t ask to be part of this,” said Hum-Free. “I was manufactured by some higher power. I was born a Chab-flet but then my spark transferred to your ship for a while. Time was manipulated so that I could live two lives concurrently. It was a struggle sometimes but very intriguing, informative and fun.”

    “Bravo, we suspected nothing,” said Yoldren. “We wish that you’d told us this earlier. What was your mission?”

    “My mission is to love Deyvaylef and improve our towns and cities through building...” said Hum-Free.

    “You know that I meant your mission with us,” said Yoldren.

    “To bring you here, of course,” said Hum-Free. “Did you have fun?”

    “A hundred dead or lost (including you) and eighteen survivors (including the ship),” said Yoldren. “On balance, we don’t call that fun.”

    “That’s alright,” said Hum-Free. “Fun was not the object of the exercise.”

    “What was the object of the exercise?” asked Yoldren.

    “Ask the higher powers, wherever they are,” replied Hum-Free. “I’m an ignorant little flesh bag and I’m staying right here. I’ll see you in the next life. Goodbye, Yoldren. Oh yes, last words – ‘Beware Onderplex’.” The telepathic connection was terminated.

    “He’s not coming back,” said Yoldren. “What a downer. Anyway, onto the next matter in hand.” He circulated an alert to most of the crew.

    “Let’s see what’s lurking in your mind, Onderplex,” he said as everyone imposed a telepathic block and grip on Onderplex. They immobilised his body as a precaution. They felt that Onderplex was possessed but they were unable to locate the spirit involved. This was a highly elusive spirit that no one could contact. They were unable to learn anything about it.

    “We’ll have to put him in stasis,” said Tarcenor after many fruitless attempts to exorcise Onderplex. “We can’t keep doing this when we should be trying to leave Evermaze.” So Onderplex was kept comatose while the others went to work.

    * * * * *

    “I can’t seem to stop admiring our upgraded ship,” said Inodena, who was a known star ship fanatic and expert. “The new Chordwainer is quite possibly the largest, most powerful and capable craft ever built by the Transformer race. Not only that, he looks even more seriously stylish than ever before.”

    “Indeed, but I fear that even he might be unequal to the task of breaking out of the Evermaze,” said Venturaij. “Especially since we have lost so many of the teleport team: Hum-Free, Jenuton, Abscaut, Tyladyne, Gnullpheeld, Zandont and Onderplex, who is still possessed.”

    “We are searching for the right exorcist, aren’t we?” asked Inodena. “We can’t leave him like that.”

    “The task is next to impossible,” said Venturaij. “We know nothing about the possessing spirit, so we have no idea who could perform an exorcism. Perhaps Onderplex can cleanse himself of the thing. Another possibility is that, when we leave the Evermaze, the spirit will detach itself and return home.”

    “Maybe I should try to banish it,” said Inodena. “I’ve performed my fair share of exorcisms over the years.”

    “This one is too difficult for us at present,” warned Venturaij. “Leave it alone, unless there’s a change in the situation. At least we managed to restore Volauncer.”

    “Yeah, that’s a real plus,” agreed Inodena. “Hey Volauncer, any luck with the Numerate Conglomerate?”

    “They did trade with us,” said Volauncer. “Hotspot just brought back a thousand tonnes of specialist metals, in return for a little of our valuable portium. Sadly, they won’t give us any further help. We think that they’re secretly jealous of us.”

    “Great work with the Numerate Conglomerate, Hotspot,” said Inodena. “Are we ready for the break-out yet?”

    “It all depends on the recon team,” said Hotspot as his cargo was being unloaded. “I’m on tenterhooks, I must say.” Everyone had to wait for Yoldren and his explorers to return from their epic psychic quest. Late that night, they finally did return.

    “What’s the verdict?” asked Shadow Panther.

    “We have been so, so far,” said Angleflex. “We searched through millions of universes. We checked trillions of possible escape routes. We followed all the time lines and the super time lines. I’m exhausted.”

    “It’s bad news, I’m afraid,” said Yoldren. “As I suspected, we couldn’t find a single way out of the Evermaze. It’s like all the forces of the Almighty were working against us. It looks like we’ll have to stay until we die. At least we are finding out how to avoid all the lethal forces out there.” He looked bewildered and beaten.

    “No one said how long we have to stay,” said Chordwainer. “We can still make that ultimate choice.” Everyone heard him. Everyone considered the choice. Everyone saw that it was correct.

    “You are wise,” said Yoldren. “We concur. The only question now concerns the manner of our passing.”

    “There is plenty of evil here,” said Hexvexer. “We could die fighting it.”

    “We could just switch ourselves off right here,” said Mimbacleid. “There’s been enough fighting, I think.”

    “It’s such a shame that we’ve built ourselves up to be so strong,” said Tarcenor. “What will become of all our technology when we’re gone?”

    “Destroy it,” said Ainsiott. “It could cause even more problems for the natives.”

    “No, I think that we are here for a reason,” said Rafer Bestoc. “I have seen how we can benefit the people here. I say we donate our bodies to some friendlies. To be honest, our technology is not the most dangerous thing in the Evermaze, not by a long way.” A vote was taken. Rafer Bestoc’s idea won. The Numerate Conglomerate received a gift set of unparalleled generosity: a vast array of technologies. The Transformers deactivated themselves. That was the end of their unwanted adventure.

    * * * * *

    “Excellent,” thought Yoldren as he awoke later in a new body on Cybertron. “The plan worked. Our connection with Primus is unbreakable, if we want it to be.” He watched with satisfaction as his friends were resurrected in their spiritual home. They were finally back on track and they were even more experienced than before.

    * * * * *

    See what I did there, gentle reader? You thought that it was a disastrous mistake. You thought that I abandoned my children to torment and death. Actually, it was my way of seeding the Evermaze with my agents and technology. I can now begin to establish control over that supremely twisted region. I am Primus and I will prevail!

    Transformer Star ship Chordwainer and Crew

    Name and cause of death (as a Transformer)
    1. Abscaut - Accidentally shot by his own weapon
    2. Ainsiott - Suicide
    3. Angleflex - Suicide
    4. Antefashion - Crushed by magical goblin
    5. Aphortron - Psychologically demolished by sharp truths
    6. Bancharia - Personal weapons malfunctioned and caused total body torsion
    7. Bariychripp Quee - Exploded on contact with antihelium
    8. Bliviatene - Suicide
    9. Boinjorhnoss - Assassination
    10. Bunghwaild - Massive corn clog in vent six
    11. Chimedial - Exposed to ghost beta radiation
    12. Chordwainer - Suicide
    13. Cormadd Novie - Despondency
    14. Czerphlaem - Vaporised by magical goblin
    15. Debinstabe - Converted to rock
    16. Deinchen Four - Exposed to ghost beta radiation
    17. Dendro - Uncontrolled metal fracturing
    18. Dilidailen - Deprived of radiation
    19. Dylonday - Imploded due to slight increase in the strong nuclear force
    20. Eightfall - Wrecked by disgruntled boggart
    21. Enqlok - Brain destroyed by the ‘shimmering and twinkling’
    22. Ertex - Ground into powder, mixed with other substances and made into a ceiling
    23. Euthynazia - Caught in time vortex, died of old age
    24. Felotiase - Forced suicide by telepaths
    25. Flicker Twenty - All switches in body worn out by unknown entity
    26. Forningbrass - Suicide
    27. Frotor - Suicide
    28. Frungy - Shelled by Exterminator Squad
    29. Gainlate Quox - Lack of energon
    30. Ghindley - Converted to rock
    31. Gnullpheeld - Road traffic accident
    32. Greynar - Suicide
    33. Hathikolt - Hunted down and mauled by Plasmok beast
    34. Hexvexer - Suicide
    35. Holdrone Scope - Exposure to quantum loop gravity
    36. Hotspot - Suicide
    37. Hum-Free - Converted to Chab-flet organic life form
    38. Ingolt - Torn apart by telekinesis
    39. Inodena - Suicide
    40. Iotanic - Crushed inside sentient asteroid
    41. Irritagator - All metal atoms in body fell apart
    42. Jenuton - Lost connection to body
    43. Jhakanizy - Metal-eating microbes
    44. Jhonaspross - Mental overload via networks
    45. Julkim Seinbatter - Toxic media gossip
    46. Kandishara - Body disrupted by clouds of micro-changes in time
    47. Ketyronu - Buried alive in quarry; ran out of energon
    48. Kloanmonger - Skirfin attack
    49. Kuroshney Ten - Sliced up by dimensional fracture lines
    50. Laboragaster - Smashed on rocks by giant ocean wave
    51. Lenticulum - Accidental brain damage during transformation; caused by space warp
    52. Linklaser - Converted to rock
    53. Logoreader - Radiation damage
    54. Matriculon - Converted to organic person; died after a nightmare about examinations
    55. Mebar-Charl - Bad feng-shui led to demonic murder
    56. Mimbacleid - Suicide
    57. Mojer Tabress - Exploded through sudden withdrawal of electrons
    58. Morpentenio - Murdered by figments of his imagination that came to life
    59. Nax Festian - Flayed alive horribly by superhero Captain Decent
    60. Nemrod Nauss - Shaken to pieces by very loud, continuous sounds
    61. Nidraney Loom - Fuel lines blocked by debris teleported naturally into body
    62. Nori Netlom - Hyper crushed by his own duplicates in time vortex
    63. Nuferon - Extreme headaches
    64. Oagler Norg - Post traumatic stress disorder led to either accidental death or suicide
    65. Ommantie - Smashed in dimensional maelstrom
    66. Onderplex - Assisted suicide
    67. Othoy Jawn - General depression; refused energon
    68. Parumeleng - Exposed to ghost beta radiation
    69. Peggra Peraate - Held in a large vice and gradually filed down
    70. Plirmang - Fuel lines ruptured by the ‘shimmering and twinkling’
    71. Porblinay - Air traffic accident
    72. Pumifud - Knocked off cliff by random collection of oversized letters from an art project
    73. Quainel - Suicide
    74. Quegelex - Unexplained compulsion to over-exercise
    75. Quibosyre - Trapped in time warp and lost in fibrous universe
    76. Quoshplad - Body invaded by fractal crystals
    77. Rafer Bestoc - Suicide
    78. Reshper - Exposed to ghost beta radiation
    79. Rippster - Torn apart by energy beings
    80. Rondaquey - Hit by solar flare
    81. Ruddinate - Burnt to death by the colour red
    82. Seekhawk - Exposed to ghost beta radiation
    83. Shadow Panther - Suicide
    84. Sochoma - Mass-shifting accident; shrank too much
    85. Sphericon - Spun around at twenty thousand revolutions per minute by natural forces
    86. Stranct - Smashed by meteorite impact in mid air
    87. Tarcenor - Suicide
    88. Telanedol Two - Hit by ricochet from Ertex’s gun
    89. Tokohoshu - Fell onto neutron star
    90. Trenchcutter - Ate poison toad
    91. Tyladyne - Lost essential mass due to bosonic instability
    92. Ubliet Jaiks - Suicide; driven insane by irrational jealousy
    93. Uftamar - Merged consciousness with a yellow universe
    94. Umpression - Lack of energon in an intergalactic void
    95. Unabeamer - Electromagnetic currents blocked by exotic particle field
    96. Urveila - Trapped in a large laundry machine and corroded by strong detergent
    97. Vathant - Hit by horizontal sheet lightning
    98. Venturaij - Suicide
    99. Vivantilain - Amplified life force caused breakdown in bodily functions
    100. Volauncer - Suicide
    101. Vocha Gleime - Psychic earwig removed all attractive qualities
    102. Waflajie - Accidentally killed by Ingolt; mistaken identity
    103. Whikyzan - All wiring pulled out and arranged artistically by spirits
    104. Winkrotor - Enslaved and overworked
    105. Woruplon - Brain melted through too much teleportation
    106. Wuchanalok - Lost in a cross-rip between super time and ultra time
    107. Xan Axe - Cut up for pharmaceutical use
    108. Xenolesta - Murdered by enraged mob
    109. Xigonjin - Thrown into blue entrisence chasm by the Law Org
    110. Xykaphone - Lost penogistic relay buffers
    111. Yackreen - Bludgeoned by giant child
    112. Yifnilt - Atomic structure broken down by Varnian field
    113. Yoldren - Suicide
    114. Yuthostle - Inadvertent chemical poisoning by young people
    115. Zandont - Melted in lava lake
    116. Zarjazle - Surfeit of glitter
    117. Zeebrooge - Sea traffic accident
    118. Zoh Aloft - Excessive happiness after being shot with antidepressant ray

    Many of these Transformers were resurrected later by Primus. Others lived on in other forms.
  7. snavej

    snavej 5th Dan garage tidier

    Nov 7, 2005
    News Credits:
    Trophy Points:
    Muddling Through John H. Evans, October 2016

    The people of planet Wusthra knew that what they were doing was counter-intuitive but they had had enough of alien interference. Even as they combed through their settlements, looking for the alien leader(s), they were being attended to by robot ‘helpers’ whether they wanted it or not. Frame skeleton robots followed them on foot. Insect-type robots crawled across their bodies, making them neater and cleaner whenever ‘necessary’. Microscopic robots toiled inside them, keeping their tissues in peak condition. As a result of the latter, the Wusthrans had plenty of stamina and could search for many hours without a break. They had tried to interrogate the robots about their chief(s) but they would not talk about anything. They had also tried to tap into their electronic minds but the technology was, as yet, beyond them. Attempts to investigate the robots’ coordination signals were similarly thwarted. Now, they were resorting to a methodical physical search. They were attempting to find every possible hiding place but they knew that they might still fail. Later that day, one of the Wusthrans struck lucky. An eldster known as Gulaye Jecgrat was walking past an ordinary road vehicle when it started to judder slightly for no apparent reason. Gulaye called for back-up and the vehicle was surrounded.

    The appointed negotiator Ephlom Aszclomt stepped forward and asked some of the uninvited frame skeletons if this vehicle was their leader. For reasons unknown, they chose this moment to make their first communication, confirming that the vehicle was indeed their leader. Ephlom rapped lightly on the vehicle’s roof.

    “So you found us in the end,” said a voice from the vehicle. “I suppose that’s not bad. It only took twelve days once you started the global search.”

    “Whoever you are, if you don’t mind, we’d like an explanation as to why so many billions of robots have invaded our planet,” asked Ephlom politely but somewhat testily. “We are grateful that you made us so healthy but the sheer volume of these damned things around here is a bit much. They’re in our faces every day, everywhere. They have no idea of personal space or privacy.”

    “We’re really sorry,” said the voice. “We’re not doing so well ourselves. We’re losing our edge; that much is obvious. Normally, we’d do much better. Normally, folks like you would have nothing to worry about.”

    “Well, I’m sad to hear that you’re having problems too but surely you can just command the robots to back off,” persisted Ephlom. “Make us feel like we aren’t living under occupation, at least. These big spindly ones give me the creeps.”

    “Alright, I’m doing it now,” said the voice. There was a general withdrawal of the more obvious robots. Being so slim, they were able to fold themselves into small packages in various shapes. They simply lay on the ground, presumably ready to re-emerge when needed. The Wusthrans were greatly relieved. Some of them immediately started gathering up the folded robots, putting them in various out-of-the-way places or handing them to the authorities.

    “Sky-Man be praised,” said Ephlom as the robot presence receded. “You know, we’re firing on all cylinders but we can’t perform with so many odd contraptions in the room, if you know what I mean. It’s been a very frustrating time!”

    “Tell me about it,” said the voice. “My name’s Wheelblaze, by the way. Do you mind if I change into my primary form? I get stiff being a vehicle for months.”

    “Aliens gotta do what aliens gotta do!” said Ephlom just before Wheelblaze transformed into a bulkier robot than the others. Ephlom saw that Wheelblaze had only formed half of the vehicle.

    “You too, Roadburner,” said Wheelblaze. “The game’s up. They caught us.”

    “I’m quite embarrassed,” said Roadburner, transforming slowly to robot mode. “If only we had been thinking straight, we could have stopped these people from feeling swamped with metallic intruders. We could have changed their attitudes completely and thus kept them happy.”

    “It sounds like you’re talking about mind control as well,” observed Ephlom. “Perhaps we got off lightly after all!” The two Transformers shrugged. It was all in a day’s work for them.

    “Where do you want us?” asked Roadburner. “Are we going to jail or an impound lot or something?”

    “You know, I hadn’t thought that far ahead,” said Ephlom. “I had expected you to be nafchom-based people like us. Now I see you, I realise that we probably don’t have a facility strong enough to hold you.”

    “Got it in one,” said Wheelblaze. “We can bust out of just about anywhere.”

    “Even if we could imprison you, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” said Ephlom. “You mentioned that you’re somehow sick or in need of maintenance.”

    “You could say that but this is no ordinary sickness,” said Wheelblaze. “It’s more of a spiritual issue. Some really powerful force is pushing us around and making us do things that we don’t want to do. However, it can’t make us do a perfect job! We’re protesting by sabotaging projects like this one with our shoddy work.”

    “What a bizarre situation,” mused Ephlom. “I don’t know which of us is best able to help you but I’m sure that many useful people are standing by, ready to assist. You can start by talking to some of the people here, if you like.”

    “Here’s hoping that one of you can help with our odd predicament,” said Roadburner. ‘It should be interesting, at least.” The two Transformers went to begin discussions with nearby officials.

    “Why were those robots so spindly anyway?” asked Ephlom on the way.

    “This planet is somewhat short of metals,” replied Roadburner. “In order to build so many robots, we had to adapt our designs accordingly.”

    “Here they are, the instigators of this damned metallic invasion,” said one of the officials as Ephlom, Roadburner and Wheelblaze reached her. “What were you thinking? There are interstellar treaties forbidding this sort of action!”

    “We apologise profusely but our masters have forced us to be here and to take on this project,” said Wheelblaze. “All of my people objected to it but we were overruled. At least we are trying to be very benevolent Ms. ... erm...”

    “Tbeifrip Dosdovun,” said the official. “Read the name badge on my front. Your benevolence has been partly in our favour but it has weirded out most of the world. We want you to withdraw as soon as possible. Where is your home world or nearest colony?”

    “Let me see,” said Roadburner, consulting his star chart data. “That way, about five hundred million light years away.” He pointed at the ground, diagonally to his right.”

    “Our society is under divine control,” said Wheelblaze. “At present, we are not allowed to return home but we can establish a temporary colony near here.”

    “Don’t go off-world yet,” instructed Tbeifrip. “Some experts are coming to interrogate you. They will be here early tomorrow morning.”

    “Fine, we’re in no hurry,” said Roadburner. “Unlike your experts, we don’t need to sleep. We’ll spend the night exploring the region.”

    “Try to be back at the main road over there about two hours after dawn,” advised Tbeifrip. “The interrogation will be as quick and painless as possible. I hope that we are not keeping you from anything.”

    “No, this is our main function,” said Wheelblaze. “We befriend and safeguard as many races as we can. This is all second nature to us.”

    “Glad to hear it,” said Tbeifrip as the two Transformers walked away. She had a strange feeling about them. They were not like any other alien species that she had seen. Her uneasiness grew through the night. She tried to sleep but couldn’t. The telepathic community of Wusthra was being buffeted by a hitherto unknown influence. It was becoming apparent that this was a global problem. Shortly afterwards, the deep space networks reported a similar phenomenon across the galaxy, then the neighbouring galaxies. This was the most profound event to affect civilisation in recorded history. Billions of societies were simultaneously being stricken with anxiety. After a few hours of unprecedented emotions, it ended as mysteriously as it began. Naturally, there was a massive intergalactic effort to explain this grand conundrum. As that continued, Tbeifrip finally managed to fall asleep for a few hours.

    * * * * *

    The next day, Wheelblaze and Roadburner didn’t show up for their meeting. However, they had been tracked and were quickly located. They had lost consciousness and rolled down a slope, coming to a halt when they had crashed into a rocky outcrop at the side of the road. Wheelblaze’s front end was badly dented but was automatically repairing itself. Neither Transformer could be woken. A recovery crew took them to a leading technology research centre in the hope that they could be revived. In Wusthran society, it was normal to perform a telepathic probe on sick or injured people since that gave some very useful information to help with finding a remedy for the ailment and its causes. In this case, though, the two Transformers could not be contacted thus at present. It appeared that their minds and spirits were, for want of a better word, ‘shattered’. The Wusthrans had never seen a case quite this serious. How were these Transformers still alive, they wondered?

    It was decided to try to connect with the Transformers with a Wusthran artificial intelligence. This AI was kept fully isolated from any computer networks but it could still be monitored via telepathy. At first, there was no response from the Transformers. The AI began to explore their minds, which turned out to be exceedingly complex, far more so than had been expected. How was this possible? The answer lay in higher dimensions. Most of their minds were actually outside the physical realm and, therefore, very difficult to probe with the more limited Wusthran technology. An additional problem was that the minds were highly muddled. The AI could not find many working pathways in them. This was a giant puzzle and it would take a long time to solve it, if that was even possible.

    * * * * *

    “Teglor 15.7, deal with this intruder,” said Afquerd Mazolyrt wearily. “It obviously didn’t get the message about keeping out of the way.” The domestic robot Teglor 15.7 scuttled swiftly into the room and seized the alien robot. She was sick of these spindly off-world creeps coming into her house unbidden at any hour of the day or night. Not only that, somehow their actions were terrifying people across many galaxies.

    “Wait, I have questions!” pleaded the alien.

    “Oh, now you talk?!” said Convel, Afquerd’s partner. “What’s your name, you clueless wire basket?”

    “Just stop there, Teglor 15.7,” commanded Afquerd quietly.

    “I am Gromblast of the Cyclotronic Fine Engineering Ministry,” said the alien as it flapped its limbs aimlessly. “My entire society has been comprehensively suppressed by unimaginable forces. For the first time in millions of years, I am not thinking straight because of this suppression. I am desperate for assistance. Can you provide it?” Afquerd and Convel were a little stunned by this revelation.

    “I doubt it,” said Afquerd with a shrug. “We’re not even able to link with your mind.”

    “This is not my normal body,” said Gromblast. “My spark has been forced from my home world and flung out to this charming little rock. I am lucky that I even found a body to occupy. Are the creators nearby? Their names are Wheelblaze and Roadburner.”

    “As far as we know, they are being studied at the GC Vanguard Research Centre, about seventy kilometres from here,” said Convel. “They’re in a bad way, I heard.”

    “We all are, we the people of Cycopathotron,” said Gromblast. “It seems that we have been crushed by your gods.”

    “Yes, they tend to do that from time to time,” said Afquerd. “Their first priority is to protect our universe from any adverse influences. Throughout recorded history, we have watched them do this. I never thought that I would see it happen in my bedroom, though!”

    “I cannot hold this body,” said Gromblast. “They have found me again. I am being pushed out. Tell your authorities what is happening here!” The alien robot went limp as Gromblast’s spark was forcibly relocated.

    “We can do that, as soon as we’ve finished our fun here,” said Convel. “Nestle in close, Affie.”

    “You’ve got it, Convie!” said Afquerd, eager for more loving. “Spark me up again!”

    * * * * *

    “Lost soul, so far from home, I may be able to help if you are willing to accept,” said the late Wusthran. “I have had many names and will have many more. For now, call me Drencleth.”

    “You were, in this village here, a respected man,” the spirit could tell. “Still watch over it you do. To have such luxury wonderful it is!”

    “I sense that your name is Weirdwolf,” said Drencleth. “Your history is so different to mine. You have served your god for aeons. You are a super-soldier in an extremely long war.”

    “Precarious my situation is at present,” said Weirdwolf. “Strangely, though, a pleasant change it is. At liberty I am, on Wusthra, to roam. To dwell on my problems not, learnt I have. Better it is ‘the moment’ to savour.”

    “In a way, your life has been a torment,” observed Drencleth. “You wanted to go your own way but too often you were obliged to serve.”

    “In dreams my refuge has been,” said Weirdwolf wistfully. “Mechanical was my work, leaving my mind to wander free.”

    “Are you sure that you want help to go back to your old life or would you prefer something else?” asked Drencleth. Weirdwolf had never been so unsure of his life’s path.

    “Of the Primus army, had my fill I have,” said Weirdwolf. “Gone on so long it has. Toiled so much we have. Transformed our sparks so many times we did. Now, on Wusthra, maybe a chance to end it there is. Dark gods the only problems are.”

    “Yes, our gods have many shades,” said Drencleth. “However, we consider none of them to be problems. All are benevolent here.”

    “For so long fought the dark gods we have,” said Weirdwolf. “So uncanny it is to hear you praise them. Yet, an open mind I must still keep.”

    “You could incarnate as a Wusthran, if you so wish,” suggested Drencleth. “Look at my grandchildren over there, playing so happily. They don’t worry about trans-universal warfare!” Weirdwolf watched the little fleshlings. Youngsters like this were so fragile but they generally had a good time if they were allowed to live.

    “To such a life I cannot now commit, though tempting it is,” said Weirdwolf. “Evaluate the situation first I must. Perhaps then return I can. Know you of yonder demon, incidentally?”

    “You mean the one that hides in the wind caves and takes swipes at passing Wusthrans?” asked Drencleth. “My spirit friends and I have tried to remove it. The damned thing is too strong for us. It does little harm, though.”

    “Greater harm it plans,” said Weirdwolf. “To deal with it permit me.”

    “We would be most grateful!” said Drencleth. He and the other spirits watched with interest as Weirdwolf chased down the demon, seized it and carried it away to parts unknown.

    “Your people keep watching,” said Weirdwolf as he departed the area. “Coming might be changes major.” The spirits already knew what those were.

    * * * * *

    The telepathic community of the universe wanted answers. The gods were trying to weaken their memories of the recent disturbances but the mortals resisted. Soul memories could not be removed. Having gained a little familiarity with the beings known as Transformers, the mortals searched for them. It appeared that most of them were now physically inactive. The gods had suppressed them quite thoroughly in this regard. However, some of them were roaming around as disembodied ‘sparks’. Also, some of their robots were still functioning in one way or another. The telepathic community tried to contact the free-roaming sparks but this was only possible sporadically due to constant blocking from the gods. Nevertheless, it was soon learnt that all Transformers were ‘offshoots’ of a great god known as Primus. He might be the solution to this riddle. The search continued but the blocking efforts of the local gods were ramped up.

    Why were the gods imposing this cover-up? What feature of the newcomers required universal censorship? The telepathic community demanded to know why the gods were being so secretive. Was Primus a dangerous force? If so, why was there no warning of the exact danger posed? For billions of years, the gods had protected the mortals and had given them sufficient information. Why had this changed now? The gods would not talk about it. The telepathic community were forced to conclude that Primus brought something of unprecedented importance. They had to make the seeking of answers a primary objective. The gods wanted to stop them but they couldn’t do so completely without betraying their most important ideals. However, they still had some freedom to operate so they imposed selective interference on interstellar travel and communication.

    The telepathic collective continued to talk with the Transformers, piecing together a picture of Primus and his aims. The local gods continued to disrupt their conversations whenever possible. Despite this, it soon became clear that Primus despised dark gods. He wanted to remove them from all universes with life. His people had millions of stories about how multitudes of dark gods had been banished from millions of universes. The scale of it was staggering. Could this be why the local gods were trying so hard to conceal the truth of Primus? Were some of them secretly evil? Could they have hidden this fact from everyone for so many aeons? What would they do if they were unmasked?

    The gods denied that they were evil. They said that they had learnt from the experiences of gods in other universes. Long ago, they had decided to avoid the trap of evil and to live in harmony as far as possible. They had proved it innumerable times over several billion years. The telepathic collective had pondered the true nature of the gods repeatedly throughout history. Now, they had the clearest ever grounds for suspecting them of evil intent. This was a real dilemma. How could they resist the gods who knew them so intimately? In that situation, they were impotent. Their investigations continued.

    * * * * *

    My normal activities have been severely curtailed, so here I am, reminiscing about my glorious career...

    Universe 31660: There was a huge monster made of glass and some kind of super-tough rubber: luckily, there were many diamonds around so it could be cut up, piece by piece. We really had to improve our weapons systems after that, so there was less chance of total malfunction in future.

    Universe 928914: An alliance of a hundred galaxies almost smashed us but we side-stepped them just in time by leaping to the other side of the universe.

    Universe 1273419: A devastating anxiety virus laid over half of us low. We were gibbering in our holes that day (metaphorically speaking)! There was no one attacking so we took our time and fought off the thing in the end.

    [I’m working on something ad hoc. I would call it home-made but home is a distant speck right now. Some of my people are turning up and I’m putting them to work. They’re still ghosts but they’re doing what they can.]

    Universe 2001443: We cleansed the whole place with just one class of robot, just for variety and to prove to ourselves that we could. It was a close thing, though. The enemy almost took control of our fleet at one point, by working out how to control the robots. Luckily, our little machines redesigned their own circuitry and regained the advantage.

    Universe 2697419: There was a world where everything seemed to revolve around ball games. One of my mechs was almost whacked to death by a blizzard of flying balls. That was in the global parliament building: they had excellent ball skills but their message delivery methods were fundamentally flawed.

    Universe 3127455: I found this one to be unbelievably odd. We all thought it was a standard universe but the whole place turned out to be a mass of phoniness. All the particles were unstable and liable to collapse at any moment, especially when an external force was exerted on them. It turned out that it was an ‘echo universe’ budding off from Universe 3127431 as a result of a collision with Universe 3127398. It was a dead loss that we had to chalk up to experience.

    [I must admit, my life at present is a drag. I am in hiding and my people are being bossed around by a greater power. (They are not cooperating fully, I’m glad to see.) I have been obliged to disguise myself as a Wusthran man, overweight and aging, with fuzzy eyesight, deteriorating organs and daily medication. I am somewhat on the lazy and depressed side. Nevertheless, I have just enough ability to carry out my project. It’s not very appealing cover but it is apparently effective and I will do virtually anything for the sake of my mission.]

    Universe 3988812: Gradzams! Enough said! (My jchifp is still egfiskrating, by the way.)

    Universe 4329910: Everything was at least ten times stronger in there. Even the vacuum of space assaulted us constantly. We only escaped because I had the appropriate defences, taken from several previous universes. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to operate safely if we ever return there.

    Universe 4670033: This was mostly unremarkable and we completed it in record time but we did have our first brush with the Evermaze. We were nearly drawn in but once again I had the specialised tools with which to extricate us from the situation. It was a close one, though. That’s one reason why I sent in the Chordwainer later.

    [The Wusthran woman has arrived. I was expecting her. She was not expecting to have to deal with me, though.]

    Universe 4882345: The opposition in this one was tough and sneaky. We thought that we had defeated them but they had fooled us with decoys and then emerged from hiding to attack again. They concealed themselves by splitting themselves into genetic strand fragments and inserting themselves into oceanic microbes. What happened to them? We did! They were reduced to atoms in the end. I regret that we have had to extinguish so many strong creatures. I have noticed that the amount of fierce resistance being offered to us has diminished steadily over the course of our long, crusading odyssey.

    Universe 5079012: It was apparent that we were approaching the limits of our purview. We were stopped in our tracks. Our appearance in a star system of gentle beings caused a massive death toll. We didn’t kill anyone deliberately; they just saw us with their space telescopes and view-screens, panicked and died of fright. The local gods ushered us out of that universe tout de suite. We were mortified, I can tell you.

    Universe 5081100: My entire people went on strike. They were at the end of their tether and they had a long list of demands. Of course, I gave them everything that they wanted and more. There was a delay in the cleansing of that universe but it couldn’t be helped. Unfortunately, as the years roll by, my people are slowly becoming more and more resentful of me and my uncompromising quest.

    “There’s something really wrong here,” says the woman. “Why are you still relying on medicines when the rest of us now have tiny robots repairing our bodies from the inside?” She brandishes a blibber pack of lirt perker from his beam-hook-cup. I have to play this extremely carefully.

    “Do not trouble yourself about it,” I say to her as I subtly seize control of her mind. “I am not as I seem to be. I am actually absurdly healthy.”

    “Well, that’s fine,” she says, obliged to believe me. “I don’t know what’s happening but I felt drawn to you. Perhaps it is the robots in my blood. They are a great mystery to us.” She moves closer.

    “What do your instincts tell you?” I ask. “Whether they are native or alien, they are normally correct. You can feel it.” She embraces me.


    “Strange man, I don’t seem able to avoid you,” she says. “I don’t even know your name but I must have you.”

    “Then take me,” I say, copying some of the innumerable men I have observed in the past. I let my body handle this. Instinct brings us to our physical union. Meanwhile, I use her mind to explore Wusthran society deeply. I knew that this planet could be useful. Wheelblaze and Roadburner confirmed it when they performed their own study. The question is how exactly is it useful?

    “Hello, did you know that your front door is wide open?” calls a neighbour from immediately outside. One of my little robots scoots over and closes the door slowly. It’s eerie; the neighbour backs away.

    * * * * *

    “People of Wusthra, we are addressing you today in an attempt to apologise for our recent actions in your universe and perhaps to make amends,” said Wheelblaze, broadcasting on TV and the telepathic network.

    “First, we would like to thank the wonderful staff at the GC Vanguard Research Centre and their artificial intelligence ‘Bren-Dar’, who were our saviours over recent days,” said Roadburner. “They had never met people like us and were unfamiliar with our workings, yet they repaired us enough to bring us back to consciousness and a reasonable level of operation. No, don’t be modest everyone, you know what a good job you did!”

    “As you may be aware, we are a race of trans-universal beings,” continued Wheelblaze. “We originated in another universe extremely far from here. It is our mission to eliminate certain undesirable forces from millions of universes. However, we are not infallible. Sometimes, we make mistakes, both large and small. Our entry into this universe was one of those large mistakes. We should never have come here. Our sense of direction in the inter-universal dimensions failed us this time. We now want to leave this universe as soon as we are allowed, so that we can return to our correct mission.”

    “When we leave, we will remove or destroy all possible traces of our presence,” said Roadburner. “This will include all those annoying robots. Unfortunately, the nanobots inside your bodies will also be taken out or deactivated, so you will return to your natural state of biology. Soon, your advancing technology may be able to create your own nanobots to replace ours.”

    “We sincerely apologise for all the distress that we have caused here on Wusthra and elsewhere in this universe,” said Wheelblaze. “Normally, we would offer some kind of compensation for our errors but, in this case, you have a tremendous amount of local support available, both from mortal races and from gods, of which you have a vast pantheon.”

    “There are literally sextillions of them all around the universe,” said Roadburner. “We are powerful but your gods overwhelmed us extremely easily. They are superlative guardians, doing an exceptional job. Everyone should be very proud of them. I have seen more than half a billion universes yet I am still mightily impressed by your stupendous divinities. May they continue in glory for eternity!”

    “In fact, we feel that your gods should be more visible,” said Wheelblaze. “We have watched them for a little while and we feel that sometimes their heroics are unsung. Their light is hidden under a bushel, to use a phrase from our home universe. Our own god Primus would like to rectify this. He has methods to make it possible to see your gods more easily. He is doing this right now. He has seen how the Wusthran people were very good at finding hidden people. He has taken this quality of effective seeking and combined it with his own technology to reveal more about the activities of your gods. You will be able to see the results shortly.”

    “That is about all we can usefully do here on Wusthra and in the region generally,” said Roadburner. “Now, we will wait quietly for clearance to leave this universe. We would like to thank you all for listening to us and for tolerating our intrusions with good grace. We hope that you enjoy our parting gift. We’re the Transformers Wheelblaze and Roadburner: signing off!”

    * * * * *

    The local gods took only a few days to give Primus and the Transformers clearance to leave this universe. Cybertron, the planetary form of Primus, had been damaged fairly badly in the suppression but it could be repaired in time. The mission would have to be suspended for a while, though. That was actually a good thing because it helped the Transformers to avoid war fatigue. Meanwhile, the telepathic collective were examining their gods in unprecedented detail. It was absolutely fascinating. The gods seemed to have nowhere to hide any more: they tried to appear unconcerned but, to the discerning viewer, they looked a little disconcerted. Why was that? The investigation continued. Some of the gods were starting to suspect others of nefarious dealings and activities. The truth would come out in the end: that was the most important outcome of this whole affair.

    Meanwhile, back on Wusthra, the next generation was gestating. Already, the telepathic community could tell that this forthcoming batch of babies would be special, like no other before it. Here was another legacy of Primus.

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