Cosmos “No.” The yellow and blue robot continued down the hall, his pace quick and intense, indicating that Cosmos’s initial ‘no’ had gone ignored. Cosmos waited until Nightbeat entered his office and shut the door before continuing with his refusal. “I said no.” “I haven’t asked you for anything yet.” Nightbeat replied. “You’re about to.” The short green and yellow robot replied as he stood up from his chair and started walking around his desk toward his visitor. The office was small, one tucked into the second floor corner of the Honorus Spaceport in central Iacon. “And I have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be.” “Oh, and what’s that?” The detective asked. “How’s this for deductive reasoning?” The rotund robot with a yellow face covered by a red helmet as well as a yellow plate covering his mouth and nose began. “My pal Nightbeat, who I haven’t seen or even heard from in over a decade, who until a few years ago had been given carte blanche from Prime to gain access to whatever resources he wanted, who utilized those resources to go on more off-world trips than anyone else since way before either of us was born, a friend who not only had that carte blanche seemingly revoked but who also wound up being blacklisted from Guardian Spaceport, now shows up unannounced in my tiny hidden office in this secondary spaceport…” “More like tertiary.” Nightbeat interrupted. “Really?” Cosmos barely managed to cross his arms over his rounded torso as he came to a stop before his taller guest and leaned back onto the front of his desk. “Perhaps my assumption was wrong. You wouldn’t be an insulting dick were you coming here to ask for an impossible favor.” “Uhm, well…” “How about you let me finish my game of play detective then, huh?” Cosmos continued. “Whatever Sentinel wanted you to do with all those classified off-world jaunts, it appears you failed. But I know you well enough to know you don’t just let things go, sooooo, you’re here to finish whatever it was you started.” Nightbeat smiled. “Maybe Sentinel should have chosen you. You seem to be a better detective than I am lately.” “Yes, it required all my powers of deduction to figure out what you were up to.” Cosmos batted back sarcastically. “You’re persona-non-grata in every spaceport in Nova Cronum, and you’re thinking good ol’ Cosmos is just going to loan out a starhopper to you?” The short, rotund robot shook his head. “Look Beat, we’re friends and all, but Prime would have me on orbital trash detail were I to do that.” Nightbeat just stared evenly at his friend for a moment before responding. “Look Cosmos, there’s been an event in The Torus Heights that will have Sentinel Prime distracted for the foreseeable future, and I know for a fact that you have a starhopper that’s been collecting dust in the sub-basement levels for over three million years.” “So, and, so?” Cosmos replied. “The election of the kid in the frozen wastes is barely a blip, and even under feet of dust, a starhopper is extremely valuable and off limits to you.” “It’s not just the election of a kid, it’s that the election of THAT kid serves as an excuse for Sentinel to initiate hostilities with The Heights.” Nightbeat replied as he backed up and took a seat on a chair that was against the wall next to the door he had walked through moments before. “He’s been praying for an opportunity like this for years. Trust me, there’s nothing outside his impending attack on House Pax that’s going to catch his attention.” “I’d be risking my career, my very station in life, on that assumption.” Cosmos replied. “Actually, you might be risking more than that.” Nightbeat corrected with a lopsided grin. “But it’s a safe assumption. Nobody knows or remembers this thing exists; the only reason I do is because I went looking through old inventory files for a craft that would likely have been forgotten. And it really will be a quick excursion. I should be there and back before Prime’s invasion even begins, much less afterward when he has time to focus on anything else.” “Uh-huh.” Cosmos replied as he looked down at the floor for a moment and chuckled lightly, before turning his gaze back up at his visitor. “Not that it matters, because I’m going to say no, but where exactly is ‘there’?” “That’s classified.” The detective replied, knowing full well that answer would never be accepted. “Bunk, pal.” Cosmos responded as anticipated. “It WAS classified when you were operating under the authority of Prime. But you’ve been shit-canned, meaning nothing you do is classified anymore.” Nightbeat paused, knowing that the true answer was not going to sway Cosmos into helping him any more than his attempt at stonewalling had. “That’s not really how it works, Cosmos, I’m still bound to keep my trap shut, but slag it, it’s called Helios-3.” “Never heard of it.” “Not surprising, it isn’t on any of our star charts.” Nightbeat replied. “It’s a wholly organic world in the outskirts of the galaxy. Jhiaxus considered it for…colonization.” The detective decided to hold back on the legendary scientist’s actual intentions for the planet. “Jhiaxus?” Cosmos planted his hands on the edge of his desk and asked with genuine surprise. “As in, THE Jhiaxus? Guardian Prime’s scientific advisor? Inner circle? Mad scientist super-genius…Jhiaxus?” “Yes, Jhiaxus.” Nightbeat answered. “What the hell did Prime have you working on?” Cosmos asked with enthusiasm. “That truly is classified.” Nightbeat explained. “I didn’t complete my mission quickly enough for Sentinel, but I know that I can complete it. I’m confident that Helios-3 holds the key to achieving my goal, but I have to get there first.” The blue and yellow detective studied his friend as Cosmos peered back down at the floor, deep in thought. It was too much for him to ask Cosmos, the risk really was too great to his friend. But he was nearly done, and should he return with the Matrix, Sentinel Prime would forgive any trespass. And should he return with a revived Guardian Prime, then Sentinel Honorum’s displeasure would amount to less than nothing. He felt dirty doing it, but Cosmos needed to be manipulated into doing what was necessary. “Look Cosmos, I should not have asked. You’re a good friend, better than I deserve. Much better. I’ve withdrawn, not just from you, from everybody. I’ve been a self-centered jerk. And here I come, not to patch up a neglected friendship, but to ask a favor, a favor that can get you into a tremendous amount of trouble.” Nightbeat stood up and turned toward the door. “I’m sorry Cosmos, please forget I came today.” “Wait.” The word came out just as the door started opening. “Shut the door and sit back down.” Nightbeat nodded and did as he was told. After a long pause Cosmos continued. “You’re right about that ship. Totally forgotten, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one aware of it. I’ll arrange for you to take it, but you need to promise that you’re exit and re-entry will go unnoticed. Starhopper 24837 may be forgotten, but it’s not untraceable.” “Thanks pal, I owe you one.” “You’re damn right about that.” *** Militus Macht He was not Jugatus. Some could see this banquet and the rewards he was about to bestow upon Megatron as an attempt to buy him off; he himself saw it that way. But while he would make Megatron a lord, grant him a title and lands, lands vast and possessing veins of energon, with no less than thirteen hotspots from which he could choose to build House Megatronus upon, he would not be granting the gladiator entrance into House Macht. This justification swirled about his head as he looked upon the servants finishing their preparation of the great ceremonial table of Castle Macht’s main dining chamber. It would only be the two of them, he and Megatron, but this was to be seen as symbolic. Not only the elevation of a commoner to the level of high lord, but the creation of a great house. It was a high price, but if the rumors of the Pentiathan convocation were even the least bit true, either a great offering or a great intervention would be required. Militus Macht needed a better understanding of what he faced before intervening, so for now, he was buying Megatron off. “Emir Macht?” The servant’s voice drew Militus’s gaze up toward the door. Upon confirming Emir Macht’s attention, the servant, File, smiled and bowed her head. “Megatron of Tarn is here.” “Show him in.” Militus responded as he turned back toward the table and gave it one last evaluation. Flavored energon, chips and fluid, both pure and tainted engex, lined the table on immaculate crystalline plates and in goblets. Two small statues depicting Megatron in combat stood on either end of the table. A moment later Militus heard the door being pushed open and turned to greet his guest. “Hand hold us, he’s found religion.” Megatron of Tarn continued into the room and looked down at the purple engraving of the Warrior’s face on his chest, smiling as he did so. “Not much fear on that account, Emir Macht. I’ve just always admired the look of it, and the attributes of the Warrior, courage, ruthlessness, perseverance, resourcefulness, and an unbending will, have always been the greatest of traits in my estimation. It’s as if the symbol were created specifically for me.” Militus eyed the gladiator warily. “There are many a religious authority who would take issue with that statement.” “I think I’ve committed transgressions far more worthy of their attention than this.” Megatron said as he approached Militus, noting the statues of himself with a subdued smile. “You wished to speak with me, Emir Macht?” “Yes, thank you for coming, Megatron.” Militus smiled as he reached out and clutched the gladiator’s wrist in greeting. “You may not realize it yet, but what I just said is historic.” “Oh, how is that?” The chrome warrior asked as the two released their grasp of each other’s arms. “That was the last time you will be addressed without the title ‘Lord’ coming before your name.” Militus replied before turning away from him and walking toward the table, grabbing a data pad as he got to it. “Emir Macht?” Megatron questioned. “I name you Jarl of the Southeastern Octant of Polyhex, an octant that includes your home Tarn.” Militus announced as he grabbed a goblet of engex with one hand and handed the data pad to Megatron with the other. “You will be lord over one eighth of my emirate, answering only to House Macht. You will collect tithes from those that live there, and you will provide me with tithing, as well as providing a portion of the energon mined in your octant and any military aid I request.” Megatron studied the data pad, one listing all of his new lands and possessions, his face almost giving an air of indifference. “This truly is most generous, Emir Macht.” Noting the lack of gratitude, Militus leaned in toward his guest. “I don’t think you realize how significant this is, Lord Megatron. You are now one of the wealthiest beings on the planet. You are in a position to establish your own house, and have the resources and influence to make that house as great as some of the royal houses.” “I know.” Megatron looked up from the pad and met Militus’s gaze. “Properly managed, the ruler of the Tarnian Octant could amass more wealth than Houses Nexus, Maximus, Ambus and possibly even Modus. I would be lying to you were I to tell you that I wasn’t tempted to accept this. But ultimately, my ambition is far greater than an eighth of an emirate answering to a house that answers to a Prime. Yes, this Jarl-ship has already been presented and requires no further effort, while it will require a tremendous amount of work and risk to attain my true goal, but I have never been one to be afraid of work or risk, nor have I ever been one to settle.” The enraged, and slightly unnerved Militus backed away several steps, snarling out at his guest with venom in his voice. “I invite you to a magnificent feast, I present a gift of title and land unequalled in the history of Cybertron, I would make you more powerful and respected than any common born Cybertronian in history, and you dare to spit on my offering?” Megatron shifted his head slightly as he considered the Emir’s accusation, answering flippantly a few moments later. “Yes.” Militus continued backing away from the table, toward the door that Megatron had entered through moments before. “This has to do with the mass gathering in the badlands, doesn’t it? You’re involved with that group, don’t bother to deny it!” “Involved with that group?” Megatron chuckled as he slowly started taking ominous steps toward the emir. “Emir Macht, I AM that group.” “You…you’ve abused my charity, you’ve turned the many gifts I’ve given you against me, you’ve worked to undermine me!” Militus snarled as he reached the door and opened it. “Guilty on all counts.” Megatron smirked as he continued to slowly follow after the retreating emir. “Though the term charity is laughable. I was an asset used to make you money and win you prestige. It was an honest exchange, you offered me training, access to knowledge, physical enhancements, and an opportunity to prove myself in the gladiatorial circuit, and in return I won for you, garnered a fortune for you, I put on a tremendous show, I organized events, virtually ran the organization in this and other southern emirates, and earned you honor for your house and for you personally. All that you have provided me has been more than repaid.” Militus exited the room and started down the hallway. “Guards! To me!” The emir turned and sprinted, but relaxed as he saw four well-armed House Macht guards turning into the hallway to attend to him. “In there!” He slowed down and pointed back in the direction of the dining hall doors, which were just now being pushed open. “Megatron! Stop him! Cut him down, but leave him alive! I want to be the one to kill him!” The guards all nodded and raised their rifles as they advanced quickly toward the gladiator that was now exiting the dining chamber and fixing a broad grin upon them. Arrogant whelp, even as he was about to be cut to pieces he displayed an overconfidence unbefitting a noble, much less a chunk of pond scum that crawled out of a Tarnian Caverns subterranean hotspot. Militus turned back around and glared at the treacherous bastard, the emir was going to enjoy watching this jumped-up miner suffer. Weapons-fire erupted from behind Militus, lots of it, but only two rounds zipped past him, only one of which connecting with the advancing chrome warrior, a hit to the left shoulder which only seemed to annoy Megatron. Militus turned to see what was happening to his guards and to berate them for their shit aim, but he shuddered in horror to see them being cut down from shots originating from the hallway that they had emerged from moments before. A gray, red and blue blur shot out from that hallway and transformed, the momentum propelling Starscream into the wall, which he planted his feet against and pushed off, finally landing gracefully in the center of the hallway, pointing his arm-mounted rifles down at the injured guard and opening fire one by one into their cranial shells. He looked up at Militus and displayed a smirk. “They were originally running to you to alert you to the fact that Castle Macht is under attack. That the perimeter has been breached.” Militus was initially drawn to the large, purple Warrior faces etched onto Starscream’s wings, but finally noticed the sounds of muffled weapons-fire in the distance, coming from other parts of the castle and outside. “Lord Starscream, what is happening? Why have you done this?” “This is the opening salvo of a revolution that will upend our world.” Megatron announced from behind the emir, his advancing footsteps intermixed with his words and the sounds of combat going on throughout the complex. “And by our world, I’m referring to myself, Starscream, and other Decepticons. Our world is upending, your world is simply coming to an end.” Militus turned and looked at the advancing Megatron in horror. He was getting close, and Starscream was standing between he and the most accessible exit. From where he stood the only open hallway led him deeper into the castle. True, he would pass several hallways that would lead him out, but they would take him away from the bulk of his forces and require him to outrun these two over a greater distance. He knew Megatron’s tank mode to be faster than his, and Starscream might very well be the fastest being on the planet. But did he really need to escape? Surely this assault would be put down in time; there’s no way that Megatron could have gotten more than a few dozen conspirators anywhere near Castle Macht without them knowing well in advance. The Macht security forces would repel this attack, or at the very least the other Polyhexian great houses would come to their aid within hours; Militus only needed to remain alive for that long. He didn’t need to escape, he only needed to find a secure place to wait this out. Castle Macht was full of secure rooms, but Megatron was proving to be far more clever and resourceful than his mental test scores and early conversations would suggest. Militus had frequently considered the possibility that he had tanked his test scores, but he had always dismissed those considerations as ridiculous. They were no longer so ridiculous to him. Megatron was smart and powerful enough to gain access to all of these secure rooms within the castle…all save one. Militus turned and sprinted away from his assailants, down the hall away from where Starscream had emerged and transformed to tank mode, hitting the polished floor with treads spinning. Megatron and Starscream followed after him casually, not bothering to transform or even to run. Within seconds Militus had turned down a side corridor and was grinding his treads over the polished metal floors as quickly as he could. Not much farther. In moments he’d be in the most secure room in the southern hemisphere, one that these upstart common-born bastards didn’t have a prayer of penetrating. And if they did manage to find a way inside, they’d immediately regret it. Housed within, waiting for the Emir of Polyhex, was the most potent infantry weapon ever conceived. Infantry weapon…it only qualified as such due to it being portable and usable by a single warrior, but in every other regard it was a weapon of mass destruction, one he would be more than happy to weild against Megatron, Starscream and any other Warrior-tattooed fool that dared to rise up against him. There it was, up ahead, through Castle Macht’s Heritage Hallway, the thick metal door protecting his House’s greatest treasures, and soon himself as well. “Defenses activated!” He called out as he transformed and stood before the door. Ion cannons dropped from the ceiling as red identification lasers swarmed over his frame, lasers which quickly turned green at recognizing him. “Militus Macht ordering the revocation of access to all others beside myself, and that defensive systems obliterate anyone approaching this door!” The only other members with access to this vault were his Vice-Emir Caustus Macht and his Secretary of State Affairs Manglus Macht, and if they hadn’t made it to safety by now, they wouldn’t be finding it here. He certainly wasn’t going to allow them to be used by the invaders to gain their way in. “Affirmative.” The automated voice replied as the door rolled open. Militus lunged in and spun around, staring back out into the empty hallway. “Seal the room!” The door rolled, and as soon as it sealed shut Militus whipped around and ran to the display case in the center of the room. “Cannon of Machtus case open.” He called out, and the transparent metal hood rolled back to leave the great weapon exposed. Militus reached for it, but a wave of blue flame washed over him, sending him stumbling back and falling to the ground. “Whaaa!” He jerkingly moved his hands from the protective position over his face and glanced about, trying to ignore the stinging pain and figure out what was happening. Unfortunately for him the blue flame and even more agony than before returned, this time over his legs. “Arrrrggggghhhhhh!!!” The flames stopped, and he looked down at his legs to see that they were unusable, but could be repaired easily enough given a few hours in the infirmary. “I’m sorry, Lord Macht, did that hurt?” A familiar feminine voice sang out. Militus whipped his head toward the sound and saw his beautiful assistant standing to the side of a case housing the memoirs of Machtus, a large military-grade pyro-emitter in her hands. “File?” “I was.” She circled ominously around the fallen emir, the flame-thrower cradled threateningly in her arms. “File was a loyal servant of House Macht. A submissive commoner happy to accept the abuse hurled upon her by the royals that she worked for.” She stopped next to a display, a pair of feet stretching out past it momentarily drawing Militus’s attention away from File. Her optics darted down toward the feet and she smiled. “Ah, yes. Not all members of House Macht were interested in abusing me. Lord Caustus found me most appealing. He was kind, generous, he longed for my attentions and was willing to shower me with gifts to get it. His only requirement was that you not find out, which I agreed was best. I allowed him to use my body however he wished, but his generosity extended beyond just energon and baubles, he wanted me to feel pleasure. He wanted me to desire him as he desired me. It was an easy role for me to play, and his generous nature enabled me to talk him into bringing me here for our trysts. Not only did it offer privacy, but it’s common knowledge that nothing is as arousing as power.” She momentarily released the weapon with her left hand and waved it around at everything held within the vault. “With the suggestion that I would be open to mingling our sparks in the midst of Machtus’s personal possessions, he immediately agreed to meet me here. And we have, for over two months now. Where you’re laying right now is where we laid together, embracing with exposed chests, our life-energies washing over each other and becoming one.” She gave a sad smile. “Truth be told, it was beyond pleasant. I plan to do it again, but with one I find worthy, one I’m genuinely attracted to.” She stepped back to better look upon the remains of Caustus. “I came to like Caustus, he was a good being, something unheard of in House Macht, but at no point was I ever attracted to him.” He peered sorrowfully down at the corpse that was hidden from Militus’s view. “Despite that, I took no joy in killing him.” She turned back and leveled her headed gaze on the Emir of Polyhex. “As I killed him, I realized that I was killing File as well, and her, I enjoyed killing. As I would enjoy killing you as well, you bastard.” She smiled and backed up toward the door. “But that is not my right.” Militus watched as her hand lifted up to open the door. “File, wait, please, don’t do this. I apologize for mistreating you. I will make you wealthy beyond imagining. Just, please, keep that door sealed and place the pyro-emitter on the floor.” The armed femme merely chuckled. “I told you, File was dead, and Flamewar has no interest in entertaining your pleas.” She opened the door and casually aimed her weapon up at the ceiling mounted cannon to the left of the door. The cannon turned, but was unable to aim into the room. Flamewar let loose with a string of blue destruction that enveloped the cannon and melted it to the point of being inoperative. She then casually stepped over to the other side of the doorway and repeated her destructive acts with the other cannon. She then melted down the identification scanner and other security features outside the door. She raised her wrist to her mouth. “The vault has been made safe, my lord. The prisoner awaits your judgment.” She walked back over and stood over Militus with a smile on her face for several moments, meeting his hateful glare with her cruel grin. Footsteps could be heard approaching them from The Heritage Hall. Seconds later Megatron marched into the vault with Soundwave of House Torrent at his side, the purple face of the Warrior etched onto his chest. “Soundwave?” Militus painfully gasped. “But you’re high-born! A true royal! How can you stand here with this mud-born piece of shit Megatron, or that jumped-up common bastard Starscream?” Soundwave nodded. “Megatron is the greatest Cybertronian I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and Starscream is no longer here to stand with.” “I sent him off with your fastest shuttle to spearhead the destruction of House Nexus.” Megatron smiled. “Should be easier than the destruction of your house. He can walk right in, sabotage whatever pathetic defenses they have, and smoke out all their members for easy extermination.” The chrome gladiator stopped next to Flamewar and smiled down on her. “We never found a Macht worth recruiting, but I was able to find a trusted insider that was.” “I am honored to have been found worthy to serve one such as you, Lord Megatron.” The former File replied with a bowed head and smile. “You gave an empty shell named File the opportunity to be so much more, and allowed Flamewar to be born.” “You will make a fine Decepticon, Flamewar.” Megatron turned back and grinned malevolently back down at Militus. “Our movement was fortunate enough to find two worthy and trueborn sons of House Torrent to join us, so I left the destruction of that house to Shockwave so that I could keep Soundwave with me.” The gladiator then turned and fixed his optics upon the Cannon of Mactus. “Are there any further security measures that I’m not aware of?” “I’m telling you nothing!” Militus snarled, hoping that Megatron’s uncertainty regarding the cannon might buy some more time. “No, all security measures have been removed, mighty Megatron.” Soundwave’s harmonic voice called out. “Macht is merely hoping to delay as much as possible.” “A foolish and incorrect guesss, Soundwave!” Militus snarled. “Lord Megatron?” A voice called out from the doorway behind them. Megatron turned his head to see Straxus standing in the doorway, clutching Rossum by the upper arm and two large robots bearing faces of the Warrior, the new Decepticon sigil, behind them bearing rifles. “I’ve found Doctor Rossum.” “And you, Straxus?” Militus growled. “Straxus follows strength.” Megatron cocked his head toward the doomed emir as he smiled at the captured doctor. “You didn’t expect genuine loyalty from him, did you? I certainly don’t.” The chrome gladiator then looked to Straxus. “But you’ve performed well, Straxus.” He looked back at Rossum. “Doctor Rossum, I’m going to give you a choice. Join my Decepticons, perform whatever task I demand of you, and you will be wealthy beyond your dreams and have the freedom and resources to explore any scientific research you desire, or don’t, and you will simply…” “Stop.” A broadly smiling Rossum interrupted. “Don’t ruin this with threats. I will happily join your cause, Megatron of Tarn, and I don’t require any fear of death or torture to do so.” “Excellent.” Megatron replied. “When giving me my current armor and press enhancements you mentioned to Emir Macht that you had theoretical enhancements that I would be a suitable candidate for.” “Oh yes, I certainly do, and you certainly are.” Rossum answered. “It would be a pleasure to enhance you further, but I am obliged to inform you that there will be pain involved.” He smiled at Megatron’s rolling of the optics. “I know it’s a non-issue for one such as you, but professionalism dictates that I warn the patient.” Megatron nodded before turning back to Militus. “Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a matter that needs to be resolved.” “You can’t possibly think you’ll succeed.” Militus spat up at Megatron. He only needed to stall a bit longer. “Attacking a royal house, murdering royals, laying claim to our planet’s most precious artifacts! Spare me and I can see that you live…I might even let you disappear. But kill me, the Emir of Polyhex? You’ll be tortured for years before finally having your pretty green spark snuffed! You’ll be overwhelmed and bound in the back of a prison transport within the hour!” Manglus must certainly have gotten word out of the attack. Assistance must only be minutes away. “I personally killed Manglus before he realized House Macht was in any danger.” Soundwave replied to MIlitus’s silent considerations. “No assistance is en-route. You are the last surviving member of House Macht.” “Flamewar,” Megatron muttered as he opened a panel on his right forearm, lifted the cannon out of the case, and mounted it over the newly exposed circuitry. Brackets snapped down into place over his arm, and immediately drilled into the living metal of Megatron, securing the ancient weapon as the inner circuitry of the weapon linked and interacted with his living circuitry. “Please change Emir Macht’s status.” Flamewar smiled broadly up at Megatron. “With pleasure, my lord.” She then turned both her gaze and her weapon back down at Militus. The downed emir raised his hand to plead with her, but a wave of blue shot forth before a word could be uttered. *** Red Alert “Yes sir, preliminary reports indicate that several hidden troop positions and mounted weapon emplacements near our westernmost border with The Torus Heights were hastily uprooted and relocated what looks to be toward the southern Heights.” Red Alert listed off into the communications console. “But while their existence can be considered threatening, the removal away from the troops on our western border cannot. This re-allocation seems to indicate that they no longer wish to oppose us.” “I’m guessing they’re anticipating this assault and are pulling their forces closer to Polarus.” The voice of Sentinel Prime came through the speaker. “But sir, the forces are heading south, Polarus is northwest of their position.” Red Alert replied. “Probably to throw us off.” Sentinel snapped back. “It seems to be working on you.” “Sir, perhaps we should lift the communications blockade over the emirate and speak with them.” Red Alert suggested, hoping, futilely in all likelihood, that Prime could be calmed and be made to see reason. “Negative, I’m through listening to their assurances, pleas, and any other disingenuous nonsense they wish to convey to me. The election of that little shit is all the proof I need of House Pax’s treachery.” Prime replied authoritatively. “There will be no opportunities for Tyger Pax to be warned, the assault will proceed, and it will proceed silently.” “Sir, once again, I must…” “Shut up Red Alert!” Prime snapped. “Inform the western border forces that we will be at their position in minutes, and they are to follow us into The Torus Heights, obliterating any opposition they face between them and Tyger Pax.” “They are aware of their orders, and I’ve forwarded your ETA to them just now.” Red Alert replied. “Good. Now monitor the rest of the planet.” Prime ordered. “You’ve proven to lack the mettle for dealing with The Torus Heights.” “As you command, Prime.” *** Dwight D. Eisenhower “Sooooo,” the American President muttered as he considered his next move, “I never had the chance to play Harry, which of us is better?” He slid his Bishop a few spaces. “Difficult to say.” Alpha Trion replied as he studied the board. “One of the few things the two of you had in common is that you are both quite good at chess.” They were in the same large cell housed within the same vast subterranean chamber that had held the giant alien for fourteen years. “Do we really seem that different to you?” Ike asked, eyes glued to the board. “Not in all matters, it’s just an impression I get due to the fact that there are a few critical issues that you both were very divergent upon.” The alien replied. “Such as?” “The one that stands out more than the others is your criticism of his choice to use atomic weapons.” Alpha Trion mentioned. Eisenhower nodded. “Yes, I consider that to be a regretful mistake on our country’s part.” He raised his eyes up a the robot. “You think I’m wrong in that belief?” “No.” Alpha Trion replied, but continued hesitantly. “Well, I’m not sure. I see both sides I suppose.” “We used a weapon of unimaginable destructive power against a nearly vanquished enemy, on civilian targets.” Ike replied, a slight hint of venom in his voice. “Based on what I’ve read on the matter, just how near that actual vanquishing was is open to contention.” The robot replied. “Harry did mention to me that you enjoyed playing devil’s advocate.” The President muttered as he turned his gaze back at the chess board. “I’m afraid I do.” Alpha Trion grinned slightly. “Perhaps I view it as an act of insubordination that you can’t justifiably punish. Or perhaps I just like testing you humans.” “Hmmmm, well, it is my genuine belief that the Japanese were looking for an honorable out. I know Harry and Douglas felt otherwise, and I respect their opinion, I just happen to believe they were wrong.” Ike explained. “How certain were you that a full scale invasion would not have been necessary?” Alpha Trion asked. Ike looked back up and exhaled. “I believe it could have been avoided. I can’t say for certain we could have found a better way, but I genuinely do believe we could have ended the war without either an invasion or by dropping the bombs.” He shook his head. “Especially the bombs. Yes, had it come to an invasion I realize that the death toll would have been similar, possibly greater, but history would not record us as being the first to use such an evil device, especially against civilians.” “Hmmm,” the robot mused, “this aspect really troubles you?” “Of course it does!” President Eisenhower snapped. “How could it not?” “You’re a religious man, aren’t you?” Alpha Trion asked. “A follower of Yahweh?” “Uh, yes. I am a Christian.” Ike replied, a little confused. “A Presbyterian. Growing up I referred to him as Jehovah, but they’re different names for the same God. Why?” “I’ve read your bible, various Christian bibles, as well as different versions of the Torah and the Koran.” Alpha Trion began explaining. “In all, they describe the same one God who is the omnipotent, all-powerful creator of all things, as well as describing the events leading to the freedom of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Moses demanded freedom for his people, the Pharaoh refused, and your God implemented an escalating series of punishments against the Egyptians intended to convince the Pharaoh to release them. Yahweh apparently galvanized Pharaoh’s resolve, hardened his heart, so that that he would remain resistant through the first nine plagues, thus justifying Yahweh’s implementation of the tenth, most horrific and devastating punishment.” “Thank you, I’m quite familiar with Exodus.” President Eisenhower replied dryly. “And I’m fully aware of where you’re going with this. You can’t possibly compare God to Harry, Douglas or anyone else.” “Of course not.” Alpha Trion answered. “Neither President Truman nor General MacArthur were capable of knowing the thoughts of Emperor Hirohito, and they certainly would have done nothing to discourage him from surrender just to intimidate the world with a display of their power. Nor would they have specifically targeted children who had no influence over the decisions of the monarch claiming divinity that ruled over them.” “Enough!” Ike grumbled. “Harry really was right about you.” Alpha Trion smiled. “OK, perhaps we can discuss Genesis then. What do your religious historians put that time period at? Five to ten thousand years ago? Have I mentioned I visited your planet a million years ago, already formed and teeming with life? You know, there was this British naturalist named…” “Ughn, sports, let’s talk about sports!” Ike interrupted. “You have any sports on your world?” The giant alien nodded. “Of course. Like on your planet, popular sports vary by region, but they certainly have followings.” “Which is most popular?” Ike asked. “I’m ashamed to say that in the years leading to my departure, the gladiatorial combat sports had been making a huge resurgence.” Alpha Trion answered. “Illegal, but becoming incredibly popular throughout the entire planet nonetheless.” “Hmm, and they say football is violent.” The President mused. “I understand you played.” Alpha Trion stated. “The American version, not what the rest of the world considers football.” “In college.” The President answered as he scrutinized the giant prisoner’s chess move. “Thought about going pro, at least until I had the damn fool idea to try and tackle Jim Thorpe.” “I’ve read of him.” The alien muttered as he watched his opponent consider possible moves. “The most naturally gifted of your human athletes.” “The man was a force of nature.” Ike replied. “So strong, so fast, so graceful and perfectly balanced. His instincts, his reaction, his reflexes…all just perfect. He didn’t need to practice to be the best at any given sport, just explain the objective of the game and the rules, and he’d go out there and win.” The President looked up at the alien. “You have anyone like that on Cybertron?” Alpha Trion smiled lightly. “Yes. Every few pulses there comes an individual like that. I’ve known several. One comes to mind right now, an individual that has been on my mind a great deal over the last fifteen years.” “A giant, robotic Jim Thorpe.” Ike muttered. “Scary thought.” “Imagine a robotic Jim Thorpe with the mind of Benjamin Franklin.” The alien replied. “An even scarier thought.” Ike replied. “I’m assuming you’re talking about this Guardian Prime you’re trying to protect the universe from.” Alpha Trion frowned. “I wasn’t, though I fear the description applies to him as well.” The giant robot looked up over the President’s head deep in thought, and his optics flashed for a moment as if something caught his attention. Ike turned to see what had seemed interesting to the alien, and caught sight of the tip of a rat’s tail disappearing into the shadows behind an array of equipment on the far side of the fortified laboratory. Based on the tip of the tail, the rat would have had to be as big as a large dog. “Mercy!” He turned and looked up at the prisoner. “Did you actually see that thing? I barely got a glimpse of the tail, but it must have been huge.” “I…I only saw movement, Mr. President.” The robot replied. “Vermin is an issue even on my planet, I really didn’t mind it there, and I do not mind it here.” He then nodded back down at the board. “Shall we continue?” Ike hesitantly nodded and looked back down. “Yes, of course. We’ll need to get this place swept for rodents.” “Whatever you decide to do, sir.” Alpha Trion answered. The robot smiled lightly before continuing. “I will say one thing for Harry, he didn’t take this long to move a piece.” *** Orion Pax He gazed out into the dark night sky, and once again let his optics glide over the celestial shapes that he had long since committed to memory. The distant star of the Junk system was giving the limited heat it provided to the other hemisphere of the planet right now, leaving Junkion Prime to be lit only by vastly more distant stars. Orion heard the footsteps coming up the stairwell leading to the roof of the Capital Building and smiled. He’d come to be alone, but after several minutes of solitude he was open to some company. “Hello Wreck Gar.” “Every night that I’ve been in your company for the last fourteen years I’ve found you staring up at the stars much of the time.” The leader of Junk commented amicably as he sidled up next to his friend. “If I had to guess, the evenings when I wasn’t in your company were probably no different.” “Missing home, my Gar, just missing home.” Orion replied before turning and smiling at Wreck Gar. Wreck Gar continued staring up at the sky, clearly deep in thought, about to share some of those thoughts, hesitating, but finally giving them voice. “Is Cybertron still truly your home, my friend?” The leader of Junk turned and smiled at Orion. “You lived one year there, you’ve spent fourteen here. I know many here saw you as an outsider at one time, I’m sure some still do, but most of us have come to accept you as one of our own. Many of us have come to think of you as family.” “We are family, Wreck Gar.” Orion replied, looking down at the roof they were standing upon. “But I have other family, and I fear for them. And much of that fear is due to their link to me. My existence has put them in danger, and I must see to their safety.” He looked back up and met Wreck Gar’s gaze. Wreck Gar smiled and nodded. “And you miss them as well.” He watched Orion display a small smile and shrug, prompting Wreck Gar to place his hand on the new adult’s shoulder reassuringly. “Having personal desires does not make you selfish or any less noble, Orion. Your entire life you’ve put the needs and desires of others well before your own, and that makes you a good and honorable man. Wishing to achieve those desires at some point doesn’t undo the good you’ve done. Elita, Torenia, Roller, Ratchet, Ironhide; missing them, wanting to be with them, that is not selfish. It does not undermine your intent to put others first. If anything, having desires makes putting others first a greater and more noble sacrifice.” The Gar then put his other hand on Orion’s other shoulder and broadened his smile. “That said, I still think you should make Junk your home, and know that your friends and family will always be welcome here.” Orion chuckled. “I will definitely keep that under advisement.” He then looked back up into the dark sky. “Not that leaving is an option. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for the time being.” Wreck Gar lowered his arms and stepped back. “I can’t think of anything better for Junk. And it’ll be interesting if nothing else for me to be a regular ‘zen again.” He noted Orion turning and fixing a questioning look on him. “Obviously that incredible naiveté will need to have worn away before it happens, but there’s no question that if you stay, you will be Gar of Junk at some point. You’re the greatest leader I’ve ever known, and you’ve only just reached adulthood.” “You flatter me, my Gar, but Junk will never have a better, more dedicated leader than you.” Orion replied humbly. Wreck Gar shrugged. “A matter for another time I suppose. Tonight, we relax. The rebuilding effort can allow us this evening.” Orion stared back up into the sky. With the war over, and apparently with Wreck Gar’s approval, he could wish for things again. At that moment he wanted to be with his brother. *** Kup A fourth wheel would have made this so much easier. He’d have likely made it to Tyger Pax by this point with a fourth wheel. But the Lord Commander of the Tartarun Gates was more than capable of making due with three. He had no choice, failure to get there and warn the emirate, warn the entire planet, was not an option. The gates had been breached, the Wardens had fallen, the Guardian was likely dead, and the army of death would soon be upon them all. For fifteen million years the beasts had been contained, and it had been on his watch when it had all fallen. “Stupid old fool.” Kup grumbled to himself. “How could I have let this happen?” Finally the vast Tyger Pax came into view, and several minutes later a small shuttle approached and landed a quarter mile in front of him. Kup transformed painfully and limped the rest of the way toward the transport, which was opening to reveal the Pax House guard Inferno. “Lord Commander?” “Inferno, please get me to Olnius Pax immediately.” Kup muttered as he allowed Inferno to assist him into the shuttle. “Our greatest fears have come to pass.” “Of course sir, but Olnius is no longer Emir of The Torus Heights or head of House Pax.” Inferno replied. “That honor has passed on to Roller Pax.” “Roller?” Kup grumbled as he fell into a seat and Inferno leapt into the pilot’s seat. “Has he even reached the age of self-determination yet?” “Got there a few days ago sir.” Inferno replied as he lifted the craft into the air. “Sir, are there any other survivors? Should we organize a search and rescue force?” “Negative. Just get me to Tyger Pax. The Gates and the Wardens are lost.” Kup growled through the pain. “We need to evacuate the northern Heights, maybe even the entire emirate, organize our forces, ALL our forces, and strike back as a unified planetary army to drive these monsters back.” “I’ve alerted Emir Pax that you’re inbound and that it’s an emergency.” The large red pilot called back as the shuttle glided over the outer walls of the vast city-sized keep. “He’s on his way to the landing pad.” “Good.” Kup muttered. “Once we land, I need for you to be ready to spread the word. Tyger Pax needs to spearhead the evacuation and communication with the other great houses, and as one of House Pax’s most trusted guards, much will fall on you.” “I’m ready for the challenge, Lord Commander.” Inferno replied as he set the craft down on the tarmac. Kup stood up to see Roller, Olnius, Stronghold and several other members of House Pax approaching with a quick pace. “Sir, let me…” “I can exit a shuttle on my own, Inferno.” Kup interrupted as he threw open the door and leapt painfully to the ground. “Emir Pax, congratulations on your new appointment. You’re about to regret that it happened.” “Why is that?” Roller asked with all seriousness. “What has happened?” “The Gates…we were beset by a…a swarm of…of bio-mechanical insectoids.” Kup stammered out in an attempt to convey what had happened. “They were like beast modes commonly found in Nyon, but they were mindless creatures, no robotic form. But they were not organic animals, that is certain. And there were thousands of them…tens of thousands.” “Even with tens of thousands of those things, it should still have taken them days to breach the mountain defenses!” Olnius replied almost frantically. “We were betrayed by one of our own.” Kup snarled. “A bastard of a Warden named Mindwipe. He silenced our perimeter defenses, opened the front gates, and allowed the vile swarm into the mountain, followed by a small group of Cybertronians that seemed to pick off what the swarm left behind.” “But the Gates themselves! And the Guardian!” Roller muttered. “Mindwipe used the confusion to get through the Gates. Omega Supreme was unaware of his treachery, and only saw him as a comrades when final level was breached.” Kup peered down. “I can only guess what happened next, but it involved a near-nuclear level explosion. I was still fighting remnants of the swarm in an upper level when it went off, so I survived the blast and the subsequent cave-in. It was enough to breach the final gate though, because as I came to I was surrounded by the screams of my fellow Wardens as the monsters of our nightmares fell upon them to feast. I was buried, but they failed to notice me, and I managed to get away.” He looked down. “I wished to remain and fight, but Cybertron needs to be warned.” Roller stared dumbfounded for a moment, but only a moment as he immediately seemed to collect his bearings. He turned to Olnius and Stronghold. “Contact Sentinel Prime, alert him to what’s going on here and let him know that we are going to be evacuating as much of our population to our southern border with Nova Cronum as possible.” “Sentinel Prime? Are you sure, Emir Pax?” Stronghold asked. “No choice, this is far too big to let whatever petty animosity that exists between us to get in the way.” Roller snapped back. “He may choose not to believe you, if that’s the case, let me know and I’ll put Kup on there. He may think I’d try to deceive him, but he’d have to have a screw loose to challenge the word of the Lord Commander of the Wardens. Now go!” “Aye Roller.” Stronghold turned, transformed and sped back toward central Tyger Pax along with the other members of House Pax that had accompanied him aside from Olnius. Roller then turned to Inferno. “Inferno, gather the rest of the guards and make them aware of our various weapons caches. They are to be brought south as well. It kills me to just hand them over to Sentinel Prime, but every asset needs to be pooled to push the demons back into hell.” “Aye my Emir!” Inferno replied before turning, transforming and following Stronghold toward the structures of Tyger Pax, a gathering of people starting to form between the buildings and the tarmac to see what was going on. Roller and Olnius drew closer to Kup. “If Omega Supreme truly is lost, then you may be the only living being to have laid optics on these things.” Roller muttered. “I don’t expect you to have observed much, but whatever you did see is all we have on these monstrosities beyond legends.” Kup nodded. “I didn’t see much, what I did manage to take in of the sparkeaters only seemed to confirm the legends.” Kup muttered. “But it was more than just sparkeaters. They had…servants…slaves. Most were like…like us. Different, mutants of sorts, but I think if I looked past the situation, the filth, the savagery, the mutilations, they were just members of our species born beneath the surface. Cybertronians that the sparkeaters couldn’t or wouldn’t turn for whatever reason.” The two Pax’s stared in horror for several moments before Roller prodded. “What were the ones that weren’t like us?” “Demons.” The Lord Commander muttered as he stared at the ground. “Mindless creatures that the sparkeaters found a way to control and to turn on us.” He then looked up and locked optics with Roller. “And I fear there is something more. One of the sparkeaters took a moment from his gluttonous feast to mutter to another about his disappointment that Omega Supreme was not opposing them. That he had hoped to see the Dweller devour him.” “The Dweller?” Olnius asked. “None of A-Three’s lessons ever mentioned that.” Roller lowered his gaze and stared intently at the ground. “Word needs to spread, preparations need to be made. Let’s go.” Just as he turned they saw Stronghold speeding back to them in his bulky ground transport mode. Upon nearly reaching them he transformed and stumbled the remainder of the way. “Emir Pax, we’ve received reports of an invasion from Nova Cronum. Primarily government forces, but House Honorum forces were reportedly mixed in. We’ve verified via our long range scanners and have attempted to contact them, but they’re blocking our hails.” “Damn it!” Roller growled. “Of course this is happening now.” “Sir, what do we do?” Stronghold asked. Roller paused, but after a moment shook his head as he came to a decision. “Continue with the evacuation effort. Get as many of our citizens south as you can. I will remain here and confront Sentinel Prime.” “Sir, no, he’ll kill you!” Stronghold protested. “He’ll torture me for information on Orion first.” Roller laconically stated with a smile. “He may be an unfit bastard, but he is the Prime; he’s the only one that can alert and summon the forces of the entire planet to stand against this threat, and since he won’t pick up our calls, he’ll need to be told in person when he gets here.” Roller turned to the battered blue Lord Commander of the Wardens of the Tartarun Gates. “I ask you to remain with me, Lord Commander. He will expect this to be a trick on my part, but as I mentioned before, he will have to believe your word.” “Of course, Emir Pax.” Kup replied. Roller then turned back to his fellow House members. “Now go, get our people to safety!” *** Nightbeat Legends depicted Jhiaxus as reckless, perhaps mad, possibly sociopathic, but damn if the bot didn’t draw a good map. Well, a good stellar map anyway. There was no trace of the artificial island that Nightbeat found mention of in some of Jhiaxus’s old notes. Nothing but ocean existed in the coordinates listed as the site of Jhiaxus’s island sanctuary, so either that was inaccurate, or there had been some significant changes over the last 1.2 million years. Either way, the fact that this Helios-3 existed and that Nightbeat had found it without any difficulty was a great start. There were other ways to track down the lab, and hopefully The Manifest. Nightbeat scanned his environment as he emerged from the ocean and stepped onto Kent Island, Maryland, and carefully made his way to Bayside Drive, making sure he was not seen, and transformed into the alternate mode he had programmed into the small ship’s infirmary chamber for his shell mode to be modified to. A moment later a glisteningly new 1959 Pontiac Parisienne pulled on to the road and made his way to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Thorough scans of the planet had detected several traces of Cybertronian technology, significant bits in the Arctic Circle, smaller traces throughout the planet, but one near the seat of power for one of the planet’s two super-powers that lacked any attempts at energy masking beyond the native technology, almost as though the local fauna discovered and laid claim to something Cybertronian. This particular fauna, humans as they called themselves in the most common local language, was higher level, but organic and vastly behind Cybertron technologically. They had been in existence in their current specie form for at least a hundred thousand years, but civilization had only occurred in the last ten thousand years, and progress even after that point had been extremely slow up until recent centuries. But they had reached the point of accurately recording most of their accomplishments for future generations and could communicate and share ideas with members of their species from all over the world, so Nighbeat expected their progress to swell greatly over the next few millennia…provided they didn’t get wiped out in that time. Their progress would explode were they to actually possess and reverse-engineer any Cybertronian technology, which could create problems for the humans, for Cybertronians, and likely for numerous other species throughout the galaxy. Even if it wasn’t linked to the Manifest, Nightbeat needed to find out what was going on in this Aberdeen, Maryland, United States of America, Earth. Going at speeds typical of human vehicles on local roads, it would take him almost an hour and a half to get to his destination, and for the first hour of the trek the estimate seemed accurate. But a flare-up on his sensor equipment, one still set to seek out Cybertronian technology and energy readings, caused him to veer off as he got close to the waterway known as Big Gunpowder Falls and seek out the surge in energon signatures. He exited the roadway and drove along the river until continuing on in car mode was no longer an option, at which point he transformed and continued on foot, moving hastily but as quietly as he could. He finally found the disturbance, though even at seeing it he wasn’t sure what he was dealing with. Prior to landing his starhopper in the bay, he had sent several drones to scan the writings confined to bound paper collections in local libraries, their scanned data providing him with what he hoped would be an adequate degree of knowledge regarding the planet. He peered through the thick grove of trees lining the river to see what looked to be a Rattus norvegicus the size of a large dog darting through the forest avoiding energy-weapon’s fire emanating from a Culicinae that was as big as Nightbeat. The size of both creatures seemed to defy their normal size parameters, especially the mosquito. Even the furthest outliers for both species would be nowhere near this size. Nightbeat chided himself for making a case for why these weren’t native creatures; one was firing energized rounds at the other, of course they weren’t native creatures! He pulled out his own rifle but continued watching silently to get an idea of what was going on. The rat made for the river bank, perhaps to submerge and hide, but a Manta birostris, one large but still within viable anatomical parameters, burst forth from the water to set upon the rat, which immediately darted to the side to avoid the lunge from the manta ray. “Bzzzzzz, Rat-Trap, surrender.” The giant mosquito demanded in between shots. “You cannot ezzzzzcape us, either be taken or be killed!” “Actually rat, I’d prefer if you fought.” The feminine voice of the manta ray grumbled out as it transformed into a bulky thirteen foot tall femme. The giant rat transformed as well, standing shorter than the average human male, but wielding a pistol that provided a bit more threat than his stature. “Ehhh, sorry, think I’ll go with option number three; poke a few holes in the two of you and get the hell outta here with my fur intact.” The mosquito transformed as well, turning into a horrific looking eighteen foot tall slender but powerful looking robot. “Forget it rat, zzzzzzero chance of zzzat happening. Drop your weapon, zzzzzubmit to uzzz, and tell uzzz where the Manifest izzz located, and maybe we’ll let you live.” Bingo, the rat knows. Nightbeat leveled his rifle at the larger mosquito-bot; he didn’t know who the players were, he didn’t know the stakes, he only knew that they believed this Rat-Trap knew where the Manifest was, so he picked a debilitating but non-lethal target and squeezed the trigger. The tall mosquito-bot was falling to the muddy banks before the manta-bot heard the discharge. By that point Nightbeat had targeted her was well and was opening fire. The rat-bot froze, terrified but hopeful at seeing his attackers laid out in the mud groaning in agony, but wondering if he was next. The fifteen-foot tall robot pushing through the trees gave him a clue as to what he was dealing with. The rat-bot looked up and gave a hesitant smile, his buck-teeth fully on display. “Ehhh, I’ll thank you for this as long as I’m not next.” “I don’t know who you are, nor do I know who they are.” Nightbeat answered, keeping his firearm aimed at the four and a half foot tall robot. “Frankly, I don’t care. Don’t care about what you’re fighting about, who started it, who’s right or who’s wrong. I was sent here by Sentinel Prime to retrieve the bodies of fallen heroes, and it appears you know where they are.” The rat groaned almost inaudibly, but suddenly raised his pistol and started to aim in the general direction of Nightbeat. Nightbeat moved to fire on the rat, but noted that the rat-bot fired while aiming well below his torso. The round shot by him and impacted something behind him, eliciting a groan. Nightbeat spun to see an Anthonomus grandis even bigger than the rat had been on the ground with a smoking hold in his side. “That’s Drill Bit.” The rat-bot stated, then continued as Nightbeat turned his attention back to him, noting that the pistol was now aimed at his face. “Big skeeter is Transquito, and the fish is Manta Ray.” He then displayed a crooked grin. “There will probably be more of them soon, so why don’t you transform and get us out of here. Guessing by the chunks on your frame you’re a Buick?” “Pontiac.” Nightbeat replied. “I’m assuming your name is Rat-Trap, or was that an insult based on your alternate mode?” “Yup, and what’s your name?” Rat-Trap asked as he flicked the gun indicating he expected the much bigger Cybertronian to turn and walk back in the direction of a road. “Nightbeat.” He replied. “And despite the gun, I’m calling the shots here.” “Whatever pal, just keep marchin’ toward civilization.” Rat-Trap muttered. “I have a report to deliver. One regarding another one of you homeworld jerks.” *** Sentinel Prime “I don’t get it, we know we’ve been seen.” Sentinel Prime growled over the head of the pilot as he stooped in the cockpit peering straight through the windshield as they zipped over the desolate northernmost emirate. “They should have engaged us by now!” “Sir, they clearly know we’re here, they’ve been hailing us for the last couple hours.” The pilot, Kick-Off, stated. “We’re about to fly over Polarus, and there’s something weird. All my scans seem to indicate that it’s deserted.” A broad grin spread over Sentinel’s face. “They’ve fled in fear. They know their ruling House is misleading them and they’ve chosen to abandon the Pax’s.” “Don’t know about that, Prime.” Kick-Off replied. “They tend to be pretty loyal to the Pax’s in the Heights.” “Then their sense finally overpowered their insipid loyalty!” Prime growled. “How soon til we reach Tyger Pax?” “Just a couple more minutes, Prime.” The pilot replied. “Be prepared for their anti-air ordinance.” Prime warned, though he seemed increasingly doubtful they’d come under attack. Seconds later the gigantic fortress appeared ahead of them, still no sign of resistance. As they drew near they saw two lone figures on the landing pad, the only sign of life in the entire region. “Target them, but hold off on firing until I give the order.” “Should I hover, fly over and circle around, or land, Prime?” Prime stared quietly through the windshield for a few moments as he considered the question. They were close enough now so that he could make out the new emir, Roller Pax, standing next to what appeared to be a battered Lord Commander Kup. “What the hell is Kup doing here?” He whispered to himself before finally addressing his pilot. “Order the other ships to encircle Tyger Pax and hover in position. You are to land and let me out with my personal guard.” “As you command, Prime.” Kick-Off answered as he sent out the silent command to the other pilots via the wire jacked into his neck connected to the communications console and directed the attack craft down toward the landing pad. Prime turned and marched into the main section of the craft, taking his massive rifle from one of his personal guards and walking toward the door. The ship rocked as it touched down and he opened the door and marched out. “With me.” He ordered his ten guards, all nearly as tall, hulking, armored and well-armed as he was. Two quickly set out in front of him to protect him against any attack that House Pax may have had waiting for them. Once within sixty feet Prime called out. “Congratulations on willing the election, Emir Pax!” “Thank you for that, Prime, and for this visit.” Roller shot back defiantly, marching fearlessly toward Prime despite the ten large rifles pointed threateningly at him. “It would have been nice of you to answer our hails though. We have an emergency here.” They both stopped with about twenty feet between them. “Yes, you do.” Sentinel Prime snarked back. “You’re about to be executed and your house may very likely cease to exist after today.” “Enough!” Kup growled. “Prime, I appreciate that you may not be happy with Emir Pax here, but that’s going to have to wait.” Prime was taken aback by the intrusion, but maintained a predominantly professional and cordial demeanor with only the slightest bit of venom in his voice. “Lord Commander, I was wondering what you were doing here. I hold you in great esteem, Kup, but mind your tone when talking to your Prime!” “I apologize, Prime, but the Tartarun Gates have fallen. Taenarus is swarming with sparkeaters, mutants and what appear to be demons of legend.” Kup stated respectfully but with authority. “As far as I know, I’m all that remains of the Wardens. Even Omega Supreme is likely dead.” Sentinel Prime stared at Kup dumbfounded for several moments before finally mustering a reply. “What?” “This is not a trick, Prime.” Roller stated. “I know you would not believe me were I the one to tell you this, even with the northern Heights all but evacuated, but I doubt even you would question Lord Commander Kup.” Prime just shook his head, unable to fathom what they were talking about. “What? No. That’s all just myth. We maintain, equip and man the Gates for the sake of tradition.” “What?” It was Kup’s turn not to believe what he was hearing. “My Prime, I assure you, these vile creatures are very real, and they are once again roaming our world looking to consume our life-forces!” “Prime, our differences are insignificant compared to this common enemy!” Roller asserted. “We must come up with a defense! You must rally the planet, gather our forces, and lead us to push these things back into the depths of hell!” “Prime, be advised, there are eleven shuttles approaching from the south. They appear to be transport and freight ships, but we’re scanning a multitude of weapons in each of them.” Kick-Off’s voice came through Prime’s wrist communicator. “A trap, young Pax?” Prime asked with a knowing smirk. Roller was genuinely stunned. “I have no idea of who or what that is.” “I think you’re attempting to lull us into a false sense of security.” Prime’s smirk broadened into a smile. “To what end?” Roller snapped back. “To unleash eleven freight transports upon your fifty-some warships? Believe me Prime, I have no idea who that is.” Roller then pulled a small communications console around that had been strapped to his back and pressed a few buttons before nearly barking into it. “Eleven shuttles that are inbound to Tyger Pax, identify yourselves.” A moment later a familiar voice was responding. “This is Lugnut of House Boltax, coming to support House Pax.” “This is Emir Roller Pax.” Roller immediately shot back. “Turn around, and take all subjects from Boltax lands, along with assets, particularly military assets, south to the boarder. Taenarus has fallen, the sparkeaters are free!” Roller turned off the communicator and looked back up at Prime. “Sorry for the interruption. Believe me, this was not something I planned.” Sentinel Prime merely stared down at Roller, but Kick-Off’s voice came through his wrist communicator before he could respond. “Prime, the ships are still in route to our position.” “What the hell is wrong with that big, stupid jack-ass?” Roller snarled. “Roller Pax,” Sentinel said calmly, “instruct Lugnut Boltax to set his ships down on your landing pad.” “As you wish, Prime.” Roller replied as he re-opened a channel with Lugnut. “Lugnut, since you apparently can’t do as I’ve instructed you, please continue here and land. I will meet you personally.” “Excellent news, Emir Pax.” Lugnut replied, a hint of mirth in his voice. Within two minutes the eleven ships had come into view, but seemed to slow to nearly a hover upon seeing the armada of government warships hovering several feet off of ground all around Tyger Pax. They finally started moving forward again, and a little while later all eleven shuttles were settling down on the landing pad. Lugnut hesitantly peered out through the opening door and slowly made his way down the ramp to the ground. He finally made it to Sentinel Prime, his personal guard, Roller and Kup. “Sentinel Prime, I was not aware that you’d be here.” “Lord Boltax, it is good to finally meet you.” Prime replied. “I’ve enjoyed watching footage of your fights for several years now.” The leader of Cybertron smiled as the nearly featureless face of Lugnut moved about nervously. “Don’t bother to deny it, the identity obfuscation technology doesn’t work on one as unique as you.” “Primus, he’s found religion!” Roller muttered, nodding to the large purple face of the Warrior etched into his chest. “The wrong religion.” Prime muttered in disgust. “You’ve abandoned Primus and become a poly, Lugnut of House Boltax?” Lugnut turned down and looked at the face, seeming nervous. Roller noted that the Warrior face was on all of the other brutal looking robots that had accompanied Lugnut, and that they were quite nervous looking as well. “Uh, no, no Prime, it’s just kinda…kinda a symbol for us gladiators. Kinda like how those pissant Autobots use the Common Man face. Lots of them are of the Primus faith, but they still bear the face.” Prime took a step toward Lugnut and peered up at the more massive robot. “You’re hiding something Lugnut, there’s no question about that.” Prime turned his gaze back at Roller, delivering a heated glance, before finally locking optics with Kup. “Lord Commander, are you absolutely certain of what you’re claiming?” Kup peered intently at their leader. “My Prime, I swear to Primus that all I’ve told you is the absolute truth, and that our planet is in greater danger now than it’s been in fifteen million years.” “Prime, be advised, we’re getting…unusual readings coming from the north.” Kick-Off’s voice once again came through Prime’s wrist communicator. “No vehicles, it looks to be thousands of individuals.” Prime nodded and turned to Lugnut. “Lugnut of House Boltax, take your ships, take your thugs, and do as your emir instructed you to do. You will be granted permission to take your assets and your people across the border into Nova Cronum.” Lugnut nodded and turned, heading hastily back to his ship. Prime turned back to Kup. “Lord Commander, please come with me. I will need your expertise on these creatures.” “Of course, my Prime.” Kup replied. Prime then turned to Roller. “Emir Pax, unless you’re willing to discuss the whereabouts of a certain fugitive, I’m ordering you to remain here and defend Tyger Pax against the armies of hell.” The Prime displayed a cruel grin. “What’s it going to be?” Roller returned a forced smile. “Prepare the planet, my Prime. I will do all I can to hold the north for you.” Prime shrugged and turned to return to his attack ship.