The Siege (An awesome Fic)

Discussion in 'Transformers Fan Fiction' started by Robot Pimp, Jan 17, 2007.

  1. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    This particular fic was written by my good friend Jason Clarke about three years ago. I'm gonna post part 1 today. Trust me, you will all enjoy it.
     
  2. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    The Siege, Book One: Aftermath


    -1-
    Slowly, the star rose over the planet. As the light spilled over it, the devastation wreaked several days before became glaringly evident. It was a huge star, a blue giant, but in the sky of the planet that orbited it, it gave off only a slightly larger amount of light than a normal star in the sky would, which caused the planet to be encased in a perpetual night, lit only by starlight and the artificial light of the creatures that inhabited it.

    Rodimus Prime stared out the large window of his quarters. Everywhere, battered pieces of metal and steel lay about, strewn all over the ground. Bridges lay in shambles, sunken to the ground in the middle. Some buildings stood awkwardly where the hands of Unicron had brushed past them; others had entire sections torn off; still others were completely missing. In the streets below, various transformers wandered about, striving to find what was left of their homes, a simple shred of their former lives.

    Yes, the attack of Unicron, a gigantic, planet-sized transformer, had dealt a major blow to Cybertron. It would take nearly nine months to repair all the damage Unicron had caused in less than an hour, which, by Cybertronian standards, was a long time for repair.

    Still, Rodimus Prime got a slight sense of satisfaction when he looked to the sky. There, just beginning to disappear in the morning light, was Unicron's head, deprived of its body, stuck in an eternal orbit around Cybertron. Yes, despite the damage, they had won.

    But now, Rodimus Prime had been endowed with the unenviable task of rebuilding Cybertron. For the problem was, the Autobots weren't the only transformers on the planet. The Decepticons hadn't left. Without Galvatron to lead them, the Decepticons had retreated to various areas of Cybertron, where they waited to see what would happen, but they still remained. Luckily, it didn't look like there was anyone around to lead them. Wherever Galvatron had landed after Rodimus threw him out of Unicron's body, he hadn't landed on Cybertron. However, Rodimus Prime had a bad feeling he hadn't seen the last of Galvatron.

    He was still staring out the window when his doorchime sounded. “Come on in,” he said.

    The door opened, and Rodimus knew who it was without turning around. Only Ultra Magnus made those distinctive thudding steps on the metal floor, due to his height, weight and large feet. Ultra Magnus was taller than Rodimus. He was mostly blue, with a red chest upon which a small blue plate rested. His upper and lower arms were blue, with a section of white between. His upper legs were thinner than the lower and white, while the lower was blue with a streak of white down the middle. Two small missiles were mounted on the side of each shoulder; to Rodimus' knowledge, neither missile had ever been fired. Magnus' face was average, with two optical sensors, a respirator and a mouth. The face itself was silver, but the surrounding area was blue. Two thick silver cylindrical antennae protruded from either side of his head, and a large rectangular sensor dominated the space above his eyes.

    Rodimus himself was about ten feet shorter than Ultra Magnus, at about thirty feet. He was mostly orange and red. Bright flames were painted on his chest and sides. A large yellow spoiler protruded behind his head, like wings. Three thin cylindrical blasters were mounted on his forearms, and his laser rifle was concealed inside its compartment in his leg. He also had a normal face, silver, with two bright blue optical sensors, a respirator and a mouth.

    “I just thought you might want to know,” Ultra Magnus said, “that the Junkions have returned to Junk.”

    “That's good,” Rodimus said, still staring out the window.

    Ultra Magnus walked to the window and stood next to him, taking in the bleak view. “Looks like we were hit harder than we thought,” he said. “This is going to take a long time to fix.”

    “Uh huh,” Rodimus said absently.

    “Hot R--I mean, Rodimus, is there a problem?” Ultra Magnus asked. “I can leave if-”

    “What? Oh, no, I was just thinking...”

    “About what?”

    “About Optimus Prime. I really wish he was here.” Rodimus turned to face Ultra Magnus, the transformer who had been his superior only a few days before. “I don't want this job, Magnus. I'm...I'm not ready.”

    “That's what Optimus said before he died,” Ultra Magnus said. “Remember? He said he hadn't been ready, either.”

    “Yeah,” Rodimus said. “But, still...it seems like just yesterday Springer and I were out playing chicken on Earth...”

    “Chicken?” Ultra Magnus asked.

    “Never mind,” Rodimus said. “Say, where is Springer, anyway?”

    “He's out helping the Aerialbots survey the damage. The most extreme devastation seems to be in sparsely populated areas, thank Primus. Currently, there appears to be nearly no loss of Autobot life, and, for better or for worse, a minimal loss of Decepticon life.”

    Rodimus Prime took this in, then turned again, looking out the window.

    “I wonder, Magnus...what do we now? The Decepticons aren't gone. They're still here, and they still outnumber us.”

    “Perhaps,” Ultra Magnus said, “but Galvatron's gone. Without a leader, the Decepticons don't function well.”

    “That reminds me...have you found Shockwave yet?”

    Ultra Magnus bristled a little. “No, he seems to have disappeared. I just don't understand it. Up until Unicron exploded, we had someone keeping strict track of Shockwave. Then...poof!” Ultra Magnus threw his hands up for emphasis. “He vanished.”

    “Maybe he was crushed by a building or something,” Rodimus suggested.

    “No, we checked into that...the tracker we had on him was positive Shockwave wasn't buried or killed. Shockwave was in plain sight, but then Unicron exploded and the tracker couldn't see for a moment--which is understandable--and when he could see again, just a few seconds later, Shockwave was gone.”

    Rodimus nodded gravely as he watched a battered Decepticon pick up a small laser rifle on the streets below, then dart into the shadows.

    “We think he may have somehow gotten his hands on a teleporting system...like the one Skywarp uses,” Ultra Magnus said.

    At the mention of the Decepticon's name, Hot Rod's mind flashed back to several events...events long before Unicron, events when he was still just plain old Hot Rod. “Skywarp... did he survive?”

    “We don't know, sir. We only kept track of the commanding Decepticons.”

    “Yes, of course. Don't worry about it. Besides, I think I remember him being critically injured in the battle in Autobot City on Earth.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded. “Sir, I was thinking...perhaps, until we can get a better handle on things, we should start rounding up all the Decepticons we can find. I could get the Aerialbots to work right away...”

    “Magnus,” Rodimus interrupted, “there's millions of Decepticons out there, and they vastly outnumber us. To start rounding them up would only create unnecessary danger to the Autobots already here. Oh, I forgot...how is the repair of Autobot City going?”

    “We have Grapple running the show right now,” Ultra Magnus said. “He's gathered up all the functioning Autobots he could and set to work rebuilding the city. He's also got several doctors working around the clock to repair any Autobots who managed to survive.”

    Ultra Magnus' use of the phrase “working around the clock” reminded Rodimus of how many human words and expressions had worked their way into Autobot and Decepticon speech. He smiled slightly; while he and Springer had picked up most of the humans' expressions in a couple of years, it had taken Ultra Magnus over a decade to start using them regularly.

    A small button beeped on the data pad Rodimus hadn't even noticed Ultra Magnus was holding. “Oh, yes,” Magnus said, glancing at it. “I almost forgot. We received some death threats this morning. Death threats against you.”

    “You're kidding,” Rodimus said. “Already? How fast does information travel around here?”

    “This is rather serious. These threats were made by the Deathcons, sir.”

    Rodimus was taken off-guard. He winced slightly at the mention of the name. “The Deathcons? I thought we captured them a couple of years ago...”

    “We did. The Arsenal--remember them? That team of Autobot trackers?” At Rodimus' nod, Magnus continued. “The Arsenal defeated them shortly before the Arsenal team was disbanded, and Optimus Prime had the Deathcons spread out across several planets, into various prisons. Unfortunately, all have escaped. One member took a radius of three miles of land area with him.”

    “Jeez. Is there any information on their possible whereabouts?”

    “Fortunately, we've communicated with several sources that say the team is holding up on Delta Agma IV. Another interesting thing is that the former Arsenal leader, Battleram, is on the same planet.”

    “Ah,” Rodimus nodded, “that explains it. But how in the world could they possibly know I was the new Autobot leader?”

    “Actually, sir, they don't. The message was sent `to the leader of the Autobots'. Apparently, they know of Optimus Prime's death, but not of your succession to leadership. In any case, the message was sent by the member known as Gremlin, so we couldn't trace it.”

    Rodimus watched a lilleth soar overhead, its graceful glass-like body gleaming, its wings making small flashes in the sunlight. This cheered him up a little; lilleths were so rare that seeing one was a sign of good luck.

    “Speaking of Optimus Prime,” Rodimus said, “has his body been prepared for the Mausoleum yet?”

    “No, it's being prepared as we speak. First Aid wanted to wait until he could devote his full attention to it, and he's been working with the injured for the last few days.”

    Rodimus took one last look at the devastated city, then turned and faced Ultra Magnus. “All right, here's what we have to do.” He walked over to his large desk and sat in the comfortable chair. He leaned on the desk on his elbows. Ultra Magnus took the seat across from him.

    “The first thing we have to do is find all the Autobots, gather them together. All the Autobots on Earth can stay there, except for Omega Supreme. Get him back here as soon as possible.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded slightly as he took the notes on his data pad. For a moment, he felt the odd feeling of being given orders by someone who he had known as a slightly immature soldier only a few days before. It was strange; Hot Rod was no longer fully Hot Rod. Hot Rod's humor, his identity, remained within Rodimus Prime, but nearly everything else seemed drastically different. An air of confidence surrounded Rodimus Prime, the kind of confidence Ultra Magnus had only known in Optimus Prime. Rodimus Prime seemed to command authority merely by his demeanor. Even his voice was deeper. Hot Rod had finally matured, and even Ultra Magnus had to admit, as Kup had been telling everyone at the victory celebration the previous night (in which Kup had had more than one spiked energon cube), that “he always knew the boy had potential.” Still, no one had guessed that Hot Rod was the next Prime. Something made Ultra Magnus doubt that even Optimus Prime could have foreseen this one.

    “Next, we'll need to talk to the World Council on Earth. I can't go, but I'll send you and a few others. Also, get the Virginia shuttle port up and running. In fact, in about three days, open Cybertron to Earth scientists.”

    Ultra Magnus looked up. “Sir, I don't think that's a very good idea right now. With all these rogue Decepticons...”

    Rodimus Prime thought for a moment. “I see your point. Wait a week, then.”

    Ultra Magnus sighed inwardly and inputted the information onto the data card. “Anything else?”

    “See what you can do about finding the Deathcons. I'd like to keep tabs on them, just to be safe. That will do for now.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded and stood. “Yes, sir.” He turned and left the room.

    Rodimus Prime looked at the desk, his desk. The desk Optimus Prime had sat at when he had planned Decepticon raids. And before Optimus, Sarnimus Prime, and several other Primes before him. Hot Rod was now a Prime. He still found it overwhelming. The power, the strength, was welcome, of course, but he just wasn't sure of his ability to lead. He had new confidence...but still, something wasn't right; he didn't feel ready.

    But he had to lead. The Autobots were counting on him. He couldn't let them down.

    Rodimus Prime sighed, and flipped on the monitor next to him. He began to sift through the endless reports.


    -2-
    Rodimus Prime had called a meeting of all the highly-ranked Autobots to discuss how to handle the various problems that now faced them. Rodimus had also called in several lower-ranked officers he knew well, and knew gave good advice on almost any matter.

    On the left side of the large table sat Ultra Magnus, Grimlock, Jetfire, Perceptor, Blurr and Arcee. On the right sat Silverbolt, the leader of the Aerialbots, as well as Kup, Jazz, and Sky Lynx, who took up much of the room.

    There was little or no talking while everyone waited for the last person to arrive. Ultra Magnus and Arcee stared at their data pads, occasionally tapping at the buttons, correcting an order or receiving information. Silverbolt and Sky Lynx quietly discussed some aerial combat techniques. Grimlock was listening to Kup, who was telling the Dinobot a war tale from his seemingly endless supply of them. Perceptor stood still, staring at the table, which indicated to Rodimus Prime that he was working on some scientific problem. Blurr was reading an Earth novel on a datapad, and once in a while he'd laugh and mumble something; the only word Rodimus caught was “Zaphod.” Jazz was listening to some Earth music with an odd device that attached over his antennae, blocking the noise from everyone else's audio sensors.

    Rodimus wondered what the others in this group felt like, what they had gone through during the past week. Jazz had been on Moon Base One when it was consumed by Unicron. Jazz had nearly been consumed by Unicron himself, if Spike Witwicky's son, Daniel, had not saved him, as well as Spike, Bumblebee and Cliffjumper.

    Ultra Magnus did not seem too affected. Then again, Rodimus suspected he wouldn't have been able to tell if Magnus was affected. Ultra Magnus had watched the Decepticons take him by surprise, destroy the city he was sanctioned to protect. He had watched as Optimus Prime had arrived and fought Megatron to the death. He had been there when Optimus died, and received the Matrix from Optimus. He had failed to defeat Galvatron and his warriors at Junk, and had lost the Matrix. Most likely, Ultra Magnus was affected, but he'd never let it show, never let it affect his job performance.

    Where the hell was Springer? Rodimus wondered. It wasn't like him to be this late.

    Just when the group began to get visibly agitated, the door to the room slid into the wall and Springer ran in, obviously having run to the meeting from wherever he had been. Rodimus shot a glare at the green Autobot, who just half-grinned and plopped into his seat.

    Rodimus sat up in his chair and called the meeting to order. Everyone in the room sat up and came to attention, looking expectantly at their young new leader.

    “We have several problems to discuss today.” Rodimus looked around the table. “I think we all agree that creating a form of government is the first and foremost problem on our list. We have to get organized if we are to clean this planet up. But we can't establish a large government right now. Prime Tribunals and such will have to wait. But I think we can establish a temporary government with the people in this room.”

    Several members of the group quickly hid a slight surprise. Most of them hadn't expected to be top members of the government so fast.

    “I, of course, will be the Prime. I have the final word in any important decision, and ultimate control over any troops or plans.”

    He looked at Ultra Magnus. “Ultra Magnus, you are the second-in-command, or “vice-Prime”, to paraphrase an Earth word. If I were to be...incapacitated, you would succeed to Prime, with or without the Matrix.

    “As vice-Prime, you will make most decisions regarding all bases and Autobots on Earth. You'll be the main supervisor of all the repairs on Autobot City on Earth, and you can appoint a main supervisor to work on Earth.”

    “Done,” Ultra Magnus said. “I already assigned Grapple to that task.”

    “Good,” Rodimus said. He turned to the next officer. “Kup, you're the new General of Battle. Your experience will come in handy for that position.”

    Kup snorted. “Just another roundabout way of saying I'm too old to fight, right?”

    The joke lightened the mood of the table. Rodimus grinned, because he knew in truth, Kup wasn't really mad; the General of Battle was one of the most prestigious positions in the history of Cybertronian government, and Rodimus felt it was high time his old comrade and friend was repaid for all his years of hard fighting and loyalty to the Autobot cause.

    Rodimus turned to Arcee. “Arcee-”

    Arcee looked up at him. Instantly, Rodimus saw that something was bugging her. She was looking at him with...with that look. He couldn't explain it. He knew something was up, though. He'd have to talk to her later.

    “Arcee,” he said again, “you'll be the Autobot representative. You can organize a team of Autobots to begin gathering and repairing all of the Autobots currently on Cybertron. Also, you'll have to find a new head doctor, since Ratchet has...passed on.”

    Arcee nodded, and Rodimus couldn't help but catch that look again before she turned back to her data pad. He'd definitely have to talk to her.

    Rodimus turned to Springer. “Springer, I have an important job for you. You, Silverbolt and Sky Lynx are in charge of the reconstruction of Cybertron.”

    “Oh, is that all?” Springer asked with light sarcasm.

    Rodimus smiled slightly. “For now, all you have to do is assess the damage. The actual reconstruction probably won't begin for six months or so.”

    Springer nodded, and Rodimus looked around the table. “That's all for now. Dismissed.”

    “Hey!” Grimlock said loudly as the group began to file out. “What about me? What me do?”

    “Grimlock,” Rodimus said, slowly walking around the table to the disgruntled Dinobot, “for now, you and the Dinobots will have to guard here, at Autobot Headquarters.”

    Before the annoyed Dinobot could reply, Rodimus quickly added, “But, in a month or two, we'll send you out to clean up Cybertron from the rest of the dangerous Decepticons.”

    Grimlock brightened at this. “Yes! Me Grimlock kick Decepticon butt!”

    Rodimus nodded. “Yes, but not until later. For now, you can guard the base.”

    Grimlock nodded and stomped out of the room. Rodimus looked around at the empty room, then quickly exited.


    -3-
    Stal quickly descended down the stairs, cursing for the thousandth time his lack of foresight. Why he hadn't put an elevator into the complex was beyond him.

    He was headed for his laboratory, in which he kept his most valuable possessions: his hunting robots. As he continued down, he thought back to how he had become a bounty hunter.

    He had been raised in the mechanical wilds of Uros VII, where his two creators, or “parents”, Steot and Bial, had made him out of the various remains of dead relatives, as all Urosians reproduced at the time. His world had been a vast bio-mechanical jungle, filled mostly with deadly creatures intent on his destruction.

    Uros VII was a world shrouded in mystery. Nearly six million years ago, it had been nothing but a desolate waste of a planet, much too far from its main sun to harbor life, organic or bio-mechanical. Uros V, a planet inhabited with intelligent humanoids, was the main attraction of the Urosian system.

    Then, one day, strange visitors from a nearby planet arrived on Uros VII in massive ships which fully destroyed the fleet Uros V sent out to stop them. The aliens, who were much larger than any of Uros V's humanoid inhabitants, set to work building a large laboratory on the planet. The aliens' leader, calling himself Megatron, contacted the Prefect of Uros V and told him that no Urosian was ever to approach Uros VII. Fearing the aliens' wrath, the Urosians never defied Megatron's decree.

    After about one millennia, odd things had began to occur on Uros VII. The aliens, who called themselves Decepticons, created a thin atmosphere, consisting largely of gases such as oxygen and methane. They built several massive trenches around the planet. Over a period of several decades, these trenches were flooded with a liquid, called by the inhabitants of Uros V as cik'sa, or water, as it is known as on Earth.

    Before a mere decade's time was up, the great rivers had a new life form in them, presumably created by the Decepticons. The creatures were called Sharkticons, and the rivers were absolutely teeming with them. How the Sharkticons were ever fed wasn't known, though there was speculation that other types of aquatic bio-mechanical creatures were created as well.

    But the Decepticons did not stop with the Sharkticons. Soon, they began building a robotic habitat for land-based creatures. They created large robotic trees that could grow and die, as well as many other forms of plant life. They created great beasts that roamed the wide, flat areas of Uros VII, feeding their huge bodies with vegetation. They created small, vicious creatures, a pack of which were more than capable of bringing down one of the larger creatures. There were predators and prey, carnivores and herbivores, even simple life and complex life. It was an incredible feat in robotic engineering. Hundreds of new life forms were created, and in less than a million years the desolate planet of Uros VII became a haven for robotic life, swarming with various creatures of all kinds and sizes. Eventually, a new species appeared, one that was created without engineering on the Decepticons' part. Several of the smaller carnivores suddenly evolved, becoming bipedal and learning to reproduce from the parts around them. They learned to make opposable thumbs. They began to resemble their creators, the Decepticons. The only form of life on the planet that could transform were still the Sharkticons, but these new, intelligent life forms quickly became the dominant life form on the planet.

    For millennia, the people of the Uros star system speculated on what the purpose of the planet was. The Decepticons were well-known as a hostile, military-minded division of the inhabitants of the planet Cybertron. Some thought the Decepticons merely wanted to prove that they could create life. Others speculated that the Decepticons were experimenting on planets to see if they could prepare other planets for colonization. The third school of thought was that the planet was nothing but a weapons plant, creating new life-forms to become the Decepticons' warriors. The third group was right.

    Soon after the development of the bipedal species, the Decepticons began transporting thousands of creatures to Cybertron. The took mostly Sharkticons and the bipedal species, using them for cannon fodder against their enemies, the Autobots. However, the Decepticons quickly realized that training the creatures for battle was near impossible, because they were so primitive. The project was abandoned, and the Decepticons left Uros VII forever.

    For several million years, no one went near the planet. The other inhabitants of the Uros system feared the life on the planet, and it was far too primitive to build a spaceport or a colony on. So the life on the planet was left on its own, and the planet and its inhabitants continued to evolve.

    Stal still remembered killing his first Sharkticon, nearly a thousand years ago. He had finally reached his fifth Nwaargen, and all his training in hunting prey was put the test. He remembered the battle with the beast as if it were yesterday. He had dived right into the black water and quickly found the creature, stabbing his thick blade into its side. It had turned and attacked him, ripping a chunk from his side. Then the Sharkticon had taken off at full speed, dragging Stal along with it. Finally, he had thrust the blade through the beast's brain, killing it. Then, he sliced out its jaws and swam to shore, victorious.

    Shortly after that day, his life on Uros VII had ended abruptly. A spacefaring alien species had finally taken notice of the planet. Unfortunately, that species had turned out to be the Quintessons.

    The Quintessons had wasted no time. Without even acknowledging the dominant species' meager attempts to stop them, they had transported hundreds of life-forms to their huge vessel. They had taken several hundred Sharkticons and their prey, as well as several larger species of aquatic life that had evolved. They also took a hundred or so of a large, land-roaming carnivore, an alligator-like species which now showed signs of being moderately trainable. They apparently decided not to take any of the smaller carnivores, but the did take one tribe of Stal's species. That tribe, needless to say, had been the one Stal belonged to.

    The Quintessons had taken them all back to Quintessa, where they quickly dumped most of the aquatic creatures into the small ocean they had created specifically for the Uros VII species. The larger land carnivores were quickly trained and placed as guards throughout the space station-like oval planet. However, they put all the Sharkticons into a special large water tank, which they used as their method of execution when they held their one-sided trials of any unfortunate soul or souls who happened to land on their planet.

    Stal's tribe, apparently, had been taken for mere research. Soon after they had arrived, experiments were done on them, and one by one, the Quintessons began to execute the Urosians by trying experiments that eventually killed the subject, one way or the other. Stal had watched both his parents bravely attempt to fight the Quintessons before they died.

    When her time came, his mother nearly succeeded in escape. Though she understood nothing of the Quintessons, she knew her mate, Steot, was dead, and that the Quintessons had killed him, and that the Quintessons would likely kill her and her son. So, when they came for her, she had tricked them by acting extremely afraid, then viciously attacked them. Stal had escaped the cell and tried to help his mother. His mother managed to kill three of the Quintessons' guards before she was shot. Stal, seeing his mother go down, viciously attacked her killer, ripping his tentacles right out of their sockets and biting chunks out of his head. He succeeded in killing that guard, as well as one other, before he was finally caught and confined.

    Soon after, the Quintessons decided it was time for their greatest test, the test of the Sharkticon pool. Since Stal was the only Urosian left, and no other aliens were in the quadrant, the Quintessons decided he would be an excellent subject.

    Stal clearly remembered standing on the plank, the Sharkticon swarming hungrily far beneath him, the three Quintessons laughing as they delivered the now-infamous, dreaded “Innocent” verdict. He remembered, seconds later, being caught in mid-fall by a Cybertronian and being flown far away from Quintessa.

    The Cybertronian, who turned out to be a Decepticon, had taken him to a planet called Delta Agma IV, where he was put into an underground group of bounty hunters, and taught in the ways of bounty hunting. In awe of having met what he believed to be one of the Creators, Stal had followed the Decepticon's every order and trained as the Decepticon wished. Stal's mind had quickly consumed the mountains of available information. He soon found he was excellent with electronics and robotic engineering.

    After several decades, he was nearly a “normal” member of society. Or as normal as a bounty hunter was considered in society.

    For centuries, he had plotted to go back and destroy the Quintessons. Several months ago, he had finally decided to do it. Then two things happened.

    First, the Quintessons were driven off Quintessa anyway, after a rebellion of the Sharkticons.

    Second, his current client had showed up.

    When he heard what the client wanted, he tried to back out of it right then and there. But there was a problem.

    His client was the same Cybertronian who had saved his life on Quintessa so many years before. Stal found he couldn't refuse. He had agreed, reluctantly, to do what his client wanted.

    Stal reached his laboratory, deep in the bowels of the building he rented on Delta Agma IV. In the lab, he had created his greatest asset: the Hunters, a group of robot weapons designed to capture or kill almost any target.

    Ordinarily, he wouldn't have been worried. Organic prey was no problem for the Hunters. Mechanical prey, such as Stal himself, were not much of a problem, either. Even an ordinary transformer wasn't too hard to capture, though the transformer might take a few Hunters with him before succumbing.

    But this was big time prey. He had been hired to capture a Prime. Primes were historically much stronger than the average transformer. The previous Prime, Optimus, had defeated such other powerful transformers like Megatron time and again. What chance did the Hunters have?

    But they money was excellent, and he really needed it. Of course, he could try and make a break with the five thousand he had, but he had a very bad feeling he'd wind up dead in less than a week. His client was infamous for that.

    Besides that, he did have a few things on his side. For one, this Prime was new, and inexperienced. Most likely, he didn't understand the full extent of his powers.

    And the other thing he had was the Hunters. They weren't exactly the weakest bounty hunters in the quadrant. Quite the contrary; Stal was well-known as the creator and owner of the Hunters, and he had tracked, captured and/or killed any being he was hired to...thus far.

    Stal walked around the large room, inspecting each monitor in front of each Hunter. First, he inspected his two modified Sharkticons. He had bought them from a smuggler who had snatched a few off Uros VII and had altered them slightly to be bounty hunters. The only major difference was their much stronger titanium plating. Also, their brains had been filled with battle strategy, but of course, no personality. Sharkticons, while descended from the Cybertronians, had very little or no personality, unlike normal Cybertronians. But, Stal thought ruefully, the Sharkticons had turned out to be not quite as mindless as the Quintessons had assumed. Stal had laughed out loud when he read the news report of the Sharkticons' rebellion against the Quintessons.

    But Stal's Sharkticons had an almost complete lack of personality, necessary for their job. Personalities created doubts, moral problems, other things that would disrupt their performance. So Stal had quickly erased as much as he could of the two transformer's personalities.

    Next were the Coverfires. The spindly little disc-shaped droids, barely as tall as a human, ran around a target on four insect-like legs, firing barely harmful lasers wildly for the sole purpose of confusing the target. They were easily destroyed and replaced. Their design was based on a creature from Uros VII, a small creature that ran around its prey, spitting acid at it, until the creature's symbiotic partner, a large, vicious carnivore, could come in and kill the prey with ease.

    Next came the big guns. He had two Destroids, massive tanks with huge spiked treads and more artillery than Stal liked to count. Mounted on the huge grey tanks was everything from laser rifles to heat-seeking proton missiles to a huge fusion cannon. Usually, Stal only used the Destroids when he wanted to kill a target.

    Next came the real Hunters, the robots that made Stal so successful. He had created four S.A.R. (Seek And Retriever) droids. The robots were nearly ten feet taller than Stal's current client. Their bodies were shaped like thick, wide discs, like two bowls connected top to top, but sharper. Mounted on the front and back of the discs were two pairs of piercing red eyes, which could swivel with the upper body, giving it a sight range of three hundred-sixty degrees. The eyes could see into the ultraviolet spectrum, as well as infrared and all others in-between. On each side of the droids, two thick fusion blasters were mounted like arms, with twin barrels on each arm. The blasters couldn't swivel, but the entire upper body could. The lower body usually remained still, unless the droid was walking. Each had three thick titanium legs with wide, flat feet, and thick treads for traction. The droids had a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour. But the droids' specialty was not shooting or chasing after a target. No, the S.A.R.s' legs were designed for jumping. The droids were programmed to lock onto a target, then leap on top of it. Mounted on the main body's underside was a vicious array of clawed arms, cutting tools and blasters. The droid could grab the target, shoot it or slice it to ribbons.

    Stal had decided that the S.A.R.s were what he needed for the job. He would bring along a Destroid, of course, in case things got out of hand, but he suspected the four S.A.R.s would be enough. He would also take a few Coverfires to confuse his target. Probably the Sharkticons, too, to help add to the confusion. Better safe than sorry.

    Stal smiled grimly as he began to charge the robots up. Somehow, he was pretty sure that, one way or the other, he'd end up feeling pretty sorry.


    -4-
    The two ships flew silently through space, communicating through radio transmissions in the soundless black. They had been flying for hours, and Scourge was getting tired of it. He didn't even know what they were looking for. Cyclonus had only told him to look for a small box. Cyclonus hadn't even allowed Scourge's Sweeps to come along, although they could have cut the time it was taking to find the box in half.

    As they flew, Scourge looked around. They were in the middle of nowhere, in space. Scourge had thought long flights on Earth, back when he was Skywarp, were boring, but spaceflight beat it easily. He didn't like flying himself through space. You were supposed to ride big spaceships, shuttles, through space, not fly yourself.

    But Unicron had mutated him, giving him the ability to fly through space. Unicron had also given him new tracking systems so powerful he wouldn't have believed they could be created. Now, he could scan the surrounding space for hundreds of miles in every direction. He could fly through space at speeds twenty times faster than his former maximum speed when he was Skywarp. He was ten times stronger.

    But it was so...different. Different, and he didn't like it. He sometimes thought he might rather have died than become Scourge. He missed Starscream and Thundercracker and Nightwind and Soundwave and even the old Megatron, who of course, had become the even more insane Galvatron. Galvatron was out of his mind. All the manipulation by Unicron had made Megatron's condition even worse. Thundercracker was technically alive; Unicron had turned him into a henchman of Cyclonus, and also a copy of Cyclonus. Unfortunately, Unicron had apparently thought memories were unnecessary for his job, so Thundercracker's mind had been wiped clean. And although he was technically Cyclonus' “armada”, the copy basically just worked with Scourge and the Sweeps. Cyclonus preferred to work alone.

    Scourge was having trouble with his mind. In most respects, he was basically Skywarp again. Once Unicron had been destroyed, thousands upon millions of memories had rushed in to fill the void Scourge hadn't even known existed. But he still had problems. At times, the Skywarp persona, and Skywarp's memories, would just...give out. Or they'd flicker for a moment, leaving only the blank, blindly obedient mind of Scourge behind. Scourge was most nervous during these times. He felt like he was going to go crazy. The thought of losing his identity...it was what scared Scourge most.

    But right now, Scourge wasn't thinking about those things. Scourge was bored. There was nothing to look at except a bunch of asteroids, passing by them so fast he barely had a chance to catch the blur. Of course, he could tell someone the exact diameter, composition, and trajectory of each asteroid if he wanted to, but, since no one would want the information, he didn't bother scanning for it.

    He glanced at Cyclonus. Cyclonus had definitely lost all his memory of being the Insecticon Bombshell. He was much smarter, craftier, and a hundred times more powerful. He was Galvatron's new second-in-command, since Galvatron had wasted Starscream. Scourge was glad he hadn't seen Starscream's death; it sort of represented how far both Starscream and Megatron/Galvatron had degenerated.

    So Cyclonus just flew alongside him, saying nothing, although a hundred thousand things were probably running through his head. There was no sound from either's engines, since sound couldn't travel in space. Scourge thought the absolute silence might drive him mad. On Earth, at least one could hear the sound of one's engines roaring. When he flew in formation with the others, he could always hear Thundercracker's engines blasting or Nightwind would be talking non-stop, since she preferred verbal speech to the limited radio communication transformers could use. But not so in the vacuum of space. Several times Scourge considered striking up a conversation with Cyclonus, but something made him suspect Cyclonus was not a great conversationalist. So Scourge focused his attention on his scanners, praying they would soon find what the they were looking for.

    His wish was suddenly granted; Scourge spotted something on his scanners. “Is that it?”

    It took Cyclonus several seconds to pick up what Scourge's more powerful sensors had found. “Yes, that's it,” he responded over the radio. “That's Galvatron's emergency buoy. He must have launched because he knew someone would find it and, hopefully, find him.”

    “How do you know it's his?” Scourge asked.

    “I just know,” Cyclonus responded. “Now, pick it up.”

    Scourge transformed and grabbed the small box, then transformed, pulling the box into himself.

    “I'm reading it...I'll transmit the last bit of memory tape to you...”

    Cyclonus received the information. “Excellent,” he said quietly.

    “Excellent?” Scourge asked, surprised. “Why excellent?”

    “If he thought to launch this buoy, then Galvatron must be alive. He may be inactive, but he is still alive.”

    “How do we find him?”

    “That will be easy enough,” Cyclonus said. “Our larger problem is how to repair his damage. I can already see it's considerable; it looks like he was caught in the blast from Unicron's explosion. But I think I know how we can repair him quickly.”

    “We can repair Galvatron? But how? Were any records made of his structure? He never took a medical examination, he was not...active long enough. So what are you going to do? Guess?”

    “Records were made, he was just not aware of them,” Cyclonus said. “Contact the Sweeps and have them meet us at the new base.”

    There was another pause. “Done. Well, assuming you do repair Galvatron, what will you do? Launch an attack on the Autobots and the Decepticons with only five troops?”

    “Shockwave is a fool. He will see the plight of his actions soon enough. In the meanwhile, I'm sure we'll be able to find a number of true Decepticons who do not want to join forces with the Autobots.”

    The two ships left a trail of light as they headed to meet the Sweeps.


    -5-
    Rodimus Prime walked briskly down the hallway, nodding at various Autobots as he passed them and they nodded or saluted to him. Rodimus didn't especially like it; all the respect was making him uncomfortable, and adding to his overall feeling of not being ready to command the Autobots.

    Even though he had lighted the Autobots'--perhaps even the entire Cybertronian race's--darkest hour, he still felt that something was wrong. Rodimus knew he was the next Prime, but he didn't like all the respect, and all the expectation. He could tell that all the Autobots were expecting another Optimus Prime. Rodimus didn't like that. He didn't like the salutes. He didn't like commanding. He really just wanted to transform into a regular car and drag race with Springer and Sunstreaker and Sideswipe. Of course, Sunstreaker was dead, and Springer and Sideswipe were busy with assessing the damage. Not that Rodimus would expect them to drag race, anyway. It seemed like everyone had grown up far too fast.

    But Rodimus' feeling of unreadiness was deeper than just his own mind. Something, something perhaps connected with the Matrix itself, told him he had taken the Matrix too early, that it was not yet his time.

    But it didn't matter now. He couldn't just take the Matrix out of his chest and give it to someone else. Ultra Magnus wasn't the chosen Autobot. And Optimus Prime was dead. So that only left Rodimus Prime, to command all of the Autobots.

    And not just Autobots...Decepticons, too, apparently, since the Decepticons were lost without a leader, and scrambling to regroup and recuperate. Several bands of Decepticons, ranging from merely Autobot weary to all-out terrorists had formed and fallen in hours. The Decepticons, unlike Autobots, were ruled by dictators, like Megatron and Shockwave, and unlike Autobots they had no real lower ranks to fall upon. There were official designations, of course; but the official second-in-command, Shockwave, had vanished; third-in-command, Soundwave, just couldn't do the job; and Starscream was dead. And of course, Galvatron was history, at least for the time being.

    Suddenly, a thought popped into Rodimus' head: what about Cyclonus, Galvatron's unofficial second-in-command? And Scourge and the Sweeps? What would they be up to? Most likely, they were attempting to find their boss. Luckily, the Autobots were already out doing the same thing; Rodimus had sent a team out to find the Decepticon leader that morning. Besides, even if Cyclonus and Scourge did find Galvatron first, they would have a lot of work to do before fixing him. Rodimus had made sure to damage several vital parts before throwing Galvatron from Unicron's doomed body.

    Lost in thought, Rodimus nearly walked right past his destination. He quickly stopped and turned, facing the door. He hesitated for a moment, then rang the doorchime.

    “Come in,” a feminine voice said from the other side.

    Arcee looked up as Rodimus stepped through the door. She still had faint traces of the odd, preoccupied look Rodimus had noticed at the meeting.

    “Well, hello, Commander,” Arcee said. “It's good to see you still have time to visit people.”

    The words took Rodimus off-guard, stabbing his audio sensors with sarcasm before he realized what was said. “Jeez, Arcee, what's your problem?” he asked without thinking.

    “Problem?” Arcee asked. “I don't have a problem. I was just commenting on how busy your schedule has become.”

    “Oh,” Rodimus said, trying to regroup, “sorry.”

    Arcee looked at him for a moment, then asked, “Is there a reason you came down here?”

    Once again, Rodimus was at a loss for proper words. “Um-- Yes, I think so...” he said, his mind frantically trying to remember why he had come, finding out why, then trying to figure out how to imply why he had come without stating it directly.

    “You think so?” Arcee asked, as if to say he'd better have a damn good reason for being there.

    “Um,” he said uncertainly, “I...I wanted to know how you're doing with...with finding a new doctor.” Somewhere in his head he heard the buzzer one heard when one got an answer wrong on a game show.

    “Ah,” Arcee said. “You could have just used the comm system.”

    “I know that,” Rodimus said, sounding a tad too much like Hot Rod, his voice higher than normal. “I...I just wanted to speak to you...personally.”

    “Oh?” Arcee asked, turning back to her computer screen.

    The sudden lack of attention made Rodimus indignant. “You could at least pay attention when I'm talking to you...” he said angrily.

    Arcee flicked off the screen in one quick motion and turned to face him. “I apologize, commander. What is it you wish to ask me?”

    Rodimus could see he was quickly talking himself into a corner. He closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them again, he was calm. Arcee was still looking at him, her posture rigid, like a soldier at attention. He ignored her silent mocking of him and his authority.

    “I'm sorry for snapping at you,” Rodimus said. “I...I came down because...at the meeting, you seemed, well, preoccupied. Do you have a problem, Arcee? Did I do something wrong?”

    “What do you mean?” Arcee asked. “What could you do wrong that would affect me?”

    This statement caused the two to quietly regard each other. Even after all these years, both of them had yet to admit the attraction they felt for each other. Several Autobots, Springer in particular, had said the pair reminded them of “Moonlighting”, whatever that was.

    Now, as they silently regarded each other, each wondered what was going on in the other's mind. Each wanted to admit their feelings, but at the same time, neither wanted to be the first to admit their feelings. The private rivalry the two had enjoyed for years seemed to prevent any relationship from forming on the basic problem of personal pride.

    Rodimus suspected he knew exactly what was wrong. Since he had become Prime, he'd hardly said two words to her, outside of meetings. Somehow, she'd communicated that without saying a word, but he couldn't confront her about it, because she wasn't going to admit anything. And neither was he.

    “Well?” Arcee asked again.

    Rodimus Prime glared at her. “Nothing,” he said quietly. “Nothing I could do wrong could possibly affect you.” And with that, he turned and walked out of the room, the door swooshing shut behind him.

    Arcee sat in silence for a moment. Then, with a rush of anger, she punched the computer screen, shattering it with a satisfying crash.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Ultra Magnus was working on some flight plans, waiting for his commanding officer, when Rodimus Prime stormed in and threw himself down in a chair.

    Ultra Magnus looked at him. “Is there a problem, Rodimus?”

    “No,” Rodimus said firmly. “No, no problem at all.”

    Ultra Magnus had known Rodimus far too long to not see through the obvious lie. In most ways, Rodimus wasn't one but different from Hot Rod. But he decided it wasn't worth pursuing at the present time.

    “If you say so,” Magnus said, letting a slight hint of dubiousness seep into his voice. “Anyway, the reason I called you down here is because we have a serious problem.”

    “Oh?” Rodimus asked, not really paying attention. He was still frustrated from his recent encounter with Arcee.

    “Yes,” Ultra Magnus said, almost relishing his next words, despite how deadly serious they were. He loved seeing Rodimus snap out of reveries; it was one trait that hadn't been vanished when Hot Rod had become Rodimus Prime. “Galvatron's missing.”

    There it was. For a moment, Rodimus started to say “Uh huh.” Then, after a second or two, Magnus' words registered somewhere in the back of Rodimus' mind, and his head snapped up to face Ultra Magnus. “Wha-what did you say?”

    “I said Galvatron's missing. The search team, using your coordinates, found the approximate area where Galvatron should be. He wasn't there.”

    Rodimus, already having pushed the argument with Arcee from his mind, quickly began running through the possibilities. “Maybe Unicron's explosion blew him another way,” Rodimus suggested. Then, voicing his worst fear, his said, “Or maybe, Cyclonus and Scourge have got him.”

    Ultra Magnus shook his head, looking down at his reports. “I doubt that. We have no evidence Cyclonus and Scourge even survived Unicron's attack. They could be anywhere. Given Galvatron's already bad reputation, I doubt Cyclonus and Scourge are loyal enough to find him. Besides, Galvatron's probably already dead by now. It's been nearly four days. With his damage and lack of energy, he couldn't survive very long.”

    Rodimus looked at Ultra Magnus. “I wouldn't be too sure of that. I may have beaten Galvatron, but I caught him unprepared, and already damaged. And still, he fought pretty hard. Unicron built him well. I'm pretty sure he's alive, even if he's not active.

    “Anyway,” Rodimus continued, “the best thing to do is to send the teams on a wider search, based on the possible directions Unicron's explosion could have knocked him. You need to look at some records of Unicron's explosion, then cross them with Galvatron's position at the time and calculate them. Have Perceptor do it.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded and inputted the information into his data pad. “I assume you also want us to put some teams on finding Cyclonus and Scourge?”

    Rodimus nodded. He thought for a moment, then said, “Aren't we spreading ourselves a little thin? What with this Galvatron retrieval team, the damage crews, the casualty repair crews, the guards, the Shockwave locating crew, the Deathcon locating crew, and now a crew to find Cyclonus and Scourge?”

    “Yes,” Ultra Magnus said, “we don't have as many Autobots as we'd like. I've transferred every single Autobot we can spare from Earth to Cybertron. We've got every doctor and medic working on fixing more Autobots; by the way, Arcee found us a head doctor, First Aid.”

    “Good for Arcee,” Rodimus muttered under his breath, with slight venom in his voice.

    Ah, Ultra Magnus thought. So that was why Rodimus had been so...dismayed when he came in.

    Magnus acted as if he hadn't heard the comment. “So we're not doing too badly. I think things will start to get as 'normal' as they'll ever get around here in a month or two.”

    Rodimus merely nodded absently. His mind was off somewhere else again.

    “Um, sir,” Ultra Magnus said, “I think you may have other matters to attend to.”

    Rodimus pulled out of his revery. “Throwing me out, Ultra Magnus?”

    Ultra Magnus smiled slightly. “You know I can't do that, Commander. You outrank me.”

    Rodimus grinned, and stood up. “Very well, Mr. Vice-Prime,” he said, with exaggerated formality, “I leave you to your work.”

    “Thank you,” Ultra Magnus said as Rodimus walked out the door. Magnus chuckled slightly, shook his head, and turned back to his computer.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “Thank you.”

    The Decepticon leaned over and turned off the computer screen. As he did so, one word ran through his mind over and over again.

    Turmoil.

    That was the only word Shockwave could find to describe the Decepticon situation. The Decepticons, deprived of a leader, were in utter turmoil, trying to find a suitable successor to the missing Galvatron.

    Shockwave knew that all he had to do was show himself and the Decepticons would follow him. Like Megatron and later Galvatron, Shockwave was a token Decepticon symbol of leadership. The Decepticons were desperate for a leader. Such unlikely candidates as Soundwave and Trypticon had been suggested; Soundwave for his intelligence and vast knowledge of Megatron and Megatron's tactics; Trypticon because of his immense size, brute strength and decidedly anti-Autobot ideology.

    But Shockwave knew neither would last long as leader. Soundwave was an incompetent fool, and all who had any knowledge of his personality knew he was a little more than a toady for the late Megatron. Trypticon simply didn't have any leadership qualities, and any who followed him would be swiftly defeated by the Autobots.

    But Shockwave also knew that he himself could not yet assume leadership of the Decepticons. No, he had not escaped the Autobots so stealthily only to be shot down in a battle with the same people he had escaped.

    He had dodged his Autobot tracker's notice with surprising ease, using Unicron's explosion to disappear into a hidden tunnel only he and Megatron had known about. The tunnel led to a small room, which contained enough energon and supplies to last a single Decepticon for years. The room had been one of the thousands of emergency shelters Megatron had created for himself.

    But the particular shelter Shockwave had holed up in was much more than a mere shelter; the room was the home of the Decepticons' main computer. In that small room, Shockwave could watch live feed from nearly anywhere on Cybertron. Megatron had had every single building still inhabited by transformers fully bugged. And the bugs were virtually undetectable. Shockwave was almost inclined to laugh when he had watched the Autobot workers stare right into the camera and not see it. If he ever laughed, that is.

    So, locked away in his tiny corner of the world, he had heard every word of Rodimus Prime and Ultra Magnus's discussion about him. He seen the entire meeting that had set up the Autobots' new government. He had even seen Rodimus Prime and Arcee's little argument. He knew everything that went on at the new Autobot Headquarters.

    Of course, he could always use the information to destroy the Autobots. It was no less they deserved, for their inefficiency. How they had overlooked hundreds of electronic bugs were beyond Shockwave's comprehension. Shockwave would have torn the building apart and rebuilt it before taking the risk of bugs being hidden within the walls.

    But Shockwave had no intention of using the information to foil the Autobots. No, he had other plans. For a change had came over Shockwave in the days since Unicron's attack.

    During Unicron's attack, Shockwave had watched thousands of Decepticons scramble for their lives, running about in pure terror. He commanded them all to attack, but only the bravest of them transformed and attacked Unicron. But those few Decepticons who attacked hadn't been alone.

    Shockwave had watched as Decepticons had fought alongside Autobots. He had watched as the Autobots bravely risked death to save a planet they weren't even allowed on. He had watched as the Matrix, opened by an Autobot, had destroyed Unicron.

    After that, Shockwave had come to a decision. He knew what he had to do. So he had ditched his Autobot tracker and gone underground to formulate a logical plan.

    Shockwave was about to try something no other Decepticon leader in history had ever tried. Not that there were a lot of Decepticon leaders in history; basically, there was the Decepticon founder, Sarcyst, Megatron, Starscream for about thirty seconds, and Galvatron. Of course, technically Galvatron couldn't be truly considered a “new” leader; it had been quite obvious that Galvatron was really a rebuilt Megatron. So, of course, Galvatron made the same bad decisions Megatron always had.

    But, after having watched the battle with Unicron, Shockwave knew exactly what Cybertron needed: peace. The war that had lasted for millions of years had to come to an end.

    So Shockwave was now working on a plan for an alliance between the Autobots and the Decepticons. The two groups would combine to become one race.

    Shockwave was sure convincing the Autobots wouldn't be too difficult; not only were the Autobots strong advocates of peace, but their current leader was new and inexperienced. Not that Shockwave had any evil intentions, but the new Prime's open- mindedness would probably be a great asset.

    His problem was going to be the Decepticons. The Decepticons were now divided into hundreds of small divisions, each having their own ideals. Some groups, Shockwave knew, such as the Cybertron-based technicians and regular workers, would most likely support the alliance. Those Decepticons had suffered many years of relentless toil for Megatron, doing nothing but building weapons and being called upon for cannon fodder whenever Megatron needed it. Shockwave's greater problem was going to be the warriors, the Decepticons that had killed many Autobots and watched many Autobots kill their friends and fellow warriors. Long-lasting hatreds would burn within several groups, and many Autobot warriors, Shockwave was sure, would also be against it.

    The best way to convince warriors to join forces is to find a common threat. Luckily, Unicron had already taken care of that part. Both sides had seen what they could do when working together. That would definitely help sway their decisions.

    Still, it would be difficult. Definite wild card groups, the worst being the Deathcons, still existed. If Siege, the leader of the Deathcons, suddenly decided to take another crack at becoming Decepticon leader, Shockwave knew there was no way he could beat him, politically or in physical combat. Siege would easily have the full support of the Decepticon warriors.

    Shockwave knew he couldn't merely hope that Siege decided not to try and become Decepticon commander, and therefore had found some assistance to help stop the Deathcons. He had secretly recruited some loyal Decepticon warriors who were for the alliance, and assigned them the task of locating the Deathcons. When they were found, he would take care of them in his own way. He would not destroy them; the Deathcons were far too valuable. Shockwave had decided that the best way to hold on to the Deathcons without having to worry about them was to brainwash them, a process he had experimented with on several Autobots decades ago. The experiment had had a low success rate; only two subjects had survived, and only one, the former Autobot, had made it to the Decepticon army. The other, which had been quite interesting since the subject had once been organic, had gone rather mad and escaped, and Shockwave had never heard of the subject since.

    Most of the Deathcons were insane anyway; it would be an easy task to erase and replace their memories, especially since Shockwave had worked all the bugs out of the machine. Unlike the two somewhat successful subjects of the previous project, however, the Deathcons would have absolutely no memories of their former lives.

    But Shockwave also knew he would have to destroy Siege; no amount of brainwashing would work on the Deathcon leader. Siege had far too much willpower and strength to attempt a brainwashing; most likely, he would destroy the equipment, the lab, the technicians, and then escape.

    So Shockwave had finally worked out his plan, and was preparing to execute it. He still had several plans to finish first. Unfortunately, the warriors he had sent to find the Deathcons probably wouldn't find them for a few weeks; Shockwave didn't have that much time. He had to work fast, while the Decepticons were still confused, before they had time to organize. Shockwave would just have to hope that his warriors found the Deathcons before the Deathcons showed up to take leadership.

    Shockwave turned on the computer and began to enter commands.


    -6-
    The small ship slowly ascended into the sky, slipping past the meager planetary sensors of Delta Agma IV.

    Not that the ship was likely to be pursued anyway. Delta Agma IV was little more than a galactic rest area, a place where a passing ship's crew can land, refuel, get hammered in a bar, then leave the next day. There were very few real inhabitants of Delta Agma IV; most of the true Delta Agmans had abandoned the planet a century earlier to colonize other planets, leaving only a few behind to take care of the planet. Those people had turned it into what it was, a intergalactic skid row, running bars and motels and other accommodations for the main inhabitants of the planet; passing smugglers and bounty hunters, who used the planet as cover when they were running from the law or disgruntled former clients. In any case, no one would have attempted to stop the ship even if it had been detected; no one on Delta Agma IV ever turned in another, unless they served to profit from it.

    The ship finally reached escape velocity and quickly accelerated to lightspeed. The ship was not very large; it was a small cargo ship, with several photon cannons and minimal shields. It didn't need extreme armament; it had an excellent cloaking device, which Stal had stolen from an organic species' craft. Stal often found that, despite their relative primitiveness, organic species had a powerful spark for invention. The cloaking device that now shielded his ship had kept it hidden in planets much better protected than the likes of Delta Agma IV.

    Stal glanced at his scanning instruments, and seeing no one in pursuit, he decided to go into stasis until he reached Cybertron. He got out of the pilot seat and exited the small cockpit, walked to his cabin and entered his stasis pod.

    He never saw the large blip suddenly appear in the ship scanner. He never saw the warning light blink momentarily as the ship was probed. And he never saw the blip on the scanner disappear.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “Man,” Blaster said, “this is the most incredible mess I've ever seen!”

    Several Autobots nearby sighed. “Blaster,” Skids said, “that's the fifteenth time you've said that today, never mind the last week!”

    “Well it is!” Blaster said exasperately, throwing up his arms in mock-despair. “We'll never get this all repaired! It'll take years!”

    “But it will get finished,” Skids said.

    Blaster shrugged. “Yeah,” he said finally, “after years.”

    “Oh, come on,” Grapple said. “I don't have time to listen to you all whine and groan. Yes, it may be a mess, but we can fix it. And it won't take years,” he said to Blaster.

    “Yeah it will,” Blaster mumbled quietly before turning back to repairing the large steel pillar he had working on.

    Grapple looked around. Blaster was right; Autobot City was in shambles. Huge pillars, ten times larger than the one Blaster was working on, lay strewn about, knocked over by Devastator or blasted by Megatron's fusion cannon. There were literally millions of pieces of metal laying around, even after nearly a week of cleaning. Thousands of cracks, large and small, were spread all over the city. Blast burns and holes were everywhere you turned. Carbon scoring had turned half the city a dull grey or dark black. Two entire buildings had been shattered by Devastator's attack. Others had been wrecked from the inside. The large, dome-shaped glass communications tower had been completely destroyed by Rumble and Frenzy. Everywhere you looked, there was some form of damage.

    Grapple had been at the city when it was attacked. Somehow, through some amazing act of Primus, he had survived intact. He had only fought a few Decepticons; by the time he had joined the battle in full, Optimus Prime was already fighting Megatron.

    Of course, once the battle was over, Grapple had been called upon to begin reconstructing Autobot City. It had sounded so simple when he had first heard Ultra Magnus' request. Then, he had received the full damage report, and realized it would take at least ten months to repair all the damage. It was much worse than the beating they had taken eleven years earlier, during the Firestrike incident.

    The first thing Grapple had ordered after being named director was to remove the dozens of corpses laying about the city. That job had been quite nasty, as the corpses were often barely recognizable. Grapple had seen the shattered body of his best friend, Hoist. He quickly decided he absolutely hated the Decepticons.

    Soon after, nearly three days ago, they had begun the ponderous task of repairing Autobot City. Grapple had decided the best thing to do first would be to repair all the pillars that had been cracked or broken during the battle. In the center of the city, Grapple could see the broken spire the communications tower used to sit on top of. During the battle, the entire top section had been blasted right off, nearly killing Blaster, Perceptor and Blaster's cassette tape Autobots. Somehow, they had survived, and while Ultra Magnus, Kup and Perceptor had taken most of the Autobots in the shuttles, Grapple and Blaster had stayed behind, along with the Dinobot Snarl, gathering up all the living Autobots they could and beginning the collection of the dead. First Aid had worked around the clock to repair all the damaged Autobots before he had been forced to leave and help the casualties on Cybertron. It was incredible that such a few number of Decepticons could cause so much damage. There had only been about a hundred Decepticons or so on the Autobot shuttle they had stolen; of course, a much smaller number escaped aboard Astrotrain.

    Grapple glanced up as a shuttle roared by, heading in for a landing at the city's remaining runway port. It was probably another supply ship, coming down to bring more ready-made construction materials.

    Then again, Grapple thought, it could be another shuttle loaded with Decepticons, here to finish us off, once and for all...

    “Grapple?”

    Grapple pulled out of his revery and looked up.

    And up.

    “Oh, hello, Omega Supreme,” Grapple said, quickly recovering from what he had, for a second, thought was Devastator, the giant Decepticon warrior. “What is it?”

    “Where do you want this?” Omega Supreme asked, raising the massive pillar in his huge claw.

    “Oh, yes,” Grapple said, remembering he had ordered Omega Supreme to repair the largest pillars. “Insert it over there, under the bridge between the Alpha Building and the Battle Center. You'll need to brace it before you weld. Use Class-4 braces. Weld it with setting 25.”

    Omega Supreme nodded and walked off, his footsteps shaking the ground beneath him. Omega Supreme usually didn't walk around much in Autobot City, staying in battle station mode, so it took a while for one to get used to the sight of his huge robot form.

    “Man, now that's what I call heavy metal!” Blaster said with a grin, nudging Hound. The phrase had been a running joke since an observant human had uttered it when Hound had walked by him, many years ago.

    “Yes, yes, now get back to work,” Grapple said.

    Grapple looked into the sky. It was getting dark, and the first stars were beginning to peek through the atmosphere. Despite the bright lights from the workers around him, from the various buildings still with power, Grapple saw the star his home planet orbited.


    -7-
    Night had fallen on Cybertron. The shadows were large now, encompassing entire blocks, concealing whatever chose to hide in them.

    A small krig, a racoon-like robotic creature, skittered out into the street, plucked a small fragment of energon-enriched metal, and began to nibble on it, sucking the energon out of it.

    The krig had to suddenly dive for its life as a large member of the planet's dominant life form barreled past at an alarming speed.

    Rodimus Prime didn't even notice the creature as he wove crazily through the streets of Iacon, driving faster than any responsible leader should. It had been years since Rodimus had been in the city, and he wasn't about to spend the next few weeks cooped up in Autobot Headquarters. So, ignoring the complaints of Ultra Magnus, Rodimus had decided to really try out his new, larger vehicle mode.

    As he grew accustomed to his new trailer mode, he compared it to his former “Hot Rod” mode. Now, he was much faster then he had ever been before. He could reach speeds he hadn't thought possible in his former, smaller car mode. His new mode, despite the larger size, had much more power, and he was amazed at how easily he could take turns, even while driving several hundred miles per hour.

    As he drove, he found himself feeling more and more like Hot Rod, and less like Rodimus Prime. The greater the speed, the better he felt. After a while, he had nearly forgotten the great responsibilities that rested upon him, the great expectations he was to live up to, the great legacy that had been left to him. The faster he drove, the more it felt like old times. At one point, he was almost sure Springer and Sideswipe and Sunstreaker were right beside him, laughing at each other's antics and plotting pranks on old fogies like Ironhide and Kup. He forgot about troubles like the Decepticons, the Deathcons, Arcee...

    Rodimus tore around a corner, screaming along at a speed not recommended anywhere on Cybertron. It turned out that this particular turn was a tad too fast.

    As he fully rounded the corner, a huge pile of debris came into his view. He slammed on his brakes, but the momentum created when one drove several hundred miles per hour carried him much farther than he'd have liked.

    He slammed hood-first into the debris, scattering bits of steel and titanium everywhere. There was a small landslide, and Rodimus was encased in scrap metal.

    For a moment, there was silence, except for a few bits of metal falling here and there.

    Slowly, Rodimus transformed and made his way out of the rubble. Stumbling from another minor landslide, he staggered forward and fell on the ground. Wiping his optical sensors, he collected himself, and stood.

    He assessed his damage. He found little; his hood had been slightly dented, but he was otherwise intact. He brushed metallic dust off himself and inspected the pile of debris. It was huge, at least two hundred feet tall. It looked as if it had once been the top few floors of a nearby building. Deciding it was safe enough, carefully began to climb over the pile of debris.

    He made it over the pile with only minor abrasions and a single small landslide. He again brushed himself off, checked the street ahead for any other possible enemy piles, and prepared to transform and take off again.

    His transformation was abruptly halted by a massive weight landing directly on top of him.

    He barely had time to gasp before he was grabbed by powerful arms and whipped around to face his adversary. To his surprise, all he saw was three thick robotic legs and the bottom of a wide disc, and he realized he wasn't being held by arms as much as tentacles.

    Then he saw the huge claws and cutting tools emerge from a small square door on the disk. They darted toward him with startling speed.

    Reacting without bothering to think, Rodimus quickly yanked his arms free and fired the six proton guns mounted on the side of his arms. He blasted away all the claws and cutting tools, then fired into the door, destroying as much major circuitry as he could.

    He was suddenly released as the robot keeled over. Rodimus quickly leaped away and transformed as the robot exploded.

    Then he noticed the other three robots.

    They were identical to the one he just killed, and obviously intent on succeeding where their comrade had failed. Rodimus quickly turned around and started to drive off in the other direction.

    He remembered the pile of debris a second too late.

    Again he went bashing into the pile. This time, though, he recovered and forced himself to drive as far as he could into it, making sure he was totally buried within the pile.

    Stal watched the transformer from atop a nearby building. “Fool,” he said aloud, and a small smirk crossed his face. The Prime had just made his situation a lot worse.

    The S.A.R.s quickly leaped toward the pile in pursuit. They used their tentacles to rip mounds of debris out of the way, quickly working into the middle of the pile.

    Once they made it, they stopped moving.

    Puzzled, Stal quickly climbed down the building and plunged into the pile of debris. He picked his way through and glanced at what the S.A.R.s were staring at.

    There was a large smoking hole in the middle of the pile. Looking down through the hole, Stal saw the liquid-filled passages of inner Cybertron.

    Stal thought for a moment, pulled out his command pad, and gave several of his robots orders.

    He put the command pad away and looked down in the hole. “You won't get very far that way, Rodimus Prime,” he whispered.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Gotta escape, Rodimus thought. Gotta get to Autobot Headquarters. Who are they? They're not Decepticons...they're not even transformers! Why are they after me? Rodimus suddenly found himself wishing he had followed Ultra Magnus' advice.

    He had quickly blasted a hole in the street and leaped down, then transformed back into trailer mode. Now he was charging through the shallow water, desperately trying to get enough speed to escape. The large robots had seemed too big to fit in the hole he made...but he was fairly sure they could make a new hole.

    As he plowed through the water Rodimus threw up huge sheets of water, obstructing his view of what was ahead. He could barely make out the turns ahead of him.

    Out of nowhere, two beasts from his worst nightmare burst through the thin sheet of water in front of him, shocking the hell out of him.

    He reacted instinctively and charged, ramming directly into the two Sharkticons. But unlike his old vehicle mode, this time he was too tall for the Sharkticons to tumble off his top and fall in the water behind him. They latched on to the front of his trailer and began to rip and tear him to pieces.

    Rodimus knew exactly what to do. He slammed on the breaks, throwing the two creatures off of his hood and sending them tumbling ahead of him. He quickly transformed and opened fire on the Sharkticons.

    This finally gave him the chance to see his adversaries, and he quickly realized these were not typical Sharkticons. His shots bounced off thick titanium hides, and they quickly charged him again.

    Rodimus leaped backwards, flipped, and landed in vehicle mode. In a burst of speed he charged ahead of the two Sharkticons, who quickly fell behind.

    Suddenly, however, he crashed head-on into something much harder than debris. In his shock he managed to transform, and he found three of the large robots staring down at him. He turned, and saw the two Sharkticons blocking the other way.

    He decided it was best to go down fighting. He went berserk, opening fire on everything in sight.

    He managed to destroy two more of the large robots and one of the Sharkticons before the remaining giant grabbed him by the arms and held him just below its disc-shaped body. He struggled all he could, until a massive claw arm shot out of the robot's body and plunged itself into his chest.

    Rodimus barely had time to see the Matrix in the robot's huge claw, dripping with Rodimus' own biofluid, before darkness consumed him.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Stal slowly walked up behind the S.A.R., which was still clutching the body of the transformer.

    Stal reached over and pressed a small, nearly invisible button on the transformer's chest. A small panel opened up, revealing a tiny screen within. Stal read the screen and saw that the transformer was still alive, albeit barely. It was just as his client had predicted. Damn, these transformers had strong constitutions. Stal was fairly sure any other mechanoid would be dead after watching its chest be ripped open.

    “Punk,” he said to the unconscious transformer. “How can a little kid like you be a Prime? Jeez, you've beaten the likes of Galvatron, and now you let a couple of wussy robots take you by surprise and tear you to pieces. It's probably a good thing I'm taking you, pal. The Autobots don't need a leader like you. 'S called survival of the fittest, pal. An' you ain't fit.”

    Stal turned to the two destroyed S.A.R.s, examining them quickly, and finding them in no condition to even move. It was a good thing that ten thousand credits could pay for twelve new robots, never mind three, including the one that had exploded. He'd have to leave the other two behind; they were totally destroyed anyway, and he didn't have time to carry them back to the ship.

    He turned to the S.A.R. holding Rodimus. “Unfortunately, we need this piece of scrap alive,” he told the robot. “So carry him back to the ship, and make sure no one sees you. Anyone sees you, kill them, but make sure you get him back to the ship, immediately.” Stal heard the sound of running fluid, and saw a stream of biofluid pouring from Rodimus' chest into the green water. “Ah, jeez,” Stal said. “He's leakin' all over the place. Crap, he'll be dead in three minutes. Under normal circumstances, I'd enjoy every second of your agonizing death, Autobot, but unfortunately my client wants you alive.” Stal gestured toward Rodimus' chest and said to the S.A.R., “Weld up that wound while you're going back to the ship.”

    There was no nod of acknowledgment; the robot merely turned and quickly headed back the way it had come, stepping over the destroyed bodies of its companions.

    Stal nodded to the remaining Sharkticon. “Go with him,” he told them. “Kill anyone who sees you or him.”

    The Sharkticon scampered off down the passageway, splashing around in the shallow water. Stal stood for a moment, wondering whether the Autobots would manage to track him down. He had been careful to leave no trail, but the robots hadn't, and now there was a large hole, obviously made by Rodimus Prime.

    But no. The Autobots were no detectives. That was the Decepticons' forte. Heck, even the Decepticons had little or no detective ability. And there was no reason for the Decepticons to try and find Rodimus Prime anyway, especially since they had hired him in the first place.

    Stal smirked slightly, then began to walk down the passageway.


    -8-
    The sun had been down for several hours on Delta Agma IV.
    The few creatures native to the planet, small, vicious, nasty little organic animals resembling a cross between a weasel and an iguana scurried about, nibbling on the various scraps of discarded food and dried beverages. The creatures had been the dominant life form on the planet, eating the lush plants Delta Agma IV had once had in abundance. Then, the bipedal Delta Agmans had become the dominant species, and, as had happened on so many other planets, quickly became very advanced, and the lush plants fell before the mighty universal power of “progress.”

    So now, the creatures were forced to feed off garbage. They weren't too happy about it, either. Many species were considered extremely dangerous, due to their knack of biting anything that moved.

    One of these creatures happened to suddenly leap out of the shadows just when a transformer was walking by. It attempted to bite him, clenching its jaws around the transformer's huge foot.

    A second later it let out a screech and darted back into the shadows, fragments of its teeth trailing behind.

    The transformer barely took notice of this. He had reached his destination: the bar called “Quaxen's.”

    The transformer slowly walked up to the door, opening it with a cautious eye on the crowd within. The patrons all quickly hushed at the sight of a transformer entering yet again. To see two transformers in as many days was extremely rare. Instantly, a connection between the two was assumed.

    But this transformer was obviously not the one that had been in the bar the other day. The first obvious difference was that, unlike the previous transformer, this transformer was an Autobot.

    However, the Autobot was obviously not one of the “pansies” that the Autobots were so often referred to as. For one thing, he emanated power; he was one of the older, more experienced Autobots, and had evident combat experience.

    Physically, the Autobot looked powerful. It had thick, powerful limbs, similar to the Decepticon that had been in the bar. He had a wide chest that was obviously the front of his vehicle mode, the form of which was not quite apparent.

    Aside from his size and obvious strength, the transformer was not very distinguished-looking, physically. But he carried the demeanor of strength and intelligence, and enough confidence for an entire team of Autobots, without appearing overconfident.

    Quaxen was not as fearful this time. He knew this Autobot; he was a infrequent patron. Quaxen knew exactly what the transformer wanted; some of the horrid green liquid that seemed to be some kind of a mix between spiked energon and an unknown, powerful acid. Quaxen had seen other transformers keel over from one sip of the stuff, but this Autobot could toss back ten shots of it and still think clearly.

    Quaxen quickly poured a glass of the liquid, careful to keep his eyes away from the fumes. Quaxen knew very well that if the fumes reached his eyes, he wouldn't be able to see for an entire day. He had made that mistake many years ago, and had lost quite a bit of money when he had been forced to close the bar, if only for one night. He hadn't allowed his eyes within two feet of the stuff since.

    The Autobot walked over to the bar, sliding into one of the seats. He handed his credit card to Quaxen, who simply held on to it; he'd use it once the transformer was done for the night.

    The Autobot took the glass, looked at it for a minute, then tossed his head back and poured the stuff down his throat. There was a short hiss, and some fumes wafted out of the Autobot's mouth before he closed it. Quaxen shuddered slightly, wondering what would happen if he himself were to take a shot of the foul stuff. He would probably burst into flames.

    The Autobot gestured for another glass. As Quaxen shuffled off to refill the glass, the Autobot carefully looked around the bar. He nodded to a few patrons he recognized, and scrutinized those he didn't.

    Quaxen reappeared, holding the steaming cup as far from his body as possible. The Autobot took it and merely sipped at it this time. After a minute or two, the Autobot leaned over the bar, and whispered to Quaxen, “All right, Quax. Who was in here last night?”

    Quaxen appeared surprised, although he wasn't. He'd known the Autobot would find out about the previous night's visitor as soon as the Decepticon had shown up. “I don't know what you mean.”

    “Cut the bullshit, Quax. I know there was a Decepticon in here.” The Autobot gestured at a table in the corner of the bar. “There's no such thing as a forty-foot tall organic being who can dent a titanium table. Who was he?”

    Quaxen leaned over. “Look, I don't know his name. He didn't say. He just walked in, creeped the shit out of the entire bar, and walked over to talk to a guy on the corner.”

    “Who did he talk to?”

    This Quaxen knew. “Depends. What have you got?”

    The Autobot grinned slightly. “Whatever you want, just take it off my card,” the transformer said. “Who?”

    “A local bounty hunter named Stal. Stal's real good; he has this team of mercenary robots called the Hunters. Hasn't failed in a single capture since he started in the business, and that was about...ten years or so ago. He's a regular here.” Quaxen looked around. “He's not here tonight, though. Must be out on a job.”

    “Presumably for this transformer, right?” the Autobot said.

    “Presumably,” Quaxen agreed.

    “Well, Quaxen, I'll give you even more cash if you tell me what Stal and his client were talking about, from what you picked up with those little bugs of yours,” the Autobot said.

    “Believe me, Battleram, I'd sell you everything I got,” Quaxen said, slight disappointment in his voice, “but the Decepticon somehow scrambled the bugs. I don't know what--or who--they were talking about.”

    “Damn,” Battleram said. “Well, then, I have one final question. What did this Decepticon look like?”

    “Well, like you said, he was about your height, forty feet or so,” Quaxen said. “He was a typical jet-transforming Decepticon. Well, mostly, anyway. He had big, thick wings, and a huge cockpit on his chest. No retro-thruster next to his head, either. Had two huge cannons on his back. Real mean-looking eyes, too. I tell ya, no one in the bar could stand to make eye contact.”

    Battleram seemed a little surprised by this information, even though he had been slightly expecting--even hoping--for it.

    “So,” Battleram said, “it was him.”

    “Who?” Quaxen asked, curious.

    “You wouldn't know him, Quax. You wouldn't want to. Trust me, he's a real nasty guy. You have no idea what kind of danger you were in last night. Hell, he probably had you surrounded.”

    Quaxen was nervous now. “You don't think he'll come back, do you?”

    “To tell you the truth, I don't know. I can't imagine why he would hire a bounty hunter. He prefers to do everything himself, and I can't imagine what a bounty hunter could do that he can't, excepts perhaps sneak into areas where the Decepticon would be more noticeable...hmmm. Maybe he's after me. No, that can't be it; he wouldn't hire a bounty hunter for that. Who would he use a bounty hunter on?”

    “Look,” Quaxen said, “I might be able to help you if you'd tell me who 'he' is.”

    “No,” Battleram said, “trust me, you wouldn't be able to help. And besides, information like this can get you killed. No reason to drag you into this. But, tell me...where does this Stal live?”

    “Right here on Delta Agma IV,” Quaxen said. “That is, when he's not on a mission. He mostly lives on that cloaking spaceship of his. But I can't help you on precisely where on Delta Agma IV he lives. Bounty hunters don't tend to give out their addresses. Bad for business, for more than one obvious reason.”

    Battleram nodded. A thought occurred to him. “His spaceship has a cloaking device?”

    “Yep,” Quaxen said, “or that's what he says. He's always bragging about how he can go to any planet he wants without being detected. Says he stole it from some other civilization. I have no evidence of it, but I can't see why he'd make up a story like that, then keep telling it over and over. It's probably true; I know that there are some cloaking devices out there.”

    Battleram nodded again. “All right. In that case, the Decepticon's probably gone, too. In fact, he's probably left Delta Agma for good.”

    “Why?” Quaxen asked.

    “Once someone knows where he is, he always leaves. It doesn't work, for someone like him to keep hanging around when someone knows where you are. Now, the question is, where do I go from here? I have no idea what he and the bounty hunter were discussing.”

    “Well,” Quaxen said, “I'd suggest you leave here soon. I received some information last night that you've been found.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I mean the Autobots have found you. One of 'em caught sight of you a week or so ago.”

    “I didn't know there were any Autobots on Delta Agma IV...”

    “Well, there was; some guy named Sky Lynx. He was passing through on a scout mission or something, and he saw you. It was about a day or two before that big Unicron attack on Cybertron.”

    “Great,” Battleram said. “Well, then, I'd best be going.”

    Quaxen nodded, and slipped Battleram's credit card into his credit receiver. As Quaxen dialed up the amount, Battleram glanced across the bar.

    “Primus, Quax! Is that how much information has gone up these days?”

    “Well,” Quaxen said, slipping out the card and handing it to Battleram, “you said you'd pay anything.”

    Battleram glanced at the card before slipping it back into its compartment. “And it appears I did,” he said with a slight grin. He stood up, extending his hand. “It looks like I'll be leaving for a while, Quax. I'll see you next time I come through this quadrant.”

    The bartender shook the Autobot's hand. “See you around, 'Ram,” he said, and he watched the Autobot walk out the door.

    He didn't know it would be the last time he would ever see the Autobot again...though had he been told, he wouldn't have been surprised.


    -9-
    Ultra Magnus stormed down the hallway, his every step resounding throughout the corridor. He ignored salutes from officers as he headed toward his destination.

    He had been waiting for nearly an half-hour for Rodimus Prime to meet with him. They had scheduled the meeting the night before, shortly before Rodimus had chosen to undertake his little venture into the streets of Iacon.

    Knowing Rodimus, Ultra Magnus thought, he found some bar and got plastered. “Partying too hard” indeed. The Autobot was the new Prime, commander-in-chief of all Autobots, and he couldn't even show up on time for a meeting because he was spending too much time joyriding.

    Ultra Magnus finally reached Rodimus' quarters and angrily slammed his hand on the doorchime. No answer. He slammed his hand on it again. No reply.

    Ultra Magnus pounded his right fist on the door. “Rodimus!” he yelled, loud enough for the entire living section to hear, “Get up! Come on, you do have responsibilities, what with being Prime and all!” Magnus was getting angrier now. “Damn it, Rodimus, open up!”

    He waited. There was absolute silence.

    “Computer,” Ultra Magnus said, tapping his foot impatiently, “override doorlock mechanism, priority clearance Ultramag-1.”

    The door slid into the wall. Ultra Magnus quickly walked into the quarters, looking in every direction.

    To his surprise, the quarters were empty. He had expected to see Rodimus lying with a hangover on the floor, or at least in his stasis pod. But the floor was bare, the stasis pod empty, and the work station untouched.

    “Damn!” Magnus muttered, and he turned and stormed out of Rodimus' quarters, the doors slowly sliding shut behind him.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Springer was flying high over the city of Iacon, looking down and continuing his seemingly endless task of plotting all the damage caused to the city from Unicron's attack. Every single one of his scanners was checking out some problem or another, finding yet another broken building or massive chasm. Springer found it incredible, to think that merely one of Unicron's hands could do this much damage. He was extremely glad Unicron hadn't had the chance to do any more damage.

    Now, however, Springer actually thought he wouldn't mind if Unicron somehow did attack again. Or anybody would attack. He just wanted something to happen. His duty as a damage surveyor was tedious in the extreme.

    He had been surveying damage for nearly ten hours straight, and he knew for sure that at this point he was now as bored as any being could possibly ever be. All the time, the same thing, over and over; circle around a mile radius, survey as much damage as possible, repeat the maneuver to get the rest of the damage, move on to the next mile. Each scan of a mile took about fifteen minutes, but considering Iacon covered nearly seven hundred square miles of Cybertron, Springer was absolutely confident he would be scanning damage for the rest of his life.

    Once in a while he would run into one of the Aerialbots, but they were always in a hurry, and they would be gone in less than five minutes. The last one he had met had been nearly five hours ago. Springer had absolutely nothing to do but look around, and that had become boring after the first hour. All there was to see was shattered buildings, sunken bridges, scattered corpses, damage, damage, damage. Springer was quite sure that if he could go back in time, he would have made every attempt possible to strangle Unicron with his bare hands before the evil planet-sized transformer could attack Cybertron.

    So it was in this state of absolute boredom that Springer received Ultra Magnus' transmission. He answered it immediately, desperate for contact with the outside world.

    “Yeah?” he said into his communicator. “What is it, Magnus?”

    “Have you seen Rodimus Prime lately?” Magnus demanded.

    The Autobot commander sounded irritated. “Um, no, not lately,” Springer said. “I-”

    “Did you see him last night?” Ultra Magnus asked before Springer could finish.

    “Like I said, I haven't seen him since I've been out here,” Springer said. “Why? Is he missing?”

    “Apparently so,” Ultra Magnus said grimly. “Dammit, I told him not to go out into the city like that. Any rogue group of Decepticons could have nabbed him.”

    “Do you want me to start scanning for him?” Springer asked, sounding a tad more eager than he had intended.

    “Yes, I guess so,” Ultra Magnus said. “We'll have to pull the entire damage surveying crew to look for him. I can't believe this. Contact Silverbolt and the others to start scanning for him. Focus on Iacon; that's where he was driving around, as far as I know. Look for his energy signature, as well as his emergency buoy, the Matrix signal, and energy traces. Signs of recent struggle, too.”

    “Yes, sir,” Springer said. “I'll get on that right now.”

    “Good,” Ultra Magnus said. “And Springer?”

    “Yes, sir?”

    “If you find him, strangle him for me.”

    “Yes, sir.”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Shockwave stared intently at the screen, watching the scene for what was the fifty-second time. He listened intently to every word, watched every movement.

    Finally, he turned the monitor off. There simply was no point in watching the scene again. Shockwave knew that it would provide no results, no new answers.

    Shockwave had taped every second of Stal's visit on Cybertron. He had watched every movement of Rodimus Prime, Stal, and Stal's robots. He had watched Rodimus Prime fight bravely, then fall. He had listened to Stal's insults against the Autobot, then watched as Stal and his robots boarded their ship and disappeared.

    Despite all this information, it was of little use to Shockwave. Of course, he knew the culprit of the crime, but Stal was a bounty hunter; someone had hired him. More importantly, Shockwave had no idea where Stal was headed. It was highly unlikely Stal would return to Delta Agma IV. Shockwave knew that was where Stal had come from by a quick scan of Stal's ship when it landed. He wouldn't go back. That would be stupid. More likely, he was headed to some other sector, to meet with his client. Unfortunately, Stal also had an excellent cloaking device, so Shockwave had lost track of Stal's ship as soon as it left orbit.

    Shockwave considered his options. Had everything gone according to plan, he was to have come forth the following day and claimed command of the Decepticons. Shortly thereafter, he had planned to contact Rodimus Prime and propose a treaty. Now, however, that plan had a rather obvious kink in it.

    But the more Shockwave thought about it, the more he realized he could use the situation to his advantage. Proposing a treaty to the Autobots when they had no clear leader might just help increase the chances of an alliance. Besides that fact, Rodimus Prime could be missing for months, years, or might even be killed, and Shockwave didn't have time to find out what would happen to the Prime. The Decepticons would soon begin to organize themselves again if Shockwave didn't step in soon. He didn't have much of a choice.

    He would have to go ahead with his plan, with a few slight altercations. But he would begin the following day; he would come forth and claim leadership of the Decepticons.

    Shockwave turned on the monitor again, and began watching the planet again.


    -10-
    Ultra Magnus had to give Springer credit; the Autobot had set up a working net of Autobot search parties in what had to be a record amount of time. Almost any Autobot who could fly was already spreading out across Iacon, scanning each and every nook and cranny for Rodimus Prime. On the ground, Blurr led the team of automobile Autobots on a wide search that covered most of the areas the air-based Autobots' scanners couldn't reach. Those Autobots who couldn't fly or drive were sent out to search the areas that were hard to scan or couldn't be scanned thoroughly enough. Finally, a small group of water-vehicle Autobots searched the sewers beneath the city.

    Ultra Magnus, however, had nothing to do. He was the Autobot leader now; he had to sit in his office--Rodimus' office, Magnus corrected himself--and take care of all the mundane duties he was fairly sure Rodimus would hand to him anyway. He didn't want to be the Autobot leader. At least not this kind of leader. As he kept telling everyone, he was just a soldier. Sure, he didn't mind commanding Autobot City on Earth, but then, he wasn't leading all the Autobots on Earth and Cybertron combined.

    But it wasn't as if he had a choice. He sighed slightly, glancing at all the mail piling up on his computer screen. For some ungodly reason, Springer had told each member of each party to report in once every half-hour with a progress update. Unfortunately, there were nearly four hundred Autobots working on the case. Ultra Magnus suspected Springer had given the order merely to annoy him.

    Ultra Magnus pushed back from the desk and walked over to the wide window. Less than a day ago he had stood at the very same window and had a conversation with Rodimus Prime. Now, the new Autobot leader had vanished into thin air, as the Earth saying went. And no one had a clue as to where he had gone. He had just...vanished.

    What would happen next? Would they find Rodimus? And if they did, what condition would he be in? What would happen if he was dead? Obviously, Ultra Magnus would become leader. He really didn't want that. He hoped they found Rodimus soon.

    To make matters worse than they already were, several Decepticon groups were starting to organize. In the past two days there had been three successful raids by Decepticon terrorists on as many Autobot outposts. It looked as if the civil war was about to resume, and Ultra Magnus knew the Autobots didn't have the numbers or the weapons to handle a mass attack by the Decepticons. The Autobots made up a mere fifteen percent of Cybertron's population; they were vastly outnumbered. If worse came to worse, the Autobots would be forced to relinquish their hold on Cybertron once again. They would probably be worse off than they had been before.

    Ultra Magnus was still staring out the window when his doorchime sounded. Pulling out of his revery, he realized he had been standing there, looking out the window for nearly an hour. He quickly said, “Enter.”

    The door slid into the wall and Jazz walked in, looking pretty ticked off. “Why didn't you answer? Jeez, I've been ringing that doorchime for the last five-”

    “Yes, I know,” Ultra Magnus said as he sat down to his computer and began to sift through all the reports he had received during the last hour. “I was...preoccupied. What do you want?”

    Jazz ignored his commander's impolite tone. “I just thought you might want to know...they found where Rodimus was captured,” he said nonchalantly.

    Ultra Magnus jumped up from the monitor. “You're kidding! That's great. Now, we can find him and...”

    “Hold on now, Magster,” Jazz said. “I just said we found signs of struggle. We know where he was captured, but we don't have any idea who took him, why or where they took him.”

    Ultra Magnus slumped back into his seat. “Damn,” he muttered. “Can't anything ever go right?”

    “Once in a while,” Jazz said, “but not today. Come on, they want you to take a look at the site.”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Springer stood outside the debris pile, watching the workers shore up the sides and ceiling of the small tunnel that led into the pile. The hole had apparently been created by Rodimus Prime and whatever had been after him.

    Springer turned to the Autobot who had found the pile. “So you're sure this is where Rodimus Prime was captured?”

    “Of a certainty, friend Springer,” the Autobot said. “This pile doth reek of evil's foul stench. I have also inspected the tire marks around the pile and away yonder. I do fear this is where our commander wast defeated.”

    “Well, you did good anyway, Quickstrike,” Springer said. “You'll get a commendation for this, or something like that.”

    “A job well done 'tis its own reward, but thank you just the same,” Quickstrike said.

    Springer nodded, and walked up to the nearest worker. “Hey!” he yelled over the din of the shoring machinery. “How soon will this be done?”

    “Give us fifteen more minutes, sir!” the worker yelled.

    Springer nodded and walked back to the growing cluster of Autobots near the mouth of the tunnel. They were all listening to Quickstrike explain how he discovered the debris.

    Springer half-listened to the story as he waited for the workers to finish. He glanced over, and noticed a huge, charred hulk nearby. It looked like an exploded tank with legs. I wonder what that was, he thought. But now wasn't the time to investigate.

    He was just about to ask Quickstrike a few more questions when Jazz and Ultra Magnus arrived. Springer motioned for the two to join him, and Ultra Magnus and Jazz transformed and walked over to the mouth of the cave.

    “Who found him?” Ultra Magnus asked.

    “A warrior named Quickstrike,” Springer said. “I already told him he'll get a commendation.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded and looked over at the workers. “Is he sure this is where Rodimus was captured?”

    “He's positive,” Springer said. “He says it 'reeks of evil's foul stench'.”

    “That sounds like Quickstrike,” Jazz said with a grin.

    Ultra Magnus turned to Springer. “How soon can we get in?”

    “They should be done in a few minutes.”

    Several minutes later, a worker came out and told the trio that they could enter safely. Ultra Magnus also allowed Quickstrike and Scann, a field scientist and evidence analyzer, to enter, but told the rest of the Autobots to remain outside, to prevent crowding and possible loss of evidence.

    Slowly, the group moved though the short tunnel. It was dimly lit by several workers' lanterns, and eerie shadows were cast. Inside, the debris pile seemed ten times larger than it appeared outside.

    “Jeez,” Jazz said, “this sure is a big pile of debris. What did it use to be, a building?”

    “That or the top few floors of one,” Springer said, glancing around. They were nearing the end of the tunnel. As he walked, Springer looked over at Quickstrike. “Really, 'Strike, you're sure this is wher-Aaaaaaaaaah!”

    Since he hadn't been looking where he was going, Springer walked right into the huge hole, falling several meters until he hit the green water below, splashing liquid all the way up the sides of the tunnel.

    Springer quickly sat up, straightened, and shook himself. He looked at the slimy green liquid dripping off his arms and head. “Ugh.”

    He looked up to see Ultra Magnus, Jazz and Quickstrike laughing hysterically. “Yeah, real funny,” Springer said glumly. “Look, can you guys help me out of here?”

    Scann was inspecting the rim of the hole. The hole was oval, and the rim was jagged, with pieces of bent metal spiking up in all directions. “Hmmmm...interesting,” Scann said.

    “What is it?” Ultra Magnus asked as Quickstrike and Jazz helped Springer out of the hole.

    “It appears that there were two holes made, not one,” Scann said. “Their are photon burns along the wide part of the hole, here, and here,” Scann said, pointing to several small burn marks. “It looks as if Rodimus Prime blasted the hole open first. Originally, the hole was closer to a perfect circle. Then, whatever was pursuing him,” he pointed to the thin edges on either end of the hole, “did that. It pulled the hole much wider, so it could fit. Judging by the size of the hole it created, I'd judge it was at least...twice your size, Ultra Magnus.”

    “Primus,” Springer said. “And it can pull pure titanium apart. Hey--there's this huge, blown-up thing outside the entrance of the cave. Maybe that was one of them.”

    “Not only that,” Scann continued, “but whatever did it has tentacles, not hands. Look at the extreme edges. They're too smooth; hands wouldn't tear metal that smoothly.

    “I also detect a lot of tracks around here. They're leading in and out of the tunnel, indicating that the attackers went in this way and came back out of the tunnel, apparently with what they wanted. Their tracks are visible because I can see the dried liquid from the underground passageway. The smell of the dried liquid is probably the 'scent of evil' Quickstrike detected.”

    “Nay,” Quickstrike said, “'twas more powerful; 'twas no dried liquid.”

    “Whatever,” Scann said. “Anyway, it looks as if four attackers made it out of this hole. There's a set of three identical tracks that are in a set pattern, indicating a very large robot with three legs; most likely, that was the creature that ripped the hole wider. I also see one set of tracks I can't make much of, but they belong to some type of hunter robot; there's claw scratches near the tracks. Finally, there's some type of bipedal mechanoid; he may have been the leader of the others. Anyway, all but the hunter robot went in this way and all of them came out this way.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded. “All right,” he said. “I guess we'll have to go down, then.”

    “No way,” Springer said, “I've had all I can take of that stuff. I'll stay out here and answer questions or something. I'll also check that big, charred thing.”

    “As have I,” Quickstrike said.

    “Have it your way,” Ultra Magnus said, and the other three Autobots took turns jumping down the hole.

    The underground passageways were even darker than the debris tunnel. There were very dim lights mounted in the ceiling, glowing faintly, providing just enough light for one to see where one was going.

    “Which way do we go?” Ultra Magnus asked.

    Scann took a small device from his hip compartment; it looked like a regular scanner, but had a rubber-coated antenna on top. Scann dipped the antenna in the water. Several seconds later, he pulled it out and read the scanner's screen.

    “According to this, there are signs of struggle--that way,” he said, pointing in one direction of the tunnel. “There is also two very large objects,” he added.

    Ultra Magnus wasted no time. He quickly transformed and barreled forward, throwing up massive sheets of water. The other Autobots behind him quickly transformed and hurried to catch up to him.

    Ultra Magnus was in such a hurry to reach the spot he almost didn't see the two dark shapes until he was nearly ramming into them. He slammed on his brakes, sliding to a halt inches from the two large objects.

    He transformed and quickly inspected them. To both his relief and dismay, he discovered neither object was Rodimus Prime.

    What they were instead was two very large, very mean-looking robots. Each had three legs and two tentacles, though one or two limbs appeared to have been shot off. The robots' main bodies were shaped like wide, thick saucers.

    The other Autobots arrived, and Scann quickly began examining the large robots. Obviously they were the robots that had captured Rodimus Prime, or at least, the type of robot that had.

    “These look familiar...” Jazz said. “I can't quite put my finger on it...but I've seen these things before...”

    “You know,” Ultra Magnus said, “I think you're right. I've seen this things in the reports on bounty hunters. They belong to some bounty hunter...Stal! That's it, Stal.”

    “Oh yeah!” Jazz said. “He has a whole team of bounty hunting robots. Always gets his life form. Yeah, I remember.”

    “So now we know who captured him,” Ultra Magnus said. “Question is, why would he leave such a huge clue behind?”

    “I believe I can answer that,” Scann said. “He was probably in quite a hurry. Wouldn't you, if you had just captured a Prime, and was kidnapping him?”

    “I suppose so,” Ultra Magnus said. “Still...it's odd. I just don't get it. Why in the world would Stal--or any bounty hunter-- go after Rodimus?”

    “Obviously, if he was a bounty hunter, he was after some kind of price on Rodimus' head,” Scann said.

    “Or he may have been hired,” Jazz said. “In his file, it said he also does mercenary work.”

    Ultra Magnus considered these facts. “You're probably right. Stal had to have been hired. The question, of course, is who hired him?”

    “Has anyone made any threats?” Jazz asked. “Any of those rogue Decepticon terrorist groups?”

    “No, we haven't--well, actually, there was one...”

    “What?” Jazz asked, a little alarmed.

    “Well, this is not to leave this...um, sewer, but there have been threats. From the Deathcons.”

    “The Deathcons?!!” Jazz exclaimed. “How? I thought they were all in jail!”

    “They were...until they broke out,” Ultra Magnus said. “All of them escaped. They made some threats against Rodimus. They said they were going to 'reclaim Cybertron and the Matrix for the glory of the Decepticons'.”

    “You think they hired Stal?” Jazz said. “Why would they? I'm sure they could take a Prime down all by themselves.”

    “I don't know why they would hire a bounty hunter,” Ultra Magnus said. “But this may be linked with them...”

    “Not necessarily,” Jazz said. “Maybe Cyclonus and Scourge hired Stal. They might use Rodimus' capture to promote Decepticon patriotism.”

    “And maybe not,” Scann said, pulling his scanner's antenna out of the water again. “Um, Ultra Magnus...you said the Deathcons said they were going to reclaim the Matrix?”

    “That's right,” Ultra Magnus said. “Why?”

    “Well, this liquid has traces of Rodimus Prime's biofluid. A lot of traces, since this water doesn't circulate much.”

    “What do you mean?” Jazz said. “They ripped the Matrix right out of him?”

    “The chest area is the only area I can see that would leak this much biofluid,” Scann said. “I'm not sure he can even be alive at this point, if he hasn't had some repairs.”

    “Well, we'll have to hope for the best,” Ultra Magnus said. “For now, take samples of that water.” He turned to Jazz. “Jazz, go get some workers to haul these robots out. Maybe we can get some information from their memory banks.”

    Jazz nodded, and he transformed and headed down the passageway in the direction they had come.

    As Scann took samples of the water, Ultra Magnus stared hard at the robots.

    It didn't look good. It didn't look good at all.


    -11-
    The ship burst from the asteroid cluster, finally escaping the constant barrage of space rock. It quickly jumped to lightspeed, continuing its journey toward Delta Agma IV.

    Stal had hid in the asteroid cluster for nearly three days before deciding to venture out and resume his heading towards Delta Agma IV. He was almost out of rations, and had to return to the planet before he starved, and before the authorities could prepare for him. He was quite sure that by now, the Autobots knew who had stolen their leader. For the hundredth time Stal cursed his decision to leave the two S.A.R.s behind. The robots would point directly at him.

    There was a slight stirring from behind him. Turning his head slightly while keeping an eye on the controls, Stal glanced at the Autobot shackled to the side of the ship's cargo bay/passenger section.

    The Autobot was not awake; he had merely shifted in his unconsciousness. Stal was again amazed at the transformer's constitution. To survive with a torn-open chest was amazing enough, but the Autobot's regenerative systems were so sophisticated that the only thing left to repair was his consciousness. Fortunately, the small helmet Stal had mounted on the Autobot's head prevented the possibility of the transformer waking up.

    Stal glanced at the Matrix, sitting on a small pedestal next to his control panel. Something had happened when the Matrix had been removed from the Autobot. For some reason, the Autobot had changed; in the course of an hour, his body had reverted to another form, apparently a previous one. It was odd; Stal had thoroughly examined the history of the Matrix, and although several Primes had lost the Matrix before, none had ever reverted to any previous form, never lost any strength, unless of course they had been killed. Why this particular Prime had reverted to his previous form was something of a mystery. Perhaps, Stal had decided, it had to do with the fact that the Prime had been in possession of the Matrix for too short a length of time.

    In any case, it made no difference. Stal had succeeded in his mission; the Autobot leader had been kidnapped, and the Matrix had been removed. Stal was also curious as to why his client had wanted the Matrix removed; how could he have known it would weaken the Autobot? Stal suspected there was much more going on than he had been told, and he was going to find out just what the Matrix was, besides the mere symbol of leadership the files claimed it was.

    He turned in his chair and walked over to the Autobot. Perhaps the Autobot would know something about what was going on. And if he didn't talk, he would find out just why Stal was the best in his business.

    Bringing his repaired S.A.R. closer to the Autobot in case of emergency, Stal prepared to take off the stasis helmet and interrogate the Prime.

    Just as Stal was reaching for the deactivation button on the helmet, the ship's alarms went off. Stal quickly ran to his chair and frantically looked over all his viewers.

    The ship scanner indicated one lone vessel was heading in his direction. Stal quickly sat down and activated the primary sensors, scanning the ship for more information on it.

    He quickly discovered the approaching ship was his client.

    What's he doing here? Stal thought. We were supposed to meet on Delta Agma IV. Why is he here already?

    Stal looked around, trying to figure out what to do. He couldn't open fire; that would be stupid and suicidal. Besides, it was no big deal; his client had come to collect...and pay.

    But Stal wasn't sure about what he was getting. He had a feeling he wasn't receiving all the money he might be owed; the Matrix looked very valuable. He quickly grabbed the object and shoved it into the small scan-proof compartment he had installed under the flight console.

    His communications panel suddenly crackled to life. “Stal,” said the familiar voice, booming and echoing throughout the small bay, and making Stal jump, “have you succeeded?”

    Stal collected himself, and walked over to the communications panel. “Yeah, Siege,” he said into the microphone. “I got him, and escaped with him. He's unconscious and under guard.”

    “Did you leave any evidence?”

    “I'm afraid so,” Stal said slowly. “He trashed two of my best droids, and I had no time to carry them back to my ship. You didn't tell me he was so powerful,” Stal said, attempting to shift some of the blame to his client.

    “Merely bad foresight on your part,” Siege replied. “You should have brought a Destroid along with you.”

    “I did--”

    “But I suppose the Autobots would have figured it out soon enough anyway,” Siege continued. “What matters is that you succeeded. Do you have the Matrix?”

    “No,” Stal said. “My robot must have dropped it when he was running back to the ship, and I didn't have time to look for it. Besides, I'm not even sure what it looks like.”

    There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. “I see,” Siege said finally. “Where did he drop it?”

    “Somewhere in the sewers, I guess. We pursued the Autobot into some of those underground passageways, and when we defeated him, one of my S.A.R.s automatically ripped the Matrix right out of my hostage. When the S.A.R. was returning to my vessel, he must have tripped over something and dropped it.”

    “One of your robots dropped the Matrix?” Siege echoed doubtfully, the hollow voice filling Stal with fear. “That sounds rather unlikely, Stal. Are your robots really that inefficient?”

    If Stal was human, he would have gulped. Instead, he merely cleared his vocal sensors of dust particles, emitting a nearly inaudible hiss. “Um, no,” he said slowly, forcing the fear out of his voice, “but I had told it to run back to the ship as fast as possible, and not to stop for anything. If it had tripped, or dropped the Matrix for some reason, it would not have stopped to pick it up.”

    A slight pause. “Very well,” Siege said. Stal let out a sigh or relief. “You do understand that this failure will cost you, don't you?” Stal asked.

    Stal wanted to protest, because the Autobot had been much harder to defeat than he had been led to believe, but he decided he'd already pushed his luck much too far.

    “I suppose,” Stal replied. “But I protest against it. How much do I receive now?”

    “I will give you three thousand, instead of five,” Siege said, and he instantly transmitted the credits to Stal's account. “Eight thousand in all. That will suffice.” Then Siege began to pull away from his parallel course with Stal's ship.

    “Wait a minute!” Stal said quickly, opening the frequency again. “What about the Autobot?”

    “You will keep him in your base on Delta Agma IV,” Siege replied. “Do not worry; you will receive monetary compensation. You will hold him until we come to retrieve him.”

    “When will that be?”

    “Soon,” Siege said, and he ended that transmission, disappearing into space.


    -12-
    Shockwave made his way through the winding tunnel, forced to duck constantly due to the low ceilings whenever a bend in the tunnel appeared. The tunnel had obviously been custom-built for Megatron alone, and Shockwave was taller than his former leader.

    He was walking faster than normal, because he knew he had only minutes to escape the tunnel. Due to the secrecy of the bomb shelter, and its incredible array of surveillance equipment, Megatron had actually had the foresight to make sure that once the shelter was used, no one else ever used it again. Shockwave had been lucky he had noticed the self-destruct activate as he had exited the shelter; otherwise he would likely have been caught in the explosion that would undoubtedly fill the shelter and all the tunnels connected to it. Shockwave just hoped Megatron had had the foresight to make sure the surface above had no idea the explosions occurred.

    Shockwave had glanced at the timer before turning around, and had been keeping track of the time throughout the entire trip. As he had expected, his progress had turned out to be too slow, due to the low ceilings and the thick green liquid that clung to his feet. He would have to finish the trip in ray gun mode.

    Placing the few pieces of equipment he had taken from the shelter in a compartment on his back, Shockwave transformed, shifting his body to form a giant thirty-five foot long ray gun. He discovered he fit much better in the passageway, which meant he could escape even faster.

    He fired his rockets and launched down the tunnel, hovering a few feet above the green liquid. Having only to slow down on turns, he quickly made his way to the entrance to the tunnel. Checking his internal chronometer, he discovered he had no time to transform and open the tunnel door. The shelter had exploded seconds ago; the explosion would reach him in five seconds. So much for making sure no one on the surface noticed.

    He fired at the heavy circular gate in the ceiling. The full-force photon blast completely destroyed the gate, making a huge, near-perfect octagonal hole in the ceiling. Shockwave flew up and out of the tunnel just as plasma fire roared out of the hole, just barely missing Shockwave as it grew into a massive column of bright green flame, lighting the dark night and creating a great glare against the shattered buildings surrounding it. The column grew and grew, spreading out across the area, green flame and smoke quickly expanding across the entire area. Shockwave flew over to a building, transformed and stood on the roof. He watched the growing inferno with curiosity. Megatron's logic in using plasma bombs, the most powerful bombs found on Cybertron, to destroy the shelter evaded Shockwave. It made no sense; something like that should be blown up with subtlety. The only explanation was Megatron's notorious passion for excessive, even wasteful, displays of power. The green color seemed odd, too; perhaps the green liquid within the tunnels had reacted with the plasma flame somehow. Shockwave filed the hypothesis away for later study.

    The plasma column was now at least a mile high, and was probably visible for at least a dozen miles. Already a large crowd was beginning to grow around the area. Also, it appeared as if several of the flames had caught on some debris and were quickly spreading out to the surrounding buildings. Soon the area would be swarming with Autobots and Decepticons alike. Shockwave decided now was not the time to announce his existence to Cybertron; it was very likely he would be blamed for the catastrophe, and while the accusation would not necessarily be false, it was a complication Shockwave could do without for the time being.

    Shockwave transformed back into his ray gun mode and flew off into the night. As he flew, he began to formulate his plan to revolutionize Cybertron forever.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Jazz banked the shuttle slightly, correcting a few minor course changes. The ship pivoted on its axis, the world spinning beneath them on the viewer. The small ship spun around, and then Ultra Magnus saw in the viewscreen what his control boards had been lit up with for the last two days.

    Dezics was one of the larger cities on Cybertron. Several million years ago, the city had been one of the main trading ports on Cybertron, dealing in intergalactic trade with hundreds of alien worlds. Of course, when the civil war arrived, the city had been forced to close its businesses, but was kept alive by various inhabitants who didn't want to see their home overtaken by the military-minded Decepticon tyrants. The city had a relatively small population, a mere three hundred thousand, compared to the millions in Iacon. Still, there were enough people so that the disaster taking place there would cost many lives.

    Dezics was burning. Green flame seemed to have engulfed the entire city, spewing from every street and every building. And in the center of the blaze was that mysterious column, now nearly five miles high, its energy crackling in lightning-like bursts across the city. Each crack was punctuated by an exploding building or a shattering street, and the subsequent screams of various Autobots and Decepticons caught in the debris. Thick green smoke billowed from the column and slowly sunk to the surface, making everything even harder to see. Ultra Magnus could barely make out the various Autobots in the middle of the blaze, striving to put out what few flames they could. The entire city had been quarantined; it had taken Jazz nearly a half-hour to get clearance through the huge dome-shaped force field that now enclosed the city, keeping the plasma fire trapped within.

    Jazz whistled. “Will you look at that,” he whispered. “Have you ever seen anything like that, Kup?”

    The third and final occupant of the shuttle stared pointedly at the viewscreen, squinting slightly. “I've seen bigger fires, sure,” he said. “I remember when half the planet of Kreben V burnt to ashes. But that fire was along that planet's thick network of gas lines. It wasn't a plasma fire. I've never seen a plasma fire this big.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded. “Fires are rare on Cybertron,” he said. “Normal fires feed off organic matter. For whatever reason, this plasma fire burns right through metal.”

    “And why that green color?” Jazz asked. “That's the weirdest--and meanest--fire I've ever seen.”

    “Well, let's just hope we can stop it,” Ultra Magnus said. He activated the communicator on his board. “Ultra Magnus to Hot Spot, come in.”

    There was silence for a moment, then a loud crackle burst from the radio. “Hot Spo--ere,” it crackled. “Sorr--abou--ference. Tryi--to clea--p. Hol...”

    There was more silence for a moment, then the Protectobot leader's voice burst from the radio, loud and clear. “Sorry about that, Commander,” Hot Spot said. The sound of shouts and the loud crackles of flames were audible in the background. “This fire seems to make trouble with everything.”

    “I can see that,” Ultra Magnus said. “How's your progress?”

    “Not too good,” Hot Spot replied. “Looks like this was started with plasma bombs; they had to be the best bombs available on Cybertron, because I've never seen a mess like this. But we think we figured out why it's so big. The bombs were detonated underground, then somehow exploded outward, from a hole or something; that hole is the source of that big green pillar of fire there. Perceptor has analyzed some samples of ashes, and he thinks the plasma mixed with some of that green liquid in the underground passageways; that's why the fire's green, and that's why it spreads so much. Also, the fire spread more easily because of all the debris laying about from Unicron's attack. All that scrap metal caught like, well, dry Earth vegetation, for lack of a better analogy. We're having quite a bit of trouble fighting the flames, and--”

    Suddenly, a loud beep cut Hot Spot off. “We're getting another call,” Jazz said.

    “From who?” Ultra Magnus asked.

    “I don't know,” Jazz said.

    “What's going on?” Hot Spot asked.

    The beep was repeated. “Hold on, Hot Spot,” Ultra Magnus said. “We're getting another call.”

    Ultra Magnus let go of the communication button, then pressed it again. “Hello?” he said.

    “Commander Ultra Magnus,” a voice said. “This is Decepticon Sergeant Blitzwing, Tri-Mode Task Force Leader. We have been given orders from our commanding officer to assist you in any manner possible.”

    For a moment, there was silence. All three mouths on the shuttle hung slightly open. Jazz cocked his head, and he and Magnus stared at each other.

    Ultra Magnus quickly collected himself. “Oh really?” he asked slowly. “Why would your commander care about an Autobot-run city?”

    “The city is also inhabited by Decepticons, Commander,” Blitzwing said with very slight venom behind his voice. “And it is not my duty to question my commander's decisions. However, I am authorized to inform you that our commander has created an agent that will counteract the plasma flame. Lieutenant Octane and Lieutenant Astrotrain are standing by, prepared to fly over the city and dump a liquified mist of the agent upon your command. We also have several samples for you to replicate and use to put out the remaining fires. In addition, we have a cannon loaded with the agent to put out the fire column. We are at your disposal. We await your decision, Commander.” The radio became silent.

    Not a single sounds pervaded the shuttle for about two minutes. Then Jazz finally said, “Well, Magnus? What do you think?”

    “I--I'm both relieved and suspicious at the same time,” Ultra Magnus said. “On one side, I'm very relieved we have a counteracting agent. On the other side, I wonder why the Decepticons have it. Too many times the Decepticons have tricked Autobots into trusting them by causing disaster, then fixing it.”

    “I just want to know who their new commander is,” Kup said.

    “That too,” Ultra Magnus said. “Still...it wouldn't make sense for the Decepticons to wait this long to give us the agent. There are several important Decepticons stationed in this city, and I don't see any Decepticon commander foolhardy enough to risk their lives. Also, two days does seem like enough time to find a counteracting agent, though it is odd that Perceptor didn't find it first...”

    “Well, Perceptor's stuck in the middle of the whole thing, not in some lab,” Jazz said. “But another question is, how did they get a sample of the fire?”

    “That's easy enough,” Kup said. “The force field didn't go up for nearly four hours after the fire started. There was plenty of time for the Decepticons to take some samples. Not that I'm defending them, you realize...”

    “Yes, of course, Kup,” Ultra Magnus said, with the slightest trace of a smile. “Anyway, at this point, what choice do we have?”

    When neither Autobot spoke, Ultra Magnus turned to the communicator and activated it. “Sergeant,” he said, “you have the go-ahead to begin all firefighting procedures. But stab us in the back, and I swear you'll die.”

    “You are too cynical, Commander,” Blitzwing replied “I admire that in an Autobot.” The Decepticon cut the transmission. The three Autobots watched the viewscreen. For several minutes, nothing was visible except the fire.

    Suddenly, there was a titanic boom that rocked the entire city. The shuttle swayed wildly, spinning and sending the world into a blur. On the streets, the various Autobots and Decepticons were blown on their backs.

    “I knew it!” Ultra Magnus growled viciously when he finally got to his feet, after the shuttle finished rocking. “I knew I never should have trusted those Decepti--”

    “Uh, Magnus,” Jazz said. “Look at the viewscreen.”

    Ultra Magnus looked up. He stared for a moment. He almost couldn't believe his eyes.

    The thin veil of fire still covered the entire city. But in the center of the blaze was...nothing, besides a small spot of metallic ash and a lot of hazy green smoke. The entire pillar of fire, all five miles of it, was gone. It had just...vanished into smoke.

    “Incredible,” Kup said, slight awe in his voice. “I've never seen anything like that.”

    “They said they had a cannon, but I never though it would work that fast...” Jazz said slowly.

    On the viewscreen, two small flying vessels appeared at the edge of the city; Astrotrain and Octane. The two Decepticon ships slowly flew over the city, a thick trail of white mist falling from their undersides. Several seconds later, the mist reached the flames below...and the flames just flickered and died, almost instantly.

    “Amazing,” Ultra Magnus said.

    “Almost too amazing,” Kup said under his breath.

    About a half hour later, most of the fires were nothing but smoking heaps of ash. Astrotrain and Octane delivered three small vials to Perceptor, then joined Blitzwing and left the city.

    Jazz landed the shuttle near the center of where the fire had started. The three Autobots got out of the ship and walked over to Hot Spot and Springer, the latter of which had arrived during the spraying.

    “Well, how much is there left to put out, Hot Spot?” Ultra Magnus asked.

    “Not much,” Hot Spot said. “You know, you could have told us that those Deceps were going to fix the problem. After that boom, we almost opened fire on those two goons when we saw them. That is, if we hadn't been too busy staring at what was left of that fire column.”

    “Tell me about it,” Ultra Magnus said. “That's enough to make anyone suspicious. But we'll have to wait and find out what happens.”

    “The Decepticons have a new leader,” Kup told the other two Autobots. “We don't know who it is yet, but apparently he's smart enough to figure out the antidote for that fire.”

    “Yes, we know,” Hot Spot said.

    “What do you mean?” Ultra Magnus asked.

    “When Astrotrain and Octane dropped off those vials, they left this little note,” Hot Spot said, handing a small data pad to the Autobot commander.

    Ultra Magnus activated it. Slowly, he read the message aloud. “'To Commander Ultra Magnus: I have assumed leadership of the Decepticons. I have analyzed the actions of the past Decepticon leaders, from Sarcyst to Galvatron, and found their actions illogical. I now know the true destiny of the inhabitants of Cybertron; to end the civil war and become one race. Let us begin the alliance talks now, while our two factions are in disarray, and open to suggestion.' Then he has a secured radio frequency that I can reach him at, to discuss this,” Ultra Magnus said.

    “So?” Jazz said. “C'mon, man, don't keep us in suspense. Who's the new Decepticon leader?”

    “Who else commonly uses the word 'illogical'?” Ultra Magnus asked. “The new leader of the Decepticons is none other than our missing Decepticon, Shockwave.”


    -13-
    Shockwave was working on several hundred complex algebraic equations when the doorchime to his office sounded.

    “Enter,” he said without looking up.

    The door slid into the wall, and Blitzwing, Astrotrain and Octane entered the office. Blitzwing assumed a position in the middle, flanked by Astrotrain to his left and Octane to his right; the group often marched around the Royal Palace in this fashion. It was one of the many odd quirks of the Tri-Mode Task Force. Another was their choice to follow Shockwave.

    Shockwave had had quite a shock when he had arrived at the Royal Palace. The palace had been overrun with nearly a hundred separate rogue Decepticon groups, all squabbling amongst themselves. He had watched one typical meeting before announcing himself; all the groups met in the War Room, where they all argued over who should be leader, quickly building to loud verbal abuse and finally leading to a battle in which they always appeared to end up with at least a third of their forces inoperative. Shockwave had been appalled; it was an absolute, total lack of logic. Absolute chaos was the only way to describe it. Not a single Decepticon appeared to be thinking of anything besides gaining power.

    Shockwave had quickly announced his presence, but before allowing any groups to follow him, he told of his plan to ally the Decepticons with the Autobots. To his mild surprise, Shockwave found many more Decepticons willing to join the cause than he had originally predicted. Apparently the recent battle with Unicron had put things in perspective for the Decepticons and their cause. Nearly all the groups had joined his side, and those who didn't were quickly silenced.

    Shockwave finally turned his attention to the three Decepticons before him, who had waited silently and patiently for him to acknowledge their presence. Blitzwing, being the leader, gave the report to Shockwave. “We did as you ordered, Commander,” he said. “All proceeded as you predicted. The Autobots accepted our help, and did not attack. Ultra Magnus was quite suspicious, but he at least allowed us to clean up the mess. Dezics is in ruins, but it's not as bad as it could have been.”

    “Excellent,” Shockwave said. “Did you give them the message?”

    “Yes,” Blitzwing said, “we gave it to them when we dropped off the samples. You should be hearing from Magnus soon.”

    “Good,” Shockwave said, in his mind switching back to his calculating. “You are dismissed.”

    Blitzwing gave a slight nod, and the group marched out of the room.

    Shockwave finished the calculations and turned to his monitor. He accessed the files of the other important Decepticons he had yet to contact. Most importantly, he had to find Soundwave. The Decepticon had vanished shortly after Starscream's death; apparently, he didn't believe in Galvatron's cause. But Soundwave and his vast knowledge was invaluable to Shockwave, and it was imperative he be reached soon.

    Shockwave also had to find Razorclaw, the leader of the mercenary Decepticon group the Predacons, which had been formed to replace the loose cannon Deathcons. Shockwave needed the Predacons to hunt down the few groups of Decepticons Shockwave knew would oppose the alliance, such as the Combaticons and the Stunticons. Luckily, the Predacons were strict followers, and would obey Shockwave's command; besides that, Razorclaw was an old friend of Shockwave's, and Shockwave knew he could convince the Predacon leader that an alliance was necessary.

    Finally, Shockwave had to find Trypticon. This was the most important Decepticon he had to find; Trypticon hated Autobots with a passion that rivaled Megatron, and if Trypticon found out about the alliance, he would undoubtedly attack both Shockwave and the Autobots. That would be very detrimental to Shockwave's plans, so he had sent the Constructicons, in the form of Devastator, to find and defeat Trypticon. Their chance of success was unlikely, but at least Shockwave would know where Trypticon was.

    Shockwave was about to begin another computer search for the Predacons when his communications panel beeped. Shockwave turned in his seat and activated the communications line and the monitor above the panel. He was not surprised to find the face of Ultra Magnus appear on the screen.

    “So you are the leader,” Ultra Magnus said. “We thought you had vanished.”

    “Obviously, I haven't,” Shockwave said. “But I do not believe you have contacted me merely to confirm my existence. Do you wish to discuss the alliance?”

    “Woah,” Ultra Magnus said, “you're way ahead of me. I was just going to discuss your proposal...”

    ”...Which is a proposal for an alliance,” Shockwave said.

    “Er, yes. Well, as you might expect, many Autobots around here are very suspicious about this proposal. Why, after millions of years of conflict, would the Decepticons, of all races, propose to ally yourselves with your sworn enemies, the Autobots? It doesn't make any sense, and there is a long history of Decepticons using this tactic to deceive the Autobots into trusting them, then turning around and stabbing the Autobots in the back. Megatron certainly never even considered an alliance, and you served under him. You've killed Autobots, Shockwave.”

    “And you've killed Decepticons,” Shockwave said without hesitating. “Are you going to let that fact stand in the way of a possible alliance?”

    Shockwave's quick reply caught Ultra Magnus a tad off-guard. It had been so long since he had spoken to his Decepticon counterpart that he had forgotten Shockwave's talent for predicting what one is going to say before one says it and preparing a reply before he hears the entire statement. Now that he thought about it, it was probably Shockwave's second-most annoying trait, after the Decepticon's passion for logic.

    “Well, still, it counts for something,” Ultra Magnus replied hastily. “And why now? Why are you proposing an alliance now?”

    “I think you know the answer to that question, Commander,” Shockwave said. “The inhabitants of Cybertron have just defeated a being the size of a planet...a being vastly more powerful than our entire race combined. Now, the Decepticons are in disarray, scattered across the planet, their homes shattered, their minds open to any suggestion that they hear. The very thought of the advantages of an alliance makes many of them want to join my cause. I already have one million Decepticons under my command, Ultra Magnus.”

    “One...million?” Ultra Magnus breathed. “In how many days?”

    “Two,” Shockwave lied. He did not wish to make his arrival concurrent with the Dezics fire.

    “One million Decepticons in two days,” Ultra Magnus muttered. “Incredible.”

    “Well, Commander?” Shockwave said. “What do you say?”

    “Um...I have to talk to the other high-ranking officers. We don't have a Prime right now...”

    “I know,” Shockwave said. “It is unfortunate.”

    “Yes, it is,” Ultra Magnus said, eyeing Shockwave carefully. Shockwave realized just how suspicious this whole scenario must seem to the Autobots; he tried to think of a method to prove his sincerity.

    “Commander,” Shockwave said, “what if we have a large assembly? A meeting in Iacon...perhaps even a debate. There, in front of as many Autobots and Decepticons as possible, we can discuss this alliance, and see who favors it and who is against it. We can create a pact declaring our unity, perhaps, if all goes well.”

    Ultra Magnus took this in, weighing the possibilities and consequences. “I don't know...” he said slowly. “I'll have to talk to my other officers. I will let you know.”

    “Very well,” Shockwave said, and he cut the transmission, then returned to his computer search.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Ultra Magnus turned off the computer and sat back in his chair. “One million Decepticons...all rallied to ally with the Autobots,” he whispered.

    “It sounds impossible,” Jazz said. Ultra Magnus had called Jazz, Kup, Springer, Arcee, and Grimlock to his office to be present at the time of the contact.

    “More than that,” Kup grunted. “Sounds like vleemwaste to me.”

    “If this was Megatron, or Galvatron, or Starscream, or some other Decepticon leader, then I'd be the first to agree with you, Kup,” Ultra Magnus said. “But Shockwave is too...logical. He just wouldn't make up a plan like this. It's far too dangerous to try, what with the Autobots in control of Cybertron...”

    “Well, maybe that's exactly what he's counting on us thinking,” Kup said.

    “We can't keep up this second-guessing,” Springer said. “We have to decide whether or not to give this a shot. He sounded pretty sincere to me.”

    “He a Decepticon, for Primus' sake!” Kup said loudly. “He's built for deceiving us! Of course he sounds sincere!”

    “Calm down, Kup,” Ultra Magnus said. “Don't worry, I'm taking you all into consideration. We'll have a vote, but first I want to hear what you all think about it. Kup, I know what you think. Jazz?”

    “Well, I don't know,” Jazz said. “I have some of the best audio sensors of any Autobot, and I can usually detect when a Decep is lying; there's almost always slight difference in voice pitch. But I couldn't pick up a trace of deception in Shock's voice. Then again, he has one of those flat voices that's hard to analyze, but still, I don't think he's lying. I think that these Decepticons may have finally gotten sick of this war, as we all have.”

    Ultra Magnus considered this, then turned to Arcee. “What do you think?”

    “Well, I don't know...” Arcee said. “On one hand, it's a big risk. There have been literally hundreds of examples in the history of the civil war in which a Decepticon tricks an Autobot into trusting him, then stabs him in the back. But this just seems...different. I think it's time for the law of averages to step in; for once, maybe, just maybe, Shockwave is telling the truth. As long as we equal, or nearly equal, the number of Decepticons at this debate, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't have it.”

    Ultra Magnus turned to Springer. “What about you?”

    “Take the best elements of Jazz and Arcee's arguments and you've got mine,” Springer said simply.

    “Okay,” Ultra Magnus said. He turned to the last member of the group, although he would have preferred not to ask. The answer was a fairly obvious one. “Grimlock, what do you think?”

    Oddly, the Dinobot leader thought for a moment before replying. Then he said, “Me Grimlock think we should try. Try having debate. Me Grimlock say Autobots try allying with Decepticons, bash other bad guys then.”

    “Grimlock!” Kup exclaimed. “Do you realize what you're saying?”

    “Me know!” Grimlock said. “But me sick of fighting Decepticons. Fighting Decepticons boring. Besides, there are stronger enemies in space. If allied with Decepticons, then Autobots can fight bigger bad guys and win. Maybe Unicron has big brother we can fight.”

    Kup shook his head and sat back in his chair, arms folded.

    “Well, let's vote,” Ultra Magnus said. “All for contacting Shockwave and setting a date for the debate, raise your hand.”

    Springer, Arcee, Jazz, and Grimlock raised their hands. Ultra Magnus raised his.

    “Well, I'm afraid you're beaten, Kup,” Ultra Magnus said.

    “Hmph,” Kup grunted. “I don't believe this. Doesn't the vote of the General of Battle count for anything?”

    “Well,” Ultra Magnus said, “I'm sorry, Kup, but...”

    “Hmph,” Kup repeated. “If Optimus was here, he'd be against this. Heck, so would Rodimus, for that matter. You're all going to get in trouble for this one, mark my word,” Kup said, and he stood and stormed out of the room.

    “Well, let's hope he's wrong,” Ultra Magnus said. He turned to the communications panel. “Well, here goes...let's make some history.”


    -14-
    It had taken nearly two hours of precautionary work for Stal to transport the Prime from the ship to his basement chamber. Then it had taken another half-hour to prepare the stasis pod he had stealthily lifted out of a building when he had been on Cybertron. The stasis pod was normally used by transformers as a form of “sleep” in which they shutdown their cognitive processes as the stasis pod's computer completely refueled the occupant and repaired all damage, internal or external. Stal had had to override the repair functions (though the Autobot was mostly repaired already) and drain all the fuel from the pod, as well as shut down the emergency fusion fuel line. Then he had to override the command function that awoke the occupant in case of a lack of fuel or an emergency, securing the pod so that all it would do would be to keep the Prime restrained and unconscious.

    Or until I want to talk to him, Stal thought. He still planned to interrogate the Autobot about the Matrix, but first he had to figure out how to keep the Autobot relatively restrained when he did so...which was quite difficult, save putting his two Destroids within point-blank range of the Autobot's head, in which case Stal knew the Autobot probably wouldn't have much to say, figuring he was going to die anyway.

    Stal still would have preferred not to have the Autobot around. It made his situation that much more dangerous. The other Autobots were more likely to find Stal when Stal was holding their Prime captive. And then again...the Prime wasn't really the Prime anymore. If the Autobots scanned for their Prime, they wouldn't find him, because the Autobot had reverted to his previous robot form and transforming mode, for whatever reason. Stal still had to answer that question, as well.

    He had just finished loading the Autobot into the stasis pod when his computer beeped loudly, signaling that it had found a piece of information he would be interested in. He had set up a flag program in which the computer sorted through all the incoming news it could, and when it found words such as Rodimus Prime, Autobots, Decepticons, Stal, or Cybertron it would immediately record the report and signal him.

    He quickly ran to the computer and called up the file, his tension mounting. He frantically scanned through the report, searching for his name.

    To his relief, the report wasn't about him. But the news wasn't necessarily good news, either.

    Apparently, the Autobots and the Decepticons were seriously discussing an alliance. A debate had been scheduled for two days ahead, and all the major news lines were discussing the event. First, there would be two private debates between the Autobot leader, Ultra Magnus, and the Decepticon leader, Shockwave. Then, the third and final debate, which would include the creation of a treaty and a major vote by the majority of the population of Cybertron.

    There was a small side article on the disappearance of Rodimus Prime. The article said that Autobot authorities had discovered the spot where the Prime had been apparently been abducted and were following several leads. However, the report didn't say anything about suspects. So it appeared Stal was safe, for the time being.

    Stal shut the computer off, sighed slightly, and walked to another part of the lab to begin repairing the remaining seek and retrieve droid.
     
  3. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    The Siege takes place right after the movie because, basically, that was the only TF media I had access to at the time. I hadn’t seen the regular episodes in years, so my memory was dim; besides, the movie had fairly decent writing, and the “lost year” of time between the movie and the post-movie series was ripe for exploration. I mean, someone had to explain why Shockwave was green in the first post-movie episode! I remember having a lot of fun tying up all the loose ends properly, so that the post-movie series made sense (getting Galvatron to Charr, for example). I made many decisions based on purely selfish motives: Grimlock’s my favorite character, so he was brought to the forefront; I liked Hot Rod better than Rodimus Prime (and still do), so I got the Matrix out of him as fast as I could; I’ve got a bad little habit of inserting a character named “Stal” in every story I write, so he got a part; and there’s one scene (I won’t describe it; see if you can find it) that was basically little more than a battle between X-wings and TIE fighters, as I had been big into Star Wars when I wrote that particular scene.

    The story is rife with my own creations: Battleram, Spade, and the Deathcons (Siege, Omnistrike, Deathcade, Gremlin, Nuke, and Skysonic) are just a few. There are also two other fan-created characters: Nightwind (of course) and Quickstrike, a medieval-speaking Autobot who was created long before the Beast Wars character. The story synthesizes elements of the first television series, the movie, and the comics, but I was always careful to maintain as much canonicity with the movie and TV series as possible.

    Sincerely,
    -Jason Clarke
    November 21, 2000


    Stay tuned, the story continues soon..........
     
  4. wavelength

    wavelength Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2006
    Posts:
    1,454
    Trophy Points:
    161
    Likes:
    +0
    it is very good but deathcons doesn't sound quite right. it isn't bad but kind of meh
     
  5. onesock

    onesock Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2006
    Posts:
    8,177
    News Credits:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    211
    Likes:
    +1
    Ebay:
    I'll be damned if that isn't one of the best things I've ever taken time to read.
     
  6. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    The best is yet to come...........
     
  7. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    Update time..........
     
  8. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    The Siege, Book Two: Alliance


    -15-
    The debate was held in Iacon, the city that had once been the greatest, most beautiful city on Cybertron, until the civil war had destroyed it. The city's huge towers, once glorious monuments of Cybertronian architecture, were now nothing more than crumbling husks, populated by Empties, the vagrants and battered victims of the civil war. Today, however, there was a distinct air of hope in the city, of the possibility of reunification and reconstruction. In the center of the city was the focal point of this feeling; the members and audience of the third and final Cybertronian Debate of 2005, as it had already been titled.

    The two leaders, Ultra Magnus and Shockwave, were seated facing each other on a high stage. Behind them, each had a second-in-command. Soundwave stood in a obsequious posture behind Shockwave, while Arcee stood behind Ultra Magnus.

    In front of them was an absolutely massive group of transformers, both Autobot and Decepticon. Literally millions of Cybertronians had arrived to see the debate, and millions more were doubtlessly watching from monitors at their homes. The debate had even been televised to several alien worlds, including Earth, Junk and Delta Agma IV, as well as several dozen others. The debate was already being called the most incredible event in centuries.

    Reporters from Cybertron and many other planets were already scrutinizing different factors of the debate. Of particular interest were the two leaders' choices in what some called “vice-presidents.” Shockwave had selected Soundwave as his second-in-command for two basic reasons. If Ultra Magnus tried to cheat Shockwave out of something, Soundwave would inform him. And of course, Soundwave had his assortment of troops. He already had Ratbat spying on the other side, and Ravage patrolling the crowd for possible Autobot--or Decepticon--assassins. Of course, achieving a good vigil was almost impossible with the size of the crowd, but it didn't hurt to have several troops out in the crowd, in case of emergency.

    But in the end, Soundwave was not much more than window dressing, a servant who blindly followed his leader. Soundwave's infamous limited vocabulary was a source of endless jokes among both the Autobots and the Decepticons. The Decepticon had little free will; he was not as much a right-hand man as a stooge, almost a tool.

    Ultra Magnus had chosen Arcee mainly because she would likely be the most help to him. He knew her to be skilled in public relations, and would make an excellent vice-prime. She had been reluctant to agree to be vice-prime, however; she preferred her job as the Autobot representative. She had finally agreed, but on the condition that she could also keep her other duties.

    In the crowd, Ultra Magnus had sent out Bumblebee to watch for assassins. High above, a newly-repaired Powerglide flew inconspicuously around, also searching for possible killers.

    Shockwave and Ultra Magnus were to sit out of sight inside a small impenetrable dome on the stage until after the history reading was over, so Ultra Magnus watched the roaring throng of Cybertronians outside on a small monitor. As he watched them, he glanced over at his companions in the small room. Arcee was busy reading something on a data pad, a small frown on her face. Ultra Magnus had had the general notion that Arcee hadn't wanted to be his second-in-command from the minute he had informed her of his decision, but it was too late to change his mind now. Still, it was obvious she wanted to be anywhere else than where she was. Besides that, Magnus was sure Rodimus' disappearance hadn't helped any. But she was simply the best qualified for the job, since she was one of the only Autobots with any charisma that would work well politically, and also had the right knowledge for the job.

    Shockwave was just sitting there, occasionally glancing at the monitor, but for the most part just appearing nonfunctional. His expression was, of course, unreadable, since he lacked any facial features other than his one glaring eye. Shockwave was probably thinking of a thousand things at that particular moment, but he certainly didn't show it. Soundwave, of course, just stood behind Shockwave, looking for all the world like the universe's perfect lackey. It was a role Soundwave seemed to have been created to play, and he probably would play it until the day he was destroyed.

    As they waited for the history reading to begin, Ultra Magnus thought back to the first two debates he and Shockwave had had in private. Well, in semi-private, at least. Each of them had brought a legion of armed guards to the first meeting, posting them at the doors, around the room, and flanking them. At first, the two had been very cold towards each other. Neither leader had any idea what to expect. But once they had started talking, Ultra Magnus had discovered that they actually had more in common than he had ever suspected. They had similar command styles, similar opinions of Megatron, similar histories in their rise to rank, and, most importantly, similar ideas of what they wanted for a united Cybertron.

    Shockwave and Ultra Magnus had also had a long meeting before the debate. The two leaders had been left alone in a small room, with a single, unliving recording device to record their words.

    Ultra Magnus and Shockwave had spent most of the time deciding on the format for the debate. They would begin with the history of what had instigated the civil war, from a fair mixture of both the Autobots' and the Decepticons' perspectives. Essentially, the history was truthful, with a few changes here and there to help smooth things along. They had agreed on having the Autobot Jazz read the history due to his appealing nature, lack of extreme prejudice toward Decepticons (a result of Jazz's meeting and getting to know the late Starscream years earlier) and the fact that he wanted the war to end as much as any other Autobot. Also, Jazz had a great speaking voice, and excellent expression; he would make the reading interesting.

    After the history reading, the real sparks would fly. Shockwave and Soundwave would, working together, write the first Cybertronian Declaration of Unity (C.D.U.). The document would state all new laws, such as the total banishment of all attempts at conquest of any culture, race or planet. There would also be laws concerning Autobot/Decepticon relations, and finally, a new name for the new group of transformers. Arcee and Soundwave would share in the actual recording of the document, and both Soundwave and an Autobot recorder would be on hand to replay anything that was said, in case of quickly-made forgeries. Ultra Magnus would have preferred Blaster to do the Autobot recording, but Blaster was overseeing the reconstruction of Autobot City, along with Grapple.

    Finally, they had gathered all the Autobots and Decepticons in the city's common, and Ultra Magnus and Shockwave sat in the huge stage, which had once housed many famous performances--before the war, of course. When the war began, entertainment, politics, the arts--it had all vanished. Science remained, but the only thing it was used for was to make more weapons for war. There was no exploration. A few Autobots and one or two free-thinking Decepticons had tried to explore and analyze Earth, but naturally they would eventually be called off to battle.

    At the end of the debate would come the real deciding factor, the real measure of their success. At the end, every Autobot and Decepticon, on Earth and Cybertron, would vote on whether to ally themselves with the other.

    As Ultra Magnus looked out at the massive crowd, he suddenly realized how little he wanted to be here. In fact, this was probably the last place he wanted to be. He found himself wishing Rodimus Prime was there. Or Optimus Prime, or anyone who could handle the situation better than he could. As he had said so many times before, he was just a soldier.

    Jazz slowly stepped up to the podium in the middle of the stage and called for silence. When it did not come, he drew his gun, fired, and roared for silence. You could hear a pin drop.

    A loud, sharp humming noise was emitted from Jazz's throat--the transformer equivalent of a human clearing his throat--and looked at the computer screen built into the podium. He began to recite the history of the Civil War.

    “Once, nearly one hundred million years ago, we were a single race. We called ourselves, simply, Cybertronians. We were a united race. We had an elected government, with an elected Emperor of Cybertron. We had plenty of energon, with great, automated factories producing more than enough for the entire planet. We had sports--cybersphere, target-shooting tournaments, locationsphere. We had arts--electro-imprinting, manipulated particle accelerations, sculpting, music, dance, theatre. We were peaceful and content. This time was known as The Golden Age.

    “But, as time wore by, tensions between Cybertronians began to run high. Odd shortages began to occur. Other life forms began to corrupt certain Cybertronians. Then, for reasons no one is quite sure of, a Cybertronian known as Sarcyst decided to organize a group of Cybertronians--mostly disgruntled or maniacal ex-members of the Cybertronian Defense Force--and began terrorist activities. He called this group...the Decepticons.

    “At first, the Decepticons performed only minor terrorist acts. A small bombing here, a shuttle hijacking there. Then came the assassination.

    “At the time the Emperor of Cybertron, who was also the current Matrix Bearer, Sarnimus Prime, decided it was time to take action against the Decepticons. He ordered an immediate search for Sarcyst, and gave orders for Sarcyst's destruction, if necessary.

    “Then, one fateful day, as Sarnimus Prime was being transported from the Royal Palace to his private shuttle, Sarcyst himself shot at Sarnimus Prime five times.

    “Sarnimus Prime's bodyguard, Orion Pax, threw himself between Sarnimus and the blasts. Two hit Sarnimus Prime before Orion Pax could react; the other three hit Orion Pax, shattering his body.

    “Sarnimus Prime's main advisor, Alpha Trion, took both transformers to the Royal Palace. There, as Sarnimus Prime died, he told Alpha Trion to allow Tarmin, Sarnimus's second-in-command, to lead the group of transformers that were still loyal to him; he named the group the Autobots. However, Sarnimus Prime also told Alpha Trion not to give the Matrix to Tarmin. He told Alpha Trion to find the most worthy Autobot he could, and to give him the Matrix. Then, Sarnimus Prime died.

    “Alpha Trion had listened to Orion Pax give advice to Sarnimus on occasion, and had seen Pax's bravery when Sarnimus was attacked. So, Alpha Trion retrieved the still-active memory bank within the shattered body of Orion Pax and rebuilt him. When he finished, he placed the Matrix into Orion Pax's chest. When Orion Pax awoke, he found he was no longer his former self. He had been bestowed with the Matrix, and was now much stronger than he ever had been before. On that day, Orion Pax became the Autobots' greatest leader, Optimus Prime.”

    “Upon meeting him, Tarmin quickly allowed Optimus Prime to become the new Autobot General of Battle. Optimus's first move in this new position was to assign a large group of Autobots to hunt Sarcyst down, and take him into custody. Eventually, Sarcyst was found and killed. After that, the Autobots thought the Decepticon threat was over.

    “But Sarcyst had not left his Decepticons without a leader. For Sarcyst had left a leader who turned out to be quite a worthy successor...Megatron, a cold, calculating, brilliant military strategist, who unfortunately had a vicious streak a light year long, and whose bloodthirstiness has rarely, if ever, been rivaled in known Cybertronian history. Megatron lead the Decepticons into battle for the conquest of Cybertron.

    “Due to extremely bad decisions on Tarmin's part, and Megatron's brilliant attack strategies and vast troops, in addition to Tarmin's failure to listen to Optimus Prime's advice, Cybertron was soon conquered by the Decepticons. On that fateful day, Megatron and his forces finally broke through the Royal Palace's defenses and entered the Palace. Megatron walked through the main chamber, destroying any Autobot who got in his path. He then walked up to the throne and leveled his fusion cannon inches from Tarmin's head. He ordered Tarmin to bow down in his knees to Megatron, and become a Decepticon. Tarmin said nothing, and Megatron fired.

    “Megatron placed one of his less powerful soldiers as the new Emperor. Megatron then named himself the new General of Battle. Eventually, such titles soon became useless, and the position of Emperor was phased out. Megatron became the supreme dictator of Cybertron; all those who opposed Megatron and the Decepticons were either executed or went underground with Optimus Prime. Soon, they began a long series of attacks, to try and weaken the Decepticon's hold on Cybertron.

    “One day, the Autobots discovered that Cybertron's resources were dangerously low. So Optimus Prime boarded a shuttle with a brigade of his most loyal Autobots to find new energy sources for Cybertron.

    “Megatron saw his chance, and he took some of his soldiers to destroy the Autobot shuttle and crew. The Decepticons boarded the ship and the two groups fought viciously. After nearly twenty days, the ship was in total disarray, and all the Cybertronians within were unconscious. The ship's computer, Teletran 1, selected a planet to land on, since it was too far to return to Cybertron. After several eons, the ship landed on the planet known as Earth. After four million of Earth's years, Teletran 1 awoke and changed the Autobots and the Decepticons, shaping them so when the transformed they resembled the forms of the machines on the planet, and thus could hide themselves.

    “In Optimus Prime's absence, an Autobot known as Xaaron was elected Emirate of the Autobots, and for several eons he was the Autobots' leader, until the return of Optimus Prime. During this time, the Decepticons drove the Autobots off Cybertron, securing the planet for their own rule.

    “After securing Cybertron's several moons as their bases of operations, as well as building Autobot City on Earth, Optimus Prime and his Autobots continued small strikes on Cybertron and the Decepticons. Finally, Optimus Prime decided that he now had enough Autobots to allow for a full-scale assault. He sent several of his troops to Earth to retrieve energon for the assault. Due to carelessness on the Autobots' part, the Decepticons discovered the plan and Megatron led a number of his troops to the shuttle, where they boarded and attacked, killing all Autobots aboard. They then proceeded to attack Autobot city, which they damaged nearly beyond repair. Optimus Prime was killed in this attack, and Megatron badly wounded.

    “Shortly after, a new Decepticon leader known as Galvatron, who was rumored to in actuality be a rebuilt Megatron, rose to power. He severely damaged Ultra Magnus, to whom the Matrix of Leadership had been passed, and took the Matrix from Magnus' body. Unicron, angered by Galvatron's attempt to control him with the Matrix, proceeded to attack Cybertron. During the battle, the Autobot known as Hot Rod took the Matrix from Galvatron and was transformed into Rodimus Prime. Rodimus Prime defeated Galvatron and threw him into space. Then Rodimus Prime used the Matrix to destroy Unicron, to light Cybertron's darkest hour.

    “Shortly after, Rodimus Prime vanished, leaving the Autobot known as Ultra Magnus in charge of the Autobot forces. Ultra Magnus contacted Shockwave, who had become the new Decepticon commander, and proposed an alliance. He convinced Shockwave to meet with him in Iacon for a debate.

    “Now, they sit before you, the leaders of both the Autobots and the Decepticons. Both wish to join forces, and become Cybertronians again. But we will have a new name, which will be announced later. Let us unite once again, after so many millions of years. Let the war end; end the hatred, the violence. Let us begin to heal our planet and ourselves.”

    The crowd erupted with cheers as Jazz stepped down from the podium. The podium retracted into the stage and Shockwave's and Ultra Magnus's chairs slid forward into the light.

    Then all hell broke loose.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “That it, boss?” the ship asked.

    “Yep. Wait a second...not yet...now!” Scourge roared, and he and the Sweeps dived toward the stage, guns blazing.

    Unfortunately for them, the maneuver carried a calculated risk. By the time they were pulling up from the stage and climbing into the sky, millions upon millions of guns and rifles had been drawn and were trained on them, already firing. Neither side wanted their leaders shot at, and the Decepticons didn't care who the Sweeps were aiming for, and it didn't matter anyway; both leaders had been hit, and both leaders had been deliberately hit.

    One Sweep, the one in the rear of the formation, was blown out of the sky, crashing into a nearby building with an impressive display of released energon and a shower of metal. Scourge and the other Sweep managed to climb high enough into the sky to escape without too much damage. Scourge glanced behind his shoulder, looking in dismay at the remaining Sweep. The one that had gone down had apparently been the former Thundercracker.

    “Shockwave!” Ultra Magnus yelled over the din of millions of transformers, “Tell me that wasn't planned!”

    “As I told you at our first meeting, Commander,” Shockwave said, ridiculously calm despite the fact his right arm was gaping with a large, smoking wound, which Soundwave was busily attending to, “Cyclonus, Scourge and the Sweeps disappeared. It appears we have found them.” Shockwave peered into the crowd until he found a suitable sacrificial lamb. “Buzzsaw! Pursue them!”

    As the robotic bird fired off into the air after the two remaining ships, Ultra Magnus barked orders of his own. “Jetfire! Go with him!”

    Jetfire transformed and flew off with Buzzsaw to pursue the Sweeps.

    “Now, Commander,” Shockwave said, “I suggest we continue with the peace talks.”

    “All right, Commander,” Ultra Magnus said, “but we'd better not get attacked again.”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    To: ULTRA MAGNUS
    From: EMIRATE XAARON

    Re: AUTOBOTS THAT MAY VIOLENTLY OPPOSE ALLIANCE

    Well, Magnus, I haven't finished the list yet, but I found our prime...suspect? I don't know what you'd call him, but he is the Autobot most likely to take violent action against this alliance. I realize that right now you're probably already at the debate and that it might be too late, but here is the file in any case.

    NAME: Battleram

    FUNCTION: Former leader of task force code-named the Arsenal

    THREAT RATING: 10

    CURRENT LOCATION: Unknown

    LAST KNOWN LOCATION: Delta Sector, Agma IV

    KNOWN POSSIBLE ALLIES: Kup; Grimlock

    SUGGESTED COURSE OF ACTION: Locate Battleram and keep an optical sensor on him; arrest him if necessary.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    This is insane.

    That was the one thought that dominated Battleram's mind as he watched the two leaders on the stage argue and agree.

    The Autobot and Decepticon leader, right up on that stage, not fighting--or at least, not physically. It was incredible. By all rights, Ultra Magnus should have been either locked in combat or dead.

    But no.

    He was just talking to Shockwave.

    Shockwave was talking to him.

    They were talking about...an alliance.

    It was...impossible. It shouldn't be. Autobots and Decepticons couldn't get along. Decepticons were evil, worthless robots, all of whom should be destroyed, not allied with. Battleram was positive that Shockwave would turn around and use the alliance as a chance to attack and destroy the Autobots. He knew it was too much to hope Ultra Magnus had a similar plan.

    It was up to Battleram now. He had to lead all the true Autobots to victory over the Decepticons. As Battleram had long suspected, it was he who would finally lead the Autobots to completely destroy the Decepticons.

    But now was not the time. Too many unloyal Autobots and too many Decepticons nearby. He had to rally his troops, gather up all the pure Autobots, before making his attack.

    And he knew exactly who to start with.

    Battleram made his way out of the crowd. With the new head he was wearing, one from a dead Decepticon, no one could recognize him. The head was only temporary, of course; he would not wear a Decepticon head any longer than he had to. He'd put his own head back on when he reached his ship.

    He glanced back at the stage one last time, his optical sensors burning with hate, then left.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “How long do you think we'll have to sit here?”

    It was the fifteenth time Frenzy had heard the words come out of his brother's mouth. “Until we're relieved,” he shot back, sounding as irritated as he'd intended to.

    Rumble was unfazed. “Well, if all the others are at the debate, who's gonna relieve us?”

    “I don't know!” Frenzy screamed. “And I don't care! They left the monitor entertainment on! Watch it and shut up!”

    Rumble glared at him, then flopped into the seat and watched the battling images on the screen. He was pleased to find it was one of his favorite shows, Renegade Decepticon. The robot on the screen roared, “Die, Autobots!” as he singlehandedly slaughtered nearly a dozen of them without straining a microcircuit. It was a re-run, since no one was manning the television station; everyone was at the debate. Everyone except them, of course.

    Frenzy glanced at the screen from time to time, but for the most part he either kept watch outside or glanced around the lab. It was obvious why the lab was the only thing being guarded. While the rest of the royal palace mainly consisted of stasisrooms and consumption halls, with a few unused war rooms and lobbies, the lab contained many different and experimental new types of weaponry. Shockwave had decided he didn't want to take the chance that some fanatic Autobot would attempt to attack it, so he left Rumble and Frenzy to guard it.

    Rumble had been a royal pain the entire time so far. He hated guard duty; he though it was the most boring duty possible. Frenzy didn't mind as much; you could at least relax, and anyway something usually happened while you were guarding the base.

    As for the need to guard the lab...he didn't especially like the alliance. He didn't especially like Autobots. But he figured they could always just double-cross the Autobots later, if and when Shockwave changed his mind.

    Faintly, Frenzy heard the roar of far-off engines; he immediately searched the sky for intruders. It could be one of the Autobots...or one of the Decepticons, come to check on them.

    But the roar was so faint, and so uniform; Frenzy had only heard a roar that regular from one type of engine: the one that was placed in Unicron's creations. The one that Cyclonus, Scourge and the Sweeps had.

    Frenzy pulled his laser rifle from his back. Shockwave had warned them to watch out for Cyclonus and his troops. He hid to one side of the entrance, which he closed.

    “Rumble! Get over here!” he hissed.

    Rumble looked over. “What do you--” he began, but when he saw his brother had drawn his rifle, he immediately drew his and inched over to the other side of the entrance.

    “Who is it?” Rumble asked.

    “I think it's Cyclonus and his lackeys.” Frenzy whispered. “They took off the other day, and Shockwave said to look out for them.”

    Rumble nodded. Frenzy's optical sensors quickly began searching the lab for some type of weapon. He and his brother, with their simple laser rifles, had no hope of stopping Cyclonus or the Sweeps. They were simply too powerful, since Unicron had made them.

    Frenzy saw several large guns laying across the room. They weren't labeled, but were sure to be some type of superguns. He quickly ran over, grabbed two, and ran back to the door.

    “Take this, too,” he said, handing one to Rumble. “I found it over there.”

    Rumble nodded, holding the gun in his other hand. There was no need to check the safety; no Decepticon gun was built with a safety mechanism. The idea was any Decepticon foolish enough to kill himself accidently with his own gun shouldn't be a Decepticon in the first place.

    They watched the sky through the two small monitors on either side of the door. Frenzy tried several views from different camera angles, checking all the different areas around the lab. He saw nothing.

    Suddenly, a large blue shape dived into view. It pulled up seconds before hitting the ground, flying out of the camera's range.

    Seconds later, a smaller black and gold shape copied the maneuver. Frenzy turned the viewer on full wide angle so he could see the entire scene.

    Two Sweeps--it looked like Scourge and one of his henchrobots--were being pursued by Buzzsaw and the Autobot Jetfire. The Sweeps were diving in and out of view, obviously trying to cause their pursuers to collide with the ground.

    Jetfire opened up on Scourge, who shook as the blasts pelted off his tough blue hide. Scourge rolled out of the way as Jetfire roared past.

    Buzzsaw, who wasn't as agile as the other three since he wasn't a true ship or jet, tried to catch the Sweep in his claws. He missed several times. The Sweep turned and opened fire.

    Buzzsaw swerved and dived, but the Sweep's aim was too good. He hit one of Buzzsaw's exhaust pipes and the Decepticon half-exploded. The flaming body then fell like a rock to the ground below, where it fully exploded.

    Jetfire, however, was too much of an old hand at dog fights. He rolled out of the combined fire of Scourge and the Sweep and went straight up. Nearly a mile up, he turned and dived down, coming down directly behind the two Decepticons, where he opened full fire upon them. The two ships were wounded severely, and plummeted to the ground, where they crashed and were knocked unconscious.

    Frenzy allowed his respiration to resume. Jetfire certainly wouldn't risk an attack on the lab. At least, Frenzy hoped not...

    Jetfire closed in on the two grounded ships, opening his missile bays. He prepared to fire.

    Out of nowhere, Cyclonus dived and opened his full weaponry on Jetfire. Taken unaware, Jetfire struggled to turn up and escape. But Cyclonus kept all his weapons trained and firing on Jetfire, and the brave Autobot exploded just as he finally turned up to face his attacker.

    Cyclonus transformed and landed next to Scourge and the Sweep.

    “I should kill you right now, for gross incompetence,” Cyclonus said, “but fortunately for you, I still require your services. But be warned; one more defeat like that, and I may be forced to rethink my decision.”

    “Yes, Cyclonus,” Scourge said quietly.

    “Now, let's get the files and get out of here.”

    Frenzy and Rumble prepared for the onslaught. Scourge and his Sweep knocked the door in. Rumble and Frenzy immediately opened fire.

    Both of the “superguns” blew up in two spectacular explosions, instantly killing Frenzy and severely wounding Rumble.

    “Morons,” Cyclonus said as he walked in, looking disgustedly at the two charred, burning bodies. “We were going to put those guns in the artillery stores we know the Autobots are planning to raid. They blow up after three shots, wounding or killing the owner instantly. There's one or two left...” Cyclonus said, contemplating, ”...but we don't need them. Let's just get what we came for and leave.”

    He went over to a large computer in one corner and accessed it, using the small ID circuit he had pulled out of Buzzsaw's charred body.

    He went through the files quickly, finding the two he wanted in less than a minute. He inserted a blank memory file circuit into the computer, made a copy of the files, then erased the computer's entire memory of the visit and turned it off.

    “I've got it. Let's get out of here.”

    As they exited the lab, Scourge shot all the cameras and security monitors. The three Decepticons then transformed and flew off into the night.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    This insane.

    That was the only thought in Grimlock's mind as he watched the screen. On it, Ultra Magnus and Shockwave argued over the number of members on what would be the new Cybertronian police force.

    He didn't like it. Any of it. He didn't think the Autobots needed the Decepticons. They could take care of Cybertron and Earth by themselves.

    Wait a second, Grimlock thought. Me agreed to this. Why me thinking like this now? Me don't understand...

    “This stupid,” he said loudly. “And why me here? Rodimus Prime, when he here, tell me to stay here, guard base. This boring. Other Dinobots at debate. Me want to be there, me want to shoot Scourge and Sweeps.”

    “Well, you still might get the chance to,” a gravelly voice said.

    Grimlock quickly leaped to his feet and drew his energo-sword. A silhouetted figure stood in the doorway.

    “Who you?” Grimlock asked angrily, mad because he had been taken by surprise. “How you get in here?”

    “Still haven't mastered the full grammatical spectrum, huh, 'Lock?” the voice said.

    Grimlock now recognized the voice. “Battleram? That you?”

    The figure stepped into the light. “It is indeed. In the metal.”

    Grimlock shoved the sword in its sheath as he ran over and bear-hugged Battleram, who staggered under the grip. “Woah! You've gotten quite a bit stronger, big guy!”

    Grimlock let go. “Of course me have. Me Grimlock king.”

    “Ah,” Battleram said. “I see. Well, 'Lock, what say we go discuss old times over some spiked energon? I know a great place nearby, and the bartender didn't go to the debate...”

    “Debate! Me can't go. Me have to guard base, Ultra Magnus said so.”

    “Is anyone else guarding?”

    “Well, Superion outside...”

    “Okay then. Let's go.”

    Grimlock thought for a moment. It couldn't hurt, and Superion could certainly handle any Decepticons that showed up. “Okay, but first me have to tell Superion--”

    “Don't worry about it,” Battleram said. “We won't be gone long.”

    “But-” Grimlock began.

    “Come on, it'll be fine,” Battleram said, and Grimlock finally relented.

    “Okay,” Grimlock said, “But tell me: you been gone for a long time. Why you come talk to me now? Does it have to do with debate?”

    “Actually, yes, but we'll discuss it over the energon.”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    It took only a day and a half to finish the C.D.U. Shockwave fought Ultra Magnus on several issues, but for the most part was very agreeable. This in itself made Ultra Magnus suspicious. The Decepticons would lose nothing if they agreed to every term, then stabbed the Autobots in the back, both literally and figuratively, at a later time.

    When the treaty was finished, Jazz returned to the podium and read the entire document. Much of it was legalese and most transformers didn't understand any of it except the part that said the Autobots and the Decepticons were now a united race. Even Jazz had a slight tongue-in-cheek look on face as he read the document.

    When Jazz finished and stepped down, Ultra Magnus and Shockwave stood up, to finish the debate with the speech they had prepared before the debate.

    Ultra Magnus began. “You have heard what the document states. There would be no such things as Autobots or Decepticons, at least as far as military groups go. The names Autobots and Decepticons would continue on, but only as the names of political parties.”

    Shockwave took over. “We can return to the government that was in place before the war, but several changes have to be made. There will now be two Emperors of Cybertron; one of the Autobot party and one of the Decepticon. Perhaps one day, millions of years from now, when the hatreds and ideals of each party has combined, we can have a single Emperor once more. For now, we would have a large combined government.

    “But this is only hypothetical. You, the inhabitants of Cybertron, have to agree with us. You must vote on whether you wish our two sides to ally with each other. Now, those Decepticons and Autobots who wish to ally with each other, and are attending debate, raise your hands. Those on Earth and other places on Cybertron, enter your votes into your computer now.”

    For a few moments, there was no movement from the crowd. Slowly, one transformer raised his hand.

    After the first hand, more hands shot up, and more, the mass of raised hands growing by the minute. Ultra Magnus felt a pang of triumph within as he watched more and more transformers, both Autobot and Decepticon, raise their hand to show their support for an idea that hadn't existed on Cybertron for countless millions of years.

    When the crowd was finished, at least eighty percent of the transformers present had their hands raised. It was incredible. Ultra Magnus watched, slightly awed, as small droids flew above the crowd and counted the raised hands. Some transformers were actually raising two hands, they were so enthusiastic. Ultra Magnus wondered if it wasn't something that should have happened a long, long time ago.

    Well, Optimus, he thought, all may not be one, but we're a lot closer than ever before.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    It took nearly three hours for all the votes to come in from the crowd, all over Cybertron and from Earth, but the outcome, once the crowd was counted, was never really in doubt. In the end, the race voted in favor of the alliance by nearly sixty percent. When all was done, Ultra Magnus spoke again. “We are now a single race, but we cannot go back to calling ourselves Cybertronians. This is not accurate anymore; too much change has occurred. We are no longer simply Cybertronians; some of us originate on Earth, some one other planets, some of us have been created since the war started. We are not the same people we once were. Now, we shall call ourselves a new name. Autobots...”

    “Decepticons...” Shockwave said.

    The two spoke in unison. “We are now...Autocons!”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “'Autocons?'“ Scourge said in disgust as he looked at the monitor, where both Autobots and Decepticons were actually cheering, throwing pieces of shredded metal into the air. “'Autocons?' Ugh, they could have thought of something better! I'd prefer Deceptibots, personally.”

    “It doesn't matter,” Cyclonus said, looking at the screen for a moment before returning to his work. “It won't last.”

    “How can you be sure?” Scourge said, still looking at the mass of cheering figures on the screen. Amidst the cheers, some boos were audible, but not many.

    “Because of what we're doing,” Cyclonus said.

    “We're not bringing back Galvatron, you know,” Scourge said, now looking over at the metal form that was half of the body Cyclonus was building.

    “I know, but it's close,” Cyclonus said. “He's still a figure the Decepticons admire and respect. Besides, we will be bringing Galvatron back. Just not right this second.”

    “But he's old,” Scourge said, referring back to the body Cyclonus was working on.

    “Perhaps, but he's just a figurehead,” Cyclonus said. “The real leader will be behind him. Remember, this being won't even be alive. He'll be a robot, with nothing but programming. He's easy to build, and I'll have him done soon, which means I'll begin work on the other one. Have you located the source of the transmissions?” Cyclonus asked, turning the subject to Galvatron's “black box.”

    “Yes; he's floating on course 143/27. He's moving pretty slow. He must have fired some retro-thrusters before losing consciousness. It's not far.”

    “Good. Go get him. Take your Sweep with you. Is the other repairable?”

    “Yeah. It'll take a while, though.”

    “Never mind. Get going,” Cyclonus said, turning his full attention to his work.

    “I'm gone,” Scourge said, and he left.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “What?” Grimlock said in astonishment.

    “You heard me,” Battleram said.

    “But-but--leave Autobots? No! Me cannot leave Autobots-”

    Battleram flicked his hand toward the screen of the small entertainment monitor in the corner of the tavern. “You heard the announcement--there are no such thing as Autobots anymore. They're nothing but a political party. It says we're Autocons now.”

    “So what? We Autocons. Me not fight anyone now. Or me join police force. Or kick Quintessons' butt. Find other bad guys. No big deal.”

    “But don't you see, Grimlock? The Decepticons aren't going to go along with this! If our time together out after those rogue Deceps had taught you anything, that should have been it! You can't trust Decepticons, period.”

    Grimlock was silent for a moment. “So what we do?” he asked finally. “Tell Ultra Magnus to tell Shockwave that deal off because two of his warriors, one who hasn't been seen in three decades, say that Decepticons can't be trusted? Won't work.”

    “I know that, 'Lock. So I'll tell you what we do. We gather up all the true, loyal Autobots that we can--without letting Magnus and his supporters find out--and overthrow their government. Then we destroy the Decepticons.”

    Grimlock looked at his energon container.

    Battleram pressed on. “C'mon, 'Lock. We should start gathering loyal Autobots now, while we can. Then, we can take over and trash the Decepticons, before they have the chance to attack us.”

    Grimlock thought for a moment. “Me not sure about this, 'Ram...”

    “I'll be leading.”

    “Me still think-”

    “You can be second-in-command.”

    “Still-”

    “Everyone will look up to you.”

    Grimlock glared at him. “Everyone look up to me now. No need more fame and glory. Me don't know what to do. Wish Prime was here. He know what to do.” Grimlock took a long sip of his drink.

    Yeah, though Battleram, he'd work right along with Ultra Magnus. “Well, he's not here. And he's not coming back. But I'm sure he'd agree with me. This is what we have to do.”

    Grimlock looked at the table. He looked around, glanced at the screen, the cheering throngs of transformers. He tried to figure out why the energon tasted funny. “Me guess so...” he said finally.

    Battleram stood up. “Good. Let's go get your Dinobots and start preparing.”

    Grimlock stood up and left.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Scourge and the Sweep flew through the void, silently passing through space at several hundred miles a second.

    As they flew, Scourge hummed to himself. He could only hum in his mind, of course, since sound couldn't travel in space, but in any event he found himself humming an old Elvis Presley tune, something he had often done when he was Skywarp. He found it comforting that he could still remember these things.

    A small blip suddenly appeared on his sensors. He quickly cleared his thoughts and focused on his job.

    “That's him,” Scourge said. “That's Galvatron.”

    Scourge homed in on the source of the transmissions, and they transformed as they neared the body. Scourge grabbed the body, turning it around so he could see the face. Sure enough, it was Galvatron.

    “We're going to take you back to Cyclonus. He'll repair you.” Scourge said, without telling the whole truth.

    It gave him the creeps, to know that this Galvatron could see and hear him, at least on a subconscious level, but couldn't talk at all. He transformed, holding the body under himself with several arms, and flew off as the Sweep transformed and joined him.


    -16-
    Ultra Magnus fell into his chair.

    “Ugh.”

    “Tough day?” Springer asked. Springer had been waiting in Ultra Magnus' office when Magnus had returned from the debate.

    Magnus threw him a look. “What do you think?”

    “I think 'Autocons' sounds stupid.”

    Magnus rubbed his optical sensors. “Would you have preferred 'Deceptibots'?”

    “No, I would've preferred 'Cybertronians' or 'Autobots and Decepticons'.”

    “Well, the reason we can't use 'Cybertronians' was explained, and we can't use the other two because it would represent our division.”

    “So now they're just political groups?”

    “Just political groups.”

    “How's your arm?”

    “Fine,” Magnus replied, glancing at the small burn on his upper right arm. “It's superficial. Scourge and his cohorts weren't aiming to kill.”

    “Lucky for you,” Springer added.

    “Yeah. Again, it doesn't make any sense, unless Shockwave set them up to it, just so he could make a big show of saving the day by sending a Decepticon after them. But, for some, reason, I doubt that's the situation. It's so incredibly obvious that I just can't believe Shockwave would even try something like this. But maybe that's what he wants me to think. Oh, forget this,” Magnus said in frustration. “I can't go around second-guessing everything.”

    Springer nodded slightly, then thought for a moment. “Permission to speak freely?”

    “You will anyway.” Magnus tried to clear a small buzzing from his head.

    “Frankly, sir, this bites. The Decepticons will obviously use this to their advantage. I say we do the same.”

    “We're--we used to be--Autobots, Springer. That's not the way we work.”

    “I know. That's the way the Decepticons work. And why they've kicked our butts for the last one hundred million years. And why they control Cybertron.”

    “We do too, now,” Magnus pointed out.

    “Yes, but there are ten times as many Decepticons as Autobots. This just brings us out in the open, lambs--to use an Earth phrase--being led to slaughter. I don't like it at all.”

    “Well, I don't care. Like it or not, you have to accept it.”

    “For now.”

    “Yes, for now.” Ultra Magnus said quietly.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    The Dinobots listened quietly while Battleram explained his plan. They watched Grimlock, who stood behind Battleram, stoic, bristling slightly only when battling Autobots was mentioned.

    “So what you saying,” Swoop said when Battleram finished, “is that we have to fight Autobots, as well as Decepticons?”

    “What he saying,” Slag said angrily, “is that Decepticons going to trick us, like they always do! And we have to stop them!”

    “Me Sludge think we should do as Grimlock say,” Sludge said slowly.

    Slag turned to Grimlock. “What say you, Grimlock?”

    Grimlock's optical visor flickered for a moment. “Me say we should follow Battleram.”

    “Then we do,” Slag said firmly.

    “Do you all agree?” Battleram asked.

    All heads nodded slowly.

    “Good. We are a formidable fighting force now. With the five of you, plus myself, we represent the true Autobots. Now, we must go forth and gather up all the other loyal Autobots.”

    “Then we destroy both Decepticons and some Autocons?” Snarl asked.

    “Yes,” Battleram replied.

    “Then who will kill Shockwave?” Slag asked.

    Battleram's optical sensors narrowed. “I will,” he said in a voice that chilled even Grimlock. “But for now, we must go gather up the Autobots. Secrecy is imperative. I will give each of you a list of Autobots to approach. Then, you will ask them a specific set of questions, which I will provide. Make sure no one sees the questioning, and that the Autobot you question tells no one. Then you will tell them to meet us at a certain location at a certain time, which I will provide. Any questions?”

    “Yes,” said Slag. “I want to know: who leader? You...or Grimlock?”

    Battleram hesitated slightly. “I am.”

    “Do you agree with this, Grimlock?” Slag asked.

    Grimlock was silent for a moment. Then, with a sharp glance at Battleram, he said, “Yes.”

    Battleram let out an undetectable exhalation of relief. “Good. Now, here are your data pads,” he said, handing each of them the small computer. “Get to work.”

    All the Dinobots left, with the exception of Grimlock. “What's the problem, 'Lock?”

    “Me still don't like this, 'Ram,” he said. “Me think we should not battle Autocons that were Autobots.”

    “But don't you see, 'Lock? They're not Autobots; they're Autocons, and that makes them as bad as the Decepticons. They have to be destroyed. We have to conquer them, to insure Autobot rule.”

    Grimlock stared at him, hard. His optical sensor narrowed. “You sound like Decepticon,” he said dangerously.

    Battleram stiffened slightly. He spoke in careful, measured tones. “I don't want to have to keep telling you this, Grimlock. Some races have to be conquered, defeated. The Decepticons are one of them. They are not related to us. They are pitiless, cold-blooded killers. They will deceive us. It is their way. We have to stop them, and the only way to do that is to destroy them.”

    To Grimlock, the words seemed to have been fired from a gun. He stood silent for a moment, staring straight ahead. Battleram wondered what was going through that puny mind of his. He hoped he wouldn't have to persuade Grimlock by other means, and not just because Grimlock was a good friend and would be good to have on his side. Battleram wasn't sure if, after all these years, he could take Grimlock. The latter was quite younger than he was.

    Suddenly, Grimlock's visor glared bright again, and all the doubt vanished. He looked at Battleram. “You right. We have to stop Decepticons. Have to smash them.”

    “Excellent,” Battleram said with a grin. “Let's go.”


    -17-
    The detective stepped over the black, charred bodies of Rumble and Frenzy. He stood to one side, inspected them, and took some notes. Frenzy was destroyed beyond repair, but several medical technicians were working furiously to keep Rumble alive. That was odd; the detective would have thought that Rumble would be declared a loss when he was so damaged. Then again, Rumble had been one of Megatron's favorites, and was a well-known Decepticon. He supposed such a death might harm morale.

    The detective turned to his aide, dictated some instructions, then walked around the room, inspecting the burned remains of the cameras.

    Spade had been the best-known, and one of the only, Decepticon detectives for years. He had adopted his name decades ago, when all the Autobots and Decepticons were getting their names changed to names made from words from Earth. He had chosen his name after watching an old human film about a detective and a statue of an Earth bird; he had instantly taken to the film, and viewed it often when he had free time on his ship, which he had named after the same film.

    Though he had always been on call for Megatron and his empire, Spade had remained mainly neutral throughout the war, doing private investigative work for both sides. Mainly, though, he had been called upon by Megatron or Shockwave, or some other high-ranking Decepticon, to investigate how various Decepticons perished, or do some snooping around an Autobot camp or base. One famous case, nearly a dozen years ago, had ended in a battle that had left Spade with a small scar under his left flank. He had never allowed any Decepticon doctor to replace the flank plate. He wanted it as a souvenir of the case.

    But that had been years ago, and though Spade had been through a number of refits to his form, he had always retained the flank. Now, he transformed into some kind of jet or something; he wasn't sure what, since he hardly ever used it. He preferred to simply fly in robot mode, or hitch a ride inside his aide, Stern, who transformed into a space fighter. Stern was also sort of his personal bodyguard, though Spade would never admit it. He just gave Stern his notes.

    Shockwave had sent for him as soon as he had got back from the debate and been informed of the intrusion. Spade was to report to him when he was done. That Spade would give a full report was doubtful; Spade knew keeping some secrets to one's self was often a good idea, especially when one was reporting to a Decepticon leader.

    He had inspected the bodies of Buzzsaw and Jetfire outside. Jetfire had already been hauled away by some (former) Autobots, but he'd managed to get a good look at the laser burns. He had inspected Buzzsaw's body, and noticed that the Predacon's ID circuit was missing. ID circuits were always hidden in one of the most protected areas of the body, surrounded by the same type of metal a transformer's black box was. This was so a transformer who had been destroyed, in battle or otherwise, could be identified. Whoever had killed Buzzsaw had apparently taken his ID circuit.

    He took holographs of the three sets of footprints leading in and out of the building. Unlike Earth, of course, there was no impression in the ground. But collected space dust left imprints that could be picked up on a special scanner of a type his optical sensors just happened to be equipped with.

    The technicians around him speculated as to the identity of the intruders, and how they had made it past Rumble and Frenzy. Spade had inspected the bodies, then the cameras. Of course, they had not been notified of the attack by the Sweeps, or hadn't pieced two and two together. Obviously, if Buzzsaw and Jetfire were outside, then the most likely suspects were the Sweeps those two transformers had been pursuing. Unfortunately, not all Decepticons had minds like steel traps.

    The cameras were blown beyond repair. The technicians said no useful information could be gleaned from them. Spade had just studied them and taken notes; valuable information could be gleaned just by inspecting the burns on the cameras and walls.

    Done with all the physical inspecting, he handed the full data pad to Stern, then took out another and went over to the computer technician who was working at the huge computer in the corner.

    “What have you got?”

    The technician glanced over his shoulder, pulled from his private little world of him and the computer, and sneered at the detective. Spade didn't like computer techs; they seemed to think that their knowledge of how computers work made them superior to all other transformers. Spade ignored the sneer. “Who broke in?”

    A look of frustration came and went quickly on the tech's face, but Spade caught it. The tech turned back to the computer. “Whoever pulled it erased all knowledge of the interaction. We can't trace the ID.”

    “Have you tested for the possibility of an inserted ID circuit?”

    The technician looked puzzled. “Why would anyone use an ID circuit? They could just use their own ID code-”

    “Not if they wanted to cover their tracks. Could they have used an ID circuit?”

    “I suppose, but it's highly unlikely....”

    “He was an intruder. He's not going to use his own ID code. It's far too easily traceable. Check for an ID circuit.”

    “But to do that, I'd need to know who's ID circuit code to look for...” the technician protested. He didn't like this insignificant detective telling him how to do his job.

    “Check for Buzzsaw's.”

    The technician smiled patronizingly. “Come now, Spade, even I know that Buzzsaw's nothing but a smoking heap out there-”

    “I said check for it anyway!” Spade snapped. He was quickly getting sick of this technician and his arrogant attitude.

    The technician shrugged. “If you say so,” he said, as if to say, Okay, I'll humor you, for now.

    Spade watched as the technician inputted Buzzsaw's ID circuit code and the computer began a search for the code.

    After several moments, the screen flickered and a small sign in the upper right corner of the screen read, “CODE FOUND.”

    The technician blinked in surprise. “Um, it appears you're right...but...”

    “Give me the time of access,” Spade asked, looking down at his data pad screen.

    “Um, 6/6227.239,” the tech said. “About mid-sixth breem, or six-thirty in the morning, Earth time.”

    “Okay...now, what files did he pull?”

    The tech pulled the information from the screen and read it to him.

    Spade hesitated. “Could you repeat that?”

    The tech reread the titles of the files.

    Spade took the information down on the pad, and frowned at it, deep in thought.

    “Why would he have wanted this information?” the tech asked, bewildered. “It's useless now...isn't it?”

    “Perhaps,” Spade said, and he left before the technician could ask any more questions.


    -18-
    Scourge transformed and landed in front of the small base, his Sweep right behind him. The Sweep that had been shot at the debate was being repaired by several of Cyclonus' new cronies; he wouldn't be active for several days. The Sweep that now followed Scourge carried Galvatron's body over his shoulders.

    Scourge keyed in the entry code at the door, which looked like a large sand-colored boulder, and went in. As he worked his way through the large subterranean base, he marveled at how well-hidden it was. The base had been made several years ago, when Megatron had a sudden streak of insecurity and built dozens of shelters all over Cybertron and nearby planets. This particular base was on a remote planet in Cybertron's gigantic solar system, not too far from Cybertron itself. But the amazing thing was how well the base blended with its environment. The whole base was beneath a large rock plain, and even the most penetrating sensors couldn't detect the base below the rock, which was a rare type of rock that deflected powerful sensor sweeps with ease.

    Scourge found Cyclonus hard at work on the second body. It was huge, and classic pre-civil war era. The chest was large, and seemed slightly protruding. The back had two long wings, curved downward, and covered with long, deadly-looking spikes. The two legs looked both strong and agile. On the left forearm was a thick gauntlet adorned with several weapons, bladed and firing. The right arm ended in four vicious claws, each made from solid titanium, and capable of slashing through even the strongest hide. It was a pity the robot would have no sentience, otherwise it could seriously have aided the Decepticon cause.

    “Here's Galvatron, Cyclonus,” Scourge said.

    “Excellent,” Cyclonus said, without looking up. “Put him on the bed over there.”

    The Sweep put Galvatron down on the bed, and magically the medical data appeared on the screen at the side of the bed. Scourge walked over the robot-shaped body on the table. It looks good,” Scourge observed.

    “Yes. The files were very detailed.”

    Scourge nodded, but said nothing.

    Cyclonus continued. “He will also have stronger new armor plating, and heightened sensors. His maneuverability in either form has increased by nearly eighty-seven percent.”

    “He's going to lead the Decepticons, right?”

    “No, Galvatron is.”

    “But he's-”

    “I know who he is. But he's a robot. He can't make decisions. Galvatron will control him by transmissions. Now go, and leave me to my work.”

    Scourge silently exited the room.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “Oh, primes,” Ultra Magnus said as he read the report. He looked at the communications technician. “You intercepted this?”

    The technician nodded. “Yes, sir. It was being sent from the Royal Palace to one of the Decep--I mean, former Decepticons' bases in orbit.”

    “Who sent it?”

    “A Decepticon detective named Spade, sir,” said the lieutenant who had accompanied the technician into the room.

    “Spade?” Ultra Magnus said, the name finding a face in his mind. “I haven't heard his name mentioned in years. He's the one who was involved in the Firestrike incident about ten years ago, right?”

    The technician nodded. “Yes, sir. I pulled his file, if you'd like to see it.”

    Magnus nodded slowly, mulling over the report. “So we weren't officially sent notice of this event?”

    “No, sir,” said the lieutenant.

    “But we were called to retrieve Jetfire's body.”

    “Yes, sir,” the lieutenant replied.

    Magnus put the report down. “Any idea who he was sending the transmission to?”

    “Yes, sir,” the technician said. “A former double-agent named Covert. He and Spade are old friends.”

    “Covert?” Magnus exclaimed. “Primes, Covert is wanted dead on over a dozen planets, isn't he?”

    The lieutenant nodded. “Do you want us to arrest him, sir?”

    Magnus thought for a moment. “No, we'll let him go for now. Keep monitoring transmissions between the two, if possible. I'd like to know what they're talking about.”

    “Yes, sir,” said the lieutenant, and the two Autobots left the room.

    Magnus sat back in the chair and let out a long, slow sigh. He sipped on some chilled liquid energon as he glanced at the report.

    It looked as if Cyclonus and Scourge were on their own, and the former Decepticons were having some troubles with them. Jetfire had apparently been severely wounded by Cyclonus, who had arrived seconds before Scourge and his Sweep had nearly been destroyed, and not the Sweeps themselves, as the Autobots had “officially” been told by the Decepticons. Then the three Decepticons had killed the Royal Palace's laboratory's guards and entered the lab. They had destroyed some cameras, but had taken nothing but a few computer files. It was a very disturbing incident; while it did clear Shockwave of any potential charges (assuming the document wasn't falsified), it showed that Cyclonus and Scourge had some kind of plan.

    There was always the possibility that Cyclonus and his group would try to attack the Autocons, but that wasn't what Magnus worried about. He wanted to know why they had wanted the files they had pulled from the computer.

    What good were they? he wondered. The first file's subject was dead; it was useless. And the other file--well, that one had been useless for years that went far before Ultra Magnus had even been created.

    He glanced at the other monitor, and exhaled slowly, attempting to cool his systems. On the other monitor was news that could be even worse than anything Cyclonus and his troops could possibly do.

    The Deathcons, a team of deadly mercenaries for the former Decepticons, were missing. Apparently, they had been seen on Delta Agma IV for some time. Now, they were gone.

    Ultra Magnus had seen the Deathcons in battle, and was slightly terrified at the thought that they might be planning an attack on Autobot Headquarters. The group of Autobot warriors that Rodimus Prime had sent to find the Deathcons had found them, all right. And then, the Deathcons had shown the Autobot warriors how they had received their team name. Every member of the Autobots' group had been killed, and all the Deathcons had escaped intact.

    Ultra Magnus was angry beyond grief, and not just at the Deathcons. The Autobot warriors had been given explicit orders not to engage the Deathcons. Apparently, they hadn't followed their orders, and they had paid for that mistake with their lives.

    Then again, Magnus realized his anger may have been misplaced. The Deathcons have several members of the team who could have easily spotted the group of Autobots from miles away. Most likely, the Autobots had found the Deathcons' trail, but then had been jumped by the Deathcons in a surprise attack. In any case, there was no way the Autobots could have won the battle. There were few Autobot teams who could defeat the Deathcons, with the possible exception of the Dinobots.

    It had begun in the early 1990s. Shortly after the Firestrike fiasco, Optimus Prime had created a task force team for the express purpose of hunting down rogue Decepticons. He had chosen the best warriors he could find for the team. He had chosen Battleram, who had become a distinguished leader of the rebel forces on Cybertron, as the leader of the team. He then added two experienced soldiers: Kup and Ironhide. Then he called on Grimlock to add more power to the team. Finally, he had added an agile weapons expert, a young female named Vangel.

    The Deathcons had been formed in the late 1990s as a response to the Arsenal. Originally, the Deathcons had been a team of mercenaries, similar to the Arsenal, formed for the purpose of tracking down dangerous, rogue Autobots. Eventually, however, the team began to go its own way. The team consisted of some of the most powerful Decepticons ever known. In the beginning, it had had a large group; Siege was the leader. Other members included Nuke, Omnistrike, Gremlin, Trypticon, Aeroburn, Minotaur, Skysonic, and Deathcade.

    After only a year on the team, Trypticon had quit the team, due to his lack of trust in Siege and Siege's judgement. Siege had been quite angry about that, and several times he had attempted to persuade Trypticon to return to the team. But the only real reason Siege wanted Trypticon back was because Trypticon was excellent back-up for the team, and his ability to transform into a base was invaluable. But Trypticon had never been persuaded; he strongly preferred Megatron's leadership to Siege's.

    The team became a rogue, ironically becoming exactly what they were assigned to find. Occasionally, Megatron would contact them and ask them if they would do a job for him. For a time, Siege would usually agree. But eventually, the Deathcons stopped paying attention to the rest of the Decepticons entirely. They went wherever they wanted, did whatever they wanted, getting into skirmishes with Autobots on occasion, and always winning them. The only team that had ever held its own against the Deathcons was the Arsenal, and the only time the Arsenal had won a battle, rather than ending in a stalemate or a loss, was when Grimlock had called in the rest of the Dinobots.

    Another thing started occurring frequently; Siege began to make constant attempts for Decepticon leadership. Several times, he and the Deathcons had attacked Decepticon Headquarters, both on Cybertron and on Earth. Twice, Siege had battled Megatron. The first time, Megatron had beaten Siege, but had nearly been killed himself. The second time, Megatron had been saved by several loyal Decepticons, though the “official” record of the incident stated that Megatron had defeated Siege in hand-to-hand combat.

    Only the deadliest members of the Deathcons remained. Nuke, who had the ability to transform himself into a fighter ship and fire incredibly powerful nuclear blasts, was still around. He was one of the most loyal members of the group, and basically followed orders. Omnistrike was alive as well. He could transform from a robot to a large tank, and was most known for his incredibly powerful punches, hence his name. Gremlin--who transformed into a small mechanical creature resembling a chimpanzee from Earth, but with a massive head filled with teeth--was also still alive. He was a hideous little troll. He was also a computer expert, and the computer system hadn't been created that the Gremlin couldn't crack or disrupt.

    Aeroburn had been killed by Vangel. Likewise, Kup had killed Minotaur. Skysonic was still part of the team. Just the sight of him as a jet diving from the sky filled any transformer's heart, even the bravest, with terror, since he was the Deathcons' wildest card, an insane schizophrenic with an insatiable bloodlust made even worse by his constant switching between at least five different personalities. The schizophrenia had been caused by programming errors when Skysonic was created. The personality programs for the Deathcons had been based on memory programs of various known smugglers and bounty hunters, whose memory programs had been removed without permission, of course. When Skysonic was programmed, the programmer accidently inserted not only the disk that had been created specifically for Skysonic, but also four other memory disks of four of the smugglers and bounty hunters, whose minds had gone insane after being removed from their bodies. Skysonic was calm and rational only when the original Skysonic personality surfaced. The other four personalities were radically different; one, the most feared, was pure bloodlust, and he went into berserk rages when the personality surfaced, slaughtering anything in sight. Another personality was absolutely brilliant in planning strategies, and if that personality surfaced at the correct time, the Deathcons nearly always won a battle. Another was a total coward. When that personality surfaced, Skysonic immediately dived for cover somewhere, and hid there until another personality surfaced. The final personality was totally flawed; somehow, the personality was that of an Autobot, and when it surfaced, Skysonic would turn on his comrades. The two personalities that surfaced the most often were the brilliant one and Skysonic's original personality; the Autobot personality was the rarest. Decepticon officers had wanted Skysonic destroyed as soon as word of the accidental misprogramming got out, but once Megatron saw the fear Skysonic created just by showing himself, he allowed the Decepticon to live.

    Deathcade, by far the most visually horrifying of the Deathcons, transformed into a mechanical creature that closely resembled a creature from Earth mythology, called Scylla. He was about the size of the Dinobot Sludge, with five narrow heads attached to long necks. Each head was filled with an obscene number of long, thin teeth that could punch through steel like it was paper. Each head spewed a different type of weapon; flame, acid, laser blasts, electric bolts and missiles. He had four feet, each with long, sharp claws that could extend to root him solidly in the ground. He could run at a maximum speed of 350 mph if necessary. He also had two arms, each of which ended in hideous clawed hands. Each claw was solid titanium, and was nearly five feet long, perfectly capable of tearing an enemy to pieces or ripping into any base. His long tale ended in a huge ball that was covered in huge, vicious-looking spikes. The mere sight of Deathcade was enough to terrify almost any transformer, Autobots and Decepticons alike. Ultra Magnus had been on the same battlefield only once with Deathcade, and never wanted to meet the beast again. Only Siege could look at Deathcade's battle form and not have any reaction of fear to it.

    But that was because Siege could easily defeat Deathcade, if he wanted to. Siege transformed into a huge bomber ship, and carried weapons powerful enough to level a small city, though he rarely used bombs of that magnitude. He was extremely maneuverable, and tactically brilliant. He was also deadly to Autobots, and had a long-standing mutual hatred of Battleram.

    In many ways, Siege was Battleram's exact equal, and in many ways, his exact opposite. Battleram, of course, was an Autobot, while Siege was a Decepticon. Both, however, killed their enemies on sight; Battleram shot any Decepticon he saw in battle, and Siege shot any Autobot he saw, no matter where or when. Both had roughly the same amount of strength, firepower, and endurance. Both had a healthy disrespect for authority. They were about the same age, though age meant little but amount of experience on Cybertron, so it was better to say that each had roughly the same amount of experience in battle.

    The major difference between the two warriors was that Siege had a thirst for blood that Battleram didn't. Battleram killed any Decepticon he saw in battle quickly and cleanly; he didn't make them suffer. Not Siege. Siege preferred to shoot only five or six wide shots, just enough to fatally damage the enemy, then watch as the Autobot died slowly through loss of fuel. As they died, Siege would kick them in the face and roar obscenities at them. When they were dead, he took any shred of dignity left in the death and had the heads nailed up on posts. Ultra Magnus still remembered being a young soldier, walking around the battlefield on which he had recently fought the Deathcons--or what would become the Deathcons. Magnus' leader in the battle had been Optimus Prime himself, back when Optimus was the General of Battle. At the time, there were no Deathcons. The Deathcons' creation was millennia away. But Siege and Deathcade had been there, and Magnus still had vivid memories of seeing his comrades' faces, frozen in anger and shock, staring down at him from their thin metal posts that now served as headstones in the most literal--and grisly--sense of the word. Ultra Magnus had vowed then and there that he would never stop fighting the Decepticons, so long as transformers such as the one who had done the horrible injustice before him still existed.

    Siege and Battleram had met early in Siege's career as leader of the Deathcons. After many years of chasing one another, battling numerous times, a fateful day came when the two teams clashed for the final time. During the battle, Kup had killed Minotaur, and Vangel had killed Aeroburn. Aeroburn had been a good friend, perhaps the only friend, of Siege's, and Siege went into a berserk rage, in which he apparently killed Vangel. This sent Battleram into a rage himself, and the two leaders had battled until they destroyed each other. However, somehow their memory and mind chips survived intact, and each transformer, for whatever reason, was rebuilt. Optimus Prime's reasons for rebuilding such an unstable transformer as Battleram were never fully explained by Optimus; he had merely said that the Autobots were desperate for good leaders, and claimed Battleram was a good one--though certain former members of the Arsenal might have disputed that claim, had they not been deceased.

    The Arsenal's days of battle were over. The team broke up, and each member went his own way. Grimlock went on to continue leading of the Dinobots. Ironhide had died defending an Autobot shuttle from Megatron and his troops. Kup was now the new General of Battle.

    Battleram, on the other hand, had become a loose cannon. He disappeared, popping up once in a while on alien planets, but impossible to track. He went his own ways, battling various evil-doers, stirring up trouble that sent other planets knocking on the Autobots' door. Of course, the complaining planets don't dare go to the Decepticons whenever Siege and the Deathcons caused trouble; that would be foolish. They complained to the more sympathetic Autobots.

    And now, Ultra Magnus had to handle them. Magnus didn't especially like the job that had been thrust upon him. He now led the Autobots. Optimus Prime was dead. Rodimus Prime had vanished.

    The Matrix was gone, and the Autobots' new leader with it. When Ultra Magnus found out who or what had taken Rodimus Prime, he swore to himself that he would personally kill him, her or it. Unless, of course, the Deathcons had taken Rodimus, which was a distinct possibility. If that was the case, then looking for Rodimus was probably a lost cause. Even though he was a Prime, Rodimus had only the strategic knowledge of Hot Rod; and Hot Rod had never met Siege or the Deathcons. Ultra Magnus was fairly sure that, if the Deathcons had taken Rodimus Prime from the bounty hunter (who was, most likely, this Stal person), then Rodimus was already dead. The Deathcons never took prisoners.

    His mind lingered back to the transmission on the other monitor screen. What were the files for? They were both useless. What was Cyclonus planning? So many questions...he didn't know if he could handle the job. His second-in-command was supposed to be Arcee, but Springer seemed to be his main advisor, though Magnus didn't really want the advice...

    The door to his office chimed. He didn't hear it the first time.

    “Come in,” he said after the second time without looking up.

    It was another lieutenant. “What's the problem?” Magnus asked.

    “Sir, Grimlock left his guard post at 5:00 PM today, during the debate. I just thought you might want to know.”

    Magnus looked up. “Who was left on guard?”

    “Superion, sir.”

    “Where did Grimlock go?”

    “That's just it. We don't know where he went, sir. We had an unauthorized visitor, apparently, who left with him,” the lieutenant replied.

    “An unauthorized visitor? Who?” Magnus demanded.

    “We don't know, sir.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded. “Yes, of course you don't. I apologize, Lieutenant. I guess this job's already getting to me.”

    “If you say so, sir.”

    Magnus smiled. “Return to your post, Lieutenant.”

    “Yes sir!” the technician said with a salute, then left.

    Magnus thought back to when he was a young lieutenant, reporting similar messages to Optimus Prime. He sometimes wished he could return to those days, when the war was young, when Decepticons were the bad guys and the Autobots were the good guys, when every soldier's goal was to fight Decepticons...

    Magnus shook off the thought and looked around the cluttered desk. Dozens of memory chips littered it. His monitors were back-logged with mail, and now Grimlock was abandoning his post. He'd have to have a talk with the Dinobot when he returned from wherever he had gone.

    But right now, Magnus had to call his contact at the Royal Palace. Maybe he had heard something.

    Ultra Magnus flicked off the monitor, then stood and left the office.

    He never read the short message from Emirate Xaaron; and he never saw it quickly disappear from the mail list.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Battleram smiled slightly. Breaking into the Autobots' computer systems was easy indeed. Now, Magnus would never know about him. At least until Emirate Xaaron contacted him live. Otherwise, Magnus wouldn't even suspect he was in the solar system.

    He had created a flag program; any message to Autobot Station from an outside source that mentioned himself, the Arsenal or Grimlock would never make it to the station. He had created a special program that wasn't fooled by backward spelling or codes. He'd done it before, to much more complicated computers. This was simple.

    Battleram had also broken into the mail that went directly to Ultra Magnus and only Ultra Magnus. He'd read the note about the Deathcons. He'd have to make sure and track them down once he was done on Cybertron.

    Grimlock and the rest of the Dinobots had left nine hours ago. He had almost lost it with Grimlock. He cursed the stupid Dinobot; he was already sick of the idiot's moronic grammar.

    Over twenty years, and the fool still couldn't talk right. Grimlock had never had the flaw in his speech program corrected.

    Battleram wasn't sure why it bothered him so much. It never had before. It certainly hadn't when Battleram had been leading the Arsenal.

    At the thought of the name, Battleram cursed Optimus Prime for the nth time for creating the Arsenal. It had ended only in disaster. Vangel was dead. Siege still lived. Battleram had vowed long ago to make sure the latter didn't last, and he would uphold it. But he had to finish on Cybertron first. He had to contact some old friends, call in some old debts. He had to bring back the Autobots. He had to destroy the Decepticons. That was the way it had always been, and that was the way it had to end. There simply was no other way.

    He turned off the computer and turned to the comm panel.

    So much to do, so little time.


    -19-
    The transformer glanced around his shoulder in nervousness. He hated being here, out in the open. Someone might recognize him.

    If someone did recognize him, they would have had to be super-robots with extremely powerful detection skills. Covert didn't even have his own head on; it was the head of a technician he had killed long ago. He had nearly two dozen heads, besides his original, that he could change into if necessary. He had the database transfer system down pat; he could switch to another head in two minutes. Besides that, he was painted five different colors, none of which were his original color. They were temporary paints, of course, easily melted off, but he wasn't taking any chances.

    So it was there, in Ibex Quadrant Spaceport, that the former Decepticon double-agent named Covert waited in the shadows, in a small corner near some public transmitters, for his old friend, Spade.

    Covert didn't want to be here. He wanted to be anywhere else but here, in this public place. When you're wanted dead by fifteen different planets, including your home planet, you tend not to like public places. You learn to find a place to hide and stay there. You learn not to make yourself visible.

    But he owed Spade, big time. On five separate occasions, Spade had pulled Covert's metallic rear out of the frying pan, and Covert owed Spade for each. Seeing as how he hadn't paid back even one yet, he couldn't really refuse to meet Spade.

    But he didn't like it. On Base Fifteen, he was hidden away, tucked into a small living space that would have been small to many, but suited himself and Lightfire just fine. The commander of the base was an old friend, and had agreed to let him live there, but if Covert was caught, the commander said he would have no idea where Covert had come from. But Covert had Lightfire, and they were happy. Even though Lightfire was an Autobot, and he was a Decepticon. Autobot/Decepticon relationships were rare, and usually frowned upon by both sides, but Covert and Lightfire didn't care; they loved each other.

    Lightfire didn't especially like the apartment, of course; she would have preferred something larger. But she understood the problem, and was happy as long as they were together.

    Which was why he didn't want to be here. If anyone recognized him, he was dead. No more Lightfire. No more happiness.

    Already, he was living guilt; the very thought of the countless dozens of beings he had killed made him want to regurgitate energon. He regretted every life he had taken. He was buried in guilt, and for a long time had been on the edge of ending it all. He had tried several times. Then he had met Lightfire, and now they were taking it one day at a time.

    But now, he had to talk to Spade. He had received the transmission, and within minutes had left the apartment.

    As a double-agent, one gets access to information only very high officials are supposed to know. He received the information from old friends that were still active on both sides; they knew selling information was the only way Covert could make a decent living, since he wasn't even a citizen and certainly not enlisted in a military division. But Covert strongly preferred dealing information out from his heavily-guarded computer, rather than a meeting like this. But Spade had insisted, so Covert had come, terrified or not.

    But Covert didn't like it; he didn't like it at all. He was curious as to why Cyclonus would want such useless files. Both of the files' subjects were dead. But, in the message, Spade had mentioned something about another file that was simply read, but not pulled. He had not gone into specifics, but seemed to be worried about it; the file had been pulled in the time between Cyclonus' and Scourge's attack and the time the destruction in the lab had been discovered. That meant someone else had read a file, then attempted to erase mention of the visit. And that person was not Cyclonus or Scourge, apparently, and Spade hadn't said who it was. It had taken Covert nearly two hours to decipher that information from the word patterns Spade had ingeniously formed in the message.

    Covert watched the crowd. It was late at night. He would wait one more hour, then leave. He looked around intently, trying to find Spade. The detective should have already been there. He glanced behind his shoulder again. Where...

    Covert nearly jumped ten feet in the air. Out of nowhere, a transformer had appeared near the terminal. The transformer inputted his credit card into a slot nearby, and began to read the news. He selected page one-hundred-forty-six and began to read an article about the dedication of an Autobot Memorial.

    “Spade?” Covert asked.

    “Yeah,” Spade said. “You got the message?”

    “Obviously,” Covert said. “Look, hurry up, okay? I really want to get out of here-”

    “Don't be so paranoid. Every other transformer on the planet thinks you're hiding out on Beta Hydra V.”

    “That hellhole? Is that what you fed them?”

    “Yeah, and since no one wants to go there, even for a wanted fugitive--” Spade chose not to use the word murderer, “--you're in the clear. Now, you know that the whole Cyclonus/Scourge thing was just to distract any eavesdroppers, right?”

    “You mean it's not true?”

    “Oh, it's true, all right; it's just not as important as the other information. Shockwave already knows about Cyc-O and his lackeys; by now I'm sure Magnus does too. Right now, I want to know one thing: where's Siege?”

    Covert looked down. “I'd really, really rather not tell you that, Spade...if Siege finds out who told you, he'll find me, and he'll kill me. No two ways about it.”

    “I know. That's why I've already contacted Nightwind. She's going to arrange for a transfer, and a hideout, on Earth.”

    Covert looked up. “Wh--what?”

    “Think if it, Cove...your own place on Earth, free from danger, from the fear of being found.”

    Covert stared at him. A look of bewilderment shone on his face. “R-really? Away from harm?”

    “Yep. You and Lightfire. Gone from danger forever.”

    “Spade...primes, after all you've done already...”

    Spade grinned. “Call it a weakness. After you leave, go directly home and stay there. In about four hours, Nightwind will call you with the time, place and ship.”

    “Spade...thanks, I don't know what-”

    “Just tell me where Siege is.”

    “Okay. He's on Cybertron.”

    Spade blinked. “Heh?”

    “Yeah. He left a good trail behind, everyone thinks he's off-planet, but he and the Deathcons are hiding in one of the old Autobot underground bases. Quadrant Eight-X, I believe.”

    Spade wrote the information on his pad. “Okay, now is there anyone I can contact who might be able to give me more information?”

    “Well, Nightwind might know something. Isn't she supposed to return to Cybertron soon?”

    “Yeah. She was real upset that she missed the debate. She's coming here in about five days. One of her buddies is going to transport you, Lightfire, and a few belongings, no questions asked.”

    “Thanks, Spade. And a few more possible contacts might be Deadex, Stinger, Garrot and Xanen.”

    Spade finished writing. “Got it. Thanks. This will probably be the last time I see you, buddy.”

    “I guess you're right. Thanks so much, Spade.” The shook hands tightly.

    “No problem. Now get out of here before someone spots you.”

    By the time Spade had turned back to the monitor, Covert had already vanished.


    -20-
    Kup sat quietly at the bar, slowly stirring the glowing liquid in the small glass in front of him. He was quite clearly brooding, and the bartender hadn't though it prudent to kick the Cybertronian General of Battle out of his bar, so the bartender had quietly closed up the bar and set the lock, leaving a full pitcher of spiked energon next to Kup before slipping out into the streets.

    Now, the large pitcher had only a fifth of the liquid it had contained remaining. Kup had no idea how long he had been in the bar; nor did he care. All he cared about was world events, about who he was now allied with, and how wrong it was.

    Shortly after the debate, he had told Ultra Magnus he needed some time to think. Ultra Magnus had been upset, but rather than have his General of Battle grumbling about and making everyone's life miserable, Magnus had wisely decided to grant Kup the leave. So far, all Kup had done on his leave was revisit the numerous taverns he had frequented when Cybertron hadn't been in civil war. He had quickly decided that this freedom was the one and only benefit of the alliance.

    Kup was so lost in thought that he never heard the door unlock, open, and shut again. He didn't hear the intruder walk towards him, ever so quietly, and then...

    “Kup,” said a deep voice.

    Kup leaped out of his chair, simultaneously spinning and drawing his laser rifle at the same time. The rifle was quickly slapped out of his hand, leaving him unarmed. Without missing a beat, Kup lunged at the attacker, slamming his shoulder into the transformer's midsection.

    He heard a loud grunt emit from the enemy, and Kup felt better than he had in days. He grabbed the transformer off the floor and threw him against the wall. “All right, ya damned Decep bastard,” he growled, “that was the last damned move you'll ever regret!” He swiftly drew back his right fist and decked the attacker across the jaw.

    His hand shattered from the impact.

    Kup fell to his knees, clutching his hand, staring at it in slight wonder. Then he looked up at the attacker, awaiting oblivion.

    But the transformer didn't move. In fact, he started to laugh. It wasn't quite crazy laughter, or evil laughter. It was a haughty laugh Kup had only heard once before.

    “Primus...” Kup whispered. “Is it really you?”

    The figure stepped into the light flickering through the window. “It is indeed, Kup. I guess I gave you a bit of a shock there. I didn't mean to; it was just the sight of seeing an old friend and all. My, that hand's quite the mess now, isn't it? Sorry about that.”

    “Battleram?” Kup whispered, still stunned. “Battleram? I thought you were dead...”

    “Ha!” Battleram laughed. “A mere cover. I've faked at least five suicides in my time. But I think you know the answer to your next question.”

    “Why are you here?” Kup murmured. “Oh, yes, of course. So you've heard.”

    “Heard?” Battleram said. “I was there. And I didn't like one single moment of it.”

    Kup was beginning to recover from the fight and his shock at seeing his old leader. The pain in his shattered right hand vanished as the regeneration systems activated. Kup began to listen to what Battleram was saying. “Wha--oh yeah. The debate. Yeah, I agree; I don't like any of it.”

    “I have sources that say you voted against it. Is this correct?”

    “Definitely,” Kup affirmed. “It's suicide. I don't trust Shockwave as far as Bumblebee can throw Trypticon. This is all going to turn out bad.”

    “Well, we could always make sure it doesn't,” Battleram said mildly.

    Kup scrutinized him. “What are you getting at?”

    “I've been organizing a little strike team,” Battleram said smoothly, keeping an eye on Kup's face. “I'm working on a plan to counter this little move by the Decepticons. I'm gathering as many loyal Autobots as I can. We've already got some very powerful members.”

    Kup was both suspicious and interested. “Like who?”

    “Well, the Dinobots, for a start,” Battleram said.

    “The Dinobots!” Kup yelled. “But Grimlock was totally in favor the alliance!”

    “Well, yes, he was,” Battleram agreed. “At first. But once I had persuaded him a bit, he was very open to suggestion. Then all I had to do was a slip a Mindebian mind alterer into his spiked energon, and whatever doubts he had left vanished.”

    “A Mindebian mind alterer!” Kup said. “But they're outlawed everywhere! You know about the incident on Phessia--”

    “Kup, you know as well as I do that sometimes you have to bend the rules a little. Besides, it's a lesser type; it doesn't totally control his mind. He'd have to be totally against joining us to change his mind, but he could.”

    “Still, Battleram, these methods are a little over the line...” Kup said uncertainly.

    “Perhaps so,” Battleram agreed. “But do you think the Decepticons would do less? Do you think they would even use the lesser type?”

    “No,” Kup said. “The Decepticons wouldn't even know where to find one of the smaller ones. But I don't like this at all. What's your overall plan?”

    Battleram spoke with confidence. “We will overthrow the Autocon government and take control of Cybertron.”

    Kup nodded thoughtfully at this profound statement. “And who do you plan to 'take care of' on your way up?”

    “Anyone who gets in our way,” Battleram said coldly, his eyes narrowing with hate. “That includes Shockwave, Jazz, even Ultra Magnus. Anyone who gets in our way.”

    That clinched it. “Forget it, Battleram,” Kup said. “There's no way I'm going to kill my comrades just to end this alliance, and then let you rule the world. Leave me out of it.” He headed toward the door.

    “Oh, I wouldn't be the only ruler,” Battleram said. “You could rule with me, Kup.”

    Kup didn't even look back. “Sorry, 'Ram. This one is going too far. I won't get in your way...too much, but I'm not going along with this.”

    “I wish you'd reconsider,” Battleram said.

    “Too bad,” Kup said, and he started to walk out the door. The plasma blast caught Kup unaware in the back, sending his body flying into the street outside. Kup fell down the steps and crumpled on the sidewalk.

    “Yes, it is too bad,” Battleram said as he reached into his pocket and took out a tiny square of dark metal. He removed a small laser scalpel from his rifle and cut a tiny hole in Kup's head. He slipped the square in, where it immediately attached to the Autobot's brain. He then sealed the hole.

    Battleram smirked slightly at Kup. “Too bad, indeed,” he said.

    He quickly hoisted Kup onto his back, transformed into his flying battering ram mode, and launched into the air, heading for his new headquarters.


    -21-
    Ultra Magnus stared at the shattered body.

    “And you can repair him?” he asked First Aid, who had become the new doctor due to the former doctor Ratchet's untimely demise.

    “Actually, yes. The damage is incredibly extensive; he was severely battered before his fuel tank ruptured and he exploded. But his head is intact; as far as he's concerned, he's merely deactivated. It will take time to rebuild him, however.”

    “How much time?” asked Springer, who had tagged along with Magnus. “He's one of our strongest air guardians. We need Jetfire functioning.”

    “It will take three days to repair him.”

    Magnus looked at the doctor. “Fine. Get to work.” Magnus turned and briskly walked out of the room.

    Springer caught up to him. “Might I have a word with you, Commander?”

    “Drop the 'Commander', Springer. And you're getting very annoying lately, you know. What do you want?”

    “I was just noticing you seem rather...I don't know, tense, lately.”

    “Well, gosh, I'm sorry. I'll try not to let the disappearance of the Deathcons, the most deadly Decepticons alive, in addition to the disappearance of Galvatron and the unknown whereabouts of Cyclonus and Scourge get me down,” Magnus said sarcastically.

    Springer stopped. “The Deathcons are missing?”

    “Yes, and don't mention it to anyone. You're not even supposed to know.”

    “Primes,” Springer said as he caught up again, “you do have a problem. What are you going to do?”

    “I'm going to post every powerful former Autobot we have left outside the station. Speaking of which, I think I'll do that right now.” Magnus stopped by a computer. “Computer, contact Silverbolt and patch me through to him.

    A pause. Then the Aerialbot leader appeared on the screen. “Yes, Commander?”

    “Gather up the rest of the Aerialbots and form Superion. Then go outside and guard the base.”

    “Yes, sir. Anyone in particular we should be looking for?” Silverbolt asked.

    “Yes, the Deathcons. Now get going.”

    Ultra Magnus turned off the viewer before the surprised Autobot could say anything further.

    “Computer, contact Hot Spot and tell him to find the rest of the Protectobots and form Defensor. Then tell him to go guard outside. Contact Sky Lynx as well, and tell him to meet Superion and Defensor outside.” Ultra Magnus turned off the comm panel.

    “I assume you're going to call the Dinobots, right?” Springer asked. “They're the ones who are the match for the Deathcons. The Dinobots were built with stronger alloys than any other transformer out there.”

    “I know,” said Magnus, and he turned back to the intercom. “Computer, contact and patch me through to Grimlock.”

    There was a pause. “Grimlock is not within station limits.”

    “What?” Magnus asked. “Where is he? Locate him!”

    Yet another eternal pause. “Grimlock is not within sensor range.”

    “Where would he go?” Magnus asked, puzzled, directing the question at Springer, who shrugged.

    “Grimlock left for destination: Ibex Quadrant Spaceport,” the computer replied, thinking the question had been meant for it to answer.

    Magnus turned back to the computer. “What? When?”

    “Seven o'clock, Earth time,” the computer stated.

    “Who went with him?”

    “Party contained Grimlock, Slag, Sludge, Swoop, Snarl and an unknown transformer.”

    “Computer, contact Ibex Spaceport security. I want to talk to them.”

    Another pause. “Yes, Ultra Magnus?” asked the security chief, a former Decepticon.

    “Has Grimlock and the Dinobots come through there?” Magnus asked.

    They waited as the security chief checked his computer. “Yes, they came through two hours ago.”

    “Was another transformer with them?”

    The chief checked again. “Yes, a...an Autobot named... vleemwaste!” the chief screamed.

    Ultra Magnus and Springer jumped at the curse. “Um, that was his name?” Springer asked.

    “What? Oh, no--it's this stupid ID...” the chief turned to one of his lackeys. “Who took this, Xarjin?”

    The nervous tech worked at his instruments for a moment. “Um, Sholtzis was on duty at the time they arrived, sir.”

    “Someone get me Sholtzis!” the chief screamed.

    Ultra Magnus was getting impatient. “Look, Chief, would you please tell us what the problem is?”

    The angry chief turned to face them. “It's this ID--it's vleemwaste! An obvious fake! Any idiot could have spotted it! Believe me, Sholtzis is going to pay dearly for this...you've got him, Xarjin? Good, what's he say?”

    Xarjin listened for a moment, then turned to the chief. “Um, he says he saw nothing and he knows nothing.”

    “Chief,” Ultra Magnus interjected, “could you please just tell us what the name of the Autobot was? Even if it's a fake?”

    “Huh?” the chief said. “Oh, sure...um, it says Aeroburn.”

    Magnus stepped back from the screen.

    “Hey,” the chief said, “I just though I'd tell you...I really like this alliance. I'm sick of all the fighting--I'm glad Shockwave agre-”

    Magnus switched off the intercom.

    “Magnus?” Springer asked. “What's the problem?”

    “I know...I know who the Dinobots are with. We have to stop them. Now.” Magnus transformed and barreled down the hallway toward his office.

    Springer transformed into a car and charged along beside him. “What is it, Magnus? Who are they with?”

    “The Dinobots--” Magnus said slowly, just barely audible over the roaring engines, “--are with the Autobot known as Battleram.”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Grimlock sat alone in silence.

    Swoop had told him the news only minutes ago. Now, Grimlock knew there was no turning back. Ultra Magnus had declared he and the other Dinobots outlaws. Magnus knew about Battleram.

    Had he been five years younger, Grimlock would not have been as solemn as he was. He would have been cursing and laughing at Magnus, talking and plotting with his comrades. But he was not five years younger.

    Ordinarily, he would have loved to smash Decepticons, even if they were allies. Five years ago, he would have gone along with Battleram's plan in a second. But this was not an ordinary time, nor an ordinary plan. Battleram's plan had a major flaw in it.

    It was Battleram's plan.

    When Grimlock had first been selected to be a member of the Arsenal, he had been ecstatic. Optimus Prime himself had told Grimlock he was to join the Arsenal.

    For years, Grimlock had run around with the Arsenal, with Kup and Ironhide and Vangel and Battleram. During those years, Grimlock had become one of the toughest--and most vicious--members of the team. Only Vangel had rivaled him in viciousness.

    Still, the team was the team, and over the years they pulled off incredible missions with minor damage to themselves or their surroundings. They tracked down some of the deadliest Decepticons of the time. They had fun. They were a team. They were popular and respected by both Autobots and Decepticons.

    Then came the Deathcons.

    Once they showed up, Battleram started to become strange. He began to get into arguments with other members of the team. He became easily irritable, and much more vicious. He began to disobey Optimus Prime's orders, opting to chase down the Deathcons instead. He seemed to take their very existence as a titanic blow to his ego.

    Then came the battle. The one none of them would ever forget.

    They had located the Deathcons (“Again,” Kup had added) on one of the Manganese Mountains. Battleram had given his plan--it had been quickly thought up, not thought out--and as they snuck around behind, they were ambushed by the Deathcons. In the ensuing battle, Aeroburn and Minotaur had been killed, as well as Vangel, who was probably the most adored member of the team, and Battleram's favorite.

    Battleram had snapped. He had completely lost his mind, hurling himself at Siege and swiping at him with vicious snarls and mad punches. Though both teams had attempted to break up the battle, Siege and Battleram had fought until the destroyed each other. But their minds had survived, such as they were, and the two were rebuilt.

    But Battleram remained insane. He began to lose control, and many of the Decepticons they were supposed to capture never survived. Even when Battleram thought plans out, they failed. Less than a year after the Manganese battle, Optimus Prime ordered the dissolution of the Arsenal.

    While the rest of them merely went on to continue serving the Autobots, Battleram vanished. But Grimlock had known exactly where he went. He had gone after Siege.

    Grimlock had not expected to see Battleram until either Siege was dead or Battleram was. But, apparently, Battleram found ending the alliance more important than tracking Siege down.

    Due to what Grimlock had known of Battleram over their last years together, he didn't trust Battleram. The Autobot might not be thinking clearly. Grimlock wished Optimus Prime was alive, or even Rodimus Prime, so they could handle the matter.

    Grimlock grunted slightly as a small pain throbbed in his head. He had had an odd pain in the back of his head for what seemed like days. He hadn't figured out what it could be yet. It didn't hurt him as much as it annoyed him. He would have to try to remember to speak to the physician of the base.

    The intercom beeped. Grimlock jumped, then looked at the screen. It was Battleram, with another of his little reports. For some reason, Grimlock always got the feeling that Battleram was actually checking on him, rather then giving him constant updates.

    “'Lock--I think we're going to have to put our little mission into effect with a little more secrecy now. Grimlock, I need to know something. You believe this is necessary, right? You believe we have to end this alliance, any way we have to?”

    Grimlock stared hard at the screen, then said “Yes.”

    “Good. Meet me in the main room, and bring the Dinobots.”

    The screen flickered off as Grimlock left the room.


    -22-
    Spade flew slowly through the darkness. He didn't like being in his jet form, but he didn't have much of a choice. As he flew over the towns populated by the battered transformers known as Empties, he tried to remember the last time he'd used the form...maybe some training exercises with Skywarp, Thundercracker, Starscream and 'Wind?

    He smiled inwardly when he thought of Nightwind. It would be great to see her again. She had only been on Cybertron for about a year or two before being sent back to Earth nearly a decade ago. He missed her; she was one of the only friends he had left, or had ever had. Thundercracker had been a friend, but now he was a mindless Sweep. Skywarp was now Scourge, and Spade didn't want to tell 'Wind about that--she would probably sneak off and try to talk to him, and learn that nothing of Skywarp was left in him. Then Scourge would toast 'Wind.

    Actually, all of those Decepticon jets had been friends. Spade had met Nightwind during the Firestrike Fiasco (as Spade liked to call it), and then, had come to know Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp when he was posted on Earth, several months later. Although he had at first been reluctant to go, Spade now realized that some of his fondest memories were from that time on Earth.

    He tried to remember all the good friends he had left. Covert was too paranoid, too afraid for his own life to be a good friend. Stern was just a lackey, and Spade knew the day would come--soon, probably--when Stern would move on to bigger and better things. Omnistrike had been a friend, but then he had been refit and shoved into the Deathcons, where he had fallen prey to the bloodlust that was rampant within the group. Still, perhaps, if he was caught, Omnistrike might try and help save his life. Or at least, buy him some time.

    Spade shuddered a little, and not just from the bitter wind and rust particles showering over him. The thought of being caught, at being in the mercy of the Deathcons scared him more than slightly. He'd been in bad situations before, but that puppy would take the cake. He seriously hoped he wouldn't get stuck with that problem.

    He wondered why he was doing this. Who would he report to? What would he report? Why was he out in the skid rows of Cybertron, flying toward the current camp of who could arguably be called the deadliest transformers ever created?

    To make matters worse, Siege hated Spade. Spade wasn't sure why, but Siege hated him. It probably had something to with Spade's involvement with the investigation of the Deathcons' tactics and its growing tendency to disobey orders, back when Megatron still had a little control over the team.

    Now, Spade knew, the Deathcons had to be stopped. They would do everything and their power--and they had a lot of power--to stop the alliance, even if it meant the death of a lot of Autobots as well as Decepticons. And Spade had heard that the Dinobots were missing, too. So the only team in history that had power that measured up to the Deathcons' was missing. And the Dinobots couldn't even combine.

    Slowly, as he neared his destination, Spade slowed. He wished for the hundredth time that somebody, be it Nightwind or Covert or anybody, was with him. He transformed and landed near the subterranean base's door. For a moment, he considered activating his special power, which was a force field bent light around him, rendering him invisible. But the power drained a lot of energy, and he decided he was safe, for the time being. He quietly hunched by the door, and waited.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Omnistrike sat cross-legged, arms folded, his foot tapping slightly on the floor with impatience. He looked around the small room. They had all been assembled in what served as the main hall; a small hole that was larger than all the other ones in the subterranean base. Nuke, Gremlin, Deathcade, Skysonic, and Omnistrike were there, and Siege would arrive shortly; Siege apparently wanted to discuss the plan again.

    Omnistrike was nervous; he didn't like the underground base. It was too easy to find, even though it was buried under ruins populated by Empties. The Empties bothered him, too; he couldn't stand them. They made him sick, their battered, torn bodies clanking around, their fuel lines leaking all over the place, their faces always contorted in agony. The leftovers of Cybertronian civilization, Omnistrike thought they should all be put out of their misery.

    Plus, Omnistrike was nervous about the team. Sometimes it seemed like he was the only sane member of the group left. Five years earlier--was it only five years?--all the Deathcons had been captured by a small task force led by Siege's old rival, Battleram. The task force hadn't been the Arsenal; it had included such Autobots as Ultra Magnus, Springer, Grimlock, Omega Supreme, Arcee, Hot Rod and several others. Only Omnistrike had escaped capture. To minimize the risk of escape from imprisonment, Optimus Prime had placed each member in a different prison camp, in different parts of the planet and even on other worlds. It had taken some time for most of them to escape, though Omnistrike had helped a few of them.

    Nuke had become rather unbalanced after all those years in that Autobot prison camp. He had lost it, and when he made his escape, he had taken the entire prison--and every robot within, Autobot and Decepticon--and blown them Kingdom Went. It had taken him three years to build up the energy through the tiny cracks in the energy shield of his cell, but he had built it up and let it go, destroying everything within a three mile radius. Now, he was dangerous; Omnistrike often feared he might accidently destroy them all himself. It was doubtful, though. Though Omnistrike found it hard to believe, Nuke was one of the saner members of the group. Now, Nuke sat in a large chair, a look of boredom on his face.

    Gremlin was probably the sanest, next to Omnistrike himself. Gremlin had spent his time in prison creating new weapons, and had somehow written the blueprints on his wall with some kind of tiny electromagnetic device, and once he had been broken out he simply recorded the plans from the outside of the wall, reversed the images and made the weapons. If he was different at all, it was that he was a little more violent toward Autobots. Gremlin sat in his chair, fidgeting nervously, as always. It seemed to Omnistrike that Gremlin was always trying to fit into the exact stereotype of a villain's little toady; endlessly fidgeting, always looking nervous, happy only when he's pleased his boss.

    Deathcade was a lot worse than the last time Omnistrike had seen him. During the glory days of the Deathcons, Deathcade hadn't exactly loved his monster mode, but he had relished the fear it caused and the success it created in battle. But somehow, over the years in prison, he had been insulted, hated and tortured by his fellow inmates for his hideous alternate form. Finally, he had been moved to solitary, for his own protection. Something had snapped. He loved his monster form now. There had been some sort of reversal, as if he couldn't stand to hear the insults, so he stayed in the monster form, where no one would insult him since he could easily kill them if they did. The fact that he remained in the form so much caused problems, especially where room was concerned, since when he was in the monster form his size rivaled that of Trypticon's. Still, no one asked him to transform, since no one wanted to risk it. At the moment, however, Deathcade was in robot form, mostly because he wouldn't be able to fit in the room otherwise. He was just sitting and looking at the floor, his face devoid of any expression at all.

    Skysonic's mind was gone. Prison had finished his trip to insanity; he was now completely nuts. The original Skysonic personality had nearly disappeared; he went back to it for about one day every year, on the anniversary of the day he had first been programmed. It was all very strange.

    In any case, his most dominant minds now were the insane bloodlust and the brilliant one. During prison, he had been worked on, and the doctors had managed to make him slightly more controllable. When all was calm, the brilliant personality surfaced and remained. Unfortunately, no one had ever really seen this side of Skysonic. Even in his bad mental health, Skysonic knew better than to make strategic suggestions to Siege. That was tempting Siege's wrath. They all remembered Siege's first and last display of the consequences of impertinence; it had cost the team its first member, a rebuilt Decepticon warrior named Bloodbath, who Siege had mercilessly killed after one slight challenge. Thus, Skysonic was never allowed to make suggestions, unless he was specifically asked something. And when a battle began, the bloodlust returned and remained until several hours after the battle was over. The only unsettling thing was that the Autobot personality surfaced more than it used to, and during those times he had to be put in a containment cell. Skysonic currently sat on the floor, face lowered, legs crossed, mumbling to himself about something or other. The muttering told Omnistrike that Skysonic was in his brilliant personality at the moment, and was talking his way through some complicated problem.

    And then there was Siege. Siege had not changed much. He had escaped from prison mere hours after being put in there, and had lived on the planet Gaxon for a while, in hiding, plotting his revenge on Battleram. A year ago, Siege had proceeded to round up the old gang. He had found Omnistrike on a remote Decepticon battle station; he and Omnistrike had broken Gremlin and Deathcade out of prison; Nuke had found his own way out; and somehow Skysonic had found them. Apparently, Skysonic had broken out of prison and had gone in search of his brother, Dirge. For some reason, during that time his original personality had been the only one he had. But the minute he saw his former comrades, his mind had snapped and the brilliant mind had surfaced.

    To Omnistrike, Siege was still the most evil Decepticon he had ever met. Even Megatron seemed amiable when his actions were compared to what Omnistrike had seen Siege do. Siege was a monster, and Omnistrike often wished he had never met him. But Siege was the leader, and Omnistrike had to follow his orders...or else.

    Siege entered the room. For the thousandth time since he'd known the transformer, he marveled at how well Siege's name fit him. Siege was big, for a medium-sized transformer; about the size of Shockwave. Siege emanated power. His arms were large and thick, and looked as if they could rip any transformer in half; and of course, they could. On his shoulders were mounted two huge cannons, which could fire missiles or, due to a recent refit, fusion blasts. His chest was the same as many F-15 Decepticons; the vertical cockpit with the canopy. But since he was a bomber jet, Siege's cockpit was wide and thick. His retro-thrusters weren't next to his head, like the F-15s; they folded back to allow the cannons to slide up and forward from their place in robot form. Massive triangular wings projected out from his sides, and doubled the width of his shadow. His legs were also large, and each had several rooting spikes and tentacles contained within which allowed him to stand without fear of being knocked down. That is, if Siege had any fear. His face was classic early Sarnimus Era; the dark blue visor optical sensor, with a simple curved plate with small, slitted speakers for a mouth, like Optimus Prime and Grimlock. Two antennae protruded from his head like long, curved horns. On his forehead began a thin snake-like ridge which went all the way behind his head. His cannons were presently in position along his back, but Omnistrike knew they could raise, pivot and fire within a single second.

    Siege looked them over, as if judging whether they were fit for his command. His visor swept the room, landing on each of them, slowly taking in the scans and going on to the next subject. They all waited silently.

    Finally, he stopped scanning, and straightened slightly. Omnistrike braced himself. Siege's booming voice never failed to startle him.

    “You're all here,” he said. “Excellent. I'm glad to see you could all make it.” His mouth formed a smirk; a slight rising of his faceplate.

    Several of them smiled nervously at the non-humorous joke. None of them would have dared defy his order. He was like Earth's old criminal organization, the Mafia. He would have hunted them down and killed them without a second thought if they hadn't shown up.

    “As you know, major events are occurring on Cybertron. Major events many transformers don't agree with. Many events I don't agree with. This is not good.”

    Some of them nodded at this; none of them particularly liked what was going on, either.

    “We have to stop this alliance. I have communicated with several sources close to Commander Shockwave; he is serious about the alliance. No deception is planned or even being considered; in fact, Shockwave is discouraging it altogether.”

    This was no surprise to any of them. They had known Shockwave was not planning a deception ever since they had first heard someone suggest it. They had all known Shockwave well; Shockwave rarely lied, especially about something like this.

    “Many Decepticons do not agree with this. For example, Cyclonus and Scourge have vanished, after raiding the Royal Palace's laboratory.”

    Siege's voice lowered slightly, and his visor gleamed.

    “There are also Autobots who do not agree. For example, the Autobot known as Battleram is on Cybertron.”

    This took them by surprise. Last they had heard, Battleram was off on another planet. He was dangerous, a loose cannon. Having him on the loose was like allowing a Dinobot-mode Grimlock to run amuck in a Decepticon lab.

    Siege's voice returned to its usual deafening decibel. “But no matter. We must end the alliance, as soon as possible. The first thing we must do is assassinate Shockwave. Once he is gone, I can easily overpower Soundwave and take control of the Decepticons, at which point I will dissolve the alliance and launch a full-scale attack on the Autobots. Any Decepticons who defy me will be executed.”

    “But boss,” Gremlin said in his nervous, hissing voice, “what about Trypticon?”

    Siege looked at him. “I am not worried about Trypticon. But that is one reason you all will be with me.”

    “Commander,” Nuke said, “shouldn't we kill Ultra Magnus, too?”

    “Oh, no; there will be no need for us to get anywhere near Ultra Magnus. Our work will be done for us.”

    “By who?”

    Siege grinned again. “You shall see. In the meantime, we must begin our plans for--the assassination.”

    Omnistrike noticed the pause. Siege had caught something. A slight sound, perhaps; but he had heard something.

    Siege looked at Omnistrike. Omnistrike nodded and eased his way down the short corridor that led to the base's entrance. He slid along carefully, not making the slightest sound.

    “So, how will we do it?” Nuke asked.

    “At 10:00 AM, ten days from now, we shall attack him as he transports from the Royal Palace to Ibex Spaceport for the Earth meeting at Autobot City, just as the great Sarcyst struck Sarnimus Prime millions of years ago...”

    Omnistrike heard the sound. It was the slight intake of air, like a transformer cooling his systems; it could just be a nosy, suicidal Empty...

    “Then, we will capture Soundwave, and force him to become a Decepticon again. Then, I shall become the new Decepticon General of Battle...”

    Omnistrike eased up to the entrance silently drew his proton rifle. He brought it up, and listened. Seconds later, the intake of air was repeated.

    “We shall then strike out at the Autobots, and win our planet back again. The Decepticon rebellion shall begin...now!!”

    Omnistrike turned the corner and fired.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Spade heard the Deathcon before he fired. He dived behind a pile of rubble, which was quickly demolished under the proton rifle's fire.

    “You're too nosy for your own good, pal!” Omnistrike yelled over the blasts.

    Gremlin, Nuke and Deathcade joined Omnistrike in the barrage. Spade continued to dive behind walls, only to have to dive again when the wall was demolished. He desperately wished he had enough time to activate his invisibilility shield, but he needed time to charge it, and he currently had none.

    Spade found a large titanium plate. It would hold them off for about ten seconds; that was all he needed.

    He picked up the plate and leaned against it to hold it up. He winced under the fierce vibrations from the battering and opened his comlink.

    Seven seconds later, the plate shattered. Spade stood up from behind the ruined metal.

    Omnistrike held up his hand for a cease-fire. “Spade?” he said. “The Decep detective? What are you doing here?”

    “Just a little private investigative work,” Spade said smoothly.

    “Uh huh. Did Shockwave send you?”

    “No. He doesn't even know where you are.”

    “Yeah, right,” Omnistrike said. “and just how and am I supposed to believe you?”

    Spade shrugged.

    “Tell me, who are you working for?” Omnistrike asked.

    “Can't say. Customer confidentiality.”

    “Uh huh. Who told you where we were?”

    “I'm not at liberty to say.”

    “Well, look, Spade. I'd really rather not blow you away; I know what kind of skills you have, and we could really use you. I'll tell you what. You don't have to tell me why you're here, or who told you where we were. Just join us, and we won't kill you.”

    Spade thought for a moment. “I don't have to say anything?”

    “Not a word.”

    “What if I want to say something?”

    “Well, if you want to, that's up to you.”

    “Okay,” Spade said. “I agree.”

    Omnistrike blinked. That had been easy. He had always thought Spade had some sort of sense of honor; he was surprised Spade had agreed so easily. “Okay, Spade,” he said, taking a step forward. “Come on in and we'll...”

    Suddenly, Spade grinned.

    Omnistrike's visor widened. “Ah, man, Spade...” he whispered.

    “Screw you, murderer. Fire!” Spade roared, and instantly a mad barrage of photon pulses, armor-piercing shells and ion blasts rained down on the four Deathcons.

    Spade quickly dived for cover as Triggerhappy, Slugslinger and Stern attacked the Deathcons. He waited about five seconds, then transformed and launched into the sky.

    “Trig, Slug, Stern, come on!” he yelled to them. “Let's get out of here!”

    Stern quickly flew to his boss's side, suddenly not as eager to become a warrior. But Triggerhappy and Slugslinger continued the attack.

    “Come on!” Spade yelled again.

    “Go ahead!” Slugslinger yelled. “We'll cover!”

    “You'll be killed!”

    “Don't worry about us, buddy! Go!”

    Spade gave up, and quickly turned, firing his engines to full speed. Wasn't his fault if they wanted to kill themselves.

    Triggerhappy was in pure glee, raining the fire down on the Deathcons, who were diving for cover, then diving again as the cover was blown away.

    Then Siege stepped out of the base, and transformed.

    “Uh oh,” Slugslinger whispered. Well, he thought, so much for this little attack.

    Siege was at their altitude in seconds. His cockpit-mounted optical sensor locked on to the maneuvering Triggerhappy and Slugslinger.

    “Fools,” he said. “Did you seriously think you stood a chance against the Deathcons?”

    His fusion cannons powered up.

    “Prepare to meet your doom, traitors.” The cannons rotated and locked on.

    Suddenly, two proton missiles slammed into Siege's optical sensor, shattering it and blinding him. He roared in pain and rage.

    “What the-” Slugslinger said.

    “When I say come on, dammit, I mean come on!” a voice yelled from above.

    “Spade?!” Slugslinger called out.

    “Of course Spade! Hurry up!”

    Slugslinger quickly did a near-impossible mid-air turn and followed Spade. Triggerhappy collected himself enough to follow, and the three jets roared off into the sky.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “Why'd you do it, Spade?” Slugslinger asked as they flew through the darkening sky.

    “I couldn't leave you guys behind,” he said. “I told Stern to go ahead and circled back. When I saw Siege, I climbed and attacked from above.”

    Slugslinger thought for a moment. “How'd you know where his optical sensor was? He was in jet mode.”

    “I took a guess,” Spade said.

    Slugslinger was startled. “Wh-what?”

    “I took a guess,” Spade said. “I figured it was somewhere near the cockpit.”

    “B-but--it could've been underneath...or mounted on the dorsal side...”

    “Well, it wasn't. Moot point. Now, you just have to make sure you stay near a lot of other Decepticons...um, Autocons...so they can't attack you. Though, judging from what I've heard, they wouldn't bother with you two.”

    “Thanks, Spade,” Slugslinger said. “I won't forget this.”

    “Yeah, yeah. Just get out of here, and keep an eye on Trig for me.”

    “You got it,” Slugslinger said, and he and Triggerhappy split off and headed for Iacon.

    Spade thought for a moment. Nightwind would be arriving in Ibex Quadrant in a couple of days. He was due meet her there. For the time being, he decided to stay at Covert and Lightfire's old place. The two had left the night before. Spade could use some much-needed stasis.

    Spade slowed his engines so they weren't so strained, sighed, and headed for Base Fifteen.


    -23-
    Stal was getting impatient. It had been nearly a week since he had abducted Rodimus Prime, and he had heard nothing from his client. No matter how much Siege paid him, Stal knew that if he stayed in his base much longer, he would begin to lose profits. He needed to work again, soon.

    Then again, there was always the possibility that he would never need to work again...if the Matrix was worth what he thought it was. But he needed more information about it. He decided he had to question the Autobot.

    But what if the Matrix turned out to be quite valuable? What would he do with it then? He wouldn't dare attempt to sell it Siege; Siege would know instantly that Stal had lied, and he would probably just kill him and take the Matrix. Perhaps he could sell it to the Autocon government...but that was rather unlikely, too. But it was a better idea than attempting to sell it to Siege.

    But first things were first. Stal ran a check on the Autobot's vital signs; as usual, everything checked out fine, except for the artificially-induced unconsciousness, of course. Despite the heavy wounds his S.A.R.s had inflicted, the Autobot had healed incredibly fast, at record speed. Stal figured this was probably one of the perks of being a Prime, despite the fact the Autobot had reverted to some previous form.

    Stal called his newly-repaired remaining S.A.R. to the side of the stasis pod, to insure the Autobot didn't escape when the pod opened. Stal stood next to the pod, holding an energon chain in his hands, prepared to bind the Autobot as soon as the pod opened. He had set the pod to open in about three minutes; but one of the problems with stasis pods were that they made sure the occupants were near-fully conscious before opening. So Stal had to take special precautions before he interrogated the Autobot.

    Stal stood quietly, waiting.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Lightning-fast images streaked through Hot Rod's mind. For an instant, he saw himself driving along a street...he didn't know where. There were other vehicles next to him...a red car, a yellow car, a black car, a green car...

    Then the images dissolved...he saw himself sitting on the shore of a pond, fishing with a small friend...

    The scene dissolved again, switching to a brutal battle...Hot Rod saw Kup fighting, laser blasts flying everywhere...

    He saw Megatron going for the gun...he dived for it...

    Optimus Prime on his deathbed...dying...the Matrix...

    The scene shifted again...now he was underwater, fighting a huge golden beast...then the beast became a swarm of smaller ones, all with huge jaws filled with vicious teeth...

    Then he saw it...the massive monster, consuming his home... he saw himself in the monster, fighting Galvatron...

    He saw the Matrix...

    The Matrix, in the claw, his own blood dripping from its golden shell...

    Hot Rod suddenly jerked awake. He barely had time to be startled at the total darkness before the sky opened and light flooded in. He was bodily yanked off the floor and felt powerful hands shove his arms behind his back and clamp painful, energy-draining chains around his wrists.

    Hot Rod shook his head, trying to clear his mind. He looked around.

    He was in a massive room. The walls were made of packed rectangular stones, reminding Hot Rod of pictures he had seen of ancient Earth dungeons. A large spiral staircase in one corner of the room added to the medieval effect. Then he saw all the scientific equipment, the various beakers of chemicals and robotic arms. Now he was reminded of old Earth films about crazy scientists who fooled with nature.

    “Turn around,” came a grim voice from behind.

    Hot Rod started slightly, suddenly realizing that if he had been yanked out of wherever he had been, then obviously he wasn't alone. As he turned he saw that the dark place he had been inside was a stasis pod.

    He finally faced his captor. He wasn't startled at first. The robot didn't look very imposing; he was completely grey, with two glowing green eyes and was shorter than Hot Rod himself, and while he appeared to mean business, he didn't appear to be armed. But Hot Rod nearly leaped in the air with shock when he saw the nightmare standing behind his captor. It was the same giant robot that had ripped the Matrix right out of his own chest.

    It was at that instant that Hot Rod suddenly remembered something, and realized something was horribly wrong.

    “Wait a minute...” he whispered. “I'm Hot Rod again...”

    “So that was your name in this form,” his captor said. The robot had a voice that sounded like someone scraping a piece of a chalkboard on a cheese grater. “I'll have to run a check on you. Hot Rod, Rodimus Prime? Rodimus? How corny can you get?”

    Hot Rod ignored the insult. “Who're you?” he demanded. “Why have you brought me here?”

    “Well, that's simple enough,” the robot said, a smirk tugging at the left side of his mouth. “My name's Stal, galaxy-renowned bounty-hunter. Perhaps you've heard of me?”

    “Stal...” Hot Rod said, trying to think. “You're the one who has all those big robots, aren't you?”

    “Had all those big robots. Thanks to you, I'm running a little short.”

    “Good,” Hot Rod snorted. “Look, why the hell did you capture me? Did someone hire you to capture me?”

    “Obviously,” Stal snorted. “You think I would go after a Prime just for jollies? I'm not that stupid. Yeah, I was hired. Yeah, by someone you know. No, I won't tell you who...at least, not yet.”

    “Well, then,” Hot Rod said, trying to figure out how he could turn the situation to his advantage, “why did you wake me up?”

    “Because I need some answers,” Stal replied. “Perhaps we can make some sort of trade.”

    “My freedom for your answers?” Hot Rod suggested hopefully.

    “Don't be stupid,” Stal replied. “As I said, I'm not that dumb. But I may give you some answers.”

    “Well,” Hot Rod said with a sigh, “I suppose that's better than nothing. What do you want to know?”

    “Simple,” Stal said. “I want to know just how valuable the Matrix is.”

    The question caught Hot Rod off-guard, but he was careful not to show any reaction. “Oh, that,” he said. “It's not worth very much to you. It's basic elemental makeup is nothing special. It's not any valuable type of crystal or anything. It's basically worthless.”

    “Worthless?” Stal echoed doubtfully. “Sure it is. I suppose that's why all the Primes carry it around?”

    “An old custom, one that should have died years ago,” Hot Rod replied smoothly. “It's just a form of designation, a symbol of who the leader is.”

    “Right,” Stal said. “I suppose that's why, when my robot removed it, you changed from a powerful Prime to a weak soldier. Really, I've heard better lying from the old miners at my favorite bar.”

    Hot Rod sighed. This wasn't going to be easy. “All right,” he said. “What it does is make its owner...who has to be a transformer that's been chosen by the Matrix itself...into a more powerful being, one who can lead his forces to victory, and make him wise enough to know how to use the resulting peace.”

    “Ah,” Stal said. “Now that sounds more feasible.” Stal walked over to his desk, taking out the Matrix and tossing it from one hand to the other. “However, I suspect that is not the extent of its powers. But we'll put that aside for a moment. The one question that burns on my mind the most is...why did you revert to your previous form when the Matrix was removed, while many other Primes...Optimus Prime included...have lost the Matrix, on occasion, and not reverted to any previous form?”

    “To tell you the absolute truth...I have no idea why,” Hot Rod said. “It could have something to do with the fact that I'm a fairly new Prime,” he said, immediately wishing he had shut up. Perhaps Stal hadn't known he was a new Prime...

    “Possibly,” Stal said. “Well, getting back to the other matters...I'll tell you right now that I intend to sell this. However, I might be persuaded to sell it to your government... did you know there's an alliance between the Decepticons and the Autobots now? No, of course you didn't...well, it makes no difference right now...anyway, I might sell it to your government, if I was freed of all charges of kidnapping you. Of course, you, as evidence, will be gone, but that doesn't matter...”

    “The Autobots have allied with the Decepticons?” Hot Rod echoed.

    “Yes, yes,” Stal said. “A very long story. If you're a good boy, I'll let you read the reports later. Anyway, I just wanted to see how much you'd tell me.”

    “Now may I ask some questions?”

    “Sure,” Stal said, putting the Matrix back into his desk and locking it. “I'm not going to guarantee I'll answer anything, but you can ask anyway.”

    “Who hired you?”

    “I told you, I can't tell you that. Not yet.”

    “Was it a Decepticon?” Hot Rod asked.

    “Yes,” Stal said. “And that's all I'll tell you about it. Anything else?”

    “Yeah, where are we?”

    “Delta Agma IV, in my little dungeon below the surface,” Stal replied with a slight grin. “Forget trying to communicate with your home planet. No transmissions can get through this rock; it's a special type that naturally inhibits all forms of transmissions. My computer over there receives information by a cable link-up, and has far too many security codes to allow any messages to get out.”

    Hot Rod took this in. “May I read the reports of this alliance?”

    “Yeah, I guess so,” Stal said, walking over to the desk and calling up all the files he had on the subject. “After that, though, I'm going to have to put you back to sleep.”

    Hot Rod walked over to the desk and sat down. “Just tell it to page up when you're done,” Stal said, and the robot walked over to another part of the room.

    Hot Rod couldn't believe his luck. He began to formulate a plan...

    ...when Stal walked over, unlocked the desk drawer and removed the Matrix. “Wouldn't want you getting to this, would we?” he said with a grin, and he walked back to the corner of the room.

    Hot Rod grimaced. So much for his plan. He settled down and began to read the reports.


    -24-
    The three jets flew through the dark night. The sun had set just minutes ago, and they were under the cover of darkness. With their cloaking devices activated, they wouldn't be spotted, and of they were, no one would bother pursuing them.

    Their fellow jets, Thundercracker, Skywarp and of course, Starscream had been much more known. These three had been mere wing soldiers, attacking on the flanks of the better-known F-15 trio.

    But they had one virtue: they were loyal, and they obeyed their leaders faithfully. So when Shockwave had located Dirge, Ramjet and Thrust and told them to find the Deathcons, they had set right out in search of the deadly team.

    They had not been very lucky so far. At first, they had followed the Autobot group that had been pursuing the Deathcons. But when the Autobots had been attacked and destroyed, the trio had lost the trail of the Deathcons.

    Now, they were going to find someone who may know. They had already tried several other double-agents, all of whom had had no idea of the Deathcons' whereabouts. So now they were heading to yet another base, to ask--or threaten--yet another double-agent into telling all he or she knew.

    There was an interesting twist in their search; Dirge was Skysonic's brother. Both siblings had the ability to cause fear in their opponents; Dirge did it scientifically, with modified engines, while Skysonic caused fear merely by showing himself, counting on his reputation to do the dirty work...along with his psychotic tendency to slaughter all in sight. But the major difference between the two was that while Dirge was sane, Skysonic was not.

    Dirge had heard rumors several years ago that his brother had been fixed and had escaped prison, and was looking for his brother Dirge. Dirge had investigated, and had almost found his brother when Skysonic suddenly vanished. Dirge suspected Skysonic's history of membership with the Deathcons had something to do with it.

    “So,” Ramjet said, “tell me again: Where are we going?”

    “We're going to find this Covert guy,” Dirge replied. “He's a former Decep double agent. He should know where Skysonic and the Deathcons are.”

    “What if he doesn't?”

    “Then we'll go find Garrot, or Deadex, or someone else who may know where they are.”

    “And where do you think Covert is?” Thrust asked.

    “I've heard rumors he's hiding out at Base Fifteen. He has a companion, too. If she's there, this won't be too hard. And turn those engines down, you fool! I don't want anyone locking onto us.”

    The three flew on into the night.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “Is he done?”

    “Yes,” Cyclonus said, “he's done. They're both done now.”

    “When do we reveal them?”

    “We have to wake him up now,” Cyclonus said, pointing to the purple body laying motionless on the mechobed.

    “Why now?”

    “He is our leader. We have to...suggest our plan to him.”

    “But-”

    “Silence! I am activating him.”

    Cyclonus walked over to the console next to the mechobed. Slowly, he read the monitors and took one final check, to insure all systems were running a peak efficiency. Then, he activated the body.

    Slowly, the dim eyes brightened.

    “Master...” Cyclonus said.

    The eyes flashed open, and one powerful hand clamped around Cyclonus's throat, choking him.

    “How long?” Galvatron demanded.

    “<Huk> Seven days, master...”

    The eyes narrowed. “Why have you brought me back from the dead?” he demanded.

    “Because, mighty Galvatron,” Cyclonus gasped, “we have a pro-”

    “You fool!” Galvatron roared, and he slammed Cyclonus into a wall, smashing it and damaging Cyclonus. “I was defeated by Rodimus Prime! Humiliated! You should have left me! Destroyed me! Why have you brought me back from the dead?” he demanded again.

    “Because, sir...” Cyclonus gasped, .”..because of this.” He turned on a monitor next to him. Suddenly, a recording of the Autocon debate flashed onto the screen.

    The camera zoomed in on Ultra Magnus and Shockwave, standing up in the front of the stage. The two spoke in unison: “We are now...Autocons!”

    Galvatron stared at the screen for a moment. There was not a sound except for Cyclonus's destroyed circuitry buzzing as it repaired itself.

    Galvatron's jaw clenched, and his teeth gritted against each other. His eyes suddenly flared in intensity, becoming two blazing suns.

    Galvatron raised his arm cannon. Within a second, the weapon charged and fired. The monitor was blown through the wall.

    “You see, Master...” Cyclonus said, “we need your-”

    The cannon turned and fired.

    Cyclonus was blown apart instantly. Pieces of him scattered around the room, knocking over various instrumentation. His main body was punched through the wall and landed several hundred meters outside the base.

    “Fool!” Galvatron screamed. “How could you stand by and allow this to happen? Fool!”

    Galvatron turned and aimed at Scourge. Scourge closed his eyes and clenched his jaw.

    For a few tense moments, Galvatron merely stared at Scourge. His eyes narrowed, staring at Scourge intently.

    Silently, Galvatron lowered the cannon.

    “Scourge,” Galvatron said, “I admire your bravery, so I shall let you live...for now. In addition, I will let your henchman live. You were merely following the orders of an idiot.”

    The transformer paced the room, looking around at the various monitors and computers. Scourge waited silently.

    “Scourge,” the transformer said at last, “what was his plan?”

    “He planned to bring you back to lead us, sir. But you weren't going to be the leader the Autoc--I mean, the temporarily allied Decepticons were going to see.”

    “Oh?” asked Galvatron dryly. “Who was, then?”

    Scourge pointed to a body lying on the other side of the room.

    Galvatron walked over to it. He looked at it, then quickly turned to Scourge. “Tell me he's not alive.”

    “He's not, sir. He's a robot, to be transmitted commands from you.”

    “Ah. I see. And this would help rally patriotic feelings in the Decepticons?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Quite ingenious. It's too bad Cyclonus didn't try to stop the alliance first. If he had at least attempted to stop it, I wouldn't have been forced to terminate him.”

    For a moment, Scourge considered telling Galvatron that Cyclonus had tried to stop the debate, when he had sent Scourge and his henchmen; then he thought better of it. Galvatron wasn't the most stable Decepticon around.

    Galvatron turned back to the body. “In any event, it makes no difference. Cyclonus was a fool. He would not have been a good second-in-command. You, however, will do excellently.”

    Scourge was taken by surprise. “Thank you, sir.”

    “Yes, yes. We have to begin this plan soon, with some slight alterations. For one, I want to alter this body form a little. If he returns looking exactly as he did before he was killed, there will be suspicions. Let's make him more contemporary.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Excellent.” Galvatron walked around the body, looking at it. Then he turned and looked out the window at Cybertron, a small speck in the distance.

    “Before, I was too manipulated by Unicron. All that manipulation is gone now. Now, I shall rule the Decepticons once again!”


    -25-
    “Battleram? How did he get here? I heard he was on Delta Agma...”

    “Well, he's not,” Ultra Magnus said. “He's back. Look, Springer, I have a mission for you.”

    “A mission? Joy!”

    “Shut up. I need you to take a ship to Earth. The Earth World Council is getting edgy, and they're holding a big meeting. I can't leave Cybertron, and Arcee is too broken up over Rodimus's disappearance at the moment to handle representing Cybertron. So you'll have to speak for us. Take Arcee anyway; she can help you. Then I need you to talk to Omega Supreme at Autobot City and tell him we're going to need him here, soon.”

    “Omega Supreme? Boy, I haven't seen him in an age...”

    “Right, I know. Get going.”

    “I'm on my way.”

    “Oh, and Springer...”

    Springer turned at the door. “Yes, sir?”

    “Try to help Arcee. She's very worried about Rodimus Prime.”

    “I understand sir. I'm on my way.”

    The door slid shut. Ultra Magnus was left in silence.

    “Battleram,” he said aloud. “Siege. The Deathcons. The Dinobots. Cyclonus. I can't take much more of this.”

    There was a knock at the door. “What?” he yelled sharply.

    A nervous technician walked in. “Um, sorry to disturb you, sir, but there's something you might want to see on monitor station twenty-five.”

    “What is it?” Magnus asked as he turned to the screen next to him and activated the station monitors. He quickly switched to station twenty-five.

    The screen showed the sight where the Autobot Memorial was being built. But instead of all the machinery and the half-built giant statue of Optimus Prime, there was nothing but burning rubble.

    “What the-”

    Then he saw two figures standing to the far right of the rubble, speaking to a group of transformers. The camera zoomed in on the pair, and the audio came on.

    His eyes grew slightly. His internal circuitry ran a diagnostic to insure that nothing was wrong with his sensory input.

    “Lieutenant...” he said slowly. “Has this been verified?”

    “Yes, sir. It's live, from the stage in Iacon.”

    “Primus,” Magnus said.

    On the screen, giving a speech to a throng of Decepticon Autocons, was the transformer known as Sarcyst.

    And behind Sarcyst was the Decepticon known as Galvatron.

    “Great,” Ultra Magnus said, “just great.”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “Illogical,” Shockwave said. “Impossible. Both of these transformers are dead.”

    “Apparently not, sir,” Soundwave said. “Somehow, Sarcyst has been brought back to life, as has the mighty Galvatron.”

    “'Mighty'?” Shockwave said. “Are you going to follow him, Soundwave?”

    “I follow my leader, commander.”

    “And who is your leader?”

    “Currently, Shockwave, sir.”

    “Good. It will stay that way. We must find out who these transformers really are. Dispatch Laserbeak and Ravage to spy on them.”

    “As you command, Shockwave.” Soundwave's chest opened, and the two small transformers jumped out.

    “Now, we will find out precisely what is going on,” Shockwave said.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Galvatron grinned slightly. Everything was going precisely as planned.

    As soon as Sarcyst had made his presence known by destroying the Autobot Memorial, both Decepticons and Autocons alike had gathered around the area. The Cybertronian Police had arrived, but Galvatron had made short work of them. Now, he stood silently behind Sarcyst, as he transmitted words to the robotic husk to be spoken to the group around them.

    “Decepticons,” Sarcyst said, “we have deviated from our true path! Look at what I have destroyed. This is an example. Look at what you were allowing to be built. A memorial--a huge memorial to our mortal enemy, the Autobots!”

    Sarcyst spoke strongly and persuasively. Cyclonus had built the vocal circuits well. Galvatron was sure it would not take long to rally Decepticons to his side.

    “We must stop this alliance!” Sarcyst bellowed. “It is at the height of cowardice that we ally ourselves with the weak Autobots! We have no need to fear them! They are foolish, and cowardly. They are not worthy of being our allies. They seek only to destroy us!”

    “That's not true!” an Autobot yelled from the crowd. “We only want to end the civil war! You Decepticons seek only to conquer!”

    “Silence!” Sarcyst roared, and he raised his clawed and pointed it at the Autobot. A powerful stream of energy shot from the center of his hand and the Autobot was incinerated, his body falling to the ground as it was reduced to ashes.

    A shocked silence followed. The crowd looked at the black remains of the Autobot.

    “See?” Sarcyst said softly. “Autobots are weak. They are fools. They seek only to destroy us with deceit. We must end this charade, Decepticons! Follow me, and together, we will destroy the Autobot menace!”

    For a moment, there was absolute silence. Galvatron could tell they were all teetering on the edge; all they needed was one last push.

    He sensed something in the sky. Looking up, he saw Laserbeak, his old spy. Perfect.

    He transmitted orders to the avian transformer. For a moment, Laserbeak paused in mid-air, uncertain of what to do.

    Then, he quickly turned and flew down towards Sarcyst and Galvatron. Sarcyst raised his arm, and Laserbeak lighted on it.

    Cheers erupted from the crowd. The show of loyalty by Laserbeak had spurred the crowd's patriotism, just as Galvatron has calculated. He grinned again, slightly, then walked to Sarcyst's side, and bent as if to whisper something in his ear. Sarcyst nodded, and he turned to the crowd.

    “I must go now. I have much to prepare. But be ready, Decepticons, for soon, I will call upon you to help regain Cybertron!”

    The cheers continued as Sarcyst and Galvatron quickly flew off into the sky.


    -26-
    The sun rose slowly. All over the continent of America, humans awoke and began their daily routines. Cities rumbled to life with morning-hour traffic. Schools filled up with students. Farmers awoke before all and began to work in the fields.

    How simple a human's life was, Nightwind thought, as she flew through the sky toward the shuttleport. Once they're fully grown, they go through the same routine in life until they die. They have their friends, they have their children, they live well. Many live happily until their short lives end. Nightwind had always wondered why humans had such short lives. Transformers lived for millions upon millions of years, while most humans died in less than a hundred. She knew it was because they were organic, but still, it was one of those things she would always be curious about.

    She thought back to the previous day. She had met Covert and Lightfire at the exact same shuttleport she was headed to now. It was the Virginia shuttleport, the one that had been built in case Autobot City's was damaged. Well, Autobot City was still in ruins; it was estimated that it would take months to repair the extensive damage to it. And now, there was talk in the World Council to order all transformers off the planet once and for all, Autobot and Decepticon. Of course, the decision was being weighed carefully, since the Decepticon weren't known for following orders. Currently, there were no Decepticons on Earth; they were all in their myriad of factions on Cybertron, everyone scrambling for power. The Decepticons were in much more of a mess than the Autobots, whose only problem, on the surface, appeared to be the desertion of the Dinobots to follow Battleram (another leak; keeping information secret was nearly impossible in Cybertron's current semi-non-military state). There was also something else; Nightwind kept hearing that the Autobot leader had vanished, and Ultra Magnus had taken his place. Nightwind knew that Optimus Prime was dead, so she couldn't imagine who the new Autobot leader was. She had thought Ultra Magnus was next in line for Autobot leadership.

    She thought again of the previous day. Covert had been very cool when she had greeted them, but when she heard his voice she knew he was petrified. Although he was wearing a body and head that looked absolutely nothing like his true one, he was absolutely paranoid. Lightfire had been much calmer, and much nicer, and Nightwind could almost feel the concern--and love--radiating from Lightfire for Covert. Covert, to some degree, returned the affection, but was mostly thinking only of getting out of the open.

    She had quickly escorted them in a private shuttle to a small island off Costa Rica, which had been abandoned in the early 1990s after a genetic experiment had gone awry. The island was quiet and safe, and the two would have plenty of room--and plenty of company. Since Unicron's attack, nearly two hundred Autobots and Decepticons had left Cybertron in secrecy and a special group of passionate humans, which called itself the Underground Subway (UnSu for short--Nightwind had never understood the name, since subways were underground anyway), had been helping the transformers on Earth find isolated, out-of-reach homes for transformers. The leader of the UnSu, a woman named Danielle Rosenthal, had spoken to the heads of many governments and received permission to use the various islands. Of course, the UnSu had several Cybertronian members, and Nightwind was one of them--or had become one when Spade had asked her to hide Covert and Lightfire.

    But now, of course, the governments that had approved of the transformers' arrival were now getting nervous; they were considering ordering every single transformer off-planet. Rosenthal and an Autobot named Triax had been trying to convince the governments that they were perfectly safe, but the attack on Autobot City and the new Decepticon developments on Cybertron were causing problems.

    Nightwind banked slowly as she headed for the shuttleport. She thought back to the events of the past week; the attack on Autobot City; the death of Megatron and Optimus Prime; the arrival of Unicron; the rise of Galvatron; the defeat of Unicron; the defeat of Galvatron; the alliance between the Autobots and the Decepticons, giving rise to the Autocons; and finally, the revival of Galvatron and Sarcyst. Nightwind was also dismayed because she didn't know who was dead and who wasn't. She knew Galvatron had killed Starscream, and that had saddened her considerably. She also knew that Thundercracker and Skywarp had been abandoned at the same time Megatron was...by Starscream. So she was not as saddened as she might have been. In the last five years, Starscream had changed; his thirst for power, for command of the Decepticons, had become his all-consuming goal; she had heard hundreds of his plots to assassinate Megatron and take command of the Decepticons. He had become obsessed, and Nightwind had realized how his end would come long before it did. She had tried to help Starscream; one time, after he had spent an entire poker game telling her of how he was going to destroy Megatron and rule the Decepticons, she had tried to help him, to make him realize that his plans would only end in his own death, most likely at Megatron's hands. But Starscream had yelled at her, refused to believe her, and left the room bitter and angry. He had left the Decepticon outpost on Earth the day after, to return to Cybertron, and Nightwind had never spoken to him again. And now, she never would. Nightwind was positive that Galvatron was basically Megatron in a new body, and it had been reported that mere seconds after Starscream had been crowned as the new Decepticon leader, Galvatron had arrived and destroyed Starscream on the spot.

    Still, Galvatron's revival gave her hope that Thundercracker and Skywarp still lived. Perhaps they had been given new bodies by Unicron, as Megatron had. It was unlikely, but it gave her hope.

    She couldn't wait to get back to Cybertron. While Earth was nice and she considered it a home, she knew Cybertron was her true home, and she hadn't been there for years. Plus, she would see Spade again. She hadn't seen Spade for what seemed like ages. She wondered what the detective was up to now; though she knew he could be sweet sometimes, Spade wouldn't have given up a contact like Covert unless he had a very good reason.

    Perhaps, while she was on Cybertron, she could visit her old friends again. Maybe even visit some old Autobot friends, since they were all Autocons now. It would be nice to see Hot Rod and Springer and Arcee again. Maybe even Ultra Magnus...though he was probably pretty busy. Well, maybe some other friends would be around. She would probably call Deadex and Garrot, maybe Stinger and the other double agents; she had heard that Counterpunch had been killed in a battle on Gaxon, but reports of his death were most likely greatly exaggerated. Double agents had a special knack for disappearing and reappearing all the time.

    Finally, she saw the shuttleport. She fired her retro-thrusters and slowly descended from the sky. As she came down, she saw an Ark-class shuttle docking; it looked like a custom VIP ship. She wondered who was arriving.

    She transformed and landed outside the shuttleport. She entered the main lobby and told the human receptionist of her destination. That was one of the advantages humans received from the shuttleports and various transformer stations; thousands of jobs were created for humans in the giant complexes. There were five other shuttleports; two in Asia, one in Africa, and one in South America and Australia each. Many human scientists were spending millions of dollars to pay for tickets to Cybertron; once the alliance had arrived, one of the first acts Ultra Magnus and Shockwave had done was to open Cybertron to scientific study by humans. Already, nearly five hundred scientists had been transported to Cybertron; physicists, engineers, astronomists, chemists, zoologists (contrary to the popular belief of many humans, Cybertron had an abundance of mechanical wildlife), geologists and ufologists. All of them had eagerly signed the contract that said they would accept the risk of rebel attack.

    Nightwind put all the thoughts out of her mind; everything was moving far too rapidly. World politics on Cybertron were shifting faster than its remaining moons could orbit.

    As she took her ticket card and headed through the gate, she glanced at the Autobot who had arrived in the VIP shuttle.

    She did a double-take. “Springer?” she asked, staring.

    “Nightwind?” Springer said, looking at her. “Is that you?”

    “Springer!” she said, and she jumped over the gate railing and ran over; they hugged. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

    “I was about to ask you the same question,” Springer said with a half-grin.

    “I'm meeting someone on Cybertron,” she said. “but why are you here? I thought you were helping Ultra Magnus on Cybertron.”

    “Yeah, I was, but he sent me here. I have to address the World Council.”

    “Well they'll certainly be glad to see you,” Nightwind said with slight humor. “But tell me: how are things going on Cybertron? How is everyone? How's Hot Rod and Arcee? Have they finally gotten together?”

    Springer hesitated for a second; it was a slight darkening of his features, very faint, but Nightwind caught it. “What?” she asked.

    “Nothing,” he said. “Everyone's doing well. We're trying to-”

    “Springer,” Nightwind said slowly, “what is it?”

    “You...you haven't heard?”

    “Heard what?” Nightwind asked, getting nervous.

    “It's...it's nothing...”

    “Springer, tell me.”

    “Look, 'Wind...Hot Rod became the next Prime within Unicron. He was leading us for about two days, then he vanished. The Deathcons are suspected in the matter...really, it doesn't look good...”

    Nightwind was stunned. She stood there, silent, her mind trying to comprehend what her audio sensors were telling her.

    “No, Springer...Primus, no...”

    “I'm afraid so,” Springer said. “We're doing our best to find him, but we only have a few clues, so far...”

    Nightwind just stood there, silent.

    “Look, 'Wind, if you want, you can come with us...we're going to go talk to Omega Supreme and some others at Autobot City, then head for Cybertron...”

    “No,” Nightwind said, “I'm fine.”

    “No you're not,” Springer said. “Look, you can talk to Arcee...”

    “Oh, Arcee...I can't imagine how she's feeling...”

    Springer looked uncomfortable. “She's all right. She's hoping for the best. There's a chance Hot Ro--I mean, Rodimus Prime is alive.”

    “Maybe,” Nightwind said, “and maybe not.”

    Springer looked at her. “Look, 'Wind, just come with us...please, you'll feel better...”

    “No,” Nightwind finally said. “I'll just get in the way. Besides, I don't want to be in the middle of an Autobot base if the alliance suddenly dissolves.”

    “Oh, please, Nightwind,” Springer said, “you know Ultra Magnus wouldn't do anything to you...”

    “He might not, but someone else would. Remember Brawn, Springer? No, I don't think it would be a good idea for me to be around now.”

    Nightwind hugged Springer. “You're sure you don't want to come along?” he asked one last time.

    “Yes. I'm going to meet an old friend. And Springer...not a word of this to Ultra Magnus.”

    Springer half-grinned. “All right. Good-bye, Nightwind.”

    “'Bye, Springer,” she said, and she quickly boarded her shuttle.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Ultra Magnus was sorting several new reports on Decepticon activity when Jazz walked in. In the absence of Arcee and Springer, he had taken on the role of Ultra Magnus' right-hand man.

    He handed yet another report to Ultra Magnus. “We've got some more information on the Deathcons. 'Looks like somebody sniffed 'em out, and the Deathcons tried to waste them. Also looks like whoever found them survived. Don't ask me how. Anyway, it appears that the Deathcons were hiding in a small underground base in Quadrant Eight-X.”

    Ultra Magnus glanced through the report, seeing little more than what Jazz had told him. “Any word on Springer's progress?”

    “He and Arcee arrived on Earth without incident. They're going to address the World Council tomorrow. Oh, and Springer said to tell you he met Nightwind at the shuttleport.”

    Ultra Magnus looked up. “You're kidding.”

    “No,” Jazz said, checking his pad, “they met her. She was on her way to Cybertron.”

    “What shuttle? What destination?” Ultra Magnus asked.

    “Springer refused to provide that information, sir.”

    Ultra Magnus sat back and chuckled slightly. It was amazing how Nightwind could sweet-talk anyone. “Very well. Dismissed.”

    Jazz nodded and exited the office.


    -27-
    Battleram fired blind; the shots ricocheted off the wall as his targets moved faster than he could track. He quickly dived as a barrage of fire destroyed the area where he had been standing seconds before.

    He hit the ground, rolled, and came up blazing. He hit his primary targets this time, who were much easier to hit, but of course the blasts exploded harmlessly on the tough hides.

    He quickly switched his proton gun for his fusion blaster. Setting its power on the medium setting, he fired again at his primary targets.

    This time, he succeeded in fazing them. He used the opportunity to use his faster laser rifle to take out the remaining faster targets.

    The primary targets recovered, and prepared for a second charge.

    “Enough!” Battleram yelled. “The training session is over. You have all done well.”

    The Dinobots backed off from their charge and transformed into their robot modes. The smaller, faster Autobots who had been struck by Battleram's laser rifle stood and wiped the small burns off their chest.

    Battleram gestured for them to gather around him. “You have all done well. It took me nearly three minutes to faze the Dinobots and take the rest of you out. You've already doubled the time it took in our first session. Your progress is excellent.

    “However, I still succeeded in stunning you all. Had your systems not been programmed to believe the mild laser blasts were real, and the blasts were real, from real enemies, then you would have been defeated. But you are learning. It will take time, but soon you will all be trained in true Autobot battle tactics, rather than the ragtag tactics Optimus Prime devised. Though he was a great leader, he lacked true military knowledge and skill. Now, we will fulfill his legacy by defeating the Decepticons, as it was always meant to be.”

    There were nods and grunts of assent from the group. The new recruits had taken to Battleram's leadership well. The stiff military structure was exactly what they needed, rather than Ultra Magnus's loose governing.

    Among the new recruits were several old Optimus Prime endorsers; Red Alert, Tracks, Inferno, Smokescreen, and Trailbreaker. Younger members included Whirl, Broadside, Roadbuster, Warpath, Powerglide and Twin Twist. Several other Autobots were considering membership, and were likely to join. Plus, Battleram had one of Ultra Magnus's advisors on his side. The Autobot had priority clearance and could report nearly anything from the inside of the government to them.

    For now, Battleram was going to train them, to show them how to truly defeat their enemy. Optimus Prime's tactics had been too loose, often too thrown-together. Prime may have had the charisma and loyalty to the Autobot cause, but he had merely been a bodyguard before that, and had little training in combat tactics. But still, the Autobots were trainable. And they learned fast; it had only taken four sessions to achieve their current success. Battleram was sure it would only be a matter of time before they could easily match the Decepticons in battle.

    “Roadbuster, see if you can get hold of agent X again,” Battleram said, referring to the insider at Autobot Station. “The rest of you, that's enough training for today. You can go ahead and leave.”

    The group filed out the door, laughing and talking about battles they would win and glory they would achieve.

    Battleram sighed. They were all so naive, believing it all to be a game, a simple case of win or lose. They didn't understand why they were fighting; they didn't understand what blasphemy the very name Autocons represented. The Autobots and the Decepticons had been mortal enemies since before the Matrix had given life to Battleram's empty shell; an alliance was impossible. Already, dissension in both ranks had occurred. Sarcyst had somehow been revived, to stir patriotism into the Decepticons. Battleram had gotten confirmation that Siege was on Cybertron, and was vying for leadership of the Decepticons as well. And Battleram himself was separating the true Autobots from Ultra Magnus's blind followers. Soon, Battleram knew, the battle that had been going for millennia upon millennia would come to an end.

    Battleram turned off the training room's lights and walked out the door.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Galvatron stared out into space.

    “Mighty Galvatron?”

    Galvatron had not been aware of the transformer's presence, but he did not show the slightest indication of it. He continued to stare at the stars. “What is it, Scourge?”

    “We've received confirmation of the Constructicons' loyalty, as well as that of the Combaticons,” Scourge said. “We are awaiting confirmation from the Stunticons.”

    “Excellent,” Galvatron said. “Is there any new information on the whereabouts of Thrust, Ramjet and Dirge?”

    “No, sir. We have our best agents working on it.”

    “And what of Siege and the Deathcons?”

    “There is new information on that, sir. Apparently, there was a battle in quadrant Eight-X in which several weapons were used which matched the power signatures of several of the Deathcons' known weapons.”

    Galvatron frowned slightly. “Quadrant Eight-X? Isn't that an Empties quadrant?”

    “Yes, sir. There was an underground shelter near the battle marks; apparently the Deathcons had abandoned it two days before we arrived. However, we did find pieces of an optical sensor, which were matched with Siege's file. We already have agents on their trail; there are traces of jet exhaust molecules which they can follow.”

    “Is there any indication of who the Deathcons fought?”

    “Negative, sir. The weapons used by the attackers were standard; hundreds of other Decepticons use it.”

    Galvatron thought for a moment. “Are there any records of any Decepticons being in that area at that time?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Cross-reference that time index with the files of all the known Decepticons with those weapons,” Galvatron said.

    Scourge punched keys on his data pad. “That will take several hours, sir.”

    “No matter. Do it.”

    “Yes, sir. Are there any further orders?”

    Galvatron looked out at the stars. “Tell me, Scourge...do you remember who you were before Unicron changed you?”

    Scourge was taken off-guard. “Um, yes, sir. I was Skywarp, one of your lieutenants.”

    “How much of your time as Skywarp do you remember?”

    “Almost all of it, sir. I was not changed as severely as Bombshell, whose memory was totally erased and filled with the Cyclonus personality. Like you, I retained all my memories.”

    “Do you still have the ability to warp?”

    “No, sir.”

    “A pity. That was a very useful power. But no matter. You have excellent tracking skills now. And because you have those abilities, I have a mission for you.”

    “A mission, sir?” Scourge asked.

    “Yes. First, call the other agents off the Deathcons' trail.”

    Scourge was again surprised. “Why, sir?”

    “Because you're going to find them.”

    “Me, sir? By myself?”

    “No, I will give you a team. But you are not being sent to destroy them.”

    “With all due respect, mighty Galvatron, I may be being sent to my doom.”

    “Don't worry; Siege will offer you a place on the Deathcons before he destroys you,” Galvatron lied. “I cannot say the same for the other members of the team, so make sure you take expendable Decepticons.”

    “Yes, sir. But if I'm not being sent to destroy them, what is my mission?” Scourge asked.

    “To enlist them. I need the Deathcons' power to defeat the Autobots. Though I should be able to take Ultra Magnus and his forces with ease, the group the rogue Autobot known as Battleram is forming is doubtlessly being thoroughly trained, and they have the Dinobots. Also, Ultra Magnus is bringing the only remaining giant Autobot, Omega Supreme, back from Earth.”

    “I understand, sir. When shall I leave?”

    “Now. Call off the other agents, assemble your team and get on the trail while it is still warm.”

    “Yes, sir.” Scourge quietly exited the chambers.

    Galvatron looked through the viewport and smiled slightly. There was much to do.
     
  9. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    The Siege, Book Two: Alliance Response page. Tell me what you think
     
  10. Lord Megatron

    Lord Megatron FFFF

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2005
    Posts:
    1,640
    Trophy Points:
    161
    Likes:
    +0
    More. :thumb  :thumb  :thumb  :thumb  :thumb 
     
  11. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    And now, BOOK 2: Part B
     
  12. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    28-
    Slowly, the small orange dot in the star-crossed sky grew larger and larger. Finally, the shuttle came into clear view of the shuttleport.

    Spade watched the shuttle land on the short runway, its repulsorlifts firing to slowly lower the shuttle to the ground, the runway compensating for the small amount of momentum the shuttle's retro-thrusters couldn't handle. The shuttle looked very similar like the infamous Ark that had transported the leaders of both the Autobots and the Decepticons to Earth several decades ago. Except, of course, the shuttle didn't have Teletran One, the prototype supercomputer that had been placed aboard the Ark.

    He leaned against the wall of the shuttleport gate. There weren't too many people waiting with him; most of the arrivals were Decepticons, called back by Shockwave for duty on Cybertron. There were a few Autobots, but he saw only three Decepticons; probably sent to receive the arriving Decepticons, or Autocons, or whatever they called them.

    He watched the crowd leaving the shuttle. He watched carefully but inconspicuously, and waited.

    Then he saw her.

    She was exactly as Spade remembered her. She hadn't even changed the black, radar-absorbing paint. Her name was still in white, wispy letters along her wings. Her body was rounded off, curved in that way only female transformers were. She walked with a light-stepped pace, which betrayed her bright, happy nature that was so rare among Decepticons. Then again, Nightwind wasn't exactly a Decepticon. In any case, it appeared that, despite recent events, Nightwind was still in high spirits.

    She walked out of the gate, thanked a shuttle attendant for something, then began to look through the small crowd. She saw him, smiled slightly (he could tell she thought his posture was funny), and walked over to him.

    “Pardon me,” she asked, “but I'm looking for a detective named Shovel. Have you seen him?”

    “Very funny,” he said, “but actually, I'm looking for someone named Duskbreeze. Was she on the shuttle? She may have fallen out...she really doesn't know her way around a shuttle...”

    “Oh, shut up,” she said. “Boy, you haven't changed at all since I last saw you. Don't you ever get refits?”

    “Nah, they take too long, and besides, every time I go, they want to remove my scar,” he said. “So I figure that since I hardly ever use my jet form anyway, what difference does it make?”

    “I should've known you'd say something like that,” she said. “It doesn't matter. How'd you get here? I don't see Sterno or whatever his name is around here.”

    “Stern. He was a little rattled after our last mission, and he went off to serve as a guard at the Royal Palace.”

    “Oh. So you flew here in your own jet form?”

    “Yes. I do fly by myself one in a while.”

    “Where's your flying pile of junk?” Nightwind asked.

    “I assume you mean the Maltese Falcon?” Spade asked wryly. “It's being repaired on Delta Agma IV. Besides, that ship's more suited for interstellar travel than on-planet travel.”

    “Well, I'm certainly not going to fly you home, if that's what you're thinking,” Nightwind said with a grin.

    Spade smiled. “No, I'll fly myself. But we'd better get out of here soon...Shockwave's got some Deceps looking for me.”

    “What? Why?”

    Spade glanced around the thinning crowd. “I'll tell you about it later. We'd-”

    Spade stopped. The group of arriving Decepticons were still in the gate, but the three Decepticons he had seen earlier had vanished.

    “What is it?” Nightwind asked.

    “There were three Decepticons here...we have to get out of here, now!”

    “Spade, don't be paranoid, they could have been-”

    “Duck!” he yelled, and the two hit the floor as three proton missiles slammed into the window next to them from inside, throwing transparent aluminum all over them.

    “Fine, you were right,” Nightwind said. “I think you'll have to fly now, Spade.”

    “What-?” Spade asked as he dodged another barrage.

    “I said you'll have to fly now!” Nightwind yelled, and she grabbed Spade and threw him out the window, then jumped out herself.

    Spade recovered and transformed seconds before he hit the ground. The two jets pulled up and drove hard for the sky.

    The three Decepticons, however, were jets as well, and they flew out of the shuttleport after them.

    Proton missiles hissed by Spade and Nightwind, missing by meters.

    “Honestly, Spade,” Nightwind said, “you could've given me, say, ten minutes before we had to start running again...”

    “Sorry. Look, 'Wind,” Spade said, “I really don't have too much experience with aerial combat...at least, not in my own jet form...”

    “Turn right and draw their fire. I'll go left, and we'll split them up,” Nightwind said.

    “No! That won't--”

    “Do it!” Nightwind yelled.

    Spade quickly banked and flew to the right as Nightwind turned to the left. To Nightwind's surprise (but not Spade's), the jets ignored her, and all three went after Spade.

    Spade had to come up with a plan, fast. He could only think of one thing.

    He looked down. Below was the large city of Ibex, a city full of large buildings, tunnels, and bridges.

    Spade dived, heading straight for a bridge. He dived under it, swooping below, then pulling up and banking past a building. The three Decepticon jets followed the maneuver, two diving below the bridge and one flying over it, and they resumed their pursuit of Spade.

    Spade saw a tiny space between two building. Turning vertically, he quickly banked hard to the right and flew through the space. His tailfins scraped along the sides of the buildings as he flew between them, then escaped to the sky.

    The three Decepticons attempted to mimic the maneuver, but this time all were not as lucky. One jet didn't turn vertically enough, and one of his wings was ripped off when it struck the side of a building. He lost control and plummeted down toward the ground, bouncing off the sides of the two buildings until he smashed into the ground.

    The other two jets emerged from the space and opened fire on Spade. He dived again and flew along close to the ground, shifting his position constantly to dodge their fire.

    Suddenly, he banked straight up, and seemingly out of nowhere a large wall appeared. One jet managed to pull up in time; the other hit the wall and bounced off with a resounding crack, then fell straight to the ground.

    The third jet locked on to Spade, and fired. This time, several missiles sideswiped him, exploding and damaging him. He attempted to dodge, but one missile had taken out his left maneuvering thruster. He was hit again, and began to lose his flying stability.

    The pursuing jet locked on its missiles again. He fired, and one missile collided with Spade's main thrusters.

    Spade saw Nightwind dive out of nowhere and launch a barrage of firepower at the jet. Then his world spun upside-down, and he plummeted to the ground.


    -29-
    The World Council had been formed after the fall of power in the United Nations five years before. Like the United Nations, the World Council was a joining of ambassadors from almost every country in the world. Since many of the old rivalries had been patched up, the Council very rarely had absences. Usually, though, meetings were strictly between ambassadors who followed their president's orders. In times of crisis, such as environmental disaster or extreme terrorist attacks, several presidents would attend the meetings. Once in a great while, when one particular country made a threat of war against several others, most of the presidents would arrive.

    On this warm June day, however, almost every single president had traveled to Quebec to attend the meeting. It was a matter of global importance: the mass defection of thousands of Cybertronians from Cybertron to Earth.

    Springer looked around the massive chambers. All the world leaders were discussing the alien robots that were “invading” their planet. It had taken Earth quite a while to get used to the idea of life on other planets. Springer remembered when the Autobots and the Decepticons had first appeared. He had also read the reports of what had happened up until the point the Autobots and the Decepticons had revealed themselves to Earth, or at least, when the Decepticons had revealed themselves to Earth.

    Somehow, the Ark had remained hidden in Oregon for millions of years, in a small mountain, Mount St. Hillary. Even after an earthquake had revealed the ship, no one noticed it. Shortly after being unearthed, the ship's computer awakened, and began to survey the surrounding area. Eventually, it learned enough to rebuild the Cybertronians so they could transform into forms that resembled the vehicles of the planet's dominant life form: humans. It had also converted their minds to speak in the dominant language it picked up, English.

    For the first year the Autobots and the Decepticons had awakened on Earth, no one had been aware of their presence; the Ark and its computer, Teletran One, had done a very good job of hiding the transformers' presence. However, eventually the Decepticons, chose to meddle in Earth affairs with constant attempts to drain its resources for fuel.

    For years, the inhabitants of Earth had been helpless bystanders as the Decepticons and the Autobots fought each other, the Decepticons trying to rob Earth of its resources, the Autobots merely trying to stop them and return to Cybertron.

    When the Autobots had first officially revealed themselves, panic had broke worldwide. Many people refused to go near any type of vehicle. Terrorist groups attempted to attack the Ark constantly. Hundreds of other terrorist groups were destroyed as they attempted to attack the Decepticons. Military action against the Decepticons always ended in bloodshed.

    Eventually, people realized that the Autobots were not bent on conquering Earth as the Decepticons were, and the attacks on them, at least the physical attacks, ended.

    Then, the other problems with the transformers' presence occurred. A couple major religions toppled under the undeniable existence of life on other planets. Several countries had declared war on the Decepticons.

    Finally, after several years, things became as close to “normal” as they ever were going to be again. The Autobots had agreed to provide protection from the Decepticons, and in return, Earth offered them land to build several bases and shuttleports. Springer still remembered when Autobot City had been given the go-ahead.

    Now, Autobot City was in shambles. Nearly two weeks ago, the Decepticons had snuck onto Earth aboard an Autobot shuttle and destroyed the city, as well as many Autobots. Then, the Autobot ambassador had told them about Unicron, shortly before the ambassador was gunned down by Decepticon agents outside the World Council building.

    At first, the World Council had been overjoyed when they heard of the alliance. That meant that their scientists would have access to Cybertron, and more technological trade could be allowed.

    Then, Rodimus Prime had vanished, which created instant tensions among the nations of Earth. The countries were already worrying about war breaking out again. And Springer couldn't really blame them; the possibility of the civil war resuming was becoming more and more likely every day, it seemed.

    The news of the various tensions among the Autobot and the Decepticon ranks had filtered their way to Earth. Soon, they had heard of the Autobot loose cannon who was gathering powerful and influential Autobots for an attack against the alliance.

    Then the defections had started. Once the tensions began to mount, thousands of Cybertronians, Autobot and Decepticon alike, had begun to defect to Earth. At first, they had been freely allowed, but when too many began to arrive, restrictions on immigration were enforced. Then the Underground Subway had appeared, and even more Cybertronians began to pour onto Earth, most of them being taken to deserted islands. The world leaders hadn't minded that too much, as long as the Cybertronians stayed out of Earth's way.

    But then, news about Galvatron's return arrived. The World Council wasn't as concerned over the return on Sarcyst, who they didn't even know, but the fact that Galvatron was alive again had them worried. They knew Galvatron was suspected of really being Megatron. How they knew this, Springer had no idea; the Autobots had been given this bit of information from Earth. They knew Galvatron was not only a cold-blooded killer, but that he still held a grudge against the entire planet of Earth, and the United States in particular, over their unwillingness to be conquered and their taking sides with the Autobots. With so many Decepticons defecting to Earth, how could they be sure that one or two Decepticons decided they wanted to follow Galvatron, and then attacked major governments? With every ship of defecting Cybertronians that arrived, the chances of a dangerous rogue Decepticon--or Autobot, for that matter--appearing increased. Now, several presidents had called for a meeting of the World Council, to discuss what to do on the matter. During the meeting, Springer, the Autocon ambassador, would be allowed to speak.

    As they waited for the last few leaders to arrive, Springer listened in on some of the conversations around him.

    “Don't you remember what happened last time we tried to stop them?” the British prime minister said in his gravelly voice, “They blew away an entire army. They've also drained a high amount of Earth's resources.”

    “But that was when both parties were marooned on Earth,” the Japanese prime minister said. “Now they have their own resources on Cybertron. They even import power from Cybertron to power Autobot City.”

    “You mean they did,” the French president said. “Autobot City's not in great condition now. Besides, they also use a nearby river dam for power.”

    “Still, it's mostly running on its own power,” the Japanese prime minister replied.

    “Well, I can't take any more of them!” the Costa Rican president was yelling. “They're overcrowding even our deserted islands!”

    “Even the one with that genetic experiment that failed?” the Japanese prime minister asked.

    “Especially that one,” the Costa Rican president said.

    “I remember that,” the British prime minister said. “What was that all about, anyway?”

    “I can't remember,” the Costa Rican president said, “but I know they made a movie about it.”

    The United States president called for silence with the small boomer device on his part of the massive oblong chamber. He was the elected head of the Council, and sat in the middle between of the huge chamber. Each leader wore a microphone that allowed everyone else to hear them. The Cybertronian delegate sat before a desk on the floor of the chamber, ten feet below the world leaders. Immediately, the squabbling world leaders and their aides quieted down and looked at him.

    “Well, everyone,” the United States President said, “we all know why we're here. We're all concerned over the high amount of Cybertronians arriving on Earth. We've decided that something must be done about it. Are there any opening comments?”

    “Yes,” the Costa Rican president said in his heavily-accented voice, “I want to know why our islands are the ones being so overloaded! We're getting the most robots of any other country! This mass defection is getting out of hand. Our islands cannot take many more robots. We have to stop it, and tell the robots to stay on their own planet and solve their own problems.”

    “But these robots can also help us so much,” the United States president said. “Their technology alone far surpasses ours... just think of what we can learn from them...”

    “Yes,” the Canadian prime minister said, “new weapons to play with. There hasn't been a war in seven years. We've abolished nuclear weapons. And now, we have on this planet thousands of aliens with knowledge of weapons that make nuclear missiles look like spitballs. And they'll gladly give us the information to create the weapons just to stay on our planet. I don't mind the Cybertronians living on Earth--they can even mix with our population, for all I care--but somehow, we have to prevent the knowledge of Cybertronian weaponry escaping. And any Decepticon who doesn't like Earth probably knows all he has to do is let one rogue madman know how to make, say, a fusion cannon, and Earth is history. That madman will use the cannon, he'll eventually be defeated, someone else will manage to study the cannon before it's destroyed, etcetera etcetera. No, we have to find a way to keep tabs on what Cybertronian technology is given to Earth. Even some other technologies, like energon, an efficient, recyclable resource, is deadly to humans when released from its container.”

    “Yes,” the British prime minister said, “but we also can't turn our backs on the Cybertronians altogether. Most of the defectors are here merely because they want a safe haven, somewhere where they don't have to worry about the Civil War and having to fight and worry about being killed. Up until that Autobot loose cannon first appeared, the alliance seemed to be going well. Then, Galvatron and this Sarcyst appeared. According to the reports, both are very influential to the Decepticons, a source of strong patriotism. Many Decepticons, as well as Autobots, simply don't want to deal with these problems. So they come to Earth. And I don't blame them one bit.”

    “I disagree,” the Chinese premier said, the first thing he had said during the whole meeting. “These robots have to be stopped, now. No more should arrive, and no more should be able to leave. Not only do they pose a threat to us with their weaponry, but what about such problems as overpopulation. Right now, most are in deserted, remote areas of the planet. But, if they continue to arrive at their current rate, they'll begin to integrate into our more populated areas. Their immense size will double the problem. And what about energy? Unlike us, they are mechanical. They require energy that is unrecyclable for humans. They could drain all world resources in a matter of decades.”

    “Actually,” the United States president said, “right now they're working on a new possible fuel source that could be pulled directly from the core of the Earth. That would give us thousands of years of more power.”

    “And possibly freeze the entire planet, like the last time they tried it,” the Chinese premier replied.

    “They are working on other ways.” the United States president said. “In any case, this defection is only temporary. Once the tensions are over, then all the Cybertronians should willfully leave.”

    “We have no guarantee they'd leave,” the Costa Rican president said. “they may not wish to. And who knows how long the tensions may last? For all we know, the civil way may break out again. Mister President, these aliens have been fighting each other for hundreds of millions of years, the equivalent, in our time, to the Israeli/PLO tensions. With the return of Galvatron and the appearance of this over-zealous Autobot, how can we assume the tensions will end soon?”

    “The Israel/PLO tensions ended twelve years ago,” the British prime minister said.

    “So? The tensions were still long and bloody, and even after their reconciliation, there were lots of attacks, and the tensions almost resumed,” replied the Costa Rican president. “Who can say whether the tensions on Cybertron will follow a different course?”

    “Look,” the United States president said, his voice rising, “you're not thinking about this-”

    “I know exactly what I'm thinking about!” the Iranian president yelled.

    “Then we will not agree!” the British prime minister yelled.

    Finally, the slow burn ended, and all the leaders broke into loud arguments, yelling at one another across the large chamber. The noise escalated until...

    “Silence!” a voice bellowed from the far end of the chamber.

    All noise stopped instantly, and all heads turned toward the large alien sitting at the end of the chamber.

    Springer slowly stood, thinking about what the leaders had been arguing about, and comparing it to what Arcee had told him to say. He organized his thoughts, and addressed the council.

    “Gentlemen,” he said, “this arguing will, as you have said, get you nowhere. I am here to help you understand precisely what is going on, both here and on Cybertron. You are concerned with the defecting transformers.

    “Ultra Magnus understands your fears, as do I. Therefore, I am authorized to remove every single transformer from this planet if you vote to deport them. The leaders of the Underground Subway have already been informed of this.

    “Before you vote, however, I ask you to consider: what would deporting them mean? For one, you will have made bitter enemies of many transformers. You will be destroying their dreams and sending them back into a war they're tired of fighting. You are incorrect in several points; all Cybertronians coming to Earth have been given an amount of energon cubes sufficient enough to last them at least a decade. There are also several hidden stores buried on various points all over the Earth.”

    “What?” the Canadian prime minister yelled. “You mean you have unauthorized energon cubes hidden in our planet? If they were to leak--”

    “They will not leak. They have been engineered not to. And they have been placed in remote, uninhabited areas of Earth. In the nearly impossible event that the energon were to escape the containers, the energon would only last about three seconds in your atmosphere without a container. Don't worry about it. Getting back to the main topic, Cybertron officially promises Earth that no more Cybertronians will transport to Earth for purposes other than duty.”

    The leaders around the massive chamber thought for a moment, then most nodded.

    “Well,” said the United States president, “now we have to vote. All those in favor of allowing the Cybertronians to remain on Earth, raise your hand now.”

    For a moment, the United States and Russian presidents, along with the British and Japanese prime ministers, were the only ones with their hands up. Slowly, other hands in the room rose.

    The United States president did a quick count. “Two-thirty-two to twenty-eight, in favor,” he said. “All right. The Cybertronians can stay, Mr. Springer. But no more can arrive, as you've promised.”

    “Yes, Mr. President,” Springer said, barely concealing his half-grin. The meeting had gone nearly exactly as Arcee had predicted.

    Springer bowed slightly, then gathered up his data pads and left the room. Arcee's study of human culture a few years back had obviously paid off. He had told the Council precisely what Arcee had told him to, and the Council had agreed.

    Now, Springer had to get to Autobot City. He stepped out from the huge building into the sunlight, and transformed into a helicopter, flying off into the sky.


    -30-
    Spade jolted awake.

    “What the-!” he yelped, sitting up quickly and suddenly regretting it.

    “Calm down and lie down,” a feminine voice said quietly. “Your internal regeneration systems aren't finished yet.”

    Spade realized his optical sensors must still have been damaged, since his vision was cracked and indistinct. It was dark...the sun had gone down. He couldn't make out the person speaking to him. Where was he? Had one of the enemies he had made over the years finally caught up with him? He struggled to remember what had happened.

    “Who-? 'Wind. That's right,” he said, his mind clearing. “I remember being hit--that Decepticon-”

    “Yeah, he nailed you right in the thrusters,” Nightwind said. “You went straight down. Somehow, you managed to crash without getting too damaged. I fixed you up the best I could, and then your internal regeneration circuits went to work.”

    “How long have I been inactive?” Spade asked.

    “About a day. I've been here most of the time, but I checked around the area earlier.”

    A day--a day of lost time, Spade thought. “Where are we?”

    “The Empties section of Ibex. Luckily, there's not too many Empties out tonight to harass us. 'Course, if they did, they'd regret it.”

    Spade managed to grin slightly as he attempted to clean out excess dust-sized material from his eyes with his hands, to speed up the repair process. “What about that last jet? You hit him, right?”

    “Yeah. Got him good. Didn't stop shooting until he hit the ground and took half the area with him.”

    “Any of the three survive?” Spade asked.

    “Actually, yes. The one that you managed to slam into that wall is in the regeneration process. And I checked the one you smashed between two buildings. He's trashed, but it looked as if he had been in the middle of the regeneration process. His face was trashed, but the rest of his body was amazingly intact. But now, the rest of him is pretty bad; he has no energy. I left him there.”

    “He's drained? How?”

    “Empties got 'im,” Nightwind said quietly. “Not a pretty picture.”

    Spade nodded, then indicated the prisoner bound by energon chains in the corner; it was the Decepticon Spade had slammed into the wall. “I take it you've decided to allow him to join us?”

    “Yeah,” Nightwind said, “he's chained up over there. You can interrogate him when he wakes up, assuming you're operational by then.”

    A rogue Empty, its scarred, battered body clanking against the ground, walked by the small camp. It looked at the outsiders, seemed to consider an attack, then decided that it wasn't worth it. The Empty clambered away.

    Nightwind watched him go, suppressing what would have been a shiver in a human. “Look at him. He's so battered, seemingly void of life and emotion. Once they become an Empty, they spend the rest of their lives, just desperate for a single drop of energon. I--I couldn't live like that.”

    “Neither could I,” Spade said. “but they have no choice. Besides, I think there's an Empty or two out there who may know where Siege and the Deathcons are.”

    “Siege and the Deathcons?” Nightwind asked. “Why would an Empty know where they are? Are they on Cybertron?”

    “Well, they were three days ago. Quadrant Eight-X, an Empty quadrant. But I'm sure they're gone by now.”

    “How did you know...” Nightwind began, but then realization dawned on her. “Covert. That's the information you got from Covert, isn't it?”

    “Well, I wouldn't have let him go if it wasn't important.” Spade said, rubbing the last of the dust and grime off his newly-repaired optical sensors. He looked at Nightwind. “You look lovely tonight, my dear.”

    Nightwind smiled. “Why, thank you. I'm afraid I can't say the same for you.”

    Spade glanced down at the carbon scoring and various other signs of damage all over his body. “Ah, man,” he mumbled. “Ah well.” He looked around the camp. It was a small room, with three walls and no ceiling. The wall to the left of him had a large chunk taken out of it, but the other two walls in front and behind him seemed fairly intact. There was no wall to the right of him. It looked as if the room had once had four walls and had been part of a building, one that had probably been destroyed millennia ago. This was where Empties lived; the wrecked, ruined areas of Cybertron, where they led a life of scavenging and misery. Spade didn't want to stay there any longer than he had to.

    In the center of the room Nightwind had apparently repaired a small energon-dispenser, one that had not been seriously damaged when the building its users had lived in was demolished. Spade could see that Nightwind had used various pieces from other dispensers to repair the unit. Once they left, Spade was sure, the unit would be dry in an hour, and many Empties would be dead from fighting one another for the use of it.

    In one corner of the room the Decepticon was chained to the wall with thick energon chains. His face, or the half that was left of it, was devoid of expression, and his eyes were barely lit, pulsing slowly, indicating that his regeneration process was repairing him.

    “So,” Nightwind said, “do you want to tell me why Shockwave's looking for you?”

    Spade went over to the energon dispenser and took out a cube. “Well, I got some information from a Decepticon lab a few days ago. I sent Shock one communique about it, but didn't elaborate.” He took a sip of energon. “Anyway, he wants me to elaborate, because it concerns the Deathcons.”

    “What did they do?” Nightwind asked.

    “Nothing...yet. But I happen to know of their current--or at least, recent--whereabouts. But that's not what he wants me for. He's really looking for me because I know what Siege's plans are, and Shockwave must suspect, or know, that I know.”

    “Ah,” Nightwind said.

    “I admit, it's a little confusing,” Spade said. “Suffice to say, he's obviously sent some guys after me.”

    Nightwind nodded. “Yeah, but we took care of 'em.”

    Spade half-grinned. “I suppose we did. But we can't hang around here too long.”

    “Why not?”

    “For one thing,” he said, indicating the dispenser, “the Empties won't be able to resist attacking us for that dispenser for long. Besides that,” Spade said, taking another sip and glancing at the sky, “Shockwave probably knows where the jets went down. He'll have whole squadrons looking for us.”

    Nightwind nodded, seeing his point. “All right,” she said. “But what do we do about him?” she asked, indicating the inactive Decepticon in the corner.

    Spade looked at the Decepticon. “I suppose we could just leave him here,” he said. “The Empties would take care of him in-”

    Spade stared at the Decepticon's damaged face. He knew it from somewhere...

    “What is it?” Nightwind asked.

    “I know him.” Spade turned to look at Nightwind. “'Wind, don't you recognize him?”

    Nightwind stared intently at the Decepticon's face. “You know what...I think I do...that's...that's Dirge!”


    -31-
    Springer transformed and landed in the center of Autobot City. The city was now bursting with activity. Hundreds of Autobots had arrived from Cybertron and were assisting with the repair of the city.

    As he walked through the city on his way to meet Grapple, the new commander of Autobot City, Springer noticed something new. Several of the Autobots now wore the new symbol, the symbol of the Autocons. The symbol was a hybrid of the Autobot and Decepticon signs, and was quite interesting to see. He only saw five or six Autobots adorned with the new symbol, but it was very interesting, and Springer decided he'd have to look into getting one for himself when he returned to Cybertron.

    He made his way through the city, nodding at various transformers he knew as he passed. He was one block away from Grapple's new office when he heard a familiar voice ring out.

    “Springer?”

    Springer spun. “Sideswipe?”

    “Springer!” Sideswipe said, running over and giving Springer a bear hug. “You are alive!”

    “What made you think I wasn't?” Springer asked.

    “Well, news travels kind of slow around here...except for all the alliance stuff. But what with Unicron and all...I just wasn't sure.”

    “Well, I didn't know if you were alive,” Springer said. “You must have been injured or something, huh?”

    “Yeah. I was actually buried under some rubble; took them three days to find me and dig me out. The big guy himself, Omega Supreme, was the one who found me. I almost didn't make it.”

    “Well, the point's moot,” Springer said with a half-grin. “I...guess I'm glad you made it....”

    Sideswipe grinned. “Thanks a lot,” he replied. “Anyway, what're you doing here?”

    “I'm working on some business for Ultra Magnus,” Springer replied. “He needs Omega Supreme and a few other robots for some kind of mission on Cybertron.”

    “The big guy?” Sideswipe asked. “What for? Is there some kind of new tension between the allies?”

    “There's always been tension,” Springer said. “But this is worse. Ever hear of Sarcyst?”

    “Who hasn't? He's the founder of the Decepticons.”

    “Well, he's back.”

    Sideswipe hesitated for a moment. “What?”

    “I said he's back. Don't ask anyone how, but Sarcyst, and Galvatron, for that matter, have returned from the dead and are attempting to turn the 'true' Decepticons to their side.”

    “Jeez,” Sideswipe said. “We're the last to hear everything around here.”

    “Well, Grapple knows, I think, but I suppose he gets too busy to bother telling you, and besides, you are all too busy fixing up the place to pay attention. Speaking of which, what have they got you doing?”

    Sideswipe gestured at his hands. “They've got me using my pistons everywhere,” he said. “I'm either in demolitions or hammering a pillar or something into place. I've been working non-stop for about thirty or forty hours now, with fifteen-minute breaks for energon fueling. It's hard work, but the city will look even better than it did before it was attacked when it's done.”

    “Well, I admire you for your effort,” Springer said. “And it's looking better already. The Decepticons gave us quite a pounding. Who would have though that only a week after they killed nearly a hundred Autobots at Autobot City alone, as well as demolished the city, that we would be allies with them.”

    “If you ask me, it all has to do with Shockwave,” Sideswipe said. “He's the first free-thinking Decepticon we've ever seen. It was too bad he was suppressed by Megatron all those years. Think of what could have been prevented had he been leader, rather than Megatron.”

    “Yes, I suppose that might have been better,” Springer said. “But I still don't know about this. I'm not sure I trust Shockwave. Remember, you're talking about the Decepticon that took Nightwind's identity away, that tore her former life to shreds.”

    “Acting on the orders of Megatron,” Sideswipe replied. “Really, Megatron could easily have crushed Shockwave whenever he wanted. We're fortunate that Megatron was at last defeated.”

    “Unless he's Galvatron,” Springer said. “There's a lot of rumors flying around that Galvatron is really Megatron in a new form, given to him by Unicron. If that's true, then Megatron is still alive, in a more powerful form, and attempting to rally his old troops together.”

    “Yes, but the Autocons have the advantage of numbers,” Sideswipe said.

    At the mention of the name, Springer noticed something. “Hey, you've got the Autocon symbol.”

    Sideswipe glanced at his chest. “Yep, had my old Autobot sign replaced yesterday. What do you think?”

    “It's interesting,” Springer said. “It's kind of weird, seeing a combination of an Autobot symbol and a Decepticon symbol, with those red parts and purple parts. But it is encouraging. Well, I have to go talk to Grapple now...”

    “Hey, don't me keep you,” Sideswipe replied. “No problem. Maybe we can have some races or something later on, when this all blows over.”

    “Maybe,” Springer agreed, and he shook Sideswipe's hand, then turned in the direction he had been walking.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Grapple cleared the screen. “No, no,” he said to the technician standing across from him on the other side of his desk. “You want alloy fifty-seven for the supports and walls of D-forty-six,” he said, copying the file onto a small square chip and handing it to the technician. “Use this. I also added the plans for that elevator on the east corner of that building. Repair and replace those while you're there, along with the other supports and the walls.”

    The technician nodded and quickly walked out the door. Grapple turned to the next hundred requests that were pouring in.

    The doorchime sounded. “What do you want?” he yelled.

    “One million in small, unmarked bills, along with my own private helicopter and a mansion,” said the voice on the other side.

    Grapple looked up, trying to figure out what he just heard.

    “Wha--Oh. Come on in, Springer.”

    The door slid aside and the Autobot stepped into the room. “All this commanding business getting on your nerves, Grapple?” he asked.

    “I'll say!” Grapple said. “I can't believe Magnus made me the commander of this city! I have enough problems trying to get these repairs under control...I can't run the entire city, too!”

    “Well, Ultra Magnus thinks you can,” Springer said. “And if he thinks so, then it's probably true.”

    “Yes, yes,” Grapple said. “If you'll pardon me, I have completely forgotten why you've come here. What was it again?”

    “I'm taking Omega Supreme, remember?”

    “What? Oh, yes...damn. I forgot. I really need him, Springer...isn't there some way to convince Magnus to choose someone else?”

    Springer shook his head. “Sorry, this is a matter of Cybertronian security,” he replied. “No can do.”

    Grapple sighed. “Very well. Take him. I understand you'll be needing several others, correct?”

    “Just a few warriors,” Springer said. “Not too many. We just need them to help enforce the new laws.”

    “I understand,” Grapple said. “But is there any possibility of perhaps receiving a few formerly Decepticon Autocons to help with the work? Seeing as how we're allies now, I don't see why we shouldn't use the opportunity.”

    “I'll ask Ultra Magnus about it,” Springer promised. “For now, I'll just gather up who I need and take off. My shuttle will be here in an hour or two.”

    “Fine,” Grapple said. “When you return, log this request for supplies, would you?” he asked, handing a rather large memory chip to Springer. “It goes through much faster when logged from Cybertron.”

    Springer looked with reluctance at the chip. “How much information is on this chip?” he asked with very little hope.

    “Quite a bit,” Grapple said. “Should take you several hours to log.”

    “I was afraid of that,” Springer said. “But since I'm taking Omega Supreme, I'll log it for you.”

    “Thank you,” Grapple said with a slight grin. “Now, I have a lot more work to do than you do. Go away.”

    Springer half-grinned. “See you later, Grapple,” he said, and he turned and left the commander to his work.


    -32-
    Galvatron was inspecting the files of some new recruits when his new third-in-command entered the room.

    “Ah, Soundwave,” Galvatron said. “I am quite pleased by your decision to join our cause. This is excellent. I trust you escaped without injury and notice?”

    “Yes, mighty Galvatron,” Soundwave said. “All was done according to your orders.”

    “And how many did you get on our side before leaving?”

    “There are some five hundred Decepticons awaiting your command to turn on their allies,” Soundwave replied. “They are currently serving under Shockwave.”

    “Excellent,” Galvatron said with a grin. “Soon, I will retake my rightful place as the true leader of the Decepticons, annihilate that fool Shockwave. Then I will turn on these Autobots and destroy them.”

    “Sir,” Soundwave said carefully, “I do not think we have the numbers to risk a direct attack.”

    “We will,” Galvatron said confidently. “Don't worry, Soundwave. We will. And in a very short amount of time. Oh, yes; how is the repair of Cyclonus coming along?”

    “He will be prepared for his part in the battle when the time comes,” Soundwave replied.

    “Good,” Galvatron said. “Good. Now leave me; I have much work to do. By the way, you can now announced the date for the battle. In only two days time, we will strike.”

    “As you command, Galvatron,” Soundwave said, and he turned and exited.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Spade was gone; he had left the camp for a little while, to search the area for another buried energon fuel pack, since they were running low. Although everything else was repaired, Spade's transformation relays weren't finished yet, and they would be stuck there for at least another half a day. Nightwind had decided to wait until Spade was healed to leave; they couldn't really risk a medical run, since they had counted nearly five air squads earlier in the day, scouring the area for what Spade was sure was Spade and Nightwind themselves, rather than the destroyed jets.

    Nightwind had stayed behind to guard Dirge. They had tried rousing the Decepticon several times, but his damage was largely internal, and was taking quite some time to heal. Still, they couldn't risk him waking up while they were gone, before they could grill him for information.

    Nightwind sat quietly, hunched up against the wall. She sat hugging her knees, as if the cold bothered her. Actually, she just found the position comfortable. She kept one eye on the open wall in the right side of the room, watching for any rogue Empty who might get too desperate for energy. She didn't want to kill one, of course, but she would defend herself--and Dirge--if she was forced to.

    She glanced at the unconscious Decepticon. Why would Shockwave send such heavy hitters as the Terrible Trio after Spade? The only reason that made sense was the one Spade had suggested; that Shockwave wanted to know where the Deathcons were.

    Unfortunately, Spade didn't know. But Nightwind had a suspicion that Shockwave wouldn't care. Autocon or not, Nightwind knew they would torture Spade until he talked or died. Of course, the latter would come first, because customer confidentiality and keeping information secret had been literally programmed into Spade's mind at his creation. Or so Spade had said; Spade had always been kind of vague when asked about his creation. In any event, the Decepticons wouldn't care whether he could talk or not; they'd kill Spade, Nightwind was sure of it. There was no two ways about it.

    The thought made Nightwind a little worried. She began to wonder why she was watching Dirge, and not Spade. Of course, the answer was that, if Dirge somehow got loose, Nightwind was in much better condition to subdue him than Spade was. Still, she did have a cloaking device, and could hide in the shadows undetected, while Spade, wandering around out there, could easily be picked up by one of Shockwave's squads' scanners...

    But what was she worried about? Spade was a private detective; he had been trained to vanish into thin air since day one. While Spade's usual hue was a slightly dark purple, he could alter his color to match his surroundings, rendering him invisible. It was an odd power, and no one was quite certain how he pulled it off. Of course, when he did this, he also vanished off scanners, so no one was ever able to analyze the process, though many believed it had something to do with energy fields.

    But the trick drained a lot of power, and Spade was a little short on power at the moment. If he was seen, he couldn't pull his chameleon trick, or if he did, it wouldn't be for very long.

    Nightwind tried to calm her worries. She knew very well that Spade could take care of himself. He had confronted the Deathcons, for Primus' sake, and lived to tell about it. Of course, he had had backup at the time...but still, it showed he knew how to handle tough situations.

    An hour passed. Two. Nightwind was preparing to go after him when she heard a sudden sound in the room.

    She quickly stood, powering up her blasters. If it turned out to be a member of one of the Decepticon squads, she had a feeling her little blasters might turn out to be a little inadequate. Still, she'd be damned if she was going to give herself up...

    She heard the sound again, and spun. She suddenly realized it was Dirge. The jet transformer was finally coming around.

    Nightwind carefully walked over to him, keeping her blasters charged. She opened a small panel on his right shoulder and activated a few buttons that would speed up the last few minutes of the regenerative process.

    She held her blaster to his face. Slowly, his eyes opened.

    “Yaagh!” he cried at the sight of the blaster, and he dived to the side, discovering as he fell that his arms were firmly secured behind his back. He fell head-first into a pile of scrap metal, his chin jolting on the hard ground.

    “Nice move,” Nightwind said, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Very, very smooth, Dirgy-boy.”

    Dirge somehow twisted around and faced her, looking up from the ground. “What the hell did you do that for?” he demanded.

    “What?” Nightwind said as she helped him off the ground.

    “Why were you pointing your blasters at me? And why are my arms chained?” he asked angrily.

    “Don't you remember?” Nightwind asked. “You attacked us. Me and Spade. What were we supposed to do, leave you unchained so when you woke up you could attack us again?”

    “Spade!” Dirge said slowly. “Oh, yeah!” He looked around frantically. “Where is he?”

    “He's around,” Nightwind said carefully. “Tell me, Dirge, why did you attack us?”

    Dirge looked at her suspiciously. “Why should I tell you?”

    “I'm the one with the blasters, dear,” Nightwind replied.

    Dirge paused for a moment, then said, “I see your point. Not that it really matters. I'm going to die soon anyway, what with this whole alliance and tensions and all. We attacked you because we need some information from Spade.”

    “About the Deathcons' whereabouts?”

    Dirge quickly looked up. “How did you know?” he demanded.

    “Spade told me,” she said. “It wasn't that hard for him to figure out.”

    Dirge nodded. “I suppose it wasn't,” he said. “Well, as I said, at this point, it doesn't matter. What does Spade know?”

    “Nothing,” Nightwind replied. “He had a little fight with them a couple of days ago, but then they vanished.”

    “So he's the one,” Dirge said. “We knew someone had a fight with them. And Spade survived intact?”

    “Up until you three came along,” Nightwind replied.

    “Oh, yeah,” Dirge said, looking at the ground for a moment. “Where are the others?”

    “Ramjet may make it,” Nightwind said. “He's out there somewhere. I'm afraid Thrust was about to kill Spade, so I killed him first.”

    “Thrust wasn't going to kill Spade,” Dirge said. “He was just going to cripple him...”

    “Well, Spade nearly died,” Nightwind said. Now that she had this new information, she felt the need to justify her actions. She tried to ignore the fact that Thrust had been a friend. “Perhaps Thrust was little overzealous in his pursuit. In any case, as you've said, it doesn't matter. Tell me...did Shockwave assign you to this?”

    “Did Spade figure that one out, too?” Dirge asked ruefully. “Yes, we're working for Shockwave. He wants to keep tabs on the Deathcons.”

    “I figured,” Nightwind said. “So you decided to go after Spade to find out where they were. It makes sense.”

    “Look, 'Wind...” Dirge said. “There's something else. Shockwave wanted us...to destroy the Deathcons.”

    “What?” Nightwind said. “What do you mean? You three taking on the Deathcons? That's suicide.”

    “Exactly,” Dirge said. “Each of us is rigged with five plasma bombs, set for ignition with a self-destruct sequence. We were to set the destruct, then slam into the target.”

    “A kamikaze mission?” Nightwind asked incredulously, remembering the name from her Earth studies. “Five plasma bombs? Good Primus...”

    “Yes, but that's impossible now,” Dirge said. “Too few members left, namely me. But I can still do something about one of them. The one I was sworn to stop so many years ago.”

    “What are you talking about?” Nightwind asked.

    “Skysonic is my brother,” he said. “We were made at the same time by the Matrix. But something happened seconds after we were created.”

    “What happened?” Nightwind asked quietly.

    “The second he was created, Skysonic went crazy. The multiple programs in him caused him to slaughter everyone on the room except me. He left me completely alone. But then he blew the door open and made his way out of the creation complex, destroying everything and everyone in his path. That very day, I knew that someday he and I would have to confront one another. It's inevitable. That day is soon, I know it. I have to end his reign of death.”

    Nightwind understood his situation. “I see,” she said. “Look, Dirge...if I let you go, do you promise not to attack Spade?”

    “I believed you when you said he didn't know where the Deathcons are,” Dirge said. “Spade may be a good detective, but he doesn't know everything all of the time. I'll find them. Just, please, let me go.”

    Nightwind considered her situation. “But, Dirge, you're going to die...”

    “As I said, it's going to happen anyway. I have to die sometime. Who cares when? I'd rather die finishing what I started.”

    Nightwind was torn; while she didn't want Dirge to die, she saw his point, and she had a feeling not allowing Dirge to finish his job would be tantamount to a slow death.

    “All right,” she said slowly. “I'll...I'll let you go. But please, Dirge...reconsider the kamikaze part.”

    “No promises,” Dirge said.

    “No promises,” Nightwind agreed, and she unshackled him.

    Dirge flexed his arms, then his hands. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and then he kissed her lightly on the cheek, surprising her. “I won't forget this...however long I live.” He transformed and took to the sky, heading towards the main section of the city miles away.

    Nightwind watched his form dwindle to nothingness in the dark sky, then she sat down and hugged her knees again.

    As she sat, she suddenly noticed something. A small memory chip was attached to her arm. She realized Dirge had slipped it there when he had kissed her. She took it off and took out the small data pad she kept in her cockpit. She turned it on, and Dirge's voice filled the small room.

    “Nightwind, I just though of one little piece of information you might be interested in. I couldn't tell you before, because you might not have let me go.

    “Thundercracker and Skywarp are alive. You know all those rumors about Megatron becoming Galvatron? They're true. However, Unicron also changed Skywarp into Scourge, and Thundercracker into a soldier resembling Cyclonus. I think Scourge may have some recollections of being Skywarp. Galvatron obviously has memories of being Megatron, since he killed Starscream.

    “I'm not sure what kind of mental condition they're in, but they're alive. I just though you might want to know. Spade may have told you already, though. He was at Starscream's coronation, though he had that invisibility trick on.”

    The screen flickered off. Nightwind sat back, her mind in turmoil.

    She knew only one thing for sure. She was going to beat the crap out of Spade when he got back.


    -33-
    Spade dug in the pile, throwing scraps of metal all over the place. It was getting rather obvious that Empties had covered this territory long ago; he couldn't find a single energon pack anywhere. He had been looking around for nearly three hours, and he knew Nightwind would probably be pretty mad when he got back. He had fought off nearly a dozen Empties during his search, and he was getting tired.

    He was about to head back when he suddenly saw something move in the shadows. He vaguely made out a robotic form before it vanished.

    Spade's immediate reaction was to attempt to activate his chameleon ability. Unfortunately, he only flickered, vanishing for a mere second, before returning. He had far too little energy to hide for any useful length of time.

    He quickly ducked into the shadows, powering up his arm cannons at the same time. Luckily, he had backup proton blasts, so the cannons wouldn't have to bleed the energy from his system. The downside was that he only had about four blasts, and they probably wouldn't help very much.

    He waited silently. Several minutes later, he saw the movement again.

    This time, he reacted. He moved very slowly in the shadows, coming around behind the being. It might just be an overly cautious Empty, he realized, but he wasn't taking any chances.

    He slowly inched toward the spot, raising his right cannon. He came within five feet of the spot, took careful aim, and fired.

    The already-dead Empty went flying from the spot. Spade saw instantly that he had been duped, but guessed, correctly, that it was far too late.

    Transformers came pouring out of the shadows, surrounding him. They were all armed, and aimed their weapons at his head.

    Spade sighed, and raised his hands. “I give up.”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    The transformer who appeared to be the leader stepped towards Spade. He was a tall, rugged-looking fellow, who appeared as if he'd been in quite a few battles in his time. He was an older transformer, with a mouthplate rather than a mouth, and a jagged scar ran vertically across his face. Like most of the troops around him, his body was covered with various blotches of carbon scoring and slight rust. This was one group that didn't get much time to visit the repair shop.

    Then it hit him. All of the soldiers wore the Autobots symbol. He had been captured by Autobots.

    “Are you Spade?” the leader asked.

    Spade looked at him ruefully. “Looks like you spent quite some time following me, sir,” Spade said. “Are you trying to tell me that the whole time you weren't sure who you were following?”

    The leader narrowed one eye at him. “You are Spade,” he said. “I can tell. You're under arrest.”

    “May I ask why?” Spade said as his arms were put into chains.

    “No,” the leader said.

    Spade nodded thoughtfully. “So it's safe to assume that you have no legal grounds for arresting me; your boss just wants me for some reason, so he sent you to get me. Am I right?”

    The leader grinned. “Yes, you're definitely Spade,” he said. Spade nodded. “Really, I'll come with you willingly. Must you?” he said, indicating the chains.

    “Yes,” the leader said. “We have to be sure you won't escape. You understand, don't you?”

    “I guess,” Spade said. “C'mon, let's get this over with. Take me to your leader.”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Shockwave scanned the reports again, actually finding himself wanting to curse. It was illogical to curse, of course, but he found himself getting angrier and angrier by the minute..though anger was illogical, too.

    With his mere presence, Sarcyst was gathering more Decepticons from the Autocons than Shockwave would ever have thought possible. As soon as he saw Sarcyst and Galvatron appear on his screen, Shockwave had known he would lose some Decepticons. But after the debate, he had had nearly two thirds of them on his side. Now, that figure was rapidly deteriorating. More and more of his troops were defecting to Sarcyst and Galvatron.

    Soundwave's defection had been the final straw. Shockwave had quickly decided there was one way and one way only to end the matter. He knew what was coming. Logic said it was inevitable. In fact, as he reviewed his previous calculations, he found that he had known all along that he would eventually have to battle a group of Decepticons. The only thing he had not calculated was the return of Sarcyst and Galvatron.

    But Shockwave did know one fact for certain. Something odd was going on with Sarcyst. Sarcyst spoke very differently than the records made of him so many years ago. Not just the way he sounded; his attitude, his whole manner of speaking was different. And he often paused between sentences now. It didn't look like he was considering his next words, or waiting for a reaction to his last statement. It was just a pause, during which Sarcyst's face was blank. Galvatron did not suffer from this pausing. Shockwave had a suspicion that Sarcyst was nothing but a mere shell, a robot that Galvatron was controlling.

    While this did give him some confidence, Shockwave wasn't pleased. The situation may be even worse. While Sarcyst had been a good military leader, Megatron--now Galvatron--had been the best Cybertron had ever seen, defeated only due to an excessive ego and sheer Autobot determination. Fortunately, Megatron's transformation into Galvatron appeared to have doubled his egoism, making him a little easier to predict.

    But Shockwave knew when the battle was coming. He had planted some of his most loyal supporters into Galvatron's group, and he knew when and where Cybertron would be attacked. Shockwave had no intention of telling when and where the battle would occur; it was a Decepticon matter, and Shockwave would deal with it.

    There were two wild card groups: the Deathcons, and Spade and Nightwind. The former had vanished completely, but Shockwave knew the combined force of the team could easily wipe out a good portion of both Decepticon armies, should they choose to join the battle. The latter, Spade and Nightwind, had defeated Thrust, Dirge and Ramjet, and then vanished into the Empty section of Ibex. Ramjet had somehow survived to send one report to Shockwave, then he'd vanished as well. Sources had told Shockwave that Dirge had been spotted over some cities, but he hadn't reported to Shockwave.

    Shockwave had a feeling that, at this point, Spade had no idea where the Deathcons were. Of course, Spade was also notorious for not giving away a single, tiny bit of information, no matter how insignificant, unless he thought it was justified by something other than his continued existence. Spade was one of the few Decepticons Shockwave knew couldn't be threatened very well, short of taking one of his friends hostage. Bribing Spade was impossible...or at least, getting Spade to keep his half of the bargain was. Spade had often accepted bribes from his enemies, then stopped them anyway.

    But Spade and Nightwind paled as a threat in comparison to the Deathcons. It seemed like everyone had a task force out after the rogue group, and yet they avoided capture. It was incredible.

    Shockwave was worried about a lot of things. But now, he had to group his forces. He had to weed out the traitors, the unsure. He had prepare for the battle.

    He began to read faster.


    -34-
    The group stood around the massive grove of spikes, admiring their handiwork.

    Twelve Autobot heads and ten Decepticon heads were impaled on the high peaks of the metal spikes, their faces forever frozen in expressions ranging from shock and anger to grim acceptance and defiance.

    Siege smiled. Seeing the pathetic faces of his enemies filled his warrior's heart with satisfaction. Although the transformers hadn't put up much of a fight by any means, they were still defeated, and now they were being honored in Siege's own unique style. Their heads had been ripped right off their corpses and stuck on the metal spikes implanted into the ground, creating an eerie, vertical graveyard that Siege was sure would appall even the bravest Autobot. The run-in with the Decepticon group had been unfortunate, but two of the members of the group--Scourge and a Sweep, creations of Unicron--had fought bravely and had somehow managed to escape. Siege respected them for their valiance, and would honor them when he next met them by killing them quickly and sparing them the spike treatment.

    But the others would not be so lucky. Siege had acquired the time and place of the upcoming battle from the owner of one of the skulls now stuck on a spike. He had promised the owner his life for the information. How he had enjoyed seeing the weak coward's face when the fool saw that Siege always lied about such things...

    Yes, the battle would be even better than their previous plan. Judging from what he had heard, both Shockwave and Galvatron's group would be attending this battle. It was a perfect opportunity to both cull the weak among the Decepticons, as well as kill Shockwave, Sarcyst and Galvatron, and claim absolute leadership of the Decepticons. The plan seemed perfect now; there was little that could go wrong.

    Best of all, his warriors were now all prepared. He had sensed doubt in some of them when he had given his speech on Cybertron. Now, however, now that they had tasted the sweet thrill of battle once again, all were primed to fight harder than they ever had before. Siege had little doubt that his team could easily crush both armies.

    Siege turned to his soldiers. “Look upon these weaklings, Deathcons,” he said. “Look at them. They are weak. There is no way their comrades can defeat us, no plan that can surprise and overcome us. It is time for us to take out rightful place as the head of the entire Decepticon army, and crush the worthless, cowardly Autobots. It is time for battle.”

    The group grunted assent, and then Deathcade began to roar. He screeched into the air, releasing a piercing, glass-shattering shriek that ripped into the night air. Omnistrike quickly joined him, yelling a battle cry at the top of his lungs. Nuke began to bellow, and then Gremlin.

    Siege smiled. Yes, his troops were indeed ready.

    Siege joined them, roaring with all his might at the night sky.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “Very interesting,” Battleram said, reading the monitor. The bright blue light from the screen lit up his face, conflicting with the orange color of the edges around his face and covering the rest of his head.

    “Yep,” said Kup. “And we've confirmed it, too. Both groups know about it, and are planning to show up. Basically, you've got the entire Decepticon army there, about to duke it out between themselves. Really, this is pure self-destruction. When it's over, there will hardly be any Decepticons left.”

    “Ah, but there will be some,” Battleram said. “Some will survive. However, were an Autobot task force to arrive and clean up the stragglers...”

    “You're kidding,” Kup said. “There must be two thousand Decepticons there. You've only got a few hundred Autobots.”

    “More than enough,” Battleram said with confidence. “Besides, we really only have to take care of the stronger survivors, who will be here, in the center of the battle,” Battleram said, pointing to a small map on another monitor. “If we strike at the Decepticons around here, we'll finish them off on no time.”

    Kup nodded. “Yup, that'll work,” he said. “But what about the leaders?”

    “I'm going to take care of them.”

    Kup looked at him. “What?”

    “I said I'm going to take care of them. While my troops take care of all the Decepticons there in the center, I'm going after Shockwave, Sarcyst and Galvatron. I'm going to kill them.”

    Kup stared at him. “You can't take all three on yourself...” he began.

    “Well, I'm assuming Shockwave will already be considerably beaten--or dead--at the hands of Sarcyst and Galvatron by the time I arrive, although I'm sure Shockwave will injure them on his way to death. All I have to do is move in and finish them off.”

    Kup looked at him. “Looks like you've got this all worked out,” he said.

    “Yes,” Battleram said.

    “Something is going to go wrong,” Kup said. “I just know it. And what if Ultra Magnus arrives?”

    “I kill him, too,” Battleram said. “I've been planning to kill him all along, as well. He's a fool, and a worthless leader.”

    Kup nodded, and Battleram began to explain other parts of the plan to his second-in-command.

    Neither noticed the other Autobot, standing to the side of the doorway, shocked at Battleram's words. They never saw the Autobot turn down the corridor and sneak away.


    -35-
    “Poke me with that damn gun one more time and you're going to eat it,” Spade growled as he was taken through the base towards whoever he was supposed to meet. He had no idea who he was being taken to talk to, but he knew it was some Autobot who thought he was a big shot, assembling a task force to pick him up. Whatever the leader wanted, it doubtlessly had to do with the team everyone coveted, the Deathcons.

    The finally reached the door to the office of the Autobot leader. “This had better be good,” he warned the task force leader.

    The door swung open, and Spade found himself facing...

    Ultra Magnus.

    Spade did an internal double-take. He had expected Battleram to be behind door number one, not the Autocon co-leader. He quickly recovered and began to try and figure out why Magnus wanted him, besides, of course, the Deathcons...

    “Take those off,” Ultra Magnus ordered the task force leader, indicating Spade's chains. “He doesn't need them.”

    “Told ya,” Spade said to the leader as the chains were removed.

    Ultra Magnus indicated for the leader and his two guards to leave, and the door slid shut behind them. “Sit down,” Ultra Magnus said, indicating the chair in front of his desk.

    For a moment, Spade considered saying “I prefer to stand.” Then he decided it was a useless show of defiance that would serve only to annoy Magnus, so he sat down in the chair.

    “Is there a reason you found it necessary to have your troops jump me and arrest me? Y'know, I have a friend stuck back there...”

    “Nightwind?”

    Spade was startled. “How'd you know?”

    “A guess,” Ultra Magnus said with a grin. “Springer met her at the shuttleport on Earth, and said she was going to meet and old friend. Anyway, as to your question, well, I needed to make sure you got here.”

    “Well, you did,” Spade said. “Now would you mind telling me what this is all about? The Reader's Digest version, please.”

    “What?” Magnus asked, bewildered.

    “Just don't make the story too long,” Spade said.

    “Oh. Certainly,” Ultra Magnus said. “In short, we'd like to hire your services.”

    It was probably the last thing Spade had expected. He had fully expected a grilling on the Deathcons. “Heh?” was all he could say.

    “I said we'd like to hire your services. Missing person, I'm afraid. About forty feet tall, orange-red, answers to the name of Rodimus Prime. Perhaps you've heard of him?”

    A small grin formed on Spade's face. He mentally slapped himself for not realizing this possibility earlier. “Yes, I read about the whole deal. How much?”

    “Twelve thousand,” Ultra Magnus said.

    “Twenty,” Spade responded.

    “Sixteen.”

    “Done,” Spade said. “The report said you had a lead or two...”

    “Yes,” Ultra Magnus said. “We found one of the Hunters in the sewers, a member of a bounty-hunting team of robots created by a mechanoid named Stal...”

    “Yeah, I know him,” Spade said. “Anything else?”

    “They were traces of blood in the water. It was in one of the underground passageways. We think a bunch of Hunters jumped him, took him by surprise.”

    Spade nodded. “Stal, huh? Well, last I heard, he was hanging out on Delta Agma IV...just like everybody else, lately. I think can find him. No problem. But I need eight thousand, up front.”

    “Already transferring,” Ultra Magnus said. “To that little private account of yours in Lia.”

    “You work fast,” Spade said. “Good. I'll leave as soon as possible.” He stood and headed for the door. “Don't worry about me taking off; I want to take this case. Heck, I woulda taken it for twelve, had you insisted.” Spade paused at the door, thought for a moment, and turned back. “Commander...I intercepted a little message recently. Perhaps you'd be interested in it...”

    Ultra Magnus sighed. “How much?”

    “Oh, this is free,” Spade said. “You know Galvatron? Well, he's gathered up quite a little force for himself lately.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded grimly. “Yes, we know what he and Sarcyst have been doing.”

    “Well,” Spade said, “The message I intercepted told of an attack that was being planned. It's going to be a big deal, but basically Galvy and his troops are going to attack--and only attack--the Decepticon division of the Autocons. Not you guys.”

    Ultra Magnus took this in. “This is reliable?”

    “I think so,” Spade said. “It took me a few minutes to decipher, so it was decently well coded.”

    “A few--” Ultra Magnus shook his head. “Ever consider joining the Autobots, Spade?”

    Spade grinned slightly. “Nah, too many restrictions,” he said. “Then again, I'm not exactly an upstanding member of the Decepticons, am I? Either group.”

    “I suppose not,” Ultra Magnus said.

    Spade glanced around. “You got a recharge station around here?”

    “The guard will show you to one on your way out,” Ultra Magnus said. “So shouldn't you be leaving?”

    “Yeah, yeah,” Spade said. “One last thing...if possible, try to find Nightwind, and tell her I'm okay. She's probably still hanging around where you found me.”

    “No problem,” Ultra Magnus said. “Good luck.”

    “Thanks.” The door slid shut.

    “You're gonna need it,” Ultra Magnus said.


    -36-
    Galvatron was sitting in the throne-like chair of his office, gently rubbing a small energo-cloth over the yellow titanium fiberglass of the fusion cannon on his arm. Perched on a small shelf in one corner of the room was the faithful Laserbeak, who kept his eyes on the door to the office, prepared to swoop down and claw the throat out of any unloyal being who walked through the door. In the far left corner of the office, on the other side of the room from the wall which Galvatron faced (which was actually a large window) was Soundwave, who was quietly working on the needless “paperwork” which Galvatron so despised.

    Galvatron stared out the window as he wiped the microscopic dirt particles off his arm cannon. It was night outside, and through the window Galvatron could see the wide arc of his own galaxy, which the humans, for some unknown reason, called the “Milky Way.” He could see the tiny pieces that remained of two of Cybertron's numerous moons, pieces that would eventually fall to the surface of the planet, most likely creating a spectacular light show as they did.

    But the thing Galvatron most enjoyed seeing was the bodiless head of Unicron, the fool who had tried to control Galvatron himself. Pathetic, to see such a powerful being defeated by lowly Autobots. Galvatron had no doubt that, had he been given the chance, he could have used the Matrix to defeat Galvatron, but as it was, the Autobot Hot Rod had taken him by surprise by becoming much more powerful, thus defeating Galvatron. Galvatron knew he would eventually fight the cowardly Autobot again, and then he would crush the life out of him.

    Suddenly, the door to the office opened. Laserbeak started slightly, then relaxed. Although his back was to the door, Galvatron knew who it was. “About time you returned,” he said. “I've been waiting for a full report on your mission.”

    “Um, yes,” Scourge said. “Yes, right. I'm afraid I have good and bad news.”

    “The good news first, please,” Galvatron said.

    Scourge paused for a moment. It was the first time anyone had ever asked him for the good news first. “Um, well, we discovered the whereabouts of the Deathcons--”

    Galvatron suddenly spun in his chair. “And then you lost them, correct?” he snarled, and he stood. “They defeated you in battle! Only you and your Sweep survived, and you survived by retreat. Did you even take one of the Deathcons before you escaped?”

    Scourge sputtered for words, found none. “Sir--they're the Deathcons--they surprised us--!”

    “I don't care!” Galvatron roared. “Not only were you defeated in battle, but you forgot to tag them with the transmitters you were given, correct?”

    For a moment, Scourge looked puzzled. Then he remembered. He began to sputter again. “But sir--we were in combat! How was I to--”

    Galvatron held up a hand for silence, then slowly sat down in his chair. He plucked a small bit of metal off his slightly damaged desk and began slowly snapping its sharp tip off, piece by piece. “Scourge,” he said finally, now calm. “You are one of my best soldiers, and my best tracker. I would not wish to lose you, as we have a very important battle coming up.

    “However...” he said, and he spun in the chair and faced his second-in-command, “this is a major failure on your part. This kind of failure cannot go unpunished.”

    Galvatron looked at Scourge, as if for confirmation. He tapped the piece of metal on the desk, in a constant rhythm that Scourge thought might easily have driven Thundercracker or Nightwind mad. Apparently Megatron's transformation into Galvatron hadn't eliminated all of his odd quirks. Be it his foot, his fingertips or a piece of metal, Megatron always had to be tapping something when he wasn't fighting or yelling.

    Scourge realized Galvatron was still waiting, and slowly nodded.

    “I'm glad you agree,” Galvatron said. “Well, now I will have to decide what punishment is suitable. One that won't incapacitate you for too long, preferably. Hmm...perhaps a session in the Empty Room? Or the electromagnetic scrambler? Or perhaps I can use Shockwave's old mind-bending equipment...”

    Scourge's eyes widened. He wished desperately he could protest, even beg Galvatron not to use the mind-bending equipment. He knew full well what that equipment was capable of. He had known Nightwind. But such a display would betray weakness, which would practically guarantee the equipment. Scourge merely clenched his jaw.

    Galvatron crushed the rest of the piece of metal in his fist. “Never mind,” he said. “Such punishment would be too harmful, and I'll need you for the battle. For now, I'll simply confine you to quarters. However, if you fail me again, you will discover I am almost never this charitable.”

    Scourge nodded quickly and rushed out the door. Galvatron turned back towards the window and began rubbing his cannon again.


    -37-
    Nightwind soared over the sky, scanning the terrain below. Silently she cursed to herself as another square mile turned up empty.

    She had been scanning for Spade for over an hour, and found absolutely nothing. She couldn't understand it. Sure, she had been mad at Spade, but she certainly hadn't wanted him to disappear.

    But he apparently had. She had scanned nearly ten square miles and hadn't even found a trace of him. He had vanished.

    Nightwind was worried. Spade may be prone to bouts of extreme curiosity, but he would never just take off and leave her behind. Besides that, if he had tried to fly, he would have made a tremendous racket, giving the condition of his main thrusters. Nightwind should have been able to hear him without even turning on her audio scanners.

    So that left only one possibility. Someone had captured Spade. Nightwind had warned him that he'd be easy to catch, what with his low power and all. Most likely one of Shockwave's patrols had nabbed him. That left her with one choice: she'd have to find where Shock was hiding, and rescue Spade. She knew what Shockwave would do to Spade to get the information he wanted; she also knew that Spade would never reveal a single fact, no matter how insignificant. It was a virtue of his, in some cases, but in other cases, such as this one, it was a stubborn fault, and one that could get him killed.

    Nightwind was so intent on scanning that she almost didn't notice the jets until it was too late. Five jets were flying toward her; they appeared to be Decepticons. Nightwind quickly threw up her cloaking device, disappearing from their scanners. She silently transformed and landed on a rooftop, then watched the group fly by overhead. She was instantly puzzled; the group was the same one she and Spade had seen the previous day. That meant that they were still searching...but for who? For her? It sounded unlikely...there was no way for them to know where she was, unless Spade had told them, and she quickly dismissed that possibility.

    A cold fear suddenly clutched her. She remembered Dirge, and instantly realized that he had betrayed her. He had returned to Shockwave, and given a full report...

    The sound of her name suddenly pulled her out of her growing anger.

    “Nightwind? Are you there? Please respond,” a voice was repeating over and over.

    Nightwind, startled, quickly glanced all around her. But she could see no one.

    “Nightwind! Come in!”

    Nightwind suddenly realized the voice was coming from her transmission receiver. She had left it on, in case Spade tried to contact her. But the voice wasn't Spade's. Still, it appeared to be friendly; she didn't know why she thought that, but she did.

    Since they couldn't track her when she was cloaked, even when she sent a transmission, she decided to respond. “Who is this?” she said simply.

    “Nightwind?” said the voice, sounding utterly relieved. “Is that you?”

    “Yes...” Nightwind said. “Who is this?”

    “Quick,” the voice said. “What is the running joke between you and Hot Rod?”

    Nightwind blinked. “Wha-what?”

    “What is the running joke between you and Hot Rod?” the voice repeated.

    “Um, do you mean 'partying too hard?'“ Nightwind asked.

    “That's it!” said the voice. “This is Sky Lynx, of the Autobots. I've been sent to give you a message.”

    “Oh,” Nightwind said. “Um, what is it?”

    “It is very odd,” Sky Lynx said. “It is some form of code, I believe.”

    “Who's it from?” Nightwind asked.

    “The commander--I mean, Ultra Magnus--didn't tell me,” Sky Lynx said. “He said you'd know.”

    “Well, just read it to me,” Nightwind said.

    “All right. 'Greetings from Humphrey Bogart. Am alive and well. Been hired by police to find chief. Will talk to you later.' That's it,” Sky Lynx finished.

    “Humphrey--” Nightwind began. “Ah,” she said, quickly remembering the afternoon she had spent with Spade, watching his favorite Earth film. “I get it. Hurry up and get out of here, there's a bunch of Decepticons around.”

    “I know,” Sky Lynx said. “I shall hope to see you later.”

    “Thanks,” Nightwind said, and the transmission was cut off.

    “'Been hired by police to find chief?'“ Nightwind thought aloud. “What does that mean, Spade? Who's the police?”

    Well, she thought, on Earth, the police are a group who enforce laws, and are generally considered the “good guys.”..that must be the Autobots. Then the chief is--

    It all fell into place. Spade must have been captured by the Autobots, then hired to go find Hot--she quickly corrected herself--Rodimus Prime. He must have told Ultra Magnus to send someone to talk to her.

    She suddenly found herself with free time. Spade was undoubtedly already off-planet, and would catch up with her later...assuming he succeeded, but she cleared her mind of such negative thoughts. So she could go see someone else...

    Of course! She knew exactly who she had to find.

    Keeping her cloaking device activated, Nightwind transformed and launched into the night sky.


    -38-
    Ultra Magnus was working on some paperwork when the monitor on his computer beeped.

    He welcomed the distraction. “Yes?” he asked as he activated the communicator.

    “Sir, we're receiving a live transmission from the Decepticon Royal Palace,” said the technician. “It's been encoded for you alone. It appears to be urgent.”

    “Transmit it to my desk, Lieutenant,” Ultra Magnus said.

    The technician's face dissolved, and was abruptly replaced with the dark, sharp face of Shockwave.

    “Well, hello, Commander,” Ultra Magnus said. “I hadn't been expecting a call. Is there a problem?” Ultra Magnus was rather surprised; Shockwave actually appeared...nervous. Wasn't nervousness illogical?

    “That is an understatement,” Shockwave said. “I have recently been informed that Galvatron is planning an attack.”

    “Galvatron is?” Ultra Magnus said. “I thought Sarcyst led that division...”

    “He is a robot,” Shockwave said. “A mere husk. I have already finished with that matter. However, my sources inform me that Galvatron is planning to attack us.”

    “Us?” Ultra Magnus said. “As in the Autobot division of the Autocons, or the Decepticon one?”

    “I do not know,” Shockwave said. “It could be either.”

    “Oh, you think so?” Ultra Magnus said. He didn't like the fact that he was enjoying this. He was this Decepticon's ally; why was he taking pleasure in what he was about to do?

    “Well, Shockwave,” Ultra Magnus said, “I've heard from quite a few of my own sources, and I happen to know that Galvatron's attack is exclusively for Decepticon Autocons only.”

    “Your sources are wrong,” Shockwave said flatly, but that odd nervousness seemed to increase.

    “Oh, I'm fairly sure of this particular source,” Ultra Magnus said. “He's very rarely wrong.”

    Shockwave paused for a moment. “Spade,” he said. “Spade told you something, correct?”

    Ultra Magnus blinked. “How did you--”

    “I tracked your task force after you captured him,” Shockwave said. “Is that the only reason you captured him? For interrogation?”

    “I don't think that's any of your business,” Ultra Magnus said carefully.

    “No?” Shockwave said. Ultra Magnus would have sworn to Primus he saw that one eye narrow, although that was of course impossible. “I suggest you watch what you say, Commander. We are allies, correct?”

    “Correct,” Ultra Magnus said.

    “Then we will have to learn to trust each other,” Shockwave said. “What are you using Spade for?”

    Ultra Magnus sighed. “Fine,” he said. “We sent him on a wild-goose chase after Rodimus Prime.”

    Shockwave nodded. “I thought as much,” he said. “That is unfortunate. Did you know that he knows where the Deathcons are?”

    Ultra Magnus started. “What?”

    “He knows where the Deathcons are,” Shockwave said. “You did not ask him about it?”

    “No,” Ultra Magnus said slightly, cursing himself inwardly for not thinking of that. “But it's too late now. Was there a specific reason you contacted me, Commander?”

    “Yes,” Shockwave said. “Since you now know that attack is on us alone, then I am forced to request your assistance in the upcoming battle.”

    Ultra Magnus let out a slow breath. “I don't know, Shockwave,” he said. “We have very few forces here on Cybertron. I don't know if we can take the risk of losing them. We've already lost some of our best soldiers under mysterious circumstances.”

    “I see,” Shockwave said. “Very well. I simply ask you to consider it. According to our sources, this attack is due to occur in two days' time. We do not know where, but here at the Royal Palace seems to be the likely place.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded. “I'll think about it,” he said, “but no promises.”

    The monitor flickered off.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Galvatron sat back, a smile of satisfaction crossing his face.

    “So, Shockwave's worried now, is he?” Galvatron said. “Well, perhaps he doesn't have the troops he wants. And knowing Ultra Magnus, Shockwave won't get much help. Excellent splicing, Soundwave. Keep tabs on all communications from the Royal Palace. I want to know Shockwave's every move.”

    Soundwave nodded. “As you command, Galvatron,” he said. “What about the battle? Where will it be held?”

    “Ah, yes. Hmmmm,” Galvatron said, tapping his fingers on his desk. “Let's see. Perhaps we should attack right at the Royal Palace. It might be interesting, and it will be wonderful to see all those troops turn on Shockwave. Yes, we'll attack there. But don't tell the troops yet, Soundwave...I want to keep Shockwave nervous.”

    “As you command, Galvatron,” Soundwave said.

    Galvatron looked out his window. “Perhaps I should have set the date for this battle sooner. I'm getting very tired of all this waiting around.”


    -39-
    Quaxen scrubbed the countertop, carefully making sure not a single spot was missed, a single drop of dried-up liquor ignored. He worked silently, slowing organizing facts in his mind. He found it was often profitable to memorize every little bit of scuttlebutt he heard--or recorded--in his bar.

    It was very early morning, and the sun would be up soon. Naturally, the bar had emptied several hours earlier. He was officially closed until the night came again, so he took the time to watch his monitor and catch up on recent events.

    The news was just getting to Cybertron when there was an abrupt knock on the door.

    Quaxen jumped, startled. Everyone who was anyone, and even those who were no one, knew Quaxen wasn't open during the day. “We're closed!” Quaxen shouted at the door.

    “I know,” came a voice. “But I thought you might want to chat.”

    Quaxen blinked. He thought he recognized the voice, but he wasn't positive. “Who is that?”

    “Oh, come on, Quaxen,” the familiar voice said. “Open up!”

    “What do you usually order?”

    “That green stuff that nearly kills everyone else!” the voice yelled. “C'mon, you know it's me!”

    Quaxen scurried over to the door, unlocked and opened it. “Spade!” he said. “By D'Klarr, you're a sight for sore eyes! Come on in!”

    Spade grinned as the bartender led him inside and slammed the door behind him, quickly locking the door.

    “Jeez,” Spade said. “You still nervous about this place, Quax?”

    “Are you kidding?” Quaxen said. “While murders are way down, for whatever reason, theft is way up,” he said with a suspicious glance through the one-way mirror windows, which were made, of course, of transparent aluminum. “Especially in the early morning hours,” he added.

    “Oh, come on,” Spade said. “You own the only respectable place on the entire planet. No one would dare try to steal from you. Besides,” he said, gesturing around the bar, his face deadpan, “who would want to steal something from this dump?”

    “Very funny,” Quaxen said. “And I suppose you'll be wanting a green liquor after that little comment, eh?”

    Spade grinned. “Just kidding,” he said. “And yes, I would like some of that green stuff.”

    As Quaxen shuffled behind the counter to mix the drink, Spade asked, “Really, you have to tell me: what is in that drink?”

    “Trade secret,” Quaxen said. “Can't tell you. Especially since you're the only person who'll drink the foul stuff. Well, you and maybe one or two other transformers. Like you said, it practically kills everyone else. I spilled it once, and it ate right through this kninga wood. You on a mission?”

    “Yeah,” Spade said. “Why?”

    “Then I'm not giving you any more than two glasses. After that, you get plastered.”

    “Fine, fine,” Spade said.

    “So tell me,” Quaxen said as he walked over to the bar, holding the steaming emerald liquid away from his body, “where have you been? I haven't seen you in at least two years...”

    “I've been holed up on Cybertron,” Spade replied as he took the drink, sipped, and put it down on the counter. “Over the last couple of years, Megatron really kept all his troops on a tight leash. Heck, he's been keeping us on a tight leash for about twelve years, or at least me, anyway. He never did like me. I think he thought I was too smart. Meg never did like his troops to be too smart. I'm surprised he never killed Shockwave.”

    Quaxen nodded slightly. “Judging from recent events, I think Megatron would probably waste Shockwave, given the chance.”

    “Oh, he's going to try,” Spade said.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well,” Spade said, taking another sip, “Unicron--you have to know who Unicron is--well, he took Meg's trashed body and turned him into Galvatron.”

    “Really?” Quaxen said. “I had heard some rumors, but...”

    “They're true,” Spade said. “I could tell right away, at Starscream's coronation. The intonations, the recognition of Starscream, and the blunt 'Here's a hint!' as he blasted Starscream out of existence was far too obvious. Then again, I never got the indication Galvatron cared whether or not his troops knew he was Megatron anyway.” Spade took a much larger sip of the green stuff, letting the steaming hot liquid pour down his throat with a satisfying hiss before reaching his energy processing converter.

    Quaxen took the information in. “All right,” he said. “Then what did you mean about Meg--Galvatron getting his revenge on Shockwave?”

    “Oh,” Spade said. “Galvatron's assembled some loyal troops on Cybertron, using that Sarcyst--I think he's a phony--as a patriotic symbol. Now he's planning a large-scale attack on Shockwave and Shock's division of the Autocons.”

    “D'Klarr,” Quaxen said. “That's going to be quite a battle.”

    “It gets worse. I think the Deathcons may join the fun.”

    “Them again?” Quaxen muttered under his breath.

    Spade caught the remark. “What do you mean 'again?'“

    “Well,” Quaxen said, “I probably shouldn't tell you this, but Battleram was in here a few days ago.”

    “I thought he was around somewhere,” Spade said. “Where the Deathcons go, he usually follows.”

    “Yeah, well, that's not all. The day before Battleram was here...Siege was here.”

    Spade spat out the liquid he had been drinking, forcing Quaxen to dive for cover as the acidic droplets rained all over the countertop, which promptly began to fizzle and burn.

    Quaxen slowly peered over the top of the countertop. “You're going to pay for the repairs!” he said.

    “Yeah, yeah,” Spade said excitedly. “What do you mean, Siege was here? What was he doing? Who was he talking to?”

    “Woah, woah, slow down,” Quaxen said. “One thing at a time.” Quaxen took out a small device and began removing the remaining liquid from the countertop, where it had bored holes the size of baseballs. “Well, Siege just showed up, out of nowhere. Scared the hell out of everyone around here, then talked to a bounty hunter by the name of--”

    “Stal?” Spade said quickly.

    “Yes,” Quaxen said. “You know him?”

    “You bet I do. He's the prime suspect in Rodimus Prime's kidnapping. In fact, he's the reason I'm here.”

    Quaxen looked at him. “All right, you tell me your mission, I'll tell you what I know...for a price.”

    “Yeah, I know,” Spade said. “All right. Well, a few days ago, during the debate, in fact, two Decepticons were attacked at the Royal Palace, by Cyclonus and his little band. One of the Decepticons at the Palace was killed. Anyway, the Deceps called me in to investigate, of course. I found out that Cyc-O had taken a few files, and it was odd which ones he took. One was Galvatron's--which surprised me, since I didn't think any records were made of his structure--and the other was Sarcyst's, which is the main reason I think this 'returned' Sarcyst is a phony.”

    Quaxen stopped him for a moment. “Then why don't you think Galvatron's a phony?”

    “'Cause I know that Cyc-O found him. But the main reason I know is just the way he acts. Sarcyst acts wooden, stiff, and pauses too much when he talks. His face has this blank expression, and that's why I think he's just a robot. But Galvatron--he talks fine, and he just has this crafty, evil look about him, something you can't reproduce in a robotic copy. I knew Megatron well, though I never liked him at all. I know that evil smirk Galvatron carries on his face. Anyway, getting back to my mission...well, I had a little to-do with the Deathcons--”

    “And you survived?” Quaxen said, with alarm.

    “Yeah, I had some back-up,” Spade said. “Anyway, after that, Shockwave put some tails on me. They caught up to me when I met Nightwind at the Ibex spaceport.”

    “Nightwind!” Quaxen exclaimed. “She's back on Cybertron? You must bring her here--”

    Spade grinned. “Don't worry, I will,” he said. “Anyway, after that, I was picked up by some Autobot thugs. They took me to Ultra Magnus, who hired me to go find Rodimus Prime. He told about Stal, so I thought I'd come here first, see if you knew anything, before running off to some unknown solar system.”

    Quaxen nodded. “Good thing you did,” he said, “because Stal's right here on the planet.”

    Spade almost spit all over the counter again. “What?” he said, choking back the green liquid.

    “I said he's here, on Delta Agma IV. Some bounty hunters around here have been talking about him, saying he's holed up in his underground cavern, or something like that. And you know that's unusual; bounty hunters never hang around longer than they have to, even if they are hidden.”

    Spade nodded. “Any idea where this underground cavern is?”

    Quaxen shook his head. “No, but I'll give you the names of some bounty hunters who might know...for a price, of course.”

    “You mean, a price from you or them?”

    “Both,” Quaxen said with a grin.

    Spade sighed, a small smile playing on his lips. “Don't worry,” he said, “you'll get your money. Now tell me, what were Stal and Siege discussing? Do you know?”

    “'Course I do,” Quaxen said. “I have bugs. 'Course, I told Battleram I didn't know what they talked about, so don't tell him...”

    Spade stared at him. “You lied to Battleram? Why?”

    “I don't know,” Quaxen said as he walked over to the bar to pour another glass of the green liquor. “Because I don't like his face. Or his methods, or his ideals. Anyway, you can't really tell what Siege and Stal are talking about, but I'm fairly sure now that they were discussing the kidnapping of Rodimus Prime. There was some price negotiating, a threat or two, but nothing worth much.”

    “Okay,” Spade said, taking this in. “What did Battleram want?”

    “Well, for one thing, he tried to scare me,” Quaxen said, smiling at the thought. “Wouldn't admit that it had been was Siege who had been here, for my protection, apparently. Said information like that could get me killed. Like I don't deal in this stuff every day.”

    “So you did know it was Siege,” Spade said.

    “Are you kidding? I knew it was Siege the minute I saw him. I've seen holos of Siege. He's not the type of transformer who's easily forgotten. Anyway, Battleram then asked some questions about Stal, was curious about his cloaking device, etc.--”

    “Stal has a cloaking device?”

    “Yeah, on his ship,” Quaxen replied as he set the second glass of liquor down in front of Spade on the counter. “It's not real sophisticated, from what I hear. You and 'Wind's little devices probably do a better job.”

    Spade nodded. “Battleram didn't want anything else?”

    “Nothing else important, at this point,” Quaxen said. “Anyway, I think that wherever Stal is, he has Rodimus Prime. That's the only reason I can see for him to stay on the planet. If I had the Autobots on my tail for kidnapping their leader, I know I wouldn't hang around the last place I was seen.”

    Spade nodded. “Then there's hope,” he said. He quickly downed the second glass. “All right,” he said. “Give me the names of those bounty hunters. It's time I got to work.”


    -40-
    Hot Rod paced back and forth, an action that had recently become his favorite--and only--pastime. Stal had finally seen fit to allow him to roam free about the dungeon...closing off all important areas, of course, including the stairway to the exit and the main computers. Plus, the S.A.R. kept a constant watch on him.

    Hot Rod just plain had nothing else to do. He had already though of half a dozen escape plans, each of which he knew would fail miserably. His arms were always chained behind his back, so he couldn't transform, or even pick things up without extreme difficulty. He had examined the chains at length, and found them as unbreakable as the ones he and Kup had been held with on Quintessa. In fact, the chains were nearly identical, which was rather odd. But that wouldn't help him any.

    Hot Rod had a single ace up his sleeve--almost literally. Stal apparently hadn't studied his prisoner's schematics enough, because he hadn't disabled the blasters mounted on Hot Rod's forearms. That meant Hot Rod could shoot, but he could aim at nothing but the floor, unless he leaned over and fired blind. Of course, he could only hit either Stal or the S.A.R., and whichever one wasn't hit would naturally take care of him. He knew he could try and hit both, but he had a feeling that if the more powerful arm blasters he had had as Rodimus Prime had taken quite a while to finish off a single S.A.R., then he wouldn't stand a chance with the ones he had now.

    He found himself wishing he was still Rodimus Prime. If he was, he could easily break the chains, or if not that, at least shoot Stal and the S.A.R. But he was merely Hot Rod, and couldn't do a thing. He had no idea why he had reverted to Hot Rod when he lost the Matrix, but he tried not to spend time wondering.

    But that was difficult, because thinking seemed to be all he had to do. He could read some reports on the desk computer, but that was boring. He had read them all a thousand times, and new reports arrived only once a day. He could try to talk to Stal, but the bounty hunter would dismiss him, or demand more information about the Matrix. Hot Rod had tried several times to negotiate for his freedom, but whoever had hired Stal seemed to scare the hell out of the bounty hunter. He had quickly given up negotiation.

    So all he had to do was pace and wait. Wait until either this client arrived, something Hot Rod wasn't looking forward to, or until the remote possibility of rescue. Hot Rod wasn't too optimistic about that. He had secretly analyzed the dungeon, and discovered that it was surrounded by a cloaking device. It was a weak one, but between the field and the fact that they were half a mile underground, Hot Rod figured that the odds of a rescue were fairly low.

    Still, he tried to plan an escape. But every one had the same flaw; he couldn't free himself of his chains. If he could, then several plans would work. But the chains were nearly unbreakable, made of a special binding energon, and there were very few ways to counteract energon...

    Except...

    Hot Rod glanced about the room, making sure to appear inconspicuous. Stal had to have one...

    He saw it. An energon dispenser. After all, Stal needed to refuel somehow. Hot Rod thanked Primus that most mechanical beings ran on the same type of energy.

    Now, all he had to do was figure out a plan...



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Arcee sat at her desk, rummaging through various reports, requests, and paperwork.

    She jumped slightly when the doorchime sounded. “Come in,” she said, somewhat irritably.

    The door slid into the wall, and Springer walked in, looking quite bored. “What's with you?” she asked.

    He plopped down into a chair. “Just finished downloading some supply requests from Autobot City,” he said with a sigh. “Grapple gave 'em to me, because they processed faster when filed from Cybertron. You have to input the file name of a file, download it, then move on to the next one. 'Course, there were about a thousand of these, so suffice to say it was one of the most boring experiences of my life.”

    Arcee smiled slightly. “Poor Springer,” she said.

    Springer half-grinned. “Yeah, poor me. What ya doin'?”

    “Just some personnel requests, reports, supply requests, stuff like that,” she said. “A lot of problems showing up, what with this Decepticon battle coming. Several of our repair bases are losing personnel, who are coming here to guard Autobot Headquarters. Magnus is pretty nervous about the whole thing.”

    “Really?” Springer said. “I can't picture Magnus nervous. He wasn't even nervous when he faced Galvatron and his lackeys on Junk.” Springer frowned slightly at the memory. “Y'know, I'd hate to see this whole alliance thing go down like this. I mean, we've only been allies for--what? A week? And already, we've got political problems, even major military problems. I mean, what happens if Galvatron's group wins? We get ousted off Cybertron, that's what. They'll storm this place, waste anyone who gets in their way, and probably blast Ultra Magnus into a million pieces again, if Magnus is dumb enough to hang around. And this time, we won't have the Junkions to fix him up.”

    Arcee looked at the ground slightly. “Can we talk about something else?” she asked.

    “Uh, sure,” Springer said. “Sorry. It's just, well, these things could happen, y'know?”

    “Yes,” she said. “And we'll take care of ourselves when it does. If it does. Now why are you here?”

    Springer shrugged. “I just wanted to see what you were doing.”

    “What I was doing,” Arcee said, “or how I was doing?”

    “A little of both,” Springer admitted. “I mean, what with Rodimus missing and all.”

    “What about it?” she asked, glancing at the desk.

    “Oh, don't even try,” Springer said. “I know about the little fight you two had before he vanished.”

    Arcee looked up quickly. “How did you hear about it?”

    “Magnus told me,” Springer said. “He, um, sort of guessed it when he spoke to Rodimus before he disappeared.”

    “Ah,” Arcee said.

    “Anyway,” Springer said, “you can't blame yourself...”

    “Who said I was?”

    “No one,” Springer said defensively. “It's just...well, he decided to go for that joyride after you two had that fight, and then he was kidnapped...I know I'd probably blame myself...”

    “Well, I'm not,” Arcee said. “So you can go back to whatever you were doing.”

    “Jeez, Arcee,” Springer said. “What's your problem?”

    “Nothing!” Arcee said, quite loudly.

    Springer looked at her, surprised.

    “Sorry,” she said. “It's...it's just...”

    “Yeah, I know,” Springer said. “I'm worried about him, too.” He changed the subject. “But he'll turn up. We've got the best in the business after him.”

    “Who?” Arcee asked.

    “You remember Spade?” he asked.

    Arcee searched her memory bank. “Wasn't he the one in the Firestrike incident..?”

    “That's the one,” Springer said. “We hired him. He's gone after Rodimus. If anyone can find him, it's Spade.”

    Arcee nodded silently. “You're sure you're alright?” Springer said.

    “I'll be fine,” she said. “I don't need your support.”

    “Fine,” Springer said. “I'm only trying to help.”

    “I know,” Arcee said. “But I am worried...about him.”

    Springer nodded, but was silent. Arcee had always been an odd point between Springer and Hot Rod. Both of them had been in several semi-relationships with her. Springer suspected the situation might have been much the same had he been the one missing and Hot Rod been here. Right now, though, he didn't know what to make of the whole thing, or what to do about it.

    “He'll be all right,” Springer said. “Rodimus is smart, and plenty tough. We didn't find any indication that he was dead or anything,” he said, hedging the facts slightly. There had been an awful lot of biofluid in the passageway...but he pushed the thought from his mind. “And we have the best detective in the business after him. We'll find him.”

    “Yes,” Arcee said quietly, “but in what condition?”

    “Don't think like that,” Springer said. “He'll be fine. You'll see.”

    “Yes, Springer,” she said. “But what if he's not? What then?”

    Springer looked at her. “I--I don't know,” he admitted. “I honestly don't know.”


    -41-
    Ultra Magnus stared out the window. The night sky was clear, and Magnus could see all the stars clearly. In the west, he saw the bright glint of Unicron's head, which was reflecting the sunlight of Cybertron's star, so the head resembled a moon. Magnus chuckled inwardly as he remembered a young human once saying it looked as if there was a face in the Earth's moon. It looked like Cybertron had an even better one.

    The doorchime sounded abruptly, pulling Ultra Magnus back into the present. He remembered who it was, and sighed slightly. “Come in,” he said.

    The door slid open, and Kup marched in, looking impatient. He appeared as if he had much better things to do. Ultra Magnus motioned to the chair.

    “Sit down,” he said amiably.

    “What is this about?” Kup said irritably. “I get called down here without even being told why. Do you want something?”

    “Yes,” Ultra Magnus said. “But let's wait on that for a moment. Have you heard about the upcoming Decepticon battle?”

    “'Course I have,” Kup said, watching Magnus suspiciously. “Everyone knows about it. Tomorrow, in the early morning, Sarcyst's Decepticon division is going to attack the Royal Palace in an attempt to overthrow Shockwave and his supporters.”

    Ultra Magnus blinked. “Uh, yes,” he said. “Exactly. Now, my problem is, Shockwave called me this morning, and requested our assistance in this battle. I'm not sure whether to help him or not, and I was wondering what your opinion was.”

    Kup thought for a moment, and his face was an odd mix of suspicion and nervous tension. “I--I think we should help them,” he said uncertainly.

    Ultra Magnus looked at him. “Really? I would think you would be the first to let the Decepticons slaughter themselves.”

    “N-no,” Kup said. “We should be there. Because I realize now that we should be allies with Shockwave and his Decepticons. I even think you should lead the assault, Commander.”

    “You think so?” Ultra Magnus asked. “That's an interesting idea. Oh, yes; I have something else to ask you. What do you remember about the Autobot named Battleram?”

    There it was. The look of suspicion vanished for a moment and was replaced with shock; there was a definite pause. “Battleram?” Kup said, uncertain once again. “I remember him. 'Course I do. He lead the Arsenal.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded. “We have reason to believe he is on Cybertron,” he said.

    “Really?” Kup said, now confident. “I didn't know that. What is he doing?”

    “We were hoping you could tell us,” Ultra Magnus said.

    “Wha-what?” Kup said. “Why--how would I know anything?”

    “Well,” Ultra Magnus said, “since you've been spending so much time at his secret base, I'd think you'd have some idea what his plan--”

    Kup leaped out of his chair, drawing his laser rifle as he jumped. Magnus caught the muzzle of the rifle at the last minute, and it blasted a chunk out of the wall. He slapped the gun out of Kup's hand and the two fell on the floor, Kup trying to tear Magnus' throat out, and Magnus just trying to get the other off him.

    “You'll die, traitor!” Kup was yelling. “You're a traitor to all Autobots! You have to die! They all do! Die, die, die!”

    At that moment several guards charged into the office and yanked Kup off their commander. Ultra Magnus stood and faced the Kup, who was struggling against the guards.

    “It's too bad,” Ultra Magnus said. “You would have been great on our side, Kup. It's too bad you had to follow Battleram.”

    “He's right!” Kup yelled. “You're a traitor--” Kup stopped abruptly, and an odd, blank look crossed his face.

    “Kup?” Ultra Magnus said, startled. “Kup?”

    The face remained devoid of emotion for several seconds. Then Kup started his tirade again. “You fool! We'll kill you all! You can't defeat us! Traitor!”

    Since it was rather obvious no information would be gained from Kup about Battleram's plans, Ultra Magnus said to the guards, “Take him to the brig. And have First Aid check his mind. I think he may have some sort of mind-controlling device.”

    The guards nodded and walked out the door, brushing past Springer, who was on his way in. Springer stared at the psychotic Kup for a moment, then turned to Magnus. “What was that all about?”

    “Long story,” Ultra Magnus said as he applied some melted metal to the small cuts on his arms and chest from the repair kit kept on the wall of the office. “The short version is, Kup's on Battleram's side. I just told him we knew that, and he attacked me.”

    “Ah,” Springer said. “Kup? Really? Jeez, that's a surprise. I'd never have though Kup, of all Autobots, would betray us...”

    Ultra Magnus sat down at the desk. Springer dropped into the chair opposite him. “Well, he may have a mind-control device,” Ultra Magnus said. “He was acting weird, even weirder than one might think, given the situation. Anyway, it makes no difference. He's not going to tell us anything.” Magnus looked at the desk. “I just wonder...is he right? I mean, is this alliance wrong? Is it going to end in bloodshed, just like everything else?” He looked at Springer. “Have I only made things worse?”

    Springer was silent for a moment. “I'm not sure I can answer that,” he said, “because I'm not sure myself. I mean, there's a lot of good that can come out of this alliance...”

    ”...and a lot of bad,” Ultra Magnus finished. “Look at the situation. Sure, we have Decepticon allies...but they're about to engage in a battle that, as far as I can tell, they have little or no hope of winning. So where's our allies after that? And what happens if Galvatron's Decepticons win? They could overtake us in an hour, destroy the whole place.”

    “So maybe we need to hedge our bets,” Springer said. “Maybe we should help.”

    “Yes, but others are going to be there,” Ultra Magnus said. “Others that are against us. Battleram's group will be there. Battleram has a growing number of Autobot supporters. Springer, we could arrive at that battle, and half our forces might turn on us as soon as the battle begins!”

    Springer nodded. “I see the problem,” he said. “Then what do we do? Stay here, and let our allies get slaughtered? Or run, before Galvatron and his troops come after us?”

    “I know those are the other alternatives,” Ultra Magnus said, “and neither feels right. But I'm not sure fighting feels right, either...Springer, this is one of those decisions that's made for a Prime, not me.”

    “Well, we don't have a Prime,” Springer said. “And you can't decide by wondering what Optimus or Rodimus would do in your situation. You've got to decide for yourself.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded, and stared at the desktop.
     
  13. Robot Pimp

    Robot Pimp Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2006
    Posts:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Likes:
    +0
    And for good measure, here's the conclusion..........


    The Siege, Book Three: The Battle


    -42-
    It was the evening before the planned battle. The sun that Cybertron orbited had just set, and now, a restless calm had settled over the planet, as every single transformer waited, and wondered, what the next day's events would bring.

    Galvatron had assembled every single Decepticon under his command in the large main hall of the underground base he and several other Decepticons had taken over. Now, as he stood slightly behind and to the left of his tool, Sarcyst, he looked out into the crowd, trying to recognize some faces. He knew many of the Decepticons before him, but saw few of the officers he had come to know well during his years trapped on Earth, when he was still Megatron. There was Soundwave, of course, but he was off to the side, preparing to record the following speeches. Skywarp was around, but he was now Scourge; similarly, Thundercracker was now a mindless Sweep, resembling Cyclonus, and tucked off in a corner, along with Cyclonus himself, who had finally been repaired. Behind them stood Scourge and both his Sweeps; the damaged Sweep had been repaired, and Galvatron had allowed Scourge to leave his quarters for the assembly.

    Galvatron also saw the Constructicons in the roaring throng. Starscream, of course, was absent; a microscopic pang of regret struck Galvatron, but quickly passed away. Starscream had been a good warrior, but he was also very treacherous. Galvatron hadn't been able to find the other three jets, Dirge, Ramjet or Thrust. That struck him as odd; he would have thought those three would have joined him. Perhaps they were killed in the battle with Unicron.

    Besides those few, Galvatron saw no other Decepticons he recognized, beyond speaking to them in passing or giving orders. It seemed as if all the Decepticons he had thought loyal to him, the ones he had spent so much time with on Earth, had decided they preferred Shockwave better. That, or they were part of the group of Galvatron's supporters that had remained hidden in the ranks of Shockwave's Autocons.

    Autocons. The word seemed like poison in his mind. It perverted everything the Decepticons stood for, twisted it, mocked them with its very existence. He hated the Autocons. He hated Shockwave. And he especially hated Autobots.

    Galvatron glanced at the robotic Sarcyst. The robot was behaving remarkably well, considering it was lifeless. It had its acting down pat, and was an excellent recreation of the great leader. Galvatron had to admit, Cyclonus, for all his stupidity, had done an excellent job on the robot. The only problem with it was the annoying pause between words and sentences as Galvatron transmitted to the robot. But it seemed to add effect, add drama to Sarcyst's speeches, so Galvatron had decided to leave the glitch unfixed. Still, it was annoying when a Decepticon entered Galvatron's office, and Galvatron was forced to transmit orders to Sarcyst, which created a greater pause than usual. Luckily, it appeared that the gullible troops seemed to view this as a sign of a great thinker, a great strategist. This was not only untrue in the sense that Sarcyst was a robot; the original Sarcyst hadn't been very much of a strategist, either. He had been a mere terrorist leader, running more on emotion than cold calculation, which was probably one of the reasons the fool had died so soon after he created the Decepticons.

    But it was a moot point; for the time being, the robot was fooling the Decepticons, and that was enough. Galvatron would have to think of some way to destroy it later; perhaps in battle, or an assassination. If he blamed it on the Autocons, that would certainly stir up even more hatred, something Galvatron knew he could never have too much of.

    For now, though, he stood behind Sarcyst, a mere subordinate, awaiting his leader's words. After Sarcyst was done, Galvatron would tell the crowd of his plans.

    The hall had filled to capacity, and the massive group of troops were all standing on the floor, standing on the high balconies above, even hovering above the crowd on repulsors.

    Galvatron decided it was time to begin. He started issuing orders to the robotic Sarcyst.

    Sarcyst held up a hand for silence. Almost instantly, the crowd grew quiet, awaiting the words of what they believed was the greatest leader in Decepticon history, resurrected from the dead to lead them to victory over the Autobots.

    “Decepticons,” boomed Sarcyst, his voice easily filling the massive hall, “as you know, the time has come for us to reclaim our rightful ownership of our home planet, Cybertron. For too long, our archenemies, the Autobots, have fought us at every turn, hounding us, fighting us, struggling to stop us. But, my fellow Decepticons, we cannot be stopped. We are Cybertron's future; indeed, we are the galaxy's future. We cannot allow this small band of Cybertronians, these Autobots, or their Decepticon allies, the Autocons, to control this planet any longer. They are mere fools, who have no concept of how this planet must be run.

    “They clamor for 'peace', for 'the old days'. This is archaic thinking, and foolish in the extreme. Cybertron cannot be run as it once was. In those times, we were stagnant. Cybertron's culture did not advance at all. We stayed in our homes, with only mere entertainment to occupy our minds. We became mindless, emotionless, mere cattle, with few jobs, and few advances. We are lucky no alien race came to conquer us; otherwise, we would all now be mere slaves.

    “Eventually, I met a small group of free-thinkers, of a new breed of Cybertronians. They were mostly former members of the Cybertronian Defense Force, members who disagreed with the rules governing the Defense Force. I took that group, taught them new battle tactics, new rules, new ways to fight. I taught them to think, to feel, to forget the mindless ways of the majority of the population of Cybertron. I later named this group...the Decepticons. We were a small group then, but we were a group of thinkers. We looked past the minuscule goals of the Cybertronian government; we saw worlds to colonize. We looked into the sky, and recognized our destiny.

    “But the government then wouldn't allow such things. Sarnimus Prime was a fool, and thought us a mere band of dreamers. He forbade interplanetary travel, claiming we were 'not ready' for such a responsibility. He then tried to make an example of us, attempted to expose us to Cybertron at large as a band of extremists, a group to be steered clear of.

    “But Sarnimus' plan backfired. His pronouncement only helped our group grow stronger, as more and more transformers realized how little their lives meant, how little they had to live for. We gave them a cause, something to believe in.

    “But Sarnimus still stood in our way. Therefore, I was forced to go to great lengths, to take the most extreme action. As all of you know, I killed Sarnimus Prime, as I was forced to. I was later killed myself, though I have now been resurrected.

    “But that incident split Cybertron into two groups; we, the Decepticons, who wished only to explore, to extend Cybertron's reach into the galaxy; and the Autobots, the mere reactionaries who were blind to the possibilities, who decided to fight us at every turn.

    “Now, my fellow Decepticons, we must end this. We must destroy the Autobots, once and for all. This foolish war must come to an end, and only one side can win. That side will be ours. We will crush the Autobots and their allies, the Autocons, we will trample under the power of progress! We must prevail! Now, who is with me?”

    And with those five words, the crowd erupted, cheers resounding and ricocheting across the hall, creating a virtual wall of sound. After several minutes, Sarcyst held up a hand for silence once again.

    “And now,” he said, “I shall hand the platform over to Galvatron, our General of Battle, to whom I have outlined my plan for our attack tomorrow on the Royal Palace.”

    Galvatron smiled inwardly as Sarcyst stepped out of the way and Galvatron took the platform. Yes, they would indeed succeed; the Autocons, and the Autobots, didn't stand a chance.


    -43-
    Grimlock was reading the file of Battleram's plan for the hundredth time, making sure he remembered everything. He didn't hear his door open and footsteps approach him from behind.

    “Ah, Grimlock,” said a voice, and Grimlock wheeled to see Battleram standing behind him.

    “Oh, it you,” Grimlock said. “Don't scare me like that.”

    “Sorry,” Battleram said. He glanced at the computer. “Reviewing the battle plan?” he asked.

    “Yes,” Grimlock said.

    “What do you think?”

    Grimlock shrugged. “It seem like good plan,” he said.

    “But you don't like it,” Battleram said.

    Grimlock looked uncertain. “Me no say that,” he said.

    “No, but you're thinking it.”

    “Why you say that?” Grimlock asked, thoroughly confused.

    “Because, Grimlock, I've been noticing you've been acting rather...odd, lately,” Battleram said. “Could it be that you don't believe in the cause?”

    Grimlock seemed to slump a little. “No. It just that...why we have to destroy Autobots, too? Why not just Decepticons? Better yet, why not just destroy Decepticons that follow Sarcyst?”

    Battleram sighed slightly. “Grimlock, we've been over this many times. You know why we have to destroy them. They're either evil, or they're useless fools, fools who cannot serve the new order that will be coming to Cybertron. So it is left to us to cull the population, to leave only the fit and right as the new leaders of Cybertron.”

    Grimlock looked at him. “You sound like Megatron,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “Me hear you and Kup. Me hear what you say about other Autobots, about Ultra Magnus.” Grimlock glared at him defiantly. “Me Grimlock will not follow you. You wrong. Me Grimlock will--aarrrrghh!”

    Grimlock clutched his head, trying to stop the incredible buzzing that was intensifying by the instant.

    “I'm afraid not,” Battleram said, revealing the small device he had been holding in his palm. “I'm going to need you and your Dinobots for this battle. I need you on my side.” He kneeled down next to Grimlock, who was now writhing on the floor with agony as pain racked through his brain. “It's a Mindebian mind alterer, Grimlock,” Battleram said. “I had to be sure you were on my side. I'm sorry I've had to take it this far; when the higher settings are first inputted, it's quite painful for the owner.” He glanced thoughtfully at the device. “Of course, it has even higher settings...settings that work for a short while. But then, they begin to cause damage. Microcircuit by microcircuit, they eat away at your mind. Soon, you die.” Grimlock's anguished cries had diminished, and the Dinobot now huddled on the floor, spasms wracking his body. Battleram whispered, “It's not on the highest setting. You won't die. But if you step out of line again, Grimlock...I'll be forced to place it on the highest setting. You'll be active long enough for my purposes; then, you will die, and no longer be a problem. So, I'd advise you not to question my authority.” Battleram lowered his voice even lower. “Besides, you know how a Mindebian mind alterer works. It takes a certain emotion, a certain idea, and amplifies it hundredfold. So, you see, if you didn't believe I was right, somewhere down there, the device wouldn't work.” Battleram stood, and looked down at the Dinobot with a slight trace of pity. “Don't force me to kill you, Grimlock. It would be an awful waste.”

    Battleram turned and exited the room, leaving Grimlock sprawled on the floor, unconscious.


    -44-
    Preparations for the following day's battle had begun in earnest at Galvatron's Decepticon base. Hundreds of Decepticons were intently working on battle strategies and honing skills.

    However, during this time, guards were thinly spread, due to the training. The intruder had no trouble slipping past the guards into the base.

    The intruder moved stealthily through the corridors, years of training guiding its every move. It slipped past wandering soldiers and hid from internal sensors. Finally, it found what it was looking for: an access terminal.

    The intruder quickly accessed it and found the quarters it was looking for. Quietly, it shut the terminal off and vanished into the shadows again.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Scourge was in his quarters, silently reading the battle plan for what had to be the three thousandth time. He was becoming quite sure he had reached the absolute apex of boredom; he had never been this bored in his entire life, both as Skywarp and Scourge, and he was fairly sure he would never be this bored again.

    He hoped.

    He abruptly stood up and began pacing back and forth, a habit he had picked up from Starscream several years before. His quarters were spartan, with only functional devices. Of course, he had had few personal items anyway, and anything he had was no doubt buried under tons of rubble. His stasis pod (a device he personally found annoying) rested in one corner of the room, and his desk and computer in another. The small, square hole of his energon dispenser was visible in one wall. Besides that, there was nothing to look at, nothing to do. Galvatron had given an effective punishment; Scourge couldn't wait to get out of the stupid room.

    He went over to the computer and tried to access some games. Naturally, none were in the computer's memory. Megatron--now Galvatron--had always hated computer games, and to be caught with one was to be severely punished. Of course, that didn't stop the circulation of such computer game classics as Renegade Decepticon and the Decepticon Quest series. Unfortunately, Scourge hadn't had time to obtain a game before he was confined to quarters, so he was left with four choices: read the battle plan, read the news, pace, and use the stasis pod. He certainly wasn't going to use the stasis pod; he had no damage, and could refuel his energy with the energon dispenser at any time. Besides, he hated the stasis pod; weird things happened when he used one. He would have visions, perceptions of reality, but they weren't real...humans called these visions “dreams.” Scourge didn't like them.

    He had read the battle plan and the news to the point where he had memorized them, so he was left with nothing to due but pace. So, for nearly two hours, he did nothing but pace back and forth, back and forth.

    Near the end of the second hour, he was growing weary. His optical sensors faded slightly; his vision began to spin. Back and forth...back and forth...

    Suddenly, he heard a sound. Like a door swishing open. He realized he was hallucinating. Back and forth...back and forth...

    Then the hallucination got worse. He started hearing voices.

    “Scourge!” called the voice. “Hey, Scourge! You listening? Scourge!”

    Back and forth...back and forth...

    Something flew into his vision, and he felt a painful blow across his face. He staggered and fell flat on his back, staring at the ceiling.

    A large black blob appeared in his vision. It had two small glowing spots, like optical sensors. They seemed to be looking at him. Abruptly, the blob vanished, and suddenly he saw that black flash again, and felt his face get struck again. He winced, and suddenly his mind cleared. His optical sensors flashed and he looked about.

    For a moment, he though he was still hallucinating, because he thought he saw someone in front of him. Someone he knew. He tried to remember...why couldn't he remember? He knew this person very well...

    “N--nn--Nightwind?” he managed.

    “About time!” said Nightwind. “For a minute there, I thought Dirge had lied, and your memory had been erased. That is you in there, isn't it, 'Warp?”

    Scourge shook his head, not in answer to the question, but in an attempt to clear his mind, and looked again. Nightwind was still there. He slapped his face. Nightwind was still there. As he slapped his face, he suddenly realized what the previous two blows had been. He decided this was no hallucination, this was reality.

    He got to his feet. “Jeez, 'Wind,” he said, “did you have to smack me?”

    “Well, you were just pacing back and forth, back and forth,” she said. “I screamed at you, but you just kept pacing. How long have you been at it? You know your mind goes fuzzy after pacing too long. You're not Starscream; he could pace for hours and hours, but you lose track of time--and your sanity.”

    “How...long?” Scourge said, trying to remember. “A while, I guess...”

    “Too long,” Nightwind said. “How are you feeling?”

    “I'm fine now,” he said. He suddenly noticed something. “Wait a minute...I haven't seen you around here. Weren't you posted on Earth? What are you doing here?” Scourge felt like he had just woken up from a long nap. He could barely think.

    “It's a long story,” Nightwind said. “The short version is, I met Spade here, Spade became otherwise occupied, I found out about what happened to you, so I decided to come over here and see you.”

    “Oh,” Scourge said. “Spade's here? Where is he?”

    “He's...busy now,” Nightwind said. Even though she knew it was really Skywarp, she decided that he didn't need to know the exact nature of Spade's mission. “He was suddenly hired by someone. I didn't hear about it. Anyway...”

    “Wow, I didn't think I'd ever see you again,” Scourge said. “I mean, what with this alliance and everything, I would've thought you'd be at the Royal Palace...”

    “I'm going to be,” Nightwind said softly.

    Scourge looked up. “What?”

    “I said I'm going to go,” she said. “I'm going to be at the Royal Palace when you attack.”

    “But--but Nightwind!” Scourge said. “We're going to attack them in an all-out assault! You're not a warrior! What can you do for them?”

    “More than I can do for any particular cause here,” she said. “I don't like Galvatron. He's just Megatron. It's Megatron's tyranny all over again. You don't like him, 'Warp! Why stay here? C'mon, join us over at the Palace...with you on their side, the Autocons stand more of a chance...”

    “Oh, I don't know about that,” Scourge said. “I don't think I can leave this place...”

    “Why?” Nightwind asked. “These guys are out for blood, 'Warp. You'll be fighting you own friends. Killing your own friends. Don't you want an alliance? Wouldn't you rather live in peace?” she asked. “Would you really rather follow Megatron, and conquer your goals, only to have them later toppled again by the Autobots?”

    Scourge was at a loss for words for a moment. Then he said, “I...I can't. It's...it's just....I've been serving with Megatron, oh, forever, it seems. Maybe I've just grown used to his vision. Maybe I think that, somewhere down the line, he'll be right, and something good will come out of all this.”

    “Skywarp,” Nightwind said, “that's a lie, and you know it. You remember the first attack on the government that Megatron led after taking over command of the Decepticons?”

    Scourge grimly shook his head, looking at the floor.

    “I saw it. I saw the remains of the workers. But not only that; I saw the innocents. You can't imagine what it was like, seeing hundreds of innocent people lying strewn about the streets of Iacon like so much trash. And that was only the beginning. Before Megatron came to power, there was nearly three billion transformers inhabiting Cybertron. Now, a tiny fraction of that remains. And he caused most of those deaths. Most of those deaths were innocent, too. But he never cared. He thought it was a small price to pay for control. I think it was far too high a price to pay. Far too high.”

    Scourge looked at the wall. “I...I know what he's done,” Scourge said. “I know what he's like. And I hate him. I hate him as much as almost every other Decepticon does, deep inside. But this is all I've ever known; following Megatron's orders. Shockwave has done something I don't think I ever could have done; he's refused to accept Megatron--Galvatron--as a commander. But for many of us, this is the only leader we've ever known. We were in disarray before, until he and Sarcyst arrived, and showed us an alternative to following Shockwave, which was something we were afraid to do. Shockwave's...a revolutionary. I'm not. I...I just can't leave here.”

    “But he treats you so badly!” Nightwind said. “Look, you're confined to quarters!”

    Scourge looked up sharply. “How'd you know that?”

    “C'mon, I had to go through ten codes on the door panel out there to get in here,” she said. “It's pretty obvious. Why'd he confine you?”

    Scourge suddenly looked down again. “I...miscalculated,” he said.

    “On what?”

    “I...I lost a team I was leading,” Scourge said.

    “Lost them?” Nightwind said. “What do you mean?”

    “The...the Deathcons surprised us. Oh, thank Primus, 'Wind, that you've never seen them in action. They just...slaughtered their own allies, like they were animals or something. They...enjoyed it. They love to kill. I had twenty troops under my command. Twenty young Decepticon soldiers, and my Sweep. I and my Sweep survived...”

    Nightwind stared. “I--I didn't know. You don't usually lead teams.”

    “Well, I'm a new Decepticon,” Scourge said. “I'm one of Unicron's creations. I have to be high in rank. I'm important now. I'm not one of Galvatron's soldiers anymore; I'm a right-hand man. I get special privileges...or whatever you prefer to call them.”

    Nightwind was quiet for a moment. “Skywarp...” she said. “You're--”

    “Stop calling me that!” Scourge snapped suddenly. “I'm not Skywarp anymore! Can't you understand that? Skywarp...Skywarp's dead, just like Starscream and Thundercracker. I'm Scourge now. I have to do what my commander tells me to do. I...I should report your presence...”

    “Fine,” Nightwind said, with a bitter tinge to her voice. “Report me. Throw me back into one of your dungeons. I've been there before.”

    Scourge looked up, slight pain in his eyes. He didn't need to be reminded. “I know,” he said. “I'm sorry. I won't report you. But...leave. Just go. Now, before someone finds out you're here.”

    “Sky--Scourge,” Nightwind said quietly, “this isn't what you want. You want peace as much as I do. Come on, join the Autocons. I did; Spade did--uh, sorta. So did a lot of other Decepticons. You know the Decepticon empire can't last forever. Empires never do. The Decepticon army is already crumbling. Unicron--and the Matrix--dealt the final blow; things will only get better from here...”

    Scourge looked at her. “Go. Now,” he said. “before I change my mind. Go!”

    Nightwind stared at him, letting all her pain and anger show. “I thought you were still Skywarp,” she said. “I thought that personality, that humor, was still in you. I thought you were still my friend.” She looked directly into his eyes. “I guess I was wrong.”

    Scourge looked at the floor. Nightwind turned and walked out the door, which swished and shut behind her.

    Scourge staggered slightly, mumbled something, and sat on the floor, hugging his knees.


    -45-
    Preparations had begun in earnest at the Decepticon Royal Palace. Hundreds of workers swarmed about the Palace like ants around an anthill, repairing minor damage left over from years of wear and boosting the Palace's defenses.

    When viewed from above, the Royal Palace most closely resembled Autobot City on Earth. The only obvious difference was the high, sharp, angled walls that served as the Palace's perimeter, and the drab grey color of the base, as opposed to the more benevolent beige of Autobot City.

    Since it had become apparent that the Royal Palace was to be Galvatron's target in the following day's battle, Shockwave had ordered nearly all available Decepticons to help repair and prepare the base for the attack. Shockwave knew very well how many times various cities, most notably Autobot City on Earth, had been swiftly defeated due to lack of preparation.

    The majority of engineers in the Palace had been set to work on boosting the output of the force shield that surrounded the Royal Palace. When operating at minimum levels, the shield could withstand a full-scale onslaught of enemy artillery. At maximum levels, the shield could withstand the impact of a nuclear warhead with minor damage to the Palace, though the shield would quickly weaken after such an attempt.

    But Shockwave wasn't taking any chances. Galvatron had many powerful Decepticons behind him, and who knew how many weapons. So Shockwave had assigned the engineers to the task of boosting the shield's power to seventy-five percent above the theoretical maximum. Of course, they had quickly said this was an impossible task, but Shockwave had worked out the mathematics much earlier on, and knew it had a high probability of being possible. He assured them they could succeed, and managed to get them to attempt it without major argument. Shockwave suspected Megatron would have had to make an example of one of the valuable engineers in order to get his point across.

    The rest of the workers and technicians repaired the weapons that had been damaged in battles decades, or even centuries, before. There was a great deal of damage and wear all throughout the Palace, and Shockwave had been surprised to discover how little care had been taken to keep the Palace in working condition. Apparently, Megatron had left behind only a tiny amount of Decepticons to keep the Palace in order, and those Decepticons had abandoned the Palace ages ago.

    But now they were in quite a rush, and Decepticons ran through hallways, ducking this way and that, barking orders to one another, fixing this and that. It seemed as if everyone was well motivated in their goals, and they all seemed to actually enjoy working together, despite the knowledge that they might very well die in less than fifteen hours.

    Shockwave walked through the halls of the Palace, observing the work crews, and nodding slightly at salutes as he walked by. He was tempted to tell them that salutes were unnecessary, but he decided it was better to keep a modicum of respect among the ranks.

    Suddenly, a small Decepticon scrambled up to him. It was Rumble, freshly repaired and ready to join the following day's battle. As Shockwave recalled, the Decepticon had been set to work on the walls, where his pile drivers could be out to use in placing reinforcements for the walls. For a moment, Shockwave puzzled over the odd choice by Rumble to remain with Shockwave's group while Soundwave, the transformer whom Rumble usually remained within, had defected to Galvatron's group.

    “Boss!” Rumble yelled over the din of plasma torches and pressure drivers. “I've been lookin' all over for ya! Have ya heard yet?”

    “Heard what?” Shockwave asked, ducking slightly as several workers carried a large steel beam down the corridor past them.

    “We just intercepted another transmission from one of the other Decepticons--I mean Galvatron's Decepticons--I mean, oh, whatever, you know! The bad guys just sent another transmission!”

    “So?” Shockwave asked as he glanced at the technicians working in the corridor. “They send lots of transmissions.”

    “Yeah, but how many say that Galv's gonna attack us early?”

    Shockwave directed his full attention toward the little Decepticon, alarmed. “What did you say?” he asked. It was a useless question, since his memory bank could recall the entire statement, including context and intonation, and play it back without error, but it had been phrased oddly and might not mean what Shockwave suspected it did.

    “I said that Sarcyst and Galvatron and their troops are gonna attack us early! The transmission said that the time's been changed! They'll be here in four hours!”

    Shockwave allowed this information its ten seconds to sink in, as he perceived the sentence, analyzed it, and instantly began to adapt to the new knowledge. “This is unexpected,” he said. “And, unfortunately, not allowed for in my plans. I did not think Galvatron would risk an earlier attack. We will have to step up repair efforts.” He walked over to an access panel and ordered up some information. “The force shield strength has been surpassed by forty-eight percent,” he said, thinking. “If I help them, perhaps it can be finished in less time. Rumble,” he said, turning to the smaller Decepticon, “contact Autobot Headquarters and inform them of this new information. Also, contact our reinforcements and inform them. We will need to be prepared.” A though suddenly occurred to Shockwave. “Perhaps we can catch them unprepared. If Galvatron still thinks like Megatron would...he'll begin with a frontal assault, with a large group of troops...”

    Rumble just nodded and ran off to do his duty while Shockwave headed toward the shield generator, thinking intently.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “What?” Ultra Magnus yelled, jumping out of his chair.

    “We just received word, sir,” said the lieutenant nervously, “that Sarcyst's forces are now going to--”

    “Yes, I heard,” Magnus said, a little too forcefully. He faced the lieutenant. “I'm sorry, Rax,” he quickly amended.

    “Quite all right, sir,” Rax replied. “It's understandable.”

    Ultra Magnus nodded. “Yes...but now I'm in an even worse position than I was before. I have to decide--now--whether or not I want to help Shockwave.” He looked at the lieutenant. “Get me all my top officers...including Kup,” he said. “I want to discuss this with them.”

    “Yes, sir,” Rax said. “By the way, sir, I don't know if you were informed, but Kup has recovered. First Aid discovered a Mindebian mind alterer imbedded in Kup's main cerebral circuitry.”

    “A Mindebian mind alterer?” Magnus said incredulously. “Aren't they outlawed?”

    “Yes, sir,” Rax said, “but it appears Battleram knew how to get his hands on one.”

    “Or two,” Magnus said quietly, as a thought occurred to him.

    “What?”

    “Nothing. Perhaps now we can get information from Kup...”

    “I'm afraid not, sir,” Rax said. “Once the mind alterer's simple computer realized it had been discovered, it erased all memory of the period of time between placement of the device and removal. It also self-destructed-we barely got it out of Kup's head in time.”

    “How convenient,” Magnus muttered. “But Kup is otherwise in decent health?”

    “Yes, sir,” Rax replied.

    “Good. Then get him down here with the others. As fast as possible.”

    Half an hour later, the entire command structure of the Autobot division on Cybertron--not a large one--was sitting around Ultra Magnus' office.

    “What's up?” Springer asked as he took a seat in a corner to the far left of Magnus' desk. Arcee was seated across from Magnus and to the right, Jazz on the left, a disgruntled Kup in the far right corner, and the new security chief, Jetfire, seated between Springer and Kup.

    “The ceiling,” Ultra Magnus replied to Springer's question. He surprised everyone, including himself. He had no idea why he had said that. It certainly wasn't the time for humor. Besides, it was the stupidest joke he had ever told.

    “Ahem; never mind. Here's the deal: we just received a transmission from the Royal Palace. It appears that Shockwave has discovered that Sarcyst's Decepticons are planning to attack us earlier than expected.”

    “How much earlier?” Jazz asked.

    Magnus glanced at the chronometer on his desk. “Oh, a little over three hours.”

    Springer started in his chair. “Three hours? I thought they had at least half a day--”

    “Well, they don't,” Ultra Magnus said. “Apparently Galvatron--Sarcyst, whoever--has had a change of plans. They're attacking in less than three hours, and we have to decide if we want to assist Shockwave.”

    “We have limited forces,” Jetfire said. “We have barely four hundred troops here. Sarcyst has hundreds, maybe thousands, as does Shockwave. Shockwave doesn't have two thousand troops, of course; he may have two thousand Decepticons behind him, but only a tiny number of them would be troops. Still, commander, this could--quite easily--be a trap.”

    Ultra Magnus hadn't considered this. It actually did make sense; the Decepticons feigned anarchy, Shockwave took command and created an alliance with the Autobots, then Galvatron shows up and gathers up his own troops, with a plan to attack Shockwave. Shockwave asks for help...the Autobots agree, and are promptly slaughtered upon arrival by both forces...

    Ultra Magnus shook his head. “I don't know if I can accept that,” he said.

    “But it fits perfectly!” Kup interjected. “It's sneaky, it's conniving, it's evil. It fits the Decepticons all the way.”

    Ultra Magnus turned and faced Kup for the first time since Kup's repair. For whatever reason, the older Autobot backed off and looked away. “Well, that's--that's my opinion,” he muttered.

    “So noted,” Magnus said. “Kup--tell me. Do you remember anything at all about your--stay with Battleram?”

    Kup looked at him. “Not much. Just--just emotions. Anger. Hatred. Pleasure at the thought of--of--” he broke off.

    “Of what?” Magnus pushed.

    “Of--the thought of--killing you,” he said. “I--I didn't--”

    “I know,” Magnus said. “It's important, though. That means Battleram is against us. Do you remember if he was planning to join this battle?”

    Kup seemed to search his thoughts. “I--I'm not sure. He was planning something...something against you. All I remember is hatred of you, and...and all Autobots--like you--” Kup put his hands over his face, slumping slightly. It was a show of weakness Magnus suspected he would never see again.

    Magnus nodded grimly. “Don't worry about it,” he said. “Well, we certainly have a dilemma in front of us. If Shockwave indeed battles Galvatron and we don't help, then there is a great likelihood that our allies will lose, and then Galvatron will proceed to crush us with his forces, which we could not resist. However, if we do go, and it turns out it was a plot the whole time, we are placed in a...”

    ”...A very bad situation,” Springer finished. “Boy, it's times like this I wish Prime--any Prime--was here.”

    “That reminds me,” Magnus said, “I wonder how Spade is doing.”

    “If he even went after Rodimus,” Kup muttered.

    “Oh, I believe he did,” Magnus said. “He's not the take-the-money-and-run type. Besides, we tagged him, didn't we? With the transmitter, when we brought him in?”

    “You mean that one?” Springer asked, pointing at the front of Magnus' desk.

    “What?” Magnus said, peering over the desk. Sure enough, there was the tiny black transmitter, stuck to the front of the desk.

    “Spade would never wander around with a transmitter stuck to him,” Springer said, “but that doesn't mean he's not planning on doing his job. What if someone else got hold of the frequency? It would be pretty bad for his mission, wouldn't it?”

    “I suppose so,” Ultra Magnus said. “Well, scrap that. Anyway, getting back to the matter at hand...this battle. Any other opinions?”

    “I'm not sure about it...” Jazz said. “I mean, we'd be going in with few forces...remember, we don't even have the Dinobots.”

    Suddenly, the little thing that had been nagging Magnus for the last hour snapped into his mind. “The Dinobots--!” he said. He turned to the comm panel. “Rax, could you get a hold of Perceptor and send him in here as soon as this meeting is adjourned?”

    “Yes, sir,” the lieutenant's voice replied over the line.

    “What's that about?” Springer asked.

    “Just a hunch,” he said. “Never mind about it. Now, as you were saying, Jazz...you're right. We have few major fighters, besides Omega Supreme. As teams go, we have the Aerialbots and the Protectobots, plus Sky Lynx...I don't suppose Metroplex has his transformation cog yet?”

    Springer shook his head slowly. “Nope. Besides that, we couldn't get him here in three hours.”

    “And for the same reason, the Junkions couldn't help, either,” Arcee said. “Junk is too far--at least, they couldn't get enough troops here in time.”

    “Besides that,” Kup said, “this much I do know: several of your warriors have defected to Battleram's side. I have vague impressions of Battleram gathering troops.”

    “Yes, we know,” Ultra Magnus said grimly. “We think that's where the Dinobots went. Beyond that, we've steadily been losing several of our better fighters. It's an unpleasant situation,” he said. “If we assist Shockwave and they betray us, we have no hope of winning. Even if they are our allies, we have little hope of success, what with Galvatron's strategic knowledge and good fighting forces. And Shockwave doesn't have thousands behind him; he's got maybe one thousand troops, at most. The rest are spread out across Cybertron, many of them technicians and engineers, not warriors.”

    “So it will be about even,” Springer said.

    “Yes...and we have a few aces up our sleeve,” Magnus said. “I've gone ahead and set some things up...but I have not yet decided whether we're going to put them into motion. That has to be decided here, by us.

    “Personally, I'm inclined to help. Although Jetfire's suggestion of a trap is perfectly logical, I'm inclined not to believe it. Call it...a hunch. But I don't know about the rest of you.”

    “I'm for it,” Springer said. “I think we can beat Galv and his troops.”

    “I guess,” Arcee said. “I don't think we can really refuse. If Galvatron and Shockwave really are working together, then they'll probably destroy us sometime down the line anyway. Better to take the gamble now.”

    “Jazz?” Magnus said.

    “Well, when you put it that way...” he said. “I agree with Arcee.”

    “Kup?”

    “Against,” the Autobot said simply.

    “Jetfire?”

    “I still think it's a trap,” he said.

    “Well, four to two, in favor of helping Shockwave. Well, you all have to prepare for this. Dismissed.”

    Springer hung back for a moment. “Yes, Springer?” Ultra Magnus asked.

    “You're sure about this, right?” he asked.

    “No,” Magnus said truthfully. “I'm only taking this vote as part of my decision, really. I may yet call it off...Jetfire could easily be right, you know; this does smell like a trap.”

    Springer nodded and walked out the door.


    -46-
    Battleram paced back and forth as he waited for the last member of his group to arrive. He had assembled the group of his best soldiers nearly an hour before, and now, they were still waiting for Kup. He decided it was hopeless.

    He stopped pacing and faced the small group. “Forget it,” he said. “He's not coming. He's been discovered.”

    Most of the group bowed their heads slightly, then looked up expectantly at their leader.

    Battleram appraised them. Roadbuster and Whirl, his right and left hand men, stood next to each other, giving Battleram their utmost attention. Already, Battleram could tell that the pair was the best of his troops. When he had found them, they had been listless; they had had nothing to believe in, since they had spent their entire lives on meager duties on Cybertron, never allowed to fight with their fellow Autobots, although the two were clearly excellent warriors. Battleram saw it as yet another failure in Optimus Prime's history of leadership. He had never liked Optimus, and had always known the Autobots deserved a better leader. And Ultra Magnus was certainly no better. He was even worse.

    But Roadbuster and Whirl served Battleram faithfully, and Battleram was sure both would gladly give their lives for him, and probably would. He would give each of them their own troops to command in the battle, however.

    There were only three others he considered high enough to command troops in the battle. Broadside, the Autobot triple-changer who could be a jet, aircraft carrier or in robot form, sat in the corner of the room, looking relaxed, and waiting for his leader to speak. Warpath, the short robot who transformed into a small red tank, stood to the left of Battleram, looking quite impatient. He clearly wanted to get the meeting over with and get to the battle.

    And then there was Grimlock. The Dinobot commander was leaning against a wall, looking troubled, as usual. Battleram still wasn't totally confident about Grimlock's state of mind, and that angered him, though he held his emotions in check. He couldn't comprehend why the Dinobot was having such a problem with what they were doing. Of all Autobots, with the possible exception of Kup or the late Ironhide, Battleram would have expected Grimlock to protest the alliance most of all.

    But it didn't matter. Grimlock's mind was firmly under Battleram's control, thanks to Mindebian technology. Battleram tried to assure himself that Grimlock would do as he was ordered.

    “All right,” he said. “We just intercepted a transmission from the Royal Palace to Autobot Headquarters. Looks like Galvatron's decided to attack early. In about three hours, to be exact.”

    “Three hours?” Broadside exclaimed. “Jeez! There's barely any time to prepare--!”

    “Well, I say we just go and wham! bang! those Decepticreeps!” Warpath said enthusiastically.

    “Yeah, we can take 'em,” Roadbuster said. “No problem. We've got at least six or seven hundred behind us, I think.”

    “About that,” Battleram said. “In any case, it's more than enough. We do have one slight disadvantage; none of our number are hidden in the Autocon ranks. But that doesn't matter. We'll simply attack them after the battle is under way.”

    “Is Ultra Magnus assisting Shockwave?” Grimlock asked, looking up from what Battleram had thought to be an inattentive revery.

    Battleram eyed the Dinobot carefully. “I don't know,” he admitted. “If so, they haven't said. That makes it unlikely, unless Magnus is planning some kind of a surprise attack, which I doubt. He's not that stupid, and probably realizes how open he is to attack, if this is the trap I think it is.”

    Grimlock took this in, then resumed looking at the floor. Battleram studied the Dinobot for a moment, then returned his gaze to the other Autobots in the room. “Each of you will have your own strike force,” he said. “Whirl, you will lead the first air squadron; Broadside, you've got the second. Roadbuster and Warpath, you have the two ground assault teams. Grimlock, you've got the Dinobots.

    “This is the current plan of attack,” he said, walking over to a small pedestal in the center of the room that rose to his waist. He pressed several buttons and a bright blue holographic image of the Royal Palace appeared, complete with its surrounding area and the predicted positions of various forces.

    He pointed to several positions in the sky above the image, his hand passing through the blue light. “Whirl, your squadron will attack first, with a divebomb to the Royal Palace. You will attempt to take out any cannons that are remaining, as well as their operators and any other Deceps that happen to be standing in the line of fire. Then Broadside's squadron comes in and strafes everyone below, using energy weapons and missiles to take out as many targets as possible. Whirl's squadron will have the sharpshooters, while Broadside's will have the big guns.

    “Then Roadbuster and Warpath come in for the clean-up. Roadbuster, you'll attack from the east end of the palace, where Broadside's team will have taken care of most of the participants of the main battle there. Warpath, your team will come around to the west end of the palace, and finish off stray battles. Then both ground teams will storm the Palace and finish off everyone within.”

    “And the Dinobots?” Roadbuster asked.

    “They're strictly backup,” Battleram said, glancing at the brooding Grimlock. “They'll come in if the action gets too hot to handle.”

    “What about the shield?” Whirl asked. “Doesn't the Palace have a force shield around it?”

    “I'm sure that will be taken care of long before we get there,” Battleram said. “Galvatron probably has troops within the Palace. Besides that, if this is what I think it is, Shockwave won't even bother to put up the shield. I'm fairly convinced this is a trap. If it is indeed a trap, then our task will be all the easier. Once Shockwave and Galvatron see Ultra Magnus isn't coming to save his 'allies', they'll probably gather up all their forces to go attack Autobot Headquarters. If so, then they'll be unprepared for our attack.” Battleram smiled grimly. “Ultra Magnus will thank us when all of this is over.”

    There were nods of assent from all except Grimlock, who was still motionless. Battleram couldn't imagine what the Dinobot found so interesting; what could such a feeble mind be thinking about? Probably trying to figure out what he was supposed to do in the battle, because he didn't quite understand regular speech. The others left the room, talking excitedly about the coming event. All except Grimlock, of course, who didn't move.

    “Grimlock,” Battleram said gently, with only the slightest hint of irritation in his voice, “the meeting is over. Leave.”

    Grimlock slowly looked up. “Yes, me know,” he said. “Me sorry. Me just thinking.”

    “About what?” Battleram asked carefully.

    “Nothing,” Grimlock said. He changed the subject. “So we Dinobots are backup? Don't have to come in unless it gets dangerous?”

    “I'm afraid so,” Battleram said. “Disappointed? I know how much you Dinobots love fighting.”

    “Yes...disappointed,” Grimlock agreed. “Me no fight. Okay. So where we go?”

    “You'll just be over here, watching,” Battleram said, indicating a remote spot near the Palace, off the battlefield. “You'll just barely be in sight, to scare what Decepticons you can.”

    Grimlock nodded. “Battleram...” he said uncertainly. “What happen if Ultra Magnus do show up?”

    Battleram glared hard at the Dinobot. “Nothing will change,” he said. “No matter what happens--even if Shockwave and his troops are really fighting Galvatron's--nothing changes. Everything goes according to plan.”

    Grimlock nodded, and quickly turned and walked out the door.

    Battleram stared at the door, his mind conjuring up thoughts of Grimlock meeting a grisly end during the battle. Hopefully, the idiot would take on someone bigger than he was. Battleram certainly hoped so; it would put an unpleasant variable out of his plans forever, while insuring the other Dinobots' loyalty. Of course, Battleram could always arrange for someone a tad bigger than Grimlock to attack the Dinobot...

    Battleram turned back to the holographic image and resumed studying it.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Peering at his circular monitor, the technician confirmed what Shockwave had already suspected. “They're on their way, sir,” he said.

    Shockwave looked up from his work on the shield generator. “They are right on time,” he said. “As I suspected. Very well. It is time for all of you to leave.”

    All the technicians and engineers looked at him. “Wh-what?” Karn, the chief engineer, asked. “B-but, Commander, we have to help you finish--”

    “The modifications I am about to add may cause harm,” Shockwave said indifferently. “There may be an accident.”

    “What are you going to do?” Karn asked.

    “I am going to attempt to boost the shield's output by two hundred percent,” Shockwave replied simply.

    Karn's optical sensors widened. “Are you insane?” he nearly yelled. “You'll destroy the entire generator!”

    “It is a calculated risk,” Shockwave said as he returned to his work.

    “But--but--!”

    “Leave,” Shockwave said in a voice that sounded like stone. Karn hesitated, then quickly ushered the group out the door, glancing back once at his leader. Then he shut the door behind him, and activated the emergency shield around the door, in case Shockwave's attempt failed.

    Shockwave continued working.


    -47-
    From a distance, they looked like a massive dark cloud far in the horizon. Of course, in the controlled atmosphere of Cybertron, a cloud was impossible, so anyone who caught a glimpse of the dark shape would know exactly what was approaching.

    Galvatron himself flew at the very tip of the mass, arms outstretched in front of him, fusion cannon already searching for targets. Slightly behind and to the left of him, Soundwave flew silently, scanning intently for any sign of attack or stray transmissions.

    The huge group of Decepticons flew in an oval shape, nearly a kilometer wide with Galvatron leading the small initial strike squad in the front, made mostly of Decepticons whom Galvatron considered mere cannon fodder, with the exception of Scourge and the Sweeps. At the top of the formation, Cyclonus' squad kept an intent lookout for any signs of danger. Cyclonus' squad was the second assault team, and would strike in follow-up to Galvatron's attack. In the center and rear of the formation flew most of the big guns, the heavy hitters who would service mostly as backup. On the outskirts of the formation flew the scanners, the smaller, more maneuverable craft outfitted with the major scanning equipment needed for clean strikes; the sharpshooters.

    They would strike in four parts. First, Galvatron and his squadron would batter the force shield until it was destroyed, after which the Palace would undoubtedly open fire with every weapon they had, and at which point nearly every Decepticon in residence there would attack. Needless to say, Galvatron fully expected the entire squadron to perish early on. After the shield was down, Cyclonus' group would attack from the side, blitzing the enemy Decepticons and taking out as many as they could. At the same time, the sharpshooters would attack the Palace, taking out the stationary cannons and various grounded Decepticons. Finally, the heavy hitters would attack and finish off all who remained.

    Galvatron was fully confident in his plan. He wasn't quite as confident in his soldiers, but that didn't matter. All they had to do was follow his plan, and he would succeed, although they would probably die for their cause. At least they would meet an end worthy of a Decepticon, which was more than Galvatron could say for their enemies.

    Abruptly, Soundwave called out, “We are approaching the Royal Palace, Galvatron. We will reach it in five minutes.”

    The Decepticon's distinctly digitized voice cut through the air, and most of the idle excited chatter among the massive army quickly died away. All turned their attention to their leader.

    “Excellent,” Galvatron said. “We are rapidly approaching history, Decepticons. This day will live in infamy as the day the noble Decepticons crushed their traitorous foes. I trust that each and every one of you will give your life, if necessary, for your cause. Believe me, it will not be in vain, for after this battle, I shall erect a monument with the names of all those who died fighting by my side!” It was a lie, but it would insure that any remaining skeptics would now follow his every command.

    Slowly, the Royal Palace appeared on the horizon. Galvatron regarded it grimly; the last time he had been in the Palace had been nearly a month before, when he had executed the traitorous Starscream in the outdoor Hall of Leaders. Now, the Palace appeared to him as a defiant enemy, rising high into the sky, as if pulling itself up to its full height. But it was an enemy that knew nothing of battle, and an enemy that would be soon vanquished.

    Next to him, Soundwave emitted an sound of puzzlement. “Galvatron...” he said, “I'm not reading anything on the force shield.”

    Galvatron turned to stare at him. “What?” he exclaimed.

    Soundwave appeared to be trying to decide whether his scanners were defective. “There appears to be significant damage to the Palace's shield generator. It looks as if someone was trying to boost the output of the force shield beyond its limits, and the generator exploded under the strain.”

    As Galvatron took this new information in, a grin that chilled Soundwave to the microcircuit spread across his leader's face. “The fools!” Galvatron laughed. “In attempting to save themselves, they have sealed their fate!”

    As they reached the outskirts of the Palace, Galvatron stopped and hovered. “Squadron one!” he bellowed. “The shield is down! Our enemies have accidently destroyed it!” He laughed, and several snickers sounded throughout the formation. “Squadron one, you may attack!”

    Enthusiastically, several dozen Decepticons broke from the formation, circled around to the left, and charged directly towards the front of the Palace, their weapons powering up to fire. Galvatron's smile became impossibly huge as he watched his troops valiantly dive into battle.

    Then he blinked as several dozen huge explosions abruptly obscured his vision. When his vision cleared, he saw the entire first squadron's remains spiraling towards the ground, for they had impacted against a force shield that had been boosted by two hundred percent.

    Even before the charred remains of the squadron hit the ground, hundreds of Autocon Decepticons came pouring out of nearby buildings and other structures, opening fire on Galvatron's army.

    Galvatron roared in absolute rage at being deceived and taken by surprise. He began firing wildly at the approaching enemy Decepticons, not caring how many of his own troops he obliterated in the process.

    All this took place in ten seconds. In ten mere seconds, Galvatron's entire plan fizzled to nothingness as the two enemy groups swarmed over one another.

    The battle had begun.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Shockwave grunted with satisfaction, something he rarely did, as he watched the enemy ships collide with the invisible shield. He actually came within centimeters of laughing as he zoomed the camera angle in on the expression on Galvatron's face. It felt better than good to have taken so “superior” a commander as Galvatron by such surprise. Hiding the shield and making it appear as if the shield had been destroyed had been ten times easier than Shockwave had ever thought possible; Galvatron's ego had done the rest. It was too bad laughing was illogical; Shockwave suspected he might have enjoyed it.

    Now, Shockwave's own troops were pouring out of their hiding places, striking at their enemies when they were unprepared. Of course, Galvatron's troops quickly adapted to their situation, and the two sides balanced out.

    He inspected the room he was standing in, which had been dubbed “the Bridge” by its early operators countless millennia before. It was the nerve center of the Royal Palace, the command room where every defense function of the base could be controlled. But unlike the bridges of starships or other large vessels, the bridge of the Royal Palace was not on top of the Palace, nor was it on any high structure. Quite the opposite, in fact; the Bridge was nestled deep in the very bowels of the station, nearly a kilometer below the surface of Cybertron. It took nearly three minutes to reach the Bridge by turbolift. The rectangular room was not very large; it was about a hundred feet across and eighty feet wide, and only fifty feet tall, sometimes forcing Shockwave to duck when a particular piece of equipment jutted out too far. In case of emergency, three separate walls of titanium shielding could slide and lock into place, completely isolating the Bridge, which could then survive even if the Royal Palace was directly struck by several nuclear weapons. The Bridge had an energon supply that could sustain an entire typical Bridge staff for nearly a year. In case of emergency, the Bridge was also equipped with three small fusion bombs, which could be detonated on command of the Decepticon leader and would destroy the entire Bridge, as well as the vast amount of data contained within and the area surrounding the Bridge for a radius of five kilometers. Shockwave spoke to the technician sitting in the chair in front of him. “Initiate defense transformation,” he ordered.

    The technician did as he was told, his fingers moving over the control board faster than any human eye could have tracked. A low rumble shook the room as massive gears shifted throughout the Palace. Outside, the outer wall surrounding the Palace quickly grew to nearly double its original height, and all main doors and cargo areas slammed shut with several thick metal barriers. Several thin sections of the inside walls slid up and back, forming a semi-roof over the top of the Palace. Then the various stationary weapons extended from their thin slots, and began to select targets and fire.

    The door behind Shockwave slid open, and he glanced to see who had entered. He did a double-take.

    “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

    “What do you think?” the Decepticon asked. “I came to help out.”

    Shockwave faced the young Decepticon. “Why?”

    “Because this is what I believe in,” Nightwind replied. “I'll go out and battle, if you want, but I figured since I have some knowledge of technical gizmos and stuff, I might be more able to help out here, since I'm not much of a fighter...”

    Shockwave relented. “Yes, yes, I'm sorry,” he said. “Of course you can help. We need someone to manage weapons station five. Take your place, soldier.”

    Nightwind moved over to the post. Shockwave turned back to the viewscreen, where Galvatron's army was desperately trying to regain control of the situation.

    Not this time, Megatron, Shockwave thought. I won't let you win again.

    The battle continued.


    -48-
    Hot Rod clenched his teeth. For some odd reason, something inside him was pushing him, ever so gently. Something was telling him that it was time to execute his plan. He had waited long enough. Stal was obviously going nowhere, though the bounty hunter was just as obviously not happy about that. Hot Rod had spent nearly two weeks in the dank cavern, and he could stand no more. It was time to escape.

    The plan was simple enough. It mostly depended on what type of energon dispenser Stal had. If it was the older model Hot Rod suspected it was, then it would be a simple matter. However, the newer models were rigged with special emergency mechanisms that wouldn't allow him to execute his plan. Then he would have to fight the S.A.R., but there was only one, so he figured he could take it on. Of course, he'd also have to fight his way past the two Sharkticons and Stal, in all likelihood...but he would have to eventually, any way one looked at it. It might as well be now.

    Stal was intent on some report on the computer screen. Now that Hot Rod looked at him, he realized Stal was engrossed. Peering at the small screen, Hot Rod thought he saw battling shapes, but he couldn't be sure. It didn't matter; he just needed to know that Stal was busy.

    The S.A.R. was watching Hot Rod, but it was a mere robot, and wouldn't have any idea what Hot Rod was doing, especially since it thought Hot Rod was unarmed. Hot Rod slowly inched toward the energon dispenser, ever so slowly, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Stal, for his part, ignored Hot Rod completely.

    Reaching the energon dispenser, Hot Rod raised his bound arms slightly above the opening on top of the cubical device, so the arm cannons mounted on the sides of his forearms pointed into the hole. He took a deep breath, crossed his fingers, and fired.

    The result was even better than he expected. Instantly, excess energon exploded from the machine, connected with the energon chains around his arms, and the chains instantly overloaded. Then the entire dispenser blew up, hurling Hot Rod several meters away and out of the instantaneous fire of the battle droid.

    Stal instantly whirled, blaster drawn, but Hot Rod was already up and firing. He clipped Stal's shoulder and thigh, knocking the bounty hunter into his computer, which broke slightly under the weight, causing a lot of electricity to suddenly overload Stal's circuitry.

    By that time, the S.A.R. had again locked onto its target. Hot Rod dived behind a laboratory table for cover as fusion blasts erupted all around him. The table was quickly and efficiently obliterated, but Hot Rod found time to transform and drive out from behind the table. Before the S.A.R. could react, Hot Rod circled around the robot and slammed into it at nearly a hundred miles an hour, knocking the big droid to the ground. Then he transformed and viciously attacked the robot, blasting away at its main section until it was reduced to a convulsing mass of scrap.

    Suddenly, there was a gigantic crash behind Hot Rod. The Autobot spun, and instantly his heart sank.

    The biggest, meanest-looking tank Hot Rod had ever seen had bashed through the wall and was heading right for Hot Rod.

    “It's too bad,” Stal said. He glanced over at the tank. “I should have told you I had one of these. It might have made you think twice. Alas, it is too late. Autobot, meet Destroid.” Stal smiled slightly. “Now, I'll have to kill you.” Stal had to speak a little louder than usual, because a curious, high-pitched sound had suddenly started, apparently coming from somewhere in the base and growing louder by the minute. Hot Rod peered over his shoulder at the dead S.A.R., wondering if it was causing the noise.

    “It's a shame,” Stal said. “You really could've helped me a lot. We could have been allies, even. Partners in crime.” The bounty hunter smiled again at the thought. The high-pitched noise was growing quite loud by now, and Stal glanced around, trying to find the source of the sound. Seeing nothing, he shrugged and turned back to Hot Rod, having to speak over the growing sound. “I'll just tell my client that you tried to attack me, and I killed you in self-defense. I'm sure he won't care.” Stal smiled. “Good-bye, Autobot.”

    The huge, dark blue Destroid aimed its main turret at Hot Rod. Hot Rod stared defiantly at the barrel, choosing to face death rather than plead for his life. For a moment, he actually smiled--the irony was complete. Hot Rod had defeated Galvatron inside Unicron, then had become a Prime and defeated Unicron, a planet-sized robot monster, and now he was about to be killed by some meager, mindless robot barely a month later!

    Suddenly, the high-pitched sound reached its peak and two huge heat-seeking missiles tore around the spiral staircase in the corner of the room and impacted against the Destroid, instantly destroying the rear section.

    Hot Rod blinked, and heard another loud sound, like a jet flying nearby. Then he swore he heard someone transform, but he looked around everywhere, and couldn't see where the missiles had come from or any sign of a transformer. Stal, for his part, looked frantically around in shock, trying to comprehend the previous five seconds.

    The Destroid recovered, and started to aim its barrel at Hot Rod again. Suddenly, the barrel jerked to the left, as if it had been yanked by something. Hot Rod stared, fascinated. The barrel suddenly jerked to the right, then the left, as if some ghost were attacking it. The barrel went back and forth for about ten seconds, then it ruptured and tore off. For a moment, the barrel was suspended horizontally in mid-air. Then it swung up, turned vertical, and plunged into the Destroid's midsection, rupturing the tank and destroying its main computer.

    Hot Rod and Stal stared at the tank, which appeared to have decided life wasn't worth it and committed suicide--by using telekinesis. There was a sound like someone landing on the concrete floor from a jump, then the air next to the shattered Destroid shimmered for a moment, like a hologram. Then a shape began to take form, and abruptly Hot Rod found himself staring at...a Decepticon?

    Before Hot Rod could even begin to comprehend what was going on, the Decepticon whirled and fired an arm blaster at Stal, sending the robot flying back and smashing into the wall behind him, where he slumped to the floor, unconscious.

    Hot Rod's mind was in turmoil. He had no idea what the hell was going on. The room began to spin; everything became a blur. He passed out on the floor.

    He awoke several minutes later to find himself staring in the face of a Decepticon.

    He leaped back in surprise, aiming his arm blasters at the enemy, who, for his part, looked quite amused.

    “What--what's so funny?” Hot Rod demanded.

    “Nightwind said you were kind of uptight at times,” the Decepticon said with a grin. “Sheez, I save your life, and this is the thanks I get?”

    Hot Rod took this in, trying to think. He finally came to a decision; slowly, he lowered his arm blasters. “Who--who are you?” he demanded. “How do you know Nightwind?”

    “How do I--she never told you about me? C'mon, you know me,” the Decepticon said. “Don't you remember?”

    “Not--not exactly,” Hot Rod said uncertainly. The Decepticon did look a tad familiar...

    “I'm a detective. That help ya?”

    A name leaped into Hot Rod's mind. “Spade!” he said. “Spade! You're Spade! I've heard of you...and Nightwind mentioned you one or twice...”

    “Well, I'm glad she wasn't totally embarrassed by her knowing me,” Spade said, the grin still transfixed on his face. “You look mighty restless there, kid. I take it you want to go help your pals on Cybertron.”

    “Wha--what do you mean?” Hot Rod asked. “Stal never told me anything.”

    “Not even about the alliance?”

    “Well, I heard about that. But what's this about--”

    “Oh,” Spade said. “Well, Galvatron formed another division of what he calls 'true' Decepticons, and he just attacked the Decepticon Royal Palace, which is run by your Decepticon allies,” Spade said. “And I believe Ultra Magnus has plans to assist them.”

    Hot Rod started towards the stairs. “Then we've got to get over there!” he said.

    “Woah, woah,” Spade said. “Aren't you forgetting something?”

    “What--? Oh, yeah,” Hot Rod said, rather sheepishly.

    Spade walked over to Stal's unconscious body, and yanked the Matrix off the small chain Stal used to wear the object around his neck. He tossed the Matrix to Hot Rod.

    “Time to Prime,” Spade cracked.

    Hot Rod nodded, and opened his chest panel. He carefully placed the Matrix within. Suddenly, blue light burst from his body, and he was transformed from Hot Rod into Rodimus Prime.

    “Cool,” Rodimus said, looking down. “I feel much better now.”

    Spade grinned. “Good. Let's go.”

    “What about him?” Rodimus said, indicating Stal.

    Spade smirked. “I've got a friend nearby who's gonna turn him in,” Spade said. “Don't worry about that. C'mon, I've got a ship waiting for us. Newly repaired, too. Let's go.”

    They took off up the stairs. It was slow going; Rodimus was stiff from being so inactive for so long. Spade had to keep stopping and waiting for the Autobot leader.

    “Oh, will you please hurry up?” Spade said when Rodimus stumbled for what seemed like the hundredth time.

    “Sorry,” Rodimus muttered. “I haven't walked this far in a while. Got kind of use to pacing.”

    Spade turned and started walking back up the steps. “Someday I'll have to find out why Autobots can't fly.”

    After about fifteen minutes of climbing steps, the two reached sunlight. Rodimus blinked in the bright light, looking around at his surroundings. “Y'know, I don't think I ever asked Stal,” Rodimus said. “Or if he mentioned it, I wasn't listening. What planet are we on?”

    “Delta Agma IV,” Spade said as he started walking toward a ship in the distance.

    “Delta Agma IV?” Rodimus repeated. “The Smugglers’ Planet?”

    “Call it whatever you want,” Spade said.

    Rodimus looked towards the ship Spade was heading for. No--that couldn't be it. The ship didn't look like it could fly twenty feet in the air. It must be a planetside transport vehicle.

    “Where's your ship?” Rodimus asked.

    Spade was used to the mistake. He sighed slightly and said, “That's it, pal.”

    Rodimus stared. No, it couldn't be. “Real funny,” he said.

    Spade didn't say a word.

    “Oh, come on,” Rodimus said. “You can't really expect me to fly to Cybertron in that.”

    “Well, you can walk if you like,” Spade replied. “But don't let her looks deceive you. You probably haven't heard of the Maltese Falcon, but it's the ship that escaped the Osirati on the Uros V fiasco all those years back.”

    Rodimus stared. “You're kidding,” he said. “That piece of junk?”

    “It's more maneuverable than any Decepticon warrior jet I've ever met,” Spade replied. “And the Osirati sure hated it. They only hit it twice before I got into hyperspace.”

    Rodimus stared at the craft. It looked as if it had once been some sort of alien scout ship, but had been souped up nearly beyond recognition. It was a little smaller than the shuttle Hot Rod and Kup had flown from Autobot City less than a month before, in the frantic escape following Galvatron's first attack on the Autobots. The ship's main body was a rough oval sphere, similar to a bird's body, leading in front into a cylindrical boom which led, presumably, to the cockpit, a much smaller oval sphere in the front of the craft, with a small cockpit window. The rear of the ship spread out horizontally to form what looked like rather powerful hyperspace engines as well as several formidable maneuvering thrusters. Two huge wings swept forward from the top of the ship and gracefully came down to form slight curves, a rather attractive part of the ship offset by the large, vicious-looking proton cannons mounted on the end of each wing. Under the base of each wing, Rodimus could also make out the turrets of two fusion cannons, which had obviously been additions to the craft. The ship was mostly blue, but had odd patches of contrasting colors all over it, apparently pieces of other ship hulls that had been welded on to replace holes and burns. There were characteristic streaks of blue along the ship that was brighter than the rest, indicating that the ship had recently had carbon scoring burns repaired.

    Rodimus scratched his head. The old adage “You can't judge a book by its cover” certainly applied here, if the ship could do what its pilot said it could. In any case, Rodimus had little choice in the matter.

    “How soon we will get there?” he asked Spade.

    A small ramp was slowly sliding out from the bottom of the ship, between the two rear landing struts, which oddly resembled the legs of some bird of prey. “Don't worry,” Spade said with a slight grin. “The battle will still be going strong by the time we arrive.”


    -49-
    Everywhere he turned, a bolt of energy or a concussion missile soared past Blitzwing as he charged through the battle, leading his small strike squadron that consisted of only two other ships.

    The Tri-Mode task force had been assigned to the aerial battle, and Blitzwing was only now discovering what they were in for. It was an understatement to say that most of the battle was being fought in the air. The only problem was, for some reason, Galvatron's aerial troops vastly outnumbered those of the Decepticon Autocons. Blitzwing found he almost didn't need to check the insignia of a Decepticon to see if it was Autocon or Decepticon because he knew most of his comrades by name.

    Blitzwing's squadron had, so far, been the only squad of the fifty or so under Shockwave's command that had yet to lose a single fighter. Then again, there was only three of them, compared to the six each of the other squads.

    Blitzwing dived and spun out of enemy fire, Astrotrain and Octane following close behind. While Blitzwing made most of his hits by sharpshooting, Astrotrain was using his larger size and weapons to merely rake the area surrounding him, damaging a larger amount of Decepticons then Blitzwing, but not as severely. Octane, for his part, was opting to use his energon-absorbing gun to siphon off energy from every enemy that passed him, then hitting them with his ion cannon while they were still dizzy from the energy loss.

    It was just was well that the squad was one of the most maneuverable groups, because their larger sizes should have made them easier targets.

    “Blitz,” Octane said, deciding to forego formal titles in favor of speed, “looks like we've got some guys assigned to us. I see--Vortex, Blast-Off and a Sweep incoming at mark seventeen.”

    “I see them,” Blitzwing said, and he pulled a daring maneuver through two larger enemy ships, barely making it between them before the two found themselves colliding with one another. Somehow, Octane and Astrotrain made it around the resulting explosion, while managing to dodge the stray shots a few enemies tossed their way after the explosion caught their attention.

    “That ought to confuse them for a moment,” Blitzwing said, now diving towards the ground. “But now we'll have to try something else. Those three are sharpshooters; there's no point in trying to make them kill a few of their comrades. Let's lead them away and trap them to the northeast, in the city.”

    His two companions took this without comment and Blitzwing fired his engines to full power, roaring towards the buildings ahead. “Octane, can you get a fix on their position?”

    There was a brief pause. “They've just broken off from the main battle area,” he said. “They're coming in from mark twenty six. Right over our heads.”

    “Let's try the retro-thruster trick,” Blitzwing said. “Wait until they've hit full thrust, then back off on the engines.”

    Blitzwing watched the sky, waiting for his pursuers to appear. He had discovered several minutes ago that his optical sensors were all he had to guide him, since everyone was busy jamming everyone else's sensors.

    Suddenly Blast-Off, Vortex and the Sweep appeared to the upper right portion of his vision. They were going at full thrust, and had nearly caught up with the squad. Abruptly, Blitzwing applied full power to his retro-thrusters, and allowed himself a half a second of satisfaction as the three enemy ships suddenly went from behind him to far in front of him.

    Blitzwing banked to the left, quickly gaining speed and plunging into the wide spaces between the buildings of Decepticon City, the city that had been built around the Royal Palace. The afterburner maneuver had bought them mere seconds, and the opposing squadron would not fall for it again.

    The Sweep appeared to be the leader of the squadron, as he fell behind Blitzwing, firing madly. Because the Sweep had been created by Unicron, it was well-armed and well-suited to the task at hand. But Blitzwing had a few surprises of his own.

    “Guys, I don't know if I'm gonna make it,” he said abruptly.

    Octane and Astrotrain didn't respond, as they were busy with troubles of their own. But Blitzwing had spoke less for their benefit than for the eavesdropping Sweep behind him. Blitzwing suddenly maneuvered into the way of one of the Sweep's blasts, acting as if the blast had made it through his weakening defense shields, though it hadn't. He then emitted a stream of black smoke and dived towards the ground, abruptly impacting in a hail of debris from the surrounding area.

    The Sweep quickly landed nearby to investigate. It cautiously approached the smoking enemy. When Blitzwing didn't move after he had gotten quite close to him, the Sweep began to aim his weapons to finish off the foe.

    Abruptly Blitzwing transformed into tank mode and a massive ion blast issued from the large turret directly into the Sweep's chest. The Decepticon was sent hurling backwards to crash into a pile of unsightly debris. Blitzwing smirked, transformed to jet mode and quickly climbed into the sky.

    He saw that both his comrades were still airborne, and he quickly flew to the aid of Octane, whose limited weapons were having a tough time. Before he could respond, Vortex found two proton missiles impacting from both sides. Crippled, the Decepticon helicopter spun out of control and crashed into a nearby building, then hurtled to the ground, a flaming wreck.

    Astrotrain wasn't having nearly as much trouble as Octane had. Blast-Off was a space shuttle, like Astrotrain himself, but was much smaller and had half the other's experience. Astrotrain soon out-maneuvered his enemy and opened fire, sending the smaller Decepticon into a spin that ended abruptly when the green shuttle met the street.

    “Nothing to it,” Astrotrain said. “Now maybe we'd better--”

    The rest of Astrotrain's sentence went unheard by the other two, as two more Sweeps suddenly appeared, quickly joined by their damaged comrade.

    “Uh-oh,” Blitzwing said. “This doesn't look good...”

    The Autocon trio quickly began maneuvers, leading the Sweeps on a wild chase through the buildings of Decepticon City. But the Sweeps, advanced transformers that they were, clung like flypaper to their enemies.

    “This doesn't look good at all,” Blitzwing said as several shots grazed his hull. He prepared to turn around and fly directly into the face of his adversaries. If he was going to die, he'd be damned if he wasn't taking the bastards with him. “See you in hell, you--”

    Suddenly, several dozen bright bolts of energy rained down from the sky, pelting the pursuing Sweeps. The barrage became too much for the Decepticons, and the three dark and light-blue ships careened into buildings and streets, taking large sections of each with them in a bright display of exploding energy.

    Blitzwing quickly looked up. “What the--”

    “Now we're even,” said a voice from above. Blitzwing recognized the helicopter form of Blades, a member of the Protectobots who had been at Dezics when Blitzwing and his comrades had put the fire out.

    “Looks like you're a tad outnumbered over there,” said another voice. Silverbolt, the jet-formed leader of the Aerialbots, suddenly appeared next to Blades. “Could you use some help?”

    Abruptly Blitzwing noticed the other Autobots behind the two that had spoken. It was an entire Autobot armada, from the Aerialbots to Jetfire, Springer and Powerglide, and several dozen others whom Blitzwing didn't even recognize.

    “Could we!” Blitzwing exclaimed. He could find no other words. He quickly realized his response wasn't quite a proper Decepticon reply, but he didn't really care.

    “I'll take that as a yes,” Silverbolt said. “All right--Springer, Jetfire, and Powerglide--you're squadron one. Sky Dive, Air Raid, and Fireflight--you're two. Slingshot and Blades, you're with me. The rest of you, split up into your own squadrons--try and divide the necessary gunners and sharpshooters.” Silverbolt turned his attention back to Blitzwing. “Lead the way, pal.”

    Blitzwing turned and led the Autobot convoy towards the battle, which was still raging full force in front of the Royal Palace.


    -50-
    On the viewscreen, the two battles raging in front of the Royal Palace suddenly doubled in size, as the Autocon Autobots joined the fray with their Decepticon allies. Before, Galvatron's division had slightly a larger number of troops; now, the two sides were roughly even.

    Shockwave watched the battle intently. As far as he could tell, neither side had gained the upper hand yet. The anti-aircraft guns firing from the Palace had few targets; they could only pick off the few stray enemies who ventured too close to the Palace. Otherwise, the gunners couldn't risk hitting an ally. There were too few aerial Autocons before to risk accidently hitting one; now, there were too many to risk hitting an Autobot and possibly ending an alliance.

    Shockwave glanced at Nightwind. She was working intently on her board, giving coordinates of various enemies to the gunners all over the Palace. For an instant, Shockwave felt a brief twinge of some type of emotion when he looked at her, a feeling he couldn't quite identify. It passed, but he decided it must have been a pang of guilt, for it had been Shockwave himself who had transformed Nightwind from a cheery, happy Autobot into the Decepticon she was now. For a long time, Shockwave had never worried about it, believing he had merely been following Megatron's orders. Now, however, looking back on it, he realized he could have resisted Megatron. Perhaps he should have made up some falsehood, said Nightwind couldn't go through with the treatment. But that would have been a lie, and Shockwave could not lie. At least, not well; Megatron would have seen right through him. Besides that, Shockwave knew Megatron would have merely ordered Nightwind destroyed had Shockwave said her mind couldn't be altered. Whether or not this fate would have been better or worse for Nightwind, Shockwave preferred not to think about.

    He turned his attention back to the battle, and suddenly noticed something. There was something off in the lower right corner of the screen...

    He turned to the technician next to him and pointed to the spot, asking him to enlarge it. The technician complied, and the camera angle shifted to the right and the small area enlarged to fill up the screen.

    It was a group of transformers. A rather large one, apparently waiting to join the battle. None of the faces or insignias were visible due to the distance.

    Shockwave pointed to the apparent leader of the group, who was peering over the top of a small pile of debris. “Focus in on that one,” he said. “I want to see his face.”

    The technician worked the controls for several moments, and abruptly a small glowing square formed around the leader's face, then enlarged to fill the entire screen. At first the face was blurry, with lots of rectangular pixels, similar to when one looks too close to a television screen, but the technician worked for several seconds more, compensating for the distance, and the face cleared.

    As far as Shockwave knew, he had never been surprised. At least, not extremely. But he came very close to being shocked when he recognized the face.

    “We have a problem,” he said, turning, and he headed toward the elevator. “It is time I joined the battle. At least for a moment.”

    “But sir!” a technician exclaimed. “It's a war zone out there...!”

    “I know,” Shockwave said, “and Galvatron's out there, is he not?”

    The technician tried to think of a reply, but Shockwave was gone before he could. He turned to the transformer that was now the eldest in the room. “Nightwind, who is that?” he asked, gesturing toward the screen.

    Nightwind glanced at the face from her board, was slightly startled, then turned back to her panel. “It's Battleram,” she said over her shoulder.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    As the aerial battle raged above, a slightly smaller battle raged below. There had been very few grounded fighters at the beginning of the battle, since the majority of Decepticons could fly; but once the Autobots arrived, many of Galvatron's Decepticons were forced to break from the aerial battle to join the battle below, to compensate for the overwhelming number of grounded Autobots.

    Leading the Autobot ground assault was, despite numerous objections, the Autobot leader himself. Flanked by Blurr and Jazz, Ultra Magnus charged through the mass of warriors in eighteen-wheeler truck mode, plowing through the enemy Decepticons as if they were nothing but shrubbery. In addition to increasing his frontal armor, Ultra Magnus had mounted several laser rifles and proton cannons along the sides of both his cab and trailer. Now, he rammed his way through the ranks of enemy Decepticons, cutting down enemies left, right, above and beneath his huge tires. Jazz and Blurr rode along on either side, firing with weapons that were slightly less powerful, but with better accuracy than Magnus' berserk strafing. In fact, Jazz suspected Magnus' aim could be better, but the Autobot commander had been under considerable stress lately, and was probably just burning off some steam. As long as he didn't hit his comrades, there was nothing wrong with a berserker rampage.

    But Ultra Magnus was certainly the spectacle of the battle as he plowed his way from the very back of the battle all the way to the front in a period of a mere ten minutes, taking out several dozen enemies in the process. Once he and his two teammates reached the very front of the battle, Jazz and Blurr prepared to turn around for another sweep. To their surprise, Magnus just kept right on charging ahead.

    Jazz screeched to a halt and abruptly turned back to catch up with their leader. “Um, excuse me?” Jazz yelled over the din of the massive battles behind and above. “And just where are you going?”

    “To the Royal Palace,” Magnus answered simply.

    “Well, that's all fine and great, sir, but won't that shield stop you along the way?”

    “The shield won't be up when I get there,” Magnus said.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Trust me,” Magnus said. “That shield will be down in minutes. There has to be an insider in there, an enemy Decep ready to take the shield down.”

    “Oooookay,” Jazz said, choosing not to argue, “then why are you going there anyway?”

    “Because I can't stay out here,” Magnus said. “The real battle's going to be in there. The final showdown.”

    “What the hell are you babbling about?” Jazz asked exasperately.

    “Never mind,” Magnus replied. “Just go back and join the ground battle. They need a field commander.”

    “Me?” Jazz said. “But--”

    “Go,” Magnus said forcefully.

    “Awright, awright,” Jazz said, and he turned around.

    Magnus continued toward the Palace.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Battleram peered over the mound of debris. “Where the hell is Magnus going?” he muttered under his breath.

    “What?” Roadbuster asked.

    Battleram turned away. “Nothing,” he said. “All right, it looks like my suspicions were wrong; the Autobots have joined the battle. It also appears that Shockwave was sincere. The Deceps wouldn't wait this long to betray the Autobots. At least, Shockwave isn't working with Galvatron. I'm sure he has his own agenda against that fool Magnus and his troops, but Shock's not going to do anything right now. Anyway, it looks as if we're going to have to change the plan a little. Somehow, the Palace's shield's been boosted quite a bit, so Galv's troops haven't punctured it. We have to wait until it's down. Once it's down, Whirl, you take your squadron and take out the stationary guns, like the original plan. Broadside, I've changed your plan. Instead of strafing the ground, your squad is to strike the aerial battle. Go berserk, take out everyone in sight. Don't even worry about hitting each other; at least, don't worry about it too much. Whirl's squad will join you once it's finished at the Palace. Roadbuster and Warpath, you just take your troops and blitz the ground battle. Take out everyone, just like Broadside's squad. We're going all out; I want nothing but blazing guns.”

    “What about Dinobots?” Grimlock asked.

    Battleram grimaced slightly. “You'll have to hang back, Grimlock. Again, you're still needed as backup, if Roadbuster or Warpath's squads get into trouble.”

    “But we want to fight!” Slag yelled.

    “Yeah, we have to pound Decepticons,” Snarl agreed.

    “You can come in at the end of the battle if we don't call you in earlier,” Battleram said. “All right?”

    This seemed to satisfy most of the Dinobots, though Slag still looked upset. Battleram wished Slag was the Dinobot commander, rather than the traitorous, foolish Grimlock.

    He turned back, peering over the debris pile. “Doesn't look like anyone's noticed us yet...” he observed.

    A finger tapped on his shoulder. Battleram turned to see Roadbuster staring upwards, a frightened look on his face. He pointed upward.

    Battleram quickly looked up, and nearly leaped into the air at the sight of a thirty-five foot long purple ray gun hovering in the air above and aimed directly at his head.

    “Ah shit...!” he muttered, and he dived to the right.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Shockwave fired, but was a fraction of a second too late. Battleram rolled out of the impact zone milliseconds before Shockwave's massive proton blast collided with the patch of ground the Autobot had been kneeling on a second before.

    Battleram, naturally, came up firing, fusion blasts impacting all over Shockwave's gun form. Shockwave quickly shifted his aim and fired at the enemy, his shot this time striking the overzealous Autobot directly in his chest and knocking him a dozen feet away into a pile of debris.

    For a moment, nothing happened. As Battleram slumped on the ground, smoke pouring from his body, his troops all stared from the hovering form of Shockwave to their fallen leader. Shockwave felt a tiny, minuscule feeling of satisfaction.

    A feeling that quickly dissolved when Battleram's body suddenly moved. To Shockwave's surprise, the Autobot slowly stood, shrugged off the debris and smoke from his body, and stared hard at Shockwave, a grim look of anger forming on his face.

    Shockwave felt a sudden, illogical feeling of fear. To his knowledge, no transformer had ever taken a direct hit from his cannon form and had the strength to get up again immediately, with only two exceptions: Megatron (which had occurred on the one time Shockwave had ever challenged Megatron's authority) and Optimus Prime. Which meant Battleram was at least on par with those two beings. Which meant Shockwave was, perhaps, a tad in over his one-eyed head. The feeling of fear quickly passed, but for a moment, Shockwave feared the Autobot which was now bringing his fusion gun to bear on Shockwave...

    Shockwave awoke from his revery and quickly swerved out of Battleram's line of fire, rising up and to the left before Battleram could get a clean shot off.

    “Decepticon bastard!” Battleram roared. “Come back and fight, you coward!”

    Shockwave ignored the insults, trying to formulate a new plan. He had not fully allowed for the possibility of more parties in the battle. He had created a minor plan, but judging from the troops he had counted before attacking Battleram, Shockwave was going to have to formulate a new plan. Battleram appeared to have far more troops than Shockwave had originally suspected.

    Meanwhile, within the Palace, a new threat was slinking into the shield generator room. Tein was a minor engineer, one who did only the most minor work on the shield generator. He and his best friend, Rac, spent many hours working together on the shield generator, fixing little things. Now, Tein was about to throw all that away for his leader, Galvatron. For Tein was the saboteur that Ultra Magnus had predicted the existence of.

    Tein walked into the shield generator room, acting completely normal as he walked over and set to work repairing the shield's secondary buffers. He worked for several minutes, working hard to fix the thing he knew he would destroy in less than five minutes.

    Five minutes later, it was time. Slowly, as he bent to pick up a plasma welder, Tein suddenly drew a proton blaster and fired at the shield's main generator unit, creating an explosion that set off a chain reaction across the entire generator that would bring the entire shield down in less than a minute.

    Milliseconds after he fired, even before the first explosion had finished erupting, every single transformer in the room turned, drew their weapons and fired at Tein.

    The last thing Tein saw before he died was the grim face of Rac, and the smoking muzzle of his best friend's gun.

    Several seconds later, the entire shield generator blew up, instantly destroying the entire shield generator room and everyone in it.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Soundwave registered the change immediately. He quickly found the safest route to his leader, and cautiously flew through the battling mass towards him. Soundwave was forced to dodge several times as stray blasts streaked past him.

    Galvatron, for his part, was still berserk with rage. He wasn't fighting anyone directly; no one was foolish enough to confront him. So the Decepticon leader had decided to use the somewhat dubious tactic of plowing into a mass of fighting troops and blasting away like mad, not really bothering to aim and often killing as many of his own troops as he did enemies. Soundwave decided to approach his leader with extreme caution.

    “Mighty Galvatron,” Soundwave said meekly when he reached the mad leader.

    Galvatron spun instantly, fusion cannon aimed directly at his stooge's head. Galvatron came within mere millimeters of killing his own soldier. He quickly recovered. “What do you want?” he demanded.

    “Sir, the shield is down,” Soundwave said. “It appears our infiltrator was successful.”

    For the first time since the battle began, a smile crossed Galvatron's face, relieving Soundwave greatly. “Excellent,” Galvatron said. “Excellent. Quickly, inform the sharpshooter squadrons to strike.”

    Soundwave nodded, and quickly turned to notify whoever was left of the sharpshooting squads to attack the Palace. At the same time, he noticed something out of the corner of his optical sensor.

    Another mass of troops were approaching. To Soundwave's dismay, he discovered they were Autobots. But to his surprise, while these new Autobots did attack the Deceptions, they also attacked the Autocon Decepticons and--their own kind! Soundwave watched with an odd fascination as these new Autobots attacked the Autobots already in the battle. It appeared this new group of Autobots objected to the alliance as much as Galvatron's Decepticon group did.

    Minute by minute, the battle was growing into an all-out war, with more soldiers, more enemies and allies than anyone cared to count. It was quickly becoming a pandemonium of explosions, blasts and battle cries, and more and more transformers began going down, careening from the sky to crash into the ground below, destroying several enemies and allies along with them. Soon, no one would be able to tell who was friend and who was foe, and Soundwave suspected there would be few left when the battle was over, and a clear win was unlikely.

    Nevertheless, he continued carrying out his order.


    -51-
    The battle was raging full force. Three separate factions were battling for control of Cybertronians across the galaxy. There were now nearly two thousand transformers locked in combat with each other, either in the sky or on the ground. The death toll was steadily rising. But it had not yet truly begun. One piece was missing, and it was now ready to be placed.

    A slow whine suddenly came from nowhere. At first, it was very quiet, completely inaudible over the raging sounds of the battle. But it grew slowly, becoming louder and louder.

    Slowly, a few heads turned towards the sky, where the sound seemed to be coming from. These heads searched the sky for a target, thinking a new threat was approaching. Somewhere high in the sky, above the aerial battle.

    Suddenly and without warning, the whine burst into a roar, and a massive explosion lit the night sky above like day, forcing nearly every single transformer present to peer into the sky.

    And nearly two thousand transformers' biofluid ran cold when they saw the source of the explosion. High above their heads, but approaching rapidly, was a vision out of many transformers' worst nightmares. It was a vision of the Deathcons, diving out of a dark sky towards those below.

    And in front of the group flew Siege, the hellish Decepticon whose evil deeds rivaled even those of Megatron's. Siege had decided it was time for the Deathcons to strike.

    Although it would seem that the Deathcons were hopelessly outnumbered, they had several things on their side: most of the transformers below could barely recognize their own allies, and an organized strike against the Deathcons was almost impossible; the transformers were all divided into their own factions, and would not join forces, even against the Deathcons; and just the very sight of the Deathcons would make many of the transformers below quite nervous, scared, or even terrified. Besides that, the Deathcons had power in abundance. Siege knew it would be a simple matter to clean up the mess, to merely exterminate the fools in mass destruction.

    Below, the transformers all began to fight with one another again, unsure of what else to do, as the Deathcons joined the battle and began to attack, cutting down dozens in the first few minutes.

    The siege had begun.


    -52-
    Madness, thought Shockwave as he exited the elevator and stepped into the Bridge, ducking under the short overhang. Pure madness. This is a total mess. Now, the Deathcons have arrived. First Galvatron's troops, then my own, then Ultra Magnus', then Battleram's, and now, the Deathcons. This is madness, indeed. Everything's out of control. My ace-in-the-hole better play his part, before...

    Behind him, the door to the Bridge's elevator opened, cutting off Shockwave's train of thought. He turned, and was slightly surprised to find himself facing Ultra Magnus. Shockwave nodded to the Autobot, then turned back to the screen.

    “What a mess,” Ultra Magnus observed. Shockwave nodded in confirmation.

    “The Deathcons are here now?” Ultra Magnus said. Shockwave didn't answer; the question wasn't a direct one. “Damn,” Ultra Magnus muttered. “This is too far out of control, too unorganized. No one out there can tell a friend from a foe.”

    Shockwave nodded at this. “I do not know what there is to do but wait,” he said.

    The door opened again behind them, and Magnus glanced behind to see who had entered.

    He did a double-take.

    He turned and stared. Shockwave glanced back, then also found himself staring.

    “Rodimus?” Ultra Magnus asked slowly.

    “In the metal,” Rodimus Prime said with a grin.

    Ultra Magnus ran up to his commander, grabbing him and giving him a massive bear-hug. Slightly embarrassed at the un-Magnus-like action, Ultra Magnus set Rodimus down. “Where were you? What's happened? How did you--”

    Rodimus started to cut Magnus off, but suddenly something slammed into his side. Rodimus turned and found a jet black Decepticon laughing and hugging his neck. Then the Decepticon gave him a peck on the cheek.

    “I knew it!” Nightwind exclaimed. “I knew you weren't dead. No one can put you down for the count, eh, Hot Rod?”

    “Who said I was dead?” Rodimus asked with a grin. “I was just...partying too hard.”

    Nightwind grinned again. “That's joke's getting real old,” she observed, “but at least you're around to say it.”

    “Jeez,” muttered a voice from the elevator doorway, “don't everyone thank me at once. Guess I had nothing to do with it.”

    Nightwind turned and a dark expression crossed her face. “Spade!” she said. “You stupid jerk! Next time, tell me when you're going to take off!”

    A look of astonishment crossed Spade's face. “She's right,” Ultra Magnus admonished. Shockwave nodded as well.

    Spade glared at them in defiance. “Hmph!” he muttered. “See if I ever do any more favors for you people any more! Risk my butt for a lousy sixteen grand and this is what I get! Jeez, save your leader and best friend yourselves next time! I'm leaving!”

    Nightwind broke into laughter and hugged her old friend. “Oh, we're kidding and you know it.”

    “Sure, sure,” Spade said. “Ahem, isn't there a post you should be manning or something?”

    “Woops,” Nightwind said, and she quickly ran back to the weapons console.

    “So,” Rodimus said, staring grimly at the viewscreen. “What kind of mischief have you boys been up to while I've been gone?”

    “A lot,” Ultra Magnus understated.

    “I can see that,” Rodimus said. “This is horrible. There hasn't been a battle this big in ages.”

    A technician suddenly jerked away from his station and faced the three leaders. Unsure of who to address, he looked at all three and said, “Sirs! There are two separate groups attempting to breach the security wall! We may be invaded in several minutes!”

    Ultra Magnus suddenly remembered something. “Damn! I forgot,” he muttered. “Battleram's troops are here, right?” he asked Shockwave. The Decepticon nodded.

    Ultra Magnus turned to Rodimus. “Great to have you back, sir,” he said, “but now I've got to get out there. Besides, I'm no longer the leader, right?”

    “I guess,” Rodimus said. “Be careful, Magnus.”

    Magnus nodded and entered the elevator. “What about those teams?” the technician asked.

    Shockwave thought for a moment. “Do we have any guard teams stationed in the base?”

    “Three, sir,” the technician replied, “but I fear they won't be able to take both enemy teams.”

    “I see,” Shockwave said. “Send all three to the more immediate threat. Rodimus and I shall deal with the other group.”

    The technician started to protest, then thought better of it, returning to his board. Shockwave was now left with one minor detail. “Nightwind,” he said.

    Nightwind turned from her console. “Yes, sir?”

    “You have the Bridge,” Shockwave said, and he and Rodimus turned to enter the elevator.

    “But--” Nightwind began.

    The elevator shut.

    “Great,” Nightwind said. “Ahem. Okay, guys. Red alert. Shields up. Engage.”

    The technicians stared at her.

    “Just do whatever you're supposed to,” Nightwind said, and she returned to her post.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “This is going horribly,” Rodimus said, more to himself than anything.

    “Do not worry,” Shockwave said.

    “What do you mean?”

    “The battle will not remain out of control for long,” Shockwave said. “That would be illogical to allow such chaos to go on uncontrolled. I have a contingency plan. You must be patient. Trust me.”

    “Patient I can be,” Rodimus said. “Trusting you...that's something else.”

    “Nevertheless, you will have to, if you want to survive--or at least, if you want your own Autobots to survive.”


    -53-
    The battle had become unfocused. No one was sure of what to do, so many of the aerial warriors had transformed to robot mode to fight in the more controllable ground battle. But despite the large number of Decepticons, Autocons and Autobots, the five Deathcons, incredibly, had the upper hand.

    Nuke had set about destroying huge numbers of warriors simply by attracting them until nearly two dozen were within his blast radius, then releasing a fusion explosion that shattered every single transformer unlucky enough to have drawn too close. Skysonic had gone berserk, as usual, and was streaking through the aerial battle, firing a virtual wall of firepower that laid waste to a massive number of enemies with every sweep. Siege employed a similar tactic, but also dropped bombs upon the ground warriors below. Gremlin merely ran through the ground battle, using his myriad of odd inventions to scramble neural circuitry and create shields that blocked any blast that managed to stray too close to his scampering little form. Omnistrike had transformed to tank mode and now rolled through the ground battle, picking off the more powerful threats among the group with well-placed, powerful blasts from his turret. Deathcade, for his part, had transformed into his three-headed mode, and was having a grand old time snatching up helpless transformers and devouring them with quick gulps, then shooting anyone else nearby with his eye beams.

    The organized, powerful Deathcons were having little trouble wiping out the other unorganized groups. Roadbuster and Warpath soon found there ground assault groups diminishing by the second. The aerial squadrons of Galvatron and Ultra Magnus couldn't stand up to the massive firepower of Skysonic and Siege.

    Soon, the Deathcons would have total control of the battle. But two individuals in the group were not worried about this. Galvatron had tired of the battle, especially once the Deathcons had arrived. Now, with everyone else distracted, Galvatron saw his chance. He could now take Shockwave by surprise.

    As he flew toward the Palace, Galvatron smiled grimly. He would indeed enjoy showing Shockwave his traitorous central power unit before the Decepticon died.

    Another transformer in the battle was also heading toward the Palace. Battleram had several scores to settle as well, with several high-ranking officers of both the Autobots and the Decepticons. Though he found the desire to throw himself into a mindless rage against Siege nearly irresistible, he could already tell he would have the chance later, as it looked as if Siege and his minions would slaughter all of Battleram's own troops anyway.

    Three leaders--Siege, Battleram and Galvatron--were sure they would win. But at that particular moment, a most surprising adversary was going to change the odds for at least two of those leaders.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    If he could have, Soundwave would have smiled. It was now time for him to play his small but pivotal part in the massive theatrical around him. He found in deliciously ironic that he, Soundwave, Galvatron's most loyal stooge, would be the cause of his leader's downfall.

    Galvatron's arrogance was the main reason Shockwave's plan had been so successful. Not for a single minute had Galvatron suspected that Soundwave was, in fact, still loyal to Shockwave, and sent in as an ace-in-the-hole. Shockwave had given Soundwave a mission, and now, it was time for Shockwave to fulfill his duty.

    During his stay with Galvatron, Shockwave had found time to study the Sarcyst robot in detail. For a while, he had been unable to discover how Galvatron controlled it. Finally, only two days ago, Soundwave had discovered the exact frequency required to control the robot form of the long-dead Decepticon leader.

    It had been a simple matter to order the robot to tag along behind Galvatron's troops, staying just out of sight. But now, the battle was fully out of control, complete chaos. It was time for Soundwave to bring in the backup.

    After giving the sharpshooting teams their orders, Soundwave had holed up in a small cave within a mound of debris. Now, he expertly transmitted orders to the Sarcyst robot, which was standing on a building in Decepticon City.

    Slowly, the figure rose on top of the building, then lifted into the sky. It flew towards the battle, then chose a spot on top of a towering mound of debris, one than rose slightly higher than the main battleground of the aerial battle. Slowly, the robot appeared to survey the scene. Then, in an amplified voice that boomed and echoed across the sky at a decibel that rivaled Skysonic's explosion, Sarcyst began to speak.

    First was a call for attention. “Decepticons! Autobots! Stop this fighting, now!”

    The bellow's effect was instantaneous. First dozens, then hundreds of Decepticons, both Decepticon and Autocon, stopped fighting and stared towards the small figure standing on top of a mound of debris. Seconds after, most of the Autobots, finding little attention being paid to them, decided to turn their own attention to constraining the Deathcons while these other Decepticons listened to whoever had addressed them.

    “Great,” Jazz muttered to Blurr, “another power-mad Decepticon leader. This is crazy! What the heck is going on?”

    “Decepticons,” Sarcyst said. “This is madness. We cannot continue this fighting; there has been a mistake.”

    Galvatron's Decepticons stared, unable to believe their great leader was saying this. Even the Autocon Decepticons seemed rather surprised. The Autobots just shook their heads in confusion and kept trying to stop the Deathcons, who were still ending the lives of dozens of transformers every minute.

    “However, it is not my mistake. At least, not totally. My mistake was letting Galvatron run this attack. He is a fool; an idiot, with few or no good strategies. I had not learned the extent of his failures as both Megatron and Galvatron until recently. In any case, Decepticons--and I address both my own as well as Shockwave's--now is not the time to fight. We are all confused, out of focus, after this fiasco with Unicron. You were all subject to manipulation by your various leaders. I include some of you Autobots as well; those following Battleram. You are far too zealous in your quest; I would consider you fine additions to the Decepticon army.”

    In some of Battleram's troops, some who were paying attention, realization dawned, quickly followed by shame. In others, such as Whirl and Roadbuster, the response was merely growing anger.

    “In any event, we cannot fight now. We are all too confused. Your battle tactics are atrocious; direct confrontation! This is not the Decepticon way; this is slaughter, on both sides. I would order you to all leave now, but there is another enemy that must first be dealt with.” Sarcyst stretched out his arm, and one clawed finger pointed at Siege, who flew overhead. “We must destroy the--”

    Two blasts of fusion energy shot from Siege's cannons, striking the robot directly in his chest, which exploded outward. Chunks of Sarcyst rained down upon the warriors below.

    Peering over the mound of debris he had been hiding in, Soundwave laughed. Talk about sealing your own fate. That was one mistake even Siege would live--however shortly--to regret.

    After the shock of seeing what they considered to be the greatest leader in Decepticon history being blown apart, the several hundred Decepticons below were understandably a bit disgruntled. Within seconds, Siege found himself being battered by hundreds of various forms of firepower, his thick duratitanium hide actually starting to weaken.

    Just as quickly, all other Decepticons present turned on the other Deathcons, now actually helping the desperate Autobots trying to deal with the bloodthirsty super-transformers.

    The tide had turned; now, except for a few dozen of Battleram's troops, no Autobot, Autocon or Decepticon considered fighting one another. Now, they all set about destroying the Deathcons.


    -54-
    Siege swore. This was not the way things had been supposed to go.

    All three sides should have stayed locked in combat, at least long enough for Siege and his team to destroy them all. But now, thanks to some stupid robot--one that wasn't even alive!--all the transformers present had turned against the Deathcons. And although Siege's team was powerful, they could not fend off an army of nearly two thousand transformers.

    Or perhaps they could. Shortly after Siege had freed his entire team years earlier, he had had them all repaired, and slightly altered, in a way they wouldn't notice until he told them about it. The new mode would make the team far more powerful than they were. Now, Siege knew, was the time to use it.

    “Deathcons! Come in!” Siege bellowed over his comlink.

    There was a lot of static and backgrounds of gunfire as his team reported in. “Sir!” Omnistrike yelled. “We're being overwhelmed! We can't fend off an army! We have to retreat!”

    “Negative,” Siege said. “We are still in control. All of you, access memory file GR-46.”

    There was a pause. “What the hell is this?” Nuke demanded. “When did you put this in?”

    “Never mind that,” Siege said. “It's currently our only chance. Deathcons, unite!”

    The order, which had been ingrained into the file, instantly activated it. Without willing himself to, Omnistrike, in tank mode, suddenly swiveled his turret backwards. Then, the middle section of his tank form slid forward, then up, forming a foot with the front of the tank and the treads. A large silver section grew out of the back of the tank, forming a leg.

    Deathcade suddenly appeared next to Omnistrike, and his three heads retracted, his body then bending at an abrupt angle. He quickly formed a second leg.

    Siege flew down at this point, forming a torso and chest. Suddenly, his wings grew, forming gigantic, massive folds, and it encased the legs, torso and chest. Skysonic, Nuke and Gremlin jumped into the small opening on top of the wings, which then shut, forming a massive, impenetrable cloak.

    The various transformers fired at the cloak with everything they had, but to no effect. For half a minute or so, nothing happened.

    Then, slowly, the cloak split. The two sides began to retract, forming into giant wings. The sight looked like a the universe's largest bat unfolding its wings after waking up.

    In the middle of the cloak, a figure was visible. Slowly, as the wings retracted, the figure began to stand. Finally, the wings stopped retracting, but were still massive and quite vicious-looking.

    But now, the figure the Deathcons had become was fully visible. It was hideous, to say the least.

    The entire body had turned dark black. Both of the huge arms were covered with vicious-looking spikes, curved and ending in huge, sharp tips. The left hand was nothing but five long steel claws; the right hand had five regular fingers, but along the forearm a huge cannon was mounted, along with several wing-like blades that probably were part of Skysonic. The legs were the same as they had been before, except now they were dark black tinged with lines of red here and there, as was the whole body, and each foot was made of four separate spikes that went out equally around the circumference of each foot.

    But the head was the most interesting part--and the most frightening. It was a huge, greyish-white form of a human skull, with two flaming orange eyes and a mouth full of sharp, vicious teeth. Finally, a black hood-like structure domed the head, coming down to a point slightly above and in front of the robot beast's forehead. It stood nearly twice as tall as Devastator, and looked as mean as Unicron had been.

    Slowly, the massive jaw opened, and the creature spoke with a voice that sounded like a thunderclap echoing across an ocean of corpses. “Greetings, insignificant beings,” the transformer said slowly. “Today is your final day in this universe. The Grim Reaper has come to claim your worthless souls!”



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “Oh, shit,” Ultra Magnus said quietly. “Primus, oh shit.”

    And he had thought Unicron had looked scary!

    The huge transformer was merely staring at the hundreds of transformers around it, seemingly waiting for them to attack.

    “No way,” Ultra Magnus muttered. “Not this time. It's time for Shockwave and me to play our real aces-in-the-hole.”

    Grim Reaper stood high, bent slightly in an attack crouch, awaiting the first shot to be fired at him before launching into an all-out attack against the puny transformers in front of him. He had paid no attention whatsoever to the ground he was standing on.

    Slowly, the ground beneath him started to shake. Grim Reaper abruptly stood back, looking around for the fool who had started the earthquake. But no other transformer was doing anything.

    Suddenly, a building tore out of the ground in front of Grim Reaper, who actually backpedaled. A second tower suddenly appeared next to the first, and then two massive sections of ground began to rise on either side of him.

    Grim Reaper suddenly flew off the ground, staring at the sight below. Slowly, the ground around where he had been standing pulled together, and there was the sound of shifting gears and metallic seals breaking and re-sealing. Slowly, a form began to rise out of the ground, slowly taking shape, until, finally, a gigantic black dinosaur stood beneath Grim Reaper, staring up at him.

    The black dinosaur abruptly let out a roar that shook the audio sensors of every transformer present, then fired both of the massive cannons mounted to his back at the giant robot hovering above.

    The two blasts struck Grim Reaper square in the chest, hurling him higher into the sky, only to crash down quite far away. Then, the giant dinosaur opened fire on Grim Reaper with every weapon he had.

    As Grim Reaper staved off this attack by ripping up pieces of ground and using them as shields, the ground behind him also began moving. He glanced back and saw a large oval track begin to combine with a space rocket, and a tank that had been revolving on the track suddenly jump into the middle of this transformation.

    The final product was another giant robot, who immediately joined the giant black dinosaur in attacking Grim Reaper.

    Ultra Magnus smiled grimly. Grim Reaper may have been able to defeat Trypticon, the Decepticon dinosaur/city, but the addition of Omega Supreme would, hopefully, be too much for Grim Reaper to handle.

    And, if worse came to worse, Ultra Magnus had one final trick up his sleeve.


    -55-
    Shockwave ducked behind the small console as another blast pounded it, sending shards of metal raining upon the Decepticon leader behind it.

    They were in a small computer room--a maintenance room, if Shockwave remembered correctly--and he and Rodimus were backed against a wall, ducking behind two small computer consoles. Across the aisle, Rodimus leaned out and fired off several shots from his arm blasters, managing to pick off one or two of the Decepticon troops hammering them into the corner.

    “This is bad,” Shockwave said to Rodimus, having to yell over the din of firepower. “We have to do something fast, or they'll pulverize us.”

    “Hmmmm,” Rodimus said. “Hmmm, hmmmm, hmmm. Let me see. I think it's about time I called for some backup.”

    “What do you mean?” Shockwave said.

    Rodimus just grinned and opened the comlink on his right forearm, whispering words into it that Shockwave's audio sensors couldn't pick up over the roar of weapons.

    Another shot pounded into the console, and Shockwave leaned out and fired a wide spread of photon blasts, only slightly damaging the troops but providing enough cover for Rodimus to finish his transmission.

    “All right,” Rodimus said, slamming the comlink shut. “We only to need to keep ourselves covered for ten seconds. Nine, eight, seven, six...”

    Shockwave leaned out again, releasing a more powerful barrage this time, managing to kill several of their enemies.

    “Four, three, two--one!”

    Suddenly, the right wall of the room exploded outward, knocking many of the exposed troops on their backs and planting razor-sharp shards of metal deep within their armor.

    Outside the hole, a large blue ship was visible, hovering above the ground. The ship shifted slightly, and the base of the wing moved so the end of the wing appeared, and a huge proton cannon opened fire on the Decepticon troops, quickly cutting their number down by two-thirds.

    “There you go,” Spade said over Rodimus' comlink. “The rest are yours. I'm outta here.”

    “Good thing we're on the second floor,” Rodimus said. “Now, all we have to do is finish off the rest of--”

    Suddenly, the sound of a powerful barrage of laser fire erupted from the inside of the room. For a few moments, there was the sound of battle, as the remaining troops barked desperate orders at each other as the unseen enemy quickly cut them all down.

    Rodimus glanced over at Shockwave. Shockwave shook his head; he had called for no reinforcements.

    The battle ended as quickly as it had begun. Rodimus waited a moment, then slowly peered around the corner of his console.

    He had expected to see a group of Shockwave's troops, or a squad of Autobot troops, at least. Instead, what he saw was a single Autobot with a smoking fusion blaster, smirking at the pile of slaughtered bodies around him.

    Rodimus recognized the Autobot.

    “Not a bad job, if I do say so myself,” Battleram said in his powerful voice. “Then again, they were rank amateurs. Killing you two will be much more exciting, I'm sure.”

    Rodimus slowly stood. “Battleram, there's no need to fight us,” he said carefully. “We're on your side.”

    “No you're not,” Battleram said flatly. “You're allied with the Decepticons. And in my book, that makes us enemies. And I don't care if Shockwave's troops are fighting Galvatron's. I don't care if they're enemies. Once a Decepticon, always a Decepticon.”

    “Don't you think that's a tad narrow-minded?” Rodimus asked.

    “Maybe in your book,” Battleram replied. “Not in mine. I've seen what these bastards can do, Prime. I've seen horrors beyond your imagination. And all these horrors were done by Decepticons.”

    “Can't anyone change?” Rodimus asked. “Can't you let the war end?”

    “Sure, I can let the war end,” Battleram said. “When every single Decepticon lies dead.”

    “Well, I'm sorry to hear that,” Rodimus said. “I guess that does make us enemies, then.”

    “I guess it does,” Battleram said, and he fired his gun at Rodimus.

    Rodimus leaped out of the way at the last possible second, the fusion blast rupturing the walls behind him and showering Rodimus and Shockwave with steel and circuitry. Rodimus quickly transformed and charged through the hole Battleram had made, Shockwave running close behind.

    Battleram smiled grimly, and transformed into his rolling battering ram mode, heading after them.

    The chase was on.


    -56-
    “Hrrrrrnnnn--ahh!” Grim Reaper roared, and he hurled Omega Supreme off him and sent the giant Autobot tumbling into one of the dozens of debris piles nearby.

    Behind Reaper, Trypticon suddenly charged, sinking his huge jaws into Reaper's shoulder. “Fool!” Grim Reaper roared. “You cannot stop me!” he bellowed, and he abruptly slammed both wings down on Trypticon's body, knocking the Decepticon to the ground.

    As Reaper turned to face the dazed Trypticon, Omega Supreme attempted to sneak up behind. Reaper abruptly swung an arm out, catching Omega Supreme across the face and knocking him to the ground.

    Reaper turned on the Autobot, and the cannon on his right arm began to glow. Reaper suddenly aimed and fired, the blast of fusion energy tearing a chunk out of Omega Supreme's chest.

    “You are old,” Grim Reaper said. “Obsolete.” He bent down, picked up Omega Supreme body, and raised it high over his head. Then he turned towards the crowd of armed transformers watching the battle, grinned slightly, and hurled Omega's unconscious form at the troops, who scattered in a futile attempt to dodge the oncoming mass.

    Trypticon had recovered, and again charged Reaper, this time throwing his entire weight into the impact. Reaper was knocked off his feet and tumbled forward, rolling when he hit the ground.

    Reaper stood slowly, and roared in rage. He charged Trypticon, who charged right back.

    There was a massive crack as the two bodies met at great speeds. Both reeled, then attacked one another.

    Trypticon realized he was losing. Grim Reaper was too powerful. He made a decision; if he was going down, Trypticon was taking a piece of Reaper with him.

    Trypticon feinted, then lunged at Reaper's left arm, clamping his jaws around it as hard as he could. With one last burst of monumental strength, Trypticon yanked the arm off.

    Grim Reaper actually screamed; a hideous sound that pierced the night air like a sonic dart and actually stunned the audio sensors of many transformers below. It was a scream that seemed to rip the night air apart and fill the hole with pure rage.

    Grim Reaper recovered in seconds, however, and brought his full gaze upon Trypticon, who merely stared back defiantly and spat out the arm, which had been Nuke; Nuke was dead now, separated from the whole when he wasn't ready, and crushed besides.

    With alarming speed, Reaper suddenly lashed out with his right hand, striking at Trypticon somewhere in the Decepticon's chest. Then Reaper pulled the hand back just as quickly as it had shot out.

    For a moment, Trypticon just stood there. For a second, he thought Reaper had missed.

    Then Trypticon's sensors alerted him to a small problem. A rather vital part of him was missing.

    Trypticon brought his gaze up to the clawed hand that had struck him. In it, he saw the large, still-sparking main power unit that had been within him only seconds before.

    Trypticon swayed slightly, opened and shut his jaws once, then slowly fell forward, finally slamming into the ground, seemingly dead, though he was actually in self-stasis, a mode in which he would remain until his main power unit was replaced and he was fully repaired.

    Grim Reaper laughed insanely, again splitting the night air with one of his horrible exclamations. He tossed the power unit to the ground, then turned on all the transformers standing below him, at the foot of the small plateau on which the giant transformers had been fighting. He leaped down into the mass and began to attack this way and that, tearing transformers in half with his remaining arm and firing at them with eye-beams and missiles from his chest.

    “All right,” Magnus said. “All right, fine. Looks like I will have to bring in that backup.”

    Magnus activated his macrobinoculars, staring into the distance until he found his targets. The Dinobots were on the far side of the battlefield, just watching. Grimlock was noticeably absent; perhaps Battleram had needed him for something. But the other Dinobots were, hopefully, enough...

    “Let's hope my bet was right,” Magnus whispered. “And let's hope your gizmo works the way you said it would, Perceptor.”

    Magnus pulled a small rectangular device from his pocket. It resembled a small remote control, but had a tiny beam emitter mounted on its front. Magnus aimed the beam emitter at the Dinobots, far across the battlefield, and fired.

    A kedion pulse fired from the device, traveling until it connected with four small devices far across the field.

    Four Mindebian mind alterers suddenly ruptured and shut down within the Dinobots, without self-destructing and destroying the main cerebral system. All the Dinobots suddenly shook their heads and looked at each other.

    “What--happen?” Sludge asked.

    “Where are we?” Snarl asked.

    “Me...not know--for sure,” Slag said. “We on Cybertron. And look! A Decepticon!”

    The Dinobots all looked over to see Grim Reaper tearing his way through the ranks of Autobots and Decepticons. All the Dinobots saw was a giant Decepticons attacking Autobots.

    “A fight!” Slag yelled happily, and he transformed into triceratops mode and charged at Grim Reaper. The other Dinobots quickly transformed and followed.

    Fortunately for the Autobots and Decepticons, and unfortunately for Grim Reaper, the giant robot hadn't been paying any attention to what was behind him.

    Slag's heavily-armored, three-horned head struck Reaper square in the back, hitting harder than either Trypticon or Omega Supreme had managed to. Slag backed off, and both Snarl and Sludge hit Reaper just as hard.

    The impacts were too much. Between Trypticon's attack and now the Dinobots, Grim Reaper simply couldn't hold his form any longer. The giant robot seemed to fall apart, separating into Gremlin, who had been the head, Skysonic, Siege, Deathcade and Omnistrike.

    Skysonic and Siege took to the sky, Siege flying off towards the Royal Palace, Skysonic just into the sky, away from the battle and the humiliating defeat. The Dinobots, meanwhile, moved in to finish off Deathcade, Gremlin and Omnistrike, who were all now too weak to put up much of a fight. The three Deathcons were dead in several minutes.

    The tide of battle has turned. The Deathcons had been taken out; now, no one was sure of what to do. They massive crowd slowly separated into small groups, most of whom began to move off in separate directions.

    But the battle was not yet over; there were still several transformers fighting within the Royal Palace.


    -57-
    Galvatron aimed his fusion cannon at yet another wall, blasting a hole in it large enough for him to walk through. He charged into the next room, aiming wildly.

    All he found were two meager guards, whose lives he quickly extinguished. They barely had time to look surprised before Galvatron blew them both apart, getting a tiny bit of satisfaction from watching their limbs scatter in all directions.

    “Shockwave!” Galvatron bellowed, causing the walls to vibrate all around him. “Where are you, you cowardly traitor! Show yourself! It is time for me to repay you for your treachery!”

    Galvatron abruptly stopped himself. Did he really expect the fool to answer? If Galvatron had been Shockwave, he certainly wouldn't have replied.

    Galvatron sighed. Revenge was getting more and more difficult every time he wanted it.

    He decided to stop wandering through the Royal Palace, arbitrarily killing anyone who stumbled into his path, as he had been for the past half-hour. No, he had to think for a moment. He sat down on a small chair in the room. If he was Shockwave, where would he be?

    Of course! How could he have been so foolish? Shockwave was in the control center, or the Bridge, whatever it was called. Galvatron was sure he would find the traitor hiding out down there.

    Galvatron knew the main elevator would be guarded; even if he destroyed the guards, there would be ample time to activate the Bridge's defense systems. No, Galvatron would have to use the secret entrance he had installed shortly after building the Bridge; the entrance only he knew about.

    Galvatron stood and checked his fusion cannon for malfunctions. No problems. He turned and headed out the way he had come, towards the secret elevator which lay several corridors away.

    It wasn't until he had nearly reached the elevator that Galvatron sensed the presence behind him. Someone was following him. Whoever it was was quite good at sneaking around, but not good enough.

    Galvatron decided he preferred open confrontation to waiting for the fool to attack him. He stopped and turned, staring at the corner of the last turn he'd taken. He could make out a faint--large--shadow.

    “Who is that?” Galvatron said. “Show yourself! Is it you, Shockwave? Have you finally decided to face me, you traitor?”

    The shadow moved slightly.

    “It is you, isn't it, my old friend? Well, it is too late for you now. Try to escape and I will shoot you in the back. Show yourself now, and I'll allow you a shred of honor by killing you face-to-face.”

    The shadow moved. Slowly, it began to walk into the corridor.

    Galvatron smiled. Shockwave was a fool to the end. Had he tried to escape, he might have succeeded.

    Galvatron raised his fusion cannon, prepared to blast Shockwave to pieces with a full-power blast.

    The figure came into full view.

    Galvatron actually gasped.

    It wasn't Shockwave.

    “Sorry to disappoint you, Megatron,” Siege said, apparently choosing to ignore Megatron's new identity, “but I'm not Shockwave. However, I am still more than happy to face you. Of course, unlike Shockwave, I will kill you, and then take my rightful place as Decepticon Commander.”

    Galvatron hesitated. As Megatron, Galvatron had defeated Siege only once, and that had been by cheating. Here, he could not cheat. However, he was in a more powerful body now, but still...did he dare fight Siege?

    But then, he now had little choice in the matter. “Very well,” Galvatron said. He leveled his fusion cannon. “Prepare to die!”


    -58-
    Rodimus Prime swerved around yet another corner, wincing slightly as several blasts ripped huge chunks out of the wall and a few pelted off his trailer. Rodimus had lost sight of Shockwave quite a ways back; he feared Battleram may have already brought Shockwave down.

    Seconds after Rodimus turned the corner, Battleram bashed through it, ramming through the corner with a bladed battering ram that probably could have sliced Metroplex in half, in Rodimus' opinion. He was sure Battleram was more than powerful enough to kill him...if he could catch him. Rodimus had the advantage of speed and, as far as he could tell, maneuverability.

    Shockwave was nowhere in sight. Of that, Rodimus was sure now. Either Battleram thought the Decepticon was, for whatever reason, less important or had already killed him. In any case, it was just Battleram and Rodimus now.

    Rodimus turned yet another corner, barely missing the thick steel wall by bare inches. As he turned, he glanced back to check on Battleram's position.

    Bad move.

    For what seemed like the twentieth time in the last few weeks, Rodimus found himself smashing blindly through a lot of steel and circuitry. He hadn't seen the dead-end wall until it was about three seconds too late.

    Somehow, he managed to bash all the way through the wall and make it to the other side of it. But he had been thrown entirely off, and he found himself transforming and stumbling along the ground.

    Battleram swerved the corner, quickly braking with surprising abruptness and transforming into robot form. Slowly, he walked up to the hole, staring down at the Autobot leader hunched over on the floor, covered with blast burns and debris. The dim light and the hole's contours cast an eerie shadow to form Battleram's silhouette, and Rodimus was reminded of Death from Earth mythology, come to claim his soul.

    “Ah, the great Rodimus,” Battleram said. His voice was without a trace of the earlier smugness, sarcasm, or smirking. He seemed solemn, and yet, radiated anger. “It's too bad. You're even more of a fool than Optimus. And believe me, he wasn't too bright either.”

    Battleram stepped into the room. Rodimus started to stand, but Battleram whacked him hard across the back, knocking him to the ground. “You're too young,” Battleram continued. “Too little experience. You shouldn't be a Prime. At least Optimus knew when to fight and when to run. You seem to know the latter very well. But you don't know how to run. You probably don't know how to fight, either...”

    Rodimus began to stand. “Yeah?” he muttered, trying to speak past a damaged speech processor. “I'll show you--”

    Battleram whacked Rodimus across the head with the butt of his gun, knocking the cursing Autobot to the floor.

    “That's not how,” Battleram assured him. “Look at you. You're weak. Foolish. Indecisive. Ultra Magnus is a better commander. And he's an idiot. Both of you don't understand--we can't ally ourselves with the Decepticons. It's--wrong. It's against everything it means to be an Autobot. Our very name is to distinguish us from the Decepticons; this 'Autocon' is a gross twisting of those names.” Battleram turned to stand directly in front of Rodimus. “You know as well as I do that the Decepticons will use every advantage--including this alliance--to slaughter us all. It's their goal. Their only goal. One day of fighting a common enemy doesn't destroy millions of years of programming. It doesn't work that way.”

    “But it can,” Rodimus whispered, forcing himself to speak. “If we work at it, we can eventually--”

    “No! You're not listening! Don't you see? Megatron has programmed these transformers to be hate machines. All they do is hate us and kill us. That's all a Decepticon wants to do--hate and kill Autobots. That's why they're the bad guys and we're the good guys. And that's why we can't ally with them--we have to destroy them.”

    Rodimus abruptly started to laugh.

    “What's so funny?” Battleram demanded.

    Still chuckling sadly, Rodimus struggled to his feet, deflecting the half-hearted blow Battleram tossed at him. “Did you even hear a word you just said?” Rodimus asked. “You just said 'all Decepticons want to do is hate and kill.' Hate and kill? Look at yourself, Battleram. All you do is hate and kill Decepticons. You hate them. You kill them on sight. You've attempted to kill Autobots that have allied themselves with Decepticons.” Rodimus looked at Battleram defiantly, pulling himself up to his full height and staring Battleram right in the face. “You're no better than Megatron.”

    For a moment, Battleram was silent. He stared at Rodimus, his face unreadable. After a moment, he said, “You're wrong. It's you who's as bad as Megatron. You're the one who'd work with Megatron. Help him dominate and kill. Not me.”

    “You know that's not true,” Rodimus said. “I take my comment back. You're not even like a Decepticon. You're much, much worse. And the last thing you are...is an Autobot.”

    Battleram glared at him. “I'm sorry you feel that way,” he said slowly. “But I'm the one holding the gun.” He raised the fusion blaster, holding the muzzle inches from Rodimus' face. “See you in hell, Autocon.”


    -59-
    Grimlock staggered as he struggled to make it through the seemingly endless corridors. He had been inside some of the larger buildings of Autobot City, but he had never seen so many corridors. It reminded him of work, of pedestrian work. He didn't like it.

    He suddenly crumpled and gripped his antennae, screaming on the ground. He had never felt the kind of pain he was feeling right then, in his head. His felt as if some massive shark was crushing his brain in its jaws.

    He continued through the halls, struggling to think clearly. Where was he? The--the Decepticon Royal Palace. That was it. He had gone there because--because--why? He couldn't remember. Hadn't he been told to stay with the other Dinobots?

    Yes...but then the pain had become too great. That was it. He had to find Battleram. Battleram could make the pain stop.

    Grimlock struggled to his feet and began to stumble down the corridor again. He turned the corner--

    --and found himself staring at Ultra Magnus.

    The Autocon leader.

    From somewhere, in the very heart of the pain in his head, one word was launched to his logic centers: enemy.

    “Grimlock?” Magnus asked. “Grimlock? What's wrong? What happened to you?”

    The words sounded like explosions in Grimlock's mind. The turmoil doubled and redoubled, causing Grimlock to fall to the ground again.

    For the second time, a few words shot into his mind, this time bypassing his logic centers and going straight to the instinct programming: danger. Enemy. Kill.

    The urge became too much. Now given strength through anger, Grimlock got to his feet and threw himself at Magnus, knocking the Autobot to the floor. Grimlock rained punches on his former commander.

    Grimlock watched as each hit knocked Magnus' head this way and that. The Autobot commander was helpless against Grimlock's full assault. Grimlock stared at his fists, even as they struck Magnus' head. It seemed as if he wasn't controlling them.

    Suddenly, Grimlock yanked his fists back, staring at them. Magnus struggled to get out from under Grimlock, but Grimlock suddenly began to punch him again.

    Ultra Magnus began to succumb to the assault. After all that had happened, after what he had just gone through, he was about to be killed by one of his own former soldiers.

    But suddenly Grimlock jerked back and threw himself backward against a wall so hard he nearly bashed right through it. His body yanked itself out of the massive dent, and suddenly Grimlock began to convulse, his hands jerking back and forth. One hand seemed to reach for Magnus; the other clamped down on the attacking hand's wrist.

    Magnus watched with horror. What had happened to Grimlock?

    He stared at Grimlock. The behavior reminded of something he had seen once before...something horrible...

    The Mindebian mind alterers. Grimlock had one, too. Magnus had forgotten all about Grimlock! The Dinobot commander hadn't been there when Magnus had zapped the other Dinobots with the kedion pulse.

    But, unfortunately, the device had only one charge, and Magnus had been forced to use all of it. Now, Grimlock would die. Battleram must have turned it all the way up. No transformer had ever survived a maximum-power Mindebian mind alterer.

    But Grimlock was an extremely resilient transformer. The Dinobots were some of the toughest transformers ever made. Perhaps...

    “Grimlock!” Magnus said. “Listen to me! You've got a Mindebian mind alterer implanted in you! It's trying to force you to kill me! But you can fight it! Fight it off!”

    Of course, if worse came to worse, there was an easy way to give Grimlock more time. It was obvious to Magnus that Grimlock was already fighting the device, which was trying to force Grimlock to kill him. If Magnus had to, he would tell Grimlock to kill him, in order to give the Dinobot a chance.

    Grimlock staggered against the wall again. Inside his head, his primitive, almost childlike mind was waging a war with the alien presence of the mind alterer. The pain inside his head was unlike anything he had ever imagined possible. Two incredibly powerful mental forces were fighting one another, in a battle in which wounds hurt hundreds of times more than any physical wound imaginable.

    The mind alterer grappled with Grimlock's mind, struggling to force Grimlock to carry out its orders. Grimlock fought back, trying to force the device into deactivation.

    Suddenly, something snapped.

    Grimlock released a scream Magnus was sure had been dredged up from the depths of hell itself. Magnus cringed and gripped his audio sensors as Grimlock merely stood and screamed.

    Then Grimlock's hand shot up, gripped his left antennae, and tore it right off.

    Abruptly, the scream died. Grimlock threw the antennae to the ground, then staggered and fell.

    Magnus rushed to catch the Dinobot before he hit the ground. He helped Grimlock to his feet.

    “Are you all right?” Magnus asked.

    Grimlock didn't reply. He shook his head slightly, as his mind quickly worked on clearing out the excess mess that had been left behind, as well as compensating for the circuitry lost when the antennae was torn off.

    Grimlock looked gingerly down at his broken antennae. Attached to the inside of the antennae was a small, flat oval of grey metal. Grimlock reached down and tore the oval off the antennae.

    “Friggin' piece of shit,” Grimlock grumbled as he inspected the little object.

    Magnus stared at Grimlock. He'd never heard the Dinobot swear before.

    He supposed it was understandable.

    Grimlock clenched his fist, crushing the oval to powder. He turned to Magnus. “Where Battleram?” he asked.

    Magnus hesitated a moment, then said, “Why?”

    “Because me going after him,” Grimlock said. “He put that thing in me, and me going after him.”

    Magnus thought for a moment, then decided he had his old Dinobot back again. “He's somewhere in the Palace,” Magnus said. “I found Shockwave a few corridors back. He was half-dead. Battleram had rammed him, but went on after Rodimus. I sent for some medics for Shockwave, then began to follow the trail of destruction,” he said, pointing to the corner of the corridor, which was crushed with the dent of a bladed battering ram.

    Grimlock nodded. “Good,” he said. “Go back.”

    Magnus stared at him. “What?”

    “Go back,” Grimlock said more forcefully. “Go help Autobots clean up. Battleram mine.”

    “But he's--”

    “Go,” Grimlock nearly yelled. “Or I will kill you.”

    Magnus wasn't quite sure he trusted Grimlock enough yet. “Look, you've been--”

    “GO!!!”

    “Okay okay,” Magnus said, and he reluctantly turned back the way he had come.

    Grimlock clenched his fists and headed down the corridor.


    -60-
    Rumble stood impatiently, looking around nervously this way and that. He was standing outside the Royal Palace, waiting for his partner, Ratbat, to find him.

    “Razzin-frazzin' stupid bat,” Rumble muttered, “can't remember where his friggin' head is, never mind--”

    Abruptly, the wall behind Rumble exploded outward, throwing the tiny Decepticon to the ground and crushing him beneath the thick steel.

    There was a grunt, and Siege picked himself up off the shattered wall. He ducked just as Galvatron took another swing at him; Siege dropped down and grabbed Galvatron's leg, yanking it out from under the Decepticon leader and throwing him to the ground.

    “Fool!” Galvatron bellowed as he got to his feet, “you cannot match my power! I was created by Unicron!”

    “Big deal,” Siege replied. “He used spare parts. You're a walking junkpile.”

    Galvatron roared and charged, but Siege side-stepped and Galvatron plowed face-first into a pile of junk.

    “How appropriate,” Siege said. “It's where you belong. You're outdated. Archaic. The Decepticons need a new leader.”

    With startling speed, Galvatron spun and fired a massive burst from his fusion cannon, striking Siege squarely in the chest. The Deathcon leader was sent hurtling back nearly a hundred feet before slamming hard into the thick walls of the Royal Palace.

    “Archaic, am I?” Galvatron said grimly, rising from the pile and walking into the gloomy, smoky mist which had formed from the recent battle. “Outdated? I think not. Perhaps I may have more experience, but outdated? Never.”

    “Yes,” Siege said, getting up from the large dent he had formed in the wall. “You are archaic. And do you know why? Because I can beat you.”

    “You think so, hmm?” Galvatron said, a grim smile forming across his face. “Then go for it.”

    Siege looked at Galvatron for a moment. Apparently, his attempts at goading Galvatron into foolish charges weren't going to work anymore. And Siege wasn't doing too well. He'd misjudged Galvatron's newfound powers. Now, he had to use Plan B.

    Without warning, Siege drew both of his fusion blasters, as well as sliding up his shoulder-mounted fusion cannons. Both immediately began to fire, pummeling Galvatron.

    Galvatron began to laugh.

    Siege couldn't believe his optical sensors. He was firing with everything he had, and yet, Galvatron wasn't getting hurt. How could--

    Siege whirled, but it was too late. The hologram Galvatron vanished, and the real Galvatron swung hard, slamming his fist into Siege's head. Unable to take the strain, Siege's head tore off, hitting the ground and rolling a few feet before coming to a stop.

    A tremendous squeal erupted from Siege's headless corpse. To Galvatron's utter horror, the body reached up and grabbed Galvatron's right arm, then threw him away. It then transformed and took off into the sky, still screaming.

    Siege had been smart; long ago, he had implanted a backup into his body. For over a thousand years, his cerebral functions had been divided between the portion of his brain in his head, and the portion in his chest. His memories and a few functions were stored into his chest. When the head had been lost, he had somehow found the presence of mind to transform and take off.

    Unnoticed in the swarms of various Autobot and Decepticon jets leaving the battle, Siege flew off, with plans to put together a new team of Deathcons, and one day, return to claim his rightful throne as ruler of Cybertron.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Skysonic wasn't quite sure where he was going. He had just taken off, left the battle, and he wasn't sure of what he was going to do. He wasn't even sure of where he was, or who he was, for that matter. Of course, trivial things like where you were or who you are didn't matter to Skysonic. He wasn't sure of what he wanted to do, except leave.

    He was so intent on getting away from the battle that he never even noticed Dirge come up behind him, shoot a powerful missile at Skysonic, then fly away.

    Skysonic was rather surprised when the missile hit; it punched right through his armor. He hadn't realized it had been so damaged in the battle. Oh well.

    The last thing Skysonic ever saw was the ground, which was spinning toward him at a rather high rate of speed.


    -61-
    Rodimus Prime was out of options. Out of luck. He just stood there, watching Battleram. All he could focus on was the fact that he was actually about to die. For some reason, he found thousands of images pouring through his thoughts, images of his entire life. He had heard humans talk of “their lives passing before their eyes” when they were about to die, or thought they were; that must have been what he was experiencing. He saw his creation...waking up and seeing Ratchet...racing around with Springer and Nightwind and Sideswipe in Iacon...going to Earth, and dealing with those stupid tankers...meeting Daniel...Galvatron...becoming Rodimus...

    Then came that awful, final sentence. Rodimus brought himself into full focus, staring defiantly.

    Battleram pointed his gun at Rodimus' head. “See you in hell, Autocon.”

    Something flashed across Rodimus' face.

    Battleram fired.

    The shot glanced off something, and Battleram was struck in the shoulder by the reflected blast. Rodimus saw a large energo-sword finish its course across the room and strike the wall, sticking out and wobbling slightly before falling to the floor.

    Rodimus turned his head to the other side of the room.

    Grimlock stood in the dark doorway, his face grim, his eyes full of fury. But Grimlock was paying no attention to Rodimus. He was staring at Battleram, who was staring right back at Grimlock, particularly at the Dinobot's missing antennae.

    “Get out of here, Prime,” Grimlock said. “Before he kill you.”

    Rodimus protested. “No way! He'll kill you, too. Just--”

    Grimlock didn't even look at Rodimus. Something about the Dinobot's manner told Rodimus it was time to leave. Battleram didn't even glance at the Autobot leader as Rodimus slipped back into the darkness, to find his way out of the Palace.

    “So,” Battleram said slowly. “You destroyed the mind alterer. I've never heard of that ever happening. You have quite a strong constitution.” Battleram's voice became darker. “Too bad it's apparent you're now for the wrong cause.”

    “Not me,” Grimlock said. “You the wrong one. You kill fellow Autobots. You were going to kill Rodimus. And they say you the ultimate Autobot.” Grimlock laughed grimly. “I was right. You no better than Decepticon. Actually, Decepticon better than you.”

    “You're on the wrong side,” Battleram said, a tiny hint of fear in his voice. “You're blind to what's going on. You can't see what the Decepticons are doing.”

    “You are fool,” Grimlock said. “You too set in old ways. Even Kup can change mind. You can't. You just go around, deciding for everyone else what's right and what's wrong. That fine, up until you kill someone who doesn't deserve death. And you even try to kill Autobots. You evil, Battleram. You and Siege are one and the same.”

    “Enough talk,” Battleram, and he attacked, throwing himself at Grimlock. Grimlock let himself fall, then kicked up and threw Battleram into the corridor wall. Battleram flipped before Grimlock could attack, and he grabbed Grimlock's right arm with both hands, throwing the Dinobot through the corridor wall and sending him smashing to the ground.

    Battleram backed up to the other corridor wall and transformed, charging Grimlock. At the last second, Grimlock transformed and managed to catch the bladed battering ram in his jaws. He shook Battleram violently, then hurled the transformer across the room.

    The two transformed again, and Battleram opened fire with his fusion blaster. Grimlock reeled slightly from the shots, then fired two of his own from his fists, knocking the gun from Battleram's hands. Battleram made a dive for the gun, but Grimlock stepped on it, crushing it to pieces.

    Battleram seized the advantage. He put both arms around Grimlock's thick lower leg and pulled the Dinobot off the ground. Mustering up as much strength as he could, Battleram hurled Grimlock through the room's wall.

    The impact caused more damage than Battleram could have hoped for. The walls had several major power junctions within them, and when they were smashed they exploded and caused a great deal of damage to Grimlock. Besides that, the wall was quite thick, and half of Grimlock's right side was dented in several places.

    Battleram chuckled slightly, and stepped through the smoking hole into the room, which was some sort of laboratory. Grimlock looked around wildly for a weapon, and found one; an abandoned, mean-looking gun.

    Grimlock grabbed it and managed to fire off three shots before Battleram snatched the gun from his hand. Grimlock tried to stand, but Battleram kicked the Dinobot across the face, knocking him to the floor.

    “It's over, Grimlock,” Battleram said, a grim smile on his face. “It's all over. You've lost.”

    “As long as other Autobots alive, me never lost,” Grimlock replied. “Now go ahead. Shoot me. Kill fellow Autobot. It show just how bad you've become.”

    Battleram hesitated. “C'mon, Grimlock,” he said. “Join me. Together, we can fix Cybertron. Get rid of the Decepticons. Save the Autobots.”

    “Never,” Grimlock hissed. “Me thinking for myself now, and me know that you wrong. Shoot me. Or, perhaps you thinking that maybe you wrong?”

    Battleram bristled. “I don't want to do this,” he said.

    “You wrong,” Grimlock said simply. “You killer, murderer. You no Autobot. You Decepticon.”

    Now Battleram didn't hesitate, aiming the gun at Grimlock's head. “And you're a traitor,” he said, “and now you'll die for treason.”

    Battleram fired.

    There wasn’t time for even a look of surprise as the gun exploded backwards, completely shredding Battleram's head. The rigged gun fell from Battleram's hands, and Battleram collapsed on the ground, screaming and convulsing as the shrapnel dug deeper and deeper into his mind. Finally, Battleram's main computer shut down, and the lifeless corpse became motionless.

    Grimlock staggered to his feet. It was rather ironic, for the great Battleram to die from such a stupid mistake as using a Decepticon gun. But Grimlock didn't bother to contemplate this irony. He just wanted to get the hell out of there, and to find First Aid.

    He had a terrible headache.


    -62-
    Rodimus Prime wandered through the halls, trying to fight the urge to go back and help Grimlock. But he knew that the Dinobot wouldn't like that.

    Rodimus had spent the last several minutes looking for Shockwave, but he couldn't find the Decepticon anywhere. He hoped that meant Shockwave was alive.

    Rodimus stumbled slightly as his regenerative processes began working on his right leg. His internal sensors told him his speech processes, arms and main torso were in functioning condition, though his paint job had gone from red with flames to a musty reddish-grey, with thick black marks where various shots had struck their target.

    Rodimus rounded a corner and faced a huge, gaping hole. Apparently, someone's weapon had punctured the Palace's thick walls. Rodimus peered out of hole.

    Night had fallen. It was rather early for it to be so dark, but the thick black haze, the most obvious reminder of the day's battle, made the area look much darker. Besides that, there was still a lot of smoke in the atmosphere due to the Dezics fire. What little light could make it from Cybertron's distant sun was nearly extinguished.

    If the haze was the most obvious reminder of how recently the battle had ended, the ground was a close runner-up. The entire Royal Palace was scorched from one end to the other with long streaks of carbon scoring and various holes in its armor.

    But the area around the Palace was even worse. Half of Decepticon City was leveled, due partly to the aerial battle's drifting that way towards the end of the battle, and partly due to the fight between Trypticon, Omega Supreme and Grim Reaper. The ground in front of the Palace was almost all black, with small plasma fires slowly burning out here and there. Everywhere, the metal ground was either scorched or torn, blasted or shredded.

    Then there were the bodies. Hundreds of dead Autobots and Decepticons littered the ground. They were everywhere Rodimus looked. He saw several Autobots he had known. Now, they were gone. Killed in what they probably believed had been a heroic battle.

    But had it been? Rodimus didn't know. He couldn't help feeling that the entire battle could have been averted had he been there. If he hadn't taken that foolish run through Iacon, perhaps everything would have been different.

    But he couldn't dwell on it. He knew very well that dwelling on what he should have done was a trap Optimus Prime had fallen to far too many times in his time as leader of the Autobots. It was one of the few faults Optimus had had.

    Rodimus was scanning the ground again, looking at the various bodies, when suddenly he stopped.

    He stared.

    Leaping from the hole, Rodimus ignited his hip rockets to cushion his fall, then ran madly across the smoking battlefield until he reached the body he had seen. It didn't even occur to him to transform.

    “Oh, dear Primus,” Rodimus whispered, despair slicing into his soul, “don't let it be true. Primus, don't let it be true.”

    Rodimus slowly knelt on the ground. “No,” he whispered. He slowly turned the body around, turning it to face him.

    “No.”

    Sideswipe's lifeless eyes gazed up at him, unseeing in death. Half of his face was gone, blasted away by some anonymous enemy.

    “Why?” Rodimus whispered. “Why, damn it!? Why did you have to come here and fight, Sideswipe? You were posted on Earth! Why did you come? What were you fighting for?”

    For a moment, Rodimus feared Sideswipe had joined Battleram's group. But as he inspected the corpse, he saw an odd symbol on Sideswipe's chest, a hybrid between the Autobot and Decepticon symbols.

    “Why?” Rodimus whispered again. “Why...”

    “Because,” said a deep, familiar voice behind him, “he's an Autobot. All Autobots get killed, sooner or later.”

    Rodimus' jaw clenched. “Galvatron,” he snarled.

    “Ah, you remember me,” Galvatron said. “Quite touching. I see you have all the sentiment of your former leader. A pity. I thought you might have been more of a worthy foe.”

    Rodimus slowly stood and faced the Decepticon leader. “Optimus Prime had more worthiness than I'll ever have,” he said, “but a slug would be hard-pressed not to be worthy enough to fight you.”

    Galvatron's mouth curled in a warrior's grin, revealing his sharp metal teeth. “Ah, insults,” he said. “Quite the little warrior, aren't we?”

    “I defeated you before,” Rodimus said.

    The grin vanished. “I was caught off-guard,” Galvatron growled. “It won't happen again.”

    For the first time, Rodimus actually realized he was going to have to fight Galvatron. He measured Galvatron up. It looked as if Galvatron had been put through the ringer with someone, too, but Galvatron had come out better than Rodimus had. Rodimus didn't bother to estimate his chances; he knew they were quite nil.

    “What's the matter, Autobot?” Galvatron said at his foe's hesitation. “Ah, I see. I guess the life of that Autobot behind you isn't worth vengeance. I understand. We Decepticons have honor that far outweighs that of an Autobot.”

    Rodimus eyes suddenly blazed, and he forgot all about his chances. He hurled himself at Galvatron, catching the Decepticon off-guard and throwing the both of them to the ground.

    They rolled on the ground, both punching wildly at each other. Galvatron attempted to aim his fusion cannon, but Rodimus tore it off and hurled it away.

    The two battled on the ground for several minutes. Finally, Galvatron gained the upper hand, and he flung Rodimus ten meters away.

    “You fool!” he bellowed. “I hate Autobots! I hate Primes! I've already killed one of you; you're going to be the second--and the last!” Galvatron charged at Rodimus, who was slumped on the ground, exhausted and in pain.

    Suddenly, a massive dark shadow appeared around the two transformers, and there was a huge boom from the sky. Two colossal purple fireballs appeared, streaking towards Galvatron. The Decepticon leader turned to see the two blasts coming at him and threw his arms across his face in a futile attempt to ward the shots off. Rodimus threw an arm over his own face.

    The two blasts struck the Decepticon with incredible force. Several pieces of the Decepticon flew off, and his main body was driven into the ground, which became a small crater.

    Rodimus had been out of range; he slowly picked himself up and walked over to the crater. He inspected Galvatron; miraculously, the Decepticon was still alive, but thoroughly deactivated.

    Rodimus heard an engine above him, and the form of a small blue ship appeared. A bombay door opened, and a Decepticon jet flew out, transforming and landing next to Rodimus.

    “Sheez,” Spade said, looking at the unconscious Decepticon. “Now there's a piece of garbage. Is he dead?” he asked, turning to Rodimus. Rodimus shook his head.

    “Dang. Anyway, sorry I couldn't help ya sooner, but you and he were too close together for me to take a reliable shot. But as soon as he flung you out of range, and shot a couple 'a fusion blasts his way. Looks like he didn't take it too well.” Spade chuckled. “Anyway, can I take him?”

    Rodimus eyed the Decepticon detective. “What are you going to do with him?”

    A mischievous gleam appeared in Spade's eye. “I know a little place where there's a lot of molten lava,” he said, “and I have a sneaking suspicion it's just the right type of place for our friend here. Don't you think?”

    “How far away is it?” Rodimus asked.

    “Far enough. Don't worry about it.” Spade took the body. “Anyway, that's two you owe me.”

    Rodimus managed a small smile. “I guess you're right,” he said. “Without you, I would have been dead a while ago.”

    “Yep,” Spade agreed. “Anyway, I've gotta go. Do me a favor, though...if you see her, tell 'Wind to meet me at Quaxen's sometime soon,” he said as he transformed. “She knows when I go.”

    Spade flew up to his ship, deposited Galvatron's body, then poked his head out of the bombay door again. “Boy, I sure wouldn't want to be in your shoes. It looks like you've got quite an urban renewal program ahead of you.”

    Rodimus grinned. “I suppose I do. Thanks again. I've gotta ask something, though...you're not really a Decepticon, you know. But you're not really an Autobot, either. Just what are you, Spade?”

    “What am I?” Spade said, and he chuckled. “Why, I'm the stuff--ah, never mind. See you later, Rodimus.” Spade shut the door, leaving Rodimus' question unanswered as he piloted his ship away from Cybertron. It left Rodimus with an unquestionable feeling that he would see Spade again.

    Rodimus scanned the area. Night had fully fallen, and a large cluster of Autobots were gathering up the dead and incinerating the bodies. Rodimus picked up Sideswipe's body and slowly trudged toward the group.


    -63-
    Shockwave had lost the medics easily. He limped slowly, constantly reminding himself where he was going, in fear of forgetting. A large chunk of his head had been knocked off when Battleram had struck him. He tried to remember why Battleram had been chasing him...he couldn't remember. Where was he? The Palace. He was going to the Bridge, wasn't he? He felt his mind constantly slipping. Where was he? He tried to remember something...anything. His mind kept going blank.

    Shockwave rounded a corner and nearly walked straight into Nightwind. Nightwind jumped back, startled.

    “Shockwave!” she exclaimed. “What's--what happened? Primes, you look horrible! What happened to your head?” She reached up, and to her shock realized some of his most vital circuitry was exposed and sparking--or missing. “Good Primus! Shockwave, we've got to find a medic, quick!”

    Shockwave stared at the transformer. Who was she? How did she know him? Shockwave was certain he'd never seen her before.

    “Br--Br-Bridge,” Shockwave mumbled. “Must find--Brig.”

    “I just came from there,” Nightwind said. “Some technicians are taking care of it. No one else is there. Now come on, Shockwave, let's...”

    “Who's--Shockwave?”

    Nightwind closed her mouth. She stared at Shockwave. Slowly, she accepted the truth.

    It was too late.

    “Shockwave,” she said. “You-you're Shockwave. Don't you remember?”

    “Whas--remem....wade. Sholwade...no remeber. Cerketry...faling. Rember...remember, Nightwind. Remember...Autocons.”

    Nightwind stared at her commander. She realized what was happening; he was dying.

    “Cerebral breakdown imminent. Suggestion: retrieve primal cortex, reuse for new transformer.”

    Nightwind recognized Shockwave's words. His backup circuitry was telling her to retrieve his primal cortex, as all transformer's minds did if they had enough energy left to do so. Shockwave, the Shockwave she had known and hated, the Shockwave who had first turned her into a Decepticon, then united her with her friends, was dead.

    Shockwave's lifeless body suddenly fell to the ground with a resounding thunk. Slowly, Nightwind reached down and picked up the body of her former commander. The body would be repaired, possibly repainted and once again called Shockwave, but it would not be Shockwave. Nightwind was sure if that. She found it slightly ironic; unlike what he had done to her, Shockwave would not have to suffer through being reprogrammed and losing everything he knew. He had escaped.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Nightwind was preparing to sit down to try and think of where to go when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

    She jumped slightly, then turned to face Rodimus Prime.

    She glanced around at the other Decepticons in the small Decepticon camp, which was in a small section of the charred battlefield. A few Decepticons were looking at them suspiciously, but most were solemnly placing bodies in the recycler.

    “Um, hi,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

    “I wanted to say hi,” Rodimus said with a sad smile. “And tell you something. Spade said something about meeting you at--Quaxen's, I think.”

    “Ah, yes,” Nightwind said. “Yes, I know what he means. All right.”

    Rodimus looked around the small Decepticon camp. It was nearly midnight, and many Decepticons were laying on the ground, recharging, or had gone back to their homes, those who still had them.

    “So what are you going to do?” Rodimus asked. “The Decepticons, I mean.”

    “Well...the two groups have sort of rejoined, from what I can tell. There's a general feeling of confusion. No one's quite sure what to do. Cyclonus has sort of taken command, though, since Shockwave's dead. Cyclonus is planning to lead us off to another planet...I can't quite remember the name...to 'regroup our forces.' Basically, he's planning more violence. But you Autobots will have a mostly Decepticon-free Cybertron, for a while.”

    “Mostly?” Rodimus said. “Does that mean you're staying?”

    Nightwind grinned. “You wish!” she said. “Nah, I'm afraid I've got to go meet up with Spade. Then I've got some stuff to do on my own. Besides that, I don't think Cybertron is going to be the best place for a lone Decepticon, at least for a while.”

    “I'd give you protection,” Rodimus said. “You could even...ahem...defect, if you wanted. None of the Autobots would mind--”

    “No, no,” Nightwind said. “Not right now. I'm not ready. Not yet.”

    “Does that mean you will be, someday?”

    Nightwind looked at him. “I don't know,” she said. “One day, maybe. But I'm still pretty screwed up right now.”

    “You've been screwed up for at least a decade, 'Wind,” Rodimus said.

    “Gee, thanks...”

    “Oh, you know what I mean,” Rodimus said. “You've been having identity problems for a while...”

    “Look,” Nightwind said, smiling now, “it's not like I'm leaving forever. We'll speak again.”

    “But you just got here!” Rodimus said. “Or I did, or whatever. Now you have to go running off with Spade again...”

    “Calm down,” Nightwind said. “You're exaggerating. Besides the other problems, if I'm not mistaken, you're going to be quite the busy little leader for the next few months anyway.”

    Rodimus was crestfallen. “Yeah, I guess you're right,” he muttered.

    “Ah, I'll be back before you know it,” Nightwind said. She gave him a peck on the cheek, an odd human gesture she suddenly felt propelled to do. “I've gotta go meet Spade. I'll see you around, Rod.”

    Rodimus smiled. “See you around, 'Wind.”

    Rodimus turned and walked away from the camp.


    -64-
    “So how many did we lose?”

    Rodimus winced slightly at the sound of Ultra Magnus' voice. His audio receptors still hadn't dulled to normal levels after being replaced. Every word sounded like a cannon shot. “Could you talk a little more quietly, please?”

    “Sorry,” Magnus said more quietly.

    Rodimus looked out the office window, where an even more destroyed Cybertron shone before him in the early light. “We lost six-hundred and seventy-two Autobots,” he said. “And about seven hundred Decepticons died.”

    “I heard that Shockwave died?”

    “Yeah...he escaped the medics you called, and died trying to repair himself. His body's been recycled--he's green now, can you believe it?--but it's not Shockwave. The Shockwave we knew is dead.”

    “That's too bad,” Magnus said. “You know...it just doesn't seem fair. I really thought we had something. For a while there, I thought that it really was over. The war had ended.”

    “Perhaps it has,” Rodimus said. “Perhaps Cyclonus will come talk to us again, but this time, ask for peace.”

    “Do you really believe that?”

    Rodimus paused. “No,” he said. “I don't.”

    Magnus nodded solemnly. “It seems like such a waste. As far as I can tell, we're back at square one. This is almost the exact same view we saw a bare month ago.”

    Rodimus nodded slightly. “Yes,” he said, “but all the Decepticons are gone.” He paused for a moment, thinking of something. “All of them.”

    “Well. not quite,” Magnus said. “Springer and Quickstrike are out with their squads, tracking down some rogues. But it looks like a good ninety-nine percent of the Decepticons left, if you can believe that.”

    “Where did they go?”

    Magnus frowned slightly. “We tried to track them,” he said, “but we lost their shuttle fleet a couple of hours ago. I just received the report. They used the Delta Agma trick, flying close to the star, which messed up our tracking devices because of all those solar flares, odd gravity wells, and other disturbances. Now I see why so many smugglers use that star. Oh, yes...one shuttle made a drop-off at Delta Agma IV. It was odd. Only one Decepticon got off.”

    “Who?”

    “We're not sure. We lost him as soon as he touched ground.”

    “Or her,” Rodimus said, a small grin forming on his face. “Magnus...when you've got a moment, see if there's a small, unregistered ship called the Maltese Falcon docked somewhere on that planet.”

    “Uh, sure,” Magnus said. “I'll try. But, if it's unregistered, then how can I--”

    “Never mind,” Rodimus said, with a wave of his hand.

    The two stared out the window for a few moments. Magnus finally broke the silence. “Was it all worth it?” he asked. “Seems to me we got nothing out of it but death...I'm sorry about Sideswipe.”

    Rodimus nodded. “Was it worth it?” he said. “I think so. It seems to me that we did achieve something. For a short time, we were allies--true allies--with Decepticons. That means there are Decepticons willing to listen to us, perhaps even willing to defect...”

    “Oh, yes,” Magnus said. “Did you hear about that?”

    “About what?”

    “About four hours ago, one of the squads discovered a group of fifty or so Decepticons,” Magnus said. “They were former Autocons. They've decided to defect.”

    “Really?”

    “Yes,” Magnus said. “In fact, I came to tell you that you have to meet with their leader in an hour or so.”

    “That's great,” Rodimus said. “See, we did achieve something.”

    “I guess you're right,” Magnus said. He turned to leave. “Oh, yeah...if you get the chance, you might want to speak to Arcee. You haven't spoken to her since you returned.”

    Rodimus winced slightly. “I know,” he said, feeling guilty at both his unwillingness to face Arcee and his total lack of acknowledgment of her the last few days. “I'll speak to her.”

    Magnus nodded and left.

    Rodimus took one last, long look at the destruction outside his window. It wasn't pretty at all. It was going to take a long, long time to rebuild.

    Rodimus turned and left his office.
     
  14. Throwback

    Throwback Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Posts:
    237
    Trophy Points:
    91
    Likes:
    +0
    Whoever whote this did one heck of a job. I like it
     
  15. Spade

    Spade New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2007
    Posts:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    31
    Likes:
    +0
    That someone would be me ;)  I'm Jason Clarke.

    Robot Pimp, who are you and how are we good friends? ;)  I'm not doubting you, I'm just wondering who you are. Are you from the CMTF days?

    Oh, and for the record, I didn't write this story three years ago. I completed this story in June 1994, a good thirteen years ago.
     
  16. Throwback

    Throwback Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Posts:
    237
    Trophy Points:
    91
    Likes:
    +0
    Great story JASON. Do you have any others like this lying around anywhere??
     
  17. Spade

    Spade New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2007
    Posts:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    31
    Likes:
    +0
  18. surak777

    surak777 Autobot Musician TFW2005 Supporter

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2007
    Posts:
    338
    Trophy Points:
    106
    Likes:
    +0
    just want to say this kicks ass
     

Share This Page